America’s top doctor, Dr Anthony Fauci, has criticised China for “failing the world” by not being “transparent” about the origin and spread of COVID-19.
Fauci accused Beijing of providing “incorrect” information about how the virus was being transmitted.
“For the first week or so, we were getting information that it was not readily spread from human to human, which was incorrect,” he told 9News.
Numerous studies have found the virus started in a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We didn’t get a lot of transparent information from them; they were building 1000-bed hospitals literally overnight,” Fauci said.
“For them to do that, we were saying something must be going on bad there.”
Asked if China had “failed the world”, Fauci replied “Yes, I believe they did”.
“They should have been more transparent. But they weren’t,” he said.
Fauci spoke with 9News as he prepared to finish his 54-year career working in health for the US government.
By his own admission he has had a career wearing “many hats”, advising seven US Presidents since Ronald Reagan.
He defended his own record on the pandemic, in a country where more than 1 million people have died with COVID-19.
Reflecting on what he said was an “oh my god moment”, Fauci spoke of hearing Italian hospitals and its health system were overwhelmed.
“If it is that bad in Italy ultimately it’s going to be that bad in the United States,” Fauci said, adding “we were in for a real real problem”.
But he also opened up about his working relationship with then-US president Donald Trump, who he said was initially positive about accepting advice, but then changed.
“That was when things got a bit dicey,” Fauci said.
He accused the then-president of saying “things that are untrue and misleading and in many respects conspiratorial, distorting reality”.
Fauci said he had to “get up … in order to preserve my own personal and scientific integrity, but also to fulfil my responsibility to the American public” and “say things that are directly opposed to what the president is saying”
Trump had suggested he would fire Fauci, and had crowds calling for the respected scientist to be axed.
Fauci said death threats against him and his family only started when he “directly contradicted” President Trump, who had been spruiking unproven treatments and at one point suggested disinfectant could be “injected” to help kill the virus.
Fauci is adamant Trump was aware of the threats and should have done more to stop them.
“I thought that that would be his responsibility to do that, but that’s not what he did. Of course I was disappointed” Fauci said.
He said the threats had not stopped.
Last week, Trump’s former adviser in the White House Steve Bannon said “the hunted are going to become the hunters”.
“The whole Fauci family is going to be welcome to investigations,” he said, suggesting there would be “paybacks across the board”.
Fauci labelled that a “horrible”, “outlandish statement”.
“That is something that borders on being criminal,” he told 9News.
“He is essentially inciting people to violence against me and my family. That is an absolute explicit threat”.
Fauci has spoken with Australia’s top doctors during the pandemic, and praised the response from medical professionals and the public, adding with a slight smile Australia was helped by “being an enormous large island” with the ability to “shut out of outside input”.
“Australia and New Zealand and other countries are clearly recognised for having done a very good job in response to the outbreak,” he said.
Fauci was raised in Brooklyn, by parents who ran a pharmacy.
He was a keen and talented basketballer, who always wanted to help people.
At the age of 27 he entered the National Institute of Health, rising through the ranks to become the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984.
While COVID-19 meant he was a regular feature in the homes of tens of millions of people in the US and around the world, it’s his work on AIDS that could be his most significant lasting legacy.
As a scientist he did clinical work on HIV, which led to what he says were “therapeutic and preventative interventions”.
He would later go on to develop an HIV/AIDS program, and was an architect of president George W Bush’s emergency plan.
“That program has resulted in saving anywhere between 18 to 20 million lives, and I feel so fortunate and honoured,” he said.
The 81-year-old described his 54-year career as a “long journey … punctuated by very important public health issues that I’ve had the privilege in many respects to deal with”.
And while he now is likely to have more time to spend with his family, just don’t call it a retirement.
With a chuckle, Fauci said he had no plans for a big holiday.
“I’m not going to retire in the classic sense, I want to continue to write, and to lecture and to hopefully inspire some of the younger generation,” he said.