Trump now predicts US death toll could hit 100,000
He had earlier talked about 60,000 to 70,000 deaths, insists there will be a vaccine by year's end
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Sunday he now believes as many as 100,000 Americans could die in the coronavirus pandemic, after the death toll passed his earlier estimates, but said he was confident a vaccine would be developed by the year's end.
Mr Trump alternated during a two-hour virtual town hall broadcast by Fox News between forecasting 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 has hit more than 1.1 million in the US and killed more than 67,000 Americans, shut wide swathes of society, including most schools and many businesses.
"We're going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people.
"That's a horrible thing," said Mr Trump, who as recently as last Friday 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 the states have now moved toward at least partial lifting of shutdowns as the number of new cases of the Covid-19 illness has begun 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," Mr Trump said.
He has criticised Fox recently, casting the conservative-leaning network as insufficiently supportive.
He faced 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, Mr Trump said he believed that by the end of the year there would be a vaccine against Covid-19.
"I think we're going to have a vaccine by the end of the year. The doctors would say, 'Well you shouldn't say that'," Mr 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.
Mr Trump also said he wanted students to return to schools and colleges in the autumn, even as he acknowledged the possibility of a resurgence of the disease.
"We will 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, Mr Trump said it was possible that federal coronavirus aid could rise to US$6 trillion (S$8.5 trillion) from the nearly US$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.
Mr Trump, who has been criticised for not moving faster early in the year to stop the spread of the disease, sought to blunt the criticism by blaming China.
He said China had made a "horrible mistake" without saying precisely what this was or providing specific evidence for his assertion. - REUTERS