U.S. faces ‘darkest winter’ if pandemic planning falls short: Whistleblower

WASHINGTON – A whistleblower who says he has been removed from his government post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness, said at a congressional hearing Thursday that the United States could experience the “ darkest winter ” in recent times as the response to the pandemic is not improving.

Hours after President Donald Trump scolded him on Twitter, whistleblower Rick Bright testified to a panel of the United States House of Representatives about the readiness for the outbreak.

Bright was removed last month as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services responsible for developing drugs to fight the coronavirus.

“What we do has to be done carefully under the guidance of the best scientific minds. Our chance closes. If we don’t improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and continue, ”said Bright during his testimony, which is still ongoing.

The pandemic infected nearly 1.4 million people in the United States, eroding the economy and killing more than 82,000 people.

Bright testified to the health subcommittee that he would never “forget” an email he received in January from a US medical face mask supplier warning of a serious deficiency.

He said, “We are in deep shit. The world is. We have to do something, ” said Bright. “And I pushed that to the highest level I could from HHS and got no response.”

Trump, who has pushed for a rapid reopening of the US economy, fired Bright as a “disgruntled worker” on Thursday morning before the hearing began on Twitter.

He said he did not know Bright, who “should stop working for our government with his attitude!”

Earlier this week, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci a Senate committee that premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus. Trump described Fauci’s warning on Wednesday as not acceptable.

In a whistleblower complaint filed with a government watchdog last week, Bright said he warned of the virus in January and was received hostile by HHS leaders.

Bright, who was transferred to a new government job last month, said he was fired from BARDA for opposing efforts to push the drugs hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as remedies for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Bright said in the statement last month that the United States government has promoted the drugs as a “panacea”, although they “clearly have no scientific merit”.

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley has contested Bright’s account and said in a statement on Tuesday that he was being transferred to a job where he was entrusted to spend about $ 1 billion to develop diagnostic tests.

“We are deeply disappointed that he has not turned up to work on behalf of the American people and to run this crucial venture,” said Oakley.

The House subcommittee also heard Thursday from Mike Bowen, co-owner of Prestige Ameritech, the largest U.S. producer of surgical masks.

It was Bowen who sent Bright an email in January warning that the United States would no longer have medical face masks if production were not to be stepped up, according to documents in Bright’s whistleblower complaint.

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