NYC cleared to re-open zoos, play ball; museums stay shut

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City was cleared on Friday to take the next step in its re-opening next week, allowing movie and TV crews to film, zoos to welcome reduced crowds, professional sports teams to play to empty seats. Visitors are set to return to the island that houses the Statue of Liberty — but not the statue itself.

But malls, museums and restaurant dining rooms will stay shuttered in the nation’s biggest city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the city is set to begin a limited version of the fourth phase of the statewide reopening process starting tomorrow. But he warned that New York’s progress is fragile as COVID-19 cases surge elsewhere in the country.

“I feel like we’re standing on a beach and we’re looking out at the sea and we see the second wave building in the distance, so I want all New Yorkers to be on high alert,” the Democratic governor told reporters during a telephone briefing.

New York City, which has seen the bulk of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, began reopening June 8, after the rest of the state.

In the city’s scaled-down Phase 4, botanical gardens and zoos can reopen at 33 per cent capacity, production of movies and TV shows can proceed and professional sports such as baseball can be played without fans in the stands, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Major League Baseball plans to start a shortened season next Thursday, with the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals hosting the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Dodgers welcoming the rival San Francisco Giants. The rest of the league joins the fray July 24.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service announced that the grounds of Liberty Island would re-open to visitors tomorrow after being closed since March 16. But there is no re-opening date yet for Lady Liberty herself, the statue museum or nearby Ellis Island.

The rest of the state is already in Phase 4, which typically permits opening malls and certain arts and entertainment centres. But Cuomo said this week that even in Phase 4, New York City cannot have “any additional indoor activity” in places like malls and museums because of coronavirus transmission risks.

New York City also has been barred from opening up indoor dining, unlike the rest of the state.

Even so, “Phase 4 — what a striking reality, after everything we went through,” the Democratic mayor said on Friday at an online briefing where he announced the city would extend through October new provisions that have allowed restaurants to set up more outdoor tables than usual.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced a crackdown on Thursday on restaurants across the state, saying too many have been flouting mask-wearing and social distancing rules, especially downstate.

Eateries can no longer allow walk-up service to people who are not buying food, and any establishment cited three times with breaking the rules will be closed.

The crackdown is worrying city restaurateurs, who embraced outdoor dining as a lifeline after months of being limited to takeout and delivery.

“Businesses need to be responsible for the activity on their property, but staff certainly cannot be deputised to police the streets,” Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie said.

Daily statewide statistics released on Friday show New York with 776 newly confirmed cases, representing one per cent of tests. The number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 on Thursday dropped to 765 and 10 people died, according to state figures. More than 25,000 people have died statewide since the outbreak began.