US tops 4000 daily COVID-19 deaths; London declares major incident
The US topped 4000 coronavirus deaths in a single day for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier, with several Sun Belt states driving the surge.
The tally from Johns Hopkins University showed the nation had 4085 deaths on Thursday, along with nearly 275,000 new cases of the virus – evidence that the crisis is growing worse after family gatherings and travel over the holidays and the onset of winter, which is forcing people indoors.
A nurse works in a COVID-19 unit at Mission Hospital in California. Credit:AP
Meantime, the United Kingdom recorded its highest daily death toll on Friday since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as London declared a major incident, warning that its hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed.
With a highly transmissable new variant of the virus surging across Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shuttered the economy and is rushing out vaccines faster than the country's European neighbours in a bid to stem the pandemic.
In the US, the scourge has left more than 365,000 dead and caused nearly 22 million confirmed infections.
Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday.
Thursday ranks as one of the deadliest days in US history, with the COVID-19 toll far outstripping the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11 and exceeding the combined total of nearly 3900 US lives lost on D-Day and at Pearl Harbor.
Many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep up and warned they may need to ration lifesaving care. Many nurses are caring for more sick people than typically allowed under the law after the state began issuing waivers to the strict nurse-to-patient ratios.
In Los Angeles County's Henry Mayo New Hall in Valencia, nurse Nerissa Black said the hospital was overwhelmed with patients, likening the situation to New York's at the beginning of the pandemic.
She was assigned six patients but could spend only about 10 minutes with each of them per hour, including the time it takes for her to change her protective gear.
“It’s very hard to decide which one should I go see first: the patient who has chest pain or the patient whose oxygen level is dropping,” she said.
At St Joseph Hospital south of Los Angeles, nurses in the COVID-19 ward described being overwhelmed as the deaths mount.
“Just today we had two deaths on this unit. And that’s pretty much the norm,” said Caroline Brandenburger.
“I usually see one to two every shift. Super sad.”
She added: “They fight every day, and they struggle to breathe every day even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die. They just die.”
The outbreak has taken another turn for the worse in Arizona, with the state now leading the nation with the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week.
More than 132,000 people nationwide are hospitalised with the virus.
London declares a major incident
Britain has the world's fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 at nearly 80,000, and the 1325 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test on Friday surpassed the previous daily record from last April.
"Each life lost to this virus is a tragedy, but sadly we can expect the death toll to continue to rise until we stop the spread," said William Welfare, director for the COVID-19 response at Public Health England.
A further 68,052 COVID-19 cases were reported – also a new daily high – meaning almost three million people have now tested positive for the disease in the United Kingdom, which has a total population of around 67 million.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, from the opposition Labour Party, said hospital beds in the capital would run out within the next few weeks because the spread of the virus was "out of control".
"We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point," Khan said.
The designation of "major incident" is usually reserved for attacks or grave accidents, notably those likely to involve "serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security".
London's last "major incident" was the Grenfell Tower fire in a high-rise residential block in 2017, when 72 people died.
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