The United States’ top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has shared his thoughts on Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in an exclusive interview with 60 Minutes.
As Australia’s fight rages on, Dr Fauci said when talking about countries that got their coronavirus response right, Australia remains a global leader.
“When we talk about who did it right, I mean, Australia always comes up as one of the countries that has done it right,” he said in his only Australian interview.
“I mean, you … suffered the way many of us have. But when you look, comparatively speaking, you‘ve done a really good job,” he said.
It comes on the day the country’s top nurse has said high testing rates need to continue in the country as 17 new deaths in Victoria take the death toll past 500.
The internationally renowned doctor said he is confident the coronavirus pandemic and its ongoing devastation will come to an end.
“We’re going to get out of this, guaranteed,” Dr Fauci said.
“It’s gonna end in Australia. It’s gonna end all over the world. Because we have the capability of doing it, and it’s up to us.”
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Dr Fauci’s message of hope comes as the United States grapples with a virus that is tearing apart the nation.
More than five million people have tested positive, and over 170,000 deaths have been recorded.
Dr Fauci has served six US presidents, but that hasn’t stopped the White House from undermining its own top infectious disease expert lately.
In his interview with Tara Brown, Dr Fauci talked candidly about his difficult relationship with US President Donald Trump, saying the pair have a dynamic few understand.
He admitted it can seem tense between him and the President. He said despite the coronavirus crisis in the US he sometimes won’t see Mr Trump “for a while”. But he insisted their “personal relationship” was “good”.
“I know, I know you can see in the papers, there‘s this tension, but in reality, when you get in the same room and discuss things, then our relationship is fine. It’s, it’s a good relationship,” Dr Fauci said.
Earlier this year, Mr Trump sparked speculation that he intended to fire Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, after he retweeted a call to sack him.
Mr Trump later cooled the speculation and called Dr Fauci a “wonderful guy” at a press conference and said he wouldn’t be sacked.
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When asked about the nature of the relationship, Dr Fauci laughed: “I would say it‘s complicated.”
“It‘s a situation where it isn’t all what it seems. The relationship itself is fine. I’m not just saying that. I mean, we have a relationship,” he said.
“Things happen, I think it was very unfortunate.
“One of the things you mentioned when, you know, a list was sent out to journalists about so called mistakes I made, which were really not mistakes, quite frankly that was a little bit, um, I don‘t know what the right word is.
“I think disturbing and unfortunate would be a good word — that should not have happened,” Dr Fauci said.
Asked if the slights from the Trump administration “hurt”, Dr Fauci said the attacks do “not influence the people that I care about”.
“The people that I don‘t care about, I don’t really care, so it doesn’t really make any difference to me.”
“My job, as a scientist, a physician, a public health official, is to protect the health and the welfare, not only of the American people, but of the entire world because we live in a global community.
“All that other stuff, quite frankly, is noise that I don‘t pay attention to.”
However Dr Fauci says the attacks have extended beyond people disagreeing with him, into violent threats against his wife and children.
“I‘ve had people during charged times disagree with me, and we’ve kinda settled it out. But now, to get death threats, to get my family harassed. My wife and my three children? I mean, that, to me, is absolutely preposterous,” he said.
“And there are some people that actually stoke that, encouraged that. I mean, if you look at some of the networks that I will not mention, that actually spend a lot of time literally stimulating that kind of behaviour, which is absolutely ridiculous that that goes on.”
Dr Fauci said it’s become difficult to deliver a public health message in the US, because the environment has become “intensively politicised”. He said his messages about public health are often interpreted as if “I‘m doing something directly against you deliberately to hurt you”.
When asked to characterise President Trump, Fauci refused.
“I don‘t do that,” he said. “He’s his own person.”
COVID-19 WAS FAUCI’S WORST NIGHTMARE
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Dr Fauci says COVID-19 was the kind of disease that “kept him up at night” before it emerged and caused a global pandemic.
“We are living through a historic situation,” Dr Fauci told 60 Minutes. “Because I‘ve been asked over the decades, ever since I was a trainee, you know, ‘What‘s the, what’s the thing that keeps you up at night, Dr. Fauci?’ I got asked that question a hundred times, a thousand times.
“And the thing that keeps me up at night would be the perfect storm of a respiratory born illness that’s new, that’s a virus, that’s transmitted, one, very, very easily, and two, that has a degree of morbidity and mortality that’s serious and significant.
“That‘s the perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. And … unfortunately, right now, we’re living through that perfect storm. We’ve never had that in the last 102 years.”
THREE VACCINES ARE GLOBAL LEADERS
Dr Fauci said there out of the six current vaccine candidates in Stage 3 trials in the US, he’s supporting three of them.
“Which means, the question is being asked directly, not only, ‘Is it safe,’ but, ‘Does it actually work? Is it effective?’,” Dr Fauci said. He said when it comes to the results of those trials, “the proof in the pudding”.
“But those kinds of inklings makes us have some aspirational hope that by the time we get to the end of the year, we‘ll have a vaccine,” he said.
Mr Fauci added that he considered the AstraZeneca vaccine candidate one of the three global leaders. Last week it was revealed the Australian government had secured doses of the vaccine for Australians if the it’s proved safe.
But Dr Fauci warned that if a vaccine is proven safe in clinical trials, it still won’t be immediately available.
“You’re not going to have immediately hundreds of millions of doses. That’s when you have to start making a prioritisation of who gets it.”
He said frontline workers and health workers could be first to receive doses of the vaccine as they’re exposed to infected patients and are the greatest risk.
He said even though the vaccine has been produced on an advances timeline, he insisted corners haven’t been cut. Dr Fauci added the key to community uptake of a vaccine was being transparent and accountable.
“Even though it looks like it‘s very, very fast, the speed of it is only because of the advances in technology,” he said.
“We‘ve learned that if you want a community to accept something that they have concern about, you’ve got to be extremely truthful and transparent about all of the data, which we will be.
“You know, when you hear things from the federal government, obviously there‘s always a concern, Dr Fauci said.
“Are they really giving us the straight scoop? So you’ve got to embrace and engage people at the community level.”