California faces strict new coronavirus lockdowns, sheriffs push back

A safety protocol sign is seen at the entrance of Green Apple Books ahead of the new stay-at-home order in attempts to stem coronavirus spikes in San Francisco, California December 6, 2020. — Reuters pic
A safety protocol sign is seen at the entrance of Green Apple Books ahead of the new stay-at-home order in attempts to stem coronavirus spikes in San Francisco, California December 6, 2020. — Reuters pic

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LOS ANGELES, Dec 7 — More than 23 million people in Southern California were preparing yesterday to face the harshest lockdowns in the United States as Covid-19 cases spiked to record levels in the most populous state.

The restrictions in California, ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom to take effect on a region-by-region basis as hospital intensive care unit beds reach capacity, call for bars, hair and nail salons and tattoo shops to close again.

As of 11.59pm yesterday, the affected regions, including Southern California, were also required to shut down even outdoor restaurant dining.

Newsom, a first-term Democrat, has threatened to withhold funds from local governments that refuse to carry out the restrictions.

The clampdown has angered some Californians eight months into the pandemic and some law enforcement officals. The sheriffs of Los Angeles and Riverside counties have said they won't help impose them.

“The Riverside County Sheriff's office will not be blackmailed, bullied or used as muscle against Riverside County residents in the enforcement of the governor's orders,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a videotaped message posted on the department's website.

The San Francisco Bay Area will also go into lockdown starting at 10pm yesterday, under a separate set of orders issued by Mayor London Breed.

Newsom and Breed have both been sharply criticized after dining on separate nights at a posh Napa Valley restaurant, the French Laundry, in November despite repeatedly admonishing Californians to avoid such outings.

California reported more than 30,000 new cases yesterday, exceeding the state's previous high of 21,986 set on December 4, and marked a new record for hospitalized Covid-19 patients. New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia also announced record one-day rises in new infections.

As the nation struggles under the latest surge in the pandemic, Dr Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, complained yesterday of mixed messages coming from US governors.

“Right now, across the Sun Belt, we have governors and mayors who have cases equivalent to what they had in the summertime yet aren't putting in the same policies and mitigations that they put in the summer, that they know changed the course of this pandemic across the South,” she said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press show.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated Donald Trump in the November 3 election, has said that on taking office on Jan. 20 he will enact mask mandates where he has authority, such as at federal buildings and for interstate travel.

In New York City, one of the early epicentres of the US pandemic, some public schools in the nation's largest school district prepared to reopen for daily in-person classes today after a citywide shutdown.

An estimated 190,000 children in programmes geared for early childhood, elementary and special needs students will be eligible to return to classrooms, the city said.

Neighbouring New Jersey over the weekend halted indoor youth sports after at least 28 outbreaks affected 170 people. Governor Phil Murphy's ban targets sports such as basketball, ice hockey and swimming, including practice and competition, until at least January 2. — Reuters

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