Trump says Covid cases are a 'badge of honour'

US President Donald Trump has confirmed the White House coronavirus task force will be winding down, with Vice President Mike Pence suggesting it could be closed within weeks.

“We are bringing our country back,” Mr Trump said during a visit to a mask-manufacturing factory in Arizona. 

New confirmed infections per day in the US currently top 20,000, and daily deaths exceed 1,000.

US health officials warn the virus may spread as businesses begin to reopen.

The US has currently recorded 1.2 million coronavirus infections and more than 70,000 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

What did President Trump say?

During a visit to the factory in Phoenix, Mr Trump told journalists: “Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

Mr Trump continued: ‘We have now a different, a sort of a combination of safety and reopening. So we’ll have something in a different form.”

The president was asked if it was “mission accomplished”, and he said: “No, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it’s over.”

He told reporters: “We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years.

Critics have accused the president of sacrificing Americans’ public health by rushing to reopen a ravaged US economy ahead of his difficult re-election battle in November.

The president was also asked if White House task force experts Dr Deborah Birx and Dr Anthony Fauci would still be involved in efforts to address the coronavirus. 

“They will be and so will other doctors and so will other experts in the field,” the president answered.

What did the vice-president say?

Mr Pence earlier on Tuesday told reporters in a briefing that the task force could soon be disbanded.

He said the Trump administration was “starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window as a time when we could begin to transition back to having our agencies begin to manage, begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner”.

He said it was “a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country”.

Mr Pence has led the task force, which reports to the president and co-ordinates with medical institutes, political staff and state governors.

The task force consulted with medical experts to formulate national recommendations on social distancing.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later tweeted that the president “will continue his data-driven approach towards safely re-opening”.

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Does the US have the pandemic under control?

Not yet. Besides New York, which is still the US epicentre despite an ongoing drop in new cases, the level of infection is still climbing across much of the US.

Many states that have allowed some business to resume – including Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee, Kansas, Nebraska and Indiana – are still seeing more new cases reported daily.

While some cities such as New York, New Orleans and Detroit have shown improvement, Los Angeles and Chicago are both seeing the caseload rise everyday.

According to a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), more than 3,000 people may be killed by the virus each day by next month.

The White House has dismissed the report as inaccurate, with Mr Trump saying it describes a scenario in which Americans made no effort towards mitigating the spread of the virus.

On Sunday, the president increased his forecast for number of US pandemic deaths to 100,000, after saying two weeks earlier that it would be fewer than 60,000.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, a public forecast model that has been frequently cited by the White House, now estimates that Covid-19 will account for 135,000 American deaths by 4 August. This more than doubles its 17 April forecast.