For most of us, coronavirus has been a huge surprise that’s in the process of turning our worlds upside down.
There’s certainly a sense that we’re only just learning the full extent of how Covid-19 will change our lives in the coming weeks.
But for some people, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the virus isn’t such a surprise.
The health research carried out by his charitable foundation might have given Gates a key insight into this area. Because he’s been warning for over a decade that the world was underprepared for a global pandemic.
Writing on his blog in January 2010, Gates brought up the H1N1 outbreak which generated plenty of headlines in 2009. He wrote:
But the real story isn’t how bad H1N1 was. The real story is that we are lucky it wasn’t worse because we were almost completely unprepared for it.
He said outbreak should be a “wake-up call” to plan for a future epidemic, writing:
More epidemics will come in the decades ahead and there is no guarantee we will be lucky next time.
In fairness, this talk was given in the middle of the Ebola epidemic, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue. But Gates looked ahead, saying:
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.
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.
In an interview with the BBC, Gates said he hopes that “some epidemic like a big flu doesn’t come along in the next 10 years” because the world wasn’t prepared. He said that the Ebola and Zika crises showed that the global systems for responding to emergencies were too weak.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Gates said that an airborne virus could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year, and could happen in the next 10 to 15 years.
Giving the Massachusetts Medical Society’s annual Shattuck Lecture, Gates noted that while life has kept getting better for most of the world.
There is one area, though, where the world isn’t making much progress, and that’s pandemic preparedness.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that there will be another deadly global pandemic.
The world needs to prepare for pandemics the way the military prepares for war.
He even said he’d voiced his concern to president Trump, who dissolved the pandemic office at the White House in 2018.
So there we have it.
Just because coronavirus feels like a surprise, doesn't mean there haven't been stark warnings before.