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Entertainment & Arts

In 2015, Bill Gates predicted an epidemic would kill millions. Here’s what he says now

Bill Gates
Bill Gates appeared Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to discuss the coronavirus.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

No, “The Simpsons” did not predict the coronavirus outbreak. Neither did science-fiction author Dean Koontz, nor “Jeopardy!”

But Bill Gates came pretty close.

The billionaire Microsoft mastermind had an I-told-you-so moment Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” reflecting on a harrowing prediction he made during a 2015 TED Talk titled “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.”

“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,” he said at the time. “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.”

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While video-chatting with Gates from home, DeGeneres reminded the tech mogul of his prescient lecture now that the world is struggling to contain a public health crisis similar to what he outlined.

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“You predicted this would happen, and so I’m sure you’re very prepared because you knew this was going to happen,” the host said. “Do you feel like you prepared for this?”

“Well, the goal of the 2015 talk ... was so that the government would do the work to be ready for the next epidemic,” Gates replied. “That would have meant that we would have had diagnostics very quickly, drugs very quickly, even a vaccine — all of those things — dramatically faster than what we’re going through here.”

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The philanthropist also noted that he and his wife, Melinda Gates, have made efforts in the last five years to prepare for an epidemic through their foundation, which recently donated $100 million to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“We had epidemics like the Ebola epidemic in Africa that should have gotten us ready,” he said. “Then we had Zika. But a respiratory pandemic that’s very widespread, really, we haven’t seen anything like this for 100 years.”

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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 doesn’t foresee life going “back to normal until we have that phenomenal vaccine or therapeutics that are over 95% effective.” Echoing the projections of healthcare professionals and world leaders, Gates estimated such a solution won’t arrive for another 18 months.

Creating a vaccine capable of preventing the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will take many months — if not a year or more. These are the steps involved.

“I feel very confident that this time, we won’t ignore the potential for the next epidemic — that this is such a dramatic thing that has reshaped our lives and the economy and created so many tragedies, we will get ready,” he said. “I also think we have great examples of heroics where people are stepping up or communities are coming together to solve these problems.

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“And so although it’s very bad news and almost a worst-case scenario, the ingenuity of people, the compassion of people ... hopefully this will renew our sense that we’re in this together in our communities, in our country and in the world.”


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