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People wearing respiratory masks wait to be given a 10-minute access to shop in a LIDL supermarket in groups of 20 people on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020 in Casalpusterlengo, southwest Milan, Italy.
People wearing respiratory masks wait to be given a 10-minute access to shop in a LIDL supermarket in groups of 20 people on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020 in Casalpusterlengo, southwest Milan, Italy. (TNS)

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VICENZA, Italy — Shoppers at grocery stores and the few other establishments that have remained open in Italy during its nationwide lockdown to fight the coronavirus are now required to wear a mask or scarf over their nose and mouth, the Italian government mandated Friday.

Like previous decrees, the new rule, which was to take effect Saturday, also applies to people shopping at commissaries and post exchanges, and using postal services at bases such Caserma Ederle, officials with U.S. Army Garrison Italy said.

“Social distancing platoons,” comprising 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers who have been ensuring shoppers remain three feet away from each other, will enforce the rule at the base in Vicenza.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization insisted for weeks that masks are unnecessary for healthy people and should be reserved for health care workers on the front line of the pandemic. But indications that some people infected with the coronavirus virus may show no symptoms and could be unwittingly spreading it through respiratory droplets have caused the CDC to reevaluate its position.

The White House, “while stopping short of declaring an official policy, joined the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, several European nations and much of Asia in recommending that people wear cloth face masks in public, even if they have no symptoms,” The New York Times reported Friday.

Italy had the highest mortality rate, 12%, from the disease caused by the coronavirus of any country in the world as of Friday, with nearly 14,700 deaths out of 119,827 confirmed cases, according to Italian Health Ministry data.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com Twitter: @montgomerynance

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