Bill Gates warns coronavirus herd immunity in the US ‘could kill 5million’

Billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates has warned that if the US ever took a "herd immunity" approach to the coronavirus pandemic it would involve 50% of the population getting sick and a death toll of about 5million.

Appearing on a TED Talk via a video link, Microsoft founder Gates – who predicted a catastrophic viral outbreak five years ago – warned that hospitals would be overwhelmed if the US didn't adopt strict measures to combat the novel coronavirus.

He predicted a maximum mortality rate of up to 4% in the worst conditions, which adds up to millions of deaths if half of the country's 327million citizens were infected.

Talking about the herd immunity theory, Gates said: “I don’t know of any rich countries that have chosen to use that approach.

“It is true that if you did that approach, over a period of several years and enough people were infected, you would have what is called herd immunity."

Herd immunity is when a large number of people become infected and so gain natural immunity and can no longer incubate and pass on the virus.

Gates said: “But herd immunity is meaningless until you infect over half the population and so as you overload your medical systems, your case mortality rate, instead of being 1%, will be like 3% or 4%.

"The idea… it's very irresponsible for someone to suggest we can have the best of both worlds. What we need is the extreme shutdown so that in six to 10 weeks, if things go well, then you can start opening back up."

Interviewer Chris Anderson told Gates that if half the US population (which he estimated as 150million people) got sick and 4% died, "that would be about 5million people", to which the billionaire agreed.

Talking about the impact on the economy, Gates said it will be difficult to protect financial growth at a time when people will naturally be very nervous about spending money.

“It’s very tough to say to people ‘Keep going to restaurants go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner, we want you to keep spending because there’s some politician who thinks maybe GDP growth is what really counts'," he said.

Gates continued: “It’s very hard to tell people when there is an epidemic spreading that threatens, particularly their parents or elderly people that they know, that they should go about things knowing that their activity is spreading this disease."

So far, the US has enforced travel restrictions from international "hot zones" and asked people to stay home if they feel sick in response to Covid-19, but US President Donald Trump recently said life could be back to normal again by Easter.

Today, Trump tweeted: "Our great Oil & Gas industry is under siege after having one of the best years in recorded history. It will get better than ever as soon as our Country starts up again. Vital that it does for our National Security!"

But President Trump also said he had been having a "very good conversation" with the Chinese president – who enforced a stringent quarantine in the nation – about the best way to stop coronavirus.

In some areas shut down bars and restaurants have shut down – with furious teenagers claiming the emergency measures had "ruined" spring break.

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