Rapidly increasing COVID-19 numbers in the US are a "tribute to the testing", President Donald Trump said on Friday before attempting to throw doubt on news the US has more recorded cases than China.
With thousands of cases of the respiratory illness confirmed in the United States over the last 24 hours, the country now has had more than 82,000 people infected with COVID-19, surpassing the reported total of China (81,780), where the virus originated, and Italy (80,590).
With an exponential rise in cases over the last week, the World Health Organization warned the United States was at the brink of becoming the virus' epicentre. However, at the same time, Trump said he wanted to reopen the country within a month.
Questioned about the news the United States now had more cases of the virus than any other country, Trump told reporters it showed how much testing the nation was doing.
"I think it's a tribute to the testing...We're testing tremendous numbers of people every day," he said.
"You don't know what the numbers are in China… what are the numbers... I'm sure you're not able to tell what China is testing or not testing, I think that's a little hard."
With China now only reporting several cases a day - with most recorded being imported cases - some commentators have suggested the nation may be purposely downplaying the number of cases it is aware of, similarly to how it hasn't been fully upfront with viruses in the past. The South China Morning Post has also reported that 43,000 asymptomatic cases weren't included in China's official numbers. On February 7, the Middle Kingdom stopped counting asymptomatic cases in its tally.
China's initial response to COVID-19 has also been criticised, with the nation not listening to warnings from doctors about the emergence of a new virus.
"With the cover-up in December and January, we really cannot trust the numbers from the Chinese government without more credible and solid evidence to verify," Ho-Fung Hung, a political economy professor at Johns Hopkins University told The Guardian.
The already-testy relationship between China and the United States has again been strained by the coronavirus outbreak. Trump has frequently referred to the virus as the "Wuhan virus" or the "Chinese virus", despite calls from the WHO for people to use COVID-19.
"Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising," WHO's Director-General said when announcing the COVID-19 name.
The United States has even gone as far as to demand G7 nations use the "Wuhan virus" in a joint statement - something that was rejected by the other countries.
In the face of mounting criticism and calls for the nations to united, Trump has since walked back on his use of the divisive terms but denies he was ever racist.
"It comes from China. That’s why. I want to be accurate… It is not racist at all," he said last week.
"China tried to say at one point, maybe they stopped, that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen. That is not going to happen, as long as I am president. It comes from China."
Trump was referencing a Twitter post from a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry that suggested the US military might have brought the coronavirus to China. Experts believe the virus was transferred to a human via various animals, possibly from bat, to pangolin, to humans.
Eswar Prasad, an expert in China and trade policy professor at Cornwell University, told the New York Times that the virus was straining the two countries' relationship in a trying time.
"The US-China relationship has deteriorated to a new post-Tiananmen low at a particularly unfortunate time when the two countries ought to be joining forces to limit the ravages wrought by the pandemic on public health, economic activity, and financial markets."