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Wednesday, 08 April 2020 11.38 PM IST

US could become next epicentre of global pandemic, says WHO

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NEW YORK: New York state suffered another quick and brutal rise in the number of coronavirus cases on Tuesday as officials raced to make more hospital beds available and the World Health Organization said the United States could become the next epicentre of the global pandemic.

New York City, home to more than 8 million people, had 157 deaths and some 15,000 cases of COVID-19, nearly one-third the US total on Tuesday, despite imposing strict limits on travel, socializing and work.

"If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a Manhattan convention centre that was being converted into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital. Cuomo's remarks were a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who pressed his case on Tuesday for re-opening the U.S. economy by mid-April, saying lockdowns should be more targeted to spare businesses as much pain as possible.

The WHO on Tuesday said that the United States had the potential to become the global epicentre of the pandemic, citing a "very large acceleration" in coronavirus infections.

The expected need for hospital beds in New York state at the peak of the outbreak has spiralled to 140,000, Cuomo said, compared with 110,000 previously projected. Only 53,000 beds are said to be available now.

The rate of infection is now doubling every three days in New York and the worst of the outbreak, known as the apex, could arrive in 14 to 21 days, putting huge pressure on health services, Cuomo said.

Nationwide, COVID-19, which broke out late last year in Wuhan, China, has infected nearly 50,000 people and killed 640, with more than a quarter of the deaths in New York state.

In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards said in imposing stay-at-home rules over the weekend that his state had seen the highest spike in coronavirus cases anywhere in the world.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has warned that the nation's most populous state would also soon be desperately short of hospital beds, has closed parking lots at state-owned beaches and parks after seeing surfers and others disregarding stay-at-home rules.

Illinois Governor J B Pritzker said he had told Trump his state needed "millions of N95 masks and hundreds of ventilators just in the near term" and that the president had promised help.

"There has been some talk over the last 24 hours by some about who this nation might be willing to sacrifice to COVID-19, for the sake of our economic interests. Well, in case there's any doubt in your minds, I'm not willing to sacrifice anyone," Pritzker said.

Connecticut's confirmed cases soared by about 50% overnight to 618, and the infection rate is expected to continue escalating for the next two or three weeks, Governor Ned Lamont said.

"We thought it might get worse before it gets better and I'm afraid that we are right," Lamont told a news briefing.

There were signs that nerves had begun fraying after days of people working from home, looking after children whose schools are shut and severely scaling back on everyday activities.

At a Brooklyn playground, architect Carolyn Straub, 48, and her family took a break from their new lives working and schooling from home.

"That's actually been hard," Straub said. "The internet is not always reliable, goes down, and it's impossible for us to have four separate audio zones in the house."

Trump told Fox News he'd like to see people go back to work by Easter, in mid-April.

"I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter," he said. "You're going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression. You're going to lose people. You're going to have suicides by the thousands," he said.

A rapid reopening of the economy might backfire, however, with a rise in the death toll and people fearful of going out, according to investors anxious about the uncertain trajectory of the coronavirus and its economic toll.

"Markets will react badly because they have learned that this approach doesn't work," said Axel Merk, chief investment officer of Merk Investments. "From a medical point of view, you have to break the exponential growth and you do that with shelter in place policies."

On Tuesday, Wall Street snapped back from three-year lows and the Dow Jones index surged more than 8% after US lawmakers said they were close to a deal for a massive economic rescue package.

Negotiators in the US Senate said they could pass the $2 trillion stimulus bill, which includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, as soon as Tuesday.

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