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‘Crazy and evil’: Bill Gates surprised by pandemic conspiracies

Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates says he has been taken aback by the volume of “crazy” and “evil” conspiracy theories about him spreading on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, but said on Tuesday (January 26) he would like to explore what is behind them.

In an interview with Reuters, Gates said the millions of online posts and “crazy conspiracy theories” about him and about top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci had likely taken hold in part because of the combination of a frightening viral pandemic and the rise of social media.

“Nobody would have predicted that I and Dr. Fauci would be so prominent in these really evil theories,” Gates said.

“I’m very surprised by that. I hope it goes away.”

Gates, a billionaire who stepped down as chairman of Microsoft Corp in 2014, has through his philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed at least $1.75 billion to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes support for some makers of vaccines, diagnostics and potential treatments.

Since the pandemic began a year ago, millions of conspiracies have spread over the Internet, fuelling misinformation about the coronavirus, its origins and the motives of those working to fight it.

They include claims that Fauci and Gates created the pandemic to try and control people, that they want to profit from the virus’ spread, and that they want to use vaccines to insert trackable microchips into people.

“But do people really believe that stuff?,” Gates asked.

“We’re really going to have to get educated about this over the next year and understand .. how does it change peoples’ behaviour and how should we have minimized this?”

EXCITED ABOUT BIDEN

Gates praised Fauci and Francis Collins, head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as “smart” and “wonderful people”, and said he looked forward to seeing them able to work effectively and speak the truth under the new administration of President Joe Biden.

During former President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Gates said, it had “sometimes felt like they were the only sane people in the U.S. government.”

“I’m excited about the team that Biden has picked” to tackle the health crisis, Gates said.

Gates said he was also pleased that under Biden, the United States has rejoined the World Health Organization, and “that he’s appointed smart people, and the fact that Dr. Fauci won’t be suppressed.”

VACCINE WAIT TIME FOR WORLD

Poorer countries face a best-case scenario of a 6-8 month lag behind richer nations in getting access to COVID-19 vaccines to protect their populations against the pandemic disease, Gates said.

Gates called the rollout of the first COVID-19 shots a “super hard allocation problem” that was putting pressure on global institutions, governments and drugmakers.

“Every politician is under pressure to go bid for their country to get further up in line,” Gates said.

Gates’ Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far committed $1.75 billion to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including via funds for the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by the World Health Organization, and via direct support for some vaccine makers.

COVAX, which is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, says it aims to deliver 2.3. billion COVID-19 doses by year-end, including 1.8 billion doses to poorer countries at no cost to their governments. It hopes to start some deliveries next month.

Gates said supplies of vaccines via COVAX would be “modest” at first.

“The total number of doses that GAVI (COVAX) will have in the first half of the year is still very modest. Yes, they will get some doses out, but if you compare when they will reach the same percentage of coverage as the rich countries – that’s where I’d say it’s six to eight months, best case,” he said.

Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI and a co-lead of COVAX, warned on Tuesday of “a sense of vaccine panic” with many countries pursuing biliateral deals with drugmakers to secure limited supplies and some threatening legal action against drugmakers who have said supplies could be delayed.

Gates, who also on Wednesday published his Foundation’s annual letter outlining its priorities and predictions, said he believed that people living in wealthier countries would see an end to the pandemic and a return to more normal life by the end of this year, assuming vaccines could be rolled out to around 70 to 80% of their populations.

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