New York governor begs for help amid `staggering’ death toll

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NEW YORK (AP) – New York’s governor issued an urgent appeal for medical volunteers Monday amid a “staggering” number of deaths from the coronavirus, saying: “Please come help us in New York, now.” And tens of thousands of retired or sidelined nurses and doctors were already answering the call.

The plea from Gov. Andrew Cuomo came as the death toll in New York State climbed past 1,200 – with most of the victims in the big city – and authorities warned that the crisis pushing New York’s hospitals to the breaking point is just a preview of what other cities across the U.S. could soon face.

Cuomo said the city needs 1 one million additional health care workers.

“We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers,” he said. “To me, we’re beyond staggering already. We’ve reached staggering.”

At the same time the governor’s appeal went out, a Navy hospital ship, also sent to the city after 9/11, pulled into port with 1,000 beds to help relieve pressure on New York’s hospitals. And an estimated 80,000 former medical professionals were stepping up to volunteer.

“Whatever it is that they need, I’m willing to do,” said Jerry Kops, a musician and former nurse whose tour with the show Blue Man Group was abruptly halted by the outbreak. He returned to his Long Island home, where he volunteered to be a nurse again.

In Europe, meanwhile, hard-hit Italy and Spain saw their death tolls climb by more than 800 each, but the World Health Organization’s emergency chief said cases there were “potentially stabilizing.” At the same time, he warned that this is no time to let up on tough containment measures.

“We have to now push the virus down, and that will not happen by itself,” said Dr. Michael Ryan.

Three-quarters of a million people around the world have become infected and over 35,000 have died, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. reported over 140,000 infections and more than 2,500 deaths, with New York City the nation’s worst hot spot, but New Orleans, Detroit and other cities are also seeing alarming clusters.

“Anyone who says this situation is a New York City-only situation is in a state of denial,” Cuomo said. “You see this virus move across the state, you see this virus move across the nation. There is no American who is immune to this virus.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, similarly warned that smaller cities are likely about to see cases “take off” the way they have in New York City.

“What we’ve learned from painful experience with this outbreak is that it goes along almost on a straight line, then a little acceleration, acceleration, then it goes way up,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

In other developments around the world:

– Bells tolled in Madrid’s deserted central square and flags were lowered in a day of mourning as Spain raced to build field hospitals to treat an onslaught of coronavirus patients. The country’s death toll topped 7,300.

– In Japan, officials announced a new date for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – the summer of 2021 – as a spike in reported infections fueled suspicions that the government was understating the extent of the country’s outbreak in recent weeks while it was still hoping to salvage the Summer Games.

– Moscow locked down its 12 million people as Russia braced for sweeping nationwide restrictions.

– Israel said 70-year-old Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’ is quarantining himself after an aide tested positive for the virus. And in Britain, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne who tested positive for the virus, ended his period of isolation and is in good health, his office said.

Italy’s death toll climbed to nearly 11,600. But in a bit of positive news, newly released numbers showed a continued slowdown in the rate of new confirmed cases and a record number of people cured.

“We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by traveling less and by closing schools,” said Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions were at their limit of intensive care unit beds, and three more were close to it, authorities said. Crews of workers were frantically building more field hospitals.

Nearly 15% of all those infected in Spain, almost 13,000 people, are health care workers, hurting hospitals’ efforts to help the tsunami of people gasping for breath.

In a sign of the mounting economic toll exacted by the virus in the United States, Macy’s said it would stop paying tens of thousands of employees thrown out of work when the chain closed its more than 500 department stores earlier this month.

The majority of its 130,000 workers will still collect health benefits, but the company said it is switching to the “absolute minimum workforce” needed to maintain basic operations.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia. More than 150,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins.

The crisis in China, where the outbreak began in late December, continued to ease. China on Monday reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, among them just one domestic infection, and the city at the center of the disaster, Wuhan, began reopening for business as authorities lifted more of the controls that locked down tens of millions of people for two months.

“I want to revenge shop,” one excited customer declared.

Japanese automaker Toyota halted production at its auto plants in Europe, but all of its factories in China resumed work on Monday.

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Rising reported from Berlin, Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort passes lower Manhattan on its way to docking in New York, Monday, March 30, 2020. The ship has 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms that could be up and running within 24 hours of its arrival on Monday morning. It’s expected to bolster a besieged health care system by treating non-coronavirus patients while hospitals treat people with COVID-19. AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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