New York welcomes hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates

Peter Hutchison, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 31 2020 06:46 AM

The hospital ship USNS Comfort, which will depart for New York to help with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, sits behind a big flag prior to the arrival of US President Donald Trump to give the ship a send-off at Naval Station Norfolk, in Norfolk, Virginia, US, March 28, 2020. Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

NEW YORK - A military hospital ship arrived in New York Monday as America's coronavirus epicenter gears up for the peak of the pandemic, with emergency restrictions extended amid grim warnings the death toll will soar.

The navy's 1,000-bed USNS Comfort docked at a Manhattan pier as more US states enforced stay-at-home orders after President Donald Trump abandoned his Easter target for life returning to normal in the United States.

The 894 ft-long vessel -- which also has space for a dozen operating rooms -- was greeted by cheering crowds after departing Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday.

Its arrival came as Virginia and Maryland became the latest states to restrict citizens' movements, meaning almost three-quarters of Americans are now living, or about to live, under various phases of lockdown.

On Sunday, Trump cancelled his plans to re-open much of the US by Easter -- April 12 -- and extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April after his top scientists confronted him with data on the rising coronavirus deaths.

He said America's death rate was likely to increase for two weeks, describing as "horrible" a prediction by senior scientist Anthony Fauci that COVID-19 could claim up to 200,000 lives.

Worst-affected New York is ramping up hospital capacity and taking delivery of desperately needed medical supplies as it races against time.

"We have been playing catch up from day one," Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters.

"Don't fight today's fight. Plan for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks from now when you're going to have the apex, and make sure that we're in a position to win the battle," he added.

The Comfort will care for New Yorkers requiring intensive care unrelated to the coronavirus, easing the burden on a hospital network overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients.

"It will be good for morale," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The US now has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world -- more than 153,000 according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The illness has claimed more than 2,800 lives in the country, including 1,218 in New York state.

Some 790 deaths have occurred in New York City, America's financial capital and most populous city.

It is spreading to other areas, notably neighboring New Jersey as well as Louisiana, Illinois and Florida.

New York also opened a temporary emergency hospital in the Javits convention center with 2,900 beds on Monday.

Four other sites have also been approved to house patients discharged from hospitals to make way for residents suffering from coronavirus.

Flights run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the body tasked with responding to disasters, have also begun arriving at New York's JFK Airport.

'D-DAY' FOR NEW YORK

The flights, part of "Project Airbridge," are delivering millions of masks, gowns and thermometers.

Around 50 flights are planned in total, according to the White House.

De Blasio said Monday the city needed 400 more ventilators by the end of the week, describing next Sunday as "D-Day."

Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans could die from "millions of cases."

Trump told Fox News on Monday he expected a spike in cases around Easter, before numbers begin to fall.

"That would be a day of celebration. And we just want to do it right," said Trump, who earlier said he expected the country to "be well on our way to recovery" by June 1.

Fauci said he had no trouble convincing Trump to extend the confinement guidelines.

"He looked at the data and he got it right away. It was a pretty clear picture," Fauci told CNN on Monday.

Trump, who initially downplayed COVID-19, has regularly oscillated between stressing the seriousness of the outbreak to talking of the need to get people back to work quickly.

This month, a staggering 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, by far the highest ever recorded.

 
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