New York City, US, June 8 (efe-epa).- After 100 days of stoppage due to the coronavirus epidemic, New York began phase one of the reopening of the city with ghostly images of Manhattan stores still boarded up and with greater activity in sectors such as construction and transportation.
Between 200,000 and 400,000 people were returning to their jobs on Monday, something that could be seen on the subway and commuter trains, as well as from the noise of the city as many businesses resumed their normal operation.
Authorities estimate that 16,000 stores – from clothing to electronics businesses – and some 3,700 manufacturing companies will reopen this week, along with more than 32,000 construction sites.
Retail stores can only offer in-store pickup service, while returning to work for people in the industry, construction, agriculture and fishing sectors was more normal. But New York, the city that never sleeps, is still half empty, with restaurants, theaters and cinemas still waiting to open normally.
“Today is the first day that we return to work here in New York City. It has been a very difficult situation because we have been unemployed for almost three months. Thank God things started getting back to normal and we are back to work,” Alejandro, a Guatemalan who got up at 5.30 am to go to work, told EFE.
Alejandro is working in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens at a house reconstruction site, which was suspended with the outbreak of the pandemic. He lives with his wife and daughter and does not try to hide his joy. To survive these months, he has had to use his savings and “sometimes” ask for help from people.
Just like Alejandro, thousands of workers returned to their workplaces Monday, although there are many others who lost their jobs permanently.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio congratulated residents of the Big Apple on the economic reopening this Monday and noted that they are already “back,” 100 days after the first coronavirus case, stopping the contagion and surviving the “worst situation” in the United States and the world.
Cuomo said that if he had been told more than three months ago that New York would reopen after just 100 days, he would not have believed it because the experts predicted a much more pessimistic situation. Back then, 800 people died daily from the coronavirus in New York state, the vast majority in the Big Apple.
All those who return to work have to operate with numerous precautionary measures, including social distancing where possible, the use of face masks and close health monitoring.
Companies have a 30-day margin to adapt to the security and prevention measures imposed by the City Council, such as implementing temperature checks among workers, reducing occupancy in closed spaces to less than 50 percent and wearing face masks, and from then on inspectors can sanction them if they don’t comply.
Businesses are still recommended to continue with their work-from-home policy if they can and are asked to make employees’ shifts more flexible in order to reduce overcrowding of the office and public transport.
The metropolitan metro and bus transport networks, the use of which fell by up to 90 percent during the pandemic, have begun to pick up the pace slowly, yet are still far from the frequency of 100 days ago.
Social distancing and the use of face masks are being enforced as much as possible with the help of 3,000 volunteers spread across the city.
However, the reopening has not satisfied everyone. Council member Ydanis Rodriguez has asked that the subway resume activity between 1 am and 5 am, at which time it is closed for disinfection. Before the virus outbreak, the subway was open 24 hours.
During the month of April, in which New Yorkers were confined by the rapid spread of COVID-19, subway users fell to historic lows, with an average of 400,000 daily commuters, a figure that increased to 600,000 in May, when the virus statistics began to improve, but far from more than 5.5 million daily passengers before the arrival of the virus.
Cuomo on Monday traveled to his daily press conference on the subway’s 7 train, which connects Queens neighborhood with Manhattan. In his speech, he insisted that the transportation is safe and encouraged city residents to use it.
“If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t ask anyone to go on the subway,” said the governor after being asked about the role that the public transport system could have in a possible resurgence in cases.
On the streets of Lexington, Madison and Fifth Avenue, where the city’s opulence and luxury are displayed, fashion stores have decided not to open for the time being, as protests over the death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer have continued for days across New York City.
A few stores, such as Uniqlo on Fifth Avenue, have begun removing the wooden armor with which they tried to protect the stores from looting. Others, like Talbots clothing store on Madison Avenue, or The Container Store on Lexington Street, have only opened to allow people to pick up their orders.