Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Tuesday said that the United States missed its opportunity to control the outbreak of the novel coronavirus without a shutdown, arguing that the government did not "act fast enough" to avoid this.
"We need to shut down so that the worst case that was happening in [Wuhan, China] or Northern Italy, that we avoid that," Gates said in an interview on the TED Connects program, referring to regions hit particularly hard by the virus.
Asked about suggestions being floated in the U.S. about relaxing social distancing measures to avoid severe economic damage, Gates said there is "no middle ground" between the virus and the cost to businesses.
"It’s very tough to say to people, ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks [gross domestic product] GDP growth is what really counts,’” Gates said, adding that a shutdown may need to remain in place for six to 10 weeks.
The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China in December, has infected more than 52,100 individuals in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins University database, causing a mass closure of businesses and schools as state and local governments work to slow the disease's spread.
The dramatic halt to everyday life has led to increasing fears about the devastating effects it could have on the U.S economy. President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE said Tuesday during a Fox News town hall that he hoped to have the country "opened up" by Easter.
“You can destroy a country this way, by closing it down, where it literally goes from being the most prosperous,” Trump said. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter."
Health officials have asserted that social distancing requirements could be needed for weeks to prevent overwhelming hospitals around the country.
Gates, who did not mention Trump in the interview, said that "it’s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest that we can have the best of both worlds."
He said later in the interview that "bringing the economy back" was more of a "reversible thing than bringing people back to life."
"So we're going to take the pain in the economic dimension — huge pain — in order to minimize the pain in the diseases-and-death dimension," Gates, who left the board of Microsoft earlier this month, said.
Gates' foundation has committed up to $100 million to improve treatment, drug and vaccine development efforts for the coronavirus. His foundation is also reportedly working to provide home-testing kits in the Seattle area.