New York has become the centre of America’s coronavirus outbreak with confirmed cases soaring and a major shortage of hospital beds expected, triggering alarm in the White House.
More than 30,000 people in New York state have tested positive for the virus, accounting for half of all known cases in America and around 5pc of the worldwide total.
The number has doubled since the weekend, partly thanks to increased testing, raising concerns that the state’s hospitals are ill-prepared as they brace for further rises. Projections suggest 140,000 hospital beds will be needed to cope with the surge in patients, but just 53,000 are in place. The state is also looking to triple its number of ventilators.
Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor whose daily press conferences are being carried on US-wide television news channels, spelled out the stark statistics yesterday.
“Now is the time to be aggressive and do things you’ve never done before,” he said, warning that hotels, dormitories and former nursing homes may be used for extra hospital beds.
Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, said he thought the number of foreign travellers New York attracts and the closeness with which people live in the city helped explain why the state had far more cases than others in America.
But he also offered a note of optimism. “Our closeness makes us vulnerable… But it’s true that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength,” Mr Cuomo said.
New York City accounts for around 18,000 of the state’s coronavirus cases. Yesterday, whole swathes of ‘the city that never sleeps’ had fallen quiet.
In Times Square the lights were blazing, but people were scarce. Ferries that normally shuttle crowds of commuters and tourists around the city of 8.4 million were like ghost ships.
The spike in New York has alarmed Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, which late on Tuesday announced that anyone leaving the city must self-quarantine for 14 days.
In Washington, there was a breakthrough on Capitol Hill as senators from both parties announced a deal had been struck on a $2trn (€1.8trn) stimulus package.
The legislation amounts to the largest emergency economic bill in US history and is expected to be approved rapidly by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It includes unprecedented direct payments to Americans, with $1,200 being given to most adults and an extra $500 for each child in a household.
There will be $600 more a week in unemployment benefits for up to four months – a change the Democrats, who have held up votes on the legislation, were seeking.
Mitch McConnell, the most senior Republican in the Senate, said: “At last, we have a deal. This is a wartime level of investment into our nation.”
Meanwhile, the German health minister yesterday called for a plan to be agreed by Easter on how to lift the coronavirus lockdown and return to normality.
“We have to deal with the questions of what we are doing here, what all this is doing to us as a society and, above all, how do we get out of it,” Jens Spahn told ‘Die Zeit’ newspaper. “I want to be able to give a good answer by Easter.”
The 39-year-old, who has been in charge of Germany’s reaction to coronavirus, said he was “irritated by the insistence of those who call for tougher measures”.
Instead, he suggested Germany starts to plan “an overall concept for the way out of the crisis” that would see restrictions lifted.
“We are working intensively on this,” he said. “How can we protect the elderly, the chronically ill, when public life is starting up again?”
One possibility was to lift restrictions for short periods and reimpose them at intervals to control the spread of the virus, he said.
“I think of accelerating and braking, of a careful balance between personal responsibility and state control.
“The virus is here and it will stay. Perhaps we have to be prepared for certain restrictions over and over again for weeks.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)