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Europe and US in desperate search for medical supplies as virus rates soar

Military staff patrol in the downtown of Gyor, Hungary, Monday, March 23, 2020. The patrol is deployed to keep up public safety and order during the time of the epidemy of novel coronavirus. (Csaba Krizsan/MTI via AP)

By Lori Hinnant and Foster Klug

The hunt for ventilators and other medical supplies has consumed Europe and America, as new coronavirus infections soared and political paralysis stalled efforts for a quick aid package from US congress.

Asian markets and US 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 hotspots, prompting cancellations of everything from play dates to picnics in the park to basketball games.

The city's mayor Bill de Blasio said hospitals are 10 days away from shortages in "really basic supplies" which will seriously endanger both health care workers and patients.

"If we don't get the equipment, we're literally going to lose lives," he 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 centre, while US president Donald Trump ordered mobile hospital centres to be sent to Washington, California and New York.

Health care workers have said 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.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US 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".

However, efforts for a quick aid package from US congress have faltered as the senate voted against advancing a nearly two trillion-dollar (£1.71 trillion) economic rescue package.

Democrats argued the package was tilted toward corporations rather than workers and health care providers. Another vote is expected later on Monday.

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

An untold number of burials are going forward with nothing more than a priest or other religious figure, funeral home staff and one loved one to bear witness.

Markets reopened to an altered business landscape as lockdowns and closures intended to halt the spread of the new coronavirus expanded over the weekend to include many cities around the world and the number of people infected surged.

US futures slipped more than 3% on Monday and share benchmarks in many Asian markets logged sharp losses.

Worldwide, nearly 340,000 people have been infected and more than 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 US have grown exponentially. After just weeks, the US has more than 33,000 cases and more than 400 deaths. Worldwide, some 99,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. But for some older adults and people with existing health problems it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first US senator to announce he was infected. Opera superstar Placido Domingo confirmed he has Covid-19, and German chancellor Angela Merkel put herself into quarantine after a doctor who gave her a pneumonia vaccine tested positive.

Italy's infections continued to spike on Sunday, hitting 59,000 cases and 5,476 deaths, and India's prime minister asked, with mixed results, his nation of 1.3 billion people to stay at home.

With no end in sight to the global uncertainty, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged that a postponement of this year's Summer Olympics could be unavoidable.

Canada and Australia added to the immense pressure on Japan and Olympic organisers by suggesting they would not send athletes to Tokyo this summer, with the games scheduled to start in July.

The International Olympic Committee's announced a plan to examine the situation over the next few weeks and make a decision that could include the option to postpone.

"If it is difficult to hold in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable," Mr Abe said.

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 be locked down, said on Monday that it is now allowing for limited movement, both within the city and out of it, as its months-long lockdown gradually eases.

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