New York: New York City is shutting schools, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues as the main US agency charged with fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic has recommended cancelling all events with 50 or more people across the country.
The developments on Sunday indicated that more stringent nation-wide measures may be in the offing on Monday.
“We will have updated guidelines tomorrow morning for you that are being vetted now with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and all of our top healthcare experts,” Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading national effort against the pandemic, said on Sunday evening at a news conference.
The US has recorded 3,155 with 62 deaths as of Sunday.
President Donald Trump’s administration’s top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said in a televised address that Americans should be prepared to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing”.
Later, the CDC issued the toughest guidelines so far – cancelling gatherings of 50 or more people.
The Centre said that it was making the recommendation to be in force for eight weeks to reduce the “introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus”.
The guideline raises questions about the political process as the US is in the middle of an election campaign. Both parties have cancelled rallies and two states have postponed primaries – the party elections to select the nominees for the November election.
Already many national sports, entertainment and religious organisations have cancelled programmes.
Although the CDC said its recommendation would not apply to educational institutions and businesses, New York City took the sweeping decision to close not only the nation’s largest school system with more than 1 million students but also bars, restaurants, theatres, concert venues and cinemas that are the lifeblood of the city’s famed cultural and social life.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said restaurants and bars will only be allowed to offer food for delivery and cannot serve people inside. Thousands of entertainment and food industry workers will be out of work.
“It’s a very troubling moment, a moment when I’m just distraught at having to take this action, but I became convinced over the course of today that there is no other choice,” Blasio said.
“I’m very, very concerned that we see a rapid spread of this disease, and it’s time to take more dramatic measures.”
He said New York schools will be closed till at least April 20.
More than 24 other states had already shuttered schools and the local New York community began ratcheting up the pressure this week.
In the neighbouring town of Hoboken in New Jersey, Mayor Ravi Bhalla ordered a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Until now, states which had not shut down schools were encouraged by data that shows COVID-19 hitting older people a lot harder than a relatively younger, healthy population. Public health officials and doctors are not clear about why children don’t seem to be getting very sick.
“I don’t think we know why kids seem to be less affected. I have read aboutAseveral theories, but I do not think there is strong evidence for any of them as of today,” Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health, said.
The global coronavirus outbreak with roots in China has infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800. The death toll in the United States climbed to more than 60 on Sunday.
The White House coronavirus team said it would be unveiling updated guidelines on Monday.
The New York shutdown will apply to the city’s more than 1,800 public schools. Many private schools have already closed and made arrangements for online learning a little earlier than the public school system reacted.
“Beginning tomorrow, students will not report to school buildings for instruction as we transition to Remote Learning and Regional Enrichment Centers,” the New York City Public Schools announced.
The New York government’s top concern is now about hospital capacity and availability of ventilators and respiratory equipment as the system braces for a sharp uptick in cases.
Top officials of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force have been cautioning that older people and those with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and those who with a history of chemotherapy treatment are at an elevated risk from COVID-19.
BY NIKHILA NATARAJAN AND ARUL LOUIS