Philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has warned against re-opening the economy.
“There really is no middle ground, and 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’,” Mr Gates said in an interview with TED. “We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts. It’s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest that we can have the best of both worlds.”
Mr Gates referred to January, when human to human transmission of Covid-19 was confirmed, as “the lost month” when “everyone should have been on notice”. He also compared the US’s delayed response to South Korea, where government-funded testing intensified in February, possibly allowing the country to avoid the widespread lockdowns of Italy and China.
“The US has passed the opportunity to control this without shutdown,” he said.
Mr Gates offered some good news by saying that the US has enough PCR machines, used to test for Covid-19. He compared the virus to MERS and SARS, saying it is more infectious but not as fatal and that the death rate doesn’t have to be “a gigantic number” if we do the right things.
“Yet the disruption we’re seeing in order to knock it down is completely unprecedented,” he said.
Mr Gates did not specify what the disruption he referred to was, but he did go on to critique government action.
“Well, you’d like to have government money show up for these kinds of activities,” he said before noting the $100 million he donated to Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative to identify and develop possible treatments for Covid-19.
On Monday, Donald Trump said his administration would re-evaluate the economic shutdown after the end of the 15-day period.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” Mr Trump said during a White House briefing. “America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
In his Tuesday briefing, Mr Trump said that he wanted to aim Americans to be working again on Easter, which falls on April 12 this year. This was a point he also made in a virtual town hall with Fox News.
There were more than 50,000 confirmed cases in the US by Tuesday afternoon, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Health experts have recommended continuing business closures and being cautious.
When asked what he would do if he was president, Mr. Gates said that he understood the economic impact but emphasized that, at this time, he wanted to prioritize health during the pandemic.
“The economic effect of this is really dramatic. Nothing like this has ever happened to the economy in our lifetimes,” he said. “But bringing the economy back… that’s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life. So we’re going to take the pain in the economic dimension — huge pain — in order to minimize the pain in the diseases-and-death dimension.”