Even as Congress races to approve the largest relief package in U.S. history and the world’s wealthiest nations pledge hundreds of billions more in stimulus measures, the virus has exposed the fragility of one element of modern society after another.
Health experts warn that time is running out for hospitals around the world if they are to avoid the grim scenes that unfolded first in China, then in Italy and now in Spain.
In hard-hit New York City, which on Wednesday reported 20,011 confirmed cases and 280 deaths, emergency rooms are being besieged by the sick and fearful, and all 1,800 intensive care beds were expected to be occupied by Friday. At Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, 13 people have died in the past 24 hours amid scenes described as “apocalyptic.”
In Spain, which prides itself on having a robust health care system, the death toll of more than 3,400 has now surpassed China’s official toll — and the virus’s spread has yet to peak. Amid the thousands of tragedies, the scenes in some Spanish nursing homes — where dozens have been found dead, some abandoned in their beds — have shaken the nation’s image of itself.
With billions of people around the planet in some form of lockdown, the trillions of dollars being pledged by governments to blunt the effects of the shock to the economy may not be enough. For many among the millions who have already lost their jobs — and the tens of millions more likely to be out of work in the weeks ahead — the assistance will only delay financial crises as bills come due in coming weeks and months.
While some progress has been made in containing the outbreak, surges continued to be reported in new places, like Tokyo, and other spots where the virus had been contained, like Hong Kong, where returning residents are bringing it with them, officials said. Afghanistan is bracing for the worst as tens of thousands of Afghans flee neighboring Iran.
In response, many countries are closing their borders, raising tensions as they look to protect themselves. India and Pakistan have put in place domestic travel bans. People escaping from crowded cities have been shunned by their rural neighbors. And governors in America, already competing for medical resources like ventilators, are placing restrictions on visitors — particularly those from New York City.