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Bill Gates: Pandemic to define era

By LINDA DENG in Seattle | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-04-25 15:43
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Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak during the ''One World: Together at Home'' event, a special broadcast of music, comedy and personal stories celebrating those around the world on the frontlines of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the nonprofit group Global Citizen in this screenshot taken from a video on April 18, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates shared his views on the global coronavirus outbreak and why he believes the key to winning the battle is global innovation.

"The damage to health, wealth and well-being has already been enormous. This is like a world war, except in this case, we're all on the same side. Everyone can work together to learn about the disease and develop tools to fight it," Gates wrote in a 6,300-word post Thursday morning.

"I see global innovation as the key to limiting the damage. This includes innovations in testing, treatments, vaccines and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies and well-being."

Gates believes most developed countries will be moving into the second phase of the pandemic in the next two months. He said that life would be "semi-normal"-that is to say, times would be abnormal but not as abnormal as during the first phase. People will be able to go out again, "but not as often, and not to crowded places".

To offer a better sense of the gradual reopening in developed countries, Gates gave the example of Microsoft's operations in China, which has roughly 6,200 employees.

"So far about half are now coming in to work," Gates wrote. "(Microsoft China is) continuing to provide support to employees who want to work at home. They insist people with symptoms stay home. They require masks and provide hand sanitizer and do more intensive cleaning. Even at work, they apply distancing rules and only allow travel for exceptional reasons."

The post on is titled "Pandemic 1," a reference to COVID-19's status as "the first modern pandemic", as Gates put it. He said the pandemic will define this era in the same way that World War II did in its time. Continuing the World War II comparison, Gates cited the "amazing amount of innovation" that emerged from that era, including radar, torpedoes and code-breaking. He said he expected the same from the pandemic and he pointed to five categories of innovation: treatments, vaccines, testing, contact tracing and policies emerging from lockdown orders.

Gates said widespread testing would be critical as life starts to return to normal.

In addition to testing, he said contact tracing is also important to stopping the spread of the virus. China and South Korea require patients to turn over information about where they have been over the previous 14 days by looking at GPS information on their phones or examining their spending records.

Gates said most countries will use the approach that Germany is using, which requires interviewing everyone who tests positive and using a database to make sure there is follow-up with all contacts.

Gates' view on treatments for the virus is more pragmatic.

"Short of a miracle treatment, which we can't count on, the only way to return the world to where it was before COVID showed up is a highly effective vaccine that prevents the disease," he wrote."Unfortunately, the typical development time for a vaccine against a new disease is over five years."

Gates said he agrees with public health officials who believe that large-scale vaccination is likely 18 months away, with the United States entrepreneur adding "it could be as short as nine months or closer to two years".

Since the outbreak began, the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than $250 million to support development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines and to help strengthen African and South Asian health systems.

"At the same time, we are impressed with how the world is coming together to fight this fight. Every day, we talk to scientists at universities and small companies, CEOs of pharmaceutical companies or heads of government to make sure that the new tools I've discussed become available as soon as possible. And there are so many heroes to admire right now, including the health workers on the front line. When the world eventually declares the pandemic 1 over, we will have all of them to thank for it," Gates said.

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