Trump’s staggering virus prediction
Donald Trump has increased his projection for the total US coronavirus death toll to as many as 100,000 - up by 40,000 from what he suggested just a few weeks ago.
"Look, we're going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people," the US President told a virtual town hall hosted by Fox News Channel overnight.
Speaking at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Mr Trump described the country's death toll - which had surpassed 68,000 as of Monday morning - as "a horrible thing".
"We shouldn't lose one person out of this," he said.
"This should have been stopped in China."
Despite the health risks, Mr Trump said it was vital to restart the nation's economy, sooner rather than later.
"We have to get it back open safely but as quickly as possible," he said.
As concerns mount about his re-election bid, Mr Trump stuck to his relentlessly optimistic view of the nation's ability to rebound soon.
"It is all working out," Mr Trump said.
"It is horrible to go through, but it is working out."
Many public health experts believe the nation cannot safely reopen fully until a vaccine is developed. Mr Trump declared Sunday that he believed one could be available by year's end.
US public health officials have said a vaccine is probably a year to 18 months away. But Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, said in late April that it is conceivable, if a vaccine is soon developed, that it could be in wide distribution as early as January.
Though the administration's handling of the pandemic, particularly its ability to conduct widespread testing, has come under fierce scrutiny, the president tried to shift the blame to China and said the US was ready to begin reopening.
During the Fox News interview, MR Trump was asked whether there was enough evidence that China had misled the world about the deadly virus.
He replied: "Personally, I think they made a horrible mistake, and they didn't want to admit it.
"We wanted to go in, but they didn't want us there. They made a mistake, they tried to cover it, like a fire … They couldn't put out the fire."
He said the US government was now putting together a "strong" report on the origins of the virus, and how the Wuhan Institute of Virology could well have been involved.
The report, he promised, would be "very conclusive".
"I'll tell you one thing. We did the right thing and I really believe we saved a million and a half lives," Mr Trump said. But he also broke with the assessment of his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saying it was "too soon to say" the federal government had overseen a "success story".
While noting that states would go at their own pace in returning to normal, with ones harder hit by the coronavirus going slower, Mr Trump said that "some states, frankly, I think aren't going fast enough". He singled out Virginia, which has a Democratic governor and legislature. And he urged the nation's schools and universities to return to classes this fall.
Federal guidelines that encouraged people to stay at home and practice social distancing expired late last week.
Debate continued over moves by governors to start reopening state economies that tanked after shopping malls, salons and other non-essential businesses were ordered closed in attempt to slow a virus that has killed more than 66,000 Americans, according to a tally of reported deaths by Johns Hopkins University.
The US economy has suffered, shrinking at a 4.8 per cent annual rate from January through March, the government estimated last week. And roughly 30.3 million people have filed for unemployment aid in the six weeks since the outbreak forced employers to shut down and slash their workforces.
The president's advisers have nervously watched Mr Trump's support slip in a number of battleground states and he was told last month that if the election were held that day, he would lose to Democrat Joe Biden. His aides believe restarting the economy, even with its health risks, is essential to a victory in November and are pushing for him to pivot away from discussions about the pandemic and onto an American comeback story.
To that end, Mr Trump will begin travelling again, with a trip to a mask factory in Arizona planned for Tuesday. The president also is set to speak in June at commencement for the US Military Academy at West Point. Returning to campus for commencement will require graduates to self-isolate for 14 days, but Mr Trump insisted the event poses no risk to the cadets.
The town hall, which included an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence, included a rare mea culpa: The vice president said he should have worn a face mask during a visit last week to Minnesota's Mayo Clinic. Pence's failure to wear a mask violated the clinic's guidelines and drew significant criticism. Elsewhere in Washington, the Senate planned to reopen Monday, despite the area's continued status as a virus hot spot and with the region still under stay-at- home orders. The House remains shuttered as debate continues on what the next stage of the economic recovery may look like.
State and local governments are seeking up to $1 trillion in coronavirus costs, which has been met with some objections by congressional Republicans. Mr Trump said that while he thought common ground could be found with Democrats over an infrastructure package, "we're not doing anything unless we get a payroll tax cut. That is so important to the success of our country." The leaders of California and Michigan are among governors under public pressure over lockdowns still in effect while states such as Florida, Georgia and Ohio are reopening.
Trump on Sunday night singled out Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, also a Democrat, for criticism even as he praised the federal co-ordination with most governors. He also complained that some Democrats would rather "people get sick" than given him any credit for pushing the use of a malaria drug for treating COVID-19, though it has not been proven to be safe and effective for that use.
- With wires
Originally published as Trump's staggering virus prediction