The death toll for the coronavirus pandemic in the US may be even higher than the current estimates, according to the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate health committee on Tuesday afternoon “the number [of Covid-19 deaths] is likely higher” than the official count as reported by the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The doctor’s remarks contradicted those of President Donald Trump, who has reportedly questioned the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll and complained about the way the estimates were being calculated in conversations with his senior aides.

Dr Fauci also warned “the consequences could be really serious” if states lift stay-at-home guidelines too quickly while failing to adhere to guidelines put forward by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances” that “some cases appear” as communities across the country begin to reopen amid the pandemic, he said.

Mr Trump has meanwhile encouraged states to begin reopening in an apparent effort to restart the country’s badly shaken economy, which has seen the unemployment rate soar to 14.6 percent and many industries grind to a halt as workers were furloughed or let go due to lockdown orders.

This is a breaking report and will be updated.

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