A makeshift morgue is being built in New York City to accommodate mass casualties as coronavirus-related deaths mount in the empire state.
The city medical examiner is erecting the facility outside Bellevue Hospital on the Upper East Side, as cases eclipsed 30,000, with nearly 300 deaths on Wednesday morning, according to City Hall.
The new measure falls within the purview of the city emergency declaration that New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed weeks ago.
The move comes as the city emerges as the United States' biggest coronavirus hot spot with members of the Department of Homeland Security informed that New York City is expected to run out of morgue space early next week.
"We ended up getting our first positive patients — and that is when all hell broke loose," one unnamed doctor told CNN.
The doctor said staff did not have enough machines or beds in New York City, likening it to a third-world country scenario and calling it mind blowing.
In a press conference on Wednesday, local time, New York governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters, "We're still on the way up the mountain," referring to the rising number of positive cases and deaths in the state.
Cuomo said the worse surge of patients into overburdened hospitals may come in about three weeks' time.
It's anticipated that when the contagion peaks in the state with "bullet train" force, 140,000 hospital beds will be needed, including 40,000 intensive care beds.
Hospitals have agreed to dramatically increase their capacity and federal officials are building temporary hospitals in hotels and convention centres, including 2000 beds in the Javits convention centre, and sending a navy hospital ship to New York harbour. The state will also use empty dormitories and shuttered nursing homes to meet increased demand.
Multiple white tents were this week pitched at Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in America, by workers wearing face masks. The site was previously used as a temporary morgue during the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
A mobile command centre – medical examiner and two refrigerated trailers were set up outside the hospital at 30th Street and the FDR Drive on Tuesday, according to the New York Post.
A source told The Post more refrigerated trailers will soon be added and, "The plan is for them to be there and throughout the city."
Members of the NYPD and the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner were also spotted on scene.
Cuomo, who echoed earlier calls for help in dealing with the impending onslaught, attributed the prevalence of the virus in the state to New York being a gateway to international travellers and the sheer density of its population, with 8.6 million people sharing subways, lifts, apartment buildings and offices.
"Our closeness makes us vulnerable," he said. "But it's true that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength. And our closeness is what makes us who we are. That is what New York is."
'This is a very good sign'
Offering a glimmer of hope, Cuomo told reporters that density control measures implemented in New York appeared to be slowing the spread of the virus throughout the state.
"If you reduce the density, you can reduce the spread very quickly," he said.
As of Sunday, the state's team of scientists projected that hospitalisations were doubling every two days, Cuomo revealed earlier.
But by Monday, that rate slowed to 3.4 days, and by Tuesday, it had dropped to 4.7 days.
Cuomo urged cautious optimism, as the state tallied 30,811 confirmed cases with 285 now dead.
"Now, that is almost too good to be true," he said.
"This is a very good sign.
"I'm not 100 per cent sure it holds, or it's accurate, but the arrows are headed in the right direction, and that is always better than the arrows headed in the wrong direction."
If that trend holds, it would help ease what's projected to be a crushing burden on the state's hospital system.
In a bid to halt the spread of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, more than 2.5 billion people worldwide are now largely confined to their homes and economies have ground to a halt, threatening a global recession.
Spain joined Italy on Wednesday in seeing its death toll from the coronavirus epidemic surpass that of China, as more than a billion Indians joined the global lockdown.
As of Wednesday, the number of deaths around the world from the virus exceeded 20,000, with more that 427,000 declared cases registered in 181 countries and territories.
"COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity – and the whole of humanity must fight back," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, launching an appeal for $2 billion to help the world's poor.
Markets rebounded after Washington vowed to spend $2 trillion to fend off a US economic collapse, while capitals elsewhere are still taking ever more dramatic steps to slow the spread of the disease.
India's stay-at-home order is now the biggest, and Russia will follow suit, with President Vladimir Putin declaring next week a public holiday and postponing a public vote on constitutional reforms.
The G20 major economies will hold an emergency video conference summit on Thursday to discuss a global response to the crisis, as will the 27 leaders of the European Union, the outbreak's new epicentre.
Spain saw the number of deaths surge to 3434 after more than 738 people died in the past 24 hours, following Italy in overtaking the figure in China, where the virus originated late last year.