Chicago mayor loosens COVID-related capacity restrictions for businesses including bars, restaurants

(Reuters) – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday loosened COVID-19-related capacity restrictions for businesses such as bars, restaurants and health clubs, a move that will go into effect later this week.

The new guidelines, which will take effect on Thursday, will increase indoor capacity to 40% for certain businesses, reopen bars for indoor service and increase maximum group sizes for fitness classes and after-school programming, a statement from the mayor’s office said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Florida restaurants can now operate with no restrictions, governor says

(Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifted COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants as he announced the state would enter Phase 3 of reopening on Friday.

“I think that this will be very very important to the industry and it also will be a recognition that they have worked as hard as anybody to create safe environments,” DeSantis told a news conference. “In fact, the idea that government dictating this is better than them making these decisions so that their customers have confidence I think is misplaced.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Diane Craft)

Indoor dining to resume in New Jersey this week, governor says

(Reuters) – New Jersey restaurants may open their indoor dining areas to patrons later this week for the first time since the state shut down most of its commerce when the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March, Governor Phil Murphy said on Monday.

The number of diners must be limited to 25% of the restaurant’s capacity and tables must be spaced in accordance with social-distancing rules when indoor dining resumes on Friday, Murphy said.

“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

The governor is expected to elaborate later on Monday on the coronavirus status in the state, which has moved incrementally in reopening its economy since May.

New Jersey, the country’s most densely populated state, was among the hardest hit in the months when the coronavirus first spread to the United States. It still has the second-most COVID-19 deaths of any state, with nearly 16,000, and is eighth among total cases with more than 193,000, according to a Reuters tally.

But the state has had much better control of the pandemic in the past several weeks, with a transmission rate that has largely been below 1%.

Across the rest of the country, total coronavirus cases topped 6 million on Sunday as many states in the Midwest reported increasing infections, according to a Reuters tally.

Although the national metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates of tests have been declining, new hot spots have emerged in the Midwest.

Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota recently reported record one-day increases in new cases, while Montana and Idaho are seeing record numbers of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)

Drive-in cinemas, raves and dining behind plastic: the new going out

LONDON (Reuters) – With lockdown measures more relaxed, social lives are slowly becoming possible. Restaurants, bars, gigs and museums beckon. But as we take our first cautious steps back into the wider world, we are finding it transformed.

Gone are restaurants so busy that you have to wait for service or the check. Now, in the coronavirus-era, social distancing has made eating out a very different experience.

At Da Enzo’s in Rome, waiters no longer hand out menus but hold up a scan code. Customers point their smartphones at it and a menu pops up on the screen with the day’s specialties.

Dining companions – from the same household, please – might eat around a candle-lit table inside a glass booth on the banks of an Amsterdam canal, a concept being tried out by the ETEN restaurant.

If that doesn’t appeal, diners can try eating with a see-through lampshade on their heads, created by French designer Christophe Gernigon for restaurant owners who want to protect customers from COVID-19.

Other designs on the market resemble visitor booths in prisons, Gernigon said, prompting him to create a cylinder of transparent plastic that hangs from the ceiling, much like a lampshade.

“I wanted to make it more glamorous, more pretty,” he said.

Want to catch a movie after dinner but your local cinema is closed under lockdown rules? Drive-in cinemas are seeing a revival, popping up in Lithuania, Dubai and the United States.

On the Cote d’Azur, in Cannes, you can drive to Palm Beach and watch films from the comfort of your own car.

If clubbing is your thing, Germans got the party started with a drive-in rave. In the car park of Club Index in the town of Schüttorf near the Dutch border, clubbers – limited to two per car – parked in rows in front of a DJ and hopped around to the beats while respecting government-imposed social distancing measures.

Lasers, glowsticks, confetti and a whole lot of horn honking set the mood as people celebrated their new-found freedom.

“The night had quite a party vibe here. It was perhaps even better than a normal club night would be,” said organizer Holger Boesch, who runs Club Index.

And forget lockdown beards and daytime pajamas – soon there will be no more excuses for the Robinson Crusoe quarantine look.

Designers from Lebanon to China to Nigeria are creating extraordinary face masks and protective clothing, and in South Korea, YouTubers are giving tutorials to maximize the make-up and mask look.

In Lagos, designer Sefiya Diejomaoh believes a global pandemic should not get in the way of style. Gold-colored and studded with sparkling diamante jewels, her face mask matches her floor-length dress.

(Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Restaurants in parts of California can open for sit-down dining

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Restaurants in a half-dozen California counties can host sit-down dining, and shopping malls throughout the state can open for curbside pickup as coronavirus restrictions ease, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday.

Offices can also open with some restrictions, Newsom, a Democrat, said in his daily press briefing. But his latest plan for reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy still does not allow nail salons, tattoo parlors or gyms.

“It’s a mistake to over-promise what reopening means,” said Newsom, who has hesitated to loosen restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus even as other states have done so.

On Tuesday, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned Congress that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States and brought the economy to its knees.

In California, the modest loosening of stay-at-home rules imposed in March comes as infections in the most-populous U.S. state appear to be stabilizing. But the state allows local governments to keep imposing stricter guidelines, and health officials in high-density areas like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have not yet supported easing restrictions.

Similarly, counties with few or stabilized cases can apply to the state for permission to open more businesses, including restaurants serving sit-down meals, and allow customers inside shopping malls, retail stores and swap meets. Schools can open with modifications.

Six Northern California counties, Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta, received that permission on Tuesday.

To reopen, restaurants must retool their dining rooms to accommodate social distancing, closing areas where customers congregate or touch food, and stop setting tables with shared condiments such as mustard containers. Menus must be disposable and table-side food preparation is no longer allowed.

California’s slow pace of reopening has been criticized by lawmakers in Republican-leaning rural parts of the state, and a conservative lawyer filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday contesting the state’s restrictions on beauty salons.

Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco-based attorney and the former vice chair of the California Republican Party, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Professional Beauty Federation of California in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

She has also challenged Newsom’s order closing houses of worship, saying that while she supported the initial efforts to slow the virus’ transmission, the shutdown had gone on for too long.

“The premise was never lock everybody down, deprive them of their livelihoods, their properties, their dreams, everything they built,” she said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Pullin)

Georgia cafes, theaters open as U.S. states ease more restrictions

By Rich McKay and Susan Heavey

ATLANTA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday will start allowing residents to dine inside restaurants or watch a movie at a theater, as more U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi took steps to ease coronavirus restrictions despite the warnings of health experts.

Colorado, Montana and Tennessee were also set to reopen some businesses to start reviving their battered economies. Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina, along with Georgia, previously took such steps following weeks of mandatory lockdowns that threw millions of Americans out of work.

President Donald Trump and some local officials have criticized Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for orders that enabled restaurants and theaters to join a list of businesses, such as hair and nail salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors, he allowed to reopen last week with social-distancing restrictions.

One restaurant chain, Waffle House, was imposing seating arrangements in Georgia that will keep patrons at least six feet apart, stricter sanitization measures and a requirement that employees wear masks, CEO Walt Ehmer told WSB-TV.

“I know the unemployment system has been enhanced to help take care of the most vulnerable people, but people want to have jobs, and they want to have something to do and take care of their families,” Ehmer said. “I think it’s going to give them some hope.”

Public health authorities warn that increasing human interactions and economic activity may spark a fresh surge of infections just as social-distancing measures appear to be bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control.

Meanwhile, the number of known infections in the United States kept climbing on Monday, topping 970,000 as the number of lives lost to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, surpassed 54,800.

ROADMAPS

Officials in some of the hardest-hit states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have been emphasizing for weeks that more testing and contact tracing for the virus needed to be in place before they could implement roadmaps for restarting their economies.

Contact tracing involves tracking down and testing people who may have been around anyone already infected.

“Testing is the way forward, and it’s been a long fight just to get the testing,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing on Monday.

He said a new “self-swab” test, which allows patients to administer it to themselves under the supervision of medical personnel, will be available this week at sites run by New York public hospitals.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a Twitter message that he would announce a roadmap for “responsibly reopening” the state at a news conference on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that businesses including manufacturing and construction in parts of the state with fewer cases of the virus might reopen after his shutdown order expires on May 15.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has given the green light for retail curbside pickup to begin on Monday. Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors may open on Friday, with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.

“I would stay home if the government encouraged that, but they’re not. They’re saying, ‘Hey, the best thing to do is go back to work, even though it might be risky,’” Royal Rose, 39, owner of a tattoo studio in Greeley, Colorado, told Reuters.

In a further step to ramp up supplies to fight the pandemic, Trump planned to meet with American textile industry representatives on Monday as clothiers seek to shift their production lines to face masks and other critical items, the White House said.

Companies are aiming “to repurpose their factories from making things like T-shirts into gowns and masks and things like cotton swabs” used for coronavirus testing, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News.

Business shutdowns have led to a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March with predictions from the Trump administration that the jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April.

“The next couple of months are going to look terrible,” Trump’s economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters on Sunday.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Monday said she hoped Smithfield’s Sioux Falls pork processing plant can reopen soon, a day after U.S. labor regulators urged the meat industry to adopt certain measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers. The country’s meat plants have emerged as hot spots for the spread of the virus.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Susan Heavey in Washington; additional reporting by Maria Caspani and Jessica Resnick-Ault; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

Fed cuts rates and NYC, LA close restaurants to fight coronavirus

By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With panic buying on Main Street and fear-driven sell-offs on Wall Street, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic.

The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles ordered restaurants, bars and cafes closed, with takeout and delivery the only options for food sales. Movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues were also ordered closed as the U.S. death toll from the outbreak hit 65.

“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have to break that cycle.”

For the second time since the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed cut rates at an emergency meeting, aiming for a target range of 0% to 0.25% to help put a floor under a rapidly disintegrating global economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had openly pressed the Fed for further action, called the move “terrific” and “very good news.”

Store shelves have been stripped bare of essentials, schools closed and millions of jobs in jeopardy as businesses temporarily shut their doors.

“We’re learning from watching other countries,” Trump said. “It’s a very contagious virus … but it’s something that we have tremendous control of.”

Trump has faced criticism at home and abroad for sometimes downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus and overstating his administration’s ability to handle it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the United States was entering a new phase of coronavirus testing but tempered the president’s optimism.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said, a warning he has issued frequently in the past week. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to what the ultimate end point is going to be.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said testing for coronavirus was expanding with more than 2,000 labs across the country ready to process tests and 10 states operating drive-through testing.

The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the coronavirus. In early March, the Trump administration said close to 1 million coronavirus tests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test would get one, a promise it failed to keep.

With limited testing available, U.S. officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths, up from 58 on Saturday. Globally more than 162,000 are infected and over 6,000 have died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Sunday recommended that events with gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks be postponed or canceled.

DON’T HOARD

The White House appealed to Americans not to hoard as the coronavirus spreads, reassuring them that grocery supply chains were strong.

Trump held a phone call on Sunday with 30 executives from grocery stores including Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> Whole Foods, Target Corp <TGT.N>, Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> and Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, the White House said.

“Have a nice dinner, relax because there’s plenty, but you don’t have to … you don’t have to buy the quantities,” Trump said. “We’re doing really, really well. A lot of good things are going to happen.”

Trump tested negative for coronavirus, his doctors said on Saturday, as the president extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the pandemic.

Trump’s spokesman, Judd Deere, said temperature checks will be conducted on everyone who enters the White House grounds, beginning Monday morning.

Travelers returning to the United States and being screened for the coronavirus were met by long lines and massive delays at some major airports, prompting federal officials to deploy more staff and Trump to appeal for patience.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, squaring off in a Democratic debate, blasted Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and touted their own plans to deal with it.

In their first one-on-one debate, the two Democratic contenders to face Trump in the November election said the Republican president had contributed to worries about the pandemic by minimizing the threat before declaring a national emergency on Friday.

CLOSURES EXPAND

The U.S. containment measures have so far been mild compared to the nationwide lockdowns imposed in Italy, France and Spain.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Even though Americans are not barred from going to the movies, ticket sales in North America fell to their lowest level in more than two decades this weekend, according to measurement firm Comscore.

Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties would close from Monday, and he called on Trump to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to create more hospital beds.

Cuomo had been criticized for not closing schools as other states have done, given that New York has a large cluster of coronavirus cases.

A clinical trial to evaluate a vaccine designed to protect against coronavirus will begin on Monday, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed U.S. government official.

It would take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine, the AP added, citing public health officials.

(For an interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Andrea Shalal, Nandita Bose, Matt Spetalnick, Humeyra Pamuk, John Whitesides, Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle.)