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‘Overhyping Covid? It’s killed 780,000 Americans’: Anthony Fauci responds to ‘preposterous’ GOP claim

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Chief White House medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has hit back at "preposterous" claims by a Republican senator that he has been "overhyping Covid".

Dr Fauci, who leads the infectious disease division of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, was accused by Senator Ron Johnson last week of deliberately stoking fear in order to keep Covid rules in place.

Speaking on Fox News Radio on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: "Fauci did the exact same thing with Aids. He overhyped it, he created all kinds of fear, saying it could affect the entire population when it couldn’t, and he’s using the exact same playbook for Covid.”

Dr Fauci was among the first US scientists to warn in 1981 that Aids could spread beyond the gay community, as it eventually did, but was condemned by gay activists for keeping rigid research rules in place while tens of thousands of people died.

Asked on Sunday about Mr Johnson’s remarks, Dr Fauci paused for two seconds, then said: “How do you respond to something as preposterous as that? Overhyping Aids? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36m people worldwide. How do you overhype that?

“Overhyping Covid? it’s already killed 780,000 Americans and over 5m people worldwide. So I don’t have any clue of what he’s talking about.”

The 80-year-old also said that there were “encouraging” signs from studies in South Africa about the new omicron variant, which he said “does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it”.

But he said it was too early to be sure of that and dangerous to make assumptions before the new virus has been studied more closely.

Mr Johnson’s comments came after months of tension between Dr Fauci and Fox News, a behemoth of conservative media whose hosts and commentators have demonised him throughout the pandemic.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has called Dr Fauci “a shorter version of Benito Mussolini” and “the patron saint of Wuhan”, while guest commentator and streaming host Lara Gogan claimed that “people across the world” have likened him to infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

Republican senator Rand Paul also told Fox Business Network that Dr Fauci "should go to prison for five years for lying to Congress" about whether the NIH funded "gain of function" virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

Reports have suggested that Dr Fauci will return for an interview this coming Friday, having only appeared once on the channel since July despite repeated entreaties.

The coronavirus pandemic is not Dr Fauci’s first time being compared to Nazis. During the Aids epidemic he was hated by many LGBT activists, with Act Up founder Larry Kramer describing him as “a murderer” and comparing him to Holocaust organiser Adolf Eichmann.

Yet in the late 1980s, Dr Fauci began working with activists to loosen the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) clinical trial process and make experimental drugs available more quickly. Mr Kramer later called him “the only true and great hero” among government officials at that time.

In a documentary last month, Dr Fauci said he had developed post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) from those years, saying: “It was just so unbelievably frustrating when you’re used to being able to fix things and you’re just not really fixing anything.”

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