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Report: CDC staff 'muzzled'

By SCOTT REEVES in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-05-21 11:21

A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia Sept 30, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

A senior official with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has claimed that members of the agency have been "muzzled" by the White House for urging caution in reopening the country, CNN reported Wednesday.

In an interview with CNN, six CDC staffers also said the White House mishandled its response to the emerging coronavirus threat.

"We were muzzled," a CDC official told CNN on the condition of anonymity.

"What's tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money."

The CDC officials said their advice was ignored when they urged an emphasis on Europe - not China - as the key point of entry for the coronavirus into the US, CNN reported.

Quoting unnamed "senior officials", the network said the CDC alerted the White House to the rapid spread of the virus across Europe, but the "White House was extremely focused on China and not wanting to anger Europe - even though that's where most of our cases were originally coming from".

Early on, the CDC posted travel warnings for a few individual countries, including China, Italy, Iran and South Korea, but a broader alert proposed by staff would have included all international travel.

The alert, expected to be announced March 5, wasn't posted until March 11, the same day President Donald Trump announced limits on travel from 24 European countries, the CDC officials told CNN.

During the six-day lag, crucial time was lost in combating the virus as some 66,000 European travelers entered US airports each day, the CDC officials said.

The CDC declined to comment, CNN said.

On Wednesday, the CDC released guidelines for reopening the economy, but some staffers told CNN that the steps were diluted to meet demands from Trump for a less stringent plan.

US President Donald Trump gives the podium to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to address the daily coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak task force briefing at the White House in Washington, US April 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

In guidelines released Wednesday, the CDC offered a 60-page plan to reopen schools, mass transit and nonessential businesses closed earlier this year to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the US.

The CDC plan outlined a "phased approach" for social distancing and offered six "gating" indicators to assess the safety of moving to the next phase.

"While some communities will progress sequentially through the reopening phases, there is the possibility of (recurrence) in some areas," the CDC guidelines state.

"Given the potential for a rebound in the number of cases or level of community transmission, a low threshold for re-instating more stringent mitigation standards will be essential," the document goes on to say.

The CDC's guidelines recommend that schools remain closed. Child care centers should remain closed in regions with a large number of coronavirus cases unless the programs serve children of healthcare or other essential workers, the CDC said.

But both schools and child care centers can reopen with "enhanced" social distancing measures after state and local governments meet needed requirements in reducing the number of new coronavirus infections, the CDC said.

The CDC recommended that bars should remain closed and restaurants limited to pickup or delivery service. Mass transit should limit ridership to essential workers in the first phase and continue to encourage social distancing.

In April, the Trump administration released an 18-page plan titled "Opening Up America Again" that also recommended steps to loosen restrictions on individuals and businesses.

Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that the White House had set aside CDC recommendations that were intended to help schools and businesses reopen. It's unclear if the guidelines released Wednesday were significantly revised.

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