Five years after his prophetic Ted Talk in which he predicted how unprepared the world was for an epidemic, billionaire Bill Gates and comedian Trevor Noah recently discussed the debilitating coronavirus pandemic.
In 2015, Gates, who is the founder of Microsoft, gave a talk in which he imagined a scenario that revealed just how unprepared the world would be in the face of an outbreak of a highly contagious disease.
“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s more likely to be a highly infections virus, rather than a war," said Gates during the 2015 talk.
Gates talked about the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, which caused an estimated 30 million to 50 million deaths globally, as an example of how terrible a virus outbreak can be.
Going straight to the point in his April 3 show, Noah first got Gates to react to some of the conspiracy theories that have sprouted since coronavirus broke out in December 2019.
“I didn’t know specifically that it would be coronavirus and that it would be in late 2019. But the goal of the talk was to encourage governments to make the investments so we can very quickly keep the case numbers very low. And so sadly, this is not a case of I told you so. We didn’t use that time, to have the diagnostics ready…Most of what was called for, those things didn’t get done and that is why it is taking a long time to get our act together,” said Gates.
The billionaire said that the world was very lucky because Ebola and Zika viruses didn’t transmit very quickly. According to the Centres for Disease Control, there were 28,616 Ebola cases and 11,310 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra leone. Additional 15 deaths occurred when the outbreak spread outside the three countries.
“This keeps me up at night, more than war, which is no small thing,” said Gates, adding that “and yet, in terms of being systematic about, OK, let’s run a simulation and see how we would reach out to the private sector for tests or ventilators, and what kind of quarantine we would do — as we enter into this, we haven’t practiced at all. Every state is being forced to figure things out on their own. It’s very ad hoc. It’s not like when a war comes and we’ve done 20 simulations of various types of threats and we’ve made sure that the trainings, communications, the logistics, all those pieces, fall into place very rapidly.”
In February 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Gates donated $100 million towards Covid-19 relief and is involved in the projection and modelling of what is going to happen.
But Gates said that the ultimate solution is the creation of a vaccine to stop further spread worldwide for vast immunity.
“Countries have differences. South Korea did get a medium-size infection and then they used testing, enforced quarantine and contact tracing and really bend the curve even though it looked pretty scary for a while. The epidemic in the US is more widespread than it ever got for South Korea. So we are like the part of China, Hubei Province in Wuhan,” said Gates.
The billionaire lauded China for containing the virus and being able to send people back into the labour market.
There isn’t a choice where you get to say to people don’t pay attention to this epidemic. Most people have older relatives The idea of a normal economy is not there as a choice. 80 percent of the people are going to change their activities. If you get the other 20 percent to go along, then the curve will flatten the cases will go down and then you can open a lot of things like schools but not sports events,” said Gates.
For the US, Gates said that the country should prioritise testing of the right people, those who are symptomatic and close contacts.”
More important, the philanthropist said that the speed with which coronavirus test results are given will be key in turning the tide.
“We will get unusual measures until we get the world vaccinated,” said Gates.
Gates warned that there could be worse epidemics than coronavirus.