in deaths over the next two weeks.
As one of his top medical officials said the US death toll could reach as many as 100,000 to 200,000 – and possibly many more if the spread is not halted – the president said there was no other option but for social distancing and business closures to remain in place.
Claiming his much-touted claim that businesses would be able to open by Easter was “purely aspirational”, the president said if the nation “can hold that down [fatalities] to 100,000 … maybe even less” it would show they had done a “good job”. He said Easter – in two weeks’ time – may actually mark “the peak” of deaths.
“We will be extending our guidelines to April 30, to slow the spread. On Tuesday, we will be finalising these plans and providing a summary of our findings, supporting data and strategy to the American people,” he said, speaking in the White House Rose Garden.
“The modelling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks, so I will say it again, the peak, highest point of death rates, remember this, is likely to hit in two weeks. Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”
The president’s frequently bad-tempered 90-minute press conference, during which he repeatedly clashed with reporters, underscored a potentially significant turning point in the disease’s spread across the US and the response of the government, which initially sought to play down the seriousness posed by Covid-19.
As he spoke, figures collated by Johns Hopkins University suggested the number of Americans infected by the virus approached 140,000 and the number of deaths passed 2,430. Globally, the figure was 718,685 infections and 33,881 deaths.
Mr Trump was not the only politician to warn that the next few weeks would see the most challenging phase of the crisis.
In New York, which has the most cases in the country, governor Andrew Cuomo said he had been told the “apex” of deaths would hit in 21 days. Meanwhile, John Bel Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, which is now the third most hard hit state after New York and Washington, said he expected his healthcare system to be overrun in the early part of April.
“We remain on a trajectory, really, to overwhelm our capacity to deliver health care,” he added.
Mr Trump said he would reveal on Tuesday all of the information he and his senior colleagues had received, including a projection that as many as 2.2 million people could die if steps had not been taken.
“We can expect that by 1 June, we will be well on our way to recovery. We think by June 1, lot of great things will be happening,” Mr Trump said.
Earlier on Sunday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of the taskforce tackling the disease, said the death toll could reach up to 200,000 in the US.
Asked about this figure during the Rose Garden press conference, Mr Fauci repeated his comment and that it was “entirely conceivable” that more than a million people in the US could contract coronavirus but added that mitigation and extended emergency measures through April would hopefully curb those numbers.
Of the possible death toll of 100,000, he added: “What we’re trying to do is not to let that happen.”