World health officials have warned that countries are not taking the coronavirus crisis seriously enough, as outbreaks surged across Europe and in the United States where medical workers sounded warnings over a “disturbing” lack of hospital preparedness.
Global markets tumbled again over concerns about the impact on the economy and as countries took more drastic steps to prevent contagion of a disease that has killed more than 3,300 people and infected nearly 1,00,000 in about 85 nations.
Cases soared in Italy, France, Greece and Iran, while a cruise ship was held off the Californian coast to test passengers showing symptoms of the disease — echoing a harrowing episode in Japan several weeks ago that saw hundreds infected on a luxury liner.
The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, sports events and schools, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide.
Even religion is affected: The Vatican said Pope Francis may change his schedule, Bethlehem was placed under lockdown, and Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site in Mecca to sterilise it.
In India, the world’s biggest film industry called off its equivalent of the Oscars that had been set for the end of the month, with organisers citing the “sensitivity” of the health crisis. Fears about the economic fallout caused stock markets in Asia to sink on Friday and European health ministers launched crisis talks on how to slow the spread of the pathogen. China — where the virus emerged late last year — still accounts for the majority of cases and deaths, but infections are now rising faster abroad, with South Korea, Iran and Italy all major hotspots.
The World Health Organisation warned on Thursday that a “long list” of countries were not showing the political commitment needed to “match the level of the threat we all face”.
“This is not a drill,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, calling for “aggressive preparedness”.
“This is not a time to give up. This is not a time for excuses,” he said. “This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”
In the United States, the largest nursing union said a survey of thousands of nurses at hospitals showed “truly disturbing” results.
“They show that a large percentage of our nation’s hospitals are unprepared to safely handle Covid-19,” said Jane Thomason, a hygiene specialist with the union.
Nurses are working without necessary personal protective equipment and lack education and training for handling the disease, said National Nurses United director Bonnie Castillo. The US Congress passed an emergency $8.3 billion spending bill to combat the coronavirus on Thursday as cases surged in the country’s northwest and deaths reached 12. More than 180 people are infected in the US. But President Donald Trump has downplayed the risk, saying the WHO’s report of a 3.4% mortality rate was “false”.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, estimated the death rate at “somewhere between 0.1% and 1%” — closer to the seasonal flu — due to a high number of unreported cases.