Few countries are as familiar to Australians as the United States.
Millions of us have spent time there but even those of us who haven’t will recognise its cities, beaches, buildings and landmarks as confidently as our own.
But as the US became the chaotic and deadly epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, this familiar nation felt more foreign to us than ever. And as the virus crisis will likely last much longer there than in Australia, it may be one of the last countries we’ll finally be able to return to.
Most of America is no longer in lockdown — although some places, such as California, Texas and New York are reversing some reopening measures — and millions of people are back at work, schools and out in the streets.
But even after the worst of COVID-19, the country’s most famous spots and experiences are looking a little different to how we last saw them.
It’s a spot famous for its billboards, but new posters with graffiti-sprayed messages including “Never, never give up” and “We are all in this together” in New York’s bustling Times Square are a chilling reminder of the incredible struggle the city has endured over the past few months, having at one time been the global epicentre of the deadly pandemic.
What’s an NBA game without the roaring crowd? Those seats around the court are looking a little different these days. Many sports codes have filled stadiums with cardboard cutouts but the NBA took things a step further when the season restarted in July, filling seats with “virtual fans” appearing on 5m-tall videoboards.
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Disney World in Orlando, Florida has reopened but there’s a bit of a limit to the fun in the most magical place on earth. Fewer people are allowed on rides at one time due to social distancing seating, the iconic fireworks displays have been cancelled to avoid crowding, and in the ultimate sign of the times, Disney character actors are wearing masks.
It seemed like nothing would drive away the overwhelming crowds of snap-happy tourists in Hollywood — that is, until COVID-19. Restrictions in Los Angeles have left the world-famous tourist trap a little bare, and the LA Live Xbox Plaza, which is usually crowded during the Emmys, was closed to the public for this year’s very different awards ceremony.
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Las Vegas is back in business but the pandemic has brought strict new rules to the city of sin. In famous casinos on the Strip, some machines are out of play with social distancing and plastic safety shields separate players and dealers at the tables. There’s been criticism about Vegas visitors flouting the rules — hopefully what happens in Vegas truly does stay in Vegas.
While air travel in Australia almost came to a halt during lockdowns, and border shutdown limited movement, millions of passengers in the United States continued flying interstate right throughout the pandemic. New rules apply, such as the mandatory wearing of masks, and airport procedures have been tweaked to keep people socially distanced.
Lockdown restrictions have come and go in many American states. In June Texas began to reopen before dramatically shutting down again — and bars in the state are still closed, including the many popular drinking holes in Austin, which usually draws tourists with its trendy and vibrant night life.
Like in Australia, American businesses have struggled to stay afloat during the economic downturn and major retailers are no exception. Luxury department chain Neiman Marcus — a popular destination for tourists with spending money to burn — has shut down stores across the country after it filed for bankruptcy due to the pandemic. H&M is also shutting 250 American stores.
Originally published as Famous tourist spot looks very different