United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned his country to brace for a “very, very painful two weeks” as the White House projected that the coronavirus pandemic could claim 100,000 to 240,000 lives, even if all current social distancing guidelines are maintained, AFP reported.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks. This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks.”

Trump’s statement comes after the toll in the United States from the novel coronavirus outbreak eclipsed the official tally in China, with more than more 3,600 fatalities recorded, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University. With this, United States now has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world, and the third highest toll after Italy and Spain.

Deborah Birx and Anthony S Fauci, the White House coronavirus taskforce response coordinator, told reporters that projection models show a worst case scenario of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, but with proper mitigation protocols in place, the tally could be reduced, The Washington Post reported.

Justifying the White House’s decision to keep much of the economy shut down, Birx said the decision to maintain social distancing is the only way to stop the highly communicable disease from spreading.

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“There’s no magic vaccine or therapy,” Birx said. “ It’s just behaviors, each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.”

She displayed a chart in which New York had by far the most cumulative cases, followed by New Jersey, then the other 48 states bunched together.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that mitigation strategies “are actually working” and that authorities are doing everything to bring the toll down from the projected numbers. “I think the more we push on the mitigation, the less likelihood it will be that number ... We are really convinced mitigation is going to be doing the trick for us,” he said.

The coronavirus has infected 8,57,957 people, and over 42,000 patients have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the coronavirus crisis is the worst the world has faced since the Second World War.