• The US needs to have a total shutdown to stop COVID-19 spread, says Bill Gates.
  • New York is the hardest hit but the infection rate is climbing across the US.
  • Social distancing guidelines have been extended.

The US should totally shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19, according to Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

His message comes as the global pandemic spreads across the US, with New York the hardest hit, though other cities including New Orleans and Detroit are in the crosshairs, too. All 50 states have reported COVID-19 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Americans have been advised to avoid nonessential travel and gatherings of more than 10 people, lockdown measures vary from state to state and in some cases, from county to county.

“We’re entering into a tough period that if we do it right, we’ll only have to do it once for six to 10 weeks, but it has to be the whole country,” Gates told CNN in an interview.

“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.”

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All 50 states have confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Image: John Hopkins University

Countries around the world are grappling to stem the spread of the virus, with global confirmed infections passing 787,000 as of 31 March, according to information compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Moscow became one of the latest cities to impose strict isolation measures, while Italy’s government warned citizens should be ready for a lengthy confinement. Many other nations including India, Spain and the UK have imposed nationwide controls.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

US President Donald Trump had expressed a hope to get the country back to normal by Easter, but the latest figures make that seem unlikely. As well as the human cost, policymakers are also mindful of the significant economic disruption the virus is causing.

China’s coronavirus shutdown offers hope

In China, which bore the brunt of the initial outbreak, the strict social distancing measures imposed in Wuhan and other provinces seem to have been effective. This example offers hope, Gates said.

“The good news is that China did their shutdown and they did it in a very serious way and after a six-week period of a shutdown – that’s more extreme than even the best states in the US are likely to do – they were able to start opening up again,” Gates said. “So that’s very good news”.

Gates’s message echoes that of the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, who has called for a national quarantine.

“We have two choices. We can have a national quarantine now, for two weeks, get a grip on where things are and then reassess,” Jha told NBC’s Morning Joe. Or, we can “wait another week and when things look really terrible, be forced into it.”

While Gates acknowledged that imposing lockdown measures would have an economic impact, he argued that one closure across the US would be more effective than a state-by-state shutdown.

“We do then get an economic problem, which is why you want to minimize the amount of time, and having states go at different things or thinking you can do it county by county, that will not work,” he said. “Cases will be exponentially growing anywhere you don’t have a serious shutdown.”

He cited China as a model for how to contain the virus and make sure the health system isn’t overwhelmed. Hospitals across New York City are flooded with coronavirus cases and some patients are being left in their homes because the healthcare system cannot handle them all, the New York Times reported.

“It’s exponential growth,” Gates said. “The sooner you engage in the shutdown the easier it is to get to the peak. We have not peaked. The parts of the country that are in shutdown, by late April we will start to see the numbers peak.”