Coronavirus: US death toll passes China's with over 3,500 fatalities

31 March 2020, 20:39

A medical worker holds an umbrella as she checks to to see if anyone is waiting in line outside a COVID-19 testing center at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York
A medical worker holds an umbrella as she checks to to see if anyone is waiting in line outside a COVID-19 testing center at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The US death toll from Covid-19 climbed past 3,500 on Tuesday, eclipsing China's official count.

The country also has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, with more than 162,000 so far.

Worldwide, more than 800,000 people have been infected and more than 40,000 have died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Read more: Donald Trump sends Italy $100 million medical supplies while US medics cry out for support

Italy and Spain accounted for half the deaths, while the US had about 3,550 by midday, overtaking China's official toll of about 3,300.

The deepening crisis in New York hit close to home for the governor, when he disclosed, teary-eyed, that his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, has become infected.

"Luckily we caught it early enough," Andrew Cuomo said of his 49-year-old brother, now quarantined in his basement.

"But it's my family, it's your family, it's all of our families. But this virus is that insidious, and we must keep that all in mind."

New York was the nation's deadliest hotspot, with about 1,550 deaths statewide, most of them in New York City.

A 1,000-bed emergency hospital set up at the mammoth Javits Convention Centre began taking non-coronavirus patients to help relieve the city's overwhelmed health system.

A Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds that arrived on Monday was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday.

Samaritan's Purse Hospital is setting up a 68-bed field hospital and a special respiratory treatment unit in Central Park
Samaritan's Purse Hospital is setting up a 68-bed field hospital and a special respiratory treatment unit in Central Park. Picture: PA

The indoor tennis centre that is the site of the US Open tournament is being turned into a hospital as well.

Nearly 80,000 former nurses, doctors and others are already said to be stepping forward to help New York.

The city also worked to bring in bring in 250 out-of-town ambulances and 500 paramedics to help its swamped system.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious-disease expert, similarly warned that smaller cities are likely about to see cases "take off" the way they have in New York City.

"What we've learned from painful experience with this outbreak is that it goes along almost on a straight line, then a little acceleration, acceleration, then it goes way up," he said on ABC's Good Morning America.

The US states of Michigan and Louisiana were running out of breathing machines, despite promises by the White House of more equipment. Mr Cuomo described the bidding for ventilators as like being "on eBay".

Democrat Montana Governor Steve Bullock told CBS News he had spoken to Mr Trump about this issue.

He said: "I could give four or five examples over the last week where we have supply orders, and they've subsequently been cancelled, and they're cancelled in part because what our suppliers are saying is that federal resources are requesting it and trump that."

But Mr Trump, who has repeatedly congratulated himself on the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, remains confident that America has enough, and will "outpace" what they need.

He told assembled reporters in the White House Rose Garden: "As we outpace what we need, we're going to be sending them to Italy, we're going to be sending them to France, we're going to be sending them to Spain where they have tremendous problems.

USNS Comfort Navy ship with 1000 beds to relief NYC hospitals on COVID-19 pandemic passes under Verrazzano-Narrows bridge
USNS Comfort Navy ship with 1000 beds to relief NYC hospitals on COVID-19 pandemic passes under Verrazzano-Narrows bridge. Picture: PA

"And other countries when we can."

Elsewhere around the world, Italy reported that the infection rate appears to be levelling off and new cases could start declining, but that the crisis is far from over.

Dr Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy's institutes of health, said that three weeks into a nationwide lockdown, the hardest-hit country in Europe is seeing the rate of new infections level off.

"The curve suggests we are at the plateau," he said. But "arriving at the plateau doesn't mean we have conquered the peak and we're done. It means now we should start to see the decline if we continue to place maximum attention on what we do every day".

With the country's health care system buckling under the pressure, a field hospital, built in just 10 days, was opened at the Milan fairgrounds.

"We made a promise and we kept it," said the head of the project, former civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso, who ended up catching the virus and had to work from his hospital bed.

Spain struggled to fend off the collapse of its hospital system, reporting more than 840 new deaths.

This pushed the toll above 8,000 and forced Madrid to open a second temporary morgue after an ice rink pressed into service last week became overwhelmed.

Dozens of hotels across Spain have been turned into recovery rooms, and authorities are building field hospitals in sports centres, libraries and exhibition halls.

Russia moved to crack down on quarantine violations and "fake news" about the outbreak and China edged closer to normal as stores in the epicentre city of Wuhan began reopening.

In Russia, MPs approved harsher punishments, including prison sentences of several years, for violating quarantine rules and spreading misinformation.

The chief doctor at Moscow's top hospital for coronavirus patients said he tested positive, a week after shaking hands with President Vladimir Putin.

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