Lockdown in New York: When time, and Times Square, came to a standstill

Sagar Rajagopal
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Times Square wears a deserted look as Manhattan locks down to prevent COVID-19 transmission. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

The city that never sleeps, sleeps. And it sort of stops you in your tracks. Because you have layers of memories and visuals of this city. All of them are packed with people. And suddenly there are none.

The sweeps of city shutdowns that COVID-19 has created has come to the shores of New York as well. There have been a few weeks of vacillation, perhaps understandably so given the magnitude of the decision and its economic impact to millions of people and to the US and global economies.

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The skyscrapers had been left to stand watch over empty midtown Manhattan avenues. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

But here we are.

As of Sunday night 8pm, the city will largely grind to a halt with a shutdown that permits only essential businesses to stay open and asks everyone to remain indoors except for urgent and essential activities. The question is, how it will change this city.

The gamble is that the lockdown will pay off in flattening the curve of coronavirus infection rates. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

The Saturday before the shutdown my curiosity got the better of me. My wife, my two children and I had been self quarantining for nearly two weeks and I was aching to get out and stretch my legs.

Living in Manhattan I had seen this part of the city slowly depopulate over the course of the past week as nearly all offices shifted to a work from home model.

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Times Square —  a tourist magnet, attracting over 3,00,000 visitors every day, today the blinking neon signs stood shining for a handful of gawkers. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

So I decided to jog through Manhattan from our East Village apartment up to the Times Square area through the typically packed midtown business district.

Suffice it to say my run didn’t do much in pushing my heart rate. Every so often I would stop to gape at a street that should have been clogged with weekend evening traffic but was now barren. The mood was almost post apocalyptic.

coronavirus, covid 19, new york lockdown, manhattan, times square lockdown, us coronavirus death toll, coronavirus covid 19, global coronavirus, indian express

Living in Manhattan, Rajagopal had seen this part of the city slowly depopulate over the course of the past week as nearly all offices shifted to a work from home model. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

Paper and trash occasionally drifted past on the breeze. Restaurant after coffee shop after bar after vintage thrift store, all shuttered. Poignant messages taped to their front door with wishes of good health and proclaiming a return on an as yet indeterminate date.

Empty city buses are taking nobody nowhere. (Express Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

Taxis rolled slowly past me, chasing empty city buses taking nobody nowhere. The skyscrapers had been left to stand watch over empty midtown Manhattan avenues. Once busy streets were now eerie parking lots.

coronavirus, covid 19, new york lockdown, manhattan, times square lockdown, us coronavirus death toll, coronavirus covid 19, global coronavirus, indian express

The shutdown is both desperately needed and painful at a human level, writes Rajagopal. (Express Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

And then there was Times Square. A tourist magnet, attracting over 3,00,000 visitors every day, today the blinking neon signs stood shining for a handful of gawkers. A costumed Disney character kicked a crushed Coke can along the road, maybe from a combination of boredom and an obvious lack of custom. There were more police officers at this world famous square today than any tourist. And it looks like it will stay that way for a while.

coronavirus, covid 19, new york lockdown, manhattan, times square lockdown, us coronavirus death toll, coronavirus covid 19, global coronavirus, indian express

The sweeps of city shutdowns that COVID-19 has created has come to the shores of New York. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

The shutdown is both desperately needed and painful at a human level. There is open and widespread anxiety, especially amongst those in retail and service industries that have shut down as to how they will feed their families in the coming weeks. The gamble is that this will pay off in flattening the curve of coronavirus infection rates.

coronavirus, covid 19, new york lockdown, manhattan, times square lockdown, us coronavirus death toll, coronavirus covid 19, global coronavirus, indian express

There is open and widespread anxiety, especially amongst those in retail and service industries that have shut down. (Photo: Sagar Rajagopal)

Time will tell but for now it’s at a standstill.

Sagar Rajgopal is an entrepreneur who has lived in four cities across the globe in the last seven years. He is currently based in New York City.