A whistle-blower who says he was removed from his government post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the United States could face “the darkest winter” of recent times if it does not improve its response to the pandemic.
Hours after U.S. President Donald Trump railed against him on Twitter, whistle-blower Rick Bright testified to a U.S. House of Representatives panel about readiness for the outbreak.
Dr. Bright was removed last month as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for developing drugs to fight the coronavirus.
“What we do must be done carefully with guidance from the best scientific minds. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged,” Mr. Bright said during his testimony.
The pandemic has infected more than 1.4 million Americans, gutted the economy and killed more than 85,000 across the country.
Dr. Bright testified to the subcommittee on health that he would “never forget” an e-mail he got in January from a U.S. supplier of medical-grade face masks warning of a dire shortage.
“He said, ‘We are in deep shit. The world is. We need to act,’ ” Dr. Bright said. “And I pushed that forward to the highest level that I could of HHS and got no response.”
Mr. Trump, who has been pushing for the U.S. economy to reopen quickly, dismissed Dr. Bright as a “disgruntled employee” on Twitter on Thursday, shortly before the hearing begun.
He said he did not know Dr. Bright, who “with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!”
Earlier this week, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned a Senate committee that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus. Mr. Trump on Wednesday described Dr. Fauci’s warning as not acceptable.
In a whistle-blower complaint filed with a government watchdog last week, Dr. Bright said he warned about the virus in January and was met with hostility from HHS leaders.
Dr. Bright, who was reassigned to a new government job last month, said he was ousted from BARDA because he resisted efforts to push the drugs hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as cures for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
Dr. Bright said in the statement last month that the U.S. government has promoted the medicines as a “panacea” even though they “clearly lack scientific merit.”
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley has disputed Dr. Bright’s account, saying in a statement on Tuesday that he was transferred to a job where he was entrusted to spend around US$1-billion to develop diagnostic testing.
“We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavour,” Ms. Oakley said.
The House subcommittee was also hearing on Thursday from Mike Bowen, co-owner of Prestige Ameritech, the largest U.S. surgical-mask producer.
It was Mr. Bowen who sent Dr. Bright an e-mail in January warning that the United States would run out of medical-grade face masks if it did not ramp up production, according to documents included in Dr. Bright’s whistle-blower complaint.
The Associated Press
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