Coronavirus: Scientists and health experts barred from speaking to media without Mike Pence's approval

Trump recently authorized the vice president to lead the government's coronavirus response, a step which has been slammed by many as Pence has no medical qualification

                            Coronavirus: Scientists and health experts barred from speaking to media without Mike Pence's approval
Donald Trump, Mike Pence (Getty Images)

Scientists and health experts working for the government must get prior clearance from the vice president's office for all media appearances, according to a report. Even Anthony Fauci, an N1H virus expert, has to seek permission to make media appearances. This is to essentially streamline the administration's public statements, some of which have been contradictory, say officials.

Vice President Mike Pence himself appeared for an interview with Fox News about the outbreak on February 27, amid efforts to gain control of the coronavirus messaging, the White House reported. Pence said it was because of the president's "decisive action" that there was a low risk of the coronavirus spreading.

Fauci spoke about the White House directive to The New York Times while Pence gave the interview to Fox News’ Sean Hannity

The issue of coronavirus came up in great detail in the Democrats' presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, where the candidates lashed out against the Donald Trump administration over its handling of the health menace. The president also tweeted around the same time to suggest that his administration handled it pretty well and there was no death recorded in the US although there were at least 50 confirmed cases so far.

Trump was slammed by the Democrats during the debate for dismantling the pandemic response chain of command which they felt did not help the US' fight against the deadly virus. On February 27, the White House took a step towards controlling the communication response to the health disaster under which even top government health experts needed to conduct all media appearances through the office of Pence.

A day earlier, Trump put Pence in charge of the American government's response to coronavirus saying that the former Indiana governor was experienced to deal with such situations. Although Pence has executive experience in dealing with public health emergency (AIDS) in his state during his stint as the governor between 2013 and 2017, his appointment during the coronavirus outbreak has been met with backlash with people questioning his qualification for the job. 

Travelers arrive at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal wearing medical masks on February 2 in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

The outbreak recently saw the hospitalization of a newly-confirmed patient of coronavirus in California who had no prior contact with people affected by the disease. Pence's appointment came amid growing concern over the White House’s role in mitigating the outbreak. 

The White House announced on February 27 that Dr Deborah L Birx, who oversees the administration's response to global HIV/AIDS issues, will serve as its 'coronavirus response coordinator'. 
The Democrats, meanwhile, slammed Pence as one who has no medical qualification to understand the depth of the crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up Pence’s response as the governor of Indiana when it was affected by HIV infections. She said he reduced the budget for public health and shut a clinic for testing HIV. She, however, added that they looked forward to working in a bipartisan way.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the move of giving Pence the responsibility of heading the coronavirus response saying that the latter "does not believe in science" and that it was an irresponsible move.

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