The Trump administration has barred the top US disease expert from speaking freely to the public after he warned the coronavirus may be impossible to contain

Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking at a White House press conference on the coronavirus on Wednesday.

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Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking at a White House press conference on the coronavirus on Wednesday.
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Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
  • The Trump administration has barred Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from speaking publicly about the coronavirus virus without approval, The New York Times reported.
  • Fauci is one of the top experts in the US on pandemics and diseases, and his sober public messages have contrasted with President Donald Trump’s optimistic claims about the impact of the illness.
  • Experts have criticized the Trump administration for effectively muzzling Fauci during one of the country’s most serious public-health crises in recent years.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump’s administration has barred one of the top US experts on infectious diseases from speaking out about the coronavirus outbreak without explicit permission from the White House, The New York Times reported Thursday, in an apparent bid to stop contradictory messages about the public-health crisis.

In a Wednesday press conference, Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence – who has faced criticism for his handling of an HIV outbreak as Indiana Governor – would lead US efforts to halt the spread of the illness, and that Pence would report directly to Trump.

And among the first steps Pence took was to institute measures to coordinate messaging, which would require top officials to seek clearance before making public statements on the illness.

Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump at a press conference about the coronavirus on Wednesday.

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Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump at a press conference about the coronavirus on Wednesday.
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REUTERS/Carlos Barria

One of those officials included Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He told associates that the White House “had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance,” The Times wrote.

The NIAID did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment on the report.

Fauci has led the NIAID – a federal agency focused on researching infectious diseases – since 1984, and has a key role in coordinating efforts on global health issues, according to the agency’s website.

He has also advised six presidents on domestic and global health issues such as HIV/AIDS.

Fauci behind former President Barack Obama on this tour of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda in 2014.

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Fauci behind former President Barack Obama on this tour of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda in 2014.
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Thomson Reuters

Fauci’s public remarks have been at odds with the president

His public remarks on the coronavirus in recent days have struck a markedly different tone from those delivered by Trump, who has played down the likely impact of the illness and is reportedly concerned that negative messages from public officials will spook financial markets.

In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Fauci warned that travel restrictions, such as those introduced by the Trump administration for some visitors from China, would become “irrelevant” if the coronavirus becomes a pandemic because “you can’t keep out the entire world.”

He also told CNN last week that the world is on the brink of a coronavirus pandemic.

Trump on Wednesday said the US is “rapidly developing a vaccine” for coronavirus and “will essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.” But in an interview with Fox News Tuesday, Fauci had said the process of developing a vaccine could take up to a year and a half.

“Even though we are going as fast as you possibly can, it’s still going to take a good year, year and a half to see if we have a vaccine that works,” he said.

‘An effort to muzzle fact and science’

Health and national-security experts have criticized the Trump administration for stopping one of its top public health officials from speaking freely during one of the worst public-health crises in years.

Ned Price, a top National Security Council aide under the Obama administration, tweeted Thursday: “During the Ebola outbreak, we couldn’t get enough of @NIH’s Dr. Fauci because no one knew more or could deliver it with more authority or experience. Muzzling Dr. Fauci is an effort to muzzle fact and science when it’s needed most.”

“Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama trusted Tony Fauci to be their top adviser on infectious disease, and the nation’s most trusted communicator to the public,” Ronald Klain, who led the Obama administration’s response to the 2014 Ebola crisis, also said.

“If Trump is changing that, it is a threat to public health and safety.”