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Indoor dining will resume this week with limited capacity

August 31, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this July 1, 2020 file photo, diners enjoy eating their meals outside at a restaurant in Montclair, N.J. Indoor dining in New Jersey will resume Friday, Sept. 4 with limited capacity, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, Aug. 31. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, FIle )
FILE - In this July 1, 2020 file photo, diners enjoy eating their meals outside at a restaurant in Montclair, N.J. Indoor dining in New Jersey will resume Friday, Sept. 4 with limited capacity, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, Aug. 31. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, FIle )

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Indoor dining will resume and movie theaters will reopen Friday, both with limited capacity, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

Movie theater attendance will be capped at 25% percent capacity or 150 people, whichever is less.

Restaurants will only be able to have 25% capacity under the new rules, which includes maintaining social distancing between tables. Masks must be worn except when eating or drinking.

“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19,” Murphy, a Democrat, wrote in a tweet Monday announcing the updated regulations.

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Owners have been eager to open up restaurants for months.

“It’s about time,” said Costas Kaiafas, the owner of the Princess Maria Diner in Wall. “At some point he’s got to let us work.”

The announcement comes five months after the state shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak in New Jersey has led to more nearly 192,000 positive cases and 14,165 fatalities.

On Tuesday, gyms and health clubs are cleared to reopen, also at 25% capacity and with a mask requirement.

The state had been in the second of three stages of reopening, but Murphy later on Monday said the restarts put the state in stage three territory. An official announcement is still pending.

New Jersey restaurants had already been cleared for outdoor dining, but Murphy had delayed reopening indoor dining, citing health concerns about the spread of the virus inside.

Murphy was under pressure from business groups and political rivals to reopen.

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Murphy’s Monday announcement was “unfortunately long overdue.”

Murphy had initially said indoor dining could reopen before the July 4 holiday, but changed his mind, citing worsening figures. That decision was met with criticism, including from Siekerka, who said the state’s businesses couldn’t take advantage of the “prime summer season” and lost patrons to open restaurants in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Asked Monday whether he’d promise not to renege on the reopening again, Murphy said he doesn’t control the virus but sounded confident the restart would go ahead.

“I’ll be stunned, absolutely stunned, if it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Jack Ciattarelli, a former member of the Assembly, is running for the GOP nomination for governor to take on Murphy next year. He also called the decision long overdue and said if health conditions permit, then capacity should be increased incrementally, rising to 50% by November.

Restaurants can’t make a profit on 25% capacity, said Eileen Kean, the the director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Jersey, adding that Murphy should consider expanding the limit to 50% and full capacity soon.

Kaiafas, the diner owner, said he’s hopeful to be at 50% capacity in three or four weeks and fully opened sometime this year.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos have also been chomping at the bit to resume indoor dining, saying the ban has seriously hurt their business.

One of the consequences of the indoor dining ban in the gambling halls is the prohibition of the traditional serving of beverages on the casino floor.

That would presumably be allowed to resume on Friday, although Murphy did not specifically mention casinos in his announcement. Still, the casinos are excited to be able to offer even limited indoor dining as the crucial Labor Day weekend approaches.

“We are very pleased to resume indoor dining this Friday allowing us to bring valued team members back to work,” said Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock casino. “We have seen tremendous success with our outdoor dining venues, although weather variables have been a real challenge. Opening indoor dining brings back a key amenity that our guests know, love and deserve.”

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Associated Press reporter Wayne Parry in Atlantic City contributed to this report.