I hear Anthony Fauci before I see him. Out of view of our video call, he asks his tech assistant: “Have you wiped down the table?” The assistant, who has already sprayed down the 79-year-old’s chair, hurries to disinfect the desk. The top adviser on the White House’s coronavirus task force cannot afford to fall ill.

Of all the unenviable jobs in this pandemic, Dr Fauci may have the trickiest. He is a leading public health scientist in a world growing suspicious of expertise; an affable self-described humanist in a society where sound bites get more play than sound advice. After 36 years as director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he is facing a challenge that eclipses even the epidemics he has previously battled — HIV/Aids and SARS.

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