Havana – With Communist-run Cuba on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Havana’s Revolution Square was eerily empty and gray on Friday for International Workers Day, bereft of the usual parade of thousands of flag-toting Cubans.
Encouraged by authorities to celebrate May Day in their homes, some Cubans sung along to the national anthem when it was played on state television early in the morning, while others strung the Cuban flag from their balconies and windows.
Ulises Guilarte, of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation, said on the TV broadcast that the day was dedicated to the "army of white coats" – Cuba’s doctors – tackling the coronavirus pandemic at home and abroad.
Cuba, which has one of the highest rates of doctors per capita worldwide and has engaged in medical diplomacy and service exports for decades, has sent brigades of doctors to more than 20 countries worldwide to help.
"We hold the most firm conviction that united, we will conquer," Guilarte said, using an old revolutionary slogan.
"#MyHomeIsMySquare, celebrating the first of May," President Miguel Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of him with his arm around his wife in front of a Cuban flag, both wearing white face masks embroidered with the word ‘Cuba.’
It was an altogether more subdued affair than the rallies in which millions of Cubans nationwide have participated each year since late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution. Even the weather was downcast.
Cuba has only skipped the largest parade through Revolution Square a handful of times, such as during an economic depression following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Unfortunately the coronavirus has kept us at home but we were not about to ignore (May Day)," said Havana resident Alejandra Varo Carrillo, who waved the Cuban flag from her rooftop.
Since the island nation registered its first cases of the coronavirus in March, it has closed borders to travelers, and suspended schools, public transport, and group activities.
While many sectors of the economy continue, authorities have asked residents to otherwise only leave their homes for essential tasks like shopping for food.
With less than 1,600 cases confirmed and 64 deaths, Cuba’s leaders have said their approach appears to be working, but have warned the peak of the outbreak is still ahead.