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Bill Gates warned of coronavirus risk in 2015

Lucy Dean
Pictured: Microsoft's Bill Gates, woman wearing face mask amid coronavirus outbreak. Images: Getty
Bill Gates has long warned of a global illness threat. Images: Getty

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates sounded the alarm on the huge threat of a global pandemic in 2015, calling for the world to prepare for mass illness in the way it prepares for war.

The tech billionaire said the Ebola crisis acted as a wake up call for the world to act on the risk of a pandemic. A pandemic is when an epidemic spreads across different countries.

“NATO plays war games to check that people are well-trained and prepared. Now we need germ games," he said.

"We don’t need to hoard cans of spaghetti, or go down to the basement, but we need to get going," he said. "Time is not on our side."

He reiterated his calls in 2018, warning that a flu pandemic could wipe out as many as 33 million people around the world within six months, citing research from the Institute for Disease Modeling.

The 1918 flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people internationally - more than the total WWI casualties.

The novel coronavirus, which can cause pneumonia, has claimed 81 lives among 2,700 cases. Health authorities have found coronavirus cases in China, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the United States, and Australia.

"In the case of biological threats, that sense of urgency is lacking," Gates said in 2018, noting the risk of a deliberately-spread disease.

“This preparation includes staging simulations, war games and preparedness exercises so that we can better understand how diseases will spread and how to deal with responses such as quarantine and communications to minimize panic.”

And in early January 2019, less than a year before the coronavirus outbreak, Gates said he still loses sleep over the risk of a global epidemic.

He said while climate change and terrorism “rightly” occupy people’s thoughts, a global epidemic is the most likely event to cause the deaths of “tens of millions of people in a short time”.

Gates said he considered the threat from flu to be the greatest, given its ability to spread through the air.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Sunday announced it would commit US$10 million in “emergency funds” to help frontline responders contain the spread of the coronavirus, and to help African countries develop their protection.

Coronavirus simulation kills 65 million

Blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive. Image: Getty
A simulation of a coronavirus risk last year returned terrifying results. Image: Getty

The World Economic Forum, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security last year ran a simulation of a coronavirus outbreak which was transmitted from bats to pigs to people, and eventually to other people.

Modelled on SARS, the simulation suggested 65 million people could die within 18 months.

“The next severe pandemic will not only cause great illness and loss of life but could also trigger major cascading economic and societal consequences that could contribute greatly to global impact and suffering,” the group said in a statement on 17 January this year.

“Efforts to prevent such consequences or respond to them as they unfold will require unprecedented levels of collaboration between governments, international organizations, and the private sector.”

In a statement this year, the three said governments, organisations and the business world will need to work together to combat the spread.

This includes using the assets of logistical and social media companies to reduce the spread and get resources to the affected areas.

Those groups also need to work together to maintain travel and trade, for the sake of global and local economies. More funding needs to be put into developing and stockpiling a vaccine, and governments and the private sector need to work with traditional and social media companies to reduce the threat of misinformation.

“This will require developing the ability to flood media with fast, accurate, and consistent information,” the three said.

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