United States President Donald Trump on Sunday predicted that his country will have a vaccine against the coronavirus by the end of the year, an assessment that is faster than the projections laid out by his administration’s public health experts.

“We are very confident that we’re going to have a vaccine at the end of the year, by the end of the year,” the president said in a Fox News town hall show at the Lincoln Memorial. “We are pushing very hard...We are building supply lines. We don’t even have the final vaccine.”

Trump added that “many companies are close” and referred to pharmaceutical maker Johnson & Johnson by name. However, health experts, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, have cautioned that a vaccine is likely a year to 18 months away.

The president also said he now believes as many as 1,00,000 Americans could die in the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re going to lose anywhere from 75,80 to 1,00,000 people,” he said. “That’s a horrible thing.” Unites States have so far reported over 68,000 deaths.

Trump, often accused of not acting early enough to prepare the United States for the spread of Covid-19, said China had made a “horrible mistake” without saying precisely what this was or providing specific evidence for his comments. “I think, personally, they made a horrible mistake, and they didn’t want to admit it,” Trump said.

“The World Health Organisation has been a disaster,” he added. “Everything they’ve said was wrong. And they’re China-centric. They agree with China, whatever China wants to do. So our country, perhaps foolishly in retrospect, has been paying $450 million a year to the World Health Organisation. And China’s been paying $38 million a year... So I’ll have to make a decision on that...They missed every single call.”

Last week, the health organisation praised China for its handling of the pandemic. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the world needs to learn from Wuhan on how to lift restrictions.

For weeks, Trump has blamed China for the crisis that has killed at least 67,682 people in the US. Last week, he threatened China with new tariffs, claiming that he had seen evidence linking a Wuhan lab to the infection.

On April 20, the US president said that he wanted to send a team of experts to China to investigate how the coronavirus spread from there to other countries. The previous day, he had warned Beijing of “serious consequences” if it was found responsible for the spread of Covid-19.

‘Enormous evidence’ Covid-19 came from Chinese lab: Mike Pompeo

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed there was “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese laboratory – but did not provide any of the alleged evidence, AFP reported. “I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories,” Pompeo added.

China has denied accusations that it did not alert global health authorities about the pandemic in time, or that it fudged information.