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US’ restart hits snags amid new COVID-19 cases

CALIFORNIA: Medical staff from myCovidMD provide free COVID-19 virus antibody testing in observance of Juneteenth at the Faith Central Bible Church, in the predominately African American city of Inglewood, California. — AFP

NEW YORK: The US economic restart hit some snags Friday as several states report higher coronavirus cases, with Apple shuttering some recently reopened stores and the US cruise industry extending a suspension. The nation’s biggest movie theater chain, AMC Entertainment, also announced it would require face masks at all US theaters, quickly reversing a policy from a day earlier following a public outcry.

The stuttering and fragmented steps to reopen the American economy reflects the absences of national directives on the pandemic, as policies are largely set at the local level and by private industry rather than through Washington mandates. While coronavirus case counts have fallen sharply in the Northeast and much of the Midwest, states including Florida, Nevada and Arizona have seen record COVID-19 case counts in recent days.

Those trends have complicated efforts to revive a US economy, which has seen more than 45 million workers file for unemployment since March, and at least 20.5 million remain unemployed. Apple said it was closing 11 stores, six of in Arizona, and two each in North Carolina and Florida, as well as one in South Carolina. “Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. “We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Cruise Line International Association announced Friday it was voluntarily extending a suspension of operations through September 15, beyond the July 24 restriction from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to resumption in the United States,” the trade group said. “Although we are confident that future cruises will be healthy and safe, and will fully reflect the latest protective measures, we also feel that it is appropriate to err on the side of caution to help ensure the best interests of our passengers and crewmembers.”

AMC’s about face

AMC, meanwhile, reversed course on its safety policy as it targets July as a timeframe for reopening its 8,000 theaters across the country. While the company had side-stepped the question of whether to require masks of customers, saying it would defer to the rules of local governments, but said it  always intended to require masks of employees.  Though AMC said it planned to “strongly encourage mask usage,” the decision not to mandate masks of all customers “prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers.”

“It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of mask,” the company said in a statement, adding that “with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy.” Although masks are broadly accepted in much of the US, governments in more politically conservative parts of the country have seen resistance and even protests against obligatory mask usage.  The White House has sent mixed messages on masks and President Donald Trump has not been photographed in a face covering. — AFP

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