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tv   Inside Story  LINKTV  November 30, 2021 5:30am-6:01am PST

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dareen: the race to contain a new covid-19 variance -- countries are closing their borders, re-imposing travel restrictions and quarantine measures -- a clear sign the pandemic is far from over. what are governments prepared to deal with the ever-changing virus? this is "inside story." hello and will come to the program. i'm dareen abughaida.
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just as countries around the world were starting to reopen their borders and lift covid-19 restrictions, a new variant is now threatening to derail the progress of the past few months. several nations have imposed travel restrictions to and from southern africa. the world health organization says it poses a high global risk. so governments have been put on notice -- be prepared. little is known about the new strain, but there are fears it may be highly infectious and more resistant to vaccines. more than two years since the start of the pandemic, it shows no signs of ending. health officials are urging nations to speed up their vaccination drives. we will bring in our guests in just a moment, but first, here is more from the head of the who, who urged countries to work together to fight the pandemic. >> we understand and support every governments responsibly to protect its own people. it is natural.
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but inequity is not charity. it is in every country's best interests -- no country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone. the longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent. dareen: let's bring in our guests -- joining us from cambridge is a senior lecturer at queen mary university in london. the deputy director of the africa center for disease control and prevention in -- and in oxford, the professor of political economy at sheffield in the u.k. thank you for joining us. just about a year ago when
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vaccination started rolling out, the belief by some was that life could certainly return to normal. just when things seem to be looking up, infection start increasing again. and now, we have this new concerning variant. are you surprised by this or did you expect this to happen? >> i am not at all surprise. a lot of that rhetoric has come from politicians, particularly in the west where the idea has been let's live with the virus and return to normal. scientists have been warning for a while that that is not possible with the virus that can adapt and become more transmissible and more able to escape vaccines. this is entirely protectable because we had a new variant arise almost every three or four months. this is right on time with predictions many people have been making. unfortunately, we have been largely ignored by governments who want to return to normal but are not taking the steps needed to ensure that variants do not
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rise. dareen: i see you nodding along fault -- nodding along. what is your take? >> it is clear that with the coronavirus you taking so rapidly, the ones that will emerge are more resistant to the vaccine. this does mean that until the world is fully vaccinated, we are going to have to live with it, in the sense we are not going to be able to go back to normal. this is the new normal. we are at least wearing masks, physical distancing, restrictions on travel, i think is inevitable for several years yet. the worrying thing is the world has not made a huge amount of progress in vaccinating entire populations. most european countries are about 70%. in the u.s., it is about 60%. most african countries, it is at
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5%. in south africa, where this has risen, is only about 25%. these levels of vaccination make it inevitable we will see this virus across the globe and that will continue to give us huge economic destruction and hughes -- huge increases in poverty. dareen: omicron has been classified as a variant of concern come as you know. what is the data -- what does the data tell us about its infection risk and will become the dominant strain or is it too early to say so? >> thank you for having me. let me start by correcting the previous speaker. who has alluded to omicron virus having been coming from south africa. that is incorrect. the correct position is it is impossible to know where a
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variant first appears. the more efficient scientists are the ones that will be declaring they have characterized a particular variant and that is what south africa and china have done. it is the officials in the system now being turned around to believe this particular variant has come from south africa. we don't know a lot about this particular variant. but the fact of the matter is we know, we expected from the very beginning that we are going to be having different variants. that is the way viruses are. they are going to mutate over time. that's not a surprise. what is surprising is the panic we are seeing across the globe. by the time a new variant has
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been characterized, it has been circulating within the globe. it is then very difficult to try and close doors and pretend it will not come into one particular community. what we need to do is to understand what this new variant is all about. we still don't have enough information to do that. then we act appropriately. the appropriate reaction is to use all the tools at our disposal. vaccines is just one of them. we must go back to all the other tools, public health measures, masking up, writing the correct information not panicking so we can stay ahead of this pandemic. otherwise, if you panic, it will get ahead of us. dareen: is this, then, the new normal -- sanitizing, mask
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wearing, vaccines? are people just going to have to learn how to live with lockdowns and restrictions and vaccines and screenings for these foreseeable future? -- for the foreseeable future? >> we are going to be living differently from the pre-pandemic days. there is no doubt. we can, however, bring this to a stop. acting on our own individual countries and communities is not going to stop the pandemic. this is a global pandemic. we much approach it from a global -- we must approach it from a global perspective. then we can bring this to a stop and some restrictions will be able to be removed. but so long as we continue to look at this from nationalistic
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spectacles, we are not going to have it end. any new variant that will come is not going to be able to be contained in one country or one region. it will spread. so we must act together so we can remove these restrictions and continue with life more comfortably than it is now. dareen: is that something that you agree with? the president of south africa himself described this as a wake-up call for the world, regarding particularly vaccine inequality. he warns that until everyone was vaccinated, more variants were inevitable. with countries having different access to vaccines, is he right? >> frankly, this has been obvious from when the pandemic started. you need a locally coordinated approach. this is not a virus you can live with -- you will see new versions of this virus emerge,
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each one potentially worse than the previous. but you don't just need a coordinated vaccine strategy. there's also no doubt there is a massive hoarding of vaccines in the west that has pushed the rest to the end of the queue despite there being a huge need. but there needs to be a coordinated effort to deal with misinformation and vaccine hesitancy which is affecting all parts of the world, including south africa. unless we have a focus of every tool in the toolbox, but -- not just vaccines, but masks and good surveillance systems, we will not be able to get on top of this. it is essentially using every lay or we have and ensuring no country is disadvantaged because of lack of access or shortages or lack of infrastructure as well as dealing with the huge amount of misinformation spread across multiple avenues, including social media. dareen: what do you think
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governments need to do to manage this virus more effectively so we can get back to our normal lives? >> i certainly agree we need to be sharing vaccine across the world. recently, the u.k. destroyed 600,000 vaccines which had gone past their effective data. which is an absolute moral disgrace and economic disaster. it's appalling western countries have not been enabling rates of vaccination for the rest of the world. as has been said by various agencies, including the head of the who, none of us is safe until everyone of us is. but this issue of vaccine hesitancy is a huge problem. in the u.s., it looks very unlikely they will ever be able to get to herd immunity because very large numbers of people, almost entirely associated with
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the supers of the republican party do not believe in vaccinations and seemed to believe the whole current thing is a hoax. that is a kind of not just information but a political war on health and equity. many countries round the world see this, where you have vaccine hesitancy bound up with wider mistrust of government or professional experts. this is a real problem that we have to address in every country where this occurs. dareen: how difficult is it to balance what scientists want and what society and populations need in term of -- in terms of function and well-being? >> from an economic point of view, it is very difficult. there's no question as you restrict certain kinds of contact and travel at certain sectors of the economy will be hurt. the tourism industry in particular. it's estimated the economic cost across the world, particulate
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from the lost of travel and tourism might go up to $4 trillion last year and this year. that's a huge economic cost and it's obviously much harder for people and industries where most workers cannot work from home. in manual labor sectors, the option of working from home, which is possible for white-collar workers, does not exist. this is having a huge economic cost. but, in the end, a pandemic which we don't get rid of will have a larger economic cost. it is a balance. some countries seem to have done it better than others. in other places, restrictions have been minimized because of political opposition. there is a strand of libertarianism, definitely in my own country and in the u.s., which sees things even as simple as mask wearing as incursions on personal liberty. that kind of attitude is making the situation worse. dareen: we will delve into the
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economic discussion a little more, but take a look at the statistics. this new variant is threatening to undo the recent economic recovery. millions of people lost their jobs when businesses were forced to close during the initial wave of the pandemic. global supply chains are severely disrupted. many ports are clogged with shipments causing supply shortfalls and the international monetary fund predicts the cost of food and gas will rise 4.3% this year. that's the biggest jump since 2011. on the issue of travel, the president of south africa has called on countries which imposed recent travel bans as well as other regional countries to urgently reverse their decisions before any further damages done to our economies. knowing the u.k. and u.s. are among some of those who have imposed those travel bans, do
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you think they are going to make a difference fighting this variant? >> travel bans don't work. this is not the first variant we have faced. when we started with the alpha, the beto, the delta can we have good evidence travel bans do not work. in fact, during this time of omicron, we have seen at least 12 countries have reported documenting omicron variant. so closing down by banning travel from one country to another will not help. dareen: i wonder if you can tell us about what that evidences -- evidence is? >> if you go to each and every type of variant, the only way to know which variant you are dealing with is to go through
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genome sequencing. if a country is doing full genome sequencing, they would be able to tell what kind of variant they have. not all countries have that. when we share the data -- [indiscernible] when you look at the way the variants are being identified across the world, it is not following a path from one country to the other, it's popping up among people who cannot have traveled anyway or come into contact with someone else who have traveled. it means the way in which these variants are traveling across the world, we cannot define effectively. if we cannot define the pathway, the closure of borders is not going to help. in fact, it's damaging a response into two very important ways.
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one, it's going to discourage countries from doing full genome sequencing and sharing their data. second, economically speaking, by starting to label countries as sources of different types of variants, we are going to start affecting not only response of the public to vaccination but the economic damage that is going to be caused. there's going to be more as we deal with variants and not parts of the world, we are going to be more effective. but travel bans do not work. they have never worked. they are not going to work for this variant or any other in the future. dareen: what is your opinion? are the travel bans premature, and overreaction? >> by the time a variant is identified, it is widespread.
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by the time it was identified, it was here in england because the transport links. it doesn't mean slowing down import doesn't help. certainly it helps, but not from travel bans. screening at the border and strong quarantine measures and not targeting single countries but comprehensive ones that require isolation and testing of travelers. those measures have been shown to be highly effective. with the caveat that they are effective because you're going to slow down spread. ultimately, cases will come unless you have blanket restrictions that some countries in the southeast have. i don't see countries like the u.s. and u.k. doing much else. the time needs to be urgently used, to reduce existing ways to
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build health care capacity, to increase vaccination and boosting. unless the time is used to do that, it is going to be wasted. dareen: i will ask you the question we put at the top of the show -- is this going to be the new normal? should people continue to expect travel bans? i know our guests does not agree, but should people expect this to be the new normal and expect travel bans every few months because of the coronavirus? >> i think it depends on the political will. if there is a global, coordinated effort toward elimination, things like quarantines and travel restrictions and other restrictions in the shorter term. and by shorter term, i still mean, unfortunately, over the course of a few years, like we did with the measles. we eliminated it, but gradually. but if the courses living with the virus, i'm afraid we are
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looking at longer-term restrictions. paradoxically, the focus on short-term freedoms has trumped the science, which means we are living in longer-term restrictions and much greater economic damage. it's time for politicians and scientists to reflect on can we make a globally coordinated effort that requires short-term pain but living with a virus that can become more transmissible and escape the tools we have? dareen: how do governments balance keeping their economies afloat while protecting populations from transmission? is the strategy going to have to be different than last time? >> the strategies and countries that are more vaccinated is different. so, lockdowns are occurring less than they used to, though we are seeing new lockdowns in some european countries because
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transmission has extended far enough. at that will be different in many countries going forward. many industries have become better at adapting to the situation. in other sectors, we've got better logistics, better ventilation of the links and so on. between industry and government, we've seen the economic costs have not been as great. but if we don't succeed in vaccinating very large numbers of the population globally, not just certain countries, these things won't be fully effective. some very difficult choices because the economic costs are considerable. you have the direct health costs of people getting the disease. you have huge economic costs from making it more difficult for people to work and consume and produce. those have real health costs, themselves. people become ill, people are
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poor, they cannot access health care themselves. it's a very difficult balancing act. dareen: what you are saying is economic equality -- economic inequality will worsen? >> economic inequality will worsen either under leaving the pandemic to go its own way or restricting the economy much more deeply. neither choice is good for poor people because poor people have fewer options always. so inequality is likely to rise. this is why it is so important governments extend the vaccination programs, particularly in the donation of programs from rich countries to poor countries. in the -- in a way, that's the only way we will get control of it and the only way we can find some degree of equitable outcome. i just want to say about travel bans -- any form of travel restriction is an economic cost
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to the countries involved. even if you don't ban people come if you quarantine them, force them to have tests convoys have to pay for, you will have a restriction on the amount of travel. whether or not it is actual bands or better quarantining, vaccination, testing processes, that will impact travel is economic costs. dareen: to what extent do you think this pandemic has been a revelation on weaknesses that exist in how we all live together? >> absolutely. the weaknesses have been across the board. all types of communities and countries, all types of social strata is concerned. all of us have been exposedd in different ways. two things i would like to add to that -- one is that we do
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have tools at our disposal that we need to use to slow this down so we are able to perform adequate economic activity. one is testing -- we have rapid tests now which give you a result in a matter of minutes. we need to use these more effectively so we can be able to identify hotspots quickly and put out the spread as fast as possible before it goes into other parts of the world. effective testing needs to be ramped up. second is vaccination. we need to vaccinate. that way we can reduce the number of people who are going to be seriously ill and be less of a threat on her systems and have fewer people who can be able to spread the virus more efficiently. finally is misinformation.
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human beings come if they are given correct information, they tend to react in a positive way. there will always that -- always be that part of society that will not react in a positive way. how fast we do it and how effectively we teach the population and ensuring the population with those responsible for guiding and correlating the response. currently, we are not doing enough providing that and need to do it more effectively. dareen: thank you so much for joining us. we appreciate your time. thank you for watching. you can see the program anytime by visiting our website, al jazeera.com. for further discussion, go to our facebook page. you can join the conversation on twitter. from myself and the whole team here, thank you for watching. goodbye for now.
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