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Religious Services Being Canceled Around the World; How to Keep the Faith During Difficult Times; Interview With Journalist Mike Chinoy; Interview With Author Nicholas Christakis; China Flexing Diplomatic Muscle on Affected Countries. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 20, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PHILLIPS: -- eight hours yesterday wearing an N95 mask trying not to take it off at all except to have a drink.
It is uncomfortable but it is necessary. I can't bring this disease home to my family. I don't want to get sick and I don't want others to get sick
around me. We are seeing data right now that really concerns me about who's getting sick in America.
We have modeled our numbers and ours needs for equipment and ventilators based upon data we've seen from overseas where it's mostly the elderly, the
older than 60 groups that are requiring critical care. Here in the states we are now seeing an increasing proportion of people between 20 and 60 who
are being admitted to the hospital and requiring critical care.
Not all viruses treat all populations the same and we might be more vulnerable to this than we think. Now, if we start to add in millions of
more Americans who are at risk, we are truly looking at overwhelming our system. Every single doctor and nurse in every single hospital should be
wearing N95 mask all the time.
I have a friend who got COVID-19, confirmed yesterday, from a patient who presented with a stroke. No other symptoms of cough or fevers. Every
patient that comes in could have this. Your co-worker at work could have this. We have to social distance at work and protect ourselves maximally.
Now, imagine if we require all health care workers to wear an N95 and not just those of us in the emergency department and the critical care areas --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
PHILLIPS: -- or patient floors, we don't have enough. And I need to hear from the president and the task force who's making these masks, when are we
going to see them? And I just can't understand why we would invoke this act and not have any production being done. It blows my mind.
QUEST: There we leave the coverage for a moment from our colleagues at CNN in the United States. Now, here is "Amanpour."
Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour" live from London. Here's what's coming up.
As coronavirus panic threatens to become an epidemic, how to keep the faith.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR AND RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: They are extraordinary times. And of course, people want to gather. The whole sense of community
is immensely important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Leading religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, on maintaining a sense of community and solidarity.
Then, my interview with a veteran correspondent, Mike Chinoy, about the lessons learned from the SARS accept epidemic and what China is doing to
help out in this one.
Plus, Yale sociologist and physician, Nicholas Christakis, tells our Hari Sreenivasan why we're wired for goodness even during these difficult times.
And finally, something uplifting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAL GADOT, ACTOR: Imagine there's no heaven.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: it's easy if you try.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Wonder Woman and her celebrity friends remind us that better days will come.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It is the end of a week that's seen governments around the world adopt a wartime footing to fight the coronavirus pandemic. From widespread
lockdowns to Germany's big bazooka aid financial package, to President Trump invoking a war power law that will expand production of medical
The virus has so far caused nearly a quarter million infections and nearly 10,000 deaths worldwide. It is laying bear how fragile we all are despite
all our technology, military and economic might. In Italy, the world's most affected country outside China to prevent the virus spreading, people
aren't allowed traditional burial or funeral services and that's forcing survivors to mourn alone at a time when they need to share more than ever.
Around the world, religious services are being canceled and places of worship closed. Karen Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who has
become one of the most prestigious religious scholars of our time. She rose to prominence after 9/11 and is the author of books like "The Lost Art of
Scripture" and "The Case for God." She join me to speak about faith, spirituality and community during these difficult times.
Karen Armstrong, welcome to the program.
KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR AND RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you because so many people, those who are practicing and maybe those who reach out to God in times of crisis, they
are wanting to do that and yet, from the Roman Catholic church to the Anglican to Judaism and to Islam all over the world, officials are closing
down churches and places of worship. How are people having to deal with that?
ARMSTRONG: Well, we don't have to go to churn to be in touch with the sacred or the divine. And I think we should now think a Passover is coming
up, Jewish Passover.
And if we go back to the story in the Book of Exodus, the Israelites, the first Passover, had to spend the night indoors while there was mayhem going
on outside and while the angel of death passed on overhead. And this was a frightening night but it was also a moment for reflection and deliberation
and forward thinking too.
And this is also coming up to Palm Sunday. Very often Palm Sunday is a very -- quite a joyous thing in the church, people will have -- in the Catholic
church, certainly we all had palm branches which we sung hosanna to the son of David, et cetera, and it was all wonderful. But Passover is the
beginning of Holy Week leading to the cross, to Jesus' terrible death.
And religion is about making us look at the darkness too and making us think about the suffering that is -- we see around us, not only the
suffering of people suffering from the virus, but I think it should also widen our sympathies a bit because we are all scared right now. We don't
know what's going to happen.
But you know, in a country like the U.K. and the U.S. too, we live in a very protected world. And I think now is the time for us to think about
people say, in Syria or Yemen, living in a state of terror, different kind of terror, for a long time, and see, let that suffering in.
You know, very often on -- when during the television news, if there's a bit of disturbing footage coming up the newscaster will sometimes say,
well, you know, the next -- you may find the next film disturbing, and that gives us a chance to go out and make a cup of tea or switch channels,
anything so we don't see these distressing images. We -- religion means that we have to open our hearts and minds to the pain in the world, the
pain in nature, and the pain in humanity.
AMANPOUR: Karen, I want to ask you because you mentioned both the Jewish faith and Roman Catholic faith and the particular celebrations, religious
celebrations that are upon us right now. In Judaism, individual prayer is not what it's all about. You have to be, according to the rules, at least
it's called a minion, you have to be at least 10 people for it to make sense, for it to be valid. In Catholicism, as you know, people go to
church, you're a former Roman Catholic nun, in order to take the Holy Eucharist, which is not a symbol, Catholics actually believe that Jesus
exists in the Holy Eucharist.
How do you persuade very devout people who want to go to church, who want to go to synagogue, who want to gather?
ARMSTRONG: They are extraordinary times and of course, people want to gather. The whole sense community is immensity important, as you pointed
out, and it is an essential part of worship. But sometimes we have to be alone. We are all alone at the moment of death, for example.
However, many people may be around the deathbed will be making that journey alone. And we have to learn to be alone and cope with these fears. And
remember -- and I think let's go back, say, to Jesus. His desolate cry on cross, thy, God, why has though forsaken me? Deserted by his friends and --
who -- the disciples all ran away when he was arrested.
And I think, too, we -- in the Jewish faith, we think of the (INAUDIBLE), the Nazi holocaust. When however, many people were around them, each suffer
a must in some terrible sense have been alone. And this is a chance for us to appreciate the aloneness of people. Some -- people who are just lonely.
Even in our crowded cities. To realize that loneliness, that desolation, that is also part of the human experience and it's very much been part of
the religious experience, too.
People talk of the dark night of the soul and sometimes to be alone with the alone, that you have -- you can't always rely on comfort and security
and people around you.
AMANPOUR: Some world leaders, increasingly now, are calling on their people not to be selfish, not to give in to the epidemic of panic, not to
hoard. Angela Merkle told the German people in a very rare address, don't hoard. We need to share. The prime minister of Ireland has said the same
about community. Let me play what he said, Leo Varadkar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEO VARADKAR, IRISH TAOISEACH: This is the calm before the storm, before the surge. And when it comes, and it will come, never will so many ask so
much of so few. We'll do all that we can to support them. For those who lost their jobs and have their incomes reduced, there will be help and
understanding from those who can give it. Particularly the banks, government bodies and utilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: After that speech from the prime minister, Karen, some 30,000 Irish people gathered and offered to help whoever might need it. So, talk
to us a little bit about, you know, the desire to provide for yourself and your family and yet, the need to think about the wider community.
ARMSTRONG: We have to think about the wider community. And you know, this is happening even in my street. A couple of days ago a man came around who
lives just three doors away, we had never really spoken much before, and he told me to let -- give me your e-mail so that in case you need anything I
can help. And we exchanged e-mails. That's going on all around the street. That's just one small little street in London.
And so, I think we go back, I think, to the wartime spirit, you know, during the First -- Second World War when I heard -- I was born in the last
year of that war, so I missed it. But my parents were full of the way. Certainly, there was a lot -- it wasn't all marvelous. During that war
there was hoarding, too. There was selfishness but there was also a great sense of community that we were all in this together. And it's only by
cooperating in this way, when we are all going to probably be alone in our houses that we need e-mail support, telephone support and acts of kindness.
People who used to look after my dog, young people, have sent me an e-mail to say, look, if there's -- if you want anything, we have got a car and if
you're -- because you're so old you might be put into solitude, we'll come and help you. So, that is happening here and it -- that helps us to break
out of our selfishness and that is just as important and just as religious as singing together in a church service or sitting around the table at Pesa
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Karen, you have just sort of alluded to yourself and, you know, you're obviously a woman of a certain age. Are you afraid?
What are you planning? I mean, you're -- they're saying that people over 70 have to take particular precautions which involve particularly heavy
ARMSTRONG: Yes. I'm used to being alone. I'm a writer. And I think you can't be a writer unless you are happy to be alone. In fact, I quite revel
in my own aloneness. And it's a bit of a sacrifice for me sometimes to be a bit more communal. But -- so -- but I think this aloneness is going to be a
huge problem for many people because not everybody is used to being alone in our age.
And I think we're going to have -- there might be awful moments. I can't imagine my own mother, for example, being able to self-isolate. She's gone
now and -- but had that happened, I would have been extremely worried. And there must -- and I think we have to be on the lookout for this somehow and
get into that idea of phoning up friends, phoning up people who might be alone and realizing that this, again, as I say, is a religious act.
AMANPOUR: In your book "The Case for God," when I last interviewed you, you have a quote here in which you say, religion is a practical discipline
that teaches us to discover new capacities of the mind and heart. And so, in that spirit, I just want to ask you what you, how you think people are
going to react in this kind of age where, you know, we have seen such division, it's political division, it's cultural division, it's hyper
partisanship, it's echo chambers. People are isolating themselves in their own silos. Listening to their own preferred streams of information and just
vicious differences that have been the norm certainly for the last several years.
ARMSTRONG: This is a terribly, terribly worrying aspect of it because we are -- in one sense, we are more connected with one another than we ever
have been in history. We are all joined together on the World Wide Web. And as we found out, we all share the same environmental catastrophe.
But the more we're linked with our economies, entirely interlinked, when stocks go down in one part of the world, the markets plummet all around the
globe that day, but the more that happens the more people tend to retreat into these ideological or nationalistic ghettos, and that's happened with
The more we have discovered about the deep similarities as -- that is shared by all the world faiths, the more some people have, again, retreated
into what we call fundamentalism and saying that theirs is one true faith. This is -- and we're seeing, as you quite rightly say, a tremendous
epidemic of it, of it right now.
But I think that if we respond positively to this and creatively and generously, as we have just been saying in these acts of kindness and
consideration, this might help to break down some of these insane borders because whoever we are, whatever the color of our skin or the size of our
bank balance or whatever nation we belong to or which side of the Mexican border we belong to, we are all prey to this virus. This has been a uniting
AMANPOUR: There are many churches, as we said, in the U.S. and elsewhere that have closed down. Reverend Patty Baker has said about this, a lot of
us are ramping up ways to keep and hold community in the midst of this, either by FaceTime, Googling, Zoom calls, Facebook Live, all those forms of
media that can help keep and hold a community together.
So, basically, that's fine if people have got the technology and are predisposed to using it now. But put back your knowledge and scholarship of
Islam, put that hat on, and react to what's going on, the Saudi Arabians have, for the first time, banned categorically pilgrims to Mecca. Iran, for
the several weeks in a row, has banned Friday prayers. It is the worst hit with people dying like flies according to officials there. And we have seen
groups of worshippers storm Shiite shrines in Iran. They want get to the locations where they can pray. Give us a little bit of that perspective.
ARMSTRONG: Well, these festivals, these rituals are of immense importance to people. The whole sense of being in the presence of the sacred and also
being in community. I mean, the whole point of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is community, is Ummah. You -- and you are squeezed together around the
Kaaba, when you -- pilgrimists from all over the world, they can't keep that three-feet distance that we are being advised to do. They are squeezed
together. The pressure of the crowds is so great. But the is part of sense of being part of the Ummah, the great Muslim community worldwide. And
that's an essential part of their whole religious devotion and experience.
But there are also sensible precautions. You have Mythos, which introduces us to the sacred and the divine in these rituals and practices. But you
also have Logos, we are also people of reason. And we -- and to prevent suffering, to prevent unnecessary death, bereavement, there are times when
these things -- when we have to relinquish these ceremonies and for the higher good and for the good of humanity as a whole.
Sometimes we cling to these rituals and rights and ceremonies and devotions and religious doctrines rather like a life vest. But it's time to sort of
open ourselves to swim and say, not now, because compassion for others, concern for the well-being of everybody, is -- must be paramount. That is
an essential requirement of every single world religion. All talk about the golden rule.
AMANPOUR: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
ARMSTRONG: And do not do unto others what you would not have done to yourself.
ARMSTRONG: And that would include having the virus, you know, passed on to you.
AMANPOUR: Karen Armstrong, thank you so much for your wisdom. Much needed.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you very much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Now, China is, of course, where COVID-19 originated and it suffered over a third of the total number of worldwide deaths. But Beijing
has also flattened the curve and the government says that for the first time now it is reporting no new locally transmitted cases after taking
perhaps the most aggressive quarantine measures in the world. It is also wasting no time in flexing its diplomatic muscle, sending medical teams and
supplies to some of the countries which are most affected right now, countries in the West.
Mike Chinoy was CNN's senior Asia correspondent and served as a foreign correspondent for more than 30 years. And he joined me to compare and
contrast government approaches in Asia and to discuss his new book, "Are You With Me?" about the work of the activist lawyer, Kevin Boyle.
Mike Chinoy, welcome to the program.
MIKE CHINOY, FORMER CNN SENIOR ASIA CORRESPONDENT: Good to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, we're going to talk about your book in a moment. But first, you know, you are there in Hong Kong and you have been a long-time Asia
correspondent for CNN. Just tell me because you have covered some of these pandemics before, SARS and the like. How has this differed? Where do you
see the differences or the similarities in the reaction from China, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia?
CHINOY: Well, one of the unfortunate similarities is that in the case of SARS epidemic in 2003, which I did cover for CNN, the Chinese covered up
the early stages of that outbreak and indeed, that was one of the major reasons why a so-called super spreader came to Hong Kong and then
transmitted the SARS virus and then it spread all over -- many parts of the world.
In this situation, we also have the Chinese authorities, for the first few weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, suppressing information, the police
pressuring a doctor in the City of Wuhan who was trying to act as a kind of whistle-blower and spread the word. So, there's that similarity.
But I think one of the things -- in Hong Kong, at least, is that because the impact of SARS was so great, almost 300 people died here in Hong Kong,
that the moment word came that there was this scary new virus, that people in Hong Kong reacted quickly and very strongly. So, by late January already
almost everybody on the streets here was wearing a mask. People sort of instinctively understood the idea of social distancing. Keeping a space
from other people. The streets around the time of the Chinese New Year, which is the big holiday in this part of the world, were almost deserted.
So, in that sense, people learned some lessons of SARS. And I think in Taiwan where I spent much of January, lessons were also learned and the
government in Taiwan moved very, very quickly to limit travel from China, to impose very strict quarantine rules but also, to be in contrast to
mainland China, very transparent about what the situation was and about communicating with people.
I think the big difference though is that while the coronavirus doesn't seem to be as lethal as SARS, it is much more widespread. And so, the
crippling impact that it's had both within Mainland China and Hong Kong and the rest of the region and the rest of the world is much, much greater.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. And one could say right now that China and Hong Kong and Taiwan and Singapore and South Korea, they're all pretty much over the
hump, so to speak. And now, the epicenter is Europe and it's fast, you know, spreading around the United States.
I mean, knowing that part of the world so well, how would you explain their ability to get a grip so quickly? I mean, given the fact that we have
talked about some of the initial slowness, certainly in China.
CHINOY: I think there are a number of explanations and they're different for each place. In China, after kind of bungling the initial response and
covering it up, when the Chinese communist party got its machinery into action, they were able to impose this unprecedented quarantine on the City
of Wuhan, on the Province of Hubei, and put enormous resources into imposing on the population, the requirements to stay at home, to not move
around. That really did help to reverse this very scary trend that we saw for January and much of February. And so, while there's still cases in
China, the trend lines are very -- much more encouraging.
In Hong Kong and in Taiwan and South Korea, you have a different kind of response because these are different societies. They're much more open
societies. Taiwan and South Korea are full pledged democracies. Hong Kong is not but it does have a robust free press. And so, you have had a
different kind of response in which particularly in Taiwan and South Korea openness has been really important.
The government has been very effective in communicating with the people about what's involved, what was needed to be done. Taiwan moved very
quickly to limit travel from China, to impose very rigid quarantine rules, to use high-tech to communicate with people where they could buy masks and
South Korea initially very hard hit. They went from 500 to 5,000 cases in 10 days and it looked like it was going to be completely out of control.
But the South Korean government has done this remarkable job of mass testing. Some 20,000 people are getting tested a day and they have been
able between the testing and very effective communication. The government essentially ceded the lead in communicating to medical professionals to
kind of reverse this tidal wave. And while it is still worrisome in all of these places, the sense is that is it's under control in a way that it's
not in Iran, in Europe and in the States.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the -- sort of the messaging, if you like. As you know, President Trump called it the Wuhan Virus, the China Virus,
that has drawn a massively sharp and negative response, as you can imagein, from the Chinese. And this is what a spokesman said. Let me just play it
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENG SHUAN, SPOKESPERSON, CHINESE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): Recently, some politicians in the United States have linked
the virus to China, which is a stigmatization of China. We feel strongly indignant and are firmly opposed to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you can see, Mike, and you know very well that that would be their response. And China, also, is trying to show that it, not the U.S.,
not Europe, is actually helping Italy and other places with respirators and face masks and the like. Just tell me how they're feeling internationally
at the moment.
CHINOY: The Chinese government and Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, took a big hit in the early stages because the authorities suppressed early
information, a precious window of time that could have resulted in many fewer infections was lost.
So, now, that China does seem to have, to some degree, gotten the outbreak under control, Beijing is trying to reset the international narrative, and
part of this is offering aid, which I think is very welcomed in countries like Italy that are really suffering. And -- but also pushing back on some
of the criticism. I think President Trump's characterization of it as a Chinese virus is completely off the mark. It's a virus that originated in
China but it's affecting people all over the world and viruses can come from any number of places.
And at a time when we need more international cooperation for the president of the United States to try to stigmatize China in this way, I think makes
that more difficult. And it also, of course, raises the danger and we have already had episodes in the West of Chinese or Asians being targeted simply
because of their ethnicity by people who are suspicious of them. So, I don't think that helps in what's a very dangerous global pandemic.
AMANPOUR: Do you think Xi Jinping, the president of China, can use this or it might just happen because it is what it is, that because they have
taken, you know, leadership after the initial slowness, in containing it, in being robust and aggressive, the kind of stuff the W.H.O. is saying the
rest of the world should follow, because it is also now sending, you know, millions of respirators and other massively necessary medical equipment to
Europe, is this one more step towards, I guess, you know, a unipolar world with China as the leader and not the United States?
CHINOY: Whether or not this leads to a broader geopolitical shake-up, I don't know because a consequence of the first few months of the outbreak,
people talk about decoupling of the China and the U.S. or China and the Western economies. And to some degree, that has been a consequence of this
There's virtually no air transport between China and the West anymore. There are many international companies that operate in China or source in
China who have seen the supply chains interrupted and are seriously exploring how they can operate elsewhere.
So, while China is trying very hard now to recover from its early missteps and position itself as the leader, the model, the country that can offer
assistance and guidance, and to some degree, they -- that's legitimate, at the same time, this other damage isn't so easy to repair.
And I also think, inside China, even though the government propaganda isn't going to address this, there are going to be a lot of people who are very
upset at the way the news of this was suppressed initially and made a bad situation worse.
So there may still be internal political consequences in China that we will have to follow very carefully. So, overall, it's a very mixed picture, I
AMANPOUR: And what about where you are? Because Hong Kong has been the scene, as we all know, because the last time we were all riveted for days
and days and weeks and months, was to Hong Kong and the street protests.
And we know that, in Hong Kong, there are many who are angry also at the current chief executive for not immediately closing the border between Hong
Kong and China.
So what is the state of protest in Hong Kong? And what is the relationship with people and their executive right now?
CHINOY: The protests had pretty much died down by early in the new year.
But there was a lot of anger directed at Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam over her initial refusal to curtail travel from mainland China. And
there was a sense that the government was kind of bungling the situation. Indeed, medical workers in some of the public hospitals had to go on strike
before the government back down and imposed tighter rules on people coming from China.
So, I think there's still a lot of anger and discontent. And there have been these weird scenes, intermittently, in the last few weeks of
demonstrators wearing masks not simply to disguise their identity, but because of the outbreak, having battles still in the street with police.
Only, it's been less about the lack of representative government and more about the government's inability to sort of manage decisions about where
they want to put people who are being quarantined, setting up quarantine centers in communities, and the communities felt they haven't been
So, under the surface, there's a lot of anger and resentment on a whole series of issues. And my guess is, if this subsides as the summer comes and
the weather gets hotter, you could well see another eruption of discontent and trouble on the streets.
So I wouldn't rule out another long, hot summer here in Hong Kong.
AMANPOUR: Which sort of brings me to the book that you have written and published called, "Are You With Me?"
Do you feel that there's a link from what you have noticed covering the troubles back in the `70s in Northern Ireland, I mean, the fight for self-
determination there, where you are now all these decades later in a much more modern -- modern economy, modern world in Hong Kong, and their fight
for freedom and self-determination as well?
CHINOY: I think there -- there are important links, which makes this book "Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of The Human Rights Movement"
It's the story of a law professor from Northern Ireland who was a founder and leader of the civil rights movement there and a key player in the peace
process, who then went on to become one of the world's foremost human rights lawyers.
And during his career, he was at the center of a lot of issues that are still extremely relevant today. One of them is the way in which security
forces deal with dissent, state-sanctioned torture or murder, suppression of journalists and the fight for freedom of information.
So, there are a lot of issues that he dealt with. And the way in which he dealt with them and how he fought those battles, often against very large
odds on many different fields, I think, resonates.
And I thought a lot, watching the troubles here in Hong Kong develop in the last six months of last year, back to the early days of the troubles in
Northern Ireland, which I covered as a journalist and which this man, Kevin Boyle, was a central figure in pushing for a peaceful campaign to demand
the civil rights for Northern Ireland's Catholic minority.
And it was the government's insensitivity and unwillingness to respond in Northern Ireland that fueled the violent campaign of the Irish Republican
And there has been some concern -- and it's a concern I share -- that if the government here remained, as it still is now, unwilling to address
political demands that the majority of people here have been making in a peaceful way, that there may be a small minority who become so alienated
that they will adopt violent tactics.
AMANPOUR: Kevin Boyle also was not just concerned with human rights in his own country in Northern Ireland, but also, as you say, he advocated for
peaceful conflict resolution everywhere, whether it was -- you know, whether it was South Africa anti-apartheid movement and other things.
And he was one of the first to come out in the campaign to protect the freedom of speech of Salman Rushdie, when his "Satanic Verses" drew, as you
remember -- of course, everybody remembers the fatwa as you remember, of course, everybody remembers the fatwa from the Iranian ayatollahs.
I guess, put it in context. Give us a little bit more anecdote about what he did and the importance of it.
CHINOY: Well, Kevin Boyle was a remarkable figure who found himself in the middle of a lot of very important and dramatic episodes.
For example, when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued the fatwa condemning the Indian British author Salman Rushdie to death for a novel he'd written,
it was Boyle, at considerable personal risk, who organized the campaign to defend Salman Rushdie, who drafted the famous letter signed by many
writers, including many who had won the Nobel Prize for literature, and put himself on the line.
And I think one of the things I recount in this book "Are You With Me?" is the way in which he was willing to get involved in battles that did not
look like they had much prospect for success.
He brought court cases to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the beleaguered Kurdish minority in Southeastern Turkey, a process that
took years and years, but in the end resulted in the European court determining, for example, that rape was a form of torture, which was a
ruling that then played an important role in the international tribunals that addressed the genocide in Rwanda or the war in the Balkans in the
He was involved in the very bitter debates working as the chief adviser to the U.N. high commissioner for human rights after September 11 over how to
respond to terrorism. And he argued that 9/11 was a crime against humanity, and it was important to use the law to go after the people who had
perpetrated it, and not see it as an unending war on terror that would open itself up for human rights abuses.
But I think it's true, in recent years, the advances that were made in the `90s in the early 2000s in terms of institutionalizing defensive protection
of human rights have begun to be rolled back.
You see it in not only countries like China, which is much more repressive now even than it was 15, 20 years ago. You see it in Vladimir Putin's
Russia. You see it in countries like Turkey and Brazil, which were edging towards more democratic systems, and have now gone back the other way.
But I think one of the lessons that I take away, having spent four years researching this book, and having known Kevin Boyle for many years, is that
human rights and the battle to defend human rights is an unending battle.
But it doesn't mean giving up, but it's -- because the values are universal, and it's really important to keep pushing for them. And that, I
think, is one of the big takeaways from his life. And it's that evolution and the way he looked at it and what he did that I tried to document in
"Are You With Me?"
AMANPOUR: Mike Chinoy, thank you so much for joining us, both about that really important book and what it tells us for today, but also your
experience in China and in Asia.
Thanks so much.
CHINOY: Thanks, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, as we discussed throughout this program, during periods of such uncertainty, it is hard not to be overcome by fears, anxiety and
Nicholas Christakis is a physician, sociologist and author who has an important message for all of us. Even in trying times, he says humans
cannot escape their innate instinct for good, a case he makes in his latest book, "Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society."
He talks to our Hari Sreenivasan about this latest theory, the importance of social distancing and why it does actually work.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nicholas Christakis, thanks so much for joining us.
You have got an M.D. and an MPH from Harvard. You have got a Ph.D. in sociology. What are the different data points that you are looking for
during this pandemic?
NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS, "BLUEPRINT: THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF A GOOD SOCIETY": Well, we're monitoring a number of things, or I should say many
scientists are making monitoring many things.
We're monitoring the number of cases that are occurring in different locations around the world. We're monitoring whether those cases occur near
in time to other people to whom most people are connected, because, of course, a virus spreads through social network ties.
We're monitoring when those cases are occurring. And then we're using mathematical models to try to project what's happening with the epidemic.
What's the trajectory? Where is it striking? How fast is it striking? What's likely to happen soon?
SREENIVASAN: There's also a historical dimension to this, in the idea that this isn't the first time we have had this.
Given that you have studied this closely for a decade or more, what does history teach us? And where are we in terms of how these pandemics stack
CHRISTAKIS: Well, I have been studying social networks for about 15 or 20 years. Pandemics, I am a little bit familiar with from my background, but,
beginning in around January, I began to turn my attention very deliberately and directly to present pandemic that we have been facing.
First of all, pandemics are not a novel thing. They occur. Every 10 years or so, we are struck with a pandemic. Most viewers will remember the SARS
pandemic, the H1N1 pandemic, the MERS pandemic.
Pandemics come, but usually -- or, typically, they peter out. But once in a while, they're very dramatic. I think this pandemic is most similar to the
1957 pandemic that swept the world and that afflicted the United States.
It was a different type of virus back than this virus, but there are a number of similarities in the pace of spread, in the transmissibility of
the virus, in the lethality of the virus. And if you imagine a little graph where you plot how transmissible is the virus, and how deadly is the virus,
and you put all the pandemics on that plot, this virus that we're facing right now would seem closest to the 1957 pandemic, which was a leading
killer in the United States.
We estimate that the 1957 pandemic killed about 110,000 people. The population in the United States back then was about half what it is today.
So that number of people dead was -- made the virus about half as deadly as cancer was back then.
So this is a serious once every half-century event that we are facing, I and many other people believe.
SREENIVASAN: What makes this particular virus so dangerous? Because people look at the numbers and they say, you know what? This isn't killing as many
people as SARS did. It is killing more people than flu. So what's that Goldilocks zone, and why is that a threat?
CHRISTAKIS: You have hit on it, Hari.
If the germ is too deadly, for example, if it's like Ebola, which kills well over half, probably 80 or 90 percent of the people that get it, the
disease burns out, because it kills its victims before they can transmit it.
SARS was a little bit too deadly to spread so much, nowhere near as deadly as Ebola, but about 10 percent of the people that got SARS died from it,
and that contributed to extinguishing the epidemic.
The flu kills about 0.1 percent of the people. The usual seasonal flu that we get or the class of germs that cause the flu kill about 1.1 percent of
the people that get it. This condition, SARS-CoV-2, we think probably kills five to 10, maybe a bit more, times as many people. We think it's roughly
five to 10 times as deadly as the flu.
So it's more deadly, which makes it more serious, but not too deadly, certainly not as deadly as Ebola, but not even as deadly as the prior SARS
pandemic from 2003 from years ago.
So, that's one of the things, one of the parameters, the so-called case fatality rate, or a similar quantity known as the infection fatality rate,
the fraction of people that are infected that die.
It has -- this germ has a property which puts it sort of in the middle range, which makes it a bit more of a challenge to confront. And that's
coupled with the fact that it has like middling transmissibility as well.
It's not too hard and it's not too easy to transmit. And that makes it a really powerful enemy.
SREENIVASAN: So, will the physical distancing, the social distancing, that we're talking about work? Because there also seem to be other costs here,
when kidney dialysis centers start to scale back, cancer treatments get postponed.
CHRISTAKIS: You're framing the question in terms of the total health benefits and health costs.
And that's a bit easier for me to discuss than when we have to trade off the health benefits vs. the social disruption and the economic costs,
because, basically, we have crashed our economy.
So, speaking just narrowly about the health benefits and costs, the health benefits might be that we greatly reduce the number of people who die.
I think that at least 35,000 Americans are going to die of this condition. If that happens, that would be about as deadly as motor vehicle accidents.
We in this country are very concerned about motor vehicle accidents. We spend billions and billions of dollars dividing our highways, mandating car
We are upset when people die. We read in the newspaper about car crashes. Car crashes are a leading killer. If I told you that you could wave a magic
wand and make car accidents go away as a cause of death, we'd all -- we'd be delighted.
Well, what's happened now is a magic wand has been waved, and we have added a killer that's as bad as motor vehicle accidents, at best. And the
estimates get worse from there.
And what we're trying to do now, therefore, is two things. We're trying, if we can, to lower the total number of deaths. And there's debate about
whether the total number can be lowered. But what we're trying to do is reduce the percussive impact of this epidemic wave.
We're trying to flatten the curve. So let's say, for the sake of argument, that 100,000 Americans are going to die of this condition in the next year.
What we'd like to avoid is these 100,000 dying in the next month. We don't want to overwhelm our health care system by all of those people arriving at
And so what we want to do is, we want to employ social distancing, we want to break the paths by which the germs spread through us from person to
person to person, to flatten the curve. That means, instead of all of the cases happening now, we distribute those cases in time, so that the 100,000
deaths, let's say, occur over 12 months.
There are several benefits of that. First, on any given day, we have fewer cases. So, that means that our supply chain and our health care systems can
work to take care of those patients and not overrun our ICUs.
Second, we postpone some of the cases out into the future. Maybe, by then, we will have invented a vaccine. As you said, however, there are many
health costs to that. We might be increasing social isolation. We might be causing people to lose their jobs, and now they commit suicide because
they're sad or because they're economically deprived.
We might be contributing -- interfering with people getting ordinary health care for renal dialysis, like you said, or other conditions.
So, just from a public health point of view, if you adopt a policy-maker's perspective, you try to weigh all these costs and benefits and say, what's
best for our society in terms of lives saved? What should we do?
SREENIVASAN: I remember a newscast where I was talking about the head of China talking about how grave this was.
This was probably early, mid-January. Frame for us, what are the sort of opportunity costs here? How much does a day, a week, a month matter in a
response to something like this?
CHRISTAKIS: I and other people who have some expertise in this area who have been paying attention have been very concerned about this since
And one way that I can invite you to think about what -- why we should be concerned is that, beginning on January the 25th, approximately, the nation
of China, which has an authoritarian government and a collectivist sort of culture, and therefore was able to do these things, basically passed rules
and regulations that compelled 930 million people to stay in their homes since then.
So nearly a billion people have been homebound for almost two months in order to confront this epidemic. And that should have given us some idea as
to the kind of force that is required to confront this virus that is attacking us.
So we should have paid attention, in my view, immediately, just like you're suggesting, like in January. Certainly, by the end of January, by early
February, it was very clear that this was a serious pandemic.
And one of the sad ironies here is that, to my eye, our country did not adequately prepare and take advantage of the hard-fought weeks that the
Chinese bought for us, because we have had six weeks or more when we could have been stockpiling equipment, preparing -- preparing the public to
engage in the kind of social distancing.
The market would have gone down, but it might have not been so abrupt, if we had slowly prepared people for the severity of what we were confronting.
SREENIVASAN: Nicholas, I wanted to ask you, one of the things that your book "Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society" talks about is
that we are geared toward collectively doing good.
Is that something that would work even in the context of a pandemic, thinking about community vs. just about oneself?
CHRISTAKIS: Yes, that's a good question.
One of the things -- evolution has shaped us to be a social species. It's shaped us to assemble in groups, to befriend each other, to hug and touch
each other. And it's those properties that evolution has shaped us with that the virus is exploiting.
It's using those natural instincts of ours to kill us, basically. But evolution has also equipped us with other forces that the virus has not
taken away. For example, we have evolved to be a cooperative species, to work together.
So, even now that we're that we're supposed to be engaged in physical distancing, we must and we can band together. We work together to confront
this enemy. And, in addition, evolution has done something else for us, which is unbelievable.
We are one of the very few species that teaches each other things. Many listeners will take this for granted, but, actually, it's extremely rare in
the animal kingdom. And I have investigated and studied how and why it is that we human beings come together precisely so as to learn from each
So we can learn from past pandemics. We can learn from the Chinese. We can learn from the Koreans. We can learn from the Italians. We can take all
that knowledge. We can learn from our own scientists who've been studying this stuff.
We can learn from our neighbors. And we can take all that learning and spread it among ourselves and use that capacity that we evolved to have to
work together to fight the germ.
SREENIVASAN: In addition to societies, you also study how ideas spread. And it seems that we're in kind of a perfect storm for an opportunity for
misinformation to spread right now.
We don't have a tremendous amount of trust in government. We have these filter bubbles that we live in where we can choose to -- well, whatever
reality that we like, right?
So, how do we get a handle on that in a time when we don't have -- we're not taking advantage, as you say, of the information that we should be
CHRISTAKIS: Yes, I think that's a very important point.
There are a number of ways in which our intellectual fabric in this nation has frayed in the last 10 or 20 years. We have less of a respect for
science than we used to. We have less of a respect for expertise than we used to.
We see expertise as kind of an elitist thing. And so we don't take it seriously. We have lost the capacity for nuance. We see things as
polarized. It's either this or it's that. We're not willing or able to tolerate that there's a range of outcomes.
We're not entirely sure what's going to happen. We have difficulty compromising when we see opposing viewpoints, and which will be necessary
in this case, because there will be trade-offs. There aren't going to be perfect solutions.
So all of these things that have happened in the intellectual fabric of our country in the last 10 or 20 years will make it more difficult for us.
And you mentioned the issue of echo chambers. Many people think that the truth is subjective, that you can just make up the truth. That's not true.
The truth is the truth. There is an objective reality out there. I can't wish the virus away.
It's there, and we may be imperfectly able to see it. Scientists may not be 100 percent sure about what's going on, or there may be some confusing
points, but the virus is there. And so somehow we have to acknowledge or get out of this sort of idea that, well, what the people around me are
saying must be true, or the truth doesn't matter, or you can invent anything you want.
No, we have to accept the fact that we have to use the scientific method to confront the virus and accept that there's an objective reality that we
have to work together to confront.
SREENIVASAN: We have had some good news recently, that China has slowed the rates of new infection down to almost zero.
But, at the same time, as we watch what's happening to the Italian health care system, it doesn't even look like it's peaked yet. Why the
CHRISTAKIS: Well, first of all, what the Chinese have succeeded in doing is in stopping the spread of the virus. They haven't eradicated the virus.
So the disease will come back to China. And, in fact, it will come back to all of us. This pandemic is going to is very likely to come in waves. So,
right now, unfortunately, we're just confronting the first wave.
There will be another wave, probably, probably in October or November, which will again sweep the Earth. So this is the debate that's happening
right now. But, well, how long do we need to engage in social distancing?
So, what the Chinese have done is, they have succeeded in stopping transmission by locking down their public, their population, and reducing
The Italians also started doing that, but late, and so they are beginning to see a flattening of their curve. They're beginning to see a decline in
the number of new cases. But there's always a lag.
So, for example, the United States right now, even if we locked down as much as the Chinese -- and we're not doing that -- we would only stop the
epidemic at where it is today, which we don't know where it is and won't know until another three weeks.
So, three weeks from now, we would know, did we succeed today in stopping transmission?
SREENIVASAN: Well, what do you think of the long- and the short-term effects after we come out of this? Are we going to continue social
distancing in a different way?
CHRISTAKIS: No. No, what's going to happen is, eventually, the disease is going to become endemic.
So on endemic disease is a disease like the common cold that's just among us. It's not epidemic. There's not more of it than usual. It's just the
usual amount. So, eventually, what's happened now is something very unusual, which is that a new pathogen has been added to our species that's
just going to circulate, we think, forever in our species.
But what will happen is, is, we will develop immunity. We will develop herd immunity. Large numbers of us will have been exposed at mild conditions, we
will be immune to the condition. If we're re-exposed, we won't get sick. We also won't be able to transmit it because we're immune.
There's a big debate about how long the immunity will last at the individual level. But at the collective level, eventually, we will develop
immunity. And this disease will just be, like, added to the list of influenza us or influenza-like illnesses that afflict us.
But it's going to take some time. And what we're trying to do now is slow the pressure of the wave. It's basically like we're trying to build
breakers offshore, so that this big wave that's coming, we slow it down, we lower its peak, we spread it out, so it doesn't strike us with the same
But it will strike us overall. All that water's going to come to shore.
SREENIVASAN: Nicholas Christakis, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRISTAKIS: Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, we are all in this together, and we will get through it together -- that is the message from Wonder Woman, the actress
Gal Gadot, who enlisted the help of several celebrities to record this uplifting take of John Lennon's "Imagine," as they too find themselves
isolated by the coronavirus.
Take a listen.
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AMANPOUR: Imagine all the people doing and posting for all of us.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.