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US, with death toll exceeding China's, has most infections worldwide

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After recording 700 deaths in one day, Trump warns of 'painful' two weeks ahead

WASHINGTON: The United States death toll from the coronavirus pandemic topped 4,000 early yesterday, exceeding that of China's more than 3,300 fatalities.

It recorded 700 deaths in a single day for the first time on Tuesday, equivalent to a person dying every two minutes.

The number of confirmed US cases has reached 189,510, the most in the world, though Italy and Spain have recorded more fatalities.

President Donald Trump warned Americans on Tuesday of a "painful" two weeks ahead in fighting the coronavirus, with a death toll that could stretch into the hundreds of thousands even with strict social distancing measures.

In perhaps his most sombre news conference to date about the pandemic, Mr Trump, who has faced criticism for playing down the threat of the outbreak in its initial phases, urged the population to heed guidance to limit groups to no more than 10 people, work from home and not dine in restaurants or bars.

"It's absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days. It's a matter of life and death," Mr Trump said.

White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx displayed charts demonstrating data and modelling that showed an enormous jump in deaths to a range of 100,000 to 240,000 people from the virus in the coming months.

That figure was predicated on Americans following mitigation efforts. One of Dr Birx's charts showed as many as 2.2 million people were projected to die without such measures, a statistic that prompted Mr Trump to ditch a plan he articulated last week to get the US economy moving again by Easter on April 12.

The modelling showed the number of deaths across the nation would peak around the middle of this month.

The president said the next two weeks would be "very, very painful". "We want Americans to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," Mr Trump said, predicting light at the end of the tunnel after that.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said previously the pandemic could kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the US, said all efforts were being made to make those numbers lower.

The federal guidelines, which now are in place through the end of this month, include admonitions to avoid discretionary travel, not visit nursing homes, and practise good hygiene.

"There's no magic bullet. There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviours: Each of our behaviours translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days," Dr Birx said.

The US government raced on Tuesday to build hundreds of makeshift hospitals near major cities as healthcare systems were pushed to capacity, and sometimes beyond, by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly half of the new fatalities were in New York state, the epicentre of the pandemic despite closed businesses and deserted streets. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for immediate reinforcements in the country's biggest city from the Trump administration. - AFP, REUTERS