President Donald Trump at a Fox News town-hall event on Sunday.

Screenshot/Fox News

President Donald Trump said at a Fox News town hall on Sunday night that “everybody,” including the leading infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, previously downplayed the severity of the novel coronavirus.

In response to a question about why he did not act sooner to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the US, Trump said Fauci “was saying it’s going to pass, not going to be a big deal.”

While Fauci has been warning the Trump administration about an infectious-disease outbreak since 2017, he said in January that the coronavirus was not something Americans should be worried about “right now.”

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President Donald Trump responded to a question about his slow response to tackling the coronavirus crisis by saying that “everybody,” including the leading infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, previously downplayed the severity of the virus.

“What I did, way early, is I closed our country to China,” Trump said in response to a question at a Fox News town hall on Sunday night about why he did not act sooner to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the US.

Trump imposed travel restrictions on China in early February shortly after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global health emergency, which he has repeatedly touted as evidence of his quick response to slow the virus’ spread.

“Nancy Pelosi was a month later saying it was going to pass — everybody, even Tony Fauci, was saying it’s going to pass, not going to be a big deal,” he added.

Trump has come under scrutiny for his administration’s slow response to the coronavirus crisis, with reports indicating US intelligence warned Trump in January and February about the likelihood of a pandemic.

Even Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has also been a top official in the White House coronavirus task force, has been warning the Trump administration about the possibility of a disease outbreak since 2017.

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“There is no question that there will be a challenge to the coming administration in the arena of infectious diseases,” Fauci said during a speech at Georgetown University in 2017, adding, “the thing we’re extraordinarily confident about is that we’re going to see this in the next few years.”

He also stressed at the time the need for a “public-health emergency fund” to treat disease outbreaks, though the Trump administration instead cut spending for federal agencies responsible for detecting and preparing for outbreaks.

Fauci downplayed the virus earlier this year

Still, according to PolitiFact, Fauci downplayed the urgency of the virus on several occasions earlier this year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the daily coronavirus press briefing at the White House on April 22.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

According to PolitiFact, Fauci told the conservative outlet Newsmax in January that the virus was something Americans didn’t need to worry about “right now” — but stressed that it still needed to be taken seriously and that the situation might change.

“Obviously, you need to take it seriously and do the kind of things the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security is doing,” he told the outlet. “But this is not a major threat to the people of the United States and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about,” he told Newsmax.

He also downplayed the severity of the virus’ spread during a January 26 radio interview, saying the virus was “a very, very low risk to the United States” at the time, though he stressed that public-health officials needed to continue to take it “very seriously.”

And on February 29, Fauci gave an interview on NBC’s “Today” show in which he said the risk of disease at the time was “still low” but stressed that the situation “could change” once cases of community spread were reported in the US.

Conservative commentators have seized on Fauci’s past comments to defend Trump’s response to the virus and place blame on the experts advising him.

Fauci in early April told CNN the US “could have saved lives” if leadership took earlier action on the coronavirus, though he said making the decision had been complicated. And he has also stepped up warnings about the severity of the virus in recent weeks, saying the outbreak could become seasonal and see a resurgence in the future.

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