By Mark DeCambre, MarketWatch
‘There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people, “Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, [and] ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.” ’
That’s billionaire Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT +0.24% and noted philanthropist, sharing in a TED interview as described by the Vox Media site Recode his view on the drumbeat, notably from President Donald Trump, for an earlier end to public health policies aiming to mitigate the spread of a deadly pandemic that has brought much of the world’s business activity to a screeching halt.
Most of the U.S., including New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California, are under rules that limit movement and travel. Those efforts to dull the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 are putting the U.S. economy into a recession and have tanked U.S. equity markets that were just a month ago at record highs.
The illness that is carried by the novel strain of coronavirus first identified in China in December has been contracted by some 622 ,000 people and killed more than 28,000 across the globe, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University , as of Saturday late morning.
In the U.S., where the epidemic is likely still in its nascence, more than 105,000 have been infected and 1,710 killed.
Trump, however, said on Tuesday during a Fox News interview in the White House Rose Garden that he hopes to have the country reopened as early as Easter on April 12, though most countries have taken months to achieve some semblance of managing the infection.
Trump has argued that a longer U.S. shutdown would make it more difficult for the economy to rebound from a recession. “The longer it takes, the longer we stay out, the longer that is to do,” he explained.
An early end to the lockdown in the U.S. has been viewed as ill-advised by many experts and politicians who fear that lives would be sacrificed in the bid to resume business-as-usual, and achieve a stock-market rebound, before the virus subsides.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose updates on the virus’s impact on the Empire State have been closely followed, expressed views similar to those of Gates on Tuesday. “No American is going to say, accelerate the economy at the cost of human life, because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job [No. 1] has to be save lives,” the governor said.
Gates told TED, according to Recode, that “it’s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest that we can have the best of both worlds,” referring to mitigating the impact of the deadly pathogen on human lives and keeping the economy whirring.
U.S., and global, stock markets have been in turmoil due to the viral outbreak, with some at least partly attributing Tuesday’s biggest percentage gain since 1933 by the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +2.05% , up 11.4%, to a belief that Trump’s administration may push forward with reopening the U.S. economy , despite public health experts indicating that such a move would likely be premature. Noted infectious-diseases specialist Anthony Fauci suggested at a late-afternoon news conference at the White House that it might be worth exploring an idea floated by Trump that some sections of the country could have restrictions eased ahead of others.
The Dow surged 2,112 points on Tuesday, while the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.36% soared 9.4%, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +0.78% finished Tuesday’s session up 8.1%. All three indexes finished out the week lower but booked strong weekly gains, as President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package into law.
Gates, who boasts a net worth of $94.6 billion, according to Forbes (making him the second wealthiest man in the world behind Amazon.com’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.24% Jeff Bezos) is among a group of billionaire philanthropists who have said they would give away at least half their wealth to charities under terms of the Giving Pledge. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $100 million to pandemics science and testing.