America's top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has hit back at the White House for publicly undermining his advice on the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, White House officials spoke anonymously to US media publications and questioned Fauci's reliability, going so far as to distribute a list of times he had been wrong during the crisis.

That list included his early doubts that asymptomatic people would play a significant role in spreading the virus, and his statement in late February that there was no need for Americans to "change anything that you're doing on a day-to-day basis".

It was an unusual move from the White House, given Fauci was – and still is – a senior member of President Donald Trump's Coronavirus Task Force.

Advertisement

One of the publications briefed by Trump officials, NBC, compared their behaviour to "a political campaign furtively disseminating opposition research about an opponent".

In an interview with The Atlantic today, Fauci was asked to react. His response was uncharacteristically blunt.

"I stand by everything I said. Contextually, at the time I said it, it was absolutely true," he said.

Fauci called the White House's actions "a bit bizarre" and "totally wrong".

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci. Photo / AP
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci. Photo / AP

"It's nonsense. It's completely wrong. The whole thing is wrong. The whole thing is incorrect," he said.

"I think if you talk to reasonable people in the White House, they realise that was a major mistake on their part, because it doesn't do anything but reflect poorly on them. And I don't think that was their intention.

"I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that. I think they realise now that it was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them."

He revealed he had spoken to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday and told him "that was not a particularly good thing to do".

Advertisement

"There was no apology. He said that he didn't know about it," Fauci said.

"Ultimately, it hurts the President to do that. When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the President. And I don't really want to hurt the President. But that's what is happening.

"I told (Meadows) I thought it was a big mistake. That doesn't serve any good purpose for what we're trying to do."

Not all of the criticism of Fauci was anonymous. The President's senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro, actually went on the record in a separate statement to the press.

"Dr Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on," Navarro said.

"Now Fauci is saying that a falling mortality rate doesn't matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening. So when you ask me if I listen to Dr Fauci's advice, my answer is only with caution."

Advertisement
Coronavirus cases have surged to record levels in the Los Angeles area. Photo / AP
Coronavirus cases have surged to record levels in the Los Angeles area. Photo / AP

Navarro also wrote a brief opinion piece for USA Today, reiterating the same points.

"I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there," Fauci told The Atlantic.

Experts in the US have repeatedly warned that coronavirus deaths lag behind infections by at least a fortnight. In fact, Fauci himself made that point when he testified at a Senate hearing last week.

"Deaths always lag considerably behind cases," he stressed.

"You might remember that, at the time that New York was in their worst situation, where the deaths were going up, the cases were starting to go down. The deaths only came down multiple weeks later.

"So you're seeing more cases now, while the deaths are going down. The concern is, if those cases then infect people who wind up getting sick and go to the hospital, it is conceivable that you may see the deaths going up."

Advertisement

That was one of several recent pronouncements that drew the White House's ire, as it contradicted Trump's assertions that the US was "in a good place".

US President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo / AP

During his Senate testimony, Fauci warned the state of the pandemic in the US was "really not good" and it was still "knee deep in the first wave".

Later in the week, during an interview with FiveThirtyEight's coronavirus podcast, Fauci delivered another grim assessment.

"How do you think the US is doing right now? If you're looking across the world, what are your feelings about how we're doing right now?" host Anna Rothschild asked.

"Well, let me say that there are parts of the United States, like where you live right now (New York), that are doing really well. That you've been through something really bad and you have things under control," Fauci said.

"Other cities are doing well. But as a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great. I mean, we're just not."

Advertisement

At a White House event on Monday, Trump insisted he had "a good relationship" with Fauci, despite reports the infectious disease expert has been frozen out of meetings and hasn't actually briefed the President since the first week of June.

His media appearances, which must be approved by the White House, have also been curtailed.

"I find him to be a very nice person," Trump told reporters.

"I don't always agree with him. I closed the border, as you know, to China. I did a ban on China. Heavily infected. We saved tens of thousands of lives. So Dr Fauci will admit that it was a good decision. It was very early. That was in January. Long before it was thought of as the right thing to do."

A survey published late last month measured Americans' level of trust in different sources of information about the pandemic.

Fauci was trusted by 67 per cent of respondents. Just 26 per cent trusted Trump.

Advertisement