New York governor reveals 12,000 more COVID-19 deaths than previously counted

By Anurag Maan and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul revealed 12,000 more people died of COVID-19 than was reported under her predecessor, making good on her promise for greater transparency on just her second day leading the state.

The state is now reporting a total of 55,400 people died in New York from coronavirus, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hochul said in a statement.

That’s an increase of 12,000 over the 43,400 reported by Andrew Cuomo as of his last day in office before resigning in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal.

“We’re using CDC numbers, which will be consistent. And so there’s no opportunity for us to mask those numbers,” Hochul told National Public Radio on Wednesday.

Even with the additional 12,000 deaths, it does not change how New York state ranks nationally. New York still has the third highest total number of COVID deaths in the country, behind California and Texas. And New York still ranks second for deaths per capita, behind New Jersey, according to a Reuters tally.

Hochul is a Democrat who assumed the top job on Tuesday after serving as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

The number reported by Cuomo was incomplete because it focused only on confirmed COVID-19 deaths and it excluded those who died at their own homes and other places.

The revised count is based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC, which includes any confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths in any location in New York, Hochul said in the statement.

“These are presumed and confirmed deaths. People should know both,” Hochul told NPR.

The revelation came on Hochul’s second day on the job as governor, the first woman to hold New York’s top office. After being sworn in on Tuesday, Hochul made a point of promising the public greater transparency to ensure that New Yorkers “believe in their government again.”

Immediately shining a spotlight on the numbers the Cuomo administration chose to report, Hochul became only the latest official to raise questions about whether he was massaging data to improve his image during the pandemic that once gripped New York as the U.S. epicenter.

According to a New York attorney general’s report released in January, Cuomo was criticized for undercounting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%.

In February, Cuomo acknowledged that his office should not have withheld data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths from state lawmakers, the public and press but fell short of apologizing.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Mass cremations begin as India’s capital faces deluge of COVID-19 deaths

By Danish Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Delhi resident Nitish Kumar was forced to keep his dead mother’s body at home for nearly two days while he searched for space in the city’s crematoriums – a sign of the deluge of death in India’s capital where coronavirus cases are surging.

On Thursday Kumar cremated his mother, who died of COVID-19, in a makeshift, mass cremation facility in a parking lot adjoining a crematorium in Seemapuri in northeast Delhi.

“I ran pillar to post but every crematorium had some reason … one said it had run out of wood,” said Kumar, wearing a mask and squinting his eyes that were stinging from the smoke blowing from the burning pyres.

India recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 coronavirus infections on Thursday, with the second wave of the pandemic crushing its weak health infrastructure. In Delhi alone, where hospitals are running out of medical oxygen supplies, the daily rise is over 26,000.

People losing loved ones in the Indian capital, where 306 people have died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, are turning to makeshift facilities that are undertaking mass burials and cremations as crematoriums come under pressure.

Jitender Singh Shunty who runs a non-profit medical service, the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, said as of Thursday afternoon 60 bodies had been cremated at the makeshift facility in the parking lot and 15 others were still waiting.

“No one in Delhi would have ever witnessed such a scene. Children who were 5 years old, 15 years old, 25 years old are being cremated. Newlyweds are being cremated. It’s difficult to watch,” said a teary-eyed Shunty.

Shunty, dressed in protective gear and a bright yellow turban, said last year during the peak of the first wave the maximum number of bodies he helped cremate in a single day was 18, while the average was eight to 10 a day.

On Tuesday, 78 bodies were cremated in that one place alone, he said.

Kumar said when his mother, a government healthcare worker, tested positive 10 days ago, the authorities could not find a hospital bed for her.

“The government is not doing anything. Only you can save your family. You are on your own,” he said.

(Writing by Aditi Shah, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Jordan cemetery struggles amid COVID-19 surge

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Clerks at the largest cemetery in Jordan barely have a moment to themselves as people rush to pay for graves to bury relatives amid a record surge of deaths from COVID-19.

The cemetery on the outskirts of the capital saw at least 50 burials on Tuesday, a day after the health ministry announced 109 COVID-19 deaths, the kingdom’s highest daily tally.

“We have no time to scratch our heads,” said Ahmad Jaber as he completed a 50 dinar ($70) invoice for a plot at the Amman municipal cemetery while bereaved relatives waited in line.

The surge in the last two months, blamed on the fast spread of the variant first identified in Britain, has put Jordan’s infections and deaths above most of its neighbors and reverses months of success in containing the outbreak.

The government, which says there are 3,334 COVID-19 patients in hospital, is facing a crisis with some wards at capacity, especially in the capital and surrounding provinces where over 60% of the country’s 10 million population live.

“We hope the daily infections don’t continue this way, otherwise there will be a real problem in the availability of isolation rooms and intensive care units,” said Fawzi Hammouri, the head of Jordan’s private hospital association.

Coronavirus wards in 27 private hospitals are now at 90% occupancy and intensive care units are at 78% capacity in and around the capital.

Private hospitals are considering scrapping non-urgent procedures and outpatient clinics, steps taken by public hospitals earlier this month, to create more space.

Some officials have suggested the government should use sports stadiums, refurbish old hospitals or set up beds in schools.

“The infections are heading for more increases,” said Interior Minister and acting Health Minister Mazen al Faraya.

To spare the economy, Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh has so far avoided a two-week lockdown recommended by medics.

The government earlier this month extended a night curfew, ordered a full Friday lockdown and imposed stricter penalties on violators of social distancing rules.


At Jordan University hospital, a 100-bed ward for COVID-19 patients has been full for the past week and medics struggle to keep those patients separate from others with serious ailments, said hospital director Islam Massad.

“I hope we can control this and numbers fall because the situation is getting very difficult,” said Ahmad Saafeen, head of emergency ward.

The situation is slightly better outside big towns, where intensive care unit capacity is at 30% to 50%, according to official data.

But trust in the public health service is at a record low with gross negligence exposed after nine people, mostly COVID-19 patients, died earlier this month when medics ignored depleted oxygen supplies.

The scandal means Khasawneh is facing his toughest challenge since being appointed last October, politicians say.

Anger over the crisis, which has pushed unemployment to a record 24%, sent hundreds of demonstrators on to the streets earlier this month, defying the curfew and calling for Khasawneh’s removal.

(Additional reporting by Jehad Abu Shalbak and Muath Freij in Amman; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Europe becomes first region to surpass 1 million COVID-19 deaths: Reuters tally

By Shaina Ahluwalia and Roshan Abraham

(Reuters) – Coronavirus-related deaths in the European region surpassed 1 million on Friday as vaccination efforts attempt to keep up with new variants causing a third wave of infections that could once again overwhelm hospitals.

Since the pandemic began, at least 37,221,978 infections and 1,000,062 deaths were reported in the European region, according to a Reuters tally.

The region, which includes 51 countries, has about 35.5% of all coronavirus deaths and 30.5% of all cases in the world. The region includes Russia, the United Kingdom, the 27 members of the European Union and other countries.

The European region has administered about 12 vaccine shots for every 100 people, behind the United States which has administered about 34 doses per 100 people, according to figures from Our World in Data. Israel leads the world in vaccination efforts with about 110 shots given for every 100 individuals. Some vaccines require two doses.

With the number of EU COVID-19 related deaths above 550,000 and less than a tenth of the population inoculated, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the situation was worsening. “We see the crest of a third wave forming in member states, and we know that we need to accelerate the vaccination rates.”

On Wednesday, the European Union threatened to ban exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens.

The number of infections in Europe have started picking up, with France recently seeing its biggest one-day jump in cases since November. The region is currently reporting a million new cases about every six days.

As Germany plans to lift the lockdown and revive its economy, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday that the number of infections is rising exponentially, with the country entering a third wave of the pandemic.

As the European Union looks to meet its summer target of inoculating 70% of adults, at least 13 countries in the bloc have suspended or delayed using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of blood coagulation in people who have received the shot.

Countries in eastern Europe, including Russia, remain the worst-affected based on the total number of cases and deaths.

Russia has the highest total number of COVID infections, with over 4.4 million or nearly 12% of all the cases in the region. The country has one of the highest COVID-19 fatality rates in the world on a per capita basis, with about 153 deaths per 100,0000 residents, behind the United States with 164 deaths for every 100,000 people.

While the official death toll in Russia stands at 94,267, at least 221,534 have perished due to the disease, according to a Reuters calculation which includes deaths reported by the country’s Rosstat statistics agency.

Italy became the third country in Europe to exceed more than 100,000 deaths last week. Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned that the situation would worsen again with a jump in hospitalizations.

The World Health Organization appealed to the governments not to pause vaccination campaigns, while the European Medicines Agency has said that the number of thromboembolic events in vaccinated people is no higher than the number seen in the general population.

(Reporting by Shaina Ahluwalia and Roshan Abraham in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Cuomo aide apologizes to lawmakers for withholding COVID-19 death toll in New York nursing homes

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A senior aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apologized to state lawmakers this week for the governor’s office withholding requested data showing the death toll in nursing homes from COVID-19, according to transcripts of the conversation published by local media.

The aide, Melissa DeRosa, told Democratic lawmakers in a call on Wednesday that Cuomo’s office feared the death toll information would be “used against us” by federal prosecutors, according to the New York Post, which first reported the call.

“And basically we froze,” DeRosa said, the Post reported. The comments came about two weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James published a report saying the true death toll of nursing home residents between March and August last year may be twice as high as the 6,400 officially reported.

Angered by what they perceive as a cover-up, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said they are reconsidering their decision to grant Cuomo emergency powers last year to contend with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a betrayal of the public trust,” Andrew Gounardes, a Democratic state senator, wrote on Twitter. “There needs to be full accountability for what happened.”

Cuomo rebuffed efforts by state lawmakers last summer to force greater disclosure over the number of nursing home residents who died after contracting COVID-19.

Nursing home residents who were taken to hospitals were not counted in the state’s break-out of nursing home deaths, which lawmakers viewed as masking the true extent of the crisis.

Around the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice also began seeking data on deaths of nursing home residents.

In a statement on Friday, DeRosa said her office decided the federal request must be the priority before turning to the request by state lawmakers.

“As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked,” her statement said.

Cuomo’s administration also unsuccessfully sought to withhold the data when it was requested through transparency laws by the Empire Center, a conservative think tank.

A judge ordered the disclosure of the numbers this month, and the state has released data showing that thousands more nursing home residents than was previously known died from COVID-19, even if their deaths occurred after being transferred to a hospital.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)