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US backs away from NYC region quarantine

CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-30 07:29
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Emergency medical technicians wheel a patient to an ambulance during the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York, on March 29, 2020. STEFAN JEREMIAH/REUTERS

NEW YORK-Instead of imposing a quarantine order, the United States urged millions of residents in the New York City region and neighboring states to avoid nonessential travel due to surging coronavirus infections, which has killed more than 2,100 people in the country.

The travel advisory came after US President Donald Trump on Saturday night backed away from calling for a quarantine for coronavirus hotspots in the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to stem the spread of the outbreak.

The US leads the world with over 124,000 reported cases. The death count also crossed 2,100, more than double the level from two days ago, according to a latest tally by Johns Hopkins University.

As COVID-19 cases continued increasing, Trump floated an idea on Saturday of putting in place an "enforceable quarantine" on travel for some of the hardest-hit areas.

The notion of a quarantine had been advocated by some governors, but also drew swift criticism from the leaders of the states in question, who warned it would spark panic in a populace already suffering under the virus.

After consulting with the White House task force leading the federal response and the governors of the three states, Trump announced he reached the decision and said he had directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "to issue a strong Travel Advisory".

"A quarantine will not be necessary," he added.

The advisory applies to the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, citing "extensive community transmission" in the area and urging residents to avoid travel for 14 days.

Employees of trucking, food supply, financial services and some other industries were exempt from the measure. Governors of the three states will have "full discretion" over how to carry out the advisory.

In New York, the hardest-hit region in the country with more than 53,000 cases, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state's presidential primary election would be rescheduled for June 23 from April 28, aligning it with the congressional and legislative primaries in New York.

Meanwhile, three new sites will be serving as places for emergency beds, said Cuomo, including South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island, Westchester Square in the Bronx and Health Alliance in Ulster County, which will add 695 more hospital beds.

The governor also announced that the first 1,000-bed temporary hospital at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is expected to open on Monday.

The state is also preparing college dormitories and hotels and identifying nursing homes and other facilities to serve as places for emergency beds, according to the governor.

The United Nations, which has its headquarters in New York City, donated 250,000 face masks to the city.

The World Health Organization urged countries to continue their fight against the pandemic while tests for drugs are under way.

"These are tragic numbers, but let's also remember that around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of survivors," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference from Geneva.

He reiterated his message to the extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders on Thursday, saying "we must fight, unite and ignite".

Tedros said that those countries should fight to stop the coronavirus with every resource at their disposal, unite to confront the pandemic together and ignite the industrial might and innovation of the G20 to produce and distribute the tools needed to save lives.

On Friday, the WHO held a briefing with some 50 health ministers around the world, where representatives from China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore shared their experiences and lessons. The four countries are widely regarded as being the most effective in containing and mitigating the coronavirus.

The WHO announced on Friday that in Norway and Spain, the first patients will be shortly enrolled in the WHO-initiated Solidarity Trial to compare the safety and effectiveness of four different drugs or drug combinations against COVID-19.

"This is a historic trial which will dramatically cut the time needed to generate robust evidence about what therapeutics work," Tedros said, while noting that a vaccine for COVID-19 is at least 18 months away.

Over 45 countries are contributing the trial and more have expressed interest. "The more countries who join the trial, the faster we will have results," he said.

Chen Weihua in Brussels, Liu Xuan in Beijing, Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

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