A top US government virologist turned whistleblower has accused the Trump administration of failing to tell the truth, meaning Americans were “not as prepared as they could have been” in tackling coronavirus.
Dr Rick Bright once ran the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the government agency overseeing vaccine efforts. The Trump administration abruptly removed him from the position last month.
During three hours of testimony on Capitol Hill, the government scientist said the US lacks a “master plan” and gave a stark warning to members of Congress.
He said: “There will likely be a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall and be greatly compounded about the challenges of seasonal influenza.
“Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.
“First and foremost, we need to be truthful with the American people. Americans deserve the truth. The truth must be based on science. We have the world’s greatest scientists. Let us lead.”
His testimony highlighted the ongoing battle between science and politics as America remains in the grip of coronavirus. More than 80,000 people have died – but officials say the actual number is likely higher.
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Dr Bright claims he became the target of criticism when he raised the alarm about the seriousness of the pandemic back in January.
He says his repeated early warnings about lack of crucial medical equipment were ignored.
“Lives were in danger and I believe lives were lost,” he said.
He cited emails he received from a top US medical supplier “indicating that our mask supply, our N-95 respirator supply was completely decimated. And he said, ‘”We’re in deep s***. The world is.”‘
He added: “From that moment I knew that we were going to have a crisis for healthcare workers because we were not taking action. That was our last window of opportunity to turn on that production to save the lives of our healthcare workers, and we didn’t act.”
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The government virologist also believes he was pushed out of his job because he resisted President Donald Trump’s efforts to promote unproven COVID-19 treatments like the anti-malarial drug, Hydroxychloroquine.
Mr Trump has dismissed Dr Bright’s complaint as that of a “disgruntled employee”.
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For Democrats he was a star witness to the Trump administration’s failures. His testimony before Congress gave an insight into the president’s handling of the coronavirus which has been widely criticised as being political and too slow.
Dr Bright said time is running out and that the outbreak will “get worse and be prolonged” if the United States does not quickly develop a national testing strategy and devise a plan for distributing a vaccine.
The US government virologist was asked how long he believed it will take to get a vaccine.
He said: “A lot of optimism is swirling around a 12 to 18 month timeframe if everything goes perfectly. We have never seen everything go perfectly.
“My concern is that if we rush too quickly, and consider cutting out critical steps, we may not have a full assessment of the safety of that vaccine. So it will still take some time. I think 12 to 18 months is an aggressive schedule and I think it will take longer than that to do so.”
Wildly differing questions from members of Congress revealed just how politicised the coronavirus has become in the United States.
Mr Trump was in Pennsylvania today as he continues his push for states to reopen with the aim of getting the economy back on track.