New York hoping for summer of freedom as vaccinations pick up pace

FILED - After months of subdued life during the pandemic, optimism appears to be returning to New York as vaccinations continue apace. Photo: Benno Schwinghammer/dpa
FILED - After months of subdued life during the pandemic, optimism appears to be returning to New York as vaccinations continue apace. Photo: Benno Schwinghammer/dpa

As more and more New Yorkers get their vaccinations, the city is dreaming of finally returning to its old way of life, reopening its stages, world-famous exhibitions and history-steeped nightlife. Is this summer going to be one big back-to-normality party?

New York (dpa) – There is something in the air when the sun rises over Manhattan, a New Yorker recently said. The streets are fuller, the subway and bars as well, conversations by passers-by seem more exuberant. Groups of friends populate the parks, planning day-trips, voyages and parties.

That’s what it feels like when a metropolis is starting to breathe again after a year of the pandemic.

The optimism seems to rise with every additional person getting vaccinated – despite persistently high infection rates.

Many believe that New York is only weeks away from being back at how it used to be. If that’s true, this summer might be a rapture.

The wooden doors of The Bitter End have already opened again. The legendary club in Greewich Village used to host the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, when stuffy air and dripping ceiling were still a socially acceptable part of live shows.

For the first time in its 60 years, things are different at The Bitter End, as only a dozen visitors, instead of hundreds, are allowed in due to the coronavirus regulations imposed by the city. But at least shows are taking place.

The Bitter End is where singer-songwriter Samantha Echo plans her post-pandemic comeback to the stages of the city in August. After her hands being tied for so long, she is excited that this year holds the promise to the end of the pandemic.

“I think I’ll appreciate performing much more,” Echo says. She believes that after a year of lockdown, artists will be even more valued in the city.

Echo is only in her thirties but has already received both Covid-19 shots, like many New Yorkers. The minimum age for vaccinations has recently dropped to 16 there, and appointments are booked through the nights.

Almost half of New Yorkers over 18 have received at least one vaccine dose, as the inoculation campaign is progressing swiftly. The only worry is that the large number of vaccine sceptics who refuse to get the shot or a new mutation could mar the dream of a post-coronavirus summer.

Meanwhile, infection numbers are still worryingly high, but experts are counting with a decline from May.

Although the state of New York is likely to insist on some restrictions for the coming months, New Yorkers are getting more ready to party with every week. Small private gatherings are already being planned and clubs are opening their outdoor areas – though for secret undergound parties, they never really shut.

Things are also picking up again on Broadway, albeit in small steps. Recently, 150 people attended a half-hour trial performance at St James Theatre, which usually welcomes up to 1,700 guests.

Still – this is a sign of life for the 41 theatres along the Broadway, for whom resuscitation might be especially difficult.

“The worst thing for us was that we couldn’t do theatre anymore,” says Annie Haegg, an actress who has converted her kitchen on the Upper East Side into a studio for video auditions.

Before the pandemic, she was easily booking roles, for instance in the series “Hunters,” but then things collapsed for several months. “Nobody knew what was happening to them,” the 30-year-old says.

Luckily film and television started shooting again in autumn, under some restrictions. But until today, Heagg completes most of her auditions from home and rarely sees other actors.

The selection process for new plays has been picking up pace recently, and Haegg is hopeful she’ll be on a stage again soon, alongside her colleagues.

But most of all, she’s looking forward to partying. “We used to have so many parties. And I love being a host,” she says.

2021 will be the year of celebration, going to exhibitions, shows and concerts – at least that’s what New Yorkers are hoping. It could also be the summer they finally have the city to themselves, as international travel is still keeping back tourists.

“The people will just be so happy to get out again and be so much nicer to each other,” says Samantha Echo. “That’s what I believe at least. But maybe I’m naive.”

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