How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic | Bill Gates | Summary and Q&A

March 25, 2020
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How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic | Bill Gates


Whitney Pennington Rodgers interviews Bill Gates on the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent need for testing, isolation, and collaboration between nations.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍 Global public health systems: The state of global public health systems is of concern during these uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of preparedness and action taken in response to warnings of a major pandemic.
  • 🧠 Mental health: The focus on personal mental health during trying times is shifting to the state of global public health systems. The fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic are impacting everyone.
  • 🤝 Collaboration and cooperation: Collaboration between countries, tech giants, and leaders is crucial in isolating and containing the virus. The common enemy of the virus should unite humanity, rather than fuel xenophobia and blame.
  • ️ Timeframe and strategy: The isolation strategy aims to bend the curve and reduce the number of new cases, but it is uncertain how long the strategy needs to last. Lifting restrictions too soon may result in a resurgence of the virus. Vaccines and therapeutics are being developed, but they will take time to scale up and distribute worldwide.
  • 🌍 Developing countries: Developing countries, with limited resources and weaker health systems, may face higher fatality rates. The cost of shutting down the economy is challenging for these countries as many individuals earn very low wages and cannot afford to stay home.
  • 💉 Testing and innovation: Massive testing capacity, contact tracing, and isolation are key to controlling the virus. Self-tests, where individuals can swab themselves, have shown promise in scale-up. Collaboration between governments, private sectors, and organizations like the Gates Foundation is accelerating testing, therapeutics, and vaccine development.
  • 🌡️ Seasonality: Seasonality may play a role in containing the virus, with the force of infection potentially decreasing in the Northern Hemisphere during warmer months. However, the situation may worsen in the Southern Hemisphere during its fall and winter seasons.
  • 🌍 Global impact and future preparation: The COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant economic impact, but the focus should be on ensuring minimum disease and death rates. The world must learn from this crisis, invest in innovation and science, and be better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics. The experience gained from COVID-19 can inform climate change response as well.


Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta Whitney Pennington Rodgers: Hello and welcome to everyone joining us from around the globe. Thank you for being part of day two of our special series TED Connects. This week, we're bringing you interviews from some of the world's greatest minds to offer tools for us to navigate through and thrive i... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What did Bill Gates mention about the response to his warning about a major pandemic?

Bill Gates mentioned that very little was done in response to his warning about a major pandemic. Although some funding was provided for vaccine work, not much progress was made in developing diagnostics, antibodies, and antivirals. The lack of action has resulted in the current COVID-19 crisis.

Q: What is the key to controlling the pandemic according to Bill Gates?

According to Bill Gates, the key to controlling the pandemic is testing and isolation. Testing should be prioritized and scaled up to identify individuals who are infected, while isolation measures should be implemented to prevent further spread of the virus. These two measures are crucial in reducing the number of infections and preventing overwhelming healthcare systems.

Q: What is the predicted outcome for the COVID-19 pandemic?

Bill Gates predicts that with the right actions, the COVID-19 pandemic can be controlled and the number of deaths can be minimized. While the virus is highly infectious, it is not as fatal as other respiratory viruses such as SARS or MERS. The global response, including testing, isolation, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines, can help prevent a situation similar to the 1918 flu pandemic.

Q: How does Bill Gates view the economic impact of the pandemic?

Bill Gates recognizes that the economic impact of the pandemic is significant and will cause a lot of pain and difficulty for individuals and countries. However, he stresses that bringing the economy back is more reversible than bringing people back to life. The focus should be on minimizing the pain and death caused by the disease, even though it may result in economic hardships.

Q: Will countries collaborate and learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Bill Gates acknowledges that there is both cooperation and potential division among countries during the pandemic. While many countries are working together and sharing scientific knowledge and resources, there are also signs of xenophobia and blame. It is important for countries to collaborate, prioritize science, and come together to minimize the impact of the pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.


Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses the global public health systems and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlights the lack of preparedness despite previous warnings and emphasizes the importance of testing, isolation, and collaboration between nations. Gates also discusses the potential for therapeutics and vaccines, as well as the challenges faced by developing countries.

Questions & Answers

Q: What did Bill Gates warn about in his 2015 TED Talk and what has been the response to that warning?

In his 2015 TED Talk, Bill Gates warned about the world's lack of preparedness for a major pandemic. He highlighted the need for scientific advancements and resources to combat the risks posed by respiratory viruses. However, despite some efforts, little progress was made in the areas of diagnostics, antibodies, and antivirals, leading to a lack of preparedness for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How does the case fatality rate of COVID-19 compare to other diseases like smallpox and the flu?

COVID-19 has a case fatality rate that is lower than diseases like smallpox, which can kill 30 percent of those infected. While COVID-19 is highly infectious, it is not as fatal as diseases like MERS, SARS, or smallpox. However, the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 is due to its high infectivity and the need to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.

Q: Was it clear in January that the world was facing a major pandemic?

In January, it was evident that human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 was taking place, signaling the potential for a major pandemic. China implemented a shutdown on January 23, which helped reduce infection rates. This should have served as a wake-up call for governments around the world to prioritize testing, therapeutics, and vaccine development.

Q: What happened during the "lost month" of preparations in many countries, including the US?

The "lost month" refers to the period from January to February where little progress was made in terms of testing and other preparedness measures. The lack of coordination, government bureaucracy, and inadequate allocation of resources contributed to the delay in developing and implementing effective testing strategies.

Q: Is testing still a critical factor in controlling the spread of COVID-19?

Testing is essential in controlling the spread of the virus. Prioritizing testing for symptomatic individuals, especially healthcare workers, is crucial for preventing further infections and ensuring the safety of those working on the frontlines. The capacity and organization of testing need to be improved to meet the demand and target those most in need.

Q: Is there a risk in letting more people get infected to build up herd immunity?

Building herd immunity by allowing a significant portion of the population to get infected is not a responsible approach. It would result in overwhelming healthcare systems, higher case fatality rates, and prolonged economic impacts. The goal should be to keep infections to a minimum and prevent a complete overload of the medical system.

Q: How long does the isolation strategy need to last and can lifting restrictions lead to a resurgence of cases?

The duration of the isolation strategy depends on effectively reducing the infection rates and maintaining a reproduction number below one. Once the infection rates drop significantly, restrictions can be lifted gradually. Testing and contact tracing will be crucial in determining when and how to lift restrictions while monitoring the reproductive number to prevent a resurgence of cases.

Q: How can countries with limited resources and poor healthcare systems handle the COVID-19 pandemic?

Developing countries, particularly those in the Southern Hemisphere, face challenges in implementing social distancing and isolating strategies due to socioeconomic factors. Seasonality may have an impact on the spread of the virus. However, global efforts should focus on accelerating the development of affordable testing, therapeutics, and vaccines to minimize the impact on these countries.

Q: Can countries collaborate effectively to combat the pandemic, or are xenophobia and blame becoming obstacles?

Collaboration between nations is crucial in addressing the pandemic. While there are some signs of cooperation and scientific collaboration, there is also an unfortunate tendency for fear, blame, and xenophobia. To overcome this, we need to support each other and avoid a sense of "otherness," recognizing that the virus does not discriminate based on nationality or race.

Q: What are the prospects for scaling up testing and manufacturing self-tests?

The Gates Foundation is working with private sector partners and supporting the development of self-tests that can be mass-produced. The focus is on rapidly increasing testing capacity and ensuring the tests are accessible for those who need them. Collaboration with testing companies and the use of self-swabs can help expedite testing and make it more widely available.

Q: Will there be a need to test for antibodies in the future, and how can recovered individuals contribute to the response efforts?

Antibody testing may become important in the future to identify individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and have developed immunity. Recovered individuals may be able to donate blood serum with effective antibodies, potentially aiding in treatments. They may also play a role in community health worker tasks to relieve pressure on overwhelmed healthcare systems.


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the world's lack of preparedness for major outbreaks despite previous warnings. Testing, isolation, collaboration between nations, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines are crucial in controlling the spread of the virus and minimizing the economic and health impacts. While the impact may be more severe in developing countries, global efforts should focus on ensuring equitable access to testing and treatments. The world must learn from this experience and prepare for future outbreaks, recognizing the importance of science and cooperation.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The special series TED Connects features interviews with experts offering tools to navigate uncertain times.

  • Bill Gates discusses the lack of preparation for a pandemic, the importance of testing and isolation in controlling the spread of COVID-19, and the potential for therapeutics and vaccines in the future.

  • Gates emphasizes the need for global cooperation, especially in supporting developing countries with limited resources, and looks towards a future where we learn from this crisis and are better prepared for the next one.

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