Bill Gates predicted world wouldn't cope with 'highly infectious' virus five years ago

BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 21: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Chairman Bill Gates speaks during 2019 New Economy Forum at China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) on November 21, 2019 in Beijing, China. 2019 New Economy Forum themed on 'A new community for the new economy' is held on November 20-22 in Beijing. (Photo by Hou Yu/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Bill Gates predicted that it would be 'microbes, not missiles' that caused significant harm to humans in a TED Talk five years ago. (Picture: Hou Yu/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

A TED Talk in which billionaire entrepreneur Bill Gates predicted that the world would struggle to cope with a “highly infectious virus” five years ago has resurfaced amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2015 talk by the Microsoft creator, in which he warned of a lack of preparation for a viral epidemic, is being shared across social media.

In the eight-minute talk, Gates – who is donating £40 million to speed up the development of a coronavirus treatment and is also funding testing kits for the virus in Seattle – said “global catastrophe” didn’t look like a nuclear explosion, but looked biological.

He added: “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.”

During the talk, Gates went on to say that enough hadn’t been invested in a system to stop an epidemic, warning: “We’re not ready for the next epidemic.”

Reflecting on the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, he said there was no team of epidemiologists on standby and the response to the outbreak was slower than it should have been.

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

Live: Follow all the latest updates from the UK and around the world

Fact-checker: The number of Covid-19 cases in your local area

Explained: Symptoms, latest advice and how it compares to the flu

He said it was “just luck” that the disease hadn’t spread into urban areas, warning: “Next time, we might not be so lucky.

“You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they're infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market.”

His comments have resonated with many amid concerns of how quickly coronavirus has spread across the globe and an apparent lack of preparation by most countries.

Confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, the disease has so far claimed more than 5,000 lives globally, with nearly 137,000 infected.

In the UK, the government has switched to a ‘delay phase’ in order to allow the struggling NHS to recover from the strain it suffers over winter.

Commenting on the website, Adam Martin wrote: “Looking back on this... it's one of those historical moments. History books: ‘They tried to warn us, but, until enough people died, we did nothing.’”

Kayla W commented: “Bill knew!!! Watching his TED talk now when COVID-19 is happening and everyone's freaking out...”

On Twitter, clips of the talk were shared by people across the world with some of its quotes.

Grammy-winning music producer Alex Medina wrote: “We’re not ready for the next epidemic” with a clip of the talk, while Eduardo Salles, co-founder of Pictoline, shared the clip simply with the words: “Bill Gates, 2015”.