Over 1.5 billion globally asked to stay home to escape virus

By LORI HINNANT and FOSTER KLUG

PARIS (AP) — The hunt for masks, ventilators and other medical supplies consumed the U.S. and Europe, as more than 1.5 billion people — one-fifth of the world’s population — were urged or ordered to stay home Monday to try to blunt the spread of the coronavirus.

Political paralysis stalled efforts for a quick aid package from Congress. Investor fears about the outbreak’s economic toll pushed U.S. stocks down in morning trading even after the Federal Reserve said it will buy as much government debt as necessary and lend to small and large businesses and local governments to help them cope.

In New York, a near-lockdown took effect statewide over the weekend amid worries the city of 8.4 million could become one of the world’s biggest hot spots. Nearly 10,000 people have tested positive in the city, and almost 100 have died.

The governor announced plans to convert a huge New York City convention center into a hospital with 1,000 beds. Meanwhile, the mayor warned that the city’s hospitals are just 10 days away from shortages in “really basic supplies” needed to protect health care workers and patients alike.

“If we don’t get the equipment, we’re literally going to lose lives,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN.

The risk to doctors, nurses and others on the front lines has become plain: Italy has seen at least 18 doctors with coronavirus die. Spain reported that more than 3,900 health care workers have become infected, accounting for roughly 12% of the country’s total cases.

British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like “cannon fodder.” In France, doctors scrounged masks from construction workers, factory floors, an architect.

“There’s a wild race to get surgical masks,” François Blanchecott, a biologist on the front lines of testing, told France Inter radio. “We’re asking mayors’ offices, industries, any enterprises that might have a store of masks.”

Health care workers say they are being asked to reuse and ration disposable masks and gloves. A shortage of ventilators, crucial for treating serious COVID-19 cases, has also become critical, as has a lack of test kits to comply with the World Health Organization’s exhortations to test as many people as possible.

With the crisis easing in China, where it began late last year, only the area around the city of Wuhan was still considered high-risk, with people asked to stay inside.

In the United States, a fierce political battle over ventilators has emerged, especially after President Donald Trump told governors that they should find their own medical equipment if they think they can get it faster than the U.S. government. Alaska is expected to run out of money imminently to pay doctors, hospitals and clinics who treat Medicaid patients.

China has been the one nation to counter this trend, sending planeloads of equipment like masks, gloves and protective gear as well as doctors to countries across Europe, including hard-hit Italy, France and Spain as well as places with weaker medical systems like Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia.

“The U.S. is completely wasting the precious time that China has won for the world,” said Geng Shuang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Image credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan