US cities close bars, eateries as Nike, Under Armour close outlets
Expert warns that 'worst is ahead' as country reaches 'very, very critical point'
WASHINGTON: In an unprecedented move, US nightlife capitals New York and Los Angeles ordered bars and restaurants to close or go take-out only and the Federal Reserve slashed rates as the country scrambled to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The fast-spreading outbreak is disrupting every walk of life as Americans - watching Europe plunge into lockdown while experiencing panic-buying at home - brace for what is to come.
At least 69 people have died and more than 3,700 have been infected, according to a running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. President Donald Trump sought a reassuring tone even as he pleaded with Americans to stop stripping store shelves bare.
"Relax. We're doing great. It all will pass," the president said.
But Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious diseases, was blunt in telling Americans to prepare for hard times ahead, saying it was vital the country made the right choices.
"The worst is ahead for us," he told the briefing. "We have a very, very critical point now."
In drastic measures, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city's usually buzzing bars and restaurants would be restricted to take-out or delivery, and that nightclubs, theatres and concert venues must close starting today.
Schools, museums and sports arenas have already closed in many US states - but lively St Patrick's Day celebrations were still held despite pleas to limit socialising, prompting calls for more aggressive action.
"Our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality," Mr de Blasio said in a statement.
Reinforcing the message, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued nationwide guidance recommending that events gathering 50 people or more be cancelled or postponed, not including day-to-day education or business activities.
The governor of Illinois announced that all bars and restaurants in the state, which includes the city of Chicago, would close until March 30.
"The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. This is not a joke. No one is immune to this," Governor J.B. Pritzker told a news conference.
Los Angeles also said it would close bars, restaurants and nightclubs for at least two weeks, while California's Governor Gavin Newsom asked all people over the age of 65 to self-isolate at home.
Massachusetts and Washington State have imposed similar shutdowns. Several major Las Vegas casinos and hotels were shuttered and party town New Orleans issued guidelines halving the capacity of bars and nightclubs.
Nike, Lululemon Athletica and Under Armour on Sunday said they would close stores in the US and other markets.
Under Armour said it would shutter all North America stores from Monday for about two weeks. Lululemon said it would close its stores in North America and Europe for a similar period. - AFP, REUTERS