In an interview with Bloomberg, Bill Gates says it will likely be the end of next year before we're out of this pandemic. It could take other parts of the world even longer, stretching the health and financial instability into 2022. Even with the race for a vaccine and therapeutics to treat Covid-19, Gates says that the first vaccines available will likely be a stopgap, providing only short-term immunity.
That's despite what can only be described as an extraordinary effort to fast track what would otherwise take years or even decades to develop. According to Gates:
We'd be lucky to have much before the end of the year. But then, in 2021, a number of other vaccines are very likely to get approved. The strongest response will probably come from the protein subunit. With so many companies working on it, we can afford quite a few failures and still have something with low cost and long duration.
That means businesses need to be prepared for the reality that life isn't getting back to normal any time soon. Well, I think it's pretty clear life is never going to get back to what we all thought was normal. If you haven't already, it's time to start figuring out what normal looks like for your business moving forward.
As much as people would like to get back to work or school or church, or wherever, "the true end will come from the spread of natural infections and the vaccine giving us herd immunity," said Gates. "For rich countries, that will be sometime next year, ideally in the first half. We'll get out of this by the end of 2021."
One of the reasons is that we still aren't where we need to be in terms of the most important tools to fight the coronavirus. Gates previously told Wired's Steven Levy that the current system of testing is "completely garbage" because of the time it takes most people to get a result. It's hard to imagine effectively reopening businesses, schools, and other activities if you can't quickly find out whether or not you have Covid-19 and could expose others.
Aside from a vaccine or herd immunity, effective testing that can deliver results in a day is ultimately what would allow us to safely reopen. That's because when someone is exposed or develops symptoms, they would be able to isolate for a short period of time, find out whether they are positive for Covid-19, and then quarantine if needed.
Right now, it can take days, or even weeks before finding out the results, leaving people to decide whether they should continue to isolate even if they don't feel sick or have any symptoms. That's despite the fact that they could still potentially spread the virus to others.
On the other hand, Gates told Levy that he's optimistic about the advances in treatment and potential vaccines, calling both "quite impressive."
"We should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022," said Gates. "That is only because of the scale of the innovation that's taking place."
By the way, that innovation doesn't stop with scientists researching ways to protect the public from a viral pandemic. It extends to businesses thinking of creative ways to continue serving their customers and communities even when it's anything but business as usual. It might be time to start thinking about how to make that work a little longer than we had hoped.