Bill Gates: Entire country needs to shut down for 6-10 weeks to effectively fight coronavirus

Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Bill Gates on CNN on Thursday night.

Bill Gates cautioned Thursday night that “there is no middle ground” in the fight against the novel coronavirus, calling for a coordinated effort to effectively shut down normal life across the United States to stop the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the long-term economic impact.

Answering questions from Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, Gates said the US won’t be in a position to return to regular life by Easter Sunday. Cooper did not mention President Trump by name, and the Microsoft co-founder is traditionally careful not to delve into politics, but the question was clear reference to the president’s stated goal to return the country to normal by Easter Sunday, April 12, a little more than two weeks away.

“No, it’s not realistic,” Gates said. “The numbers are still going up.”

In fact, he said, the country needs to go much further with a longer, coordinate shutdown to effectively turn back the spread of the disease.

“We’re entering to a tough period that if we do it right we’ll only have to do it once, for six to 10 weeks. It has to be the whole country,” Gates said. “We have to raise the level of testing and the prioritization of that testing quite dramatically in order to make sure we go through one shutdown so that we take the medical problem and really stop it before there’s a large number of deaths.”

The comments came hours after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US, estimated to number more than 81,000, surpassed every other country in the world, including China, where the outbreak began. Gates, has warned for years about the potential for an unchecked epidemic to result in as many as 10 million excess deaths. He has been increasingly outspoken in recent days about the need to take more aggressive action.

“This is kind of the nightmare scenario,” he said Thursday night, adding that he “wouldn’t have predicted exactly how slow and somewhat chaotic the response has been.”

Gates acknowledged the “gigantic price” price of shutting down the country and the economy, but said the alternative is worse.

“We do then get an economic problem which is why you want to minimize the amount of time. Having states go at different things or thinking you can do it county-by-county, that will not work. The cases will be exponentially growing anywhere you don’t have a serious shutdown,” he said, adding later, “Basically the whole country needs to do what was done in the part of China where they had these infections.”

The good news, he said, is that China’s shutdown has allowed the country to move past the disease.

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