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New York transformed as US virus death toll exceeds China's

New York transformed as US virus death toll exceeds China's

Wednesday, April 01, 2020, 08:48 GMT+7
New York transformed as US virus death toll exceeds China's
Volunteers from the International Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse set up an Emergency Field Hospital for patients suffering from the coronavirus in Central Park on March 30, 2020 in New York. Photo: AFP

New York -- Emergency field hospitals have begun going up in New York's Central Park and at the home of the US Open, as the number of coronavirus deaths in America on Tuesday surpassed those reported by China.

The pandemic has killed some 1,000 New Yorkers and America's financial capital is in a race against time to dramatically ramp up hospital capacity before cases hit their peak.

Around a dozen tents, equipped with 68 beds and 10 ventilators, have been put up in Manhattan's iconic park, with COVID-19 patients expected to start arriving later Tuesday.

"You see movies like 'Contagion' and you think it's so far from the truth, it will never happen. So to see it actually happening here is very surreal," 57-year-old passerby Joanne Dunbar told AFP.

Declared coronavirus cases in the US surged past 181,000 on Tuesday, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University, with 3,606 deaths: more than the number killed in the 9/11 attacks.

That is also more than the 3,309 fatalities officially tallied by China.

New York state has seen far more cases -- 75,000 -- and deaths than any other since announcing its first infection on March 1 and quickly emerging as the epicenter of the US outbreak.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday the city was "tripling" hospital capacity in a bid to get ready for the peak of the pandemic expected in two to three weeks.

"(We) will require a level of hospital capacity we've never seen... never even conceived of," he told NBC.

The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty as it arrives on March 30, 2020 in New York. Photo: AFP

The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty as it arrives on March 30, 2020 in New York. Photo: AFP

Hospital ship

Areas of the Big Apple are being quickly transformed to prepare for the influx that is already overwhelming stretched hospitals and putting a strain on medical supplies.

South of Central Park, the Javits Convention Center is now operational with nearly 3,000 beds after it was adapted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

It will take non-COVID-19 patients to ease the burden on hospitals focusing on the virus.

A few blocks away at Pier 90 sits the white, imposing USNS Comfort hospital ship with 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms -- also for non-coronavirus patients.

A 350-bed facility at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the US Open tennis takes place every summer, is due to start receiving coronavirus patients next week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo -- whose brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, announced he had the virus Tuesday -- warned New Yorkers that the fight to defeat COVID-19 was going to be a long one.

"Calibrate yourself and your expectations so you're not disappointed every day you get up," he told reporters.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (R) does a walk through of the tennis courts that will one transformed into a a 350-bed temporary hospital at the USTA Billie Jean King tennis center in the Borough of Queens on March 31, 2020. Photo: AFP

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (R) does a walk through of the tennis courts that will one transformed into a a 350-bed temporary hospital at the USTA Billie Jean King tennis center in the Borough of Queens on March 31, 2020. Photo: AFP

'Sneeze shields'

Tim Mosher -- nurse team leader at the Samaritan's Purse field hospital in Central Park -- said the site's 70 staff, mostly volunteers, would stay for as long as needed.

Mosher, more used to operating in disaster zones after spells treating Ebola victims in Liberia and Cholera patients in Haiti, said it was "sad" they were in New York.

"But we want it to be hopeful also that it sends a signal to the city that we care, (and) we're here," the 58-year-old told AFP.

New York's normally teeming streets are almost empty, while masked faces are a common sight among the few people that can be seen, including cleaning crews working harder than ever.

Members of the Army National Guard cross the street by the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 31, 2020 in New York City. Photo: AFP

Members of the Army National Guard cross the street by the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 31, 2020 in New York City. Photo: AFP

At D'Agostino supermarket on First Avenue, manager Larry Grossman has installed glass partitions to protect cashiers from ill customers and put up signs about social distancing.

"(Still) we have a lot of people getting sick, a lot of people refusing to work," he told AFP.

Elsewhere Tuesday, the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt told the Pentagon that the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably through his ship and called for immediate help to quarantine its huge crew.

The Dow suffered its biggest quarterly loss since 1987 and former US president Barack Obama chastised those who "denied warnings" of a pandemic, in a thinly-veiled swipe at his successor Donald Trump.

AFP

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