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Top health official Anthony Fauci predicts ‘social distancing’ as outbreak continues

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke to a congressional panel on Monday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke to a congressional panel on Monday.OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

(Bloomberg) -- “Social distancing” will become more prevalent in the U.S. over the next three months as the nation attempts to tamp down the spread of the new coronavirus, Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

“We’re getting a better sense as the days go by” of the scope of the outbreak in the U.S., Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Unfortunately, that better sense is not encouraging, because we’re seeing community spread.”

Also on Sunday, Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said the U.S. needs “a comprehensive plan” for cities, with support from the federal government.

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Gottlieb and Fauci spoke as the Trump administration remains under fire in some quarters for its response to the fast-spreading virus -- but a response that President Donald Trump on Sunday called “perfectly coordinated and fine tuned.”

The president is spending the weekend at his Florida resort; on Friday he visited the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hub of the federal effort to combat the virus.

“If you’re a vulnerable person, take it seriously, because particularly when you have community spread, you may not know at any given time that there are people who are infected,” Fauci said of the idea of social distancing, or actions that include avoiding large gatherings. “It’s common-sense stuff.”

The “draconian” quarantine measures taken by China, while they’ve worked to prevent a broader advance of the disease beyond Wuhan province, are “something we never would be able to do” in the U.S., he added. Italy also imposed more stringent travel restrictions early Sunday.

“I don’t imagine that the degree of the draconian nature of what the Chinese did would ever be either feasible, applicable, doable or whatever you want to call it in the United States,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that will be broadcast on Sunday, according to a partial transcript provided by the network.

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“Even though there are a lot of things that have unintended negative consequences of that, I think it did help dampen what would have been” an even worse outbreak, Fauci said of China on NBC. “Wuhan was terrible. But I think they prevented a broader spread.”

The spread of the highly infectious virus continues to advance across the globe. As of Sunday, about half of the world’s countries have reported cases of Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization. The global death count outside of China is approaching 500.

Italy, Europe’s most hard-hit nation, said it’s restricting movement and activity for a quarter of its population in the region around the financial capital of Milan.

Fauci said a vaccine deployable against Covid-19 will not be available “for at least a year to a year and a half.”

Gottlieb, who departed as Trump’s FDA commissioner in April, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the U.S. is “past the point of containment and broad mitigation strategies.”

“The next few weeks will change the complexion in this country,”said Gottlieb, who’s now a special partner at New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm that invests in the health-care and biotech sectors. “We’ll get through this, but it’s going to be a hard period. We’re looking at two months, probably, of difficulty.”

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Gottlieb said he was still in talks with people in the Trump administration, recommending that “a very big federal bailout package” for businesses, individuals, cities and states be done sooner rather than later.