'Race against time' as NYC toll soars


New York City is in an "extraordinary race against time" as its death toll from the coronavirus continues to soar,  Mayor Bill de Blasio says.

He says the city has just days to prepare for the worst of the outbreak, but states are now having to compete against eachother for dwindling medical supplies, such as personal protective gear and ventilators. 

"You can't say, every state for themselves, every city for themselves. That is not America," de Blasio told a news briefing on Friday.

It comes as there has been increased speculation about the validity of China's official coronavirus statistics.

More than one million cases of coronavirus have now been confirmed across 181 countries and more than 60,000 people have died.

Here's how Saturday unfolded.

Originally published as 'Race against time' as NYC toll soars

Another sign of hope in Spain

Alle McMahon

Spain's daily death toll has fallen for the second day in a row, offering more hope the virus has peaked.

About 800 deaths were reported on Saturday, down from 932 on Friday. It raises the country's total coronavirus death toll to 11,744.

Another 7026 cases were also reported, raising the total number of infections to 124,736.

Yesterday was the first day in over a week that Spain's daily death toll had fallen.

It is currently completing its third week of a state of emergency, which the government has used to apply stay-at-home rules and a shutdown of all non-essential industries.

New virus cases spike in Tokyo

Alle McMahon

Some 118 people have been newly infected with the coronavirus in Tokyo, marking the first time the city's daily confirmed cases have exceeded 100.

It brings the number of confirmed cases there to 891, according to the NHK public broadcaster.

Tokyo's metropolitan government has strongly urged people to stay at home at the weekend as the mega-city faces a rising number of cases and as speculation simmers that Japan may declare a state of emergency, leading to lockdown.

So far, Japan has been spared the kind of explosive surge seen in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, with some 3000 cases and 73 deaths as of Friday.

Worrying signs in Singapore

Sam Clench

Singapore won plenty of praise around the world for its initial response to the coronavirus outbreak, which involved heavy testing and tracing patients' contacts with other people.

Now, in a worrying sign, Singapore is struggling with a new wave of infections.

It now has 1114 cases, an increase of more than 50 per cent from a week ago. And crucially, about half of those new cases are believed to be from local transmission of the virus.

The city-state's government has responded by stepping up restrictions. For the next month, Singapore will have similar rules to Australia - people are being told to stay home unless they are exercising or accessing essential services.

"We have kept the outbreak under control," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"But looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge." 

Watch this space. If things proceed as planned in Australia, we might find ourselves in a similar situation - loosening social distancing rules, only to see the virus spread a second time.

Trump spars with reporters again

Sam Clench

The rest today's the White House briefing has proceeded in pretty familiar fashion, with Donald Trump engaging in occasionally cranky exchanges with journalists.

He told CBS reporter Weijia Jiang she should be "ashamed" of herself for asking a "nasty" question about Jared Kushner's comment yesterday, when he said the national stockpile of medical equipment was not for the states.

Jiang sought to clarify the remark, asking what Mr Kushner meant when he called it "our stockpile".

"You know what 'our' means? United States of America," the President said.

"We take that 'our' and we distribute it to the states."

She asked why Mr Kushner would imply the stockpile was not available for the states' use.

"Because we need it for the government, we need it for the federal government," Mr Trump said.

"To keep for our country because the federal government needs it too, not just the states.

"Excuse me, he's talking about the federal government," he continued, as the pair engaged in some crosstalk.

"It's such a basic and simple question and you try and make it sound so bad. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Business as usual then.

There was also a rather Trumpy moment as medical adviser Dr Deborah Birx explained the US government's coronavirus modelling. The President interjected.

"By the way, the models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come way under the model," he said.

"The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model. At least not this kind of model."

Americans told to wear masks

Sam Clench

The US agency responsible for the coronavirus response - the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - has issued a new recommendation that all Americans wear face masks when they go outside.

"CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission," the agency says.

But President Donald Trump, speaking at the White House's daily coronavirus briefing, may have undercut the message.

"I won't be doing it, personally," Mr Trump said.

"It's a recommendation. They recommend it. I'm feeling good. I just don't want to be doing - I don't know, somehow, sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don't know, somehow I don't see it for myself. I just don't. Maybe I'll change my mind. But this will pass, and hopefully it will pass very quickly."

One rule for thee and another for me, I guess.

Death toll called into question

Sam Clench

In recent days there has been increased speculation about the validity of China's official coronavirus statistics.

The country has reported 81,620 cases of the virus and 3322 deaths. Those numbers have barely risen in weeks, and they've been dwarfed by the surges in Spain, Italy and the United States.

China says that is a function of the fact that it has got the virus under control. But as we reported a couple of days ago, US intelligence agencies have concluded the figures China is providing to the rest of the world are inaccurate.

Now The Washington Post has taken a closer look, thoroughly examining evidence which suggests the 2500-strong death toll in Wuhan - the original epicentre of the pandemic - is actually far higher than China has admitted.

There have been long lines at Wuhan's funeral homes in recent weeks, with crematoriums working 19-hour days and mourners waiting up to six hours for their loved ones' remains.

We have previously reported on the unusually high number of urns being delivered to some of those funeral homes.

The Post estimates 3500 urns a day have been returned to people since March 23, implying an actual death toll of about 42,000 - "16 times the official number". A separate estimate, based on the number of hours furnaces are operating in Wuhan, places it at something like 46,000.

"The incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?" one local man reportedly said.

We should note that people are still dying of things other than the coronavirus in Wuhan, so it's unlikely that all 40,000+ deaths are related to the disease.

But it seems equally unlikely that the official death toll is anywhere near accurate.

UK records its deadliest day

Sam Clench

Much of the global focus is on the United States at the moment, for obvious reasons - it is currently considered the epicentre of the pandemic. But meanwhile, Britain has just recorded its deadliest day so far.

The UK's Department of Health has added 684 people to the nation's death toll, bringing the total to 3605. That's a big jump from 2921 yesterday.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson still in isolation, having tested positive for the virus himself, Health Secretary Matt Hancock ran today's coronavirus briefing. He stressed that Britain "cannot afford" to relax its social distancing measures.

"If we do, people will die," he said, putting it quite simply.

"This advice is not a request, it is an instruction. Stay at home. Protect lives. And you will be doing your part."

Lifting restrictions could worsen impact

Alle McMahon

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has today warned countries not to lift their social distancing restrictions too quickly.

If they do, the virus could resurge and the economic impact could be "even more severe and prolonged", WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva.

"The restrictions many countries have put in place to protect health are taking a heavy toll on the income of individuals and families, and the economies of communities and nations," he said.

"In the short term, countries can ease the burden on their populations through social welfare programs to ensure people have food and other life essentials.

"But ultimately, the best way for countries to end restrictions and ease their economic effects is to attack the virus, with the aggressive and comprehensive package of measures that we have spoken about many times before: find, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every contact.

"If countries rush to lift restrictions too quickly, the virus could resurge and the economic impact could be even more severe and prolonged."

The WHO has now called on all countries to do three things:

  • Ensure core public health measures are fully funded (including case-finding, testing, contact tracing etc)
  • Strengthen the foundations of health systems (health workers must be paid their salaries, and health facilities need funding to purchase essential medical supplies)
  • Remove financial barriers to care

"If people delay or forego care because they can't afford it, they not only harm themselves, they make the pandemic harder to control and put society at risk," Dr Tedros said.

How are the global numbers looking?

Alle McMahon

More than 1,066,000 cases of coronavirus have now been confirmed across 181 countries, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

More than 56,000 people have died and more than 223,000 people have recovered.

The highest numbers of cases have been reported in the United States (258,000+), Italy (119,000+), Spain (117,000+), Germany (89,000+) and China (82,000+).

The highest numbers of deaths have been reported in Italy (14,600+), Spain (10,900+), France (5300+), the United Kingdom (3600+) and Iran (3200+).