Less than an hour after the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 novel coronavirus a pandemic on Wednesday, Reuters reported that the Trump White House had ordered federal officials to treat top-level meetings about the coronavirus outbreak as classified, an unusual move that has restricted how the government can respond to the crisis, according to officials quoted in the report.
According to Reuters, which cited four unnamed Trump administration officials, meetings that discussed such topics as the scope of infections, travel restrictions and quarantines have been held in a high-security Department of Health and Human Services room since mid-January.
Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said.
“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”
The sources told the news outlet that the National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on security issues, ordered the classification.
”This came directly from the White House,” one official said.
The White House insistence on secrecy prevented information from being shared, and potentially delayed the administration’s response to the crisis, according to the report.
The WHO on Wednesday declared coronavirus a global pandemic, due to the “alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus.
NSC spokesperson John Ullyot told Reuters, “From day one of the response to the coronavirus, NSC has insisted on the principle of radical transparency,” adding that the administration “has cut red tape and set the global standard in protecting the American people under President Trump’s leadership.”