US Army to convert empty hotels into emergency coronavirus hospitals

Washington: The US military is preparing to quickly convert hotels, college dormitories and conference centres into temporary intensive care units to deal with the expected surge of coronavirus patients in coming weeks.

Authorities in major US cities such as New York and Los Angeles are bracing for their hospitals to be swamped with coronavirus patients, an influx they fear will overwhelm the capacity of their healthcare systems.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday (Saturday AEDT) that he was virtually shutting down his state, ordering all non-essential businesses to close their doors and banning non-solitary outdoor activities such as basketball games.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has virtually put his state into lockdown, ordering all non-essential workers to stay at home.Credit:AP

California Governor Gavin Newsom made a similar declaration the day before, ordering his state's 40 million residents to stay at home except for essential activities.

The governor of Illinois also issued a stay-at-home order for his state, which includes the city of Chicago.

Meanwhile, at a fiery White House press conference, US President Donald Trump announced he was shutting the border with Mexico and had activated emergency legislation to force private firms to manufacture masks and medical equipment.

At a Pentagon briefing, Army Corps of Engineers commissioner Todd Semonite said his officers were scoping out empty hotels and college dorms in New York to see whether they can be turned into makeshift intensive care units (ICUs).

The army will use standard engineering designs to rapidly turn the buildings into negative pressure healthcare facilities, he said.

"This is an unbelievably complicated problem and there is no way we are going to be able to do this with a complicated solution," Semonite said.

"We need something super-simple. These hotels are empty, the people don't have jobs."

He said: "We'd like to think we can do this in three to four weeks."

Cuomo said his state only had one third of the ICU beds he expects it will need to deal with the pandemic.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested using empty venues such as Madison Square Garden and the Javits Convention Centre in Manhattan as quarantine zones and "medical surge facilities".

At the daily White House coronavirus briefing, Trump said it was necessary to close the borders with Mexico and Canada to stop placing strain on the US health care systems.

"During a global pandemic they threaten to create a public storm that would spread the infection to our border agents, migrants and the public at large," Trump said, referring to people seeking to enter the country.

Trump clashed with reporters who asked whether he had been overly optimistic about the prospect of using existing anti-malaria medications to treat coronavirus.

"It is a bad signal that you are putting out to the American people," he told an NBC reporter. "You want to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. I happen to feel good about it. Who knows. I have been right a lot. Let’s see what happens."

Trump said he had triggered the Defence Production Act, which allows him to order private corporations to manufacture desperately supplies.

The US has now recorded 1600 coronavirus cases and 215 deaths.

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