Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has said he wishes he had “blown the bugle” about Covid-19 earlier.

According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, New York state has confirmed more than 290,000 coronavirus cases and approaching 23,000 deaths. Countries such as France, Italy and Spain have recorded more deaths but not by much, and New York City alone has the fifth-highest death total in the world, with the UK in fourth.

Related: Trump says China could have stopped Covid-19 and suggests US will seek damages

Speaking to Axios on HBO, Cuomo discussed US reactions to the first news of the outbreak, from China in December.

“When we heard in December that China had a virus problem,” he said, “and China said basically, ‘It was under control, don’t worry,’ we should’ve worried.

“When China says, ‘Don’t worry, I have a fire in my backyard,’ you don’t hang up the phone and go back to sleep, right? You get out of your house and you walk two houses over to make sure I have the fire under control. Where was every other country walking out of their home to make sure China had it under control?”

Cuomo added: “I wish someone stood up and blew the bugle. And if no one was going to blow the bugle, I would feel much better if I was a bugle blower last December and January … I would feel better sitting here today saying, ‘I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January.’ I can’t say that.”

Cuomo’s handling of the outbreak has nonetheless met with widespread approval, even fueling talk of an unlikely presidential run – speculation he has consistently turned down.

The governor has given daily media briefings widely praised and contrasted with those delivered by Donald Trump at the White House, and demonstrated a grip on governance of his state that has kept it on lockdown while he manages its often fractious relationship with the federal government.

Still, questions are increasingly being asked about whether New York’s heavy death toll might have been avoided.

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Cuomo first voiced fears the New York healthcare system would be overwhelmed but that has not turned out to be so.

“I don’t think New Yorkers feel or Americans feel that government failed them here,” Cuomo said. “I think they feel good about what government has done … their healthcare system did respond. This was not Italy, with all due respect … There were not people in hallways who didn’t get healthcare treatment.”

Cuomo also said he thought the US would be better prepared for the next such public health crisis.

“This will change society,” he said. “Society will not allow this to happen again. They will want to be more prepared. They will want to move more quickly. And government will follow that social instinct.”

Cuomo is now considering how to reopen the state economy, a process he has indicated will be done in stages.

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