US virus expert warns pandemic has further to run

Anthony Fauci, one of the doctors in charge of the US government’s coronavirus response, has warned that the outbreak is far from over, even as some of the worst-hit states start reopening their economies. 

Dr Fauci, the longtime head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there was “no way” Covid-19 was going to burn itself out simply through current public health measures, like the Sars epidemic did in 2014, so a vaccine would be needed. 

“I’ll guarantee there is going to be more than one winner in the vaccine field because we’re going to need vaccines for the entire world,” he told a pharmaceutical industry conference on Tuesday. “Billions and billions of doses.”

Dr Fauci’s warning comes despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to push a quicker reopening of the US economy. Although Mr Trump has taken credit for a better than expected employment outlook, there are signs of a jump in coronavirus cases in some southern and western states that relaxed their lockdown measures last month.

Dr Fauci has previously warned that ending lockdowns too early could lead to “suffering and death” through uncontrollable outbreaks.

The infectious disease expert said Covid-19 had fulfilled his worst pandemic fears: a virus that jumped from an animal to humans, was easily transmissible through breathing and had a high death rate. 

“Now we have something that turns out indeed to be my worst nightmare,” he said. “In a period of four months, it has devastated the world; 110,000 deaths in the US. There’s millions and millions of infections worldwide. And it isn’t over yet.” 

Dr Fauci said he was surprised by how quickly the virus was able to move from Wuhan to the rest of China and across the globe through innate infectiousness and because of humans’ “extraordinary travel capability”.

Although he spent much of his career fighting HIV, Dr Fauci said Covid-19 was more complicated than the virus that causes Aids, especially because of the large number of asymptomatic individuals and the range in severity of the disease. He added that Ebola had been “really scary” but was never transmitted as easily as Covid-19.

Asked about whether a coronavirus vaccine should be subject to price controls, the doctor, who sits on the White House’s coronavirus task force, said he had never seen price controls work — but added a vaccine should be priced so people who need it can access it. Joking that price controls were a “get ‘Tony in trouble’ question”, he said there had to be some “economic return”. 

“You can’t just do something and give it away, you’ve got to have some degree of profit . . . as long as it isn’t in an outrageous way,” he said.