Donald Trump is making a new push to expand US coronavirus testing alongside retailers such as Walmart and CVS, after facing criticism that the current testing capacity was insufficient for many states to feel comfortable lifting restrictions on economic activity.
“We want to get our country open, and testing is not going to be a problem at all,” the US president said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.
Lacklustre testing has dogged the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic from the beginning of the outbreak, but has become an even more urgent priority as the White House pushes state governors to safely begin to reopen their economies.
Previous attempts to encourage pharmacy groups and retailers to set up drive-through testing in parking lots have had a limited effect. But the Trump administration and industry executives — including representatives of commercial labs, pharmacies, and retailers — pledged to sharply increase their efforts and make testing more widely available after a meeting on Monday.
Mike Pence, the vice-president, said more than 5m tests had been completed since the start of the pandemic, and indicated that 2m a week could be administered under the White House plan.
the number of US deaths linked to coronavirus
But Democrats dismissed the plan. Patty Murray, a US senator from Washington state, said it would “accomplish nothing new”.
“It doesn’t set specific, numeric goals, offer a timeframe, identify ways to fix our broken supply chain, or offer any details whatsoever on expanding lab capacity or activating needed manufacturing capacity,” she said in a statement.
The renewed focus on testing came as the number of US deaths linked to coronavirus rose to almost 56,000, out of more than 985,000 cases. Testing rates per capita in the US have lagged those in other countries, including Italy, Spain and Germany.
Mr Trump predicted the US might see between 60,000 and 70,000 deaths by the end of the pandemic. During the press conference in the White House Rose Garden, he predicted that the US economy would experience a “spectacular” economic recovery in the second half of the year, rebounding from the big hit it is taking in the first half of 2020, which has left as many as 26m Americans unemployed.
The president has been at loggerheads with some state governors over the timeline for reopening their economies, criticising some for moving too rapidly and others for being sluggish.
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During the briefing, Mr Trump would not set a target for the lifting of travel restrictions with European countries, which were abruptly imposed in March. He said he was glad to see improvements in countries such as Italy that were hit hard but that any decision would depend on “how long” it took Europe to “heal” from coronavirus.
Mr Trump was also asked about the controversy surrounding his comments last week suggesting that the use of disinfectants injected into the human body could be explored as a coronavirus treatment — which was roundly dismissed as extremely dangerous by medical professionals, health officials and the makers of products containing the chemical agents.
The president, who had already labelled his comments as sarcasm, was asked about complaints from governors that uses of disinfectants had spiked in recent days and whether he took responsibility if anyone were to die as a result. “I can’t imagine why,” Mr Trump said.
Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor in Washington