In 2015 Bill Gates gave a TED talk. He predicted the current pandemic. He said, “. . . 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. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve 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. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse. In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned. . . . “
So Bill Gates and presumably others have predicted this moment for a while. But here’s the thing – in 1918 the Spanish flu infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll was estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. It is unlikely that the Coronavirus will be near that level, but we should be planning for many more virus’ and sooner rather than later we will get the big one.
Gates went on to say “ . . . The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. . . . So they are absolutely ready to go. . . . the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic. . . . First, we need strong health systems in poor countries. That’s where mothers can give birth safely, kids can get all their vaccines. But, also where we’ll see the outbreak very early on. We need a medical reserve corps: lots of people who’ve got the training and background who are ready to go, with the expertise. And then we need to pair those medical people with the military. taking advantage of the military’s ability to move fast, do logistics and secure areas. We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games, so that we see where the holes are. The last time a germ game was done in the United States was back in 2001, and it didn’t go so well. So far the score is germs: 1, people: 0. Finally, we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics.”
We need to cop on that Coronavirus isn’t the BIG one. It’s simply a DRILL. Given the awful process we are all going through, we could be forgiven for thinking this was a real, existential disaster. But it’s not. There are vast numbers of much more deadly pathogens out there, and mankind is actually making the likelihood of further pandemics much more likely. The real lesson we have to learn is how to prevent the big one.