New York remains cautious as other US states ease virus lockdowns

A pedestrian passes a storefront available for rent in Manhattan yesterday. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: More US states began lifting coronavirus lockdown orders on Monday but New York – America’s economic engine and coronavirus epicentre – is in no hurry, with hospitalisation rates still high.

As Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi and Tennessee were among the latest states to loosen restrictions, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was preparing to lengthen confinement measures for badly-hit areas.

“May 15 is when the pause regulations expire statewide. I will extend them in many parts of the state,” he told reporters.

New York is America’s worst-hit state, with more than 17,300 Covid-19 deaths out of almost 292,000 confirmed infections. Almost 56,000 people have died across the country.

Cuomo plans to allow manufacturing and construction to restart in some of the state’s least-affected areas after May 15 as part of a phased reopening.

But for now that seems about it for New York, which has been shut down since mid-March.

“We have to be smart because if you are not smart, you will see that infection rate go right back to where it was. (We) will be right back to where we were 58 days ago and nobody wants that,” he said.

Cuomo said cases were not falling as quickly as he would like, with more than 1,000 new hospitalisations and 337 deaths from the disease in the past 24 hours.

The most affected part of the state, New York City, is likely to be one of the last areas of the country to reopen. A poll out Monday showed residents overwhelmingly backed the shutdown.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that at least 40 miles of streets would close to traffic to give the city’s 8.6 million residents more space to exercise outdoors, in a further sign that the end is far from in sight.

Also Monday, New York’s elections board cancelled the Democratic Party primary on June 23, citing the risk of spreading coronavirus, a move heavily criticised by leftist Bernie Sanders.

Georgia restaurants reopen

As New Jersey – the second-worst affected state with 6,000 deaths – California and the Washington DC region stay committed to continuing confinement measures for now, more than half a dozen states have started a partial reopening of their economies.

Some restaurants in Georgia opened their doors Monday after beaches reopened over the weekend, despite criticism from health experts who say social distancing is still needed to stop the spread.

“We need human touch, human contact,” 64-year-old Kim Kaseta told AFP, delighted to be at her local breakfast spot in Atlanta, where waiters and cooks wore masks.

Governor Brian Kemp said Georgia’s shelter-in-place order would be lifted on Thursday.

Tennessee also permitted restaurants to reopen Monday and Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that all retail stores, restaurants, movie theatres, malls, museums and libraries would be allowed to reopen on Friday with 25% capacity.

Alaska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Mississippi, Colorado and South Carolina have started to allow certain activities as well.

The moves come despite Harvard researchers and the health news site Stat warning that the majority of US states don’t yet have sufficient testing capacity to consider relaxing the stay-at-home orders after May 1.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia are well behind, they said, with New York needing to perform between 130,000 to 155,000 tests every day, compared to the average of 20,000 per day around mid-April.

Cuomo also said an antibody test of 7,500 people found that a quarter of New York City residents may have already survived the virus, although that doesn’t mean they are immune.

Click here for our live update of the Covid-19 situation in Malaysia.