New York gets hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates in US

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NEW YORK (AFP) – A military hospital ship arrived in New York Monday as America s coronavirus epicenter gears up for the peak of the pandemic, with emergency restrictions extended amid grim warnings the death toll will soar.

The navy s 1,000-bed USNS Comfort docked at a Manhattan pier as more US states enforced stay-at-home orders after President Donald Trump abandoned his Easter target for life returning to normal in the United States.

The 894 ft-long vessel — which also has space for a dozen operating rooms — was greeted by cheering crowds after departing Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday.

Its arrival came as Virginia, Maryland and the capital Washington became the latest areas to restrict citizens  movements, meaning almost three-quarters of Americans are now living, or about to live, under various phases of lockdown.

On Sunday, Trump cancelled his plans to re-open much of the United States by Easter — April 12 — and extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April after his top scientists confronted him with data on the rising coronavirus deaths.

He said America s death rate was likely to increase for two weeks, describing as “horrible” a prediction by senior scientist Anthony Fauci that COVID-19 could claim up to 200,000 lives.

Worst-affected New York is ramping up hospital capacity and taking delivery of desperately needed medical supplies as it races against time.

Flights run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began arriving at New York s JFK Airport as Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city needed 400 more ventilators by the end of the week, describing next Sunday as “D-Day.”

The flights, part of 50 planned under “Project Airbridge,” are delivering millions of masks, gowns and thermometers for hospitals.

“We are all trying to reuse what we can because you never know when it s going to run out,” 38-year-old doctor Peter Liang told AFP, referring to supplies at the Manhattan hospital he works in.

Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans could die from “millions of cases.”

Trump told Fox News on Monday he expected a spike in cases around Easter, before numbers begin to fall.

“That would be a day of celebration. And we just want to do it right,” said Trump, who earlier said he expected the country to “be well on our way to recovery” by June 1.

Fauci said he had no trouble convincing Trump to extend the confinement guidelines.

“It was a pretty clear picture,” Fauci told CNN on Monday.

Trump, who initially downplayed COVID-19, has oscillated between stressing the seriousness of the outbreak to talking of the need to get people back to work quickly.

A staggering 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the third week of March, by far the highest ever recorded.

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