NEW YORK • Three weeks after its first coronavirus infection was discovered, the New York City region has reached an alarming milestone: It now accounts for roughly 5 per cent of the world's confirmed cases, making it an epicentre of the global pandemic.
And the situation in the United States will get bad this week, Surgeon-General Jerome Adams said yesterday in his starkest warning to date.
He sounded the alarm as nearly one-third of Americans were in various phases of virtual lockdown, including in the three biggest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as the virus has infected more than 35,000 people and killed over 450 in the US.
Some eight states, including Illinois and New Jersey, have ordered residents not to go outdoors unless necessary, but President Donald Trump has so far resisted calls for a uniform shutdown.
"This week, it is going to get bad," Dr Adams told NBC, saying there were more people out to see Washington's famed annual cherry blossoms than there were blossoms. "Everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now: Stay home."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday urged Mr Trump to enforce a nationwide lockdown, saying the federal government should roll out orders - such as "shelter-in-place" in California and similar measures in New York - across the country.
"They need to be everywhere," he told CNN, describing the disease's "oxygen" as human-to-human interaction. "Unless you create social distancing... thousands of lives will be lost that could have been saved."
New York state governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday pleaded with federal officials to nationalise the manufacturing of medical supplies and ordered the city to crack down on people congregating in public.
He also announced measures intended to prepare for a wave of patients, including setting up temporary hospitals in three New York City suburbs and erecting a massive medical bivouac at the Jacob Javits Convention Centre on Manhattan's west side.
Hospitals across the New York region are reporting a surge in coronavirus patients and a looming shortage of critical supplies such as ventilators and masks.
More than 15,000 people in New York state had tested positive by Sunday, with the vast majority in the New York City region. A total of 114 people had died by Sunday morning, though the toll rose rapidly during the course of the day.
Worldwide, the pandemic has sickened more than 350,000 people and killed over 15,400 so far.
New York adopted its toughest measures to stem the spread of the virus: As of 8pm on Sunday, all non-essential businesses were ordered closed, an edict that darkened storefronts from Brooklyn to Buffalo.
Residents were told to stay indoors except for buying of necessities like food and medicine, and short bouts of exercise.
Mr Cuomo warned of months of restrictions. "The timeline, nobody can tell you, it depends on how we handle it," he said. "But 40 per cent, up to 80 per cent of the population will wind up getting this virus. All we are trying to do is slow the spread, but it will spread."
He told the hospitals to double their capacity in expectation of a rising tide of sick people.
The state was also repurposing healthcare facilities, including nursing homes, into temporary hospitals. The governor asked President Trump on Sunday to utilise the Defence Production Act, a Cold War-era law that allows factories to be repurposed.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE