Just like many other nations, the United States’ economy is taking a beating due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
Many state and local governments have ordered “non-essential” businesses to close and have banned gatherings of 10 or more people.
While some are describing the situation as “just watch Netflix and chill,” the reality is that most people cannot work from home, and the likelihood of a recession, or even depression, is high due to the probability that many businesses will be unable to recover from the mandatory shutdowns.
During an online TED Connects livestream, the tech pioneer said the United States missed its window in avoiding such shutdowns to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
“We did not act fast enough to have an ability to avoid the shutdown,” Gates said. He added that the time to act was in January, a few weeks after the viral outbreak began in China last December.
Gates says the business shutdown should continue another six to ten weeks, although he notes such an action will be “disastrous” for the economy. However, he maintained that such a lengthy shutdown is vital in containing coronavirus.
“It’s very tough to say to people, ‘Hey 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 that thinks GDP growth is what counts.’ It’s hard to tell people during an epidemic … that they should go about things knowing their activity is spreading this disease.”
During the TED Connects discussion, Gates also stressed that the United States needs to ramp up testing for COVID-19. “The testing thing has got to be organized, has got to be prioritized. That is super, super urgent,” he said.
One could argue that Bill Gates and others of his economic/social class have little to worry about if businesses are forced to remain closed for another month or two. They have the financial means to weather the storm and not be impacted in any meaningful way.
It is true that their stocks are taking a hit, but a survey of business leaders expressed optimism that the economy will rebound within a year. However, the average worker, many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck, does not have such a luxury.
Many small businesses, such as restaurants and mom-and-pop shops, will close down permanently due to being forced to close their doors during the coronavirus outbreak. The economic, not to mention emotional and societal impact, of so many jobs lost will be huge.
It should also be noted that the actions taken in fighting COVID-19 are far more severe than those implemented a decade ago during the swine flu epidemic of 2009.
The swine flu (H1N1) resulted in 60.8 million Americans getting infected, resulting in 274,000 people needing hospitalization and 12,469 deaths. Despite such numbers, the economy of the United States was not shut down during that pandemic. The main action taken was for state and local governments to close schools for a short time if a student became infected.
Contrast such H1N1 numbers with coronavirus today. So far, the United States has registered 54,808 cases with 775 deaths. The number of cases is sure to go up as more testing is done.
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