Bill Gates believes the world got “lucky” with the COVID-19 pandemic and thinks the next one could be “society-ending” with a fatality rate that is much higher than the coronavirus death toll.

The Microsoft co-founder turned billionaire philanthropist made the comments at the Time 100 Summit in New York City as he appealed for the need to prepare for the next pandemic to hit the world.

“The chance of another pandemic in the next 20 years, either natural or intentional, I’d say, is over 50%,” Gates told Time at the summit.

To prepare for such a pandemic, Gates suggests creating a Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization team of 3,000 infectious disease experts who would work throughout the world to deal with epidemic responses and assist local scientists with reporting outbreaks.

“You can’t do much if you don’t act quickly,” Gates told Time. “Pandemics are a global problem, and if one country doesn’t do its part in practicing to detect and contain, then that’s a problem for all the other countries.”

Gates estimates the cost would be about $1 billion a year, but he said the COVID pandemic has proven to be much more costly, in part due to poor planning and preparation.

“We’ve lost over $14 trillion so far for this pandemic, and there would be benefits even in non-pandemic years of looking at outbreaks, containing them in a much better way,” he told Time.

“I have to say, given the toll of this pandemic 20 million dead globally, a million in the U.S., and it could have been way more fatal. We just got lucky that the death rate per case was like 0.2%,” he added.

To date, there have been over 533.7 million cases of COVID-19 and 6.3 million deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Criticism from Gates also came about how the U.S. handled the pandemic in the early days . “The disease basically spread unchecked the first few hundred days," he said, “and then after that, you're in very tough shape because of exponential growth.”

American billionaire Bill Gates is the co-founder of TerraPower
American billionaire Bill Gates is the co-founder of TerraPower POOL via AFP / Evan Vucci