Americans feel economic pain, NY reels at centre of pandemic

Medical personnel remove their personal protective equipment after delivering bodies in New York on April 2. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: New York City morgues and hospitals bent under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, struggling to treat or bury casualties, as the state’s governor offered a grim prediction that the rest of the country would soon face the same misery.

Globally more than 1 million cases and 51,000 deaths have been reported of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Nearly 1,400 people have been killed by the virus in New York City, while an estimated 90% of Americans are under orders to remain at home, in many cases unable to work and fearing infection when they leave to buy food or other necessities.

“In many ways, New York state is a microcosm of the US and that’s why I think it is going to be illustrative to the rest of the nation as to what is going to happen,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The US death toll stood at 5,700 on Thursday, up more than 900 from the day before, with a total of 238,000 cases across all 50 states, according to a Reuters tally.

The US Navy relieved the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a scathing letter asking for help controlling a coronavirus outbreak onboard, US officials told Reuters on Thursday.

White House medical experts have forecast between 100,000 to 240,000 people could be killed even if Americans follow strict lock-down orders.

The US government reported that a record 6.6 million workers, sent home by their employers as businesses closed, had filed for jobless benefits last week, double the previous all-time high set a week earlier.

“It takes your breath away,” Justin Hoogendoorn, head of fixed income strategy and analytics at Piper Sandler in Chicago, said of the unemployment numbers.

“Obviously the immediate reaction to something like that is going to be fear.”

Burning bodies into the night

New York City funeral homes and cemetery directors described a surge in demand not seen in decades as cases surpassed 50,000 in the city.

Crematories extended their hours and burned bodies into the night, with corpses piling up so quickly that city officials were looking elsewhere in the state for temporary internment sites.

“We’ve been preparing for a worst-case scenario, which is in a lot of ways starting to materialise,” said Mike Lanotte, director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

At Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, staff were seen disposing of their gowns and caps and other protective wear in a sidewalk trash can on Thursday after wheeling bodies out of the hospital and loading them into a refrigerated truck.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the bodies were those of coronavirus victims and hospital administrators could not be reached for comment.

Operator Beatrice Pereira said, “They said that there’s no one available right now, that everyone here is busy saving lives.”

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the US government has nearly run out of protective gear for doctors and nurses, as governors and healthcare providers across the country clamour for the gear and medical equipment such as ventilators, which help Covid-19 patients breathe.

Pence says supplies on the way

Vice-President Mike Pence, leading the White House response to the outbreak, told Fox News Radio the administration’s models suggest the virus will peak in the greater New York metropolitan area in the next seven to 14 days.

Pence said the Trump administration had distributed about 4,400 ventilators to New York over the last week and would be sending more on Thursday.

He said 3M would be importing 10 million N95 masks from China.

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, who previously provided more than 1,000 ventilators to California, said on Twitter that he would start delivery of the “intratracheal Medtronic units” in New York City on Thursday evening.

After New York City appointed former police commissioner James O’Neill to oversee its medical supply chain, US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on President Donald Trump to appoint a national czar to oversee the production and distribution of medical supplies.

“The system that the administration has in place is horrible,” Schumer told MSNBC.

Trump tweeted that New York has received more federal aid than any other state and said the man he describes as “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and local officials should stop complaining, adding they should have stocked up long ago.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a daily news briefing that 203 people had died in the state, with more than 1,900 patients hospitalised.

He said the numbers of cases were not spiralling at the same pace as New York but cautioned that a spike could still be coming.

“We’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. But the reality is that we are buying time,” Newsom said.

Florida officials agreed to allow two Holland America Line cruise ships afflicted with the coronavirus to dock at a port in Fort Lauderdale, resolving a days-long impasse, NBC reported.

After 27 days at sea in which four passengers aboard one of the ships died, they can dock in Fort Lauderdale.

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