Dr Fauci: Serious consequences if coronavirus lockdowns end early
Dr Anthony Fauci warns of uncontrollable outbreaks if states or regions do not follow federal guidelines
WASHINGTON: The US government's top infectious diseases expert warned Congress on Tuesday that ending lockdowns too soon could trigger fresh and uncontrollable outbreaks of Covid-19.
In his first appearance on Capitol Hill in two months, Dr Anthony Fauci delivered a cautionary message at odds with the rhetoric of President Donald Trump, who has pressed for rapid steps to rekindle the devastated economy.
The respected scientist told a Senate panel that federal authorities had developed guidelines on how to safely reopen activities, with a sustained 14-day decrease in cases as a vital first step.
"If a community or a state or region doesn't go by those guidelines and reopens... the consequences could be really serious," said Dr Fauci.
"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," he later added, warning that would not only cost lives "but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery".
Responding to a question from Senator Bernie Sanders, Dr Fauci acknowledged that US coronavirus deaths are likely higher than the official toll of roughly 80,000.
This, he said, was because many people - particularly in hardest-hit New York - died at home before they could be admitted to a hospital.
Some colleges, meanwhile, have begun announcing plans to restart classes in autumn, but Dr Fauci argued it was "a bridge too far" to expect vaccines or treatments might be ready in time to assuage student fears.
Dr Fauci said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects of a vaccine, with eight candidates undergoing clinical trials, including one made by the firm Moderna, which is closely collaborating with the National Institutes of Health, where he is a senior official.
Its efficacy could be determined by late autumn or early winter, he said.
There has been frequent speculation that Dr Fauci's forthright approach has irked Mr Trump, who has been accused of downplaying the crisis as he pushes to restart the economy.
Dr Fauci appeared in Congress hours after Mr Trump renewed that message on Twitter, writing: "Numbers are coming down in most parts of our country, which wants to open and get going again. It is happening, safely!"
The US has reported more than 80,000 deaths and 1.3 million infections.
While the situation has improved in New York, and the daily nationwide death toll has dipped markedly in recent days, the rate of new cases has yet to drop off dramatically.
Though widely respected by lawmakers in both major parties, Dr Fauci came under fire from Republican Rand Paul, who said that because the mortality rate in children is low, schools could be reopened faster in certain districts.
"As much as I respect you, Dr Fauci, I don't think you're the end-all," said Paul. "I don't think you're the one person who gets to make the decision."
Dr Fauci responded that he only offered scientific advice, but warned not to be "cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects" of Covid-19, given growing reports of children suffering from a related autoimmune syndrome. - AFP