- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2020

The World Health Organization said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating” as Britain imposed a three-week lockdown Monday and New York, bracing for a tidal wave of cases, ordered hospitals to increase their capacity by 50%.

A senior member of the International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, said the Summer Games in Tokyo would not start as planned on July 24, after some countries said they wouldn’t send their athletes in the face of a pandemic that’s hit nearly every nation and is getting worse.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus called on nations to maintain the fight, even if the numbers are alarming.

“It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases,” he said. “You can see how the virus is accelerating.”

“But we’re not prisoners to statistics,” he said. “We’re not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic.”

The U.S. case tally zoomed to over 40,000, a tenfold rise from a week ago. Officials said they expect that number to spike in the coming days, especially if Americans refuse to heed warnings to stay at home and avoid crowds.

“I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on NBC’s “Today” program. “We really, really need everyone to stay at home.”

The Trump administration and states are racing to dispatch protective gear to health workers and find enough life-saving ventilators to meet demand.

Vice President Mike Pence announced a breakthrough Monday, saying devices used by anesthesiologists could be converted into ventilators.

“We directed all of our governors again today to survey all of their outpatient clinics to identify what we believe are tens of thousands of these devices, which could add to our nation’s resources for ventilators for people that might be severely impacted by the coronavirus. We got a strong response from our governors,” Mr. Pence said at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

President Trump signed an executive order to crack down on retailers hiking prices on essential items in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, including masks and ventilators.

“We have some people hoarding. We want to prevent price gouging and critical resources are going to be protected in every form,” Mr. Trump said at a press conference Monday.

The order targets price gouging on N95 masks, which are critical to protecting health workers from being infected with the virus. Prices for the masks were fetching more than $1,000 in online retail stores.

eBay ultimately banned their sales of such masks to crack down on price gouging.

Mr. Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, said he will ask the Group of 20 nations to increase their production of hospital gear and drop export bans so that countries with the greatest need are equipped to deal with the pandemic.

“Measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus may have unintended consequences by exacerbating shortages of essential protective gear, and the materials needed to make them,” he said. “Addressing the global shortage of these life-saving tools means addressing every part of the supply chain, from raw materials to finished product.”

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. Worldwide cases have more than doubled in the past week alone, to nearly 375,000. More than 16,000 people have died, including nearly 600 in the U.S.

Britain joined the list of countries imposing strict lockdown measures. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered most stores to close and banned gatherings of more than two people for three weeks.

The pandemic has upended normal life in wide swaths of the developed world. European capitals are no longer teeming with tourists, while American parents are trying to telework and home-school their children at the same time.

The only sports on TV are replays after pro leagues and colleges suspended play. Japan and the IOC were a notable holdout, but an all-but-inevitable postponement hit Monday.

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

The U.S. has the third-most cases in the world behind China and then Italy, where the death toll has reached a world-leading 6,000-plus.

Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, said only one person under 15 has died from the virus in Europe, according to available data.

“We still see there is less severity in children,” Dr. Birx said.

Dr. Birx said the evidence is reassuring but the elderly are at high risk, so everyone must follow Mr. Trump’s guidance to avoid crowds and stay at home as much as possible through the end of March.

The president on Monday suggested he may loosen that guidance, citing the impact on the economy. He said the U.S. can’t be closed for months, and cited the higher number of people who die from flu or car crashes without stringent restrictions going into effect.

Dr. Birx said the greater New York City area remains a big worry spot, however, because 28% of submitted tests come back positive compared to less than 8% elsewhere.

“This is the group that needs to social distance and self-isolate,” Dr. Birx said of the region. “Clearly the virus had been circulating there for a number of weeks.”

New York state has seen the most cases by far in the U.S., with more than 20,000 compared to 3,000 or fewer in every other state.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who holds daily briefings on the coronavirus, said they have 53,000 hospital beds available for the coronavirus but they may need 110,000 as more people get sick.

“We are today issuing an emergency order that says to all hospitals you must increase your capacity by 50% — you must,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Find more beds, use more rooms.”

He also said hospitals should try to increase their capacity by 100%.

Mr. Cuomo on Sunday had accepted a recommendation from the Army Corps of Engineers for four temporary hospitals in the state at the Javits Convention Center, SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury, and the Westchester Convention Center.

Touring the Javits Center in Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo said he hoped to see 1,000 emergency beds at the site within seven to 10 days. The idea is to free up space as regular hospitals get overrun by COVID-19 patients.

“All systems are go here,” he said.

He said they were also looking into building 1,000 separate beds for “lighter medical care.”

“This is going to get much worse before it gets better,” the governor said. “We are still in the relative calm before the storm. You’re going to see the number of infections, the number of cases increase dramatically.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that public hospitals in his city were on the verge of becoming overwhelmed if they don’t get an influx of supplies this week.

Mr. Cuomo also renewed his call for Mr. Trump to implement the Defense Production Act, saying states are currently competing with one another for supplies like protective masks and ventilators.

“It does not nationalize any industry. All it does is say to a factory, you must produce this quantity,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Yes, it is an assertion of government power on private sector companies - yes. But so what? This is a national emergency, and you’re paying the private sector company.”

Mr. Trump teed up the production act but hasn’t forced the private sector to produce anything, saying he doesn’t want to “nationalize” industries.

The president spotlighted the start of a clinical trial in New York on Tuesday to determine if a drug against malaria — hydroxychloroquine — is effective against the coronavirus. The president frequently highlights anecdotal evidence the drug is effective against the new disease.

“It would be a gift from God if that worked. It would be a big game-changer,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s something we have to try.”

Mr. Cuomo said the fight against the coronavirus could last several months. No one will turn on the news, he said, and find out the ordeal is over after two weeks.

“That is not going to happen,” he said, “so deal with this reality.”

Jeff Mordock and Adam Zielonka contributed to this report.

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