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New York takes first step of reopening

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-09 13:42

People wait for the train at Times Square during rush hour on the first day of phase one of the reopening after the coronavirus lockdown on June 8, 2020 in New York City. [Photo/Agencies]

New York City put three months of a COVID-19 lockdown behind it on Monday to make — or at least try — a comeback.

As many as 400,000 workers in retail, construction, manufacturing and other sectors were expected to get back to work as phase one of the city's reopening started in all five boroughs, but with restrictions to protect workers, employers and customers from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.

There's no set timetable for when the city will go to the second phase of reopening, but that could come as soon as July if there isn't a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases.

Businesses that could reopen in that second phase include business offices, real estate brokers, car dealers, hair salons, barber shops, retail/rental repair and cleaning, outdoor dining and commercial building management.

The city's comeback won't be easy. A report by the city's Independent Budget Office estimates the Big Apple will lose 475,000 jobs over the next 12 months. It predicts the city won't begin to add jobs again until the second quarter of next year.

The city's budget shortfall for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 is expected to come in at $9.7 billion. Sales tax revenues are now expected to decline by $4.2 billion for fiscal 2020 and 2021, as businesses closed, and city residents stayed home.

Personal income tax revenue is expected to fall short by more than $3 billion between fiscal 2020 and 2022 as withholding ceased for the many residents who lost jobs.

Phase one, which started Monday, allows retail stores to reopen for business, but they can't allow shoppers inside. Sales must occur through a curbside or in-store pickup station.

Customers picking up items must stand in line with designated markings to keep them 6 feet apart. Retailers can only employ enough workers to operate the pickup station.

Inside the stores, personnel must wear face masks at all times and be kept 6 feet apart or separated by clear plastic partitions if it's impossible to meet the social distancing guidelines.

Building construction — interior and exterior —will resume. Workers will need to practice social distancing and wear masks on the job. The number of workers will be limited. There must be regular daily cleaning and disinfection of the job sites, along with hand-sanitizing stations.

Factories and warehouses can resume manufacturing and wholesale trade in fields that include apparel, computer and electronic products, electric lighting equipment, fabricated metals, furniture and related products, leather and allied products, machinery, nonmetallic mineral products, paper, petroleum and coal products, plastic and rubber products, printing and related support, textiles and wood.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) resumed normal weekday subway and bus service Monday but will keep subway stations closed from 1 am to 5 am for disinfecting. It urged all riders to wear a mask while using public transit.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio assured residents that the subways and buses will be safe to travel on as phase one started.

"If it wasn't safe, I wouldn't ask anyone to go on the subway," Cuomo said at his daily media briefing Monday.

To reassure New Yorkers that they can practice social distancing while traveling underground, Cuomo wore a mask and rode the subway from Queens to Midtown Manhattan on Monday.

"Today, I took a ride on the 7 train," Cuomo said. "The subways are cleaner than they have ever been in my lifetime."

Since May 6, the MTA, which runs the city's subway, buses and trains, has performed 30,000 station cleanings and 500,000 subway car cleanings. The MTA is also piloting the use of UV light technology to disinfect subway cars and crew facilities.

In other safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, the transit system unveiled social distancing markings on platforms to show people where to stand to keep 6 feet apart from others.

But in New York state, still the epicenter of the US outbreak, with more than 378,000 infections and 30,000 deaths — 22,000 of them in New York City alone — some residents fear it could be difficult to practice social distancing on a subway system that normally carries 5.6 million riders a day.

"If the New York City subway system wasn't a total sewer to begin with, this wouldn't be so absurd," one person tweeted.

A user called RJ tweeted: "I'm not big on masks at all; but if I had to ride the subway, I'd wear one. The subway is the belly of the best."

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