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Quest Means Business

Europe Restarts AstraZeneca Vaccinations as Regulator Deems it Safe; Joe Biden Says U.S. will Reach Goal of 100 Million Vaccinations by Friday; Portugal Hopes to Welcome British Tourists in May. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 16:00   ET



RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS HOST: Closing bell on Wall Street. Look at the chart. Up in the day, down in the afternoon, the market turned turtle.

The Dow has closed lower by half a percentage point. That does not tell the whole story. The triple stack shows really a dreadful day for tech stocks.

I'll explain why it's to do with bond yields. But we're back to the old rotation of tech down, not so much suffering from others. The NASDAQ is off

three percent.

Those are the markets and the main events of the day. The verdict is in. The vaccine is safe. AstraZeneca is cleared by Europe's top medical


Paris is heading for a month of lockdown as France enters a third wave.

And he's called it the test of the century. Joe Biden's Secretary of State holds his first meetings with China.

We are live in New York. It is Thursday, it's March the 18th. I'm Richard Quest and busy day, and I mean business.

Good evening, tonight, Europe is resuming use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Now the E.U. regulators have decided to be safe and effective.

The European Medicines Agency. The E.M.A. says taking the vaccine is not linked to an increased risk of blood clots, though at the same time, they

say a connection not be -- could not be definitively ruled out. The Executive Director emphasized the vaccines benefits far outweigh its risks.


EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: The committee has come to a clear scientific conclusion. This is a safe and effective

vaccine. Its benefits in protecting people from COVID-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalization outweigh the possible risks.

The committee also concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots.


QUEST: More than a dozen countries are waiting for the agency's guidance. Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands and Cyprus say now they

will resume AstraZeneca vaccinations in the next day or so.

As a show of public confidence, France's Prime Minister says he will get the AstraZeneca vaccine himself. And after all of this, it looks like

public trust in the vaccine AstraZeneca has taken a hit.

According to the French broadcaster, BFMTV, only one in five people there in France feel good about it. A survey found far more trust in the other

available vaccines.

Jim Bittermann is in the French capital for us tonight. Jim, two things, we've lots to catch up or to cover. Let's start with this idea that they're

going to start vaccinating again, using AstraZeneca. The problem is they've made their bed. People don't want it.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. That's one of the things that they've got to overcome here, this vaccine reluctance on

the part of the French, it was pretty high anywhere even before this debacle with AstraZeneca.

But the idea that on Monday, you close down the use of AstraZeneca across the country, and then on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said well, maybe it

wasn't so bad. And maybe we could start using it; on Wednesday, then again, we get a positive sort of word from the President about it. And on

Thursday, we get approval from the E.M.A. and it's all good.

So I mean, if you had reluctance about taking the drug, then maybe you'll be a little bit reaffirmed in your beliefs by what's -- how this has all

transpired. It has really kind of bogged and bungled. And as a consequence, they're going to have to first overcome this reluctance.

Now, of course, the government says the reason that they waited to hear from the European agency is they wanted to make people confident about it,

and that the European agency would, in fact do that and that's why the Prime Minister tomorrow is going to get himself shot up with the

AstraZeneca vaccine.

But it is something that they've got to overcome here. There's a great deal of a vaccine reluctance in this country.

QUEST: It couldn't come at a worse time in a sense because France is battling against the surge of new cases. The government has announced new

restrictions that will send Paris into a month-long lockdown starting on Friday.

And this is what the Prime Minister said that the trend is clear, a third wave has arrived. Have a listen.


JEAN CASTEX, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The progression of the epidemic is accelerating considerably. We have recorded these 30,000

cases yesterday, alone 35,000 Tuesday, the number of cases has increased by 25.6 percent in one week.

This is becoming clearer and clearer that this is a third wave.



QUEST: This third wave is predicated around the so-called U.K. variant or the other variants. But another month-long shutdown at this point in the


BITTERMANN: It's what it looks like except that this lockdown isn't quite as bad as some of the previous ones. It's particularly the first one that

we went through. This is the third one now.

And in fact, it applies to a large area of the country, 16 departments -- kind of like French states, but in any case, the area goes -- it stretches

around the Paris region, and goes all the way up to the English Channel and includes Nice for the South.

But in any case, the restrictions aren't quite as draconian as we've seen in the past. People are going to be allowed to stay out until seven o'clock

at night instead of six o'clock that was when the old curfew was. They are still going to have to carry around with them some kind of proof of why

they are out. They could be out and as long as they're doing sporting activities, they can be out for longer periods of time.

But it is going to close down all the non-essential businesses, which is really going to hurt the business community here -- Richard.

QUEST: Jim -- Jim Bittermann in Paris. Thank you, sir. You're looking well. Keep well.

Norway was amongst the first countries to suspend AstraZeneca last week. Steinar Madsen is the Medical Director of Norwegian Medicines Agency. He

joins me from Oslo.

Sir, grateful for your time. Simple first question. When do you expect -- when do you expect Norway to start vaccinating again using AstraZeneca if

you haven't already started?

STEINAR MADSEN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NORWEGIAN MEDICINES AGENCY: No, we haven't started, and we will not start in a while. It will take some time

because, you know, Norway has had six cases of very severe disease after AstraZeneca vaccination and we have to do more investigation because -- is

Norway is a special case, we don't know, but we have to be sure.

QUEST: Can you accept what the E.M.A. says about the safety -- the generality of safety and clots with regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, in

which case you might be looking at a unique situation for Norway?

MADSEN: Yes, that is our problem. We have a special situation in Norway, and we have to do more investigations in the near future. So we will

continue pausing the vaccination in Norway for some time.

QUEST: What is it about these clots that's got you so worried? Because even by Norway standards, the number of cases involved are is small -- very

small -- and all drugs have some form of effects. Some have clotting effects anyway. So, what is it that you're really concerned about here?

MADSEN: These cases are very special, because there are three things. There are low blood platelets counts, thrombosis, blood clots, and bleeding. And

our experts have not seen anything like this before. So it's a very special situation.

QUEST: I get this. Can you now see how for the ordinary man or woman on the Paris subway or the Frankfurt bus, it is almost impossible now for them to

make a judgement when presented at the vaccination center with AstraZeneca?

MADSEN: Yes, that is the problem and people have started worrying also in Norway. We vaccinated about 120,000 people in Norway and Norway is a small

country, only five million people.

So in no way, it is a good thing, but it is also in this situation, maybe not so good. Everybody knows somebody that's been affected. So that is --

we have a very tightly knit society.

QUEST: The problem with the suspension in all of this is the so-called abundance of caution that everybody uses, is that it is backfiring. Because

even if you now turn round and say it is safe, people in Norway won't want to take it.

MADSEN: No, that's a problem. That's why when we give our final advice, it has to be the whole and the full truth about this because we cannot fail

here, that would be a disaster.

QUEST: Arguably, the rollout in Europe of vaccine, I mean, you've still got AstraZeneca -- you've still got J&J, there's Pfizer, there's Moderna, and

there are others on the way. But I guess what I'm really saying is, maybe you would agree that people in Europe had almost a right to expect a better

rollout of vaccines than they've had.

MADSEN: Yes, it's been a problem and the problem is that some of the companies have had production difficulties, and some have said that they

could deliver more than in fact are able to do, so the situation could have been better.


MADSEN: And of course, it's a big disappointment with AstraZeneca vaccine that first they couldn't deliver and now, we have these problems. So it has

been a sad week here in Norway.

QUEST: Thank you, Steinar Madsen. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate your time and we will talk more to find out more. We obviously hope you'll

come back and join me again. Thank you, sir.

MADSEN: Thank you.

QUEST: President Biden is marking a major vaccine milestone in the United States, 43 days ahead of schedule. He says the U.S. will hit a hundred

million vaccinations on Friday. He wanted to achieve that goal in his first 100 days of office.

Speaking in the last hour, the President urged Americans to continue this progress.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated. And again, I need you

to get vaccinated when it comes -- when it's your turn, when you're able to do that.

I need your help. I need you to help not just the country, but your family, your friends, your neighbors. Get them vaccinated as well.


QUEST: Rich Lesser is with me, Chief Executive of Boston Consulting Group. He joins me from New York, always making -- helping us understand these


Rich, I hope you were listening there because you sort of heard both sides of the world or the Atlantic, I should say. Europe is an absolute mess with

AstraZeneca, and now, the U.K. is saying its April numbers won't be anywhere near.

The U.S. late to start but pulling ahead. This is not the way it was supposed to be with such disparity.

RICH LESSER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP: No, I think we had assumed that the vaccine rollouts would be roughly similar, at least

between Europe and the U.S., so I agree with you. I think the progress that the U.S. has made, you know, since -- in this year has been enormous,

enormous and it's encouraging.

But we also, as you correctly discussed with your last guest need to do everything we can to get vaccination on track all around the world,

including in Europe, to make sure that people are comfortable taking the vaccine and to try to get us beyond this pandemic. I mean, that is the way

we get beyond this fight phase of the pandemic.

QUEST: But your vaccination reports on -- the trust survey suggests that this deficit of trust, which of course will only have been exacerbated by

what's happening in Europe, how -- if you were a policymaker, or you're advising policymakers, what would you say now to increase that trust?

LESSER: Well, the first is I would try to put numbers -- first, I would make sure with all of our health authorities do everything they can to make

sure that the vaccines are safe, that they will be a massive benefit for protecting lives, reducing hospitalizations. All the data has suggested

that they have enormous positive impact on protecting people and society.

And then I think that the challenge is to have people present the data in an appropriate way for people to see just what the risks are to themselves

and to their communities if we don't get vaccinated and the safety profile, which is extraordinarily good when you think about the 100-plus million

people in the U.S. or a hundred million shots that we are heading toward in the U.S. and around the world at this point and what it means.

I think that's what we need to have, as people see that this is safe and effective and protects themselves and their families and society.

QUEST: It's not easy, though. In the sense -- in the sense that, you know, you may have heard Jim Bittermann in Paris. I mean, how do you say to the

Frenchman or woman, you should tomorrow, by the way, get vaccinated.

There's a natural suspicion in many parts of the world to begin with against vaccinations. I thought we'd put all this to bed at the start of

the year, but apparently not.

LESSER: I'm not minimizing the challenge and I think how you speak to people in ways that they can feel respected and treated with, you know, as

adults that can make their own decisions, but also with richer understanding.

You communicate differently to different communities. You have to reach people where they are in their understanding and also in their hesitancy,

some of which are legitimate based on the history that they may have seen.

I get all that, but that is what public health officials need to do right now and they need to be able to help dimensionalize how many tens of

thousands of people will die when we don't accelerate vaccines versus what seem to be extremely low risks based on the data we've seen if they do.

But I don't minimize the challenge in front of health authorities.

QUEST: Turn to the markets, I want to talk about that and the economy. The Dow eased off its record high today, pulling back in part over a rising

bond yield.

When we hear it at 1.7 percent, you don't really think much, but then you look at the graph, as we're looking at now and you see, it actually goes

from virtually zero, this is the six months that we're looking at and you see it goes all the way up.


QUEST: It is actually 1.73, you have to move the decimal point across on this particular chart. That is a very steep yield curve increase, and it's

hitting the high yielding stocks like tech. Is this going to continue?

LESSER: We don't see inflation as big a risk as what we sometimes read about.

So the fact that yields go up, too, I mean, we're entering an environment of good growth. Inflation is always somewhat higher in an environment of

good growth than it is in a period where there's limited growth, let alone a pandemic, which is depressing the economics around the world and in the


So we expect to see some comeback of inflation, but worrying about an inflationary period coming back, our belief is that those concerns are

overblown right now and we are optimistic about the economic pathway ahead. And I think the Fed was in a similar place yesterday from what I can see.

QUEST: Absolutely. Never, never, not in the near future. Rich, finally, every CEO we've spoken to and now you're going to join us to tell us, you

believe the rest of the year is going to be faster with more economic activity than we currently think at the moment.

LESSER: I believe there's more upside in the economy than not. I do think when you look around the world, though, you have to de-average a lot.

China is already back on its historic growth path. The U.S. should be there late in the second quarter, give or take. Europe is going to take longer,

largely due to the vaccine rollout issue that we just discussed.

I'm really worried about some parts of the world. We should not forget about the global south heading to winter, more variants coming, limited

vaccine supply and vaccination underway.

I'm so concerned about the risks to lives, as well as the rebound in their economies. And we should be doing -- we have to get enough supply for U.S.

citizens. We all understand that.

But as soon as possible, doing whatever we can to help other parts of the world. I think it's really both a moral imperative, but it's also good for

the world in general.

QUEST: And self-interests, if they do well, we do well.

Rich Lesser, it is always good to see you. I appreciate you taking time. Thank you.

LESSER: My pleasure.

QUEST: Now, a glimmer of hope. This summer travel season might be inching back to normal. Well, Portugal is set to welcome British tourists back.

The country's Secretary of State for Tourism will be with me after the break.

And a top U.S. diplomat is about to meet a Chinese delegation for the first time. Expectations are low and we'll understand what that means.

In a moment.



QUEST: In a few hours from now, the United Kingdom will remove Portugal from its so-called Red List of Countries that involve extra travel


It means that U.K. residents returning home from Portugal won't have to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at their own expense.

Portugal hopes to welcome back British tourists starting in May, if they qualify for an E.U. green certificate that could help revive international

travel this summer throughout Europe.

Rita Marques is the Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism and joins me now.

Madam Secretary, good to have you. Thank you. So it is good news. I know there was a lot of ill-feeling in Portugal that the country was put on the

Red List. But as they say, that was then, this is now. You're planning for the summer. How is it going to work?

RITA MARQUES, PORTUGUESE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TOURISM: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Richard, it's great to meet you again. Well, as you said, we

have been very determined to tackle the pandemic.

Now, we are off the Red List in the U.K., so we are preparing ourselves for the summer season. We have been very, you know, we've been pushing very

hard for this proposal from the Commission on digital green certificates, and I guess that this initiative from the Commission will really help us to

welcome British holiday makers or any other holiday maker from other parts of the world that could have a certificate and testing negative or --

QUEST: So, it is going to be -- it's going to be some sort of version of either a green pass or travel pass or a negative test or some -- it won't

be one size fits all. I see that.

But if you tie yourself to the green certificate, I mean, we had on the program the other day, the Spanish Foreign Minister who was saying that she

wants a wider certificate, an O.E.C.D. type of arrangement. Is that something you seek, too?

MARQUES: Absolutely, you know, this initiative, this digital green certificate from the Commission, I think it's the first step to move

forward, but we need to have a global solution, or at least several solutions that can be interoperable, that can talk to each other in order

to foster the tourism, you know, traveling again, otherwise, it won't work definitely.

QUEST: Isn't there a problem? I look back at the last year and I look back at the lack of coordination between countries that led to the fiascos of

last summer, and the hodgepodge of policies.

Why should I have confidence that this year, officials from different countries will work together?

MARQUES: You are absolutely right. Last year, which was really a chaos, so we need to restore confidence. And in order to achieve that, I guess that

the only way is to inform passengers on what tests, what type of vaccines or other measures they require prior to travel.

And, also we need to guarantee that this procedure, traveling, the whole process of traveling should be straightforward and agile and simple.

And again, the key to restore confidence and reopen borders, I think, depends on effective communication and also on this type of instruments

that the Commission also defined yesterday.

QUEST: In terms of the offering from Portugal, which is always one of the most popular destinations in Europe, do you think that there has been much

permanent loss and I mean, restaurants that won't reopen, hotels that have shut down for good, or do you think that there is -- how do you gauge the

gap of permanent loss?

MARQUES: Of course, we had some injuries. Yes, of course there will be some scars out of this war. That's for sure.

We are trying to keep all the companies alive in order to guarantee that we can resume traveling and tourism in here, in Portugal, because with no

companies, with no workers, it will be really impossible to restore confidence.


MARQUES: So we have been injecting massive amounts of support, of money, in order to guarantee that these companies survive. But of course, you have a

point there. There is a high risk that some of them won't survive.

QUEST: I am looking forward, as I said to your counterparts in other countries, I'm looking forward to my trip to Portugal for your pasteis de

nata, these wonderful -- which I've completely mangled.

MARQUES: You have good taste.

QUEST: Yes, I have a good taste and I have a growing waistline. This is a wonderful Portuguese custard that I know you're going to feed me with when

I come to Portugal.

Secretary, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

MARQUES: Thank you for having me.

QUEST: Talking to us. Now, as we continue tonight, I've got all excited at the thought of a Portuguese custard tart -- two of the Biden

administration's top officials are about to meet with their Chinese counterparts.

Now this is a meeting that could mark a change in tone from hostility of the Trump era.

In a moment.


QUEST: Hello, I'm Richard Quest. There is more QUEST MEANS BUSINESS in just a moment.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets his Chinese counterpart in Alaska. We may find out what's become of Donald Trump's trade war under the

new President.

There are new signs of life for the travel industry. The Best Western CEO, David Kong will be with us to put perspective on that.

This is CNN, so before we get to anything else, the news, because on this network, the news comes first.

Germany, Italy, France and Spain are amongst the countries that will resume AstraZeneca vaccinations after E.U. health regulators declared the shots


However, the head of Norway's Medicines Agency told me a few moments ago, his country would continue to pause on the rollout.

Much of Western Europe paused the use of AstraZeneca after reports it could be linked to blood clots.


The Russian President Vladimir Putin's inviting Joe Biden to a direct discussion online.

He responded today to the president, the U.S. president calling him a killer suggesting people tend to see others as they see themselves.

The White House says Mr. Biden doesn't regret the remark. It won't say if he'll accept President Putin's invitation.

Investigators say the suspect in Tuesday nights deadly shootings in Atlanta was a frequent customer at two of the three spas he targeted. Eight people

were killed, six of them Asian women.

Authorities aren't calling it a hate crime but police say they are investigating all possible motives. And in their words, nothing's off the


The creative head of the Tokyo Olympics has stepped down after making derogatory remarks about a female performer.

Hiroshi Sasaki's departure comes a month after the president of the games also resigned after making comments many found sexist.

Tanzania is in national mourning for the next two weeks after the death of its president, John Magulufi. He passed away at the age of 61. The

country's vice president says Magulufi died of a heart ailment, not COVID- 19. He was one of Africa's most prominent coronavirus skeptics.

We're expecting to hear from the U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a moment or three. He's about to meet the Chinese diplomats in Alaska, the

first in-person meeting between officials from the two countries since President Biden took office.

Both sides have low expectations and tense relations after the U.S. sanctioned Chinese officials over Beijing's actions in Hong Kong.

Kylie Atwood is in Washington, joins me.

Kylie, so we've got first of all obviously the sanctioned officials. But we also have the trade sanctions or trade tariffs which the Biden

Administration said they were not going to immediately lift. So where will these talks go?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, Richard.

I think the bottom line is that the Biden Administration wants to set a tone in these talks, right. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has called

China the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st Century.

The Biden Administration clearly views this relationship as integral to their success as an administration.

And so I want to point out a few things.

As you said, there were those sanctions this week that came out. The Biden Administration making it very clear that they are going to remain tough

when it comes to China.

They're going to aggressively go after them when they do things that they think upend the geopolitical order and that are aggressive and unacceptable

to the United States. But I should also note they're going to hope to do so alongside allies, right?

Secretary of State Tony Blinken is coming to this meeting off the heels of meeting with folks in South Korea and Japan. They want to do this, they

want to confront China alongside allies.

And we should also note that the Biden Administration is saying that this meeting today is a one-off meeting, right. They're not going to seek to

present any negotiated, tangible deliverables at the end of it.

QUEST: Right.

ATWOOD: It's really an opportunity for them to sit down and lay out clearly what their expectations are and what China can expect as they deal with the

Biden Administration.

QUEST: But they are going to have to, at some point, decide whether to lift those tariffs. Now on the one hand, those tariffs seemingly were popular in

a sort of sense because Donald Trump said that was the Chinese paying but the reality was, of course, that the American consumer paid.

ATWOOD: That's right. And lifting those sanctions, Richard, is politically tricky for the Biden Administration. Because if they were to do that, even

though they do hurt Americans more than anyone else, it would be viewed largely as the Biden Administration doing something that favors China. Even

if that's not the case.

So the Biden Administration has been really clear. That in order to sit down with Chinese officials again after the meetings today and tomorrow in

Alaska, they are going to need to see China take action on the issues that they have with China.

Now the problem is that Chinese officials are also putting their heels in here and saying they're not going to take any action that isn't in their

best interest. So the question is, what comes next?

QUEST: Right.

ATWOOD: I think today everyone's putting their cards on the table but really what comes next will be the interesting part.

QUEST: How much political capital or diplomatic capital, in your view, is the Biden Administration prepared to expend on Hong Kong?


A lot's been said, sanctions against certain individuals but do they intend to go to the mat == over Hong Kong?

ATWOOD: Well, I think when it comes to Hong Kong, Biden has been pretty clear on what he's said about it. He thinks that China has gone too far and

the U.S. doesn't accept it but I don't think that is going to be the one thing that this administration focuses in on.

And the issue -- the reason that I believe that is because Biden has committed to outcompeting China.

And so I think that the Biden folks are going to be focused on how they can get things working at home so that they can really compete with China


Hong Kong is a part of the relationship, but it is not a fundamental part of how the U.S. will compete with China in the long term.

And so those are the things to really keep an eye on from the Biden Administration.

QUEST: Kylie, thank you. We will talk more and we'll need your analysis and assessment of what's happening as we go through. Thank you.

As QUEST MEANS BUSINESS tonight continues.

Drawing a line in the sand. We'll introduce you to a Pan-African project to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert.

In a moment.


QUEST: "Call to Earth." Where today's story looks at desertification, as you might put it.

Forty percent of the land on our planet is at risk of desertification. It's where the desert gets bigger and bigger and it only gets worse, according

to the United Nations.

By 2030 at least 50 million people will have to leave their homes if trends are not reversed.

And that's why our Rolex awards laureate, Sarah Toumi, is literally drawing a line in the sand.


NARRATOR: The Sahara Desert. Remote, romantic. It's also a threat.

SARAH TOUMI, FOUNDER, ACACIAS FOR ALL: What I love about the desert is it's very peaceful but in the same time, it's very scary.

Because when deserts enter the houses of people pushing them to leave because they have no more livelihoods in their communities, it's scaring


NARRATOR: Desertification is a process which transforms once arable land into a barren environment.

It's something that Sarah Toumi witnessed first hand.

TOUMI: My grandparents, they were growing olives. And under the olive trees, they were growing beautiful gardens with vegetables and other crops.


TOUMI: Now let's say 25 years after, they don't grow any more their foods, they have to buy food from the shops. And I think it's very sad.

NARRATOR: Desertification can be reversed. Toumi's project, Acacias for All, has cultivated almost 700,000 deep-rooted trees in the region,

improving soil structure and allowing for other trees and crops to be planted nearby.

TOUMI: It's very easy to plant a tree, it's not easy to grow a tree. And that's what I learnt in Tunisia from just planting acacia trees into

growing agricultural eco-systems with communities creating value chains that sustain the ecosystem.

NARRATOR: Toumi's impact in Tunisia led her to want to do more. She's been invited to join a program with epic proportions.

(Crowd singing in foreign language, captioned): Get up, stand up, the Great Green Wall has arrived.


desert, to the (inaudible).

NARRATOR: The Great Green Wall is a patchwork of restored lands across the entire continent. Expected to stretch 8,000 kilometers by 2030 covering 100

million hectares of land across 11 countries.

The aim is to create a natural shield against desertification.

BARBUT: Up to now, the Great Green Wall Initiative had filled up about 18 percent of the objective. So yes, you have an another 80 percent to go.

I am optimistic. It's a question of making sure that that part of Africa gets the attention it deserves.

NARRATOR: The Great Green Wall has the goal of creating up to 10 million new jobs, securing people's income as part of the strategy.

TOUMI: They need to eat, they need improve their livelihoods. And then they will think about their ecosystem.

NARRATOR: In January 2021, the initiative received a boost of $14 billion in funding. Toumi is advising on how that money is allocated on the ground.

BARBUT: Sarah Toumi has tremendous experience in Tunisia working with grassroot organizations. She perfectly understands what the need are but

also which are needed to make the project come to reality.

NARRATOR: For Toumi, desertification is a threat that affects us all and the work is urgent.

TOUMI: If we don't do it now, we will never have the opportunity to do it again after.

We are all on the same planet, we are all concerned about the same problem. Because when during the summer in Paris, we have temperatures like 40

degrees, we have sand of Sahara that is covering the eyes.

We've seen concretely, directly, the impact that desertification can have on all of us.


QUEST: We'll continue showcasing inspirational stories like this as part of our "Call to Earth" initiative.

You're doing your own thing. And you can tell us what you're doing. Use the hashtag, "Call to Earth."



QUEST: New signs that the travel recovery is picking up steam.

Disneyland plans to reopen with limited capacity on April the 30th. Lyft says it's had its best week since the lockdowns began.

And in the U.S., the TSA has screened more than 1 million people a day for the last seven days, a pandemic era record.

Best Western's hoping to see demand pick up by the summer. They have 5,000 hotels across more than 100 countries.

The chief executive, David Kong, is with me. He joins me from Arizona via skype.

We checked in several times over the pandemic. I think -- I get the feeling that today you're going to be the most optimistic that I've heard you be

for the last year, David.

DAVID KONG, CEO, BEST WESTERN: Hello, right, Richard. I'm indeed very happy about all the vaccines being rolled out, although it's a little slow. But

nevertheless, the light at the end of the tunnel is close. And I'm very excited about that.

QUEST: So as you look at a re-opening or no, actually a lot of your properties are already open in different parts of the world. As you look to

ramp up to the next level, what is that going to be? What you are expecting for the European summer and the U.S. driving season?

KONG: Well, first of all in the U.S. because of our strong domestic economy, we're going to recover first.

And the vaccine rollout and President Biden's plan and testing and contact tracing and commitment to the American people about the vaccine rollout,

all that bodes really well for our country. We're going to recover first well ahead of anybody else.

In Europe, I'm sure you know, there's a renewed shutdown. Italy is closed, U.K. continues to be closed. And Scandinavia is talk about closing. Just

scary in Europe.

And in Asia they're far behind, they're going to be the slowest region to recover. The vaccine rollout, they haven't even started talking about that.

And there's a general attitude towards vaccine which is not conducive to the recovery either. So I think their recovery is going to be some time --

QUEST: Right.

KONG: -- mid to late next year.

QUEST: And where do you stand on travel certificates, travel passports, vaccine certificates as it's called? Can you imagine a time when having

either a negative test or a certificate or a digital pass will be a prerequisite to staying in one of your hotels?

KONG: I don't know whether it would become a prerequisite. I do hope that countries open their borders because of the vaccine passport or whatever

you call it.

The American people that are vaccinated like me, I can't wait to go to Europe. I'd love for them to open up their border and I'm not afraid to go,


So the sooner they can embrace something like that, the faster our industry will recover.

QUEST: And if we look at the number of your hotels, your franchisees, the number of them that didn't make it, how much did you lose, do you think? Or

maybe nothing at all throughout the course of the pandemic.

KONG: Well, thankfully we didn't lose any. There might be a few but certainly not in any significant number.

We as a company provided tremendous financial relief to our hotels and we were every step of the way with them in terms of supporting them and

helping them weather the storm.

So now that the end is close, I'm happy to say, we've weathered it very, very well being together. So we lost very few.

But what's disturbing -- I know, for sure, the government assistance has helped. The two --


-- rounds of PPP, the employee retention credit, the access to capital via the two loan programs (inaudible) and the economic injury disaster loan.

And all those things have helped.

I'm just bummed and somewhat disappointed that the hotel industry was ignored in this last round of relief.

Both the hotel -- the restaurant industry and the airline industry benefitted from the last round of relief but the hotel industry was not --

QUEST: Right.

KONG: (inaudible) special consideration.

QUEST: Last night on this program, the CEO -- you'll know, the CEO of Wyndham who I'm sure you know -- said he's hopeful for a hotel specific

assistance bill from Congress.

I suggested it might be more than hope rather than expectation. Are you hopeful?

KONG: Well, I think the first thing we need to do is educate the lawmakers that the vast majority of hotels in the hotel industry are comprised of

smaller businesses. They are hard-working men and women who have poured their life savings into their properties.

They've worked around the clock. (Inaudible) chefs working the front desk, working housekeeping to sustain themselves through this pandemic. And they

have suffered as much as the hotel -- and any industry, especially the restaurant industry.

So I'm hopeful that the lawmakers would be considerate of this fact. We are Main Street, we're not Wall Street.

QUEST: Thank you.

KONG: I know hotel stocks have recovered tremendously but Wall Street hasn't.

QUEST: Thank you for joining us, sir. We'll talk more.

KONG: Thank you.

QUEST: And hope there'll be as much optimism. Thank you.

The head of IATA, the airline industry's top trade group, says the pandemic has made a case for more airline consolidation.

Alexandre de Juniac who's stepping down from IATA this month and is to be exceeded by the former BA IEG CEO, Willie Walsh.

The tenure has been shaped by COVID, worst crisis since 9/11. There was an unprecedented drop in travel, government assistance, nationalization,

bailing out and airline bankruptcies.

I asked Alexandre de Juniac what his legacy at IATA would be.


ALEXANDRE DE JUNIAC, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IATA: First of all, to have introduce the motto, the emblematic ID, that airline is the business of


And frankly, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the truth of that statement. How important it is for our world, (inaudible) the basic


It's so important from any point of view. Not only the economic one but social, cultural, whatever. Political -- it's key.

And the second point is to have been able to mobilize this organization 24/7 for the COVID-19 crisis successfully to serve the industry.

QUEST: What would your advice to the industry be? As you go out -- well, first of all, do you intend to stay in the industry in some shape or form?

DE JUNIAC: No answer (ph). It will depend on the opportunities that will come.

QUEST: (Inaudible).

DE JUNIAC: That's another point. No, but the idea for the industry, I think that there are two element -- three element.

First of all, I think that the more that we encourage traffic, the more we encourage open sky agreement, opening borders, the better it is for the


Secondly, I think we should have probably a stronger industry, financially speaking. When you look at those who have resisted through this crisis,

they were those who were the strongest at the beginning of the crisis from a financial point of view; strong balance sheet, high profitability.

And our industry's too fragile from that point of view. That's an important lesson we should keep in mind.

And thirdly, I think there is a need for consolidation. But as you know, I think it will not happen in the short run mainly because you have all this

national regulation preventing them and secondly, because states so strongly intervene and defended their national carrier that it's not the

right time to consolidate. Perhaps in the future.

QUEST: And if there's one permanent change that you think has taken place - - people are arguing about whether business travel comes back in '23 or '24 or whatever -- but if you were talking about a permanent shift in the

industry, what do you think it is?

DE JUNIAC: What should change and what has to change is the way the industry collaborate with government and the way governments collaborate

with each other.

Frankly, the lack of collaboration/coordination has killed the economy in our industry.


In other words, one of the worst outcome of this COVID-19 crisis is that it has reintroduced fragmentation into a globalized world. And this

fragmentation which is not only nation -- it could be regional, local, I think it's a disaster.

QUEST: Alexandre de Juniac, the CEO of -- well, the outgoing CEO of IATA.

And we'll take a "Profitable Moment" after another short break.

The markets -- now the Nasdaq's particularly down heavily, the Dow is not so much. But it's a down day on the market.


QUEST: Tonight's "Profitable Moment".

On our program this evening you heard a salutary (phonetic) perhaps warning or note of caution from Portugal's secretary of tourism.

The necessity to ensure that whatever system is used, there is proper coordination between nations so that the digital certificate, the vaccine

passport, whatever you call it, is used properly.

Now, I'm skeptical -- not cynical -- I'm skeptical that governments will be able to get this right because they did such an appalling job of

coordinating policies during the pandemic.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. It was a crisis; everyone looks after their own.

But now you've got commission talking about the green pass that they're putting together. Well, is that going to work for non-E.U. members? I

haven't seen the strategy for how it will be used by U.S., British, other citizens who are not members of the European Union.

And you've got common pass, you've got travel pass from IATA which looks like it might be the gold standard and has just been trialed by Singapore

Airlines with Qatar and others about to come along.

Look, don't get me wrong. There's everything to play for and victory is within grasp.

With proper coordination from the WTTC, the UNWTO, IATA -- a whole smorgasbord of organizations and initials -- they can get this to work so

that 2021 does become the year where we go on holiday safely, securely, and have a thoroughly good time.

And that's QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight. I'm Richard Quest in New York. Traveling next week; if you see me, give me a wave.

Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I hope it's profitable.

Qatar tonight. (Inaudible) next week.