US President Donald Trump has pressed his case for a reopening of the nation’s economy within a few weeks despite the World Health Organisation warning the US could become the epicentre of the pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has warned that being too hasty to ease the limits on travel, socialising and working together would cost lives.

“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest,” he said on Tuesday.

“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” he said at a convention centre in Manhattan that is being converted into a 1000-bed temporary hospital.

New York is the worst hit by the outbreak, which has infected more than 50,000 people in the US and killed at least 660.

The death toll in New York from the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by coronavirus has reached 157.

The expected need for hospital beds in New York at the peak of the outbreak has jumped to 140,000, Cuomo said, compared with 110,000 projected recently. Only 53,000 beds are now available.

The rate of infection is now doubling every three days in New York and the worst of the outbreak, known as the apex, could arrive in 14 to 21 days, putting huge pressure on health services, Cuomo said.

A week after New Yorkers and millions of other Americans began taking shelter at home from the coronavirus, state officials and financial investors warned on Tuesday against easing restrictions too soon even though the clampdown is devastating the US economy.

Trump said on Monday he was considering how to restart business life when a 15-day shutdown ends next week, even as the highly contagious virus spreads rapidly and poorly equipped hospitals struggle with a wave of deadly cases.

Trump told a virtual town hall broadcast on Fox News Channel that he would like to see US businesses opening their doors by Easter, to be celebrated this year in mid-April.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said, downplaying the pandemic as he did in its early stages when he compared it to the seasonal flu.

But Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, also a Republican, pushed back on the notion that an easing of restrictions might start anytime soon.

“We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock,” he told CNN on Tuesday.

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday warned that the US has the potential to become the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, citing a “very large acceleration” in infections.

So far, Italy and China, where the outbreak began, have been hardest hit.

After criticism from Cuomo and others that Trump was not wielding presidential powers to force businesses to make medical equipment like masks and ventilators, the federal government said on Tuesday it would use the Defense Production Act to procure 60,000 coronavirus test kits.