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Stock Markets Plunge as Coronavirus Rises; Bernie Sanders Praises a Dictator Regime; Three Countries Added to the List; Peace Far from Being Felt; P.M. Netanyahu Not Retiring Yet From Politics. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2020 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Next here on CNN Newsroom. As the coronavirus spreads to even more countries, economic markets are taking a big hit. We'll delve into that.

Violence in Syria escalates following an attack on Turkish troops that killed 33 soldiers. Our Arwa Damon is live in Istanbul.

Plus, an interesting look at the literacy program in Cuba from the early 60s after presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praised it during the last Democratic debate.

Thank you again for joining us.

More than 83,000 people around the world are now infected with the novel coronavirus. And U.S. President Donald Trump says one day like a miracle, it will disappear. Health experts aren't so sure. And the spread of the virus tells a different story.

You can add New Zealand and the Netherlands to the list of countries reporting their first cases of the virus and a troubling development in sub-Saharan Africa reporting its first case in Nigeria.

Worries over the spread of the virus have financial markets in a tailspin. Trading has just begun in Europe and we'll check those numbers in a moment. But Friday has been a disaster across Asia with Tokyo's Nikkei down more than 3.5 percent. Other markets down sharply as well.

In New York, the Dow plunged another 1,200 points Thursday. The biggest one-day point drop in history.

We get more now from journalist Kaori Enjoji. She's in Tokyo.

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: A continued meltdown in the equity markets here in Asia this Friday as the Nikkei 225, the benchmark index in Japan losing 3.6 percent by the close to close at 21,142. At one point that index was down more than 1,000 points.

Equity markets throughout the region in the red with markets in Shanghai and Hong Kong resuming their sell-off.

People are concerned about a prolonged economic impact due to the coronavirus and with visibility low about corporate earnings investors are trying to insulate themselves from a possible economic downturn.

People are also worried about a prolonged recession with countries around the region, particularly Japan already halfway there with negative growth in the final three months of 2019.

We are also seeing weakness in the oil markets because the factory of the world, China, the manufacturing base there has been paralyzed for the last month or so, and as a result all prices continue to sink.

The safe haven seems to be the gold market. But in addition to that you're seeing continued weakness in the U.S. treasury market with yields there falling to a yet fresh record low. Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: Kaori, thank you.

Now let's look at the Europe markets where they will be opening soon. The FTSE has opened and you can see there it is down 3 percent. The others that you see this was from yesterday, and again, all down.

We'll be watching them today. Traders are hoping to reverse that negative trend from the outbreak.

Well, no country in Europe is more impacted by the outbreak than Italy. The disease has spread to 650 people there and killed at least 17. But officials are quick to assure residents and would-be tourists the situation is under control. Is it?

Our Melissa Bell is live for us in Florence. What are you hearing there, Melissa? Hello.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the -- hello, Natalie. For the time being these figures speak for themselves. And every day the number of those cases continue to rise despite the reassuring noises coming from the government and the spread heads elsewhere.

The Nigerian you mentioned a moment ago is an Italian who landed there at the end of February. And what we see over the course of the last few days are neighboring countries with their new infections, their new cases all coming from Italy.

So, even as the spread has continued from here for the virus what you're also seeing, and you mentioned the markets a moments ago, is the economic impact of all of this first of all being felt and that's just starting.

Because really, we've been talking, we're talking about the last week. This has been an extremely fast outbreak. It's been an extremely fast rise.


Italian authorities are doing what they can do to keep it -- can keep it under control, but that also means, and this is something they spoke about in a plan that they release yesterday. Their point has been to be transparent.

But when you are being transparent about the measures you're taking about the number of cases, about all the precautions that are necessary to help prevent the spread you're also being transparent about what is potentially the fragility of your economy because you're having to bring things to a halt.

And this has really exposed the fragility of the Italian economy, which even before this was on the verge of its -- of another recession. But also, it's political division with the northern parts of Italy that have been so impacted run by the far-right. The centrist, left-center coalition in charge of the country, different messages coming from east, criticism, political infighting.

So, there's been a lot of weakness that the country sort of inherent weakness exposed. Italian authorities say that they are on top of it, but one of the problems they have is that even as the economy here will be impacted with tourism already down in cities like here in Florence but also in Venice. And that's something you are going to see continuing over the coming months.

But that economic fragility then spreading of course to the rest of Europe. One of the points about northern Italy is that, it is the economic powerhouse of the country, and a very important in the European economy, very important part of the supply chains to Germany, to France and you are going to see those impacts playing out as well over the course of the coming weeks and months.

And for the time being, Natalie, even as the number of cases continues to rise, that seems almost inevitable.

ALLEN: Thank you so much. Melissa Bell with the latest reporting from Florence, Italy. Melissa, thanks.

Well, there are new precautions in Japan as the number of confirmed cases rises to 907. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling for all schools to close for one month beginning Monday.

And Disney is temporarily closing its theme park in Japan after a government request. Tokyo Disneyland and Disney C will be shut down for two weeks starting Saturday.

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading to just about every corner of the world now. Nigeria now has the first case in sub-Saharan Africa. The patient identified as an Italian woman who works in Nigeria and had just returned from Milan.

Of course, that's the first northern area of Italy where they had the first cases. CNN's David McKenzie is in Johannesburg. He's following this

development for us. Countries like Nigeria there's been a concern that Africa may not be as well prepared with limited medical resources there. What do you know about it?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Africa is a very diverse continent with countries with a lot of capabilities in this way.

Now what we do know is the African CDC has been really ratcheting up the diagnostic potential of these countries. Because that really is the key here. When you have the case like this, in this case from northern Italy arriving in Nigeria, you first have to have those frontline detection facilities like they have in Nigeria now as you come into the airport testing for any symptoms or temperature. Then it's about diagnostics.

And they manage to rapidly diagnose this case just less than 48 hours. Now there's no communal transmission yet in Nigeria. This will be a big test for the health system there. But in the past, the recent past, Nigeria was lauded for stopping an Ebola outbreak in its tracks when a case was imported to that country from neighboring countries.

So, they have experience in this. On a broader scale, they really need to up their diagnostics for the rest of the continent in just the next few weeks at least 20 countries will be able to diagnose for the coronavirus. Natalie?

ALLEN: That is good news. In case it does spread. I want to talk to you about another development. South Africa, we're told, is planning to evacuate over 130 nationals from Wuhan in China. What can you tell us about that?

MCKENZIE: Well, this was obviously a real sense of a debate going on within the South African government, because for several weeks there has been discussions in the government.

A source telling me that the department of international relations wanted to get these people out weeks ago. But there has been pushed back from the Department of Health.

In the end it was a cabinet level decision here in South Africa. After many other countries have in fact repatriated their citizens, they say they will now bring South Africans back, many of them living in Wuhan and other parts of China.

I was speaking to many families over the past weeks, they've been pretty desperate to get any information. They are relieved that they will be coming back. They will be put in a 21-day quarantine when they do get back, but they don't have any details yet. And no time put on this potential evacuation from China. Natalie?


ALLEN: All right. David McKenzie following it for us from Johannesburg. David, thank you. A U.S. government whistleblower claims workers who received the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China did not have proper training or protective gear. An airplane carrying the evacuees out of the epicenter in mainland China landed in San Diego, California earlier this month.

Trump administration officials pushed back on the allegations during a congressional hearing Thursday.

Well, next here, Benjamin Netanyahu wants another term as Israel's prime minister despite corruption charges. Next, why his new strategy may sway voters. We'll have a live report.


ALLEN: A short time ago, NATO announced it will meet later today at Turkey's request. This, as tensions are quickly escalating between Turkey and Syria for weeks. Syrian forces have pushed forward with its ruthless offensive in the last rebel-held stronghold.

Turkey says at least 33 of its troops were killed in a targeted airstrike carried out by the Syrian government in Idlib province on Thursday. More than two dozen other soldiers were evacuated to a Turkish hospital. The country now vowing revenge.

CNN's Arwa Damon joins me now with more about it from Istanbul. A very, very serious and dangerous escalation, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is. Look, Turkey is not suffered these kinds of losses in a single strike since the 90's. Now, since December we've really been seeing this uptick in intensification of regime and Russian bombardment in the Idlib province and the surrounding area, shoving the civilian population there.

Many of whom have already been displaced multiple times into a shrinking space. And in many cases, Natalie, even when people think they are safe, they are not. Because there has been a systematic bombardment of schools that are housing those who are internally displaced of civilian neighborhoods and of hospitals.

Over the last few weeks Turkey has significantly increased its military presence inside that province. And it has changed its mission to a certain degree from nearly observing what was meant to be this de-escalation zone to one where they are actively supporting what they called the more moderate rebel groups on the ground.

And since February, just this month, Turkey has lost about 50 soldiers inside Syria. And at the moment, Turkey is blaming the regime for this strike that killed 33 of its soldiers.


But let's not forget that Russia is a major player here. Russia controls the airspace to a certain degree. The Russians are saying that the area where the strike specifically took place that Turks were not meant to be there, that Turkey had not notified them of the position of its forces in that particular area.

But that aside, if we look at the relationship between Russia and Turkey, because that is what is critical to the future of Idlib and to the situation on the ground, both sides have not been able to negotiate their way out of this current escalation.

Talks appear to be faltering or not going anywhere. Both sides have upped their rhetoric against each other. And now Turkey is finding itself in this very difficult situation because on the one hand, it does need to respond. On the other hand, inside the Idlib battlefield it does not have the upper hand.

And now, up until now it has been entirely on its own. One of the many reasons why it has presumably called for this NATO meeting.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. And as we said at the top at the story, Turkey vowing revenge this could very likely get worse before it gets better. And as you've reported extensively, so many civilians are caught right there in the middle.

DAMON: They are. And look, each time the relationship between Turkey and Russia deteriorates we do see an intensification of bombardment. And a lot of it despite the fact that, you know, Russia and the regime say that they there are targeting terrorists, a lot of the bombardment has systematically been against the civilian targets.

The Russians are saying that they are rejecting these calls for a ceasefire because that would be capitulation to terrorists. And while on the one hand, you know, from their perspective, they are fighting alongside the regime, they do want to see all of Syria back in the control of Bashar al-Assad's forces.

There are some of the groups inside Idlib who yes, have ties to Al- Qaeda and other extremist organizations, but there are fighting groups there who do not. And irrespective of all of that, Natalie, is the impact that this is having on the civilian population.

More than three million people are trapped there. And as I was saying, the shrinking territory, being shoved up against the border with Turkey, a border which is closed because Turkey says it can't handle another refugee influx.

The temperatures are bitterly cold. And again, as I was saying, even when people think they are safe, oftentimes they are not. They move to one area. They set up their tent, if they even have a tent, and then the bombing gets closer.

They go to these schools that have been converted into internally displaced people shelters. Those shelters get bombed. On Tuesday 10 schools were targeted on the same day. And some of them were housing these internally displaced families.

So, the situation is very quickly spiraling it would seem out of control and towards yet another even darker chapter than anything we've seen in the past. ALLEN: It is surreal after so much time that we are seeing this now.

Arwa Damon, we know you'll stay on top of that story, thank you so much.

Well, Israel's third election in less than one year is just days away. Benjamin Netanyahu hopes for a fifth term as prime minister. Rival Benny Gantz hopes the third times is the charm to unseat him.

Our Oren Liebermann is following the story for us. He joins us now live from Jerusalem with more about it. Oren, hello.


Today is the day final day for election polls in Israel. This is the, by law, the last day those polls can come out. And we've got a number of them already. They suggest the momentum is with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But all of them also suggest that neither Netanyahu nor rival Benny Gantz has a clear path to a coalition to the 61 seats necessary between the larger parties and the smaller parties to form a governing coalition and to be the next prime minister which means Israel may well be headed for political deadlock.

But, of course, before we get there, both sides say this is a question of voter turnout. So how is it that Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, a political rookie relatively has rising to challenge Israel's longest serving prime minister.


LIEBERMANN: The leaders of Blue and White have fought many battles but none quite like this. A party top heavy with former generals in a political dogfight. It is the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a decade. Blue and White tied Netanyahu's Likud Party in April's election then eked out a one-seat lead in September. The race remains incredibly close at this late stage.


GABI ASHKENAZI, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY (through translator): We believe that Israel is the story of its people of our parents who dream who came here and made their dreams come true. They made a country and we protected it. We want to see a Jewish Democratic secure country and that is what we came to fight for, exactly that.


LIEBERMANN: Because so many Israelis serve in the military the status of an officer, his rank carries a tremendous amount of prestige especially for a general. It is that prestige that's allowed a relative political rookie to challenge Netanyahu. Arguably, the most successful politician in the country's history.

Israel's top generals have often found a home in politics after their service. Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, prime ministers who once served in the highest echelons of the military. There's a confidence voter have in those in charge of the country's defense.


BENNY GANTZ, LEADER, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY: This is a country where you don't make national experiments in terms of security. So, having someone who understand security is very important. I think that we bring -- we bring alone hundreds of years of experience.


LIEBERMANN: Ironically perhaps, Palestinians have viewed Israeli generals in much the same way. Practical strategists willing to seek a negotiated peace. With a presentation of the White House's deal of the century, peace is an issue that no one can avoid.


GANTZ: Netanyahu was in his position, he had the ability to move forward, and at least to try to move forward in the last decade and nothing really happened.


LIEBERMANN: A famous military strategist once said war is nothing but a continuation of politics by other means. For Blue and White it is politics that's a continuation of war. One, they have yet to win.

With voter apathy quite high and fears over coronavirus, voter turnout will be a key question on election day. Coming up a little later on today we'll look at Benjamin Netanyahu and what he hopes is his path to victory. Natalie?

ALLEN: All right. Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem for us. Thank you, Oren.

And CNN Newsroom will be right back.


ALLEN: In the United States voters in South Carolina will be casting their ballot Saturday. And a new poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden holding a wide lead heading into the Democratic primary.

The Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows Biden at 36 percent, Senator Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer battling it out for second, leaving Senator Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar trailing far behind in single digits.

Bernie Sanders' recent praise for Cuba's literacy program drew heavy condemnation from other candidates during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday and from members of Congress who represent exiled Cuban communities.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann finds out what all the fuss is about from Havana. PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fidel Castro called them an army

that carried pencils. In 1961, so-called literacy brigades in Cuba journey to every corner of the island to teach some of their most impoverished fellow citizens to read and write.

Critics say it was a communist plot to indoctrinate the populist. The Cuban government says the campaign taught hundreds of thousands of people to read and write, all but erasing illiteracy in Cuba.

Brothers Jose and Juan Hernandez show me the banner and medals they earn for taking part in the campaign nearly 60 years.


Jose was 14 years old. Juan was only 12, too young to take part in the campaign but lied about his age to join up.

"It was incredible, I was 14 years old and was teaching my students to read who were in their 30s and 40s," Jose tells me. "To teach someone to read and write and they are laughing because they are so pleased, you don't know what that makes you feel."

Seemingly destined to be an obscure footnote to the Cold War, Cuba's literacy initiative has suddenly found itself at the center of the presidential race. Thanks to praise of the program from left-leaning candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans do something good, you acknowledge it.


OPPMANN: Sanders rivals says he was glorifying an authoritarian regime and quickly piled on.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want, as a Democrat, I don't want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime when we're going into the election of our lives.


OPPMANN: The Cuban government has had little to say about the controversy even if officials are following every development in the presidential campaign.

Cuba has as much to gain or lose with the U.S. election as perhaps any other country. The Trump administration has placed some of the toughest sanctions on Cuba in decades.

On the other hand, though, Cuban officials tell me that they feel that if Sanders does go all the way and is elected president, then a Sanders administration would perhaps be as friendly towards Cuba as any U.S. administration since Fidel Castro's revolution.

Members of the literacy campaign that Sanders praised like Juan Hernandez are doubtful that touting Cuban policies makes for good politics in the U.S.

"This Bernie Sanders I don't think he has much of a future," Juan says. "Politics in the U.S. is very complicated and the people with the money manipulate the people on the bottom."

Whether Sanders defense of the literacy program helps or hurts or even registers with voters remains to be seen. As a Cuba controversy nearly 60 years in the making stirs up the race for the White House.

Patrick Oppman, CNN, Havana.

ALLEN: Finally, Britain's Prince Harry and wife Meghan are on their own at least in terms of their security and paying for it while in Canada. The royal Canadian mounted police will stop providing costly security assistance for the couple in the coming weeks.

Canadian authorities say this is due to their change in status as they step away from royal duties. The duke and duchess of Sussex will officially step down as senior royals at the end of March.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen. Follow me on Twitter at Allen CNN. African Voices Change Makers is next after the headlines.