Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has a lot of experience with global public health issues through his work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On Wednesday, Gates participated in an Ask Me Anything Q&A on Reddit, inviting questions about COVID-19 specifically or epidemics and pandemics more generally. Gates’ foundation has committed up to $100 million to help with the global response to the virus, adding an additional $5 million for Gates’ home state, Washington, which has been hit hard.
Gates noted that testing for the disease is still scattered and uneven.
“The testing in the US is not organized yet,” he said. “In the next few weeks, I hope the government fixes this by having a website you can go to to find out about home testing and kiosks. Things are a bit confused on this right now. In Seattle, the U of W is providing thousands of tests per day but no one is connected to a national tracking system.
Some of Gates’ responses could be viewed as encouraging. When asked how long the outbreak would last, Gates responded that while it would vary by country, there are ways to limit the length a nation would be affected.
“China is seeing very few cases now because their testing and ‘shut down’ was very effective,” he wrote. “If a country does a good job with testing and ‘shut down,’ then within 6-10 weeks they should see very few cases and be able to open back up.”
How many will get it?
When asked about how much of the world’s population might be affected, Gates worried about the effect on the poorest countries.
“Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore acted quickly and will have very few cases,” he said. “Even China will stay at a low level of their population (less than .01%) so far. Thailand is another exemplar. Unfortunately, in poorer countries, doing social distancing is much harder. People live in close proximity and need to work to get their food, so there could be countries where the virus will spread broadly.”
When could a vaccine appear?
Gates also addressed the work on a vaccine. One reader asked if the commonly cited 18-month timeline for vaccine development could be sped up, and while he noted that this could happen, outlined the difficulty of the work.