United States President Donald Trump has said the coronavirus outbreak has hit the US harder than the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II or the 9/11 terror attacks, pointing the finger at China.
Since emerging in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, the coronavirus has infected 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 73,000.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, President Trump said: "We went through the worst attack we've ever had on our country, this is worst attack we've ever had.
"This is worse than Pearl Harbour, this is worse than the World Trade Center. There's never been an attack like this," he said during a meeting with the nurses, who are on the frontline of the battle against the COVID-19.
"And it should have never happened. Could've been stopped at the source. Could've been stopped in China. It should've been stopped right at the source. And it wasn't."
The Trump administration is currently weighing punitive actions against China over its early handling of the global health emergency. Washington is also pressing Beijing to allow American experts to probe the origin of the deadly virus, including if it escaped from a virology laboratory in Wuhan.
China has stoutly denied the allegations and said the US wants to distract from its own response to the pandemic ahead of the November presidential election in which Trump is seeking re-election.
In Beijing, China on Thursday accused the US of trying to shift blame over the coronavirus,
"We urge the US side to stop shifting the blame to China and turn to facts," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a press briefing.
Asked to comment on Trump's comparison between the Pearl Harbour attack and the 9/11 with the coronavirus pandemic, Hua said: "They might say the pandemic is comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, but the enemy facing the US is the novel coronavirus".
She said the US should "fight side-by-side" with China instead of as "enemies".
Hua noted that a number of countries, experts and scientists have all made positive comments on China's prevention and control of the coronavirus.
"But the US alone has made some very disharmonious, untruthful and insincere remarks," she added.
A total of 2,977 people besides hijackers were killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and America officially entered World War II, more than 2,400 casualties had occurred as a result of the attack.
Due to the preventive social-mitigation measures and complete shutting down of states and businesses, more than three crore people in the US have applied for unemployment benefits.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have projected that the American economy will enter into recession and according to the White House, the country is likely to experience a minus 15-20 per cent growth in the second quarter of the current financial year.
The number of daily deaths and fresh cases of infections have shown signs of decline and as a result, a large number of states have started opening up their economy.
Trump said the White House Task Force on coronavirus has done a great job in containing the deadly disease.
"We will be leaving the task force indefinitely. We will see. You know at a certain point it will end. Things end, but we will be adding some people to the task force," he said.
"I thought we could wind it down sooner. But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday, when I started talking about winding it down....," the president added.
Trump said he would like to see schools open, wherever possible.
The president also lauded nurses for their "valiant sacrifices".
Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, who works in New Orleans, was somewhat off message when Trump got most of his guests to nod in agreement that hospitals now have plenty of masks, gowns etc.
"Certainly there are pockets of areas where Personal Protection Equipment is not ideal, but this is an unprecedented time and the infection control measures that we learned back when we went to school -- one gown, one mask for one patient a day or for a time -- this is a different time. I have been reusing my N95 mask for a few weeks now. I just broke out a new one to come here, in case I needed to wear it," Thomas said.
The president put a particular spotlight on Luke Adams, a nurse who has volunteered to work in New York City.
"The men and women in this room today are true American heroes. Luke Adams is a nurse of 11 years. He lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania -- good place. When he heard the call of volunteers in New York, Luke drove to the epicentre of the outbreak and slept in his car for nine days, so he could help care for the sick," Trump said.
"A lot of us have been forced away from our partners, turned away from our children. We have slept on concrete floors or in cars. And we did these things not for our own benefit or safety," Adams said.