Italy will start distributing free protective masks to nursing homes, many of which have been devastated by coronavirus infections and deaths.
Domenico Arcuri, the government's commissioner for the pandemic, says doing so is a ``gesture of solidarity and nearness and support to these places ever more at the epicenter of this great crisis.''
Arcuri says free masks also will be distributed to public officials, transport workers and police. Millions of Italians will be allowed to return to workplaces starting on May 4, when lockdown restrictions will be considerably eased.
Italy, with some 26,000 reported deaths, most of them of elderly persons, has Europe's highest toll from COVID-19. In Lombardy, Italy's most stricken region, prosecutors are investigating about two dozen homes, including one in Milan where some 200 residents died.