LONDON – Britain’s prime minister was battling the coronavirus in intensive care Tuesday, the highest-profile case in the pandemic as the United States and Europe saw their death tolls reach new milestones.
Boris Johnson’s fight against the disease underscored the indiscriminate nature of COVID-19, which has restricted freedoms for some four billion people, wrecked the global economy and upended society.
The pandemic’s relentless death march across the planet has already claimed more than 73,000 victims out of 1.32 million confirmed cases, with warnings that much worse is yet to come.
A record new surge of 833 deaths in France and a jump in the Italian death toll on Monday doused tentative hopes of ending the agony in European hotspots.
And the United States recorded 1,150 deaths over 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University said.
However, glimmers of hope flickered in the daily diet of deadly statistics, with US President Donald Trump tweeting there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”
In New York state, the US epicenter of the crisis, the rate of growth in the death toll appeared to be slowing, although state Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that “now is not the time to be lax.” “New York City is fighting back. We have an invisible enemy. We have a ferocious enemy. But this city is fighting back with everything we’ve got,” said mayor Bill de Blasio.
A vast cathedral in central New York is being converted into a field hospital as the US struggles to cope with the mounting crisis.
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan will house nine climate-controlled medical tents in its 600-foot-long nave and subterranean crypt, dean Clifton Daniel told the New York Times.
The tents will be able to hold a total of at least 200 patients beneath the stained-glass windows of the building, which describes itself as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
“In earlier centuries, cathedrals were always used this way, like during the plague. So this is not outside the experience of being a cathedral, it is just new to us,” Daniel said.
Cathedral officials said COVID-19 patients could start arriving within a week.
The field hospital will be staffed with personnel from the Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital, located next door to the cathedral complex.
State of emergency
In China, where the virus originated late last year, there were no new deaths reported for the first time.
But amid fears of a second wave in Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to declare a state of emergency later Tuesday citing “rapid increases of new infections, particularly in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka.”
“I have decided that a situation gravely affecting people’s life and the economy has occurred. This evening, I plan to call a government headquarters meeting and declare a state of emergency,” Abe said Tuesday.
But it stops far short of the sort of lockdown seen in parts of Europe and the United States, with no enforcement mechanism to keep people inside or shutter business, nor penalties for those who fail to comply.
Experts and local leaders have pushed for the declaration, and 80 percent of people polled by public broadcaster TBS over the weekend said they backed the move.
Seven regions will be affected: Tokyo, neighbouring Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, the western hub of Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo, and the southwestern region of Fukuoka.
The measure is expected to be in place for around a month initially.
Doctors in the capital warned this week that the city was already in “critical condition”, with hospitals stretched thin.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who has pushed for the emergency declaration, urged residents on Tuesday to cooperate with requests to limit
“It may cause inconvenience in daily life, but I call for everyone’s cooperation because lives are at stake,” she told reporters.
In addition to asking people to stay inside and urging the closure of businesses that attract crowds, the measure allows governors to commandeer property for medical purposes.
The economic impacts of the measure have raised concern, and Abe on Monday unveiled plans for a stimulus package worth around $1 trillion, or 20 percent of gross domestic product.
Shortage of six million nurses
The virus is stretching medical facilities to the limit and the World Health Organization warned there was a global shortage of six million nurses.
People around the world have been forced to improvise as supplies run short, with bodies packed in cardboard coffins in Ecuador and a mosque converted into a makeshift mask factory in Iran.
Undertakers in New York are so overworked that a city official raised the possibility of carrying out temporary burials in a public park.
“Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly and temporary manner.
But it will be tough for NYers to take,”tweeted Mark Levine. Funeral home director Pat Marmo from New York city said: “It’s almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,” referring to the terror attacks on the city in 2001.
Governments around the world are scrambling to put together rescue packages to stem the economic damage from effectively shutting down global commerce, as fears loom of a devastating recession.
Japan has promised a $1-trillion stimulus package, nearly twice as large as measures taken during the 2008 financial crisis and a staggering 20 percent of GDP in the world’s third-top economy.
With the ink barely dry on a $2-trillion economic rescue package passed by Congress, Trump said he favored another massive spending program, again roughly $2 trillion, but this time targeting infrastructure projects.
“We built the greatest economy in the world. I’ll do it a second time,” he said.
EU finance ministers are expected to clinch a deal to use the eurozone’s 410-billion-euro bailout fund to fight the virus but the bloc remains divided on pooling debt to issue “coronabonds.”
Analysts at Oxford Economics said the pandemic “may trigger annual GDP declines among the worst seen in the last 100 years” with millions of jobs being shed around the world.