BEIJING: People walk outside the Forbidden City during the Labor Day holiday in Beijing yesterday. - AFP

MADRID: Thousands of people joined May 1 rallies in more than 70 cities across Spain yesterday in the first Labor Day demonstrations since the pandemic began. Wearing masks and observing social distancing, demonstrators marched through the streets waving banners although in many places, numbers were capped to ensure anti-COVID measures were respected. The main demonstration in Madrid, which was limited to 1,000 people, began at midday (1000 GMT) under the slogan "Now it's time to deliver" with the participants marching from the town hall to the city's Puerta del Sol square.

Seven government ministers attended the march, including Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz as well as representatives of the three left-wing parties running in Tuesday's regional election in Madrid. At the rally, union leaders Pepe Alvarez of the UGT and the CCOO's Unai Sordo urged the government to honor commitments delayed by the pandemic, such as repealing a controversial labor reform, raising the minimum wage and approving a law on equal pay.

Addressing the march, Diaz said employment was key for overcoming the crisis. "The crisis has made us face up to an outdated labor model, based on casual work, seasonal employment and inequality.. which is exactly what the labor ministry has started to change," she said in remarks broadcast on Spain's RNE radio. "This May 1 is not just any other day because the values of dignified employment, solidarity, equality and social justice-which are embodied today-are undoubtedly the most effective response to the economic and social crisis we're experiencing."

Spain has been badly hit by the pandemic and is due to receive 140 billion euros ($167 billion) worth of EU funds between 2021 and 2026 to help its virus-battered economy. But Alvarez said it was critical to ensure the funds were used "to face up to the needs of its citizens and.. to make a change to its production model". In Barcelona, some 3,000 people joined the May Day marches, unions said, while in Mallorca, demonstrators joined a vehicle convoy in the capital Palma to avoid the rain, RTVE television reported.

Meanwhile, millions of travellers criss-crossed China as the Labor Day holiday got underway yesterday, packing out tourist sites, thronging restaurants and visiting family as the vast country edges towards life after COVID. The world's second largest economy is expecting some 265 million journeys by road, train or boat during the five-day holiday, a transport ministry official said this week-numbers last seen in 2019 before the coronavirus struck.

Hundreds of day trippers packed out the walkway along the top of the Great Wall at Badaling, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from downtown Beijing, with many not wearing masks. Ahead of the holiday on Friday, passengers thronged train stations across the country, with queues stretching across crowded departure halls. Although China's economy has bounced back from the coronavirus-induced slowdown of last year, consumer activity has lagged behind the stronger rebound seen in the industrial production.

But retail sales have since picked up, surging 34.2 percent on-year in March and painting a more optimistic picture of consumption demand. Key cities such as capital city Beijing, as well as Shanghai and Guangzhou, are expected to see greater demand this Labor Day holiday, said the transport official Li Huaqiang. "The number of people would have basically returned to levels seen in the same period in 2019," he added.

But Chinese authorities sounded a cautious note ahead of the break, warning that tourist attractions should impose restrictions on visitor numbers and have ticketing systems to control the flow of people. Travellers will also need to register at attractions and show their "health codes"-an electronic certificate on their phones to prove they are not at risk of infecting others. While the coronavirus outbreak has been largely brought under control in China, fresh outbreaks at the start of the year prompted authorities to urge migrant workers to stay home over the Lunar New Year. - AFP