Honestly, did we all miss the bit where Bill Gates headed off to university and spent a decade studying to become the world’s leading expert on infectious diseases? Because it sure seems that way. As Tim points out this morning, there’s an unfortunate habit in the press of giving more space to non-scientists who support the lockdown than they do to actual scientists who oppose it. Anyway, here he is, pontificating in the Washington Post:
“Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus. The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America — which could take 10 weeks or more — no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown. Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return, and cause more deaths.”
Ten weeks from today, incidentally, is July 24th. And he’s not talking about “limited restrictions” until July 24th, he’s calling for full lockdown to stay in place until then. Good luck with that.
To some extent, this kind of nonsense from Gates should undermine the various conspiracy theories floating around about his involvement in some kind of plan for virus-induced global Government, for the simple reason that lockdown until July 24th is unenforceable, global government or no global government. In both the United States, and Europe, lockdown is increasingly more a theoretical state of affairs than it is a practical reality. In plain English: people are flouting it left, right, and centre already. By July 24th the notion of it will be a farce, for good or ill.
This, in fact, is the strongest argument for loosening the restrictions. It’s not that the public health evidence necessarily says it’s a good idea to do so, it’s that it doesn’t really matter what the public health advice is if a large portion of the population decides to ignore it because their freedom is more important to them. A Government screaming “stay at home” at a population that has decided “no, we’re sick of being at home” is a recipe for a breakdown in trust and co-operation between the governing class and the governed.
What’s probably smarter is to grant people more freedom while asking them to take precautions – call it the “wear a facemask” approach. If you tell somebody that they can’t go to the beach, they may well decide to go to the beach anyway. But if you tell them they can go to a beach if they are careful and wear a mask, they may be grateful enough for the opportunity that they’ll act responsibly. For someone who made himself the richest man on the planet at one stage by understanding what the public wants and providing it, Gates does seem to have lost his touch a little.
What he says about a vaccine, though, is interesting:
To bring the disease to an end, we’ll need a safe and effective vaccine. If we do everything right, we could have one in less than 18 months — about the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed. But creating a vaccine is only half the battle. To protect Americans and people around the world, we’ll need to manufacture billions of doses. (Without a vaccine, developing countries are at even greater risk than wealthy ones, because it’s even harder for them to do physical distancing and shutdowns.)
We can start now by building the facilities where these vaccines will be made. Because many of the top candidates are made using unique equipment, we’ll have to build facilities for each of them, knowing that some won’t get used. Private companies can’t take that kind of risk, but the federal government can. It’s a great sign that the administration made deals this week with at least two companies to prepare for vaccine manufacturing. I hope more deals will follow.
There, at least, is some sign of actual private-sector, practical thinking. We’re now three months or so into the global pandemic and it’s only now that the manufacturing of facemasks and coronavirus tests is starting to catch up to global demand for them. If and when a vaccine is made, and is found to be safe and effective, it will instantly become the most in-demand product on the planet. Having the ability to manufacture it quickly isn’t a given, but it will be a public policy imperative. Putting that infrastructure in place ahead of time makes sense.
Keeping America and the world in lockdown until July 24th, though? That’s an unenforceable pipe dream.