New York's governor ordered all Broadway theaters to shut their doors in the face of ongoing coronavirus concerns, plunging into darkness one of the city's most popular tourist attractions and causing turmoil in the run-up to the Tony Awards.

Andrew Cuomo on Thursday banned gatherings of 500 or more in the city, effectively forcing the hand of Broadway producers who had previously said that Broadway would be "open for business" unless advised not to by the Government.

Shows will resume the week of April 13, only 10 days before the official cut-off for eligibility for the Tony Awards. Cuomo said venues of under 500 can only be filled to half their capacity.

The move comes a day after Broadway's two largest theatre chains revealed that a part-time usher and security guard who worked at two theatres in recent days tested positive for Covid-19 and was under quarantine.

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The pressure on Broadway to go dark steadily increased as other entertainment hubs closed, including Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, the NBA, NHL, CinemaCon, Coachella and Major League Soccer.

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Actors took to Twitter to share their sadness. "My heart is with all my friends and colleagues," wrote Tony Award-nominee Judy Kuhn. "This is really bad for everyone who depends on the theater for their livelihoods." Kerry Butler, a Tony-nominated star of Beetlejuice, said the closure "is the right move to keep everyone safe".

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Other theatres far from Broadway have closed their doors, including the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in California, which canceled or postponed all productions and programmes through to March 31. The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle closed its doors, citing the state's mandated cancellation of public gatherings. The 1600 seat Curran Theater in San Francisco decided to reduce the audience, allowing only a fraction of its capacity to see performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Broadway producers were cautious until now, with a wait-and-see approach for an industry that grossed US$1.8 billion last season. The Broadway League, a trade organisation representing producers and theatre owners, recommended that actors refrain from greeting fans at the stage door.

A couple buys discounted Broadway theatre tickets in New York's Times Square this week. Photo / AP
A couple buys discounted Broadway theatre tickets in New York's Times Square this week. Photo / AP

The league said it had increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting all public and backstage areas. It also added alcohol-based sanitiser dispensers for public use in the lobby of every theatre.

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Producers have been historically unwilling to cancel shows, which had an average paid admission last week of over $100. The last time they did so was in 2016, when a ban on travel in New York and the suspension of public transportation due to snow forced theatre owners to cancel one day's shows. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 darkened Broadway for four days and cost more than US$8.5 million in lost revenue.

Broadway is particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus because its audience skews older, thousands of people are packed into small seats for every show and the industry is dependent on tourism. Of the 14.8 million admissions in the 2018-2019 season, 65 per cent were made by tourists — 46 per cent from Americans outside New York and 19 per cent from other countries.

Even before the Broadway League pulled the plug, two off-Broadway shows suspended performances — Beyond Babel at The Gym at Judson Theater and Romeo & Bernadette at Theatre Row.

Actors' Equity Association, which represents more than 51,000 actors and stage managers nationwide, had urged officials and producers to consider the health and economic welfare of theatre workers in their decision.

The closing of all 41 Broadway theatres will cause chaos to the spring theatrical calendar, which culminates in the Tony Awards on May 19. Several shows — including Company, Caroline, Or Change, Diana and Mrs Doubtfire — had scheduled to open during the time when theatres are closed.

Last week, attendance was actually higher than the previous week, but many believed that Broadway would not be able to avoid the effects of the outbreak forever, especially if school groups and tourists decided to skip New York in big numbers.

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- AP