US could become next coronavirus epicenter, WHO says

March 25, 2020 08:17
Robert Burck, known as the original "Naked Cowboy", poses for photos wearing a mask in a largely desolate Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

The World Health Organization said the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, as New York state suffered another quick and brutal rise in the number of infections.

Spokeswoman Margaret Harris said infections in the US  had greatly increased. Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the US, and of those, 40 percent were in the US.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the US could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential.”

Some US state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty. “The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he tweeted.

Trump told Fox News he’d like to see people go back to work by Easter, in mid-April.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said. “You’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression. You’re going to lose people. You’re going to have suicides by the thousands,” he said.

A rapid reopening of the economy might backfire, however, with a rise in the death toll and people fearful of going out, according to investors anxious about the uncertain trajectory of the coronavirus and its economic toll.

“Markets will react badly because they have learned that this approach doesn’t work,” said Axel Merk, chief investment officer of Merk Investments. “From a medical point of view, you have to break the exponential growth and you do that with shelter in place policies.”

Health over economy

New York City, home to more than 8 million people, had 157 deaths and some 15,000 cases of Covid-19, nearly one-third the US total on Tuesday, despite imposing strict limits on travel, socializing and work.

“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a Manhattan convention center that was being converted into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital.

The expected need for hospital beds in New York state at the peak of the outbreak has spiraled to 140,000, Cuomo said, compared with 110,000 previously projected. Only 53,000 beds are said to be available now.

The rate of infection is now doubling every three days in New York and the worst of the outbreak, known as the apex, could arrive in 14 to 21 days, putting huge pressure on health services, Cuomo said.

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards said in imposing stay-at-home rules over the weekend that his state had seen the highest spike in coronavirus cases anywhere in the world.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has warned that the nation’s most populous state would also soon be desperately short of hospital beds, has closed parking lots at state-owned beaches and parks after seeing surfers and others disregarding stay-at-home rules.

N95 masks, ventilators

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said he had told Trump his state needed “millions of N95 masks and hundreds of ventilators just in the near term” and that the president had promised help.

“There has been some talk over the last 24 hours by some about who this nation might be willing to sacrifice to Covid-19, for the sake of our economic interests. Well, in case there’s any doubt in your minds, I’m not willing to sacrifice anyone,” Pritzker said.

Connecticut’s confirmed cases soared by about 50 percent overnight to 618, and the infection rate is expected to continue escalating for the next two or three weeks, Governor Ned Lamont said.

“We thought it might get worse before it gets better and I’m afraid that we are right,” Lamont told a news briefing.

There were signs that nerves had begun fraying after days of people working from home, looking after children whose schools are shut and severely scaling back on everyday activities.

At a Brooklyn playground, architect Carolyn Straub, 48, and her family took a break from their new lives working and schooling from home.

“That’s actually been hard,” Straub said. “The internet is not always reliable, goes down, and it’s impossible for us to have four separate audio zones in the house.” Reuters

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