Donald Trump has warned Americans to expect a “painful two weeks” as coronavirus deaths in the US peak – before suggesting people wear scarves as face masks in the fight against the virus.

In a briefing at the White House, the US president branded COVID-19 a plague and urged people to follow social distancing guidelines which have been extended until the end of April.

The White House projects 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US from the coronavirus pandemic if social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Graphs shown at Tuesday’s briefing highlighted that without the measures COVID-19 deaths in the US could reach 2.2 million.

It’s absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines for the next 30 days, Mr Trump said.

It’s a matter of life and death, frankly.

I want every American to be prepared for the tough days ahead. It’s going to be a very, very painful two weeks.

Mr Trump has previously warned that coronavirus deaths in the US are expected to peak in two weeks’ time, with forecasts predicting 2,214 deaths on 15 April.

His warning came less than a week after he said he wanted the US economy running again by Easter.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Mr Trump called COVID-19 an invisible enemy and said the US government was holding back 10,000 ventilators ahead of an expected surge in cases.

This is going to be three weeks like we haven’t seen before, he added.

Mr Trump also claimed Americans could use scarves as face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

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You can use a scarf, he said. A lot of people have scarves… scarves would be very good.

My feeling is if people want to do it, there’s certainly no harm to it.

Use a scarf if you want, rather than going out and getting a mask. We’re making millions and millions of masks but we want them to go to the hospitals.

We don’t want everybody competing with the hospitals who really need them.

The number of people who have died in the US after testing positive for coronavirus has risen to more than 3,800, surpassing the 3,305 reported fatalities in China, where the outbreak began.

The US death toll is now higher than the number of people who died in the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

New York is the centre of America’s coroanvirus outbreak, with about 1,550 deaths across the state, mostly in New York City.

The US has the most recorded coronavirus cases in the world, with more than 186,000 suspected and confirmed infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus spread.

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(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: Trump says wear scarves as face masks to fight COVID-19 ‘plague’