Donald Trump’s health experts warn of ‘more suffering and death’
America’s top infectious disease expert has bluntly warned of “more suffering and death” if the US reopens its economy quicker than advised.
It comes as US President Donald Trump is increasingly pushing to reopen the nation’s economy, claiming his administration has “prevailed” and is now moving on a “transition to greatness”.
‘SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES’ FOR EASING RESTRICTIONS
Dr Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of America’s pandemic battle and a regular at US President Donald Trump’s press briefings, was grilled overnight about why the US COVID-19 death rate is “off the charts”.
He said moving too quickly to loosen COVID-19 restrictions could have “really serious consequences”.
“There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation you will see some cases appear,” Dr Fauci said.
He warned that “little spikes” in cases could then “turn into outbreaks”, setting back economic recovery and leading to “suffering and death”.
The official US death toll has passed 83,000, although Dr Fauci estimates that the actual figure is “almost certainly higher”, noting that those who died at home were not counted. The country also has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, now exceeding 1.3 million.
For comparison, the UK has had the second-highest number of deaths, with 32,692 fatalities.
Australia has recorded 98 deaths.
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Dr Fauci was one of four experts testifying via video-link before a US Senate panel on Tuesday.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, told the hearing the US has the seventh highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world.
“Our death rate is off the charts higher than that in India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Mexico,” he said. “It’s nearly three times the death rate in Germany, twice as high as Canada’s rate. The question is, ‘Why?’”
Dr Fauci agreed the US figures were unacceptable and the US had to do better.
“A death rate that high is something that in any manner of form in my mind is unacceptable,” Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday.
Dr Fauci agreed access to healthcare gave people a better chance of survival from the virus.
“In South Korea, 97 per cent of the population have health insurance,” Mr Kaine said.
“In the United States before COVID-19 millions didn’t have it, and lacked access to health care.
“The massive job losses in the last months threatened to take health insurance away from millions more and President Trump is doing all he can to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which would take health insurance away from tens of millions more.
“Let’s learn the lessons from those who are doing this right.”
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WARNINGS OF A SECOND WAVE
Dr Fauci warned that prematurely lifting lockdowns in the US could lead to a second wave in the latter half of the year.
“I hope that if we do have the threat of a second wave we will be able to deal with it very effectively to prevent it becoming an outbreak,” he said.
Dr Fauci noted there are multiple vaccines in development but “no guarantee” any will be effective, though he remains “cautiously optimistic”.
“We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners,” he said. “In other words, it’s multiple shots on goal.”
TRUMP PUSHES TO REOPEN AMERICA
Mr Trump has been urging states to lift restrictions to reignite the economy.
“We’re opening and we’re starting and there’s enthusiasm like I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said at a press conference earlier this week.
Over the last two months, the pandemic has created the worst economic slump and labour market destruction since the Great Depression, analysts said.
Unemployment in the US rocketed to 14.7 per cent last month and is now set to top 20 per cent as social distancing and stay-at-home orders led to the cratering of the world’s largest economy.
But Mr Trump has said the economic shutdown is fuelling its own death toll.
“People are dying in the lockdown position too,” he said. “Look at what’s going on with drugs and look at what’s going on with suicide.”
He also said this week he would spend another $US11 billion ($A17 billion) on federal support for widespread testing, following widespread criticism the White House has not done enough in this area.
The US has lifted testing rates to around 400,000 a day, but this is still short of the up to three million daily tests health experts say are needed.
– with AP