File photo of US President Donald Trump (centre)with Anthony Fauci (left) and Deborah Birx (right), members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at a news conference on April 4, 2020, in Washington.
File photo of US President Donald Trump (centre)with Anthony Fauci (left) and Deborah Birx (right), members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at a news conference on April 4, 2020, in Washington. |Photo: White House/IANS

Trump, Fauci at odds over reopening schools in US


Washington, May 14, 2020

US President Donald Trump has questioned the assessment of Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert, on reopening the country's schools, a day after the latter pleaded for caution in doing so.

"Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation," Trump told reporters during a White House event on Wednesday when asked about Fauci's comments at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

"I was surprised by his answer actually," Trump said.

"It's just, to me it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools."

"I think you should absolutely open the schools. Our country has got to get back, and it's got to get back as soon as possible. And I don't consider our country coming back if the schools are closed," he added.

Fauci, a leading member of the White House's coronavirus task force, told US lawmakers a day earlier that it would be "a bridge too far" to expect a vaccine or treatment to be available by fall to facilitate students returning to college campuses.

He also pushed back on the claim that schools should be reopened because the coronavirus does not appear to be as lethal to young children.

"In the numbers that children, in general, do much much better than adults and the elderly, and particularly those with underlying conditions, but I am very careful and hopefully humble that I don't know everything about this disease, and that's why I'm very reserved in making broad predictions," the expert explained.

"We really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children."

The remarks came as the US was debating whether it is safe for states to open up, prompted by a growing economic pressure and massive job losses amid concerns over a possible surge in coronavirus cases and fatalities if steps were not taken properly.

The US currently accounts for the world's highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at 1,390,406 and 84,119, respectively, according to the latest count by Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci has differed with Trump on a number of issues related to the administration's response to the pandemic, including the President's claim about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and his assertion that the virus may not return in the fall.

But during Tuesday's hearing, Fauci tried to downplay any rift with Trump.

"As I mentioned many times, I give advice and opinion based on evidence-based scientific information," Fauci said.

"He hears that, he respects it. He gets opinions from a variety of other people, but in no way in my experience over the last several months, has there been any confrontational relationship between us."

In an interview with Fox News, Trump called Fauci "a very good person", adding that he has disagreed with the scientist.

"We have to get the schools open, we have to get our country open, we have to open our country," Trump said.

"Now we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible, we can't keep going on like this... You're having bedlam already in the streets, you can't do this. We have to get it open. I totally disagree with him on schools."

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander came to the defence of Fauci after some Republican colleagues and conservative commentators criticized his warnings about the coronavirus outbreak.

"So I wouldn't characterize him as trying to be omniscient," Alexander said of Fauci. "I don't think he tries to do that all. I think he tries to give good advice and then you can take the advice or leave it."

Fauci is cited most often as the official Americans rely on for information regarding the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study released late April.

The study, conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, showed that Fauci was chosen by 45 per cent of those surveyed, while participants' "own state's governor" was cited by 35 per cent, and Trump by 20 per cent.