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Rick Bright told the hearing he had raised issues as early as January

A former top US health official has told Congress “lives were lost” because of government “inaction” in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Rick Bright led the US government agency trying to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, but was removed from his role last month.

He has previously said he was ousted from his post for raising concerns over a treatment touted by President Trump.

The US leader dismissed him as a “disgruntled” employee

Mr Bright told Congress he first spoke out about a medical equipment shortage in January, but “got no response”.

Testifying before a House of Representatives panel on readiness for the outbreak, he also warned the US’s “window of opportunity” to deal with the coronavirus was “closing”.

“If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged,” he said.

“Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

Mr Bright told the subcommittee on health that in January he received an email he would “never forget” – it was from a supplier of medical-grade face masks, who was warning of a severe shortage.

“He said… we need to act. And I pushed that forward to the highest level that I could of [the Department of Health and Human Services] – and got no response.”

Mr Bright also said his removal from his post was the result of his insisting that money allocated by Congress to deal with the virus should be put “into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit”.

“I spoke out then, and I am testifying today, because science – not politics or cronyism – must lead the way to combat this deadly virus,” he added.