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tv   To the Point - International Debate from Berlin  LINKTV  January 24, 2022 4:30am-5:01am PST

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the winter olympics in beijing are looming ever closer and china is being put to the test as it battles to contain outbreaks of the highly contagious omicron strain of covid 19 china has adoed a zero covid policy. that means strict restrictions in public life in many parts of the country. so is it working or might it backfire on to thpoint we a olympic struggle can china beat omicron. thanks very much for joining us here today on the show and in the studio with me is suji fan brunnis. um, from
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d. w. asia desk she says zero covid policy might have benefited china in the last two years. but omicron and the olympics could be a game changer. also with us is to be a squirt. a professor of public health at berlin's charite hospital he argues nothing can stop on micron. it can only be slowed down and warm. welcome to to science journalist k cup for schmidt. he says with much of the country vaccinated. the question of what an exit from zero covid in china could and should look like looms large thank you for being here. all three of you. thank you for those interesting comments. lots to talk about.o let's get on with it. suji the eyes of the world on beijing, that's for sure. the stakes are high what is your feeling is a large scale outbreak of the omicron variant likely in china in the near future i think because the high transmission rate of omicron. it's
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something very new. china is dealing with at the moment and i think china will do everything in its power to try and contain and not lead to an outbreak during the olympics uh as well as um we kind of have a perfect storm situation because we have the lunar chinese lunar new year that is on one february which is usually the period of the highest migration in china. and even though the chinese government has advised everyone to stay at home and not travel and they are taking a lot of precautions for the olympics are fencing off all facilities and athletes are being uh ferried to the campus and having everyday a test and if you're vaccinated you don't need to quarantine. but um all the precautions are in place. but i think with every single amit cron case that arrives in china, um every single case will um weekend xi jinping's zero covid policy and i think that in the future we
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can, as you said before, we can only slow down on micron. but i think china will stick as uh with the zero covid policy for as long as it can. can i come first. but i just wonder, you know, a lot of people must be listening to this kind of these kind of comments looking at the situation at the moment i'm wondering why on earth is an event like the olympics being staged at all at this time in this place. it's a good question. um, i think, i mean of course from the chinese perspective i think it's also it's it's an opportunity to prove to the world you know the superiority of the chinese approach to to sars cov two. i do think we are in this phase of the pandemic now where these questions about what can how much can we go back to normal life? what are the things that we you know that that we can do and can we do them? safety
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is an important question. and i've always been a little bit skeptical of you know risk mitigation being basically avoiding all risk right. i mean the question is how do you stage an event like the like like the beijing olympics and how do you try to do it in the safe st way possible? and i mean the bigger question that that i have really is how long can a country keep the zero covid strategy up? and i think it's not completely clear at the moment because there are some questions about omicron how much more transmissible is it really than delta. we don't really know that we know it's much better at infecting people who have some immunity but that doesn't mean that the virus itself is more transmissible necessarily and so you know i think what we've learned in this pandemic again and again is that politicians policymakers need to be very flexible. they need to look at the data, they need to be able to to navigate a constantly changing environment. and i think what you just said that china is going to hold onto this
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policy as long as possible. i think that in itself is a bit of a danger because really you want to be flexible, you want to be nimble, you want to act fast and and also give up these policies when it becomes clear that they are causing more hurt than then then they're actually contributing to the public health and in a country like china. and i think those are the big questions for 2022. what do you have to add professor court to those in terms of hard data, hard information to the to the questions that can incorporate strength has just been asking. so data are important. we don't we don't know the data from china. i'm sure china is collecting data like crazy but the public doesn't know much about it. so zero, covid obviously failed because macron has arrived in china. so the smaller the strategy like as little as possible until the olympics for sure. but even during these is china admitting that it has failed here. certainly not, certainly not. i mean the restrictions are massive and they try their best to really keep it quiet and down as much as possible.
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but now during the olympics, many people come to china there will be clusters within the the athletes groups. journalists as we see now with the handball european championship no matter what measure you do and germany i think has had good measures and 13, 15 people infected that is that is not going to work. okay. we talked about it already. so let's take a closer look at china's zero covid approach which is under pressure to put it mildly. this is what china's zero covid strategy looks like. even with just a few known coronavirus cases, the government is imposing strict curfews for whole metropolis is comprised of millions of people it's an extreme lockdown. the affected cities will be sealed off and residents will only be allowed to leave their homes for daily protests and shopping if that the policy is strict but effective. china claims to have the lowest infection rates in the world until now. their first omicron cases were reported
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in early january and authorities are deeply concerned because china's sinovac vacne doesn seem to offer much protection against the omicron variant. the winter olympics are just around the corner, which means that tens of thousands of foreign athletes officials and journalists will soon be entering the country. they are supposed to enter a strict quarantine upon arrival separating them from the rest of the population. but experts still wonder will there be a massive outbreak of the omicron varit in china. and one of those experts is to be his court and i'd just like to come back to that question. do you think they can keep a lid on this. how concrete can you be about that? not for long. i think the omicron variant has shown to be so transmissible in other countries and they will also happen in china. you can slow it down, but i don't think you can you can really stop it down. well, these are the most strict measures that we can think of right now. and i agree with
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the accomplishment that that it's it's it's hardly measurable that you can keep this for for monthso really keep it down, it won't be possible. so at one point, i expect to see a racing g cases in china why what do we wha t do we know about omicron and what do we need to know? i think one thing that sometimes gets a little bit lost. we just saw in the clip, you know that that the vaccines don't seem to offer a lot of protection against macron i think was the phrase you really have to look closely at that. what what that means is protection from infection. we do think that the basically all the vaccines that we have at the moment do offer significant protection from severe disease and from death and that's really really important because while the virus spreading like wildfire through china would still be a huge issue in terms of disruption to work and all of these things, the hope is that it wouldn't lead to the kind of wave of deaths that we've seen in other countries earlier and so i think it is important to realize that, you know we're
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talking a lot now about the potential risk for china in 2022. but they are in an enviable position in some ways. i mean, they have managed to weather this pandemic a lot better than a lot of other countries have, they have avoided these big waves and whatever happens now, they are not looking at the kind of death wave that we've seen in spain and italy in the us in the uk. and but you need to be able to also shift from that strategy at some point. because otherwise, you can really be creating a lot of hurt in in those moments where you're clinging onto a policy that maybe at that point isn't reading with creating a lot of hurt. well i mean if you imagine that omicron starts spreading and the only answer that the government has is to lock down more and more places for longer and longer. and then those are, those are huge side effects that you're basically, um, you know willing to, to to have the public suffer in order to keep the virus from spreading. but at some point of course, the risk of this virus spreading might actually be lower. at least the risk in terms of public health.
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the political risk is of course a different one and that just like we're seeing in the uk at the moment with boris johnson lifting all restrictions. i think you know, whenever you look around the world, you hav e to look at the politics in these countries, you know within the country to understand a little bit why certain decisions are being made. it's not just the scientific evidence as we all know, susie. what do you know? what can you tell us? i know it's quite, i know it's difficult, but what can you tell us about how the chinese people are responding to all this uncertainty about what sort of knowledge they have at their disposal, how the government is sort of working with them. how whether the government's priority is t the people or the games. these are very difficult questions. i think in general, most chinese people do support the government's decision to keep a zero covid strategy. and um i think china has in accordance with its knowledge of it's health system. um, it's set up covid policies which will suit its health care
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system and currently most hospitals in china for example, in shanghai it's, we haven't even seen many cases of omicron but the hospital is already burdened with too many patients. and so the main priority currently of the zero covid strategy is china knows that its hospitals nationwide will not have the capacity at the moment if the coronavirus were too have waves as we had here in europ e. so that the current vaccine that china is using simply won't work against the new variants and it, but it has to work the chinese, the chinese government has got a really big problem there. well, potentially, yes, so as keiko fishman said like the we we expect not that many severe cases, but if you have many people getting infected then if the likelihood
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is lower that you get severely infected still a lot of people will get severely infected vaccinated or not. so it's it's uh one has to stay flexible really, one has to stay more watch the situation more dynamically and then act. so just just having one strategy for as long as possible is very difficult to communicate. and and i also think that the suffering of the population in terms of public health consequences outside of the viral infection will be severe in china. how much of a threat is this to the credibility of xi jinping as chinese leader. i think that china can withhold for example, if there's an outbreak, i think for one month of quarantine um we can predict that china and the population will be able to deal with it for one month. but you know if it carries on and the virus spreads and then we have entire cities and ports
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in lockdown of more than six months or leading up to six months, people will definitely get frustrated and people will lose their jobs and companies, global supply chains will be hit. and i think of course the xi jinping government also wants to keep people happy with the government and they know that anything beyond one month of lockdown will definitely get people very frustrated at towards the central government as a as a journalist, where do you where do you see that situation leading? you've got the problem with lockdown, the threat to the economy you've got the public health threat, how is that going to be knitted together or how is it going to impact china in a in a drastic way? potentially. yeah, i mean i do think that this year at some point we are going to see a massive impact on china, whether it is because of, you know the public health restrictions that are put in place in order to to keep them
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from spreading or because omicron spreads. i t hink at least in the future when we look back, i feel like a lot will depend on how well china is preparing for plan b. i mean given the very clear risk that omicron is going to spread the question is what are people doing, what is the government doing to prepepare for that eventuality? what do we know that? i honestly couldn't say, i haven't been following enough. what what's being said in china, i think at e moment, all that i'm hearing is still, we are, you know, committed to the zero covid policy, but i think it would be ludicrous if people weren't in the background, you know gaming out? okay, what can we do if this really spreads? how do we keep the disruption low? how do we make sure hospitals are staffed? how do we make sure if there is a big influx of patients with severe disease, how do we deal with that? that is really what what what people are going to judge the chinese government's um you know actions in 2022 i think
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and what what do you think to be as quiet about? what does this tell us about sort of other similar events in the in the in the future like bundesliga football matches in germany or the carnival in rio or all these large scale events that are so important for humanity. well i think we need to understand what is actually happening, collecting data meaningfully and not just comparing cases to nothing. so i think we really need to be flexible. you cannot compare a strategy in one country and bring it to another country in their work. so we in germany have to decide what is, what is our measure where we say, ok go how many infections or how many severe infections after a soccer game, football game we accept. so that's something we need to discuss but like keeping everything away from the people for a long time won't work. okay. the omicron variant is spreading at pretty much unprecedented rate at the same time though people in some places at least some countries at least are again out enjoying packed
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bars and packed streets. how does that work? indeed does it work? let's have a quick look. the pomegranate variant is giving researchers reasons to be both coerned and peful they'reorried because the virus is much more contagious than its pdecessors. they're hopeful because it also appears to be less severe compariso gmany's leading virologist predicts that the disease will become a controllable endemic rather than a prolonged pandemic. isn't he says the prereqequisite for this is vaccinating and boosting the elderly and other at risk communities. it's already the case in israel where the government has lood at nearlall coronavir restrictis despite an increase in infection numbers. life on the streets
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appears to be getting back to me in spain. people wear masks voluntarily. large parades like this one as well as restaurant visits are impossible without restrictions. just how dangerous is overgrown. mhm yeah. see that is the big question guy. code for schmidt. i mean, we see people out on the streets in that report in isra and and spain for example. and here in germany at the same time, my sense is that we're standing on the cusp of a possible very large scale crisis in the next two or three weeks. that is what we're being told he is very imp ortant to to kind of paint a very differentiated picture about what the risks are here. we have in the last two years talked a lot about you know, these catastrophic risks of lots of people dying we have seen more than 100,000 people die in germany of covid-19. that is not what we're seeing. that. that is not what most scientists
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are worried about. if we look at the next few months, most of the worry is that we still have a lot of unvaccinated people in germany compared to spain for instance, compared to israel so that means that we do have, you know, the risk of some people having severe disease and death. but the majority of people are vaccinated. they are protected f rom severe disease and death, but they might be sick. they might have to isolate. a lot of people might have to quarantine because they've been in contact. is that already happening in your, in your circle here in germany because people are talking about that. yes. yes. it's very clear to me that that the we are at the beginning of this very, very steep rise of cases that we've seen in other places because we had measures in place for delta that was delayed in germany but we are now seeing the same kind of rise that we've seen in places like denmark or spain. so everybody is going to experience this in their circle. they're going to see a lot of people get sick and isolate, but it's not the same worries that we used to have. and i think that is very important now endemic
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doesn't come from the word end right, endemic just means this is a virus that is here to stay. but most people who get infected with it already have some kind of immune memory of having been exposed to the spike protein ideally through a vaccine or through natural infection. and so the the the the the societal implications are different ones but there are still societal implications like we said with china if everybody is sick of work that disrupt supply chains in germany, if a lot of doctors are out sick from the hospitals, you still have a problem with having having enough people there for all the other diseases that people have that aren't covid. and so we have to take this seriously. but we also have to realize that there is this is a different level of worry i think then what we were worried about the last two years and that's thanks to the vaccines and frankly the biggest thing we can still do is to make sure that the people who haven't had a single shot of this vaccine get one and that goes for germany but it certainly
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also goes for three billion people worldwide who haven't received a single shot of this vaccine. sure susie, how concerned are you personally, personally, if i'm being very honest, i have family in china elderly relatives and i think personally i feel more comfortable for some reason whether it's rational or not um that they are in china with a zero covid policy at the moment. and then if they were here in europe and when i think about my relatives saying i'll come visit you in europe, i'll say no, it's better not to come. also my other families in new zealand which is also zero covid strategy and i feel a level of comfort for whatever reason, you know that they are in a zero covid strategy country. but in saying that i have so much more freedom and i can travel in the summer and when the cases are down, i can come in here to the office, you know it's a so i have a level of freedom that they are not enjoying
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for example and i can still go abroad within europe and even other countries. so yeah, professor kurt what's the what's the worst case scenario for germany in the next in the next couple of months for you? it's um the worst case scenario is that we're getting more severe sickness than we think we are getting. so that that would be something where we're adding on uh the issue with the current een people are not able to work and we're getting more and more patients in the hospital so it's it's actually already starting that that physicians and nurses are not as available as before because of their own currency in order their kids are in currently. so so and if this is increasing then the question is can we keep the system running and if then severe cases come, which we do not expect to happen because of the vaccination because of what kind of punishment explained then we are running into a rea l issue but i don't expect that to happen. and what can we learn from
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countries like israel and spain where there's definitely a different approach, it's always very difficult to compare countries. so in israel the elderly population are vaccinated. so as a country the vaccination rate is lower than in germany but the higher risk or high risk population, those are vaccinated so i think that's an important consequence that we may think also to connect in germany uh omicron is an opportunity. that's a that's a phrase that i've heard a couple of times i said i see you sort of looking slightly bemused an opportunity for what i mean you know this is still a deadly virus, amazed how often i have heard that phrase or very similar phrases in the last weeks psychologically it's understandable that i mean we have had two years of really bad news and a lot of times with this virus it felt like the worst case scenario came true now. um macron is falls a little
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bit outside of that scope because it is actually from what we know a little bit milder in the disease it causes than say delta not necessarily milder than the virus that evolved from which is important. we don't know what the next variant will be. but i mean i think people focus a lot on the virus and they say, oh macron is an opportunity. but we are in the situation that we are in because we developed vaccines in record time and we've vaccinated a lot of people around the world in record time. that is why we are talking about transitioning to some kind of endemic state. it is not because this virus itself is somehow you know that harmless. it simply isn't. it's the fact that it is meeting the population that has a huge amount at this point of of immunity. and in a lot of countries that vaccine induced immunity and its infection induced immunity on top of that. which is why a country like the uk probably has a very high immunity wall to a virus like this. okay, you mentioned earlier, german virologist christiane drost and he is very influential
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here in the country. he says he believes we will get back to the kind of life we had before the pandemic do you share that optimism? yes, of course i don't think this pandemic. i mean a pandemic always ends the question is how much death and destruction do you get along the way? and you know the vaccines were our way of reducing that that burden. it doesn't necessarily cut the time short that it takes for for this pandemic to work its way into an endemic state but it reduces the price that we pay for it and that's why we want everybody to be vaccinated. and and the sooner we get to that stage, i think the sooner we do get back to normal life, i do think there are some things that will stay for a while longer. i do imagine that even next year or the year after we might in winter have certain restrictions like wearing masks, things like that. but i also think that that is a burden that we can all easily, you know, shoulder after the last years of of restrictions that we've lived through. g how do you see the future here in germany for yourself? do you share
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that optimism? um i think that i can say optimism um an opportunity for europe and the rest of the world means, i think not so much optimism for china um china actually, um economy grew in china in the during the pandemic and d now it's declining in the last quarter. so i think while the world now is dealing with omicron in an open way, china might question it zero strategy. okay. we'll have to leave it there. we've been talking about china and omicron, i hope we've given you plenty of food for thought. if we have to
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