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Crowds ignore coronavirus social distancing rules to watch arrival of USNS Comfort hospital ship in New York

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Crowds of people ignored social distancing rules in New York as they gathered to watch the arrival of a US Navy hospital ship brought in to help the fight against coronavirus.

The 1,000-bed vessel was welcomed to as a beacon of hope amid a desperate fight against the pandemic in the city, where hospitals have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19.

New York state accounts for almost half the United States’ more than 152,000 cases and more than 40 per cent of its more than 2,800 deaths and people are now living under social distancing guidelines to combat the spread of the virus.

Despite this, people were seen gathering near the Hudson River to cheer the US Navy ship Comfort, a converted oil tanker adorned with giant red crosses, as it sailed past the Statue of Liberty on Monday.

The USNS Comfort passes Manhattan as it enters New York Harbour (REUTERS)

Some bystanders chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as the huge vessel neared the Midtown Manhattan pier where it docked.

“It’s a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. He said preparations for the ship, including dredging, took eight days, much less than the two weeks initially expected.

The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.

The United States has the most confirmed cases in the world.

People watch the arrival of the USNS Comfort in New York City (REUTERS)

US health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus, which first broke out in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.

To ease the pressure in New York, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the white tents being set up evoked a wartime feel in an island of green typically used by New Yorkers to exercise, picnic and enjoy the first signs of spring.

The makeshift facility, provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday but will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, mayor de Blasio said.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference the state might have to step in to close playgrounds in the country’s most populous city.

He said official efforts to reduce the numbers of people in those public spaces had not been successful.

Mayor De Blasio said the death toll in his city would rise if Washington did not provide more assistance soon. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday,” he told CNN.

The mayor, a Democrat, later thanked Republican president Donald Trump for dispatching the Comfort.

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