What Bill Gates really said about the new deadliest variant of Covid-19

What Bill Gates really said about the new deadliest variant of Covid-19

The first to report it was the Financial Times: Bill Gates said, during an interview, that "although unlikely, there is at least a 5% risk that we have not yet seen the worst" of the pandemic, referring to the possibility that new variants of the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus emerge that are even more contagious and lethal than those we have faced in the last two years. A statement that has caused a certain sensation all over the world, both for the media visibility of those who have uttered it and because Bill Gates in the common perception is often connected - both for actual investment and financing issues and for some conspiracy speculations - to the vaccines and health.

It is no coincidence that in the hours following the publication of the interview, ie on Tuesday 3 May, many newspapers, including Italian ones, took up the news, making Gates' words one of the hot topics of the public discussion of the day about Covid-19. But are things just like Gates said? Let's go in order.

Ready for the next pandemic, or new waves of this In principle, you certainly can't blame Gates. The risk of facing new pandemic health emergencies in the future, or that of a further worsening of the current situation due to emerging variants of the pathogen, is certainly not zero. On the other hand, it is two years - and it was said before - that the importance of being prepared for the eventuality of a pandemic has been repeated everywhere, given that history teaches us that cyclical emergencies of this kind recur, and punctually in the face of a new threat, one finds oneself inadequately prepared.

So getting ahead with investments, strengthening scientific research, building health infrastructures, creating an efficient territorial health system, setting up a global surveillance system on emerging health risks and so on are all useful and far-sighted strategies. So far, however, nothing new.

Giving numbers Already in itself communicating a risk is something extremely complicated. Doing it through figures and numerical evaluations is even more so, both because each one could give a different subjective importance to the values ​​themselves and because it would still be necessary to explain well what is meant by the numbers that are being provided. And it can be even less useful and more risky to give numbers without even having a solid and sensible scientific and statistical basis.

That is to say, that the risk of a worsening of the pandemic is greater than zero it's obvious. That at the same time this risk is still small is equally obvious, in the sense that the scientific community agrees that the emergence of a devastating new variable is possible but unlikely after all. And up to this point there is very little to discuss.

Why should the reference value for risk be precisely 5% - and not 1% or 20% or 0.1% - it is instead a much more delicate question. It is no coincidence that even in Italy some experts, such as the virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco, have on the one hand underlined the usefulness of a general call for prudence and attention but on the other have considered the numerical estimate to be "questionable" proposed by Gates. In fact, that 5% seems a bit randomly shot, and Gates himself actually used a rather crude expression ("way above 5%") to express his estimate. There are no specific scientific studies or further explanations with which Gates accompanied his declaration, and without even giving details of a time frame or what is meant by "more transmissive and lethal variant" (of how much and with respect to which of the existing ones?) everything seems rather expressed a little per kilo. The quantification is perhaps to be understood as a sensation of his, little more than a bar chat.

Marketing, media that bite and news tam tam As the same article from the Financial Times reported at the end of the interview, precisely May 3 is the day of the publication of a new book signed by Bill Gates, How to prevent the next pandemic. And even the interview itself combined with the prestigious financial newspaper seems to have more the guise of a media launch of the book than those of a journalistic investigation or a scientific study.

If the ruminations on Bill's ghostly shady interests Gates in the vaccine market are often (and rightfully) branded as hoaxes, in this case the suspicion that Gates' release has a direct marketing purpose would seem quite well founded. Many of the main international and Italian newspapers have in some form picked up the news, so Bill Gates finds himself the protagonist of statements on the pandemic that have gone viral on the day when his book on the same subject becomes available for purchase. However, it must be said that it has been at least since 2015 that Gates has insisted on this issue and on the need to preventively work against global health emergencies - and it has perhaps been guilty too long unheard.

As an additional note, reading the article in the Financial Times it can be noted that that “way above 5%” was inserted by authors Sarah Neville and Hannah Kuchler as the sixth quotation mark of the interview, that is, in a position that is anything but prominent in the overall economy of the article. And there is no mention of it either in the title or in the subtitle. In many journalistic shots, and in the Italian ones in particular, that message of potential alarm has become the title (or subtitle) of the articles, attributing to that statement an importance that probably neither Gates himself nor the journalists who interviewed him wanted to attribute to it. . The idea was instead to focus, rather than fear, on the need to implement effective prevention and surveillance systems.

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