US coronavirus death toll hits 200,000 but Trump says number could have been higher

Credit: AP

The US death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 on Tuesday - by far the highest in the world - but President Donald Trump said his administration had prevented that number being "substantially more".

Covid-19 deaths in the US are now more than 60,000 higher than the second most impacted country, Brazil.

President Trump said it was "a shame" the US had reached the grim death toll but said if his administration hadn't taken all the actions it did, that number would "be substantially more".

Speaking to reporters at the White House he said: "I think if we didn’t do it properly and do it right, you’d have 2.5 million deaths."

The President also repeated his claim that China was at fault for the pandemic. In a prerecorded speech to the UN General Assembly, he demanded that Beijing be held accountable for having “unleashed this plague onto the world”.

The Trump administration has been heavily criticised for not taking preventative action during the early stages of the pandemic, and the President himself has come under fire for repeatedly appearing in public without a face covering.

The 200,000 death toll is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days.

Donald Trump on the campaign trail for the November US election. Credit: AP

It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.

Data shows the figure is still climbing, with deaths running at nearly 770 a day on average.

A widely-cited model from the University of Washington predicts the US toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in.

The latest figures were reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities, though the real toll is thought to be much higher - due to many Covid-19 deaths probably being ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.

Pharmacy workers give instruction on how to administer a self COVID-19 nasal swab test at a drive-up pharmacy in Dallas. Credit: AP

“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious-disease expert, told CNN.

“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher - eight months after the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation.

On Twitter, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “It didn’t have to be this bad.”

“It’s a staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic — and we can’t forget that.”

For five months, America has led the world by far in sheer numbers of confirmed infections, nearly 6.9 million as of Tuesday, and deaths.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths Credit: PA Graphics

The US has less than 5% of the globe’s population but more than 20% of the reported deaths.

Only five countries — Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Spain and Brazil — rank higher in Covid-19 deaths per capita.

How did the US get to this point?

When the year began, the US had recently been recognised for its readiness for a pandemic.

Health officials seemed confident as they converged on Seattle in January to deal with the country’s first known case of the coronavirus - a 35-year-old Washington state resident who had returned from visiting his family in Wuhan, China.

On February 26, Mr Trump held up pages from the Global Health Security Index, a measure of readiness for health crises, and declared, “The United States is rated No. 1 most prepared.”

But monitoring at airports was loose and travel bans came into play too late.

Only later did health officials realise the virus could spread before symptoms show up, rendering screening imperfect.

The virus also swept into nursing homes and exploited poor infection controls, claiming more than 78,000 lives.

At the same time, gaps in leadership led to shortages of testing supplies.

Internal warnings to ramp up production of masks and face coverings were ignored, leaving states to compete for protective gear.

Mr Trump also downplayed the threat early on.

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The President voiced unfounded notions about the behaviour of the virus, promoted unproven or dangerous treatments, complained that too much testing was making the US look bad, and disdained masks - turning face coverings into a political issue.

On April 10, the president predicted the US wouldn’t see 100,000 deaths.

That milestone was reached on May 27.

The President has also repeatedly attacked China as being responsible for the virus, a claim China’s ambassador has repeatedly rejected as baseless.