US 'missed chances to halt spread of coronavirus', health experts say

2 May 2020, 11:17 | Updated: 2 May 2020, 11:28

Donald Trump has praised US coronavirus efforts
Donald Trump has praised US coronavirus efforts. Picture: PA
Maddie Goodfellow

By Maddie Goodfellow

The United States was slow to understand the spread of coronavirus from Europe which ultimately led to a increase in cases, a health official has said.

Limited testing and delayed travel alerts for areas outside China contributed to a rise in Covid-19 cases from late February, Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The coronavirus was first reported late last year in China, the initial epicentre of the global pandemic, but the US has since become the hardest-hit nation.

Dr Schuchat said: "We clearly didn't recognise the full importations that were happening."

The CDC has published an article, authored by Dr Schuchat, that looked back on the US response, recapping some of the major decisions and events of the last few months.

It suggested the nation's top public health agency missed opportunities to slow the spread.

The US has more 1.1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and the death toll stands at 65,603.

Despite the figures, many American states have been pushing to relax lockdown restrictions.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly celebrated a federal decision, announced on January 31, to stop entry into the US of any foreign nationals who had travelled to China in the previous fortnight.

China had imposed its own travel restrictions earlier, and travel out of its outbreak areas did indeed drop dramatically.

But in her article, Dr Schuchat noted that nearly two million travellers arrived in the US from Italy and other European countries during February, with the government not blocking travel from there until mid-March.

She said: "The extensive travel from Europe, once Europe was having outbreaks, really accelerated our importations and the rapid spread.

"I think the timing of our travel alerts should have been earlier."

The President has been speaking at daily coronavirus briefings
The President has been speaking at daily coronavirus briefings. Picture: PA

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Dr Schuchat said she felt there was an evolving public understanding of the worsening coronavirus situation, as well as a change in what kind of measures - including stay-at-home orders - people were willing to accept.

She said: "I think that people's willingness to accept the mitigation is unfortunately greater once they see the harm the virus can do.

"There will be debates about should we have started much sooner, or did we go too far too fast."

Dr Schuchat's article still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, said Dr Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan.

He said it omits detail of what kind of proposals were made, and perhaps ignored, during the critical period before US cases began to take off in late February.

He said: "I want to know... the conversations, the memos the presidential edicts.

"Because I still believe this did not need to be as bad as it turned out."

Earlier this week, Mr Trump said the high number of Covid-19 cases in the country is due to the country's testing being "sooo much better" than anywhere else in the world.

He defended his administration's efforts in a late night tweet.

"The only reason the U.S. has reported one million cases of CoronaVirus is that our Testing is sooo much better than any other country in the World (sic)," he said.

"Other countries are way behind us in Testing, and therefore show far fewer cases!"

Mr Trump insisted that the United States is doing enough testing to protect Americans reentering the workforce and said no amount of testing would ever be good enough for critics in the media.

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