Coronavirus: Destination New York – Why have so many died in this city?

TV review: Panorama reporter Hilary Andersson couldn’t believe what she was witnessing

Hilary Andersson reporting on Panorama: Coronavirus: Destination New York.

Hilary Andersson had become accustomed to the sight of eerily empty streets since the beginning of the pandemic, but she still wasn’t quite prepared for what awaited her in New York when she drove there from her home state of Vermont. The city that used never sleep had become more like a ghost town by the time she arrived in April, even Times Square, she noted with wonder, having fallen silent.

It was with a sense of dread that she had headed there for the making of Panorama: Coronavirus – Destination New York (BBC One, Monday, 7.35pm), friends and colleagues living in the city telling her horror stories about its struggle with the virus and its soaring death rate, its hospitals overwhelmed.

She got a grim flavour of just how serious that struggle had become even before she arrived there, rural funeral homes being delivered van-loads of bodies from New York because the city’s morgues were full.

I never expected to see a crisis of a similar magnitude in my own country, the richest in the world

Once there, she saw for herself just how chronic a problem that had become, a Brooklyn undertaker – his address, of all things, Corona Avenue – having had to use rental trucks to store bodies because he had run out of room. The trucks, though, were unrefrigerated so people living in the area began to complain about the smell. Andersson simply could not believe what she was witnessing. “I’ve worked in war zones,” she says, “I never expected to see a crisis of a similar magnitude in my own country, the richest in the world.”


While Governor Andrew Cuomo has earned plenty of plaudits for his handling of the crisis, many of the frontline workers Andersson spoke to directed much of their ire at him for his failure to respond quickly enough, the lockdown, they say, coming much too late. And, predictably, it was the poorer parts of the city that were worst hit, overcrowded homes the chief contributing factor.

Anti-lockdown protesters.

While the main complaint she heard was that government hadn’t stepped in in time, once she travelled on to New Hampshire she spoke to protesters who were railing against government stepping in at all.

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” reads the sign carried by one man outside the state capitol, the protest organised by the ‘Reopen New Hampshire’ campaign, their belief being that the lockdown was an infringement of their ‘freedom’. “And we’re willing to fight for our freedoms if we have to,” says one heavily armed man.

Meanwhile, a local hairdresser was expressing the view that the lockdown was some kind of dastardly anti-Trump plot concocted by Democrats to damage him ahead of November’s election, her theory on why New York had been so badly hit because it has so many “illegal immigrants”.

Still, she and her first customer since reopening were both wearing masks and she was getting all her clients to sign a waiver which would protect her should they contract the virus while in her premises. The solution to the whole crisis, she reckoned, was to hold the the equivalent of “a chicken pox party”, like they did back in the day, so everyone would catch the virus and that would be that. Andersson is lost for words.

Back outside, another protester was carrying the obligatory Don’t Tread on Me flag... while wearing a mask.

It’s one complicated country.