New Jersey becomes latest US state to pause reopening plans

The two hardest-hit US states moved to pre-empt a coronavirus outbreak from recurring in the country’s north-east, with New Jersey halting plans to allow indoor dining in restaurants and New York weighing a similar pause.

Phil Murphy, the New Jersey governor, said on Monday that indoor dining would be postponed “indefinitely”, and his New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo said he would decide this week whether to do the same for New York City, which was due to resume indoor service on July 6.

Mr Murphy said there was mounting evidence that a new wave of coronavirus cases in the US south and west were “driven by, in part, the return of indoor dining”.

Mr Cuomo said there was an “undeniable” lack of compliance with social distancing guidelines in bars and restaurants in New York City, and Mr Murphy said he had witnessed a “complete disregard for social distancing” and face coverings at eateries across New Jersey, which was due to loosen restrictions this week.

The moves make New Jersey and New York two of the first states that were subject to the earliest wave of US coronavirus cases to reconsider business reopening plans.

A half-dozen states in the south and west have put their reopening plans on pause in recent days because of the recent outbreak in coronavirus cases; thus far, only Texas and Florida have thrown those plans into reverse.

Although New York has sharply driven down what was once the US’s highest infection rate, Mr Cuomo has been adamant that he would reimpose restrictions if there were signs cases were beginning to rise again.

Alongside the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, he last week announced visitors coming from states with significant coronavirus cases would be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Several large companies have taken it upon themselves to halt or roll back reopening plans regardless of government guidance, including Apple, which closed retail stores again throughout the south and west.

On Monday AMC Theatres, the largest cinema chain in the US, said it would push back its reopening date for 450 of its venues by two weeks to the end of July.

“Our theatre general managers across the US started working full-time again today and are back in their theatres gearing up to get their buildings fully ready just a few weeks from now for movie-goers,” said Adam Aron, AMC’s chief executive.

Mr Cuomo argued the federal government was wrong to push for a quick reopening of the economy, pointing to President Donald Trump’s tweets urging governors to “liberate” some states. Mr Cuomo said “reopening fast was not good for the economy” and was unsettling the stock market.

“The White House has been in denial on coronavirus from the get-go and the federal response has just been wrong,” Mr Cuomo said, urging Mr Trump to sign an executive order requiring everyone to wear a mask in public.

Responses to the pandemic have become increasingly varied. Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and North Carolina paused their reopening plans last week, but some individual cities, such as San Francisco, have delayed plans to further ease lockdowns in the absence of a state-imposed pause.

Similarly, over the past fortnight, the governors of California, Nevada and North Carolina ordered residents to wear face coverings in public, while Georgia governor Brian Kemp told reporters he had no plans to issue such a mandate despite a rising number of cases in his state.

Some cities have instituted mandates in the absence of state orders, with Jacksonville, Florida, the latest to take such action on Monday.

The outbreak has raised alarms outside the US, as well. The EU is expected to approve a new list of countries that can begin reopening travel with the 27-country bloc — a list that will not include the US.

The US reported a further 42,161 people tested positive for coronavirus between Saturday and Sunday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which took the national tally since the pandemic began to more than 2.5m. Since Friday’s record jump of more than 44,300, daily cases have increased by more than 42,000 for three days in a row.

California, Florida and Texas are now averaging more than 5,000 cases a day, with Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina the other states that have average daily case rates in excess of 1,000.

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