New Yorkers join California in near-lockdown status
California’s 40 million people were all but confined to their homes Friday in the nation’s biggest lockdown yet, as America’s governors watched with growing alarm as southern Europe buckled under the strain of the coronavirus outbreak.
March 20, 2020 - 4:11 am
Updated March 20, 2020 - 10:53 am
New York state moved to join California on Friday in confining nearly all residents to their homes, as governors undertook their most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus and fend off the kind of onslaught of patients that has caused southern Europe to buckle.
“We’re going to close the valve, because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as cases in the state climbed to more than 7,000 and the death toll reached at least 38.
Cuomo said that starting Sunday, all workers in nonessential businesses must stay home as much as possible and all gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of more than 19 million people. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents in the biggest lockdown in the nation.
The increasingly drastic measures in the U.S. came as gasping patients filled the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy, and the global death toll surpassed 10,000, with the virus still multiplying and gaining footholds in new corners of the world.
627 new deaths in Italy
Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, reported 627 new deaths Friday — its biggest day-to-day rise since the outbreak began — and said new cases also shot up. Italy now has seen over 4,000 deaths and 47,000 infections. The soaring numbers came despite a nationwide lockdown.
The World Health Organization noted the epidemic’s dramatic speed.
“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said.
Across the U.S., governors and public health officials watched the crisis from afar with mounting alarm and warned of critical shortages of ventilators, masks and other protective gear.
Medical shortages in US
As promised earlier in the week, President Donald Trump officially invoked emergency wartime authority to try to speed production of crucial medical equipment.
But while the government has vowed to fix the botched rollout of virus tests, American laboratories warned of dire shortages of testing supplies such as swabs and certain chemical components.
Countries frantically prepared for a deluge of patients in the coming weeks.
British ask 65K retired medical workers to come back
In Britain, the government asked 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work. A convention center and hotels in Madrid were being turned into field hospitals for nearly 10,000 patients. France’s military worked to build a makeshift medical center in the hard-hit town of Mulhouse. The U.S. readied military hospitals for civilian use, and more than 4,000 National Guard members were deployed in 31 states to help distribute food, scrub down surfaces and help in other ways.
Trump also announced the closing of the Mexican border to most travel but not trade. That brings it in line with the restriction on the Canadian border earlier this week. The income tax filing deadline was also moved from April 15 to July 15.
“We’re about to enter into a new way of living here in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said as California went into lockdown, with people told to venture outside only for essential jobs or errands and some exercise. “What we do and how we do it and if we get this right will determine how long this crisis lasts.”
LA streets quiet
On Friday morning, the streets of downtown Los Angeles were quiet but not desolate. Residents walked their dogs or jogged, while some homeless people slept. Cars drove along Figueroa Street, but the usual traffic jams were gone.
Scott Sorensen, who was walking his boxer, Chewie, said he is limiting how much attention he pays to the news so that he is not overwhelmed.
“I remember my great-grandmother describing the Depression,” said Sorenson, 50. “I’m trying to keep it in focus.”
The virus has struck at the very identities of many countries: closing down cafes, restaurants and boulevard life in France, ending la dolce vita in Italy, shutting down England’s pubs and the ceremonial changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, wrecking sales of tulips in Holland and shuttering the Statue of Liberty in the U.S.
Trying to strike a balance
Governments are trying to balance locking down residents with the need to keep food, medicine and other essentials flowing.
In Britain, the category of vital workers includes doctors, nurses and paramedics — and also vicars, truckers, garbage collectors and journalists. In New York, people will allowed out for grocery shopping, necessary errands and solitary exercise. They will have to stay at least 6 feet apart.
“These provisions will be enforced,” Cuomo said. “These are not helpful hints.”
In Bergamo, the epicenter of the Italian outbreak, cemeteries were overwhelmed. Patients at the city’s main hospital lined up in a narrow ward, struggling for breath as doctors and nurses moved swiftly from one beeping machine to the next.
“When the virus arrived here, there was no containment and it spread through the valleys very quickly. … Some said it was the normal flu. We doctors knew it was not,” said Dr. Luca Lorini, head of intensive care at the hospital, where nearly 500 beds were dedicated to people suffering severe virus symptoms. Eighty patients were in intensive care.
In the Italian farm town of Fondi, home to a wholesale produce market serving Rome and Naples, a new ordinance banned all but essential people from entering or leaving after 40 elderly residents became infected.
At a convent on the outskirts of Rome, 19 of 21 nuns were infected, according to the Italian daily Il Messaggero. A Vatican decree absolved the sins of the faithful who were sick or in quarantine, as well as those of their caregivers, if they met certain conditions.
“Certain medical centers are suffering stress that is reaching the limit,” said Fernando Simón, director of Spain’s center for health alerts and emergencies. “The difficult days in which we must bear down are coming now. We must keep our focus.”
Although the illness is mild in most people, the elderly are particularly susceptible to serious symptoms. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87% — were over 70.
Some of the only good news came from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began and were hospitals were struggling just weeks ago. For the second day in a row, no new infections were reported and only 39 cases were recorded nationwide — all brought from the outside, the government said.
With the crisis waning, China has begun sending medical supplies to Europe.
The effects of the global economy grinding to a halt took their toll, from millions of unsold flowers rotting in piles in Kenya to the slow emptying of the world’s skies.
$1T-plus aid plan discussed
In the U.S., Congress worked to put together a $1 trillion emergency package to prop up industry and small businesses and dispense relief checks of $1,200 for adults and $500 per child.
Scientists advising the British government warned that restrictions on daily life may have to be in place for a year, with periods of less stringent and more stringent measures.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other necessary businesses amid stringent movement restrictions.
“We need to keep the country running,” Macron said.
Infections pass 250K. US deaths at 206
Worldwide, the number of infections exceeded 254,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Italy, with 60 million citizens, recorded at least 3,405 deaths, exceeding the 3,248 in China, a country with a population over 20 times larger. Spain, second behind Italy in Europe, reported 1,002 deaths and 19,980 infections. The U.S. death toll rose to at least 206.
More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.
Iran’s official toll of more than 1,400 dead was rising quickly as well amid fears it is underreporting its cases. Tehran accused Washington of helping spread the virus by retaining sanctions that prevent it importing desperately needed medicine and medical equipment.
As the virus strengthened its foothold in Africa, the continent’s busiest airport, in Johannesburg, announced that foreigners will no longer be allowed to disembark.