A week after stepping down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway, Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft and the second-richest person in the world with a net worth $97.8 billion, took to reddit for an Ask Me Anything on the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, sharing his thoughts on how best to deal with the outbreak and its possible long-term effects on the world.
- A TED Talk by Gates from 2015 recently emerged called “The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready,” given during the Ebola epidemic, but as the White House administration faces criticism for not reacting quick enough, Gates reiterated that, “We did know it would happen at some point, either with a flu or some other respiratory virus…There was almost no funding.”
- Following the eventual end of the pandemic, Gates hopes that countries can work together to better prepare for similar situations, including the “need to have the ability to scale up diagnostics, drugs and vaccines very rapidly…the technologies exist to do this well if the right investments are made”; the $100 million his and his wife Melinda’s Gates Foundation donated to fight the coronavirus is focused on those three areas.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this week said that mass production of a vaccine would likely not occur for another 12-18 months, and Gates concurred, saying that lots of manufacturing will need to be built to provide “billions of vaccines to protect the world” and that the first vaccines, which would “go to healthcare workers and critical workers…could happen before 18 months if everything goes well, but we and Fauci and others are being careful not to promise this when we are not sure.”
- A study released this week by Imperial College in the UK stated that even with mitigation, the U.S. could see around 1 million deaths from the coronavirus, but Gates cautioned that “the parameters used in that model were too negative,” pointing to China as “the most critical data we have” and that its social distancing approach was “able to reduce the number of cases.”
- Responding to a question on the Netherlands’ “controlled distribution” strategy, Gates countered saying “The only model that is known to work is a serious social distancing effort (‘shut down’),” estimating that “If a country does a good job with testing and ‘shut down’ then within 6-10 weeks they should see very few cases and be able to open back up”; however, he also admitted that “The U.S is still not organized on testing.”
- Gates called for a “national tracking system similar to South Korea, saying that “in Seattle, the [University of Washington] is providing thousands of tests per day but no one is connected to a national tracking system” and that “Whenever there is a positive test it should be seen to understand where the disease is and whether we need to strengthen the social distancing.”
- With social distancing and many of his other answers, though, he addressed the difficult schism between wealthy and developing nations, saying that “rich countries” that push for testing and practice social distancing should avoid high levels of infection within 2-3 months, though, “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.”
Crucial Quote: Gates addressing a now deleted question: “My retiring from public boards was not related to the epidemic but it does reinforce my decision to focus on the work of the foundation including it’s work to help with the epidemic.”
Key Background: Gates, who is now focusing more on the Gates Foundation, was joined by the foundation’s global health lead Dr. Trevor Mundel and his chief scientific adviser, Dr. Niranjan Bose.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 214,894 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 8,732 reported deaths. Along with the White House’s recommendation to avoid groups of over 10 people, some cities and counties in the U.S., like the Bay Area in California, may soon order “shelter in place” measures to further curb the spread of the virus.