Bill Gates says more innovations needed to make people open to public life post-pandemic

indica News Bureau-

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, investor and philanthropist on Thursday in his blog said that the coronavirus pandemic had changed peoples’ behaviors to keep away from the pandemic and recovering the economy after the modern pandemic will be a herculean task. He added that it will take more innovations to make people feel safe by to step out in public places.

He wrote, “The economic cost that has been paid to reduce the infection rate is unprecedented. The drop in employment is faster than anything we have ever experienced. The entire sectors of the economy are shut down. It is important to realize that this is not just the result of government policies restricting activities. When people hear that an infectious disease is spreading widely, they change their behavior. There was never a choice to have a strong economy of 2019 in 2020.”

He added that while some people will immediately go back to doing everything that is allowed, some will take longer.

“Even as a government relaxes restrictions on behavior, not everyone will immediately resume the activities that are allowed. It will take a lot of good communication so that people understand what the risks are and feel comfortable going back to work or school”, wrote Gates.

Gates said that the dramatic shutdowns of cities and countries worldwide have been necessary to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, despite the enormous societal costs.

He wrote, “It is reasonable for people to ask whether the behavior change was necessary. Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. The change allowed us to avoid many millions of deaths and extreme overload of the hospitals, which would also have increased deaths from other causes.”

Gates noted that even without strong government actions, people would have changed their behaviors in the face of rapid global spread of the dangerous virus.

He further insisted on increasing testing to defeat the virus. ” It is impossible to defeat an enemy we cannot see. So testing is critical to getting the disease under control and beginning to re-open the economy.” He added, “The countries that reacted quickly to do lots of testing and isolation avoided large-scale infection. The benefits of early action also meant that these countries didn’t have to shut down their economies as much as others.”

Talking about third world countries that face problems like malnutrition and high reproduction rate, he noted, “…the less developed a country’s economy is, the harder it is to make the behavior changes that reduce the virus’s reproduction rate. If you live in an urban slum and do informal work to earn enough to feed your family every day, you won’t find it easy to avoid contact with other people. Also, the health systems in these countries have far less capacity, so even providing oxygen treatment to everyone who needs it will be difficult.”

Encouraging more study and research he said some basic things needed to be found out like, “Is the disease seasonal or weather dependent? , How many people who never get symptoms have enough of the virus to infect others? What about people who are recovered and have some residual virus—how infectious are they? , Why do young people have a lower risk of becoming seriously ill when they get infected?, What symptoms indicate you should get tested? , Which activities cause the most risk of infection? Who is most susceptible to the disease? ”

He added that after World War II, a lot of innovations took place and so will be the case with COVID-19 pandemic. “During World War II, an amazing amount of innovation, including radar, reliable torpedoes, and code-breaking, helped end the war faster. This will be the same with the pandemic. I break the innovation into five categories: treatments, vaccines, testing, contact tracing, and policies for opening up.”

Gates noted that in order for the public to feel confident to attend large public events like sporting events and concerts, treatment that are 95% effective need to be found out, and in case the treatment reduced deaths by less than 95%, a vaccine needs to be developed too. He noted options for treatments include those that harvest antibodies from the blood of survivors to help people combat the disease.

Gates suggested “One potential treatment that doesn’t fit the normal definition of a drug involves collecting blood from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, making sure it’s free of the coronavirus and other infections, and giving the plasma to people who are sick”, adding ” Another type of potential treatment involves identifying the antibodies produced by the human immune system that are most effective against the novel coronavirus.” He also suggested antivirals and immune system modulators as other potential treatments.

Vaccines would be the most obvious path back to normalcy, he said, but they and other needed interventions will require enormous investments if they are to be developed quickly.

“I think of this as the billions we need to spend so we can save trillions,” he said.

However, Gates warned that vaccines are not likely to be distributed equitably in the early days.

“Ideally, there would be global agreement about who should get the vaccine first, but given how many competing interests there are, this is unlikely to happen,” he wrote. “The governments that provide the funding, the countries where the trials are run, and the places where the pandemic is the worst will all make a case that they should get priority.”

He also warned it could be difficult to test the effectiveness of vaccines, given the fast-moving nature of the outbreak. They will need to be tested in areas where there is enough current spread to see if they actually are protective.

He added that most developed countries can will enter the second-phase of the pandemic in the next two months, which will be semi-normal, meaning that people can go out, but not as often, and not to crowded places. Picture restaurants that only seat people at every other table, and airplanes where every middle seat is empty. Schools are open, but you can’t fill a stadium with 70,000 people.

“The basic principle should be to allow activities that have a large benefit to the economy or human welfare but pose a small risk of infection,” he said.