01 March 2020
New Delhi: Saying that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen the world has been worried about, Bill Gates has called upon donor governments to help low- and middle-income countries prepare for this "pandemic", in addition to helping their own citizens respond.
"By helping countries in Africa and South Asia get ready now, we can save lives and also slow the global circulation of the virus," the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist wrote in his GatesNotes blog on Friday.
"In any crisis, leaders have two equally important responsibilities: solve the immediate problem and keep it from happening again. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent case in point. The world needs to save lives now while also improving the way we respond to outbreaks in general," Gates wrote.
While saving lives is the "more pressing" need, the second point has "crucial long-term consequences".
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation earlier this month announced that it would immediately commit up to $100 million for the global response to the novel coronavirus.
A significant portion of the commitment that the foundation made is focused particularly on developing countries, Gates said in the blog post.
Explaining why COVID-19 is a big threat, Gates pointed out that the virus can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems.
"The data so far suggests that the virus has a case fatality risk around 1 per cent; this rate would make it several times more severe than typical seasonal influenza and would put it somewhere between the 1957 influenza pandemic (0.6 per cent) and the 1918 influenza pandemic (2 per cent)," Gates said.
"Second, COVID-19 is transmitted quite efficiently. The average infected person spreads the disease to two or three others.
"That's an exponential rate of increase. There is also strong evidence that it can be transmitted by people who are just mildly ill or not even showing symptoms yet," he added.
Gates warned that COVID-19 will be much harder to contain than Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which were only spread by those showing symptoms and were much less efficiently transmitted.
"In fact, COVID-19 has already caused 10 times as many cases as SARS in just a quarter of the time," he said.
"The good news is that national, state, and local governments and public health agencies can take steps over the next few weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19," Gates wrote.
Saying that the world also needs to accelerate work on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, he warned, "There is no time to waste."