The hunt for masks, ventilators and other medical supplies is consuming the US and Europe as more than 1.5 billion people — a fifth of the world’s population — were urged or ordered to stay home to try to blunt the spread of the coronavirus.
At the start of what could prove a pivotal week, the head of the World Health Organisation called on countries to take strong, co-ordinated action to stem the accelerating outbreak.
“We are not helpless bystanders,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, noting that it took 67 days to reach 100,000 cases worldwide but just four days to go from 200,000 to 300,000.
“We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”
The scramble to marshal public health and political resources intensified in New York, where a statewide lockdown took effect amid worries the city of 8.4 million is becoming one of the world’s biggest hotspots. Nearly 10,000 people have tested positive in the city and almost 100 have died.
The governor announced plans to convert a huge convention centre into a hospital with 1,000 beds, and the mayor warned that the city’s hospitals are 10 days away from shortages in basic supplies needed to protect health care workers and patients.
In Italy, the hardest-hit country of all, declines in new cases and deaths for a second consecutive day provided a glimmer of hope, although it is too soon to say whether the crisis is levelling off.
Officials said the virus had claimed just over 600 more lives, down from 793 two days earlier. The outbreak has killed more than 6,000 Italians, the highest death toll of any country, and pushed the health system to breaking point there and in Spain.
The risk to doctors, nurses and others on the front lines has become plain: Italy has seen at least 18 doctors with coronavirus die. Spain reported that more than 3,900 health care workers have become infected, accounting for roughly 12% of the country’s total cases.
British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like “cannon fodder”, and in France, doctors scrounged masks from construction workers, factory floors and an architect.
The crisis continued to ease in China. The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak emerged late last year, said it is allowing residents limited movement as its lockdown gradually eases. China is now sending planeloads of protective gear and doctors to Europe.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned: “The US is completely wasting the precious time that China has won for the world.”
Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious-disease expert, promised that medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most”.
But efforts for a quick economic relief package from Congress faltered. The Senate voted against advancing the near 2 trillion dollar (£1.7 trillion) plan that would prop up businesses and send cheques to American households.
President Donald Trump suggested the remedies to fight the epidemic might be more harmful than the outbreak itself and vowed to reassess government restrictions after the US shutdown reaches the 15-day mark.
Worldwide, more than 350,000 people have been infected and 15,000 have died from the virus. As cases in China ebbed, the dangers to Europe and the US have grown exponentially, although Germany on Monday cautiously reported some flattening of its infection curve.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire in conflicts around the world to tackle the pandemic.
“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” he said.