The coronavirus epidemic has wrought “enormous” global damage on health, wealth and wellbeing, but lockdowns were necessary to avoid millions of deaths, according to tech titan Bill Gates.
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The Microsoft founder, who has dedicated his retirement to addressing global health issues, said it was “reasonable” for people to ask whether such drastic behavior change, such as social distancing, was necessary.
“Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. There might be a few areas where the number of cases would never have gotten large numbers of infections and deaths, but there was no way to know in advance which areas those would be,” he said in his blog.
“The change allowed us to avoid many millions of deaths and extreme overload of the hospitals, which would also have increased deaths from other causes.”
However, he said the economic cost that has been paid to reduce the infection rate was unprecedented.
“The drop in employment is faster than anything we have ever experienced. Entire sectors of the economy are shut down. It is important to realize that this is not just the result of government policies restricting activities. When people hear that an infectious disease is spreading widely, they change their behavior.”
Gates said the COVID-19 pandemic—the first modern pandemic—will define this era.
“No one who lives through Pandemic I will ever forget it. And it is impossible to overstate the pain that people are feeling now and will continue to feel for years to come.”
“This is like a world war, except in this case, we’re all on the same side,” he wrote.
Gates showed remarkable prescience in 2015 when he delivered a speech in which he predicted a coronavirus pandemic.
Innovation is the key to limiting the damage – such as breakthroughs in testing, treatments, vaccines, and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies, he added.
The billionaire businessman also warned of the “stunning” effects of exponential increases and declines in infection rates.
“A lot of people will be stunned that in many places we will go from hospitals being overloaded in April to having lots of empty beds in July. The whiplash will be confusing, but it is inevitable from the exponential nature of infection,” Gates wrote on his personal blog.
“As behavior goes back to normal, some locations will stutter along with persistent clusters of infections and some will go back into exponential growth. The picture will be more complex than it is today, with a lot of heterogeneity.”
Gates recently recorded a video in which he praised health workers as heroes.