New York cheers arrival of hospital ship as coronavirus cases soar

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The USNS Comfort passes lower Manhattan in the New York Harbor during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, US, March 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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The USNS Comfort passes midtown Manhattan in the New York Harbor during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, US, March 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 March 2020

New York cheers arrival of hospital ship as coronavirus cases soar

  • People gathered on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River to cheer the ship’s arrival
  • US health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus

NEW YORK: People cheered the US Navy hospital ship Comfort as it sailed into New York on Monday, a beacon of the national effort to stanch the coronavirus outbreak at its US epicenter as the number of cases soared.
Painted a gleaming white and adorned with giant red crosses, the 1,000-bed converted oil tanker sailed past the Statue of Liberty, accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters before docking at a Midtown Manhattan pier.
People gathered on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River to cheer the ship’s arrival shortly before midday. Some bystanders chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as the huge vessel neared the pier where it docked.
The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.
“It’s a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was among the dignitaries to greet the ship’s arrival. He said preparations for the ship, including dredging, took eight days, much less than the two weeks initially expected.
Hospitals in the city have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half the country’s more than 152,000 cases and more than 40% of its more than 2,800 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
The United States has the most cases in the world.(Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)
To ease the pressure, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the white tents being set up evoked a wartime feel in an island of green typically used by New Yorkers to exercise, picnic and enjoy the first signs of spring.
The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, is expected to be ready to accept patients on Tuesday but will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the most prominent public figures of the coronavirus crisis, told a news conference later that the state might have to step in to close playgrounds in the country’s most populous city.
He said official efforts to reduce the numbers of people in those public spaces had not been successful.
Cuomo and de Blasio are among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis and shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment needed to fight the virus in hospitals.
“I am not engaging the president in politics,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said of Trump, a Republican. “My only goal is to engage the president in partnership.”
De Blasio said the death toll in his city would rise if Washington did not provide more assistance soon. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday,” he told CNN. The mayor, also a Democrat, later thanked Trump for dispatching the Comfort.
CHILLING NUMBERS
US health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.
“If we do things together well — almost perfectly — we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told NBC’s “Today” show.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top US health official, cited those figures on Sunday as a possible outcome, but Birx’s assessment appeared to suggest the figures could be a floor rather than a ceiling.
The virus has spread from its original epicenters in Washington state, New York and California.
Authorities in New Orleans were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees suffered in 2005 — to handle the expected overflow of patients.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a “stay-at-home” order as cases rose. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday a stay-at-home order for his state.
In nearby Washington, D.C., congressional officials announced that the US Capitol would be closed to the public through April. They had previously said it would be closed until the end of March.
A number of prominent Americans, including several members of Congress, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Renowned country and folk singer John Prine was in stable condition on Monday after being hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, his wife said on Twitter. Prine, a 73-year-old cancer survivor, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Trump initially played down the risk to Americans, drawing criticism from health officials and political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, front-runner in the Democratic race to challenge Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We allowed the seeds to be planted. And now there is nothing to do but wait for the bloom. A lot of these deaths are already percolating,” said Dana Miller, 61, of Belmont, Massachusetts, a retired US government health policy official.
Trump on Friday signed a $2 trillion package of emergency measures that helped to soothe rattled nerves on Wall Street, where stocks had fallen sharply. Major US stock indexes were up again on Monday.
Trump abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April, extending his original 15-day nationwide stay-at-home order for another 30 days, a step that many Americans accepted with resignation.
“I’m sad to be locked inside, but I think it’s for the best,” said Mia Siracusa, 24, a data manager ordered to work out of her apartment in Brooklyn, whose live-in boyfriend is from Italy and whose mother is a New York City hospital nurse.
“I get frustrated when people don’t stay in,” she said. “I am frustrated that our federal government didn’t get a handle on this sooner.”


Ex-UK spy chief: COVID-19 could be from Wuhan lab

Updated 04 June 2020

Ex-UK spy chief: COVID-19 could be from Wuhan lab

  • Sir Richard Dearlove cites controversial study saying virus possibly man-made

LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic may have started by accident in a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according to a former British spy.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK’s intelligence agency MI6 until 2004, told the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that the origins of the virus may not reside in a wet market in Wuhan, where it had previously been suggested that it passed to humans from bats.

Instead, he claims that it may have escaped from a lab, citing a controversial study by British and Norwegian researchers, including Prof. Angus Dalgleish of St. George’s at the University of London and John Fredrik Moxnes, a chief scientific adviser to the Norwegian military.

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READ MORE: Did this Chinese government lab in Wuhan leak the coronavirus?

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The Chinese city is home to two labs that have carried out tests on bats, as well as coronaviruses, in the past: The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The presence of both these facilities has fueled speculation that COVID-19 is the result of human error, and that the virus escaped the confines of testing to reach the local population by accident.

It is a theory that has been promoted most notably by US President Donald Trump, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously talked of “enormous evidence” that the virus is a man-made pathogen.

It has drawn criticism, though, from many scientists worldwide, and the study in question has been rejected by a number of scientific journals.

Evidence published in British medical journal The Lancet claimed to be able to trace 27 of the first 41 identified COVID-19 cases back to the same Wuhan wet market, reinforcing the original hypothesis.

The US National Intelligence Director’s office, meanwhile, said it took the view of “the wider scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” though it added that it would continue to assess all evidence to the contrary.

The study, though, claims to have identified evidence that the virus’s genetic sequence may have been edited, calling it a “remarkably well-adapted virus for human co-existence.” 

Sir Richard said scientists at one of the facilities may have been conducting “gene-splicing experiments” in an effort to identify potentially dangerous pathogens like the SARS epidemic in 2003.

“It’s a risky business if you make a mistake,” Sir Richard told the Telegraph. “Look at the stories ... of the attempts by the (Chinese) leadership to lock down any debate about the origins of the pandemic and the way that people have been arrested or silenced.

“I think it will make every country in the world rethink how it treats its relationship with China and how the international community behaves towards the Chinese leadership.”

The UK government has said it has seen “no evidence” to suggest that the virus originated in a lab.