The worldwide race to protect people against unwitting coronavirus carriers intensified yesterday, pitting governments against each other as they buy protective gear and prompting new questions about who should wear masks, get temperature checks or even be permitted to go outside.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began in December, a green symbol on residents’ smartphones dictates their movements. Green is the “health code” that says a user is symptom-free and it’s required to board a subway, check into a hotel or enter the central city of 11 million. Serious travel restrictions still exist for those who have yellow or red symbols.
In northern Italy, the country with the most virus deaths in the world at over 13,000, guards with thermometer guns decide who can enter supermarkets. In Los Angeles, the mayor has recommended that the city’s 4 million people wear masks. Same goes for grocery store customers in Austria.
And a top health official in France’s hard-hit eastern region said American officials swooped in at a Chinese airport to spirit away a planeload of masks that France had ordered.
“On the tarmac, the Americans arrive, take out cash and pay three or four times more for our orders, so we really have to fight,” Dr. Jean Rottner, an emergency room doctor in Mulhouse, told RTL radio.
A study by researchers in Singapore on Wednesday estimated that around 10% of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered symptoms.
In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed how it defined the risks of infection, saying essentially that anyone may be a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not. But neither it nor the World Health Organization changed their recommendations that everyone did not have to wear masks.
Nine leading European university hospitals warned yesterday they will run out of essential medicines for COVID-19 patients in intensive care in less than two weeks. The European University Hospital Alliance said countries should cooperate, not compete, to ensure a steady supply of these drugs for critically ill virus patients.
Spain reported a record number of daily virus-related deaths, 950 in 24 hours, bringing its total deaths to 10,003 even as its infection rate appeared to be slowing.
In the United States, from New York to Los Angeles, officials warned that the worst is still ahead.
“How does it end? And people want answers,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “I want answers. The answer is nobody knows for sure.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said even a “tucked-in bandanna” could slow the spread of the virus and remind people to keep their distance from each other.
“I know it will look surreal,” he said, donning a mask. “We’re going to have to get used to seeing each other like this.”
In Japan, where masks are a household stable, the government planned to mail two gauze masks each to the country’s 50 million households.
In Greece, authorities placed an entire refugee camp of 2,400 people under quarantine yesterday after discovering that a third of the 63 contacts of just one infected woman tested positive — and none had showed symptoms.
Altogether, more than 952,000 people around the world have contracted the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 48,000 have died from the virus and another 202,000 have recovered.
The real figures are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, differences in counting the dead and mild cases that have gone unreported. Critics also say some governments have been deliberately under-reporting cases in order to avoid criticism.
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, yesterday called China’s recent low figures on coronavirus infections “nonsense,” but added that many countries are working with uncertain data.
In Italy, a new study found a hidden toll from coronavirus in the province of Bergamo, more than doubling the official number of 2,060 dead to a new estimate of 4,500.
As hot spots flared in New Orleans and Southern California, the nation’s biggest city, New York, was the hardest hit of them all. Bodies were being loaded onto refrigerated morgue trucks by forklifts outside overwhelmed hospitals.
“It’s like a battlefield behind your home,” said 33-year-old Emma Sorza, who could hear the sirens from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
Cuomo said projections suggest the crisis in New York will peak at the end of April, with a high death rate continuing through July.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and lead to death.
More than 95% of those who have died of coronavirus in Europe have been older than 60 but young people should not be complacent, WHO said Thursday.
“Young people are not invincible,” Dr. Hans Kluge told reporters. The U.N. health agency says 10% to 15% of people under 50 with the disease have moderate or severe cases.
Major global stock markets and U.S. futures rose yesterday following a rocky start to the day.
Many countries are now modeling their response to the virus after China, which in January closed off an entire province of over 70 million people. LORI HINNANT & ROBERT BUMSTED, PARIS, AP
Working the numbers
The chairman of the World Medical Association said yesterday China’s figures on the new coronavirus infections aren’t credible.
But German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery added the numbers aren’t credible in many other countries, either.
Montgomery said the recent low Chinese numbers were “nonsense” and suggested Beijing was intentionally providing false figures. The radiologist and former head of the German Medical Association staid other countries are also working with uncertain figures because better data often isn’t available.
Montgomery cited the lack of proper testing as one reason why many developing countries are reporting low infection rates.
He called for the World Health Organization to do more to impress on governments in poorer nations the need to take measures to restrict the spread of the pandemic.
Montgomery warned that if the virus takes hold in megacities such as Cairo, “then it’s going to get really dangerous.”