Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform to meet in close quarters. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke during the Munich Security Conference (Picture: AP)

Terrorists could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year using chemical bioweapons, warned Bill Gates.

The Microsoft mogul said a terrorist with a knowledge of genetic engineering could create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus or a deadly strain of the flu with just a computer.

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Speaking at the Munich Security Conference yesterday, he said it’s hard to imagine a catastrophe of that scale, but reminded people it happened almost one hundred years ago.

He said: ‘Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year.’

And it could happen in 10 to 15 years’ time, he added.

Gates said the link between health security and international security is overlooked.

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‘It’s hard to get your mind around a catastrophe of that scale, but it happened not that long ago. In 1918, a particularly virulent and deadly strain of flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people,’ he said.

He also pointed out that even if the next global pandemic isn’t on the same scale, we should consider the social and economic affects it could have if spread to urban areas.

What was the flu pandemic of 1918?

The Influenza pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish Flu, caused more people than all the wars of the 20th century combined – and it is believed to have killed 25 million in its first 25 weeks.

The virus spread to every continent across the globe.

In the UK, experts believe the virus was spread by soldiers returning home from the trenches in northern France.

Symptoms included sore throat, headache and a loss of appetite.

The death toll was 228,000 in Britain alone.

By the end of pandemic in 1919, only one region in the entire world had not reported an outbreak – an isolated island called Marajo, located in Brazil’s Amazon River Delta.