A Spanish doctor says the health system cannot withstand the rapid daily increases of COVID-19. Image by AP PHOTO

virus diseases

Virus advances as medical supplies dwindle

2020-03-22 16:51:44

The virus pandemic has advanced with the US and Europe reporting soaring new cases, prompting a scramble in some regions to set up additional hospital beds and replenish much-needed medical supplies.

Italy announced its biggest day-to-day increase of infections, which rose by 6600 with nearly 800 new fatalities from the virus that causes COVID-19. The country’s total death toll of more than 4825 has surpassed the number of deaths in China, where the first cases emerged late last year.

In the US, where multiple states have ordered residents to stay indoors, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the government is “literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies”.

Healthcare workers from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis sought donations of protective equipment. Staff at a Detroit hospital began creating homemade face masks for workers. Even rural hospitals were strained as people increasingly felt the pandemic closing in.

In Washington, negotiators from Congress and the White House resumed top-level talks on a ballooning $US1 trillion-plus economic rescue package, urged by President Donald Trump to strike a deal to steady a nation thoroughly upended by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump continued to strike a confident tone about the nation’s ability to defeat the pandemic soon, even as health leaders nationwide acknowledged that the US is nowhere near the peak for the outbreak.

“We are going to be celebrating a great victory in the not too distant future,” he said.

The contagion is starting to be felt in US cities far from major metropolitan areas, including places that have resisted drastic shutdown measures. 

About 150 countries now have confirmed cases, and deaths have been reported in more than 30 American states. There are now more than 300,000 confirmed cases worldwide, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In Italy, local authorities in the hard-hit northern regions have been pleading with the national government to enact stricter measures. 

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte told the nation he was tightening a lockdown and shutting down all production facilities except those providing essential goods and services. He cautioned citizens to be calm and patient, saying there is no alternative.

“Our sacrifice in staying home is minimum compared to that of other citizens trying to keep the nation well and functioning,” he said in a Facebook address.

Russia’s defence ministry said it was ready to fly mobile medical teams and disinfection equipment to Italy, and a plane delivered more than 100 tons of supplies from China to the Czech Republic as part of a NATO program.

Behind China and Italy, Spain now has the third-highest number of infections worldwide, followed by the US

Spanish health authorities have acknowledged that some intensive care units in the hardest-hit areas are close to their limit. The army was building a field hospital with 5500 beds in a convention centre in Madrid, where hotels are also being turned into wards for virus patients without serious breathing problems.

Colombia reported its first death from COVID-19 on Saturday. The patient was a 58-year-old taxi driver who had driven tourists from Italy, authorities said adding that man had previous health issues, including untreated diabetes.

President Ivan Duque has prohibited all non-resident foreigners from entering the country and he has decreed a mandatory quarantine starting Tuesday. Colombia has confirmed 210 cases of the coronavirus.

Lockdowns and curfews continue across the globe in a bid to contain the spread of infections before healthcare systems are overwhelmed. 

The Chinese city of Wuhan – where the global pandemic was first detected and the first city to be locked down – went a fourth consecutive day on Sunday without reporting any new or suspected cases of the virus. 

Parks and other public gathering places are reopening in China as people return to work and businesses resume. However, the country has placed increasing restrictions on those coming from overseas, who have made up the majority of its new cases in recent days. 

All arrivals to Beijing from abroad must be quarantine themselves for two weeks in a hotel at their own expense.