By Leela de Kretser

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles, the two largest cities in the United States, on Sunday said they were ordering restaurants, theaters, bars and movie houses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Any restaurant, bar or cafe selling food will only be able to do so via delivery or take-out, officials said.

“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have to break that cycle.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday night that he was also ordering gyms closed, too.

Both mayors said they were not making their decisions lightly.

“These places are part of the heart and soul of our city. They are part of what it means to be a New Yorker,” de Blasio said. “But our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality.”

De Blasio said his order would be in effect on Tuesday at 9 a.m. In Los Angeles the restrictions would take effect at midnight on Sunday.

There was no word yet on how long the businesses in New York would remain closed – the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for detail.

Garcetti said Los Angeles businesses affected by his order must stay closed until March 31, adding that he may extend the order.

More than 50,000 restaurants in New York were expected to shutter by Tuesday morning. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants account for more than $51 billion in annual revenue and have more than 800,000 employees.

“We will come through this, but until we do, we must make whatever sacrifices necessary to help our fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio said.

Before word of the mayor’s order came out, a New York police cruiser was seen in the East Village neighborhood, a pillar of the city’s night life scene, telling patrons of bars and restaurants to disperse and go home. Several businesses closed up shop shortly afterward.

For restaurant owner Julio Pena, the New York City shutdown looks devastating. Pena, who managed to keep his Il Posto Accanto restaurant open in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, doesn’t know how he or other businesses will survive.

“Throughout whatever situation we’ve always opened, not only for staff and to pay the bills, but because the community needs us,” he said.

(Reporting by Leela de Krester in New York; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas. Editing by Gerry Doyle)