New York City — the epicenter of America’s coronavirus outbreak — began partially reopening its shattered economy Monday following almost three months of lockdown, as the World Health Organization warned the situation was “worsening” worldwide.
Some 400,000 New Yorkers were allowed to return to work as retailers began offering limited in-store and curbside pickup, with construction and manufacturing also permitted to restart.
“It’s good to be back,” said Michael Ostergren, manager of Shakespeare and Co bookshop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where a trickle of customers arrived shortly after the doors reopened.
“Everybody wants to be out of the house. We’re just picking up where we left off in March,” he added.
Phase one of New York’s reopening got underway as some of Europe’s hardest-hit nations lurched back to a new kind of normal, even as WHO reported a record number of new cases globally.
Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 136,000 cases had been reported in the past 24 hours, “the most in a single day so far,” with the majority coming in the Americas and South Asia.
“Although the situation in Europe is improving, globally it is worsening,” he told reporters.
COVID-19 caused more than 21,000 confirmed and probable deaths in New York after America’s most populous city quickly became ground zero of the US’s epidemic in late March.
Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the start of the easing of restrictions but warned residents that they must continue to social distance and wash their hands regularly.
“This is a triumphant moment for New Yorkers who fought back against this disease,” he told CNN.
“Come back to work, but remember to stick to those smart rules that got us this far.”
But the reopening effort was stymied by large numbers of high-end stores remaining boarded up following widespread looting during anti-racism protests a week ago.
The start of the economic reboot came a day after de Blasio lifted a controversial week-long curfew he had imposed over the looting of luxury shops that took place across Manhattan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has urged the thousands of protesters who demonstrated the police killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, to get tested for COVID-19, fearing they may trigger a surge in infections.
One shop that did open in Midtown was The Container Store, a home storage outlet.
– Protests spike? –
Sixty-one-year-old K.B Barton left with three bags of items that he had bought online and then picked up.
“It’s livelier today in Manhattan. I see a lot more people in the streets. I am happier but not everyone wears a mask,” he told AFP.
In the borough of Queens, rush hour subway trains into Manhattan were slightly busier than in recent weeks, but still nowhere near pre-coronavirus numbers.
Seventy-year-old Brandy Bligen said he was looking forward to dining outside, which is included in phase two of the reopening alongside barbershops, and expected in a fortnight if cases don’t surge.
“Being confined is enough to drive you crazy. I almost went crazy,” he told AFP at Roosevelt Av-Jackson Heights station.
New York’s bars will be allowed to open in phase three, but cinemas and museums have to wait until phase four, likely in late July and with reduced capacity.
COVID-19 deaths have passed 403,000 worldwide, with over seven million infections, since the disease emerged in China last year before sweeping the globe, subjecting billions to some form of lockdown and paralyzing economies.
Governments around the world are cautiously peeling back the measures to resuscitate economies while trying to avoid a resurgence of infections.
In Belgium, pubs and eateries flung their doors open, but with social distancing measures in force, while Ireland opened shops and allowed gatherings of six people and limited travel.
– British quarantine –
Moscow said Monday it would ease border restrictions and lift lockdown measures in the Russian capital from Tuesday.
New Zealand meanwhile buoyed hopes for the rest of the world as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that her country had beaten the virus and lifted all restrictions, though strict border controls remain.
But Britain, embarking on a more cautious reopening, imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country by land, sea or air — British nationals included — sparking legal action by airlines.
Across the Atlantic, countries were gearing up for the worst as the outbreak escalated in Latin America, the new virus hotspot, with Brazil, Mexico and Peru particularly hard hit.
Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll at more than 36,000, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to play down the impact of the virus and has urged regional officials to lift lockdown measures.
Fears in Asia that the virus may not be under control persist, with the death toll and infection rate climbing sharply in India, even as the government lifted some curbs Monday after a 10-week lockdown.