World

Whistleblower warns U.S. is running out of time to bolster its response to COVID-19 pandemic

A whistleblower who says he was removed from his government post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the U.S. could face "the darkest winter" of recent times if it does not improve its response to the pandemic.

Rick Bright tells congressional hearing the 'window of opportunity' is closing

Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, listens during Thursday's House energy and commerce subcommittee on health hearing to discuss protecting scientific integrity in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Shawn Thew/Pool/via The Associated Press)

A whistleblower who says he was removed from his government post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the U.S. could face "the darkest winter" of recent times if it does not improve its response to the pandemic.

Hours after President Donald Trump railed against him on Twitter, whistleblower Rick Bright testified to a U.S. House of Representatives panel about the country's readiness for the outbreak.

Bright was removed last month as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, which is responsible for developing drugs to fight the coronavirus.

"What we do must be done carefully with guidance from the best scientific minds. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged," Bright said during his testimony, which is ongoing.

The pandemic has infected nearly 1.4 million people in the United States, gutted the economy and killed more than 82,000.

Bright testified to the subcommittee on health that he would "never forget" an email he received in January from a U.S. supplier of medical-grade face masks warning of a dire shortage.

"He said, 'We are in deep s--t. The world is. We need to act,'" Bright said. "And I pushed that forward to the highest level that I could of [the Department of Health and Human Services] and got no response."

Earlier this week, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned a Senate committee that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus. Trump blocked Fauci from testifying before the Democratic-controlled House.

In a whistleblower complaint filed with a government watchdog last week, Bright said that he warned about the virus in January and was met with hostility from leaders of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], which oversees BARDA.

Republican Rep. Greg Walden from Oregon asks a question during the hearing. (Greg Nash/Pool via The Associated Press)

Trump, who has been pushing for the U.S. economy to reopen quickly, dismissed Bright as a "disgruntled employee" on Twitter on Thursday morning before the hearing began.

Later on Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he had watched some of Bright's hearing.

"To me, he's nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person," said Trump, who admitted he doesn't know Bright.

WATCH | Whistleblower warns U.S. about pandemic response:

Dr. Rick Bright, who was fired as the director of the agency responsible for developing drugs to fight the coronavirus, told a U.S. congressional hearing that his early warnings about the pandemic were met with indifference and the country only has limited time to improve its response. 2:01

Bright, who was reassigned to a new government job last month, said he was ousted from BARDA because he resisted efforts to push the drugs hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as cures for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

In his statement last month, he said the U.S. government has promoted the medicines as a "panacea" even though they "clearly lack scientific merit.

HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley has disputed Bright's account, saying in a statement on Tuesday that he was transferred to a job where he was entrusted to spend around $1 billion US to develop diagnostic testing.

"We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavour," she said.

The House subcommittee was also hearing on Thursday from Mike Bowen, co-owner of Prestige Ameritech, the largest U.S. surgical mask producer.

Bowen warned in January that the United States would run out of medical-grade face masks if it did not ramp up production, according to emails included in Bright's whistleblower complaint.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now