By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, May 14 (IANS) Rick Bright, a US government whistleblower recently fired by the Trump administration, delivered a chilling testimony in the Congress on Thursday about the country hurtling into the “darkest winter in modern history” unless there is strong leadership and a master plan to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic — both of which he said were absent right now.
Bright’s testimony came barely 48 hours after America’s top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci warned in a Senate testimony of suffering and death if US states reopen too quickly.
Bright testified before a Congressional panel on Thursday by which time Covid-19 has killed more than 84,000 people in the US. America now accounts for the world’s highest caseload with more than 1.4 million sickened by the virus since the first case was reported in January.
Bright painted an alarming picture of organisational chaos in the US government after he warned of insufficient mask supply back in January.
According to Bright, America’s biggest mask manufacturer was ready to crank up production, but it took five full weeks for the bureaucracy to move.
“The undeniable fact is that there will be a resurgence of (Covid-19) this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system,” he said.
“Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history,” Bright said.
Bright tore into America’s response and urged the government to allow scientists to be allowed to speak without “fear of retribution”. During his testimony, Bright contradicted nearly every major claim that US President Donald Trump has made so far on pandemic planning and testing in the US.
Bright warned Americans that there is neither a “vaccine plan” nor a “master plan” in the US at the moment.
He called for increasing public education around “simple things” like hand washing and mask wearing in public. “Frankly, our leaders must lead by modelling the behavior,” Bright said, without naming US leaders who continue to go maskless in public.
“We need a national testing strategy. The virus is here, it is everywhere. We need to be able to test and isolate,” he said in a sobering, five-minute opening statement.
“Pages from our pandemic playbook have been ignored by leaders,” Bright said.
“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright said, adding, “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.”
Trump has dismissed Bright as “a really unhappy, disgruntled guy”. Trump’s comments on Bright follow after he brushed aside Fauci’s warnings earlier this week that premature reopening may “turn the clock back”.
Bright claims that he became a target after he urged early efforts to invest in vaccine development and stock up on strategic national supplies.
He said the friction escalated after he opposed widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that Trump has touted multiple times as a “gamechanger” for treating Covid-19 patients. Bright was removed from his post in late April.
“We still do not have standardised, coordinated plan to lead us through this response,” he said on Thursday.
Echoing Fauci’s view, Bright said a 12-18-month trajectory is the most aggressive for vaccine development. Before that, therapeutics will be America’s best bet, he said.
(Nikhila Natarajan is on Twitter @byniknat)