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New Yorkers have woken to find the coronavirus has left their their famously bustling city with no Broadway, no basketball games, no big gatherings and a populace unnerved by an ever-worsening crisis.

A dizzying series of temporary coronavirus-related closures announced on Thursday included some of the city’s cultural jewels: the Metropolitan Opera, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Hall.

It was not just high culture. The St Patrick’s Day parade will not step off next week. Concerts were cancelled. NBA games were scuttled. CBS News, which temporarily shut down its city headquarters on Wednesday after two employees tested positive, continued to air its local Thursday night broadcast – from Los Angeles.

Restaurants, subway cars and footpaths were noticeably emptier on Thursday. Without a flake of snow, the city began to take on the thinned-out look it gets after winter blizzards as people worked from home or avoided public places. Colleges across the city were closed or having students attend class online.

The virus, as of Thursday afternoon, had been confirmed in more than 320 people in New York state, including 95 in the city, and had caused one death in the metropolitan area.

But after weeks of assuring residents that fear of the virus had outstripped the actual danger, New York’s governor and mayor abruptly shifted course.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that in an attempt to stop the virus spreading, gatherings with more than 500 people would temporarily be banned in the state, starting in most places at 5pm on Friday, though evening shows on Broadway were called off a day sooner.

Many gatherings in smaller event spaces would have to cut capacity in half.

The restrictions, imposed by an emergency order, do not apply to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, shopping malls and mass transit, and there were exceptions for other types of businesses, like casino floors.

People are also still free to go to work. Mayor Bill de Blasio, while pointing out the outbreak could last six months or longer, counselled against giving up.

“I think it is dangerous to stop living life. You know, this is a crisis, but it is a crisis that will one day end … We gotta keep living life,” he said. “People, you know, cannot get to a point of hopelessness.”

Yet it was clear the slowdown would be painful for a city that relies on the economic engines of tourism, entertainment and Wall Street.

Restaurants and nightspots around the city are reporting drop-offs of 20 per cent to 80 per cent in the past week, particularly in the tourist-friendly area around Times Square, said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Throughout the day, New Yorkers’ sense of unease was compounded by false rumours, spread on social media, that an even larger clampdown was in the works, involving mass quarantines, bans on private vehicles and a cancellation of train service.

“It’s just not true,” Cuomo said on 1010 WINS radio in the early evening. “This is all crazy rumours now. Anxiety is high, I understand it … New York City is not closing down.”

Parents citywide fretted about whether New York City’s public school system, with its 1.2 million pupils, might be shut down, as happened in nearby New Rochelle, a suburb that has been an epicentre of the outbreak in the US.

De Blasio said he hoped to avoid a closure of either the schools or mass transit.

The institutional closings come amid signs that New Yorkers are acting on their own to avoid crowds. Ridership on the subway and commuter rail lines has plunged, state officials said.

Danielle Xuereb, 38, of Manhattan, had been preparing to run a half-marathon but learned it was cancelled.

“I’ve been working from home and will probably continue to and probably lay low for a week or two,” she said. “Maybe not go to my normal yoga classes. I guess my main concern is how long this will all last.”

By: Berta Schroeder

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