Reopening: It’s Back to Business, But not Business as Usual

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People relax on Primrose Hill, in London, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Lockdown restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak have been relaxed allowing unlimited outdoor exercise and activities such as sunbathing. The UK's Met Office said Wednesday, it is the hottest day of the year so far with 27.8 Celsius recorded at Heathrow. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

By DAVID CRARY, DAVE COLLINS and NICOLE WINFIELD (AP)

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 cafes 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 euros ($32 billion) this year.

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 finds that 83% 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 320,000 deaths have been recorded, including about 92,000 in the U.S. 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 who came into contact with the infected employees.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers restarted their U.S. 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.

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