Health and Healthcare Systems

‘If we do it right, we'll only have to do it once’ – Bill Gates calls for a nationwide US shutdown

A member of the New York Police Department works during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly - Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

Bill Gates says a total nationwide shutdown is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the US. Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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COVID-19

  • 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.

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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.”

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
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.

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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”.

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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.”

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