New York becomes the epicenter of coronavirus pandemic

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Mar 28 (efe-epa).- The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections and New York State, which accounts for nearly half of the national total and more than a third of the deaths, must contend not only with the public health crisis but also with a potentially catastrophic economic impact.

The state’s coronavirus death toll increased by more than 200 overnight to 728, officials said Saturday, while Covid-19 cases topped 52,000.

That number is sure to multiply as the outbreak in New York is not expected to peak for another two or three weeks.

To make matters worse, measures aimed at containing the virus, such as closing non-essential businesses and the mandate for social distancing, threaten the economy of New York City, where almost 30,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 500 have died.

“The economic impact will certainly be catastrophic,” Nicole Gelinas, an economist with the Manhattan Institute, told Efe, contrasting the pandemic with the situation following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“After 9/11 parts of Lower Manhattan were shut down for months, but it was only a very small portion of the city. The rest of the city was up and running and although people were obviously very upset about the attacks, they wanted to go out to eat, they went to Broadway, they wanted to support the city,” she said.

For now, Big Apple residents can still go to parks or take their children to playgrounds, though authorities warn that those sites could be placed off-limits if people fail to observe the guidelines about social distancing.

The closure of schools and last Monday’s order requiring non-essential businesses to close has dramatically reduced the numbers of pedestrians on the streets and passengers on the subway, buses and commuter trains.

And on this rainy Saturday, the normally bustling city looked practically empty.

Even so, Adolfo Garcia Sastre, a virologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Efe that he didn’t think the containment measures in place were sufficient “to reduce the spread in a very effective way.”

The Spaniard, who has lived here for 30 years, pointed to the city’s high population density as an aggravating factor.

“Social distancing is much more difficult in cities that are very dense than in cities that aren’t dense,” he said.

Hospitals are overwhelmed by the rush of patients and the doctors and nurses are struggling with a lack of masks and other protective clothing and of the ventilators needed to treat the most severe Covid-19 cases.

“Things are going to get worse, unfortunately, and we will see how long this lasts,” Garcia Sastre said. “I think that is the main concern (of health care workers) now, how long is this going to last.”

“You can make a great effort if it’s temporary, for a week. But ultimately, people get worn out,” the virologist said.

The New York state budget director, Robert Mujica, said that the crisis will reduce the government’s revenue from taxes by $15 billion, not far short of 10 percent of this year’s budget of $178 billion.

But Gelinas insisted that in New York City alone, the economic toll will be much larger.

The city’s economy “produces about $1.5 trillion worth of personal income every year, if we were to lose 10 percent of that that would be $150 billion,” she said, adding that some 800,000 Big Apple residents work in hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

“I would say, conservatively, we could have lost more than half of those jobs. So we’re looking at potentially half-a-million jobs lost, which would be more than twice the number of jobs we lost after 9/11 or after the financial crisis,” she said.

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