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Bill Gates calls for nationwide social isolation policy to slow coronavirus spread

Bill Gates reacts to federal virus response
Bill Gates says federal government "needs to set the priorities” on testing for coronavirus 06:33

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has been warning about the threat of a global pandemic since 2015. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $100 million to fighting the coronavirus. Gates spoke to "CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason in a wide-ranging conversation, calling for a nationwide social isolation policy to slow the pandemic's spread and for the federal government to "set the priorities" on testing.

Read a portion of their interview below:

Bill Gates:  It'll help everyone get out of this more quickly and reduce the deaths and reduce the economic reduction, if we implement these strong isolation measures on a countrywide basis.

Anthony Mason: Well, we obviously have some states taking different policies than others. Do you think we need leadership from the White House that we're not getting?

Gates: I think that the pressure by fellow governors, the executive branch, the experts should be very strong so that all 50 governors are seeing that they need to do this, or that there is a federal order about the social isolation. The sooner you start, the less cases you're going to have, and the sooner we can all go back to some level of normalcy.

Mason: You've been saying for a long time that we're not prioritizing testing. Who should be leading the way here?

Gates: Well, the federal government needs to set the priorities, because we have a lot of people who are just worried, who'd like to get a test. And if we had infinite capacity, that would be great. And so as many as half of our tests are going to the people they shouldn't. And that's causing you to have to wait, often three or four days, even if you're a health care worker, to get that result back. 

Mason: Back in 2015, you warned that we were not ready for the next epidemic. Why aren't we better prepared?

Gates: Well, in fact, very little investment was made into, for example, being able to ramp up diagnostic capacity very quickly… Our foundation and some other governments did work on some new vaccine platforms, which are the most promising… But you know, sadly, because you can't estimate the risk, and it was something I was, you know, trying to talk about, and you know, thought we had some engagement on. But then actually, the personnel in this area were cut back… 

So, you know, I think this time, people understand that this is a trillions-of-dollars event. It's going to be hundreds of thousands of lives on a on a global basis. I think now people understand why those alarms were raised, and that, for the next one, we will be far more ready than we were for this one.

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Mason: Ultimately, did the federal government fail on being prepared for testing?

Gates: Well, I'm sure there'll be lots of postmortems about, you know, why, before this hit, didn't we do more? Why, you know, right when it hit, didn't we do more? …it's most important to be looking forward and saying, "Are the number of tests growing? Is the speed which they come back less than 24 hours? And, are we testing the right people?" We're still not there. And so let's get that fixed, and then we can, you know, maybe a year from now, do the deep postmortems.

Mason: You also talked in 2015 about the potential economic consequences of this… How concerned are you about the resiliency of the American economy?

Gates: Well, the economy is being hurt… It's great that Congress has acted. We probably'll need to do more there …But you know, the economy can return in a way that people who get sick and die cannot.

Mason: You've been in touch with leaders in Washington. Have you talked with the president about this?

Gates: I've not talked directly to the president. Our foundation is trying to be as helpful in a very constructive way as possible. And that's why I've talked to the head of the pharmaceutical companies. We've talked to a lot of the agencies, including CDC and NIH about how we work together on the vaccine and the drugs.

Mason: …is there anything that's really surprised you about what's happened?

Gates: You know, I thought we would respond a bit faster. …what we're doing, how we're having to change the economy here in order to drop the number of cases, it's, you know, it's really unprecedented… Even the issue of once you get the cases numbers down… but what does opening up look like? You know, which activities have, like schools, have such benefit and can be done in a way that the risk of transmission is very low?

Mason: Yeah.

Gates: And which activities, like mass gatherings, may be— in a certain sense— more optional. And so until you're widely vaccinated, those may not come back at all.

Mason: Do you think we're gonna think about pandemics differently from now on? 

Gates: Well, that is for sure. You know, there were a few movies— they weren't that popular— about this. And to make them at least a little bit popular, they usually had some miracle happen at the end where some hero, you know, invented something and, boom, everything was back to normal…  No, the awareness of this is a threat, and probably the biggest threat to, you know, kill tens of millions of people. That will be permanently embedded. So this time, I do think we will get ourselves ready for the next pandemic.

Mason: Have you had any trouble getting adjusted to social distancing at home?

Gates: Yeah, I find it so disconcerting to wake up every morning and think, "Well, that was a strange dream I had," and then say, "Oh my God, yes, you know, look, there's no traffic on the bridge. And oh yeah, my first meeting is on that computer screen… and somebody's gonna leave some food, but I won't see them." This is super dramatic. You know, I use computer screens a lot. And I think about pandemics a lot. And even so, I can hardly believe we're in this situation.

Watch their full conversation below.

Extended interview: Bill Gates on coronavirus pandemic 27:08
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