The governor of New York has vowed to take ventilators and protective equipment from private hospitals and companies that are not using them as the state’s coronavirus death toll rose to almost 3,000.
Andrew Cuomo complained that states are competing against each other for vital equipment in eBay-like bidding wars.
“If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me,” Mr Cuomo said.
The executive order he said he would sign represents one of the most aggressive efforts yet in the US to deal with the kind of shortages around the world that have caused healthcare workers to fall sick and forced doctors in Europe to make life-or-death decisions about which patients get a ventilator.
The number of people infected in the US has reached 250,000 and the death toll climbed past 6,000, with New York state alone accounting for more than 2,900, a surge of over 560 dead in just one day. Most of the dead are in New York City, where hospitals are being pushed to breaking point.
The move by Mr Cuomo came as the Covid-19 outbreak snapped the United States’ record-breaking hiring streak of nearly 10 years. The US government said employers slashed over 700,000 jobs in March, bringing a swift end to the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.
The true picture, though, is far worse, because the government figures do not include the last two weeks, when nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits.
Worldwide, confirmed infections surged past one million and deaths topped 54,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both numbers are seriously under-counted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the extent of the crisis.
Europe’s three worst-hit countries — Italy, Spain and France — surpassed 30,000 dead, or over half of the global toll.
From those countries, the view remained almost unrelentingly grim, a frightening portent for places like New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, where bodies are being loaded by forklift into refrigerated trucks outside hospitals.
Shortages of critical equipment have led to fierce competition among buyers from Europe, the US and elsewhere. A regional leader in Paris described the scramble to find masks a “worldwide treasure hunt”. Mr Cuomo warned this week that New York could run out of ventilators in six days.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be a mistake for the United States to block 3M from sending respirators to Canada.
The company said on Friday the Trump administration has requested 3M cease exporting respirators that they manufacture in the US to Canada and Latin America.
Mr Trudeau noted the US also receives essential medical supplies and personnel from Canada and said they are making that point to the Trump administration. He said that message is getting through.
In Florida, hundreds of passengers on a cruise ship where four people died were finally being allowed to disembark after a days-long stand-off. More than a dozen critically ill patients were taken to hospitals, while people healthy enough to travel were taken to the airport for chartered flights home.
One Spanish hospital turned its library into an intensive care unit. In France, space was set aside for bodies in a vast food market.
The French prime minister said he is “fighting hour by hour” to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep Covid-19 patients alive.
Philippe Montravers, an anaesthesiologist in Paris, said medics are preparing to fall back on older drugs such as the opiates fetanyl and morphine that had fallen out of favour because newer painkillers are in short supply.
“The work is extremely tough and heavy,” he said. “We’ve had doctors, nurses, care-givers who got sick, infected … but who have come back after recovering. It’s a bit like those World War I soldiers who were injured and came back to fight.”
France cancelled its high-school exit exam known as the Baccalaureat, a first in the 212-year history of the test.
The head of the International Monetary Fund says the recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is “way worse” than the 2008 global recession.
IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva described the situation as “a crisis like no other”.
“Never in the history of the IMF have we witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill,” she said.
“We are now in recession, it is way worse than the global financial crisis and it is a crisis that requires all of us to come together.”
Ms Georgieva says 90 countries have already approached the institution for emergency financing.
She called on countries to prioritise health expenditure and to make sure doctors, nurses and other health workers are paid, adding that the world’s most fragile countries must be protected, noting that “90 billion dollars (£74 billion) have flown out” and damaged emerging economies.
But some glimmers of hope emerged that Italy, with nearly 14,000 dead, as well as Spain and France, might be flattening their infection curves and nearing or even passing their peaks in daily deaths.
Spain on Friday reported 932 new deaths, down slightly from the record it hit a day earlier.
The toll most certainly included large numbers of elderly who authorities admit are not getting access to the country’s limited breathing machines, which are being used first on healthier, younger patients.
More than half of Spain’s nearly 11,000 deaths have come in the last seven days alone.
Elsewhere in Europe, officials began talking tentatively about how to lift lockdowns that have staved off the total collapse of strained health systems but also battered economies.
Austria said it will set out a timetable next week for what could be “a slow start-up” of closed parts of the economy. The head of Germany’s national disease control centre said he expects that any easing of the country’s lockdown, which this week was extended to April 19, will be staggered.
With forecast glorious spring weather likely to tempt stir-crazy families out of lockdown this weekend, the firm message across the continent remained: “Stay home.”
Paris police set up road blocks out of the city to stop those trying to escape for an Easter holiday.