Covid: New York faces an uphill battle to return to regular
The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center is shining into the New Year, shop windows on Fifth Avenue are luring shoppers with sales offers, and Manhattan’s ice rinks are open – some New York traditions endure despite the coronavirus pandemic.
But these small signs of normalcy cannot hide the fact that the crowds are no longer crowding the streets as they used to be.
The pandemic brought New York to its knees in 2020. And while the city is sure to recover in 2021, the effects will be permanent.
Vincent Lin is one of the few people in New York who swim against the current. While hundreds of restaurants in town have closed their doors in recent months, he opened Blue Willow in October 2020, serving traditional Chinese cuisine in the heart of Midtown.
Lin says he didn’t think it was necessarily the right time to open a restaurant – he planned to open the Blue Pasture before the pandemic. But there were delays, and before he knew it, the coronavirus had hit the city. Lin and his team had to improvise.
But customers are rare, as Midtown Manhattan lacks the usual business workers and tourists who eat out for lunch.
And who knows when they’ll be back – health experts believe the next few months will be bleak. But the vaccine is cause for hope.
In the beginning things looked good for New York. The first official case wasn’t confirmed until March 2020, while other locations on the west coast had previously registered infections.
However, it was only a few weeks before terrible images of refrigerated trucks leaving hospitals and mass graves on an island near the city began to spread. New Yorkers quickly drew a parallel with the 9/11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
But the comparison is difficult: while the terrorist attack happened all at once like a terrible bang, the virus penetrated the city’s offices, subways and apartment blocks almost unnoticed for weeks.
There is no open panic or rubble, but the common denominator between the virus and 9/11 is the ongoing shock.
To date, the city has recorded over 20,000 deaths from Covid-19, with an additional 4,800 deaths likely related to the virus.
More than 450,000 people are likely infected.
As a result, offices, museums, Broadway and concert halls were closed. “Exactly what made New York New York was undermined by the pandemic and stirred up by it,” Moody’s analyst Mark Zandi recently told the New York Times.
Service jobs – in restaurants, hotels, the art world, transportation and construction – have been particularly hard hit as over 1 million jobs have been lost. The unemployment rate temporarily rose to 20%.
The city is now facing a budget gap of USD 4 billion (RM 16.2 billion). What New York needs now is the return of tourists and busy business.
New Yorkers are confident that both will return.
There are several promising vaccine candidates, some of which are already in use and tens of thousands have already been vaccinated.
If hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get the bump and high risk groups are no longer at risk, the situation could ease significantly.
Travel bans could be relaxed. However, New York authorities predict that tourism will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
The news portal Axios has speculated that the drop in rental prices could help the metropolis attract a wave of young and creative new residents when it reopens. For the time being, the Americans fear a “dark winter”.
New Yorkers fear a return to isolation. Families camp again. Singles are looking for a lockdown partner. And the number of infections is increasing, as is everywhere in the country.
The next few months will also be crucial for restaurant owners Lin.
It’s not that bad right now, he says, but if new restrictions come back in place and eating in the house is banned, that could be a problem. Lin says he can hold out until April, May at the latest.
If the situation has improved by then, the blue pasture will survive. – dpa / Benno Schwinghammer