(Adds comment from Bowser, reaction from DC bar, background)
By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - Washington, D.C.’s mayor on Monday announced new restrictions on businesses, including tough curbs on bars and restaurants, as part of the U.S. capital’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order prohibits table seating at bars and restaurants, but allows them sell orders for delivery or pickup. She has also ordered nightclubs, theaters and health clubs to close for at least two weeks starting on Tuesday.
The mayor’s order, similar to those imposed in other cities and states to help slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, bans all gatherings of more than 50 people.
The restaurant and bar restrictions go into effect at 10 p.m. (0200 GMT) on Monday night and remain in effect until at least March 31.
“Come by for one last burger, beer or cocktail! Happy Hour til 9!,” the operators of one Washington bar, Town Tavern, tweeted.
A sign on the sidewalk outside the Reliable Tavern in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood read “Last Day To Drink.”
“I’ve been saying for over a month that this would happen. But hearing it from the mayor’s mouth was crushing,” said Zak Sanders, a bartender inside the darkened interior, where three customers nursed drinks,
Bowser’s announcement comes as congressional lawmakers elsewhere in Washington are debating proposals to tackle the spread of the virus and its impact on the U.S. economy.
Bowser said at a news conference that the measures were needed to promote the concept of “social distancing” whereby people keep at least six feet (1.83 m) apart in order to prevent spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus that has killed at least 80 Americans.
“When we slow the spread of COVID we protect our hospitals and healthcare facilities from getting overwhelmed. We are able to keep more hospital beds open and make better use of limited resources,” she said.
Businesses are subject to criminal and civil penalties if they violate the terms of the order. (Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington. Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Bill Berkrot)