Bill Gates: World Got Lucky With COVID-19

TBoth in human life as well as economic activity, the COVID-19 outbreak cost was staggering. Bill Gates thinks humanity is lucky that the virus wasn’t more destructive.

“I have to say, given the toll of this pandemic 20 million dead globally, a million in the U.S., and it could have been way more fatal. We just got lucky that the death rate per case was like 0.2%,” Gates told TIME senior correspondent Alice Park during the TIME 100 Summit in New York City on Tuesday.

Although the COVID-19 official death toll is approximately 6.3 million worldwide, experts believe that it is far higher. According to the World Health Organization, there was an excess of 14.9 millions deaths from the pandemic between 2020-2021.

Gates cautioned that similar luck should be expected in the event of a global pandemic. Considering how destabilizing the COVID-19 pandemic has been, if another virus emerges with similar virulence but a much higher fatality rate—say, 5%— it could be “society ending,” Gates said.

Gates thinks there might be another time. “The chance of another pandemic in the next 20 years, either natural or intentional, I’d say, is over 50%,” he said.

Such a warning is especially disturbing coming from a person like Gates, who has spent more than two decades fighting humanity’s greatest threats through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In that time, Gates has built a reputation as one of the world’s greatest optimists when it comes to the ability of science to change the world. Gates’ investments in science have contributed to the saving of many lives. These include funding research and investment for the development of new malaria vaccines.

Though Gates has not been shy to raise the alarm when the world is in danger—such as, in 2015, when he warned that the world wasn’t ready for a viral outbreak, he isn’t a doomsayer. In fact, he’s repeatedly argued that pandemics aren’t inevitable. He has even published a book titled “The End of Pandemics”. How to Avoid the Next Pandemic. As Gates explained in his interview with TIME, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique opportunity to prevent another pandemic from ever happening again—but only if the world is willing to make key investments.

This includes improving technology such as vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics; building health systems and global monitoring for diseases. Gates stressed that this is necessary for both poor and rich countries. He said that it was important to have scientists in all corners of the globe with the tools they need to detect outbreaks early and bring them under control quickly. Gates also stated that the time frame to do so was critical during the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

To improve global disease monitoring, Gates argues for the creation of what he calls a “Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization” team, which would be comprised of 3,000 infectious disease experts and would be managed by the World Health Organization. The group could also be used to conduct disease-outbreak drills across countries in order to assess their readiness.

Gates stated that it would be roughly one billion dollars per year to fund such a team. But, he noted, given the societal cost of COVID-19, that’s a bargain if it means heading off another pandemic.

TIME 100 Summit extends the TIME 100 List of 100 most influential persons in the world. This summit gathers global leaders from TIME 100 to discuss solutions and promote action for a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Muzaieva, editor in chief of TIME and Salesforce chairs and co-CEO Marc Benioff is also the editor.

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