The Latest: Italy’s May Day traditions upended by virus

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


— May brings reopenings around the globe as virus toll climbs.

— Spain predicts grim forecast for economy this year.

— Protesters gather for May Day in Greece.


ROME — As in much of the rest of Europe, Italy’s May Day traditions, which pay tribute to the role of workers in society, have been upended by lockdown rules forbidding gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The heart and soul of Italy’s May Day commemoration have been rallies led by union leaders, followed by an evening rock and pop music concert in Rome, drawing crowds sometimes topping 100,000 in the square outside St. John in Lateran Basilica.

This year, musical artists will take turns performing solo in venues without anyone in the audience. Their music will be broadcast on TV and by state radio, with the evening’s theme being, “Working in safety to build a future.”

Unions have been demanding scrupulous attention to safety measures, including social distancing at work stations and assembly lines, hygiene and sanitizing before factories can reopen in Italy, where Europe’s devastating outbreak of COVID-19 began.

Right-wing political opposition leader Matteo Salvini has accused the center-left government of pandering to union demands in being slow to getting the country’s economy moving again.

On Monday, some lockdown restrictions will begin being eased, with some 3 million Italians expected to return to workplaces, many of them in factories. However, some industrial plants have been allowed to operate since lockdown began in early March because they produce essential goods.


MADRID — Spain’s government expects that the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy will shrink by 9.2% this year and that unemployment will reach 19% of the working-age population.

Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calviño announced the grim forecast on Friday when she explained Spain’s economic stability plan that it has presented to the European Union.

This comes a day after Spain’s government said that the nation’s economy had shrunk by 5.2% in the first quarter of 2020, ending 25 consecutive quarters of positive economic activity dating back to 2013.

Calviño said the government expects the economy to rebound strong, with a growth of 6.8% in 2021.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed since Spain applied strict stay-at-home rules on March 14 when it declared a state of emergency that is still in effect.

The government unveiled this week a complex series of guidelines it will follow to reactivate the economy and social life of the country over the coming weeks and months as long as there is not another jump in COVID-19 infections.

Spain has over 24,000 confirmed deaths from the new virus.


ATHENS, Greece — Hundreds of protesters gathered in central Athens and the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to mark May Day, despite appeals from the government for May Day marches and commemorations to be postponed until next Saturday, when some lockdown measures will have been lifted.

Hundreds of members of the Communist Party-backed PAME union gathered in both cities Friday morning, wearing masks and gloves and standing two meters apart. The union released photos showing organizers using measuring tape and square colored stickers to lay out the exact positions where protesters could stand for the rally in central Athens, outside Parliament.

This year, May Day is being celebrated “under the special, difficult circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, but with our sight turned to the day after,” Communist Party head Dimitris Koutsoumbas said during the rally. The main issue for after the pandemic, he said, was the dilemma of “socialism or barbarity. We answer socialism. A new, fair society is needed, with the working classes, the people, truly in power.”

Dozens of other unions also planned marches or commemorations, with demonstrators generally using masks and maintaining distance from each other.

Separately, police were out in force Friday to ensure Greeks don’t head out to the countryside, a tradition for May Day. Lockdown measures are to be eased on Monday, but remain in force for the holiday weekend. Violators face 150 euro fines.


JOHANNESBURG — A holiday atmosphere enlivened South Africa’s streets as the May Day public holiday is also when the country has begun easing its strict lockdown.

For the first time in five weeks, people were permitted to walk outside for exercise between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and thousands, with mandated facemasks and keeping distance, were out walking through the streets.

Some South Africans will be able to return to work in small batches and many businesses will resume limited operations. Many factories can resume operations in phases, starting with only a third of employees allowed to return and must abide by distancing and other guidelines.

Public transport, including trains and buses, will begin operating with a restricted number of passengers. Even with the easing, South Africa’s lockdown remains strict, with no sales of liquor and cigarettes permitted.

Ordinarily, South Africa marks May Day with rallies by trade unions and political parties, but these are not possible because of the lockdown regulations.

“We want to take this opportunity to pay special dedication to our frontline health workers who are confronting this virus on daily basis in this difficult time,” said Jacob Khawe, secretary in Johannesburg of the ruling African National Congress party.


MOSCOW — Russia registered almost 8,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday in yet another record daily spike, bringing the total to 114,431. The number of cases is likely to be much higher as not everyone gets tested, and tests in Russia were reported to be only 70-80% accurate.

In at least five Russian regions, health officials registered a surge of pneumonia cases. In Moscow, which accounts for half of all virus cases, all respiratory infections are likely to be caused by the coronavirus, according to the public health agency Rospotrebnadzor.

On Thursday, Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced testing positive for the new virus and temporarily stepping back from running the Cabinet.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Friday that “where we stand now means not everyone can return to work as they did before the corona crisis.”

The Scandinavian country has slowly reopened by allowing some classes to return to school and hairdressers, physiotherapists and tattoo parlors, among others, as well as courts of law to reopen. Frederiksen, a Social Democrat, said details of phase two of the reopening of Denmark would be announced “just before May 10.”

In neighboring Norway, Jonas Gahr Stoere, head of Norway’s Labour Party which is the opposition, said in a May Day speech that “instead of gathering in the squares around the country and proudly parade with flags and band music, many of us will sit in front of a screen and follow the May 1 events online.”

Gahr Stoere said “we are in the midst of a crisis that is hitting hard and wide.”


ATHENS, Greece — Protesters have begun gathering in central Athens for traditional May Day marches, despite authorities’ pleas to unions to move their demonstrations to next week, after lockdown measures begin easing.

More than 100 people from the communist party-affiliated PAME union gathered in Athens’s main Syntagma Square, outside Parliament. Holding banners and red flags, and most wearing masks and gloves, the protesters stood roughly two meters (6.5 feet) apart from each other as they waited for the march to begin.

“The symbolic events for May Day being organized as always by the labor unions, with all necessary protection measures, with them wearing masks and maintaining the necessary distance between them, do not constitute a danger for everything the people have won until today by adhering to the restrictive measures” of the lockdown, the Communist Party said in an announcement.

Greek authorities have repeatedly warned people that this year, May Day will have to be different, saying the lockdown measures due to be partially lifted starting Monday are still very much in effect. Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias has stressed Greeks will not be able to go on countryside trips as they frequently do, and he appealed to trade unions to transfer their usual May Day marches to the first Saturday after lockdown restrictions have been eased.

“We welcome May Day with truly spring weather. Like during Easter, we will spend (the day) differently,” Hardalias said during his daily briefing Thursday. “Either at home, or with a walk near it …. I repeat that trips far from our permanent residence is not allowed. We are not allowed to go to our country home, certainly not to our village.”

But unions were to go ahead anyway with more than a dozen marches or commemorations planned, especially in central Athens.


CANBERRA, Australia — China’s warning of trade repercussions from Australia’s campaign for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic has rattled Australian business leaders as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration urges other governments to back such a probe.

China has accused Australia of parroting the United States in its call for an inquiry independent of the World Health Organization to determine the origins of COVID-19 and how the world responded.

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye used an Australian newspaper interview this week to warn that pursuing an inquiry could spark a Chinese consumer boycott.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended Australia and urges other countries to demand transparency.


LONDON — Ryanair has announced plans to slash as many as 3,000 jobs and close bases in Europe amid the collapse of travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group announced a restructuring program Friday that included plans for unpaid leave and pay cuts of as much as 20%.

The budget airline says will operate less than 1% of its flights from April to June and that passenger numbers will not return to 2019 levels “until summer 2022 at the earliest.’’

The airline group also says it is “active negotiations” with Boeing to cut the number of planned aircraft deliveries over the next 24 months.


NEW DELHI — India has registered another daily high in coronavirus cases, with nearly 2,000 recorded in the past 24 hours.

India’s Health Ministry said Friday the 1,993 new cases and 73 more deaths bring the country’s totals to 35,043 with 1,147 deaths.

The government is due to decide the future of its 40-day lockdown on Sunday. It allowed migrant workers and other stranded people to resume their journeys on Wednesday, as well as some shops to reopen and manufacturing and farming to resume.


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