Expert tells US Congress virus fight could last years

A senior health expert warned US lawmakers Wednesday to brace for a “long and difficult” war against the coronavirus, as he urged dramatically expanding testing to rein in the pandemic.

Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration, said the government must be better prepared to defeat an outbreak that has ravaged the United States and much of the world.

“Until we have an effective vaccine, unless something unexpected happens, our viral enemy will be with us for many months or years,” Frieden told a House panel, in the first congressional hearing addressing the federal response to the pandemic.

“As bad as this has been so far, we’re just at the beginning,” added Frieden, who spearheaded the US response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and heads a global health initiative, Resolve to Save Lives.

The United States has a world-leading 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections including more than 71,000 deaths.

Frieden warned the death toll was on track to top 100,000 by the end of May, particularly if the response is not substantially boosted.

“The bottom line is that our war against COVID-19 will be long and difficult,” he said.

Frieden acknowledged that Americans are eager to get back to normal, with state economies reopening and allowing businesses to resume operations.

But he called for caution, and advocated for more funding to expand coronavirus testing, increase contact tracing, and boost public health capacity.

“Without sustained support, our health will be avoidably at risk,” he said.

Congress is already negotiating the next phase of federal funding, after it approved an unprecedented $3 trillion to battle coronavirus and help stave off the crushing effects of the economic shutdown.

But debate has raged about which path to take, with Democrats demanding more money for state and local governments, the White House seeking a payroll tax cut and congressional Republicans pushing for corporate liability immunization.

The nation’s top infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci is set to testify before the Senate next week.

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