US President Donald Trump has predicted 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the country and a vaccine to be ready by the end of the year, contradicting experts who said a cure is likely 18 months away.
Trump relaunched his election campaign on Sunday, forecasting an “incredible” future as he alternated during a two-hour Fox News broadcast between predicting a rapid recovery for the US economy and casting blame for the pandemic’s spread on China, where the disease is believed to have originated.
COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has infected more than 1.1 million and killed more than 67,000 in the United States, shut wide swaths of society, including most schools and many businesses.
“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to a 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing,” said Trump.
As recently as Friday, he had said he hoped fewer than 100,000 Americans would die and earlier in the week had talked about 60,000 to 70,000 deaths.
About half of the states in the US have now moved towards at least partial lifting of lockdowns as the number of new cases started to drop or level off and as citizens agitate for relief from restrictions that have sent the economy into a tailspin.
“We can’t stay closed as a country [or] we’re not gonna have a country left,” Trump said.
The US president faced a few tough questions in the event, which gave him a new format to reach the public while he is unable to hold campaign rallies and after he faced widespread criticism for his combative daily briefings.
In an assessment that clashes with those of some public health experts, Trump said he believed that there would be a vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the year.
“The doctors would say, well, you shouldn’t say that,” Trump said. “I’ll say what I think … I think we’ll have a vaccine sooner than later.”
Many health experts, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, have cautioned that a vaccine is likely a year to 18 months away.
There is an “incredibly small” chance of having a highly effective vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus within the next year, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on April 22.
Trump also said he wanted students to return to schools and colleges in autumn (in the months of September to December in the US), even as he acknowledged the possibility of a resurgence of the disease.
“We’ll put out the embers, we’ll put out whatever it may be. We may have to put out a fire,” he said.
Speaking the day before the Senate returns to Washington, DC, Trump said it was possible that federal coronavirus aid could rise to $6 trillion from the nearly $3 trillion Congress has already passed to try to ease the heavy economic toll of the crisis.
“There is more help coming. There has to be,” he said.
Meanwhile, Trump, who has been criticised for not moving faster early in the year to stop the spread of the disease, sought to blunt criticism by blaming China.
He said China made a “horrible mistake” without saying precisely what this was or providing specific evidence for his assertion.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “a significant amount of evidence” that COVID-19 emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but did not dispute US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made.