Bill Gates: beware, the pandemic is coming back… in worse

Bill Gates: beware, the pandemic is coming back... in worse

This summer, Challenges offers you a leap into an imaginary future. We publish, as part of our series on failure scenarios, projections, in re-edited summary version, produced by the Red Team, a team of science fiction authors assembled by the Defense Innovation Agency. Its mission: to publish two scenarios a year to confront armies with extreme scenarios. But also scenarios included in books, imagined by us, that of our external contributors or by our partner The Economist. Good reading.

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After the future climatic disaster, the subject of a book last year (Climate: how to avoid a disaster, Flammarion 2021), Bill Gates draws lessons from the pandemic. His blunt style is intact: welcoming the global mobilization which made it possible to find a vaccine quickly – but not a treatment quickly enough – the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist shares his fear of seeing a variant even more deadly and contagious than Covid emerge. -19. Plus the risk of bioterrorism that could ensue. Its shock remedy: the union of forces, via partnerships mixing public and private actors, a sort of supranational coalition, and above all much, much more money The nightmare is far from over”, he warns. Brrr. Extract:

“The risk of terrorists getting their hands on existing biological weapons is all the greater because the scientific processes that make these pathogens are no longer reserved for high-level researchers employed in secret government programs. in molecular biology, students can acquire all the knowledge necessary to design a biological weapon, and some scientific journals have published data that a terrorist could use to manufacture an infectious agent.

A pathogen with worse consequences than HIV

A new pathogen could be highly contagious and deadly, but trigger delayed symptoms. If it did, it would spread silently all over the world, perhaps for years, before arousing even the slightest suspicion. HIV, which evolved naturally, works like this: while people can become infected very quickly after being infected, their health sometimes deteriorates nearly a decade later. A pathogen of the same type, but not requiring intimate contact to circulate, would have worse consequences than AIDS.

The risk of bioterrorist attack is an additional reason to devote, on a global scale, much more money and energy to research on the detection, treatment and prevention of diseases likely to spread throughout the planet. . In view of the national security stakes in the event of an attack, and the risk that the number of victims could be counted in the millions, this research should more often be financed from defense budgets. The Pentagon has an annual envelope of 700 billion dollars, the National Institutes of Health, an annual budget of 43 billion.

Resisting the Headwinds of Politics

I am hopeful that science will give us better tools to stop epidemics, but governments must also consider a very rudimentary defense, the reward. There is a precedent: don’t authorities frequently offer money in exchange for information to arrest criminals and terrorists?.

Whatever the ultimate strategy for combating bioterrorism, it will have to withstand the headwinds of politics. In the early 1980s, when he was head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Bill Foege worked with the FBI on detecting and responding to bioterrorism. Simulations of attacks by various diseases were organized, to follow this type of attack, then a defensive strategy was developed for each of them. Foege’s successor terminated the project overnight.”

How to avoid the next pandemicBill Gates, May 2022, Flammarion, 432 pages, €21.90.