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In 2015, Bill Gates predicted an epidemic would kill millions. He says not enough was done to prepare us.

“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. We have invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents, but we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.”

Those are the words of billionaire Microsoft mastermind Bill Gates.

He said them during a TEDTalk in 2015, titled: The next outbreak? We’re not ready.

Five years later he was proven 100 per cent right, and now we’re paying the price with global deaths over 100,000 and rising.

WATCH: A snippet of Bill’s 2015 TEDTalk. Post continues after video.

Video via TEDTalks

During his 10-minute talk, Gates looked at Ebola as an example to explain his reasoning labelling the West African Ebola virus our “wake-up call”.

The epidemic, which lasted from 2014-2016, killed 11,300 people, and Gates said the reason the disease didn’t spread globally was due to pure luck (that it didn’t reach urbanised areas), the fact that it wasn’t airborne, and because of the hard work of health workers.

“Next time we might not be so lucky,” he said.

“You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious… where they get on a plane or go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse,” he said in the 2015 video.

Bill Gates ted talk
In the 2015 TEDTalk Gates warned that we need to prepare like we prepare for war. Image: TEDTalk.
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He even offered up a solution, warning that "if we have a worldwide flu epidemic, global wealth will go down by over three trillion dollars, and we'd have millions and millions of deaths".

While he couldn't offer up a price for his plan of action, he suggested "I am quite sure it's very modest compared to the potential harm".

He told the TEDTalk audience that we needed to prepare like we do for war.

"We need strong health systems in poor countries, we need a medical reserve corps, we need to pair those people with the military's ability to move fast, do logistics, and secure areas. We need to do simulations - germ games, not war games - so we see where the holes are. Finally we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics."

"If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic," he said.

Five years later, here we are. Very much under prepared for a global pandemic, caused by a virus that's shutdown the entire world as we know it, infecting close to two million people.

The current COVID-19 figures.

Chatting to Ellen DeGeneres overnight, Gates informed the talk show host of the work he has been doing to prepare as best he could, despite the government ignoring his pleas.

"Over the last five years, the foundation (the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation) and others did make investments in things like a coalition called CEPI that will help get the vaccine out faster than would otherwise have been the case," he told her.

 

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@ThisisBillGates is a smart, smart man. Watch tomorrow.

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The foundation also donated $100 million in February to help fight COVID-19, and has repurposed all of its disease work to the virus - so those working on polio eradication, or new drugs for HIV, have all been reprioritised.

"But only about five percent of what should have been done to get ready for this - because this is even worse than war - and yet the amount that was put into it, the amount we practiced, virtually nothing was done," he said.

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Gates noted that it's hard to prepare for something that might not eventuate, and says a widespread respiratory pandemic is something we haven't seen in 100 years.

He had hoped Ebola and then Zika virus, and then the anniversary of the 1918 Spanish flu, might have all helped to galvanise people.

But nothing on a big enough scale was done.

Citing the responses of other countries such as China and South Korea, Gates seemed optimistic about the possibility of flattening the curve with strict quarantine practices and an efficient testing system. But he says without a vaccine reaching every single person globally, we won't be "fully back to normal" for more than 18 months.

He thinks that we'll eventually return to school and work and restaurants, but there will be things like big public events where "the risk will outweigh the risk of a disease rebound".

Gates predicts that the economy is going to take a long time to bounce back for a few reasons, a big one being that people are going to be a lot more cautious about going out of their homes to spend money.

"It will take several years," he told Ellen. "But the good thing about the economy is that it will eventually come back."

What we can't reverse, he implored, are the deaths that are being felt across the globe.

Deaths he predicted back in 2015 that the world didn't take seriously enough.

Feature image: TEDTalk/EllenTube.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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