Even as the US death toll from Covid-19 exceeded 56,000, according to the latest figures Monday night, governors in a number of states began lifting lockdown restrictions, against warnings from public health experts, as US jobless figures hit record highs.
Georgia, at the vanguard of states testing the safety of reopening the economy amid mounting coronavirus death tolls, permitted restaurant dining for the first time in a month on Monday while governors in regions with fewer cases also eased restrictions.
Eager to revive battered commerce despite warnings from public health experts about the lack of testing, a handful of states from Montana to Mississippi were also set to reopen some workplaces deemed to be nonessential.
Alaska, Oklahoma and South Carolina, along with Georgia, previously took such steps, after weeks of mandatory lockdowns that have thrown millions of Americans out of work and led to forecasts that an economic shock of historic proportions is at hand.
Reporting from Washington DC, FRANCE 24s Kethevane Gorjestani said the easing had been “very gradual, some states are taking bigger steps than others”, she noted, with some states “opening beaches and parks where you would think it is possible to keep social distancing. But other states like Tennessee for example are taking bigger steps like opening things like retails stores even though those things are lifted to about a 50 percent capacity. Restaurants have to follow strict social distancing guidelines, so really people are trying to figure out how to reopen safely in those states,” she explained.
More US states starting to ease Covid-19 lockdown
With nearly a third of the worlds Covid-19 cases and more than 56,000 of the 210,000 global death rate, the US is by far the country most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, the 24-hour death toll rose by 1,303, according to the John Hopkins University toll tracker.
There are, however, wide regional disparities between rural areas that are largely unaffected and, for example, the New York region, the epicentre of the crisis. State governors and local authorities are each tackling the lockdown restrictions and exits at their own pace, measured against the imperative to restart an economy battered by the crisis.
At a White House press briefing Monday, President Donald Trump encouraged governors to ease the restrictions “as quickly as possible — but safely”, he added. “We want everyone to be safe. And I think youre seeing that. Youre seeing a lot of governors get out and they want to open it up.”
Georgia racing to open for business
Georgia has been at the vanguard of states testing the safety of reopening with Trump and some local officials criticising Governor Brian Kemp for forging ahead to add restaurants and movie theatres to the list of businesses — hair and nail salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors — that he allowed to reopen last week, albeit with social-distancing restrictions still in force.
No companies are required to reopen, and it remained to be seen how many merchants would choose to return to business and how many customers would show up if they do.
Some owners and managers of eateries in Atlanta, the state's largest city and capital, were less than enthusiastic.
"It's not safe," said Brian Maloof, owner of Manuel's Tavern, a fixture for more than 60 years. "I don't know when we'll open, but I'm afraid it won't be anytime soon."
But Moe's Original BBQ by the Georgia Tech campus hung an open sign on the door for the first time in a month.
"I don't know if this is a big step to normal, but at least it's something," owner Brian Mancuso said of his trickle of lunch customers.
We have to be smart, says NY's Cuomo
In the hardest-hit states of New York and New Jersey, part of a metropolitan region of about 32 million people, governors signaled that even limited restarting of business activities was at least weeks away.
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