It’s way too early for U.S. President Donald Trump to talk about ending coronavirus lockdowns by Easter, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top expert and de facto fact-checker on the pandemic.
Fauci, a veteran infectious disease specialist on the U.S. coronavirus task force, seemed to throw cold water on Trump’s plans to send everyone back to work by April 12 during an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
“You don’t make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline,” Fauci said. He spoke to CNN a day after Trump talked about ending the lockdowns in order to save the plunging stock market, which the president has often linked to his re-election chances.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a Fox News virtual town hall on Tuesday. The president also suggested that the U.S. would see “suicides by the thousands” if the economy didn’t go back to normal.
“You’ve got to be realistic,” Fauci told CNN on Wednesday night. “You’ve got to respond in what you see happen, and if you keep seeing this acceleration, it doesn’t matter what you say. One week, two weeks, three weeks — you’ve got to go with what the situation on the ground is.”
When asked about the Easter goal at a briefing on Tuesday, both Trump and Fauci said a “flexible” approach was necessary. They also noted that it wouldn’t make sense to lift the restrictions everywhere, since some areas would still require lockdowns.
“I will be guided very much by Dr. Fauci and … the other professionals,” Trump said.
“The country is a big country and there are areas of the country … that we really need to know more about what the penetrance is there,” Fauci said.
The U.S. currently has the third-most recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the world, although failures in testing have made it impossible for health officials to fully understand the scope of the infections.
The outbreak has hit New York the hardest, with more than 30,000 confirmed cases, 285 deaths and approximately 3,800 people in hospital in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. New York City’s morgues are at capacity and a new facility is being built to deal with an expected spike in deaths.
The U.S. is in the second week of a sweeping 15-day lockdown meant to slow the spread of the virus. However, those efforts will not stop the virus from spreading if everyone goes back to work as normal, experts have said.
Trump initially backed the lockdowns, but his resolve appears to have wavered in the days leading up to the end of the 15-day window on March 30.
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” Trump told Fox News. He has repeated that talking point several times this week, although he has not said concretely that everyone will go back to work by Easter.
Fauci has frequently stepped in to temper Trump’s enthusiasm at coronavirus briefings over the last few weeks, offering blunt assessments whenever the president seems to downplay the threat or contradict the science. Fauci has also become a viral favourite among some observers, particularly after he appeared to do a face-palm while Trump was speaking at a briefing.
Last week, for example, Fauci contradicted Trump’s claims that an anti-malaria drug called chloroquine would be an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients.
“There’s tremendous promise based on the results and other tests. There’s tremendous promise,” Trump said of the drug on Thursday.
Fauci was asked on Friday if there was any evidence that the drug would be useful against COVID-19. “No,” he said.
“The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal,” Fauci added. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
The doctor also intervened to correct Trump’s comments about the timeline for a potential coronavirus vaccine in early March.
“I’ve heard very quick numbers, that of months,” Trump said during an open public briefing. “And I’ve heard pretty much a year would be an outside number. So I think that’s not a bad range.”
Fauci immediately jumped in.
“Let me make sure you get the … information,” he said. “A vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable. When is it going to be deployable? And that is going to be, at the earliest, a year to a year-and-a-half, no matter how fast you go.”
Staffers who contradict Trump have not had long careers at the White House, but Trump appears to be tolerating Fauci’s dissent for the time being.
“I like Dr. Fauci a lot,” Trump said when asked about Fauci’s absence from the daily briefing on Monday.
“He goes his own way. He has his own style,” Fauci told Science magazine in a recent interview. “But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
Fauci also acknowledged his differences with the president at last Saturday’s briefing.
“The president is talking about hope for people and it’s not an unreasonable thing,” Fauci said.
“I’ve got to do my job as a scientist and others have other things to do.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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