Bill Gates gave a TED talk five years ago in which he warned that the world wasn’t ready for the next pandemic.
The co-founder of Microsoft and billionaire philanthropist highlighted the dangers of a worldwide outbreak and explained what needed to be put in place to deal with it.
This week, he spoke on an hour-long TED broadcast and when asked if anyone heeded his warning replied ‘not really, no’.
Gates’ words seem eerily prescient and the tech legend, who now runs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has spoken at length about how we must now work together to overcome the coronavirus.
He had particularly blunt words for US President Donald Trump who said this week that he wants ‘the country opened up again’ by Easter.
‘It’s very tough to say to people, ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner, we want you to keep spending because there’s some politician that thinks GDP growth is what counts,’ Gates told TED founder Chris Anderson from his home in Seattle.
‘It’s hard to tell people during an epidemic … that they should go about things knowing their activity is spreading this disease.’
Gates acknowledged that the shutdown in the US will be ‘disastrous’ for the country’s economy – something just as applicable to the UK as our own lockdown takes hold.
He also reiterated how long he feels the shutdown needs to be in place to contain the virus. According to Gates, it will take between six and ten weeks of shutdown to turn the tide. Crucially, this timeframe isn’t to conquer the virus but rather to allow the American health service to cope with the influx.
‘A big thing is to go along with the ‘shutdown’ approach in your community so that the infection rate drops dramatically to let us go back to normal as soon as possible,’ Gates wrote in a Reddit ask-me-anything session last week.
‘If you don’t do this, then the disease will spread to a high percentage of the population, and your hospitals will be overloaded with cases. So this should be avoided despite the problems caused by the shutdown.’
He pointed out that wealthy countries, such as the UK and US, will likely fare better than developing nations.
‘With the right actions, including the testing and social distancing, within 2-to-3 months, the rich countries should have avoided high levels of infection,’ he wrote.
‘I worry about all the economic damage, but even worse will be how this will affect the developing countries who cannot do the social distancing the same way as rich countries and whose hospital capacity is much lower.
‘Most rich countries should be able to achieve a low level of infections. Some developing countries will not be able to do that.’
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