Bill Gates thinks the global shift towards nationalism made the coronavirus response worse

Bill Gates thinks the global shift towards nationalism made the coronavirus response worse
  • Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates said in an interview with The Times the fact that the world had seen an upswing of nationalist politics prior to the coronavirus pandemic was "not helpful."

  • "Very few people get an A in terms of what they've done in this situation," Gates said.

  • Gates was careful not to criticize particular political leaders, but the UK, US, Brazil, India, and many other countries have shifted towards nationalism in recent years.

  • Gates had earlier criticized President Donald Trump's decision to halt US funding to the World Health Organization.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Microsoft billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates believes an upswing in nationalism left the world ill-positioned to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to The Times in an interview published Friday, Gates was asked whether current politicians were up to the task of responding to the crisis.

The billionaire worded his answer carefully. "You go to war with the leaders you have [...] In retrospect, you get to judge how well that went," he said.

"I do think the fact that the world was moving towards nationalism and countries taking care of themselves, that framing is not helpful. We all wish we had raised the rallying cry more quickly. Very few people get an A in terms of what they've done in this situation," Gates added.

Gates was careful not to single out particular countries, but the UK, US, India, Brazil, and many other nations have moved towards nationalist politics in recent years. And the UK, US, and Brazil all initially downplayed or continue to downplay the coronavirus threat level.

Earlier this month Gates criticized President Trump's decision to withdraw US funding from the World Health Organization. The day after news of Trump's withdrawal broke, Gates' philanthropic organization the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it was pledging a further $150 million towards fighting the virus — bringing its running total up to $250 million. He has since said the foundation will devote all its resources to the coronavirus fight.

Gates also told The Times that he didn't think governments were being heavy-handed by imposing lockdowns, and that if lockdowns hadn't been implemented we would have seen "the worst of both worlds" in terms of both disease spread and economic turndown.

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"If you got up to the millions of deaths then more and more people would change their behavior so you would get to an extreme situation," he said. "The idea that a hotel with a 30 percent flow, or a restaurant that is 30 percent full would stay in business doesn't show an understanding of the economy. People act like if we just went for herd immunity and let it rip the economy would have been fine but that counterfactual does not exist."

The UK government initially laid out a plan to pursue "herd immunity" to the virus by allowing it to spread in the population but abandoned the policy after a top scientist warned the plan would lead to a death toll of 510,000. Subsequently, the UK government has claimed that herd immunity was never its official policy, despite its chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance touting the idea in TV interviews in March.

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