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US faces Memorial Day like no other under virus restrictions

May 25, 2020, 10:10 AM
Memorial Day...
Nancy Graham wears a face mask as she takes photos of a gravestone during the coronavirus outbreak at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio the day before Memorial Day in San Francisco, Sunday, May 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Americans marked a Memorial Day like no other as the coronavirus pandemic upended traditional commemorations and forced communities to honor the nation’s military dead with smaller, more subdued ceremonies like car convoys instead of parades.

On the weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer, U.S. authorities warned beach-goers to heed social-distancing rules to avoid a resurgence of the disease that has infected 5.4 million people worldwide and killed over 345,000, including nearly 100,000 Americans, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Elsewhere, Greece sought to revive its crucial tourism sector by restoring ferry services to its popular Aegean islands, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and four other remaining areas.

Abe also looked ahead to the Tokyo Olympics, saying development of effective drugs and vaccines will be essential to holding the event next year, after the pandemic forced postponement of the 2020 games.

In New York City, fallen military members were honored with car convoys and small ceremonies this year rather than parades to conform with lockdown restrictions.

“It’s something we’re upset about, but we understand,” said Raymond Aalbue, chairman of the United Military Veterans of Kings County, which usually puts on a parade in Brooklyn.

There’s “no reason to put anybody in harm’s way,” he said, adding “it’s really cutting quick to the heart of all the veterans.”

Veterans, along with nursing home residents, have made up a significant portion of those who died in the U.S. outbreak.

After two days of playing golf, President Donald Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which overlooks rolling hills dotted with white tombstones. Trump was scheduled to speak later at a historic fort in Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has criticized Trump’s visit, saying the city cannot afford it and that the trip sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives. Trump also demanded Monday that North Carolina’s Democratic governor sign off “immediately” on allowing the Republican National Convention to move forward in August with full attendance. Trump’s tweets about the RNC, planned for Charlotte, come just two days after North Carolina recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet.

At the White House, officials slapped a travel ban on Latin America’s most populous nation, saying it would deny admission to foreigners who have recently been in Brazil. The ban, which takes effect Thursday, does not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. With over 363,000 reported infections, Brazil is second only to the U.S. despite limited testing.

Greece’s low COVID-19 infection rate allowed the government to restart the summer holiday season three weeks earlier than previously planned. In addition to resuming ferries with new passenger limits, it allowed cafes and restaurants to reopen under new social-distancing rules. All this, of course, was for Greek holidaymakers as foreign tourists are not expected until after June 15.

“We will implement exactly what the state has told us, whatever the doctors have told us, first and foremost for the safety of our customers,” said Spiros Bairaktaris, owner of an Athens restaurant that was reducing capacity from 100 customers to 30.

“Many will come to Greece because we had the fewest number of deaths compared to other countries. And thank God for that,” he added.

Greece, which shut down quickly, has only 171 of Europe’s nearly 170,000 coronavirus deaths and depends on tourism for 10% of its economy.

Islands such as Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu and Samos are major draws for tourists but have been mostly off-limits since late March, when the country’s lockdown took effect.

Hard-hit Spain reached a milestone Monday as half the population — including those in the two biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona — were finally allowed to gather, albeit in limited numbers. Outdoor seating at bars and restaurants also reopened.

Madrid coffee bar owner Roberto Fernández said the mood was bittersweet.

“We are also a little sad today, as we have lost two of our more elderly regular customers,” Fernández said. “They used to come every day, but now they have left us.”

Relaxations went a step further in the rest of Spain, where people can now visit beaches and nursing homes and hold weddings. Spain has recorded 28,700 virus deaths.

But as lockdown restrictions were rolled back across Europe, fresh outbreaks were reported in a Czech coal mine and a Dutch slaughterhouse.

The Darkov mine near the Czech Republic’s border with Poland halted operations after 212 people — mostly miners and family members — tested positive for coronavirus. Testing was carried out on 2,400 people.

Meanwhile, an outbreak among 657 employees of a meat-processing plant in the Dutch city of Groenlo spilled over into Germany. Dutch authorities said Monday that 19 of the 147 employees who had tested positive live in Germany.

After seeing several coronavirus clusters among slaughterhouse employees in Germany, the government has pledged to crack down on poor working conditions.

In Russia, infections topped 350,000 — the third-highest toll in the world — as health officials reported 9,000 new cases and 92 new deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 3,633. Russia denies allegations that its death rate is suspiciously low, insisting that’s due to its effective containment measures.

As millions of Australian children returned to school, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Monday that students and teachers had to observe one key message: Stay home if you are sick.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We have to take each day as it comes, each week as it comes, and we keep our fingers crossed that Queenslanders will continue to flatten that curve,” Palaszczuk said.

Chinese state media reported Monday that more than 6.5 million coronavirus tests were conducted in the city of Wuhan — the country’s virus epicenter — over a 10-day period in a bid to test all 11 million residents.

No new COVID-19 cases have been reported since the 10-day campaign started, although some people with no symptoms tested positive. More than 3 million people had been tested prior to the campaign, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

In the U.S., tens of thousands of Americans headed to beaches and parks, relieved to shake off some pandemic restrictions.

But Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was “very concerned” about scenes of people crowding together. In the Tampa area along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the crowds were so big that authorities closed parking lots to stem the flood. In Missouri, people packed bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Officials in California said most people were covering their faces and keeping their distance as they ventured out. Many Southern California beaches were open only for swimming, running and other activities, not sunbathing.

At New York’s Orchard Beach in the Bronx, kids played with toys and people sat in folding chairs, wrapped up in sweaters and masks.

“Fresh air. Just good to enjoy the outdoors,” said Danovan Clacken.

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US faces Memorial Day like no other under virus restrictions