DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Gates, the coronavirus has now officially cost the lives of almost a million people. Has this pandemic taken you by surprise?
Gates: Certain aspects of it are very surprising. Sure, the idea that the world was at risk of a human-to-human, transmissible respiratory epidemic is something that many global health experts have talked about for decades. But they mostly talked to each other. Nobody expected it could be a coronavirus. In retrospect, you can say: Hey, we have MERS, we have SARS, this coronavirus family clearly can cross the species boundary. But our understanding of the symptoms of this disease took us a long time to figure out.
DER SPIEGEL: How could we have been caught so off guard by this pathogen?
Gates: In 2015, at the end of the West Africa Ebola epidemic, I said that we’re not ready for the next pandemic. What was done between 2015 and that outbreak in late 2019 was very, very modest.
DER SPIEGEL: Could not the Gates Foundation also have done more?
Gates: Governments and nations are responsible for preparing the world for wars, natural disasters, climate change or epidemics. Not us. Yes, foundations can contribute to funding scientists. But we’re not the foundation to solve all health problems. Our focus is on the diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries, diseases that the rich world isn’t paying attention to, like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria. It just turns out that we know more about vaccinations because we hire the best people from all the vaccine companies. But it is not in our charter to be pandemicking. Governments do that.