Hunt for Medical Gear to Fight Virus Becomes All-Consuming

(AP) -
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (L.) inspects medical equipment at an emergency hospital set up amid the new coronavirus outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday. (Hafidz Mubarak A/Pool Photo via AP)

The hunt for ventilators and other medical supplies consumed the U.S. and Europe on Monday, as new coronavirus infections soared and political paralysis stalled efforts for a quick aid package from Congress. Asian markets and U.S. futures both sank as more governments tightened restrictions to fight the pandemic.

Fears grew that densely crowded New York could become one of the world’s biggest coronavirus hot spots, prompting cancellations of everything from play dates to picnics in the park. The city’s mayor said hospitals were 10 days away from shortages in “really basic supplies” that seriously endangered both health care workers and patients.

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

A surge in infections has caused a critical shortage of medical supplies in many places. Spain erected a field hospital in a convention center. British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like “cannon fodder.” President Donald Trump ordered mobile hospital centers be sent to Washington, California and New York.

Health care workers have said they were being asked to reuse and ration disposable masks and gloves. A shortage of ventilators, crucial for treating serious cases of the virus, has become critical.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, promised that medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be “clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most.”

A traffic officer checks a driver for valid documents following a lockdown order by the government to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Athens, Monday. All citizens and residents must stay at home, or risk a 150-euro fine. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

But efforts for a quick aid package from Congress faltered. The Senate voted against advancing a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package. Democrats argued it was tilted toward corporations rather than workers and health care providers. Another vote was expected Monday.

The delay shook investors, as has the accumulation of canceled events large and small, the soaring numbers of unemployed and a general, widespread shrinking in spending.

Worldwide, nearly 340,000 people have been infected and over 14,700 have died from the virus that first emerged in central China late last year. As cases in China ebbed, the dangers to Europe and the U.S. have grown exponentially. After just weeks, the U.S. has more than 33,000 cases and more than 400 deaths. Worldwide, some 99,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

While other countries struggled to contain the virus, the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus outbreak emerged late last year and the first metropolitan area to be locked down, said Monday that it is now allowing for limited movement, both within the city and out of it, as its months-long lockdown gradually eases.