ROME — Italy’s bishops updated their pandemic prevention guidelines, easing many restrictions as new cases of COVID-19 continue to decrease after large spikes in January and February and as the severity of the disease diminishes.

In a statement released June 15, the leadership of the Italian bishops’ conference said that, since the Italian government has relaxed pandemic prevention measures as the summer period begins, they, too, were updating their “advice and suggestions” for churches in Italy.

Vaccination certificates had not been required to enter churches, but the conference said protocols such as wearing masks and sanitizing hands were recommended and should continue to be observed, even though they are no longer mandatory.

Holy water fonts can be used again, and offertory processions can resume, the bishops said.

Ministers are advised to wear a mask and sanitize their hands before distributing Communion, and anointings during the celebration of sacraments “may be carried out without the aid of instruments,” such as cotton balls.

Those experiencing flu-like symptoms or those in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus “should not participate in celebrations,” the conference said.

Individual bishops can adopt special measures and directions based on the situation and course of the disease in their territory, it added.

The guidelines come as Italy’s last COVID-19 restrictions expired.

Starting June 16, the mask mandate no longer applies to cinemas, theaters and indoor sporting events. Students taking end-of-school exams were encouraged, but not required, to wear masks, and masks were no longer mandatory in government workplaces. The mandate remains for workers in the private sector until June 30.

The government also approved extending the mandate to wear FFP2 masks on public transportation until Sept. 30. And masks are still obligatory in hospitals, rest homes and health care facilities.

COVID-19 vaccination remains obligatory for health care workers but is no longer compulsory for all people over the age of 50.