As the global number of coronavirus cases soar, governments are enforcing contingency plans to prepare for a worst-case scenario epidemic.
Officials in New York City have even drawn up plans that could see Rikers Island prisoners digging mass graves to bury up to 51,000 bodies.
The city has plans in place for a severe epidemic with a mortality rate of 2.1 %.
New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner drew up the plans in October 2008 by then-Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Titled “Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan For Managing In- and Out-of-Hospital Deaths,” the report details response strategies to a widespread case of flu.
It estimated most deaths from a pandemic – up to 70% – would occur in hospitals or assisted living centres.
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During a surge in deaths, the city would deploy mobile refrigerated storage units at locations around the city.
The city would then need to accelerate the disposing of the bodies, including through cremation.
If the number of corpses reaches overflow, a last resort would have the city send the bodies to Hart Island, the small island in the western Long Island Sound which lies just off the Bronx shoreline.
New York City would then have inmates from nearby Rikers Island dig mass graves and bury the corpses.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was forced to defend the use of prison labour during a news conference in Albany.
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Governor Cuomo held the conference to launch a new hand sanitiser that the government will sell if US businesses inflate the price of products already sold in shops.
He said it cost the state less money to manufacture than other vendors, and made by prison inmates.
But advocates for criminal justice reform vocally objected to the use of cheap prison labour during a national health crisis.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a first-term Democrat from Brooklyn, told The New York Times: “I’m concerned that we are asking the incarcerated to save the public from a health crisis, but won’t give them the dignity of a fair wage.”
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In New York, inmates are paid 62 cents an hour (48p) and in some cases, get as little as 10 cents an hour.
Myrie wants to raise the minimum wage in state prisons to $3 (£2.30) an hour, but a bill has stalled.
As of midday on Monday, there have been more than 140 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in New York.
Nearly 100 of those cases trace back to one of a community in the Westchester County suburb of New Rochelle connected to one of the first patients who tested positive in the state.
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