Coronavirus takes hold in America, upending lives

Maggy Donaldson and Peter Hutchison
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It was a glum morning in New York's Times Square, the day after Broadway shut down in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus

Everyday life has been radically upended in the United States, with sports and entertainment events scrapped, schools closed and millions working from home as the coronavirus pandemic partially paralyzes the world's number one power.

As US lawmakers and Donald Trump's administration sought to nail down a deal Friday on a stimulus to fight economic havoc, Americans -- until now spared mass disruption from the disease -- began to adjust from a culture of hustle to life on pause.

In the economic and cultural engine of New York the state's governor restricted gatherings of more than 500 people, as iconic cultural institutions like Broadway went dim.

In California even small events were only to proceed if organizers could ensure six feet of space between participants, with gatherings of more than 250 people banned through the end of the month.

Governors nationwide took similar steps, with many declaring states of emergency and shuttering schools and campuses, as millions of students from primary age to university moved to virtual classrooms.

Millions of office workers were also being asked to work from home in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, which has sickened more than 1,701 people in the United States, killing 40, and 133,970 worldwide with 4,958 deaths.

- Virtual debate -

Coronavirus forced a slowdown just as the US election was heating up, with Democratic rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceling rallies and Louisiana becoming the first state to postpone its primary next month.

Transportation remained open in New York but was down significantly: local subway and train lines ridership had dipped as much as 48 percent, the city's transportation authority said.

Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases director at the National Institutes of Health, said the disruptions to everyday life were the worst he has ever seen.

But he said it was made necessary particularly in light of the lack of testing -- just over 13,000 people have been tested for the virus stateside -- a system he told Congress was "failing."

"Things are going to get worse before they get better," he told CBS. "You don't wait for testing to do the mitigation. You can do it right now."

- March sadness -

Fans of America's national pastime baseball stomached news that the 2020 season would be postponed, a day after the NBA stunned fans by announcing an indefinite suspension of the basketball season, the PGA Tour, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League all followed suit.

Alex Kane, a fervent New York Yankees backer, said the Major League Baseball news left him "bummed."

"Baseball means spring and sunshine to me, and now I won't have that," the 31-year-old told AFP.

"It's the right move though... It may inspire me to buy a video game console."

The historic Boston Marathon was postponed, and the wildly popular "March Madness" collegiate basketball tournament was axed.

The sweeping cancellations, suspensions and lockouts is unprecedented in the history of modern US sports, with only the shutdown following the September 11, 2001 attacks coming close to matching the present turmoil.

- Tourism blow -

The entertainment industry is girding to weather a similar blow, with major institutions from New York's Broadway to California's Disneyland shutting down.

It was a glum morning in New York's Times Square, where Tara Woods, 28, and Chynna Scott, 27 from Melbourne were kicking off what they had hoped would be a week of sightseeing.

"We were expecting some disruption but we weren't sure how much," Woods said.

"We didn't know Broadway was closed. That sucks!"

Nearly all of New York's top performance halls and museums shuttered, a trend seen nationwide.

The Broadway closure is a major blow for a tourism income stream that brought in more than $26.7 million last week alone.

Joseph Taveras, originally from Cuba, has been a costumed character in Times Square for 20 years.

"There are no tourists, which means no money," the 60-year-old said, dressed as Super Mario character Luigi. "No one is coming."

"This is not good for Luigi."

Disneyland, the world's second-most visited theme park, will close beginning Saturday.

Major festivals have already been cancelled or postponed, including California's desert music fest Coachella pushed back until October.

And scores of tours including Billie Eilish and Pearl Jam were pushed back, a disaster for many artists and their crews, as well as local vendors and business who rely on income from concertgoers.

But as Americans hunkered down at home streaming stood to get a boost: on Friday "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by rockers R.E.M. had re-entered the US charts.