WASHINGTON: The White House has blocked its top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, from appearing at a congressional hearing on America’s coronavirus response.

The House Appropriations Committee is holding a hearing on May 6 on how the US government handled the Covid-10 outbreak.

“The committee sought Dr Anthony Fauci as a witness at next week’s hearing on Covid-19 response. We have been informed by an administration official that the White House has blocked Dr Fauci from testifying,” said the panel’s spokesman Evan Hollander.

But the committee’s Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said the hearing would continue as scheduled. “Congress and the American public deserve a clear-eyed view of the path forward for responding to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Ms Lowey, a congresswoman from New York.

The hearing would focus on what “our federal government is doing on surveillance, testing, contact tracing, quarantining, social distancing, and the production and distribution of personal protective equipment,” she said.

Dr Tom Frieden, a former Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the world’s foremost public health experts, will testify.

In a statement to the Washington Post, the White House said it would be “counterproductive” to allow Dr Fauci to testify in front of Congress in the midst of the government’s efforts to fight coronavirus.

“We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in the statement.

Dr Fauci, however, is slated to appear before a US Senate panel on May 12 to speak about the virus that has already killed more than 66,000 Americans and infected more than 1.3 million.

The opposition Democrats dominate the lower house of the US Congress while Republicans have a majority in the Senate. President Trump is also a Republican.

“The people of this country deserve a federal government that is up-to-date, modernized, and prepared to protect lives,” said Ms Lowey, a Democrat, while explaining why the panel was holding this hearing.

The US media, while reporting the development, noted that “there has been past tension between Dr Fauci and President Trump,” which might have forced the White House to stop the doctor from appearing before the House panel.

During recent White House briefings on coronavirus, Dr Fauci became known for his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to discussing the disease — even if it meant contradicting President Trump’s statements. He also said at one of these briefings that the administration could have acted sooner to prevent the outbreak.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020