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Bill Gates talks about the right approach to the Coronavirus Pandemic on TED Connect

The Time magazine once wrote that when Microsoft Cofounder Bill Gates looks at the world, he sees an inefficient, broken system, not unlike an application that needs to be debugged! In his recent talk with Chris Anderson, Head of TED, that lasted nearly an hour, Gates discussed the current Coronavirus pandemic in length.

Read on for salient points of this conversation, highlighting insights on the pandemic from the philanthropist himself. The discussion touched on the importance of testing and self-isolation, promising medical advancements, and what it will take for the world to overcome this crisis.

Bill’s Prediction on the Lack of Preparedness

In 2015, Gates had rightly predicted the global unpreparedness for a future epidemic. In his TED Talk titled “The Next Outbreak? We’re not ready”, he maintained that the world should be worrying about viruses over wars, but unfortunately, this is exactly what we are least prepared for. Now, in view of the current pandemic, he reiterates, “We will learn to pay attention to the sciences. Scientists are out there saying, ‘There’s this huge enemy coming. If we do nothing it’s going to take millions of lives, it’s gonna rip our planet’, so for God’s sake, act, politicians, do something.”

Warning About the Virus and Its Effect on Humanity

Last month, Bill Gates wrote on the coronavirus, calling it the once-in-a-century pandemic that people have been dreading. Human-to-human respiratory diseases that make you feel just a little sick in the early stage, letting you go about your daily life unknowingly infecting other people are the worst ones.

“When did it occur to you that unless we acted, this could be a very deadly pandemic?”
Gates responds, “In January, when we discussed that it was a human-to-human transmutable disease, we realized that it will be very difficult to contain.

The 2 Most Important Steps During the Pandemic

On Jan 23rd, China initiated a fairly extreme shutdown, which helped them dramatically reduce the spread. Meanwhile, South Korea did not have to go extreme, because their testing and containment protocols were efficient. Gates explains how testing and isolation are connected, emphasizing that testing is key, and can tell you if isolation is necessary. The goal is to contain the effects to only a small part of the population.

How can tech giants and leaders play a role in containment?

This week, the Gates Foundation revealed data describing how an individual swabbing up to the tip of the nose can accurately confirm the disease. This practice will essentially stop the spread to health workers who, at the moment, are risking their safety by carrying out these tests.

Additionally, the Gates foundation has also created a therapeutic accelerator for quick human trials, and has donated $100 million USD to aid testing and vaccines.

The Isolation Strategy Riddle

To the question “How long does isolation have to last? Is compromising the economy the price of victory against COVID19? Is this the wrong strategy?” Bill Gates had a phenomenal approach. Instead of a direct response, which is impractical given the nature of the situation, he considers the alternative, stating, “The other option is to tell people to live their normal lives, knowing that they will contribute to disease spread.

He goes on to say, “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. It’s hard to tell people during an epidemic … that they should go about things knowing their activity is spreading this disease.

Furthermore, he criticizes the meaningless argument that herd immunity will protect people until you affect half the population and pointed out the irresponsibility in the suggestion that we can have the best of both worlds. “We need the extreme shut down so that in 6-10 weeks if things go well, we can get back up.” says Gates.

“Even if we’re successful in bending the curve, no immunity has been built up. When you lift restrictions, won’t it blow up again?”

Gates responds, “The force of infection might be curbed by seasonality. Testing will tell you if you have to shut down more or open up.

An Enthusiastic Audience Member Asks:

“If you were president of the US for a month, what are the top 2-3 things you would do?”

Gates made it clear that this was not going to be easy. The economic impacts are drastic and unprecedented. He emphasized that bringing money back to the system is possible, while bringing people back to life is not.

In about 20 days you will see the curve flatten. Maintain the isolation. Take the pain in the economic dimension to minimize the pain in disease and death dimension.” says Gates.

How will ordinary citizens get access to the swab test? Does it have to be prescribed or can we order off Amazon?

Gates introduces a new option for testing, explaining that “there will be a website where you’ll input the situation and symptoms and they judge whether you’re a priority. You’ll be guided to a kiosk, possibly within 6 months or so, we can even send the kit home.” He mentions, however, that the government has not yet signed off these tests.

Is humanity moving in the right direction?

Gates’ insight on the direction of humanity is precisely what we all need to imbibe during these difficult times.

A pandemic is deadly, but science is on our side. We should be ready for the next epidemic. The costs of isolation will be tiny in comparison to the economic cost. In the short run, we will have more pain and difficulty, but I’m very positive that we will get out of this and then be prepared when the next epidemic arrives.


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