Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 September 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Bill Gates speaks out against 'surprising' rise of Covid-19 conspiracy theories

Philanthropist has been targeted by accusations that pandemic is made by global rich

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during a media conference at Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre. Jaime Puebla / The National
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during a media conference at Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre. Jaime Puebla / The National

Bill Gates has spoken out on the harmful effects of conspiracy theories and social media attacks on him that have flourished online since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Gates was speaking at the launch of a report on how to get the 2015 UN's Sustainable Development Goals back on track after progress was hampered when the world went into lockdown.

He said world leaders had to focus on how to restore focus on the universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoyed peace and prosperity by 2030.

One of the obstacles is overcoming the false reports that have undermined the use of masks as barriers to infection, and specific efforts to blame deaths on Mr Gates.

These theories claim he promoted the pandemic as a means of implanting microchips in people.

"I'm very surprised by the course of these conspiracy theories and of course the ones involving me are completely incorrect," Mr Gates said.

"I hadn't been a part of conspiracy theories up until this and it's ironic because I talked about the risk of a pandemic in 2015."

The Microsoft founder said he made recommendations on how to prepare for new sources of infections and it was unfortunate that most of those things were not done.

One of the positive steps, which was backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or Cepi, which tries to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging diseases.

"A few were done, so now Cepi – which our foundation and a number of governments now fund, including recently Saudi Arabia – did some good work so we are now well prepared," he said.

"I hope the truth will get out and that people's behaviour to protect themselves and others will be strong.

"It is novel that you have a pandemic and you have social media, and somehow the true messages aren't as titillating or as exciting as the conspiracy-type message."

Staff in a laboratory of Incas Diagnostics, which is the only Ghanaian company producing testing kits locally for Covid-19 in Kumasi, Ghana, on August 21, 2020.  Courtesy: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Staff in a laboratory of Incas Diagnostics, which is the only Ghanaian company producing testing kits locally for Covid-19 in Kumasi, Ghana, on August 21, 2020.  Courtesy: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Mr Gates said it was hard to track how a recovery would set in, particularly for poorer countries, after the pandemic.

He said it could take a "decade plus" for the recovery in poverty rates to be complete.

"What we're seeing is that even though the epidemic is hitting developing countries, the young ages there mean that death rates aren't as high as in the richer countries," Mr Gates told The National.

"But the disruption affects other activities so the disruption is pretty dramatic."

According to the 2020 Goalkeepers' report on the UN's development goals, the crisis has thrust almost 37 million more people into extreme poverty.

That number had been falling for 20 years in a row until the health crisis.

"People living just above the extreme poverty line who have fallen below it because of Covid-19 were obviously vulnerable despite not being officially poor," it said.

"In the short term, social-protection payments and emergency business loans – exactly the types of programmes being used in high-income countries – can keep people from becoming extremely poor or help the poor avoid destitution.

"However, the longer the pandemic lasts, the worse its economic scars will be. But we can help people as they recover.

"As Goalkeepers has emphasised year after year, investments in human capital [such as health and education] are key to generating economic growth and creating resilient households that don’t just hover around the poverty line."

The consequences for hunger and famine were also damaging to the promotion of progress.

"It is important to note that, according to the UN, economic shocks will plunge between 83 and 132 million people into food insecurity," the report said.

Bello Okikiola, a tailor, who is part of a team that produces face masks for one of the largest slums in Nigeria and home to over 500,000 people. Courtesy: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bello Okikiola, a tailor, who is part of a team that produces face masks for one of the largest slums in Nigeria and home to over 500,000 people. Courtesy: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Education also faces severe challenges, even as the prospect of widespread adoption of online learning could increase access and opportunities.

"Distance learning can help but remote learning opportunities are also beyond the reach of many students," Mr Gates said.

"While we don’t have exact numbers of students accessing [education] tech, for instance, less than one third of the population across Africa has access to broadband."

Updated: September 16, 2020 04:38 AM

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