The US missed chances to slow the spread of coronavirus, a senior health official has admitted.
In an article, Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said America "didn't recognise" the scale of the crisis when it was first unfolding.
Limited testing and a sluggish response in understanding how the virus was arriving into the US from Europe contributed to a rise in Covid-19 cases from late February, Dr Schuchat said.
The coronavirus was first reported late last year in China, the initial epicentre of the global pandemic, but the US has since become the hardest-hit nation.
Dr Schuchat said: “We clearly didn't recognise the full importations that were happening.”
The article, published by the CDC, looked back on the US response, recapping some of the major decisions and events of the last few months.
It suggested the nation's top public health agency missed opportunities to slow the spread.
US president Donald Trump has repeatedly celebrated a federal decision, announced on 31 January, to stop entry into the US of any foreign nationals who had travelled to China in the previous fortnight.
China had imposed its own travel restrictions earlier, and travel out of its outbreak areas did indeed drop dramatically.
But in her article, Dr Schuchat noted that nearly two million travellers arrived in the US from Italy and other European countries during February, with the government not blocking travel from there until mid-March.
She said: “The extensive travel from Europe, once Europe was having outbreaks, really accelerated our importations and the rapid spread.
“I think the timing of our travel alerts should have been earlier.”
Dr Schuchat said she felt there was an evolving public understanding of the worsening coronavirus situation, as well as a change in what kind of measures – including stay-at-home orders – people were willing to accept.
She said: “I think that people's willingness to accept the mitigation is unfortunately greater once they see the harm the virus can do.
“There will be debates about should we have started much sooner, or did we go too far too fast.”
Dr Schuchat's article still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, said Dr Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan.
He said it omits detail of what kind of proposals were made, and perhaps ignored, during the critical period before US cases began to take off in late February.
He said: “I want to know ... the conversations, the memos, the presidential edicts.
“Because I still believe this did not need to be as bad as it turned out.”
Additional reporting by AP
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