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Hunt for medical gear to fight virus becomes all-consuming

AP  |  Paris 

The hunt for ventilators and other medical supplies consumed the US and Europe on Monday, as new coronavirus infections soared and political paralysis stalled efforts for a quick aid package from Congress.

Asian markets and US futures 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 cancelations of everything from play dates to picnics in the park to pickup basketball games. 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. Italy has already seen 18 doctors with coronavirus die and Spain says 12% of its nearly 29,000 cases are medical workers.

To combat this, Spain erected a field hospital in a convention center. British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like cannon fodder.

US President Donald Trump ordered mobile hospital centers be sent to Washington, California and New York. In France, doctors scrounged masks from the unlikeliest of places an architect, construction workers in Breton, factory floors.

There's a wild race to get surgical masks, Franois Blanchecott, a biologist on the front lines of testing, told France Inter radio. We're asking mayors' offices, industries, any enterprises that might have a store of masks.

Health care workers say they are 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.

A political battle over ventilators has emerged, especially after Trump told state governors to go find their own medical equipment and some replied that was not the best solution.

China has been the one nation to counter this trend, sending planeloads of medical equipment like masks, gloves and protective gear as well as doctors to countries across Europe, including hard-hit Italy, France and Spain as well as countries with weaker medical systems like Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, promised over the weekend that medical supplies are about to start pouring in and will be clearly directed to those hot spots that need it most. But efforts for a quick aid package from Congress faltered.

The US Senate voted against advancing a nearly USD 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 widespread shrinking in spending.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, March 23 2020. 16:30 IST