Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle

Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle
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A health care worker forms a heart at the temporary hospital at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, far left. (AFP)
Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (AFP/Getty Images)
Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle
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Health workers move a patient in New York. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Updated 15 April 2020

Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle

Courage and tragedy amid New York’s brutal coronavirus battle
  • Two doctors share their stories with Arab News as global pandemic batters the world’s financial capital
  • A war is taking place in New York City’s hospitals with the total death toll crossing the 10,000 milestone

NEW YORK CITY: One recent morning, Dr. Qusai Hammouri shaved close to ensure his medical safety mask would fit tight.
An onslaught of emotions gripped him on the way to the hospital in New York where he has volunteered to work in the intensive care unit (ICU).
He read the charts of the COVID-19 patients he would treat that day. Some were his age and, like him, they smoked and did not eat very healthily.
“Should I write my will? Today might be the end for me. What will people write in my obituary? ‘He was a nice guy. He volunteered at the ICU and ended up succumbing like his patients’,” he told Arab News while driving down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
“It’s like going to war, jumping out of a plane. I realize these emotions aren’t helpful at this moment, but they’re there.”
Normally at this hour, people would be bustling into delis for coffee and bagels. New York’s 27,000 restaurants would be opening their doors.
Laundromat machines would be whirring to life and the smell of laundry wafting. Taxis would be whizzing by and honking.
Instead, Manhattan’s legendary traffic has all but vanished. A hush has fallen on every street, bridge and park.
It is broken only by the constant wail of sirens, echoing the calamity that continues to besiege this beloved city as it enters what many believe is its darkest hour. America’s largest, loudest city has turned into a shell.
“I’m looking forward to being helpful, if not in my classical medical way, at least in my more human way,” Hammouri said. “This is my way out of despair.”
Since the pandemic swept in, medical staff have been redeployed across all New York hospitals.
Hundreds of anesthesiologists, cardiologists and pulmonologists either continue to do ambulatory care via telemedicine, or were freed up to help at ICUs, emergency rooms or regular floors, depending on their skills or comfort level.
Hammouri is the director of pediatric orthopedics and a spine surgeon at Staten Island University hospital.




Dr. Qusai Hammouri and Dr. Arthur Klein. (Supplied)

But as the initial trickle of COVID-19 patients turned into an avalanche that shook the city’s hospitals to their very foundations, he cancelled all surgeries and volunteered to help with the communication group.
“Patients’ families aren’t allowed in for risk of infection, so when dad goes into the hospital, you have no idea if dad is getting better or worse, if he’s about to get discharged or if he’s dead,” he said.
“The doctors who are supposed to call are literally at their wits’ end, and the nurses are spent.”
As the city staggered through its deadliest week of the pandemic, its emergency response system was pushed to the brink.
Every 15 seconds, 911 operators pick up a frantic call — panicked voices that tell of loved ones collapsing, cardiac arrests and respiratory failures.
Hammouri’s assignment is to call every family and update them on how their loved ones are doing.
“Sometimes you call the children and tell them their parents are doing terrible, and they’re so appreciative to get bad news because that’s better than no news,” he said.
“Or you’d call to tell them their young dad is dying, and they tell you, ‘Can you whisper in his ear that we love him, in case he passes away before we get through, don our gowns and masks?’” he added.
“Now we’re seeing the physical toll. We’ll see later how all those losses will affect us emotionally.”
The fire department has averaged more than 5,500 ambulance requests each day, eclipsing the total call volume on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hospitals have told dispatchers to divert ambulances elsewhere, pleading that they have no beds, oxygen or equipment.
The residents of Manhattan’s Upper East Side sleep and wake every day to the din of sirens. This part of town is home to Mount Sinai, one of the city’s largest hospital systems.
Here, everything is being pushed to the limit: There are beds in hallways, lobbies and tents that were laid out in the park outside the hospital. Many units have been converted into ICUs.
The hospital’s laboratories are working day and night to find a cure and a vaccine for a virus that no one knows much about.
At the heart of these undertakings is the president of the Mount Sinai Health Network, Dr. Arthur Klein.
Managing a system that comprises eight hospitals, 9,000 doctors and 44,000 employees keeps this man’s nose to the grindstone, with a laser focus on the extensive daily data. There is simply no room for emotions.
“When you send a young person to war, the soldiers go to that war zone and they’re in the war. When they come home, theoretically, they’ve left the war behind them and they’re home,” Klein told Arab News.
“In this pandemic, your nurses and doctors aren’t only in a war when they’re in the hospital; they’re bringing that war home, and with it the potential of infecting their families. This is like nothing else anyone has ever experienced before.”
A new shipment of masks, protective gear and ventilators has just landed from China and is on its way to Mount Sinai.
“We’ve leaned upon all our supply chain channels to make sure we have adequate protective gear for patients and staff,” said Klein.
But elsewhere in the wealthiest and most medically advanced nation, nurses have been decrying the massive shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and rationing of ventilators.
In most hospitals, supplies are being guarded. The N95 masks are kept in a special area, access to which has to go through many channels. “It’s almost like being issued a gun,” Hammouri said.
Thousands of medical workers have fallen ill, pulled from the frontline just when they are needed the most. More than 50 have died nationwide.
“Mount Sinai got a Warren Buffett jet to fly to China to get a shipment of masks. It’s a hospital for the wealthy. It has deep connections, and is able to pull strings and get things done,” Hammouri said.
“But look at the city hospitals, or those located in poorer areas where African Americans or the Hassidic communities live. Most don’t have enough drugs to keep patients intubated or sedated. They’re three times overcapacity, so overrun they’ve had workers walk out of their jobs.”
Hammouri, who hails from Jordan, added: “Most of the medical workers here are immigrants, especially Arabs, who try to hide it and blend in. I can only tell from people’s accents, or if they whisper something in Arabic to each other.”
He said: “Those are the ones caring for people in this country at this crucial moment. Contrast that with all the anti-immigrant rhetoric going on.”
In the afternoon, on his way back home, something was different in his voice — some optimism that was not there in the morning.
“Before I volunteered, I felt like a fake doctor. Today I was there, helping patients,” he said. “Their nods and smiles made me remember that I came into medicine for this: To help. I did that today, and it energized me to be a small cog in the wheel.”
But back home, he can see from his window the string of ambulances and firefighters crowding outside the entrance of Woodhull hospital. It is a reminder that this Groundhog Day reality is still far from over.


Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO
Updated 47 min 39 sec ago

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described coronavirus’s Delta variant as being as transmissible as chickenpox
  • COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks

GENEVA: The world is at risk of losing hard-won gains in fighting COVID-19 as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, but WHO-approved vaccines remain effective, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post said, citing an internal CDC document.
COVID-19 infections have increased by 80 percent over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Deaths in Africa — where only 1.5 percent of the population is vaccinated — rose by 80 percent over the same period.
“Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” Tedros told a news conference.
The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.
“The vaccines that are currently approved by the WHO all provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalization from all the variants, including the Delta variant,” said WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan.
“We are fighting the same virus but a virus that has become faster and better adapted to transmitting among us humans, that’s the change,” he said.
Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said the Delta variant was the most easily spread so far, about 50 percent more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2 that first emerged in China in late 2019.
A few countries had reported increased hospitalization rates, but higher rates of mortality had not been recorded from the Delta variant, she said.
Japan said on Friday it would expand states of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as COVID-19 cases spike in the capital and around the country, overshadowing the Summer Games.
Ryan noted that Tokyo had recorded more than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, among some 10,000 new infections in Japan.
“The Olympics is a part of that overall context and the risk management that is place around the Olympics is extremely comprehensive,” he said.


Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers
Updated 30 July 2021

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers
  • From August 1, all people entering Germany will be obliged to have proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery
  • According to a draft seen by AFP, there will be exceptions for cross-border commuters and transit travellers

BERLIN: Anyone entering Germany from abroad will have to take a Covid-19 test unless they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, according to new rules signed off by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet Friday.
“From August 1, all people entering Germany will be obliged to have proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery,” Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said in a statement.
“This rule is there to keep the number of new infections brought into Germany as low as possible,” said Demmer, adding that it would apply to all travelers over the age of 12.
According to a draft seen by AFP, there will be exceptions for cross-border commuters and those passing through in transit.
Both PCR tests taken within 72 hours of entry and rapid antigen tests taken within a maximum of 48 hours will be accepted, the draft said.
The rule will apply “regardless of where travelers have come from and the means of transport they use,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group.
Under current German rules, any unvaccinated person entering the country by plane must get tested, but those entering by road or rail must not unless they are coming from an area deemed high risk.
Those entering from so-called virus variant countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, must get tested even if they are vaccinated — a rule that will still apply under the new system.
Police have said the rules will not be enforced through systematic border controls, but through random checks.
Regional leaders in Germany’s border regions, especially Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate, had been calling for tighter travel measures.
Germany has seen low infection numbers over the summer compared to many of its European neighbors, but cases have been creeping up over the past few weeks, largely fueled by the Delta variant.
The country recorded 2,454 new cases in the past 24 hours on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency, and an incidence rate of 17 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days — up from a low of 4.9 in early July.
With the country’s vaccination campaign running out of steam, the debate has been heating up around possible restrictions for the unvaccinated, though compulsory vaccination for parts of the population has so far been ruled out.


UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed
Updated 30 July 2021

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

KABUL: The United Nations said on Friday that its main compound in western Afghanistan was attacked by "anti-government elements", killing at least one Afghan police guard and other officers injured.
"The area around Herat where the compound is located witnessed fighting today between the Taliban and government forces," a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. It added the UN is urgently seeking to establish a full picture about the attack and is in contact with the relevant parties.
It was not immediately clear who attacked the compound. 


Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal
Updated 30 July 2021

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal
  • The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20 and no date has been set for a new meeting

BERLIN: Germany’s foreign minister is signaling growing impatience with Iran, saying that a revival of the country’s frayed nuclear accord with world powers won’t be possible “forever,” a German magazine reported Friday.
The countries that remain parties to the agreement — Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran — have been trying during six rounds of talks in Vienna to resolve how the United States can rejoin and how Tehran can return to compliance. President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018, but successor Joe Biden has said the US wants to return.
The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20. No date has been set for a new meeting.
“I am seeing with growing unease that Iran is delaying the resumption of the Vienna nuclear talks on the one hand, and on the other hand it is simultaneously moving further and further away from core elements of the agreement,” news weekly Der Spiegel quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as saying.
Since the US pulled out, Iran has gradually been violating the deal’s restrictions to put pressures on the remaining parties to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.
The accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking any.
“We want a return to the JCPOA and are firmly convinced that it is in all sides’ interest,” Maas said. “But it is also clear that this option will not be open to us forever.”


EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
Updated 30 July 2021

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
  • Puigdemont and two former ministers are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition
  • The European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court

LUXEMBOURG: The EU’s General Court on Friday upheld a decision by the European Parliament to lift the immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two fellow pro-independence allies.
The move overturned a ruling in June that had seen the separatist politicians provisionally regain the legal protections afforded to members of the parliament.
Puigdemont, along with that of former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition following an attempt by the Catalan region to gain independence through a referendum that Madrid ruled was unconstitutional.
In March, the European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court arguing that they ran the risk of jail which would prevent them from exercising their mandate as elected European lawmakers.
The latest ruling on Friday rejected the claim that Puigdemont — based in Brussels since fleeing Spain in 2017 — and his colleagues face imminent arrest.
“There is no reason to consider that the Belgian judicial authorities or that the authorities of another Member State could execute the European arrest warrants issued against the deputies and could hand them over to the Spanish authorities,” the court said.
But it added that the three lawmakers — elected to the European Parliament in 2019 — could still reintroduce their demand to have their immunity reinstalled if authorities moved to arrest them and it became “sufficiently probable” they would be sent to Spain.
Madrid last month pardoned nine other jailed Catalan separatists behind the failed 2017 independence bid and released them from long prison sentences.