Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 81,300 on Thursday, more than any other country, overtaking both Italy and China.
China was second with more than 81,280 cases, and Italy was third with at least 80,530 cases.
President Donald Trump, keen for an early lifting of economically costly social distancing measures against the coronavirus, said he would propose dividing the United States by risk levels.
In a letter to state governors released by the White House, Mr Trump said that better testing now allows the mapping of virus threat on a local level.
“Under these data-driven criteria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk,” he said.
Mr Trump said the new plans would be drawn up “in close coordination” with health experts.
He did not say when the new guidelines would be issued but he has previously indicated this will be as early as next week when a 15-day period recommending social distancing across the entire country will expire.
State governors have the authority to order or lift quarantines and social distancing measures, so it is not clear what response Mr Trump’s push for a quick return to normal will get.
Alarmed by the plunge in economic activity as large numbers of Americans stay away from their jobs and transport slows to a trickle, Trump has this week laid out the case for a rapid resumption of normal activity.
However, he walked back his initial push for a broad reopening of America by Easter – in less than three weeks – after criticism in Congress, the media and among some health professionals, who argue that patience is needed to take the momentum out of the coronavirus’ spread.
Too early an end to social distancing could allow the disease to rebound, they warn.
Thursday’s letter indicated that Trump is considering a flexible and limited reopening in areas of low risk, rather than a more widespread shift.
However, there was little other detail in the message about how he sees it working.
“As we enhance protections against the virus, Americans across the country are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal economic, social, and religious lives,” he wrote.
Trump to speak with Xi
Mr Trump cast doubt that the United States had become the global epicentre, saying “you don’t know what the numbers are in China.”
Mr Trump said he and Xi would be discussing the global pandemic in a phone call later today and insisted they have a “very good relationship.”
However, he touched on a nasty row that has erupted in both countries over blame for the disease.
While Mr Trump has made a point of repeatedly calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” because it first blew up in the city of Wuhan, this has angered some in China and sparked accusations of race-baiting at home.
Mr Trump says he is pushing back because a Chinese foreign ministry official has led a conspiracy theory that US soldiers brought the virus to China.
“No it came from China,” he underlined Thursday, although adding, “if they feel so strongly about it, we’ll see.”
Aside from coronavirus and the massive economic fallout resulting from mass social distancing strategies around the world, Mr Trump and Mr Xi are likely to discuss plans to negotiate a new trade agreement between the world’s two biggest economies.
Mr Trump suggested the possibility that Mr Xi may “want to wait” until after the US presidential election in November “to see if Trump gets beaten.”
According to Trump his likely Democratic opponent Joe Biden would be Beijing’s “best dream in the world” when it comes to negotiating.
Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus