By Vatican News staff reporter
On Thursday, the devolved government of Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Executive) took the unanimous decision to extend the current Covid-19 restrictions until Friday, 5 March 2021.
It comes after Northern Ireland recorded its highest number of Covid-related deaths in the week up to 15 January.
As the spread of the virus continues unabated, doctors are warning that hospitals are being stretched to their limits.
On Friday, 12 further deaths with Covid-19 were reported by the NI Department of Health, bringing the death toll to 1,704.
In light of the decision to extend restrictions, the Bishops in Northern Ireland have decided that, until 5 March, Masses will return online.
In a statement issued Friday, the Bishops say that “Marriage, funeral, baptismal liturgies and drive-in services may continue (subject to strict safety guidelines and regulations)."
Arrangements for recording and/or livestreaming, and making individual visits for private prayer, are also permissible in accordance with regulations.
Parishes are being encouraged "where possible to continue to broadcast the celebration of Mass - and other devotions and prayer services - online and on other media."
The Bishops point out that once again they are making this decision reluctantly and are “conscious of the pain that not being able to gather for public worship causes for all the faithful.”
Prayers for those impacted
They also continue to ask for prayers for the sick, the bereaved and all those whose livelihoods have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.
In particular, their thoughts turn to “all health workers, carers, chaplains and other essential workers.”
Situation in Portugal
Elsewhere in Europe, liturgical celebrations and pastoral activities in the presence of the faithful are being suspended from Saturday in Portugal, due to the resurgence of Covid-19 infections.
The president of the Portuguese Bishops' Conference has called for active collaboration until the upward curve is reversed.
According to health authorities, there are more than 151,000 active cases in Portugal and more than 9,600 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.