Trump offers joyful predictions for coronavirus testing as the US goes through 1 million cases

Donald Trump has predicted a “great” economic rebound in the fall and claimed the country would soon be performing 5m coronavirus diagnostic tests a day, as the number of confirmed cases in the US surpassed a million.

Some health experts have suggested that the US would have to carry out 5m tests a day by June to reopen its economy safely. Others have suggested as many as 20m tests a day would ultimately be needed. The US daily rate is currently 200,000.

Addressing a news conference on aid to small businesses on Tuesday, Trump appeared unaware of the current figures, suggesting “it could be that we’re getting very close” to 5m daily tests.

“We’re going to be there very soon,” he said.

The US has carried out 5.6m tests over the past two months, which as Trump pointed out was far more than any other country, but represented about 1.6% of the population, a higher percentage than most countries, though significantly below Italy.

Trump was also bullish on the prospects for economic recovery in the fall.

“Now our country’s opening up again and I think it’s going to be very, very successful,” he said. “I think the fourth quarter will be great. And I think next year is going to be a tremendous year for this country.”

In what looks almost certain to become another hostage to fortune, the president implied that the pandemic would be largely cleared by the fourth quarter of the year.

“I think what happens is it’s going to go away. This is going to go,” he said. “And whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we’ll be able to handle it. We’ll be able to put out spurts, and we’re very prepared to handle it.”

On a day that cases hit the grim 1m milestone and fatalities overtook the US death toll from the Vietnam war of 58,220, Trump was reminded that in February, he had predicted that infections would soon all but evaporate. The president said on 26 February, when there were only 15 confirmed US cases, that “within a couple of days [it’s] going to be down to close to zero, That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

He replied on Tuesday that it would “ultimately” be true.

“At the appropriate time it will be down to zero, like we said,” he insisted.

The US began wholesale testing weeks later than many other developed countries, a fact Trump hinted was the fault of the previous administration.

“We inherited a very broken test,” he said, although the faulty test was produced in early February, three years into Trump’s administration. The president also pointed to unnamed experts for the initial complacency of the administration’s response.

“Many very good experts, very good people too, said that this would never affect the United States, it wouldn’t affect Europe, it wouldn’t affect anything outside of China,” he said. “And so we were listening to experts and we always will listen to experts, but the experts got it wrong.”

Global health experts were almost unanimous in raising the alarm over the coronavirus threat in January and February. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that US intelligence agencies had also issued warnings about the scale of the coronavirus threats in more than a dozen of the president’s daily classified briefings over the course of January and February.

The danger was played down, however, by several television personalities who the president watches regularly, and reportedly by his health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, who according to the Wall Street Journal assured Trump on 29 January that the coronavirus was under control in the US.