U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday described as "unacceptable" a warning given by top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci this week about the dangers of reopening the economy and schools too quickly, further deepening his rift with Fauci over loosening coronavirus restrictions.
The issue of whether students should return to schools and universities in September is emerging as a flashpoint in the standoff between the White House and medical experts over how quickly to reopen the country.
"To me it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools," Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about Fauci's warnings to senators on Tuesday about the risks of reopening the schools and economy too soon.
Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Congress on Tuesday that ending the lockdowns too quickly could bring "really serious" consequences, including new outbreaks of coronavirus, just as the country tries to overcome the pandemic.
He also warned that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 82,000 people in the United States and brought the economy to its knees.
"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," he said, adding that an early reopening would not only cost lives, but could even set them back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.
Trump, in contrast, said on Wednesday the only thing that would be acceptable would be professors or teachers "over a certain age" not holding classes. "I think they ought to take it easy for another few weeks," he added.
The president, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for re-election in November, has encouraged states to reopen businesses and schools that were shuttered to halt the spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease.
Fauci, 79, a proponent of the lockdowns, has become a target for criticism from the American far right and online conspiracy theorists since he made statements about the outbreak that were at odds with Trump's.
The doctor is increasingly in the background as the president pushes his reopening message.
In April, Trump retweeted a call to fire Fauci, after the doctor said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner, spurring speculation his days in the administration could be numbered.
"Anthony is a good person, a very good person. I've disagreed with him," Trump said in a segment of an interview on Fox Business Network due to air early Thursday.
"I think that we have to open our schools," Trump said in the interview. "We have to open our country. Now, we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. We can't keep going on like this. You're having bedlam already in the streets," he said. "I totally disagree with him on schools."
Asked about Trump's comments, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN that Fauci was "sounding an honest voice of caution and I share his view."
"I think we have to be very careful about the steps we take."
(With input from Reuters, AFP)