Competition for supplies sharpening as pandemic worsens

By Associated Press Reporters

Scarce supplies of medical equipment are leading to growing competition among nations, in what one French politician called a “worldwide treasure hunt”.

The governor of New York state, the epicentre of the US outbreak, vowed to seize unused ventilators from private hospitals and companies, while President Donald Trump said he was preventing the export of N95 respirator masks and surgical gloves, a move he said was necessary to ensure that medical supplies are available in the US.

The number of people infected in the US exceeded a quarter of a million, and the death toll climbed past 7,000, with New York state alone accounting for more than 2,900 dead, an increase of over 560 in just one day.

Most of the dead are in New York City, where hospitals are swamped with patients.

Worldwide, confirmed infections rose past 1.1 million and deaths approached 60,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say both numbers are seriously undercounted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.

At the same time, more than 220,000 people have recovered from the virus.

In China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in December, flags flew at half-mast and air raid sirens sounded for three minutes on a day of remembrance for the dead.

China has cautiously lifted restrictions amid dropping numbers of infections and, on Saturday, reported just one new confirmed case in the epicentre of Wuhan and 18 others among people arriving from abroad. There were four new deaths for an official total of 3,326.

Among those joining the observance in Wuhan, Sheng Xiaohang said that after experiencing the outbreak, “everyone has grown up”.

“I think everyone’s outlooks on life, on the world, and values were overthrown,” said Ms Sheng, who left her media job to organise a volunteer organization to deliver medical materials to Wuhan hospitals.

(PA Graphics)

South Korea extended for two weeks guidelines urging people to stick to social distancing as infections continue to grow in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

During a meeting on anti-virus measures on Saturday, Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun expressed concern over rising infections linked to recent arrivals.

The economic damage from the lockdowns and closures mounted.

The US snapped its record-breaking hiring streak of nearly 10 years when the government reported that employers slashed over 700,000 jobs last month.

But the true picture is far worse, because the figures do not include the last two weeks, when 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits.

Cyclists and a pedestrian pass through a quiet Manhattan street during the coronavirus pandemic in New YorK (Mark Lennihan/AP)

A more immediate concern was the shortage of masks and gloves, leading to fierce competition among buyers from Europe, the US and elsewhere and aggressive measures such as New York state governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to take ventilators that are not being used.

Mr Cuomo says New York, the nation’s worst hot spot, could run out of ventilators next week.

“If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me,” Mr Cuomo said. He promised to eventually return the equipment or compensate the owners.

The search for supplies and bidding wars among buyers have created what Valerie Pecresse, president of France’s battered Ile-de-France region, called a “worldwide treasure hunt”.

Along with blocking mask exports, Mr Trump announced new guidelines that call for everyone to wear makeshift face coverings such as T-shirts and bandannas when leaving the house, especially in areas hit hard by the pandemic, like New York.

But the president said he had no intention of following the advice from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a recommendation, they recommend it,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I just don’t want to wear one myself.”

France reported a surge of more than 1,000 deaths on Friday, bringing its overall toll to more than 6,500.

“The work is extremely tough and heavy,” said Philippe Montravers, an anesthesiologist in Paris.

“We’ve had doctors, nurses, caregivers who got sick, infected … but who have come back after recovering. It’s a bit like those World War One soldiers who were injured and came back to fight.”

Spain has reported 809 more deaths over the last 24 hours, for a new tally of 11,744 fatalities from the pandemic.

Spain’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that its total number of infections has reached 124,736. That is an increase of 7,026 infections from Friday, which is slightly down from the previous 24-hour period as the rate of the outbreak decreases in the country.

The daily increase puts Spain ahead of Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. Italy will update its figures later on Saturday.

Spain is 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.