Photos reveal COVID-19 turned US into strange virus dystopia

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.

People cross the street in Times Square on September 28. Picture: Angela Weiss / AFP
media_cameraPeople cross the street in Times Square on September 28. Picture: Angela Weiss / AFP

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.

Virtual fans, including Snoop Dogg, are seen during Game Two of the 2020 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers at AdventHealth Arena on October 2. Picture: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
media_cameraVirtual fans, including Snoop Dogg, are seen during Game Two of the 2020 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers at AdventHealth Arena on October 2. Picture: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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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Not quite the same vibe: Social distancing on Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom. Picture: Bryan R. Smith / AFP
media_cameraNot quite the same vibe: Social distancing on Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom. Picture: Bryan R. Smith / AFP

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.

The LA Live Xbox Plaza usually crowded during the Emmys time but was closed to the public on September 18. Picture: Valerie Macon / AFP
media_cameraThe LA Live Xbox Plaza usually crowded during the Emmys time but was closed to the public on September 18. Picture: Valerie Macon / AFP

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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Punters play the pokies near a social distancing sign at the Tropicana Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip on September 17. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP
media_cameraPunters play the pokies near a social distancing sign at the Tropicana Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip on September 17. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

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.

The American Airlines check-in area at Los Angeles International Airport on October 1. Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
media_cameraThe American Airlines check-in area at Los Angeles International Airport on October 1. Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

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.

A worker boards up a bar in Austin, Texas on June 26. The city’s famous bars are still not allowed to operate. Picture: Sergio Flores/AFP
media_cameraA worker boards up a bar in Austin, Texas on June 26. The city’s famous bars are still not allowed to operate. Picture: Sergio Flores/AFP

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.

Some of the iconic stores on our holiday hit list might not be there when we return. Picture: I Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP
media_cameraSome of the iconic stores on our holiday hit list might not be there when we return. Picture: I Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

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

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