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Coronavirus tsar Mike Pence wipes nose before shaking hands with top doctors at virus press conference

Vice president appointed to lead administration's response to US outbreak

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 28 February 2020 17:54 GMT
Trump names Mike Pence to lead coronavirus response

Mike Pence, who Donald Trump appointed to lead the administration's response to a coronavirus outbreak, was caught wiping his nose moments before he shook hands with US officials as the president announced plans to combat the virus.

Pence has been attacked as a controversial "anti-science" pick to lead White House efforts to contain an outbreak of a flu-like respiratory illness that has sickened thousands of people around the globe and forced US officials to order hundreds of people to medical monitoring or mandatory quarantines to prevent the spread of the virus.

His appointment has placed his record on public health under scrutiny, from his lack of medical experience to his dangerously slow response to an HIV/AIDS outbreak in Indiana, where he served as governor.

In 2014, Trump criticised then-president Barack Obama's appointment of advisor Ron Klein as the administration's "Ebola czar" for having "zero experience in the medical arena" and infectious disease control.

Trump defended his attack, saying that Ebola was a more-serious outbreak than the latest coronavirus.

Pence has also been charged with coordinating all virus-related public statements and information, which reportedly must meet White House approval before release.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that he has to clear public statements with the administration before their release.

Pence also appointed Larry Kudlow to the government's coronavirus task force after the National Economic Council director had declared that the US has "contained" the virus ("it's pretty close to airtight").

Following his announcement, California reported that more than 8,400 people are under medical monitoring, and a federal government whistleblower accused the administration of sending health workers to evacuate Americans from China without any training or protective gear, potentially exposing others to the virus from its epicentre in Wuhan.

Trump's latest move follows his fury with health officials who contradicted his more optimistic assessment of the administration's handling of the outbreak as he tried to calm market fears during one of the worst weeks on Wall Street since the financial crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged that people avoid touching their eyes, mouth and nose, and to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching their nose, or coughing or sneezing, especially before touching another person.

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