The Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo have suspended the celebration of public Masses through April 11, the Octave of Easter, as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The directives went into effect March 11. The Church is restricting religious functions "to protect the health of the people," a press release said.

Under the month-long suspension of public Masses, churches may remain open for private prayer. Funerals and wedding Masses may take place with limited attendance depending on the size of the church, but not exceeding 100.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta invited people to pray for the safety of the Mediterranean island country as the number of coronavirus cases rises.

"As we suspend Masses in our Churches in Malta & Gozo, except for Funeral Masses & the Rite of Wedding, we bishops invite the faithful to pray for the safety of our nation, for the Health Authorities and our brave front-liners," Scicluna wrote on Twitter March 10. "Liturgies will be transmitted daily on the Media."

According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been 341 deaths and over 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the islands of Malta and Gozo.

Seven and a half percent of the population of the two islands, estimated to be just over 514,500 people, has been vaccinated.

The Malta archdiocese stated that parents are encouraged to wait until after April 11 to present their children for baptism, but if the baptism is to take place before that date it should be the rite only, without Mass, and with only a small number of people present.

Bringing Holy Communion to the sick and homebound is suspended except in cases where the person is critically ill.

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Parish offices will be open only for essential services and preferably by appointment only.

The Maltese government has tightened COVID-19 restrictions through April 11. The measures include the closure of non-essential shops and restaurants to sit-down guests.

Under the governmental regulations, religious gatherings are not prohibited, but are limited to 100 or fewer participants.