Bill and Melinda Gates lobby US Congress for tougher virus action

The $46bn Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing the US Congress for tougher action to stop the spread of coronavirus to counter what its founders see an anti-science stance by the Trump administration.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Melinda Gates, who leads the foundation with her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said she was “deeply” disappointed by the stance of President Donald Trump over Covid-19 and anticipated repercussions in the upcoming election.

“I think you’ll see the American people speak in the fall,” she said, warning that “the populace needs to speak out against . . . any leader that’s not using the tools and the data available”, to fight Covid-19. Her comments came as the Gates Foundation released a white paper highlighting the pernicious impact of Covid-19 on women as well as other areas of inequality.

The Gates’ have refrained from becoming directly involved in partisan American politics to date, preferring to focus on apolitical health issues and the developing world. “We are a bipartisan couple,” said Mrs Gates. “We have worked incredibly effectively with the Bush administration, the Obama administration.”

They had been prompted to speak out because they believed the Trump administration “isn’t the right leadership right now for this country”.

The couple have not yet decided whether to use their largesse to back candidates in the 2020 presidential race. “Bill and I are having many, many, many conversations by phone with members of the Hill, Senate and House,” she said, about how to advance “science-based, evidence-based” policies on Covid-19.

“We know right now, our only tools are testing, contact tracing, quarantine and masks. Any leader that’s not using the tools and the data available, the populace needs to speak out against.”

She praised Anthony Fauci, the embattled White House medical adviser, and his colleague Deborah Birx, as the only figures in the White House who understood the severity of the pandemic, and deplored the political pressure from Mr Trump on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Why don’t we have a good national testing and quarantine and response plan? It’s because of what’s happened at the CDC,” said Mrs Gates.

She also decried Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization, for which the Gates’ are the second-largest donor. “Nobody can make up for the US government funding. Luckily . . . it takes over a year to pull out of the WHO. We’re having an election in the fall in the US, so we’ll wait to see what happens after that.”

The Gates Foundation is among the organisations pouring funds into the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. Mrs Gates said she believed there was only a “very low” chance of finding a vaccine this year.

“Hopefully, we will have one in the first half of next year,” she said. “We have to make sure that it’s equitably distributed. The first people that need to get this vaccine are healthcare workers. Guess what? Seventy per cent of the healthcare workers are women. So, they [should] get it first, and then the most vulnerable populations country by country,” she said.

“[This pandemic] is exposing the cracks in society and the gaps. Our economies are built on the backs of women’s labour.”