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Senate inquiry lashes out at US health chief - why aren't we more like Australia?

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America’s top infectious disease expert has been grilled about why the US COVID-19 death rate is “off the charts higher” than Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and other nations.

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Dr Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of America’s pandemic battle and a regular at US President Donald Trump’s press briefings, was one of four experts testifying via video-link before a US Senate panel on Tuesday.

Senator Tim Kaine told the hearing the US has the seventh-highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world with more than 81,000 lives lost.

“Our death rate is off the charts higher than that in India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Mexico,” Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said.

“It’s nearly three times the death rate in Germany, twice as high as Canada’s rate.

“The question is, ‘Why?’”

Kaine, who repeatedly cut Fauci off from answering questions he posed, said the COVID-19 death rate in the US was 45 times higher than in South Korea.

Fauci agreed the US figures were unacceptable and the US had to do better.

“A death rate at that high is something that in any manner of form in my mind is unacceptable,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday.

Fauci agreed access to health care gave people a better chance of survival from the virus.

“In South Korea, 97 per cent of the population have health insurance,” Kaine said.

“In the United States before COVID-19, millions didn’t have it, and lacked access to health care.

“The massive job losses in the last months threatened to take health insurance away from millions more and President Trump is doing all he can to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which would take health insurance away from tens of millions more.

“Let’s learn the lessons from those who are doing this right.”

Fauci warned that prematurely lifting lockdowns in the US could lead to new virus outbreaks.

Trump has been urging states to lift restrictions to reignite the economy, but Fauci said it could backfire.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci said.

-AAP

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