Reopening: It’s back to business, but not business as usual

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NEW YORK—This is what “normal” will look like for the foreseeable future.

In Connecticut, restaurants are reopening with outdoor-only dining and tables 6 feet apart. In Beverly Hills, California, the rich and glamorous are doing their shopping from the curb along Rodeo Drive. And preschools around the US plan to turn social distancing into an arts-and-crafts project by teaching kids how to “create their own space” with things like yarn and masking tape.

As the US and other countries loosen their coronavirus restrictions, it’s back to business, but not business as usual. In fact, it is becoming all too clear that without a vaccine against the scourge, the disruptions could be long-lasting and the economy won’t be bouncing right back.

In Italy, where good food is an essential part of life, once-packed restaurants and cafés are facing a huge financial hit as they reopen with strict social-distancing rules after a 10-week shutdown.

Experts warned that as many as one-third of the country’s restaurants and bars could go out of business, up to 300,000 jobs in the sector could vanish and losses could reach €30 billion ($32 billion) this year.

“We have to turn upside down all the activity that we did before,” lamented chef Raffaele di Cristo, who must wear a mask and latex gloves as he prepares food at the popular Corsi Trattoria in Rome. “Everything is changed.”

Corsi reopened this week with half its tables removed to ensure the mandated 1-meter (3-foot) spacing. Hand sanitizing gel was placed at the entrance, and a new ordering system was installed so that customers could read the menu on their phones instead of listening to waitresses recite the specials.

Senior students wait for class to begin with plastic boards placed on their desks at Jeonmin High School in Daejeon, South Korea, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

In Connecticut, restaurants that reopened Wednesday for outdoor dining are required to rearrange workstations so that employees don’t face one another, and stagger shifts and break times to minimize contact among them. Markers must be installed to encourage customers to keep their distance from one another.

In Glastonbury, Connecticut, the Max Fish restaurant opened for lunch with 16 tables on outdoor patios. Customers filled about half the tables in the early afternoon, and all the tables were reserved for dinner, general manager Brian Costa said.

Friends and retirees Debbie Lawrence and Jill Perry, who often ate out together before the outbreak, enjoyed a meal at Max Fish.

“It was terrific. It’s just wonderful to be outside,” Lawrence said. “But I’m still a little leery of going to any stores.”

At the Crab Shell Restaurant on the waterfront in Stamford, co-owner James Clifford held up a roughly 6-foot-long stick he said he used to make sure chairs weren’t too close together.

“I just hope the outdoor people don’t get greedy and they don’t overstep their bounds,” he said. “Because if you can’t get it right outdoors, how can you get it indoors?”

In Fredericksburg, Virginia, one restaurant that recently reopened its patio has taken an extra step to reassure diners. The Colonial Tavern is taking staff members’ temperatures at the start of their shifts and posting the results for customers to see.

Mannequins are placed to provide social distancing at a restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Some of new rules for dining out echo reopening guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are intended for child-care centers, schools, day camps, mass transit systems, restaurants, bars and other businesses and organizations.

For example, the CDC suggests mass transit systems close every other row of seats and limit how many riders can be on a bus or train.

Amid the wave of reopenings, many Americans remain wary, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll says 83 percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections.

The poll also exposed a widening partisan divide on the topic, with Democrats more cautious and Republicans less anxious as President Donald Trump urges states to “open up our country.” Only about a third of Republicans say they are very or extremely concerned about additional infections, compared with three-quarters of Democrats.

About 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected, and over 325,000 deaths have been recorded, including over 93,000 in the US and around 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, based on government data. Experts believe the true toll is significantly higher.

With the virus far from vanquished, the reopenings could prove to be a stop-and-start, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.

Ford temporarily halted production at two of its assembly plants Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago and Dearborn, Michigan, after three autoworkers tested positive for the virus. Work was stopped to sanitize equipment and isolate those who were in contact with the infected employees.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers restarted their US factories on Monday after a two-month shutdown.

Education, too, is facing radical changes.

Cambridge became the first university in Britain to cancel all face-to-face lectures for the upcoming school year, saying they will be held virtually and streamed online until the summer of 2021.

Other institutions have taken different tacks. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana will bring students back to campus but redesigned its calendar to start the semester early in August and end before Thanksgiving.

In South Korea, hundreds of thousands of high-school seniors had their temperatures checked and used hand sanitizer as they returned Wednesday, many for the first time since late last year. Students and teachers were required to wear masks, and some schools installed plastic partitions around desks.

France is limiting spaces in its primary schools, giving priority to the children of essential workers and those in need. Some younger students even go on alternating days, while high schools remain closed.

People’s gratitude at being able to shop or eat out again is mingling with worries about job security.

Business was slow at a Paris farmer’s market with a mixed mood among the masked, gloved vendors. A man selling peonies and petunias said he was glad to get out and see shoppers again, while a woman selling asparagus and tomatoes behind a makeshift plastic screen grumbled that her customers were buying less than usual.

British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce announced plans to cut 9,000 workers as it grapples with the collapse in air travel. In general, those jobs come with good pay and benefits, and losing them is a sharp blow to local communities.

Image credits: AP, Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via AP, AP/Mindaugas Kulbis



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