President Donald Trump hit back at US public health adviser Dr Anthony Fauci after he claimed early warnings of coronavirus’ effect on the US were rebuffed by the administration.
Dr Fauci, who has become the de facto medical spokesman for the US during the coronaviruspandemic, said recommendations given to Mr Trump were “often” taken but “sometimes” not.
In response the president branded the comments as “fake news” and later said a decision will be made “shortly” on when the US economy would be reopened, adding that the call will be made by him and the federal government rather than state governors.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported administration officials warned the president of the severity of the virus in January, but were told they were being alarmist by Mr Trump.
The story added that social distancing measures were recommended by officials back in February, but only implemented by the president last month, and early intelligence reports of the virus’ likely spread to the US and subsequent financial losses were predicted in January.
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But Mr Trump – who regularly dismisses reports in the New York Times and other media outlets in the US – rejected the statements from Dr Fauci, stating he implemented a travel ban to and from China “long before” advice was given by his officials.
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After Dr Fauci’s interview, Republican DeAnna Lorraine criticised his comments and urged for him to be sacked.
She tweeted: “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives. Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large. Time to #FireFauci…”
In response, Mr Trump quoted the tweet and said: “Sorry Fake News, it’s all on tape. I banned China long before people spoke up.”
Sorry Fake News, it’s all on tape. I banned China long before people spoke up. Thank you @OANNhttps://t.co/d40JQkUZg5
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2020
Later on, he tweeted: “For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect….
“….It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”
….It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2020
During an interview on CNN on Sunday, Dr Fauci appeared to back up the New York Times report.
When asked why the administration did not act when he and other officials advised, Dr Fauci said: “You know … as I have said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it’s not.
“…It is what it is. We are where we are right now.”
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Host Jake Tapper then asked if Dr Fauci thought “lives could have been saved if social distancing, physical distancing, stay-at-home measures had started [in the] third week of February, instead of mid-March”.
In response, he said: “It’s very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously, you could logically say, that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.
“But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you’re right. I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”
The controversy is one of many issues that has arisen in the US during the pandemic over the past few weeks.
Today it was confirmed that a sailor who tested positive for COVID-19 on the crisis-hit USS Theodore Roosevelt has since died.
The ship, which has a crew of approximately 4,860, has been hit hard by the virus, with a total of 585 workers testing positive for COVID-19 as of today.
It follows the sacking of the ship’s captain, Brett E Crozier, who was removed from his post by acting US Navy secretary Thomas Modly for writing a memo stating his concerns for the safety of his crew after the outbreak.
The memo was later leaked and published in the media and Mr Modly was recorded stating Mr Crozier was “stupid” for writing it. Mr Modly then resigned from his own post five days later.
President Trump initially criticised Mr Crozier for writing the letter but later said he didn’t want his career ruined over a single mistake. Navy officials have not ruled out the possibility of reinstating him.
More than 4,000 crew members have now been evacuated from the ship and moved to shore. Four crew members were admitted to hospital over the weekend with COVID-19 symptoms.