MANILA, Philippines — Priests in the Philippines will be allowed to mark the foreheads of Catholics on Ash Wednesday, ending a two-year ban on the Lenten tradition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines made the announcement Feb. 27, just as the government announced the relaxing of COVID-19 measures in Manila and elsewhere across the country, reported

On March 2, millions of Catholics are expected to flock to churches once again to celebrate Ash Wednesday and have their foreheads marked with ash crosses to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. However, people with comorbidities like diabetes and heart ailments have been advised to join religious celebrations online.

In the new Guidelines for Lent and Holy Week, the bishops said Catholics may still opt for ashes being sprinkled on their head. also reported the bishops also said parishes having difficulty securing old palm branches blessed during the celebration of Palm Sunday in 2020 can use dried leaves of plants or trees burned for this year’s Ash Wednesday.

“Let us ensure that there are enough ministers and ashes as well as compliance of health protocols,” they said.

The washing of the feet on Holy Thursday to reenact the Last Supper has been reduced to not more than 12 people during the liturgy.

“A simplified form of the washing of the feet may be done during this celebration,” the bishops said. “There can be less than 12 but not more than 12.”

Meanwhile, authorities have relaxed restrictions in Manila and 38 other areas from March 1-15 that will also allow churches to admit worshippers numbering not more than 50 percent of their seating capacity.

The move follows a drop in the number of daily COVID-19 infections to an average of 1,400 over the past week, compared with 39,000 in mid-January.