More than 100,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in New York as the death toll from Covid-19 continues to climb around the world.

New York's infection rate is far more than most countries have reported - only Spain, Italy and the United States itself have passed 100,000 infections so far.

The figure means the state of New York now accounts for 40 per cent of all 250,000 cases reported across the US.

The state also reported its biggest-ever jump in deaths on Friday, with another 562 bringing its total death toll to 2935.

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Some hospitals in New York are swamped with patients and are facing shortages of ventilators.

A medical worker sticks her head outside a COVID-19 testing tent set up outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York. Photo / AP
A medical worker sticks her head outside a COVID-19 testing tent set up outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York. Photo / AP

The governor announced Friday he will use his authority to seize ventilators and protective gear from private hospitals and companies that aren't using them, complaining that states are competing against each other for vital equipment in eBay-like bidding wars.

"If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. He added that he will eventually return the equipment or compensate the owners.

The executive order he said he would sign represents one of the most aggressive efforts yet in the US to deal with the kind of critical shortages around the world that authorities say have caused health care workers to fall sick and forced doctors in Europe to make life-or-death decisions about which patients get a breathing machine.

Worldwide, confirmed infections surged past 1 million and deaths topped 55,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both numbers are seriously undercounted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.

Europe's three worst-hit countries — Italy, Spain and France — surpassed 30,000 dead, or over half of the global toll. The crisis there was seen as a frightening portent for places like New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, where bodies are being loaded by forklift into refrigerated trucks outside hospitals.

Shortages of such things as masks, gowns and ventilators have led to fierce competition among buyers from Europe, the US and elsewhere.

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Some glimmers of hope emerged that Italy, with about 14,700 dead, as well as Spain and France might be flattening their infection curves and nearing or even passing their peaks in daily deaths.

Still, "the work is extremely tough and heavy," said Philippe Montravers, an anesthesiologist in Paris. "We've had doctors, nurses, caregivers who got sick, infected ... but who have come back after recovering. It's a bit like those World War I soldiers who were injured and came back to fight."

France canceled its high school exit exam known as the Baccalaureat, a first in the 212-year history of the test.

Spain reported 932 new deaths, down slightly from the record it hit a day earlier. The carnage most certainly included large numbers of elderly who authorities admit are not getting access to the country's limited breathing machines, which are being used first on healthier, younger patients. More than half of Spain's death toll of nearly 11,000 has come in the last seven days alone.

In a vast exhibition center in Madrid that was hastily converted into a 1300-bed field hospital, bed No. 01.30 held patient Esteban Pinaredo, age 87.

New York's Times Square is empty as the city lockdowns to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Photo / AP
New York's Times Square is empty as the city lockdowns to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Photo / AP

"I'm good, I love you," Pinaredo told his family via Skype. "I will run away as soon as I can."

The facility's organiser, Antonio Zapatero, said Spain's nationwide lockdown must be maintained.

"Otherwise, this is what you are facing," he said, pointing at the rows of beds.

Heavily armed members of the national guard patrol Grand Central Terminal. Photo / AP
Heavily armed members of the national guard patrol Grand Central Terminal. Photo / AP

In some places in Europe, officials began talking tentatively about how to lift lockdowns that have staved off the total collapse of the health systems but have also battered economies.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in her first video message after emerging from two weeks of quarantine at home, urged Germans to stay home over Easter, saying it would be irresponsible for her to set a date now for loosening restrictions that include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.


With forecast glorious spring weather likely to tempt stir-crazy families out of lockdown this weekend, the firm message across the continent remained: "Stay home." Paris police set up roadblocks out of the city to stop those trying to escape for Easter vacation.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive last week, said in a video message on Twitter that he is feeling better but still has a fever and will remain in isolation.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause pneumonia. The World Health Organization said this week that 95 per cent of the deaths in Europe were of people over 60.

The US government is now poised to recommend that everyone should wear face masks.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told Fox News the guidance on masks would be changed "because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak, as opposed to coughing and sneezing".

As it stands, the official advice is that only sick people need to cover their faces, as well as those caring for them at home.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also been more cautious on the airborne threat.

Fauci's comments come after the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sent a letter to the White House on April 1 that summarised recent research on the subject.

It said that though the research isn't yet conclusive, "the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolisation of virus from normal breathing".

The new directive could worsen a battle already brewing over access to face masks and medical supplies between the US and Canada.

- with AP

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website