On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: China makes a shift in its COVID policies. What does it mean for its citizens?
China has started to make a gradual shift on its zero- COVID policies, what will it mean for its citizens’ health and the economy. New Anti-obesity drugs promise dramatic weight loss, but are they worth the hype? And can everyone access them? And the U.S is out of the World Cup after a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday. What teams are left and where do they stand?
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Good morning. I'm Alexis Gustin, filling in for Taylor Wilson, and this is 5 things you need to know for Monday, the 5th of December, 2022. Today, China has started to make a gradual shift with regards to its COVID policies, backing off from "Zero COVID" in ways that may have a profound impact on its citizens' health and the economy. Next, new anti-obesity drugs promise dramatic weight loss, but are they worth the hype? And can everyone access them? And finally, the US is out of the World Cup after a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday. What teams are left, and where do they stand?
China's 3-year long Zero COVID policy appears to be slowly shifting, as some relaxations were announced over the weekend, signaling a new approach to the disease. We exchanged messages yesterday with veteran journalist Ray Suarez, currently a visiting professor at NYU in Shanghai, who told us what's changed. He says he's now able to travel freely within Shanghai and go to shopping malls without a negative PCR test. Elsewhere, citizens can go to parks and enter supermarkets without a negative test.
While recent protests across China in the past week may have been a factor, Suarez told us that the shift in policy was already in the works when the groundswell of discontent happened. What happens next is anybody's guess, but here's what we're watching.
First, will there be a surge of COVID infections and deaths that overwhelms the country's health system? Nobody knows, but keep in mind that, unlike the rest of the world, China has had a minuscule number of infections since the pandemic took hold. And with little to no experience in managing a surge, things could get scary. According to Reuters, China's death toll to date is just over 5,000. That number is lower than the US death toll was two-and-a-half years ago. Today, over 6 million people have died globally.
Second, China is still the largest economy in the world. While its GDP has slowed significantly due largely to strict COVID lockdowns, the rest of the world can be impacted by its economy. It's often said when China sneezes, the world gets a cold. Analysts' biggest fears are that a COVID outbreak there could lead to a recurrence of the massive supply chain issues that impacted the global economy back in 2020. Could there also be new economic strains or unforeseen political blowback? At this point, we simply don't know. You can stay up to date on the story at USATODAY.com.
Elon Musk has been promoting the so-called Twitter Files over the weekend. It's a lengthy Twitter thread by journalist Matt Taibbi, detailing internal Twitter documents that Musk apparently fed Taibbi for the report. Musk urged his followers to vote for Republicans recently, and now it seems he's pushing the material to expose what he claims is the political left's grip on big tech. The thread shows that Twitter's execs weren't sure how to handle posts regarding a report on Hunter Biden's laptop before the 2020 presidential election.
Reaction to the thread varied widely and was largely partisan. Many Democrats said the thread didn't matter, and there was no story. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans seized on the material as proof Twitter sought to hide a story unfavorable to Biden ahead of the election.
Meanwhile, former president Donald Trump weighed in with his own take on Truth Social. The social media platform is his preferred platform since his original banishment from Twitter, in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection on the Capitol. In his post, Trump called for a suspension of parts of the Constitution, saying, "A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution." Trump also suggested there could be an election do-over, or they could just simply reinstate him. Most likely, neither of those are going to happen.
New anti-obesity medicines promise dramatic weight loss, but there's a long way to go to make them accessible to those who need them. Producer PJ Elliott spoke with USA TODAY health reporter Karen Weintraub to find out if they actually work and how much they cost.
Yeah, they are actually pretty incredible. The studies show that they can shave off 15, even 20% or more, of somebody's body weight over time. Only one of these drugs is on the market so far, but more are coming. The one that's on the market is called Wegovy, and it is the same as a diabetes drug called Ozempic, but in higher doses. These drugs have the potential to help people lose 15, 20%, maybe even more, of their body weight, which is the first time that drugs have been this effective.
Karen, do we know the cost of these drugs and if insurance will cover them?
At the moment, they're hugely expensive, and most insurance will not cover it. Wegovy is about $1,300 a month. I think they said that maybe 30% of people who are on Wegovy right now are getting insurance to cover it. The rest are paying out of pocket.
Well, if obesity is such a healthcare crisis in this country, why wouldn't insurance cover the drugs?
It's been seen as a lifestyle problem, where, if you just exercise more and ate less, you would lose weight. But there's literally 100 years of scientific data suggesting that that's nearly impossible for most people. Yes, there are exceptions. There are people who manage to lose weight and keep it off, but for the vast, vast, vast majority of people, even if they manage to lose weight, it comes back.
So, about 10 years ago, the American Medical Association decided that obesity was a disease. Some advocates dispute that. They don't think that obesity is a disease. They say that, yes, it might increase your risk for certain diseases, but it is not a disease in and of itself. So. there's still debate, even within the community, as to how to view obesity. But the advocates say that obesity is just differences among people. It's not something that needs to be treated.
Karen, back to the financials for just a second. Is there anything on the horizon that says that these drugs will become more affordable for everybody who needs them?
That's not clear. There is an older drug called Contrave, that's now being offered for $99 a month, discounted from the $625 ticket price. It is less effective than these newer drugs, but might work. Certainly works for some people. There is definitely a push to get insurers to cover. Like I said, about 30% maybe, are covering it now. The big thing is going to be if Medicare and Medicaid decide to cover these drugs. If CMS does, then private insurers will likely follow. But at these prices, it would bankrupt the country and the insurers also.
We should take a step back and point out that 70% of Americans meet the definition for being overweight, and 42% meet the definition for obesity, which is a body mass index of 30 or above. Body mass index is a ratio of weight to height, which a lot of people hate. It's not a very precise measurement. Somebody who's very muscular may have a high BMI without being fat, but, for the moment, that's the measure that's used.
It's been three weeks since four students at the University of Idaho were fatally stabbed in their sleep. In the time since the brutal slayings, it seems investigators have more questions than answers. 20-year-old Ethan Chapin, 22-year-old Madison Mogen, 21-year-old Kaylee Goncalves, and 20-year-old Xana Kernodle were killed November 13th, in the small college town of Moscow, Idaho. Local, state, and federal officers have descended on the tiny town of about 26,000 people, looking for who did it, the weapon they used, and why the investigation is at a standstill.
And already authorities have released conflicting information on whether the attack was isolated and if there was any ongoing threat to the community. Moscow police chief, James Fry, backtracked the statement on November 16th, saying police couldn't be sure there was no threat to the community and told residents to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Police are still looking for a motive in the killings.
There is also confusion around what rooms the victims were in when they were killed, and reports of one of the victims making several phone calls before the attack. Carole Lieberman, a forensic psychiatrist, said the enormity could be a lot for authorities, especially when the public's questions aren't being answered. The town hasn't had a murder in about five years. Lieberman said, "From the very beginning, they have been giving different stories. They say something and then walk it back. That's not acceptable."
The World Cup continues in Qatar with 12 teams and two weeks left to play. The US' dreams of advancing past the round of 16 for the first time since 2002, were crushed in a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to the Netherlands Saturday. Also on Saturday, Argentina beat Australia 2-1, and defending champion France moves on after a 3-1 win over Poland on Sunday. You can watch Japan take on Croatia at 10 o'clock today. Brazil faces South Korea at 2:00 PM. Keep following the games as they happen on USATODAY.com. We've dropped a link to our coverage in the description.
Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. And remember, you can subscribe for free and rate us and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. We'll be back tomorrow with more 5 things from USA TODAY. In the meantime, take care.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump calls for end of US Constitution, World Cup update: 5 Things podcast