Virus forces cancellation of iconic events like Oktoberfest


ATLANTA (AP) – Spain called off the Running of the Bulls in July, the U.S. scrapped the national spelling bee in June and Germany canceled Oktoberfest five months away, making it clear Tuesday that the effort to beat back the coronavirus and return to normal could be a long and dispiriting process.

Amid growing impatience over the shutdowns that have thrown tens of millions out of work, European countries continued to reopen in stages, while in the U.S., one state after another – mostly ones led by Republican governors – outlined plans to gradually get back to business.

All indications are that some businesses won’t necessarily spring back to life when they get the all-clear.

Mark Lebos, owner of Strong Gym in Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to let gyms reopen this week, said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.

“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.

With deaths and infections still rising around the world, the push to reopen has set off warnings from health authorities that the crisis that has killed well over 170,000 people globally, including more than 42,000 in the United States, is far from over and that relaxing the stay-at-home orders too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.

The economic damage mounted as stocks dropped around the world and oil prices suffered an epic collapse.

A barrel of U.S. oil to be delivered in May was $5.38 in morning trading, or a little more than the cost of a fancy latte. A day earlier, the price was negative for the first time ever, with the market so glutted with oil and running out of places to store it that sellers were essentially offering to pay buyers almost $38 a barrel just to take it off their hands.

The crisis hit home at President Donald Trump ’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, which laid off 153 workers, including bartenders, cooks, dishwashers and housekeepers.

Meanwhile, U.N. leaders called for efforts to ensure that all people have access to testing, medical supplies, drugs and future vaccines, especially in developing countries where virus cases are rising. Africa’s health care systems are especially weak and could become overwhelmed. The continent has recorded more than 1,100 deaths.

In Europe, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Germany began allowing some people back to work, including hairdressers, dentists and construction workers, and some stores were cleared to reopen or will soon get the OK.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government will be watching carefully and will “pull the emergency brake” if necessary.

Spain, among the worst-hit countries, will also begin allowing children out of their homes for brief periods next Monday. Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, the Copenhagen amusement park that inspired Walt Disney, will reopen on May 11.

But in an indication that it will be a long time before life returns to normal, Spain canceled its Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, the more than 400-year-old event made world-famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It was also called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. was canceled. The competition has been held since 1925 and was last scrubbed in 1945, during World War II.

“Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning,” said Paige Kimble, executive director.

Germany called off the centuries-old Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, which draws about 6 million visitors each year. It was previously canceled during the two world wars; during a period of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923; and twice because of cholera outbreaks in the 1800s.

“We agreed that the risk is simply too high,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said.

In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte confirmed that businesses can start reopening on May 4 but dashed any hopes of a full end to the country’s strict lockdown any time soon, saying: ”A decision of that kind would be irresponsible.’’

In the U.S., some states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans to begin reopening in stages in the coming days. Governors from other states said they first need help from Washington in ramping up testing to help keep the virus in check.

Political tensions were high. Some sheriffs in Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin said they won’t enforce stay-at-home orders. The governors of those states have faced mounting calls to ease restrictions and have been targeted by protesters egged on by Trump, frustrated over the tanking economy.

Kristin Allin, who with her husband owns Bread and Butterfly restaurant and Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta, said they were caught off guard when Georgia’s governor announced that restaurants could reopen for dine-in service within a week. They said they may remain closed for a month or more.

“I think most of our customers are not ready to venture out yet,” she said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that governors easing off restrictions had better have the facts on their side or they could trigger a resurgence of the virus beyond their states’ borders.

“If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it’s going to affect all of us,” de Blasio said on CNN.


Long reported from Washington. AP journalists worldwide contributed to this report.


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A man wearing a protection mask as he pass the subway sign ‘Theresienwiese’, the Oktoberfest beer festival area, in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Bavarian state governor Markus Soeder and Munich mayor Dieter Reiter announced at a news conference that the Oktoberfest is cancelled this year because the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)