Military hospital ship leaves New York as virus cases decline

New York (AFP) –


A US military hospital ship left New York on Thursday after a month in the city as coronavirus cases in America's epicenter continue to decline.

The USNS Comfort sailed out of a Manhattan pier shortly after midday (1600 GMT) in a low-key departure that contrasted sharply with the fanfare of its arrival.

The 894-foot-long (272-meter-long) vessel was welcomed by cheering crowds when it arrived on March 30 to help ease the burden on hospitals slammed with coronavirus cases.

But just a few hardy souls braved heavy rain to bid farewell to the white and red behemoth as it began its journey back to a US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.

President Donald Trump dispatched the 1,000-bed ship to the Big Apple as projections suggested New York state might need to double hospital beds to 110,000 for the peak of its coronavirus outbreak.

The ship was part of a massive operation to boost hospital capacity that included converting the Javits Convention Center and the home of the US Open tennis tournament into emergency field hospitals.

Tents for patients were also erected in Central Park.

But hospital admissions came in much lower than expected and the ship's crew only treated 182 patients, of which around 70 percent had COVID-19, the navy said in a statement Wednesday.

The illness has killed more than 17,800 New York City residents, according to government statistics.

There are currently 7,820 people in the city hospitalized with coronavirus, with the numbers falling steadily every day.

Total hospitalizations peaked at around 20,000 in mid-April, below the capacity of New York's permanent hospitals.

Javits is due to close its temporary hospital next week.