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Interview With Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC); Interview With Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI); Omicron Threat; Interview with "Writing with Fire" Filmmaker Rintu Thomas; Interview with "Writing with Fire" Filmmaker Sushmit Ghosh. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 29, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
DR. MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: This variant has a large number of mutations. And some of these mutations have some worrying
AMANPOUR (voice-over): As a new coronavirus variant spreads around the world, governments rush to impose travel bans. But is that the answer? I
asked epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, who fronts the WHO's global COVID strategy.
Then: Taiwan on alert, as Chinese warplanes get too close for comfort. I speak to two U.S. congresswomen who just visited Taipei, Democrat Elissa
Slotkin and Republican Nancy Mace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We don't take bribes to report news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Speak within your limits. Don't overdo it.
AMANPOUR: Hari Sreenivasan speaks to the team behind "Writing With Fire," a new film about the only news outlet in India run by low-caste women.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And an anxious wait is now under way for answers, as the new coronavirus variant spreads. Omicron has been detected in at least a dozen countries
and is now the dominant strain in South Africa, where it was first identified.
Public health officials say that it'll take at least two weeks to get all the data necessary on the key questions of transmission, immunity and
severity of the new variant. The U.K. today expanded its vaccine booster program. Japan and Israel are flat-out banning all foreign visitors from
entry, while the E.U. Britain, the United States and other countries have banned travel from several nations in Africa.
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, slammed those measures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Now, these restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and
our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But President Biden defended the measure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason for their immediate travel ban is, there were a significant number of cases, unlike any other
country, well, a few around South Africa, in the world.
We needed time to give people an opportunity to say, get that vaccination now before it heads -- it's going to move around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Biden also said that Omicron is a cause for concern, but not panic.
So let's get some answers from Maria Van Kerkhove. She is spearheading the World Health Organization's global COVID strategy.
Welcome to the program.
And let's just talk about what now and what specifically you're waiting to find out and how long that will take.
VAN KERKHOVE: Well, thank you so much for having me on the program.
As you have pointed out, there is quite a lot to learn about this new variant of concern that WHO has classified as Omicron. We have named it
Omicron. What we're trying to better understand -- and there are scientists around the world right now that are trying to better understand if there is
a fitness advantage.
Is there increased transmissibility for this particular variant? We don't have that answer yet. However, we do know that there are increasing cases
of this in South Africa, and there have been a number of countries that have detected this variant.
We're also looking to see if there's any change in the disease presentation or the severity profile. And right now, it's too early to tell. There are a
number of studies that are under way that are looking at the hospitalizations that are occurring in South Africa. Now, we do know that
there is an increase in hospitalizations.
But we don't know if that's a factor of the variant itself or because we are just seeing increasing cases and, therefore, increasing
hospitalizations. We actually saw that with the other variants that have been circulating around the world.
And we're also looking to see, does this variant, Omicron, are there any impacts on our countermeasures, on our public health and social measures,
on the use of diagnostics, on therapeutics and on vaccines? And, here, it's still too early to tell.
Our diagnostics, I can say, still work. They are detecting people who are infected with this virus and this variant. We do know that there may be
some potential impact on therapeutics, but those studies will take weeks to be conducted. And the big question is around, will there be some reduced
efficacy in our vaccines?
Now, I do want to point out and put this in common text that Omicron is the latest variant of concern that has been detected, but please remember and I
hope all of your viewers will understand that the Delta variant is dominant worldwide.
And vaccines, our therapeutics, our diagnostics, our countermeasures work against Delta, and they must be used. And we feel that enhancing those
measures around fighting against Delta will also help against Omicron.
AMANPOUR: So, a lot there to process. But I think, clearly, we understand that it's going to take some time to get those key answers.
How much time? We said two weeks, because that's what we have heard some scientists say. How long before you think, like, the vaccine companies will
know whether, in fact, the vaccines are actually -- how this new variant affects them?
And let me just put to you what President Biden said. He has referred to, obviously, the chief U.S. epidemiologist and adviser, Dr. Fauci, who says
that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant. And Biden says he's going to instruct all the U.S. manufacturers
to look further into it.
And his -- many governments are encouraging their people to have boosters. So how long do you think before we know some of this important data?
VAN KERKHOVE: I think we will get some information on transmissibility and severity in the coming days, maybe a week or two.
I do think it will take some time for us to get a better understanding of the impact on vaccines. Our estimate is between two and four weeks. And the
reason for that, it will take time to grow up stock of this virus, so that the experiments can be done.
I do want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing scientists in South Africa, who were so forthright in sharing this information with us, who
have since the beginning of this pandemic as well, as many other scientists around the world. They are conducting the studies. They will do these
neutralization studies in the coming weeks.
But it will take about two to four weeks until we get that preliminary information. One of the concerns that we had with this particular variant
is the sheer number of mutations that have been identified. And the reason we classified it as a variant of concern is, some of these mutations that
have been identified do have some detrimental impacts, particularly on monoclonal antibodies, and potentially -- I say potentially -- on vaccines.
What we don't know right now is, it's not just the emergence of a variant of concern. It's about how much it circulates. Now, this is something that
is expected. The more the virus circulates, the more opportunities it will have to change.
And so we could have these variants that emerge, these variants of concern that emerge, but they may not take off. So the big question for us, in
addition to, do the vaccines work, is, will it really seed itself in countries and will it really outcompete Delta, which is the most
transmissible variant we have seen to date?
And that's a really -- that's a big open question.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, I want to ask you this, because some of the -- I want to ask you about Delta vs. Omicron, because it is now dominant, apparently, in
South Africa as the strain.
Do you concur?
VAN KERKHOVE: Well, our colleagues in South Africa are doing an incredible amount of sequencing right now.
When we look at the epidemiology, we need to look at which cases are being sampled, which ones are being tested, which ones are being sequenced.
Certainly, the predominant sequence there being reported is Omicron.
But what I'm trying to gauge is a little bit of caution and understanding how much of this is circulating compared to other variants.
VAN KERKHOVE: South Africa went through three waves of infection. And they brought transmission down to a very low level.
The last wave that they had was the Delta variant. And so the seroprevalence, the amount of antibodies, in the country is somewhere
upwards of 60, 70 percent, which is probably what we see in a number of countries right now. And the big question is, if you put Omicron next to
Delta, what would happen?
We don't have that comparison yet. We will get some good data from other countries that are starting to detect this variant. And this is why it is
so critical that countries continue to report this. And we are worried. We are worried about the stigma associated with countries that report this
information so forthcoming.
It's really critical that that continues, and that countries don't feel that they will be penalized for reporting this information.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, you make a perfectly valid point and one, obviously, that the South African president and I presume all the other
African leaders who now had travel bans slapped against them pretty much concur.
They don't want to be punished. South Africa says, hang on a second. We told you guys. We have test and trace. We have detection. We shared it. We
were transparent. And now the world is slamming the doors against us.
So, as a epidemiologist, as a person who's in charge of the WHO COVID strategy globally, are these travel bans necessary helpful? How much, given
your previous experience, have traveled bans contributed to preventing or stopping or slowing the transmission?
VAN KERKHOVE: So it's possible that some restrictions can slow the spread, but it won't stop them.
So our recommendation for countries, when they look at what they can do with people who are traveling, is that it has to be part of a comprehensive
approach. If people are traveling, there are ways that we can minimize the risk of spread. This virus travels within people around the world. And we
have seen this over and over and over again. But we can't prevent the spread of this virus across borders.
You will hear in the coming days and you have heard over the last 12 hours or so how many countries have actually detected cases. Now, it may slow the
spread, but it won't stop it. What we are asking for is a proportionate response, time-bound, targeted, very specific.
But, also, you cannot forget that you can't put travel bans in place of good surveillance and good testing and having testing linked to public
health action, getting patients into early clinical care, isolating those patients, quarantining contacts, educating and informing your public.
That whole comprehensive package and tailoring of a comprehensive approach cannot be replaced with travel bans. So what we are saying is putting a
proportional response. Make sure that it is targeted and tailored and time- bound. And do not punish countries who are reporting information.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about -- because you mentioned immunity. There's immunity from having had the disease, and then there's immunity from
vaccines and the like.
Which is more effective?
VAN KERKHOVE: Well, any immunity that one can develop is good immunity. It will protect you against developing severe disease.
Now, our recommendation, of course, is to get that immunity from vaccination, because this is a safe way in which your body can develop
those antibodies and protect you from a developing severe disease and dying. There is a large amount of infection that has occurred around the
We have some estimates ranging anywhere -- depending on the region of the world, anywhere from less than 2 percent to over 50 percent of the
population being infected from natural infection. But, remember, infection from SARS-CoV-2 virus, many people will have mild disease. Some people will
go on to have severe disease. Many people will die.
But we cannot forget about post-COVID condition or long COVID. There is no zero risk, of course, of getting infected with this. And this is a very
dangerous virus. And I think one of the things I want to highlight on this program and to your viewers is that everything that we have to do against
Delta, we need to do for Omicron.
This pandemic is far from over. Despite what many people think that we are, we are nearing the end of this, I'm afraid not. And I'm afraid the fact
that we have this variant of concern that has emerged, as we enter the third year of this pandemic highlights once again that we not only have to
increase vaccine equity around the world, getting vaccines to those who are most at risk in every single country. We also have to drive down
So, everything that we do against Delta, which we should be enhancing and supporting now, will be beneficial for Omicron. There's no time to wait.
The science will take time. And we need scientists to have the time to get those answers. But actions do not need to wait. We know what to do. We just
need everybody to know how they need to play a role in ending this pandemic.
AMANPOUR: Well, I know. And we have heard this so many times over the last two years, that we know what to do. We just need to get people to do it.
And there is so much fake news and downright sort of hostility and hesitancy around vaccines in some very key parts of the world. How
difficult is that, and that layer on top of that the still very, very unsettling reality that vaccine inequity is predominant? Even though more
people are being vaccinated each year, there's still a huge, huge inequality amongst who is getting the vaccine and who isn't.
VAN KERKHOVE: I mean, there really is.
I'm just shocked more people are not screaming about this every single day. The idea that some can be protected while -- or the pandemic is over for us
while the pandemic will rage somewhere else, it's a problem over there, not over here, really shocks me, I have to say. Every day, I wake up to this.
But vaccine inequity is something everybody can fight against. And there's things that individuals can do. But we need governments. And we're so
grateful for governments who are donating vaccines, who have donated to COVAX, who have provided funds.
And hesitancy and misinformation and disinformation is a huge problem. It's a huge problem. And it's something that we are working on through community
leaders, through governments, through individuals to try to understand where that's coming from.
But what we do know is that many people in countries that do not have access to the vaccine, I hear a lot of excuses that they're hesitant. But,
in fact, they want the vaccine. This is a matter of access. And it's a matter of ensuring that that access -- that countries have access. It's not
charity, that countries have access to purchase the vaccine, so that they can roll it out in their countries.
And then, of course, work to develop to implement the vaccination plans that countries have worked so hard to do. But misinformation,
disinformation, I'm afraid, is just rampant. And all of us, again, everyone that's watching this has a role to play. Make sure you look at good
information, you find good information, you share good information, and you certainly don't pass along misinformation or disinformation.
AMANPOUR: So talk a little bit more about the vaccine inequity. I mean, I hear what you're saying, but does the WHO have a specific role in
distributing it further and farther to those who need it, the whole idea of COVAX and all the other big names that suggests that the world -- the rich
world will help the developing world?
It doesn't seem to have worked out that way. Is there anything your organization can do at this stage -- as you say, we're about to enter the
third year of this -- to change that dynamic?
VAN KERKHOVE: Well, we're working very hard through our COVAX partners every day to change that, making sure that there's a combination of an
approach in which vaccines can be shared.
There are ample vaccines. More than eight billion doses of vaccines have been administered to date, eight billion. And if those had been
administered differently, we would be in a very different epidemiologic situation, we would be in a very different economic situation and certainly
a very different ethical situation.
AMANPOUR: What do you mean by that? What do you mean by that, if it had been done differently? Eight billion is a lot. You're saying who they went
VAN KERKHOVE: Yes, that's what I'm saying, that with more than eight billion doses administered to date, if those had been administered to what
our recommendation was, with administering first to vulnerable populations, people over the age of 60, people with underlying convictions, our front-
line workers in all countries, not just in some countries, in all countries, we would have a very different profile right now in terms of
In countries that have used vaccines among those who are most at risk, we are seeing a decoupling, we call it, basically a separation between cases
and deaths. There's a significant reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among people who have received the vaccine. So if those eight billion doses
had been administered -- it's a big if, of course -- but if they had been, we would see fewer deaths.
There's no question in my mind on that. But we can make a change. So our targets are to reach 40 percent of all populations, 40 percent of the
world's population in all countries, not just 40 percent of the world, by the end of this year, and 70 percent of populations in all countries by
June 2022. This is achievable. This is achievable through ramping up of production, through making sure that the companies allow access to purchase
those for countries who are waiting in line to purchase those.
So we're working day in and day out to advance this, because our job at WHO and the World Health Organization with the thousands of people we work with
is to save lives. And we could do that right now, right now with the tools that we have. So why wait?
AMANPOUR: Well, it's a very good question.
Forty percent by the end of this year in every single country, that should be a slogan that everybody should take up. And we will continue to follow
this along with you all.
Thank you so much, indeed, for joining us, Maria Van Kerkhove. Thank you so much.
My next guests have just returned from a trip that China didn't want them to make. Republican Nancy Mace and Democrat Elissa Slotkin were part of a
bipartisan congressional delegation meeting with Taiwan's president. The Chinese government says the visit was in breach of the one China policy,
and Beijing recently sent dozens of fighter jets into Taiwan's defense zone.
So what did the lawmakers visit to this contested island achieve?
Congresswoman -- Congresswomen, welcome to the program.
So let me ask you both why you decided to make this trip at this time.
Congresswoman Nancy Mace, why was it important for a bipartisan delegation to go now? And I say it because obviously the background of there is so
much tension and so much focus on the China-U.S. relationship.
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Right. And thank you for having both of us on.
This was a historic trip. This was the first time in two years that a delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives made it into the Indo-
Pacific region. And we were out that way to celebrate and serve Thanksgiving to our troops. And so it was a real honor to be out there with
And then on the tail end of that trip, we jumped down to Taiwan. And previous to COVID-19, these were regular and normal visits from members of
Congress out to Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan.
Taiwan is a friend of the United States. It's a free and democratic country. It's important to our economy and economies around the world. And
as we go through COVID-19, having some normalcy and reestablishing and continuing these relationships that we have built with different countries
around the world is extremely important to this administration and to the future administrations, something we ought to continue.
And it was an immense honor to be a part of it. I was the lone Republican on this bipartisan trip. And it was a great experience, I think, for all of
us to take back. When we work together on both sides of the aisle, we can accomplish so much, and we're stronger on the world stage for it.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that's an interesting point. When you're together, you can accomplish so much.
Taiwan is not just another country, though. In its own way, you have allies and U.S. troops and you want to serve Thanksgiving dinner, too. I totally
understand. But this has a completely different political connotation.
So, Elissa Slotkin, Congresswoman, we have talked before. You have previously been a CIA analyst, previously in the Pentagon. You have done a
lot of work on these strategic issues. The fighter jets that came -- well, let's first start with the fact that the Chinese government didn't want any
of you to go.
What did they do, Congresswoman Slotkin? They called each one of you? What was the reaction from all of you?
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Yes, well, we were out there traveling, as Congresswoman Mace said, serving Thanksgiving lunch to our troops in South
Korea, when we got word that a strongly worded message had been left with all of our offices in the form of an e-mail from the embassy here in
Washington, D.C., telling us to immediately cease and desist going to Taiwan, to cancel our plans.
It was an angry message. It was a blunt message. I believe we all received it. And we just said, thank you for your input, and continued on. This is a
normal part of a fact-finding mission, a conversation with a partner. So we got it, but we pressed on.
And I think it was hard to miss, wherever we went in the region, that China is becoming increasingly aggressive militarily, but also on sort of
economic security issues. So it was important to go to Taiwan to show our support, but also just to have that normal contact that used to happen
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you both, because, obviously, at the heart of all of this is the one China policy and the deliberate -- quote, unquote --
"strategic ambiguity" of the United States' position on Taiwan.
So, Congresswoman Mace, when you landed in Taipei, you tweeted, calling -- calling it the Republic of Taiwan. You basically said happy to be landing
there, just touched down in the Republic of Taiwan.
That clearly goes against the China one policy, how they interpret it. But you did that deliberately, right? I mean, it wasn't an accident?
MACE: Oh, no, it was not an accident at all.
And I will tell you the tremendous support for that tweet around the world and on both sides of the aisle. It was a subtle but strong message to the
people of Taiwan and Taiwanese American -- Taiwanese Americans as well, that we support the Taiwanese people, and that we want to protect -- I
believe help protect their freedom and their democracy.
And that message reverberated. And I'm proud to be part of the bipartisan delegation that did not listen to China when they made the demands to
cancel our trip. I'm grateful for Chairman Takano and the other members of the delegation who said, we're going anyway.
This was a resumption of business as usual for the United States, and especially in COVID, with supply chain issues, and the reliance on friends
and partners around the world at this time is extremely important, no matter what China says.
And so we have got to work together with our friends around the world to be successful to get out of this thing. And it was a great trip, as far as I'm
AMANPOUR: But what -- I guess my point and my question is, what does it lead to?
So, Congresswoman Slotkin, what does it lead to? Because is the United States -- I mean, by calling it a republic -- I know it wasn't you. It was
Congresswoman Mace. But does that mean that you're encouraging Taiwan to seek independence? Does that mean that if in fact it does, and if there's
any threat, military threat from China, that the U.S. will come to its military rescue?
What exactly does it mean, projecting into the -- if any of this happens?
Well, certainly, I think the point of the trip was to show our support for Taiwan's self-determination, right? They're being bullied. China is
bullying them. It's very, very clear. They're becoming more aggressive. And Taiwan is a place, frankly, if you're from a place like Michigan, we depend
I have a GM plant in my district that literally has not been open for the majority of the last five months because we can't get a 14 cent microchip.
And the biggest microchip producers in the world are the Taiwanese.
So it makes perfect sense for us to have relationships. It makes perfect sense to ensure that they are strong, that they have the capabilities that
they need to defend themselves.
And I think, listen, we met with the president of Taiwan. She is an inspiring leader. I was genuinely inspired, because she is taking this idea
of democracy, just going in head first and saying: I believe, in the long run, democracy wins over autocracy.
And she's a little island nation. And I think that that was an important message to reinforce by us visiting.
AMANPOUR: So, to both of you, do you think this could -- I hear what you're saying. And I hear what you're saying about China being a bullying
nation. But there's also U.S. law, and there's also a one China policy.
And Taiwan, though, seems to be emerging as a potential military flash point, from what you're saying and doing, from what President Biden is
saying and doing, also from what the Chinese president is saying. He has said, there will be reconcil -- or reunification between Taiwan by all --
any means necessary. What does that mean?
So are you -- I guess, did this congressional delegation come back with recommendations on how America's policy should potentially be tweaked in
this regard, Congresswoman Mace?
MACE: No, I wouldn't say that at all. I mean, this is a resumption of normal policy as usual to have a delegation from Congress visit Taiwan and
reinforce our relationships there. Our economies are intertwined with Taiwan and Korea and Japan and even China.
The United States is not the aggressor here. It's China who is the aggressor. And not only are they bullying Taiwan. They tried to bully
members of Congress and demand that we cancel this trip. And we ignored that. And I'm happy to help lead that effort as well, because no one should
be bullied by a communist country.
Freedom and democracy should be protected all around the world. And I have to tell you, with regards to the tweet that I -- when I called it the
Republic of Taiwan when we touched down, I had a young Taiwanese woman come up to me while we were visiting there, tears in her eyes, just grateful for
Having a republic means it's a government supported by the people, represented and powered by the people. And that was really the sentiment of
that tweet. And they were just so grateful for it, just our presence being here, and reinforcing the business ties we have, the economic ties and how
important it is to have that presence there and be friends with them.
It's important. And that was the message I took away from it as well.
AMANPOUR: Can I move on to another issue of great concern and interest to the United States and to the rest of the world in terms of security?
As you know, President Biden wants the United States to reenter the Iran nuclear deal that President Trump pulled out of. The other partners stayed
with it, the U.K., Germany, Russia, China. Interesting China's on board with this.
What do you both want to see happen?
Congresswoman Slotkin, should the United States do all it can to get back into this deal?
SLOTKIN: Well, look, I didn't believe we should get out of the deal to begin with. And there's no doubt about it. Iran has more enriched uranium
than they did two years ago. That's just a fact. They have fewer inspections than they did two years ago. That's just a fact.
And when it comes to the nuclear potential, that's a preeminent threat. And we have to focus on mitigating that threat. That said, we shouldn't just
get back into the deal as if nothing happened. And I think one of the flaws of the original deal is that it didn't cover other things like ballistic
missiles and the threat from Iran of ballistic missiles, the threat of their terrorism in the region.
Those are the kinds of things that, if it were up to me, we would be negotiating to get back into the nuclear deal, but then we'd be adding kind
of these stackable agreements on top and asking for more, in order to get back into that same rhythm.
But I think it's the right thing. I mean, it's a nuclear threat. And I was at the Pentagon. We maintain war plans all over the world. And when it
comes to a nuclear threat, that is the most impactful, serious threat that we deal with. So I do support the idea of trying to get to a better place.
AMANPOUR: Let me play a little bit of an interview that I did a few weeks ago, when the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator was in London as part of his
meetings with other members of the parties to the nuclear deal.
And he also -- the Iranian side has demands, just like the United States does. This is what he said to me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALI BAGHERI KANI, IRANIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The main issue in front of us is actually the return of the United States
to its commitments within JCPOA. This is the issue.
Therefore, the main issue in upcoming negotiations is actually removing all the illegal sanctions against Iran that have been done by the United States
against the Iranian nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Congresswoman Mace, he's saying that sanction removal has to be part of this. They have to have an assurance that, at the end of
negotiations, that will happen.
Do you agree with that? That obviously was part of the first deal, and that's why it happened.
MACE: No, I don't agree with that.
And Iran can't be trusted based on what they're trying to do and their machinations and the uranium that they have stockpiled. They are not our
friend. And in fact, they want to harm our allies like Israel. So, I am very concerned about negotiating with people that I don't think are going
to maintain their commitment to those negotiations or to any agreement that is signed. So, I do differ from that perspective.
AMANPOUR: OK. I mean, just to point out that it was the U.S. who pulled out of the deal. And according to the International Community, Iran was
keeping up with its commitments. But as Congresswoman Slotkin rightly points out, that as the U.S. pulled out, Iran's uranium enrichment did
increase. It's a difficult one to thread that needle.
Can I now ask you about COVID? We talked about it at the beginning of the program with the W.H.O.'s chief strategy officer regarding, you know, the
global containment of COVID. So, I just want to ask you all, what do you make of President Biden's, he is saying, yes, we must be concerned, no, we
mustn't panic. There needs to be, you know, this -- I don't know whether it's a temporary travel ban, but it needs to be in place and we need to get
vaccines out and about to everybody.
Congresswoman Slotkin, is the president on the right track? What's the tone? What do you think the U.S. should be doing about this new variant?
SLOTKIN: Yes, I mean, I think we're all obviously on a hair trigger after the Delta variant kind of came roaring back last summer. So, I think it's
good to watch these new variants, obviously, and try to understand them and understand how they're going to react with the vaccine and how spreadable
they are, but I think we just don't know enough right now and I don't think panic ever helps, right? I don't think anyone's ever going to recommend
panic. But methodically understanding the threat from this variant, I think, is important.
We know that getting vaccinated, getting a booster shot helps against all these variants. That's what we know thus far. And so, I think the guidance
is steady hand, same thing and wait to see what we learn from the scientists on this new variant.
MACE: And, Congresswoman Mace, I think, by and large, you also as a Republican have supported, you know, some of the early actions that
President Biden has taken and you've also tweeted about your own experience with actual COVID. I can attest that long COVID is a real thing. The worst
was the chronic fatigue and brain fog. On top of that I had chest pains, swollen ankles, shortness of breath for months after. It was debilitating.
Talk to us a little bit about vaccines and what you think -- you know, what the measures you think need to be taken.
MACE: And I want to add on CNN last night, I said for the -- told for the first time, I was recently diagnosed with asthma.
MACE: And this is not something that runs in my family or anything I've ever had before. This is post-COVID. I've had it for two or three months
now. I had COVID a year and a half ago. So, this is a disease and an illness that I have spoken frequently about. I've written op-eds about it.
I have worked with our -- the State Health Department here in South Carolina encouraging people to get vaccines. I've run ads to encourage
people to get vaccines. I've tweeted about it. It's very important that we consult with our physicians and make the right decision for us and our
And I can attest a year and a half after it, it's a very serious illness that should be taken seriously. I do support Biden's -- President Biden's
decision to ban travel from certain countries right now until we know more, just as I did when President Trump did it in 2020. I do agree with
Representative Slotkin that I would like to see more data collected on the new variant.
I can tell you, South Carolina, we really struggled when we had the Delta variant. It was debilitating, both for our kids in schools and businesses
that struggled through it. And we want to make sure that we sort of prevent that from happening in the future or at least reduce the opportunity for it
to spread as it did before. So, anything that we can do. Washing hands, wearing masks when these variants pop up, whatever the science tells us to
help prevent this thing from spreading, we should all work together to do that.
AMANPOUR: And, obviously, I just spoke to, as I've said, the W.H.O. chief strategist on this and the CDC, your own CDC says that, those unvaccinated
who suffered previous infection are five times more likely to get COVID than those who get vaccinated. And this obviously goes to something you
said on Fox News, and I need to ask you to clear it up because it's kind of all over social media and all over the other media.
Because you had said to Fox News, in some studies that I've read, natural immunity gives you 27 times more protection against future COVID infections
than a vaccination. It's not what the science says. Did you misspeak? Do you want to take it back?
MACE: Well, there was a study in September out of Israel where 700,000 patients that did say that. And so, I think it's important that -- taking
into account vaccinations and natural immunity, those things are not mutually exclusive nor are they contradictory. I think we've got to look at
all the science when we're creating policy for the country and for its citizens.
AMANPOUR: No, you're right. And as I said, the W.H.O. person did also say that any kind of immunity is good, but the vaccination immunity, according
to the CDC and the W.H.O. is much stronger. Mostly because in addition to what you experience yourself, getting the actual disease is so much worse.
So -- maybe we lost you. I think we lost your shot.
Elissa Slotkin, I don't know whether you want to respond to that or should we move on to a different topic.
SLOTKIN: No, I just -- I mean, think at this point, it's very clear that the fastest way to build immunity against the virus and its variants is
getting vaccinated. And you can talk to your doctor about it, you can have a conversation about it, but that is the single best way to get our economy
back rolling, to get kids like consistently back in school without worry of having an outbreak. Like that is what we need to get to a better place and
get over this thing because we're all exhausted by it.
AMANPOUR: Let me just end quickly with another China question. The Chinese military, as I said, you know, they had sent, you know, war planes in the
defense zone after your visit and before your visit. But more importantly, because that was clearly, you know, a show against (INAUDIBLE), they're
conducting hypersonic missile tests.
What does that mean? How dangerous is it? And, you know, President Biden has wanted to go into some kind of, you know, sort of arms control talks
with the Chinese. They historically have not wanted it, rightly pointing out that they don't have, you know, at all as many nuclear weapons deployed
as either the U.S. or Russia. So, hypersonic. How difficult -- how dangerous is that threat?
SLOTKIN: Well, I think, I mean, our chairman of the joint chiefs called it a sputnik moment. Certainly, coming from the Pentagon, we spent a lot of
time and effort experimenting with hypersonics. And to watch the Chinese do a successful test, it raised a lot of eyebrows around the defense
community. And I think it's not the only place where they are really making serious advancements. That's what's gotten people's ears up around
Washington, is that they have just been investing a lot of money in advanced technology.
They are not a democracy. They are an autocracy. So, they can just tell their military what to do. They're much faster in turning that technology
into capability. And on top of that, they're being more aggressive on basic things, not just -- you know, freedom of navigation. So, we have to watch
it definitely and realize we're in a new era when it comes to competition with China.
AMANPOUR: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you. And we thank also Congresswoman Nancy Mace. Sorry we lost that shot.
Next, we look at the documentary that "The Washington Post" is calling the most inspiring journalism movie maybe ever. "Writing with Fire" follows a
fearless group of journalists from India's most marginalized class, they are the Dalits. And their fight to maintain India's only women-led news
outlet. Five years in the making for the award-winning film makers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh. They join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the project
and what it reveals about relentless gender and caste discrimination in India.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thank you. Rintu Thomas; Sushmit Ghosh, thank you both for joining us.
Rintu, start by telling us the context in which this newspaper or website Khabar Lahariya works and why it's so different that it's run by Dalit
RINTU THOMAS, FILMMAKER, "WRITING WITH FIRE": India's news landscape is usually manned by or dominated by men and mostly dominant caste men. And
most of our newsrooms, it's dominant caste men who make decisions around what is the news that should be prioritized. So, you see a lot of
mainstream media reflecting the priorities of that demographic of people. And when we zoom into a space like Uttar Pradesh, which could be a country
in itself, the landscape rural media landscape again dominated by the same profile.
And so, in these parts, to be a woman journalist, as a rural woman journalist were sort of unheard of and so what a couple of areas doing is
breaking a huge glass ceiling both in terms of women as journalists as rural reporters but also Datil women who are realizing themselves,
negotiating a seat at the table and putting out a newspaper, which is entirely independent and has a feminist lens. And I think for all those
operated words, this is a unique news outlet.
SREENIVASAN: Sushmit, what drew you to this? I mean, this web site and this paper had existed before. How did they come to be in the first place?
SUSHMIT GHOSH, FILMMAKER, "WRITING WITH FIRE": So, they were a social experiment really 2002 and NGO came in at the ground, said, you know,
working with women in rural areas in Uttar Pradesh, what would your newsletter look like, was the brief for them. And essentially, these women
for six months designed, co-created their own newsletter and ended up distributing it in the spaces that they were in.
Once the ground ended, the NGO was pulling out, the women had tasted blood and there was this like, we wanted to continue. And some folks from the NGO
and the women who are working at the newsletter eventually went on to cover the area, which became a newspaper. I think what attracted us was we caught
this at a time where they were transitioning from print to digital.
So, you know, the forces of patriarchy and the caste system are 3,000 years old and, you know, the unfettered energy and the power of the internet
colliding anchored in the stories of Dalit women journalists in some of the most difficult parts of India to report from was a natural draw for us.
SREENIVASAN: I want to play a little clip here. This is a scene with Suneeta in it and she is coming over to cover a story about a road project
that's not happened. So, let's take a quick look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you here for?
SUNEETA PRAJAPATI: I'm --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which channel? TV or print?
PRAJAPATI: Khabar Lahariya. We're a newspaper and a channel --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldn't you demand a road --
PRAJAPATI: No. That's not my demand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then get out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't need you here. No one will believe that -- media companies give their journalists --
PRAJAPATI: You have no idea about how we work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should speak within -- our only demand is that you print --
PRAJAPATI: Let me make something clear -- absolutely not. We don't take bribes -- but you must be used to giving bribes. I don't need a bribe to do
my work. If the news is worthy --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: What's difficult for me to figure out is, is it harder being a woman, a Datil or a reporter? Because you can see that man, for example,
turning around and saying, no, no, no. You know, should sort of know your place, or just speak -- you know, speak with what you know about. And it
was kind of definitely condescending to her. But what was fascinating was that she was in what would be, to any journalist, a sticky situation where
she's got sources who are -- don't find -- certainly not welcoming of her, but she is negotiating this to get her story.
GHOSH: So, for context, if you're Dalit, you're at the bottom of India's social hierarchy. And then, add to that the weight of being the Dalit
woman, I don't think it gets much lower than that. The journalists in Kabul area are the first women journalists in the region. And so, people are not
used to seeing Dalit women with smart phones challenging them about accountability and budgetary, sort of like, you know, demands and
essentially and enforcing some kind of transparency.
They're most used to having them ordered to clean their toilets. Historically, that's how it's been. So, I think the women have really
embroidered a 3,000-year-old caste hierarchy on their -- on its head just by picking up cheap Chinese smart phones, accessing the internet and
delivering authentic news. People really want to see news and Kabul area delivering it.
I think it's a global phenomenon that more and more mainstream news networks are becoming sort of echo chambers. And over here, you have a
platform like Kabul area that is actually giving you something that is authentic, that is real, and that is enforcing transparency. And you can
see that in the film, roads getting built, hospitals access to health care, so on and so forth.
SREENIVASAN: Ringtu, essentially, men are -- well, mansplaining what journalism should be or how these women should be, but I wonder how the
community think about Khabar Lahariya and these women because they're actually getting changes to happen?
THOMAS: You know, the women are very acutely aware that they're moving in spaces where they're not very welcomed, which are entirely -- and
sometimes, when we used to be filming, Meera and I, or the journalist and I were the only women in a crowded public space or a bureaucrat's office and
a politician's office. It's very visually, you know, you're the only woman.
And so, they are very aware of that. They've done this for 90 long years now. And their strategy is to get the job and leave. And if it's in terms
of interviewing skills, it means you're going really, you know, intelligent and you go point by point. You point to the facts. And really, it's a
master class in seeing how to negotiate with people who you don't necessarily agree with. And yet, get your story out because that's the
And with male journalists it's mansplaining or sometimes being a lot of condescension. And I think I love Suneeta for this because her -- she's got
this really lovely comfortable relationship with the men, she jokes around with them, she's really comfortable with the policemen. So, she gets her
deeds done, hitches a ride with fellow male journalists. Sometimes might share a story. Mostly doesn't.
So, I think it's really -- she understands you accept that and then you transcend. I think that's their strategy.
SREENIVASAN: I want to play a little clip here, it's a teaching scene and I think one of the things that we take for granted is that the
transformative capacity and capability of what a single smart phone can do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEERA DEVI: Find this. That's the wrong one. "I" is the stick with a dot on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But there are so many English characters.
DEVI: OK. Let me do a session on the English alphabet.
I'm writing the Hindi pronunciation also. Yes, note everything down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Rintu, tell us a little bit about Meera. We see her in the clip where she's teaching folks, but what's her story?
THOMAS: Meera was married at the age of 14. She loved studying. So, she fought to continue her study even after her marriage, even after she had
her first child. And at that moment for her, it was not journalism. She just needed a job. And when she got to know about Khabar Lahariya are
banding together, she joined them. And that financial independence allowed her to continue her education. She goes on to do her M.A., B.A. and MMA
(ph) and she's a very natural leader.
She's the person who was taking the whole organization on this new journey towards digital. And what we really loved about her is the sense of
compassion and patience. As a boss, as a colleague, you know, never losing sight of the last person in the room who's the slowest. And that's really
in an expansive way, the contribution of Khabar Lahariya.
And the fact is that, to tell a woman who has nobody believing in her, that I believe in you, come along, we can go this far, is phenomenal, can have a
phenomenal impact. And that's who Meera really is and that's what drew us to her.
SREENIVASAN: Rintu, what you do really well in the film also is show that while they're doing this by day, that they're going back to households and
families who are still so deeply ensconced in the social structure that they have to navigate and negotiate things with their husbands, with their
dads, on why they're out late, why they're doing this, whether this job is still worthwhile, right? So, like here's the entire audience of the film
watching this going, oh, my gosh. These are amazing women journalists. And here they are going back home and having to have these conversations to
justify what it is that they're doing and how.
THOMAS: This would have made me completely believe in something that I've always known that empowerment is actually a journey and not a destination.
There are -- and it is this negotiation that we were most interested in. And I think we were very fortunate to get this kind of access and trust of
the women to be in their personal spaces.
We were interested in seeing, if there's a disagreement between Meera and her husband, how does she position herself? How does articulate her
dissonance with what he feels? And what are the conversations that she's having with her girls and with the financial independence that this
profession allows them, these women are now decisionmakers in their families. And that's the thing, right? We see women as service providers in
our homes. But in terms of who they are, what their intellect is or what their spirit is, most of the times we are disconnected from that.
I mean, I only discovered my mother much later in my life. For me, she was just like only a mother figure, not a person with a history. And this
discovery is what we wanted to imbue the film with because we really hope when people watch this film, they're able to imagine their mothers and
sisters and wives and daughters differently, and that's why this tussle between a woman who's tasted freedom and independence and liberty and yet,
feels connected to, you know, the pull of being a good daughter, am I being a good wife. And in some of them, like Meera, there is absolute clarity.
Yes, I am spending all my day working hard, making sure I can send my children to a good English medium school. So, yes, I cannot spend time on
their homework and that's OK because I'm supporting them. So, that kind of clarity is really admirable also for me. It's a lot of -- I'm learning for
me as well.
SREENIVASAN: Sushmit, there's a lot of also what we would consider high- end journalism conversations about kind of the role of the press and what are the norms and what are the expectations and what is fairness and
really, like, at the core in some ways, this is just as much of a story to me about democracy and freedom of speech, articulation.
It's so, kind of a universal, all the stresses that journalism is facing today about traffic and page views and everything else, they're thinking
about all of these things but they're also thinking about the very core root of what it means to do this profession.
GHOSH: Yes. I think it's also deeply linked to the cover letter Ethos where they believe in the values of equity, dignity, justice. And just this
sharp understanding of what is news making supposed to be? And I think, more importantly, they're a great example of what happens when you end up
diversifying the newsroom. When news is not managed and controlled by middle age and upper-class men, but you have women from the other end of
the spectrum reporting on what's happening in the country and the lens with which and the politics with which they are bringing these stories out to
And you see that in scenes in the film. What is the meaning of an angle? From whose perspective should you tell the story? And just the ethics of
moving through a space that has written its trauma or can be very hostile, how do you navigate and negotiate with people who don't agree with you?
It's a classic example of a newsroom that should be studied by other newsrooms. It's an example of what really news can be.
SREENIVASAN: Sushmit, this film opening up around the United States, but it has not yet opened in India and I wonder if -- when you think about how
it's going to roll out, I mean, India since 2014, I think more than 40 journalists have been killed. It's one of the toughest places to be a
journalist and not everybody in the country is going to see that the work these women do as something to be celebrated, and I don't know if that's a
conversation you've had with them or how you're thinking about it, and do you -- what do you think the reception is going to be in India?
GHOSH: We are hoping to bring the film back home to India next year. And I think that our positioning on this is, this is not anti-anything film, this
is a pro-justice film, this is a pro-democracy film. And if you believe in those values, then you will align yourself with the message of the story,
which is essentially, everyone deserves to live a life of dignity.
And over here, the people who are spotlighting that are Dalit women. And these women are showing you what true journalism and what true courage
really means. And for us, they represent really, the best that India has to offer the world. So, we must celebrate them. And that's essentially the
message. And we're very hopeful that the Indian audience will absorb the story like that and celebrate the women at Khabar Lahariya the way they
have been by people across the world.
SREENIVASAN: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas, thank you both for joining us.
GHOSH: Thanks so much, Hari.
THOMAS: Thank you for having us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That is an incredible story to highlight.
Finally, let's take a moment to honor a Broadway great, Stephen Sondheim. His family says that he died suddenly this weekend at the age of 91. His
career took off back in 1957 when he wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story" and later for "Gypsy." Sondheim went on to write some of Broadway's most
popular musicals like "Into the Woods" and "Sweeney Todd." In an interview with late show with the "Late Show" Stephen Colbert just weeks before he
died, Sondheim paid tribute to his mentor and Broadway icon, Oscar Hammerstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN SONDHEIM, BROADWAY COMPOSER: He thought me to write for myself. Because I wrote songs that imitated him. He said, no. Write what you feel.
You know, he said, this is what I feel about, you know, love and humanity. You write what you feel. And that was important because you think that
would be natural, but it's not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Sondheim himself passed that wisdom and experience down to generations. And after his death was announced, the Broadway community
gathered in Times Square to sing from his masterpiece, "Sunday in the Park with George." Lin-Manuel Miranda leading that group of Broadway community.
And that musical won him a Pulitzer Prize decades ago. Sondheim's legacy will sure endure for decades to come.
That's it for now. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.