Bill Gates says some of the world’s governments have handled the spread of Covid-19 better than others, but the billionaire won’t give any country a perfect mark.
“I wouldn’t say any country got it totally right,” Gates said in a recent interview at the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney, Australia, adding: “Nobody … gets an ‘A’ on this one.”
The Microsoft co-founder and health care philanthropist has both praised and criticized multiple world governments’ responses to the pandemic since the coronavirus’s initial spread in late 2019.
As early as March 2020, Gates argued that the U.S. “did not act fast enough” to take extreme quarantining measures, like shutting down businesses and issuing stay-at-home orders. He also said the country’s rollout of effective and accessible Covid tests was too slow.
“In the future, countries need to have dedicated personnel, and they need to practice how they connect up with the PCR diagnostic industry,” Gates said on Monday.
Gates, who published a book last year called “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” said he expects federal governments across the world to make those responses much easier before the next global viral outbreak. Poor Covid responses inspired government spending on future pandemic preparedness in multiple countries, he observed.
Some Covid responses have been better than others, Gates argued. He cited Australia “and about 7 other countries,” which he did not publicly name, noting that Australia’s rate of Covid deaths per capita is still among the lowest in the world. It’s currently just 21% of the U.S.’s coronavirus death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University’s data.
The countries that drew Gates’s praise “did population-scale diagnostics early on, and had quarantine policies associated with that [which] kept the level of infection low,” he explained. Gates also applauded Australia’s pandemic response last year, noting that the country quickly closed its international borders in March 2020.
The U.S. received high marks from Gates in one category: spending more than $30 billion to fund the research and development for coronavirus vaccines. The U.S. gave that money to companies in multiple countries, resulting in multiple effective Covid vaccines.
Gates’s advocacy for strong pandemic preparation isn’t new. In a 2015 TED Talk, he warned that an infectious virus could pose greater risk to the world’s population than nuclear war.
Yet on Monday, he said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the world’s relatively sluggish response to Covid’s spread: “Pandemics come along so rarely that it’s easy to be incompetent.”
Pandemic preparedness budgets in the U.S. were repeatedly cut in the decade leading up to 2020. In Gates’s ideal scenario, that won’t happen again in the U.S. or anywhere else.
Each five years, governments should run a “really comprehensive exercise at both country and regional levels” with groups like the World Health Organization to prepare for potential quarantining and diagnostics measures, Gates said.
“Epidemics, hopefully this will get us to take them seriously, at least for the next 20 or 30 years,” he added.