From the editor: the vision of Bill Gates

The founder of Microsoft's take on the COVID-19 crisis

Bill Gates (photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)
Bill Gates
(photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who recently pledged $50 million via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop a vaccine against coronavirus, warned of a viral epidemic in a 2015 TED Talk. 

In the talk entitled, “The next outbreak? We’re not ready,” Gates – the world’s second richest person after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – urged the world to prepare for a pandemic.

Noting that the 2014 Ebola outbreak caught countries by surprise, Gates said that while the greatest threat to humanity when he was growing up was nuclear war, the greatest threat now is a virus.

“The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola,” he said. “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 – not missiles, but microbes.” 

Gates recently told a TED Connects program that total isolation for six to 10 weeks was the only viable option for the United States to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. He argued that the US had missed the critical period to develop comprehensive testing that could have been used as an alternative to total nationwide isolation.

“We did not act fast enough to have an ability to avoid this shutdown. It’s January when everybody should’ve been put on notice,” Gates said. “There really is no middle ground; It’s very tough to say, ‘Keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner.’ It’s very irresponsible to suggest to people they can have the best of both worlds.” 

He reiterated that the US – and of course, other countries as well – need to maintain isolation at this moment to avoid devastating outcomes such as those in Wuhan and northern Italy. Still, Gates sounded a note of optimism, saying that the world’s experience with coronavirus will enable us to better prepare for the next pandemic.

Israel, although appearing to be ahead of the curve, declared a lockdown only on March 25, barring the public from walking more than 100 meters from their homes unless they had to perform vital work or tasks, such as shopping for groceries. Although the Jewish state was in a better situation than the US, it should have followed the advice of health authorities (and Gates) and followed China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan in ordering a shutdown much earlier.

While there has been much panic on social media, what really moved me recently was an open letter, purportedly written by Gates, titled  “What is the Corona/COVID-19 virus really teaching us?” It turns out that the letter, which went viral on social media, was bogus, fueling concerns about the spread of fake news surrounding COVID-19. I don’t know who actually wrote it, but its message regarding coronavirus is profound. 

“It is reminding us we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation, or how famous we are,” the letter said. “It is reminding us we are all connected and something that affects one person has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value as this virus does not need a passport. It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression.”

As the Jewish people prepare to celebrate its freedom from slavery and oppression in Egypt – the festival of Passover – in the time of coronavirus, let’s remind ourselves that, as the late Israeli singer Meir Ariel sang, “we survived Pharaoh, and we’ll survive this too.“                            
– Steve Linde