Bill Gates has a stark message for U.S. leaders: Shut down the country “everywhere” — and now — to quell the spread of the coronavirus. Failing to do so would be a “recipe for disaster,” he warned.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist said the U.S. had already “missed the opportunity to get ahead” of the virus. But, he stressed, it wasn’t too late for mitigating actions.
“The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one” because of COVID-19, Gates wrote.
He recommended three immediate steps that need to be taken.
First, the country needs “a consistent nationwide approach to shutting down,” Gates said.
“Despite urging from public health experts, some states and counties haven’t shut down completely. In some states, beaches are still open; in others, restaurants still serve sit-down meals. This is a recipe for disaster. Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus. The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere,” he wrote.
Gates estimated that it could take 10 weeks or more for case numbers to start decreasing across the country ― and until then, “no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown.”
“Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return, and cause more deaths,” he wrote.
Secondly, the federal government needs to ramp up its testing efforts. That means making more tests available and developing more efficient testing methods ― and ensuring that high-priority individuals, including health-care workers and first responders, as well as symptomatic people who are at risk of becoming seriously ill, are tested first.
Finally, Gates said it was critical for the U.S. to adopt a “data-based approach” to developing treatments for the virus and, as soon as possible, a vaccine.
In a 2015 TED talk, Gates predicted that the world could face a catastrophic pandemic.
“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war,” Gates said at the time, adding that “we’re not ready” to handle such a crisis.
In his op-ed this week, Gates recalled that TED talk and said the world still has “a long way to go” to prepare itself for pandemics of this kind.
“But I still believe that if we make the right decisions now, informed by science, data and the experience of medical professionals, we can save lives and get the country back to work,” he wrote.
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