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Coronavirus Outbreak; Stocks Plunge in Worst Week Since 2008; America's Choice 2020; U.S.-Taliban Deal; War in Syria; Winter Sports Threatened by Global Warming. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired February 29, 2020 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The coronavirus spreading, the World Health Organization now calling the global threat level very high.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And President Trump saying the outbreak is actually the Democrats' new hoax as new community spread cases pop up in the United States.

HOWELL (voice-over): And we're just hours away from what many hope could be the beginning of the end of America's longest war.

ALLEN (voice-over): And welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We're coming to you live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): I'm George Howell. NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: Thank you for joining us.

Our top story, surging coronavirus cases are prompting a new warning from the World Health Organization. It says the global outbreak has reached the highest level of risk.

HOWELL: That is meant to be a wake-up call for governments around the world to prepare. Listen.


DR. MARGARET HARRIS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Do you have the capacity in your hospitals?

Have you got the ventilators?

Have you got the staff ready, have you got backup teams?

Because your staff will get exhausted. You need backup teams.

Is the training in place, are the laboratories ready, do your staff know how to take swabs? Do you have big teams that can do surveillance?

All these are the questions that need to be asked and answered right now.


HOWELL: Families, governments, communities are talking about this, the fears spreading across the global economy, causing the week for the U.S. stocks since the 2008 financial crisis.

ALLEN: Meantime there are new concerns over how the virus may be spreading in the United States. There are now believed to be three cases in the U.S. where the patient had not traveled to an infected area or had contact with a person known to be infected.

We're covering the spread and its impacts from Asia and the Middle East and more a U.S. here. Blake Essig is in Tokyo, John Defterios is in Abu Dhabi.

Blake, let's start with you in the Japanese capital. We know that they have now closed schools.

What else is going on there?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is a lot of concern surrounding the potential spread of the coronavirus across Japan. The governor of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency, asking all people in Japan's largest prefecture to stay indoors.

And then just recently, Prime Minister Abe announced that he is recommending that 34,000 public schools -- elementary, junior high schools and high schools -- are closed starting this next Monday.

Of course, this is a recommendation, it will depend on each local authority to make that decision on whether or not they want to institute a closure or what that closure may or may not look like.

And we've also just learned -- and this is perhaps some big news especially for the Japanese residents here -- is the cherry blossom festivals in Tokyo and Osaka have been canceled. Millions come to Japan to see these cherry blossoms. Again, this iconic festival, that these people here in Japan look forward to year after year, now canceled.

And then you look at sporting events. We have rugby, soccer postponed; baseball games will be held spring training over the next three weeks but they will be played inside stadiums with no fans inside. So at this point focus turns to what will happen with the Olympics.

There is a lot of scrutiny as to the way Japan has handled the coronavirus to this point and a lot of questions about either the games should be canceled or potentially postponed to 2021.

IOC officials earlier this week mentioned that they are considering these potential options. [04:05:00]

ESSIG: They're saying that they will wait until late May to make a decision, to see what happens as far as the novel coronavirus is concerned on a global level.

ALLEN: So much to think about with this virus. Thank you so much. We'll talk with you again.

HOWELL: And now let's cross to our emerging markets editor, John Defterios, joining us in Abu Dhabi.

And, John, in a world where people wonder what to believe, search they know the numbers don't lie, especially when it deals with your money. Those numbers not looking too good there.

So clearly there is a concern of a possible recession, at the same time the president's chief economic adviser is urging investors not to worry and suggesting that they should buy. Help us square the circle.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Yes, this is an amazing turn of fortune in global markets. We have to recall the fact that it started in Asia and swept through the Middle East, Europe and now hitting the United States.

And in that order, we've seen the damage to economies all around the world. So let's bring up that chart of the nine big markets of the world.

When it comes to the United States, for example, we're in correction territory and then some. These are losses of better than 10 percent. We have not hit a bear market but it is a rapid fall, biggest fall I've ever seen in covering the financial markets over the last two decades.

And the ripple effect is profound. We have the Geneva motor show, the ITB, a big travel show in Berlin, both being canceled and an event I was supposed to chair in mid-March in Bahrain is postponed as well.

And the Federal Reserve says that the U.S. economy is strong. But that it will use all the tools available if necessary, kind of an indication that the Federal Reserve can cut interest rates, provide more money into the financial system.

But today we had China say, in its history of collecting records, they have never seen the drop in industrial output that we're seeing right now. There just is no financial movement.

So it begs the question, not just the U.S. Federal Reserve but the G20 -- and we had some conversation last week, they met in Saudi Arabia. They say they are prepared to act. They have been silent since we saw the huge 4,000 point drop on the Dow.

So we'll see something like we did in 2009 and 2010 where the major industrial countries came together to provide stimulus, cut interest rates and push collectively together to face off this severe downturn that we will see in the economy.

Let's not forget, we were supposed to gross just over 3 percent 10 years into the economic cycle, which is pretty tired. That is under threat right now because of the coronavirus.

HOWELL: John Defterios, live on that report in Abu Dhabi, John, thank you.

ALLEN: And the Middle East also grappling with the virus spread. Iraq has identified a new case which brings its total to 8. The UAE has suspended its bicycle race after several team members tested positive.

HOWELL: And an Israeli airline El Al has suspended flights to Italy and Thailand because of the cases. Russia has suspended most flights to and from Iran. And in the meantime, the government in Tehran has announced that it is suspending parliament sessions until further notice because of the spread of this virus.

A case of the coronavirus in the U.S. state of Oregon appears to have no connection to China or other previous cases. And that is causing concerns. On top of that, two similar infections in California.

ALLEN: CNN's Nick Watt looks at how the U.S. is scrambling to get ahead of the outbreak.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One patient in serious condition in Northern California, potentially the first case of community spread in the U.S., now a focus in the fight to contain this virus.

DR. BELA MATYAS, SOLANO COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER: Because the patient did not initially meet the criteria for coronavirus testing, the patient was not in airborne isolation.

WATT: So dozens of health care workers now quarantined and a state of emergency declared in that patient's home county.

Meanwhile, at nearby U.C. Davis, three students now also quarantined, one of them suspected of having the virus.

MATYAS: There are probably cases of coronavirus from community acquisition in multiple parts of the country right now.

WATT: And this confirmed case in California is now changing policy nationwide.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: We haven't been able to test more broadly. We have had kind of a bottleneck. We haven't had enough testing sites.

WATT: Now more labs are online and the CDC's testing criteria radically overhauled. Used to be only those who had traveled to China or been in known contact with someone who tested positive. REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Where, CDC, did you ever come up with a protocol that was restricted to people that only traveled to China? I mean, come on.

WATT: Now, if a doctor suspects coronavirus, they can test for it. Could be the key to prevent a silent spread.

Today, Washington state began testing.


DR. SCOTT LINDQUIST, WASHINGTON STATE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: The goal is if it's in here in the morning, mid-morning, we will have result by 5:00 that afternoon.

WATT: Illinois just kicked its program up a notch.

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): We are beginning voluntary testing at select hospitals.

WATT: Meanwhile, Google just canceled an upcoming summit, Amazon and J.P. Morgan advising employees against nonessential travel, Miami-Dade schools prepping to teach kids online if need be.

And Green Day just postponed its tour of Asia. Overseas, in Italy, a soccer game in an empty stadium and a motor show canceled in Geneva. Best advice to all of us, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer a lot, but CVS now warning demand may cause temporary shortages.

The CDC admitted on Friday that the rollout of a testing program has not been as smooth as they would have liked but testing kits have arrived in California and the CDC says that by the end of next week, they want every state, every local health department to be testing for the novel coronavirus -- Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: Dr. Robert Kim-Farley is a professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at UCLA and is joining me from Los Angeles.

Doctor, thanks so much for coming on.

DR. ROBERT KIM-FARLEY; UCLA: It is my pleasure.

ALLEN: Let's start with how the coronavirus is spread.

What can people do in general to protect themselves?

We've seen people all over China and elsewhere wearing masks but that it seems we're learning is a false sense of safety.

Is that correct?

KIM-FARLEY: Yes, you have to recognize that it is spread by droplets, that when you cough sneeze and it is usually within about no more than 6 foot distance, someone could be infected from that cough or sneeze. The situation with masks is that these are surgical masks that people

are wearing, that is very good in fact to use if you are someone who is a patient and coughing to keep yourself from exposing anyone else.

But the reality is that a surgical mask doesn't really filter these virus particles, air goes around the sides, that sort of thing. So they are not effective for the general public. You need to have specialized masks that health care workers would be using.

ALLEN: So we've heard over and over, wash your hands, don't touch your face.

KIM-FARLEY: Yes, and it really is the basic message that we're trying for personal, what we call non-pharmaceutical interventions, NPIs for short. Things that you can do without a vaccine or medicine.

And that is important. Washing your hands 20 seconds at a time, frequently during the day, not touching your mouth and your eyes, even ultimately probably getting to where we talk about handshakes, maybe that is not the best approach.

ALLEN: Absolutely. And this is also flu season.

So how would I know if a cold or a cough or a fever could be coronavirus?

KIM-FARLEY: That is a very good issue, we are confounded at this time of year with influenza, which is a serious disease in itself. And some of the same measures that we just talked about, covering your cough, having a little social distancing, making sure that you are not going out when you are sick, are important measures for the flu as well.

But it is only when you would have suspicion because a person has traveled to an infected area or has been in contact with a patient who has coronavirus, so your suspicions are high and you would want to be tested for it.

ALLEN: Are older adults more vulnerable?

It seems that many of the deaths we've heard about have been people who were already compromised with health conditions.

Have young people gotten it as well?

KIM-FARLEY: You raise an interesting point. In flu, we are worried about the very young and the very old. It turns out that for the coronavirus that we're dealing with here, 80 percent of the people that become fatalities are over 60 years of age; about 75 percent have other health conditions, let's say heart disease or diabetes.

So the ones at most risk for serious disease, I had seen a recent study out of the Korean Center for Disease Control, that had broken down by age group when they had about 45,000 cases. And they showed only about 400 cases in children 0 to 9 years of age and no deaths in that group. So it so it may be that this is a relatively benign disease of childhood. [04:15:00]

ALLEN: We've seen schools close in Hong Kong and in Japan.

What criteria though might public health officials use in deciding when to consider community wide actions such as school, work or events closures?

KIM-FARLEY: It hinges on the idea of when are you actually experiencing community spread, where basically we do not know where that person received their infection from?

When you start the seeing that, it means that you are having community spread of the virus. And in that situation, you move from just the personal protective measures that you would take, to adding onto that community protective measures, social distancing we call this, where basically you would be encouraging school districts to go to more long distance Internet based learning for their students, those who can telecommute to work or maybe go to closure of some events, theaters or things, where you would have populations coming together. That would be done on a locally decided basis.

ALLEN: All right. We appreciate your expertise so much, there is so much to learn. And information is the key. Thank you so much, Dr. Robert Kim-Farley.

KIM-FARLEY: It is an evolving nature.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Thank you.

HOWELL: And the U.S. president has a new hoax accusation aimed at Democrats. What he's now saying his political rivals are using to try to bring him down.





ALLEN: President Trump is back at the White House after a trip to the state of South Carolina ahead of Saturday's key primary. He returned late Friday night after lobbing accusations at Democrats at a rally, claiming they are making the coronavirus crisis about politics.


TRUMP: Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. One of my people came up to me and said Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia, that didn't work out too well. They couldn't do it.

They tried the impeachment hoax. That was a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They have been doing it since you got in. They lost. It is all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.


HOWELL: We've heard from health officials concerned about the health of people given this virus. The president though calling it a hoax, blaming Democrats, blaming the media for questioning his ability to manage the crisis. Kaitlan Collins has this for you.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As health officials around the globe rush to respond to the new cases of the novel coronavirus, the White House is continuing to downplay the risk.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This is not Ebola, OK? I'll tell you what that means in a sense. It's not SARS. It's not MERS. It's not a death sentence. It's not the same as the Ebola crisis.

COLLINS: There have now been 62 cases identified in the United States. Despite warnings from experts, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney blamed the media today for overstating concerns.

MULVANEY: The reason you're seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president.

COLLINS: Although the global spread of the virus has been covered in the media months now, Mulvaney claimed otherwise.

MULVANEY: Why didn't you hear about it? What was going on four, five weeks ago? Impeachment. That's all the press wanted to talk about.

COLLINS: Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also faced question it was from lawmakers who were skeptical about the administration's response to coronavirus.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We agreed I would come here today to talk about Iran and the first question today is not about Iran.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Well, let me make it easier, we've learned there's been an outbreak in Iran of 245 cases is the latest number.

POMPEO: Right.

COLLINS: As Congress debates a coronavirus spending bill, the House was briefed by administration officials on the latest today, though some lawmakers still had questions.

REP. FRED UPTON (R-MI): Everyone is scrambling for information.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): This is potentially an enormous issue for the country and I do not think we're prepared.

COLLINS: Despite initially putting Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in charge, President Trump has now given this responsibility to Vice President Pence, who landed in Florida today for a coronavirus briefing with the governor alongside several fundraisers.

As his officials insist, they're prepared the president seems to be putting his faith in a higher power as he continues to cast doubt on the opinion of experts who say it will spread in the United States.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear. And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens.

COLLINS: Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said they still do not know how that woman in California got the coronavirus which she tested positive for because, he said, he doesn't want to speculate -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, traveling with the president in Charleston, South Carolina.


HOWELL: Kaitlan, thank you for the reporting.

And now with context and perspective, Leslie Vinjamuri is joining us from London.

Good to have you with us.


HOWELL: So first, given the quarantines that we've seen around the world, the stories of those getting sick and those who have died, where does PR meet reality here?

What do you think, as the president rallies his base to consider coronavirus a hoax by the Democrats?

VINJAMURI: Clearly we need the president and his team and those deeply expert in dealing with questions of public health and global health to be working together to communicate very clearly not only the risks and the concerns.


VINJAMURI: But exactly what the public should be doing, that is the first and foremost concern. So I think the fact that this is, at the moment, looking very political is of grave detriment to the U.S. government's ability to respond. And hopefully that will be turned around very quickly.

Remember, the coronavirus does not discriminate between Democrats and Republicans. This is a nonpartisan issue. So it is very disturbing to see it becoming intensely political at what is already a very polarized and political moment in the United States.

HOWELL: Clearly a strong economy very important to President Trump. He does like to boast about people's 401(k)s, how they are doing well.

But with an election around the corner, can this president weather an economic downturn if people see loss in their investments?

VINJAMURI: Clearly the risk to the global economy and to the U.S. economy is not something to be underestimated. And a lot of that will come down to not only the course of how the coronavirus develops but to the management of the economy and to the markets having some sense that there is clear and present and good stewardship of the U.S. government through this.

So, yes, absolutely; this could have an impact on the elections. It could have an impact on the president. But the number one concern has got to be the public health.

But the economic risks are potentially significant, not only consumer spending, travel but also supply chains. This could hit supply chains. So one doesn't want to overstate but obviously this is something that Trump and his team need to be taking very seriously.

It is not the time for campaign rallies and for diverting their attention but really not making this political. This is very obvious, where they need to be.

HOWELL: I speak with people, you know, all over, who are just talking about this virus, concerned about what it could mean for them, how does it present, how can you protect yourselves. People are very concerned about this. It is a major health risk and we're seeing it spread around the world.

But to see coronavirus politicized, let's listen to how others in the White House are trying to suggest it is no big deal.


MULVANEY: I get a note today from a reporter saying, what are you going to do today to calm the markets?

I'm like, really, what I might do today to calm the markets is to tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours.

KUDLOW: Career health experts believe that the risks here, the health risks and so forth, are on the low side.


HOWELL: "Health risks on the low side."

Leslie, "turn off your television" is also some advice.

With these mixed messages, what is the impact on people as they try to make sense of what to do to protect their families?

VINJAMURI: I think that people tend to be -- there is a diversity. Some people tend to be more worried than perhaps they should be and others less. I do think that people in this particular area of value expertise, we have deep expertise across the globe, we have deep expertise in the United States. So one of the most concerning things is what we've heard recently,

that the U.S. administration is being very careful now on who they will allow to give press interviews.

And at no other time is it more important than dealing with a public health concern of this scale, that the experts, those that have the knowledge and can inform the public about what do are given access to the media and that that is where the focus remains.

HOWELL: Good perspective from Leslie Vinjamuri. Thank you.

ALLEN: And to mirror what she just said, that was the problem when this first broke out in China, that the Chinese government curbed the information, tried to push it down. And that caused to grow even more. And it would be a shame if we saw that happening in our administration.

HOWELL: It is interesting.

ALLEN: Well, it is a critical day in South Carolina for the Democratic presidential candidates. With Bernie Sanders being the one to beat, hear last minute thoughts from candidates.

HOWELL: Plus the eyes of Europe are on Slovakia as far right parties with ties to fascism are set to make gains. Stay with us.





ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you.


ALLEN: Polls open at 7:00 am Eastern time. That is coming up. And there is a lot at stake.

HOWELL: And Jeff Zeleny is in South Carolina and has this update for you.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because South Carolina is the trajectory to winning the Democratic nomination.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Biden is looking for a South Carolina lifeline today, hoping a victory will revive his candidacy.

BIDEN: This nation isn't looking for a revolution, as some of my colleagues talk about, they are looking for progress.


BIDEN: They're looking for results.

ZELENY (voice-over): In his fight for the South Carolina primary, Biden is tying himself closely to former president Barack Obama, whose 2008 win here helped send him to the White House.

BIDEN: It has been a launching pad for Barack and I believe that it'll be a launching pad for me. This is a marathon. This is a marathon. I'm in it for the whole ride here.

ZELENY (voice-over): But Bernie Sanders is still in command of the race.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let us go forward tomorrow, let us win the primary here in South Carolina, let us win the Democratic nomination, let us defeat Donald Trump.

ZELENY (voice-over): Not ceding South Carolina but also looking ahead to Super Tuesday, with 14 contests from coast to coast awarding a third of all delegates.

SANDERS: We are building a movement that cannot be stopped.

ZELENY (voice-over): The next four days are critical for Democratic candidates fighting to stay alive.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the woman who's going to beat Donald Trump.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going to be able to outdivide the divider in chief. I will beat him.

ZELENY (voice-over): And trying to become the alternative to Sanders.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders is a frontrunner but the majority of Democrats are looking for something else.

ZELENY: What process will you go through post Super Tuesday to assess your way forward?

BUTTIGIEG: Of course we'll be looking closely at the results of the delegate count and making sure that we have the right path forward.

ZELENY (voice-over): Ad spending topping the $1 billion mark. Michael Bloomberg alone accounts for half that with more than $500 million in TV, radio and digital ads. Tom Steyer more than $200 million nationally.

And here in South Carolina, Steyer is spending $22 million, far outpacing his rivals, including Biden.


ZELENY (voice-over): Biden's aides are keeping a close eye on Steyer and his robust investment in the state, afraid it could eat into Biden's expected margin of victory. Steyer pointedly dismisses the criticism.

ZELENY: What would you say to those people who say you may be taking votes away from vice president Biden?

STEYER: I would say that is insulting, not to me but to the people that somehow he owns the votes, really?

And there is an implication in there that, in fact, we're talking about African American votes.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.


HOWELL: A political party with roots in fascism could be a big winner in Saturday's parliamentary elections in Slovakia. Polls there are open right now.

And the people's party Our Slovakia has been running on anti- immigrant, anti-LGBT and anti-E.U. platforms but has also resonated with a call to clean up corruption there. The leader of the party is on trial for using Nazi symbols, which he denies. The extreme far- right group has praised Slovakia's historical ties to Nazi Germany and the dictatorship.

ALLEN: And that is one that we'll be watching.

Next here, paving the way to peace. A look at the proposed agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban and the tough warning for Afghanistan if the Taliban doesn't uphold their side of the deal.





HOWELL: In the coming hours the United States and the Taliban are expected to sign a historic agreement aimed at eventually ending America's longest war. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is due in Qatar in the coming hours.

ALLEN: A source close to the negotiation says that under the deal the American military presence in Afghanistan would be reduced to 8,600 troops over the course of 135 days. The Taliban would have to help the U.S. fight Al Qaeda cells in the country. HOWELL: And that same source also telling CNN, Washington has

reassured the Afghan government that, if the Taliban breaks the rules of the deal, the United States, quote, "will have enough lethal power there to destroy them."

ALLEN: Quite a threat there.

Nic Robertson is in Doha where the signing is expected to take place.

This has been back and forth and it looks like it is moving forward.

What do you expect there, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, and I have to say there is an air of expectation here. Down below where the signing is going to take place, I've been seeing people who have been involved, U.S. experts, others, Western experts, who have been involved in Afghanistan for decades upon decades.

And that really underscores the length of conflict in Afghanistan, almost 40 years; the United States involved there for almost 20 years. So the idea that all that fighting could be on the verge of coming to an end, that concept really -- and the feeling here is that is a possibility and that is in the air.

However, everyone you talk to here readily admits the many difficulties that remain and the path, certainly you just laid out some of the details, the United States to downscale by 8,600 troops over the coming months to a level of drawdown but we understand that that is dependent on the actions by the Taliban.

The Taliban have an expectation placed on them by the United States that, after decades upon decades of supporting Al Qaeda and giving them sanctuary, they will turn on Al Qaeda and ISIS and help counterterrorism efforts against those forces.

ALLEN: And that will be something to watch to see if that happens.

What about the Afghan government without U.S. troops there?

ROBERTSON: Well, they believe that they have a commitment from the United States and that the United States won't walk away, won't leave them alone, that they will continue a counterterrorism commitment to Afghanistan.

One of the big burdens coming up now after the signing today and, of course, this is a deal being signed between the Taliban and the United States, not the Afghan government. The burden is going to shift very quickly to the Afghan government.

There is an expectation that the Taliban will begin talks with the Afghan government and, again, part of the U.S. drawdown will be dependent on the positive engagement of the Taliban with the Afghan government.

But before we even get to that point, the Taliban have an expectation on the Afghan government for a significant prisoner release. They believe that they have about 5,000 Taliban prisoners and they are expecting all of those prisoners to be released before meaningful talks can begin.

The Afghan government is very likely having a much more cautious approach, never mind the logistics. They will want to see that there is a commitment to discuss a future Afghanistan involving the Taliban integrated into government.


ROBERTSON: And the Afghan government itself will want to see a commitment from the Taliban in that direction before they hand over all those prisoners. Of course the Taliban have about 1,000 government prisoners as well from Afghan government forces.

So the prisoner issue is a big confidence-building measure between the Afghan government and the Taliban. And that is the first hurdle. And it is not an insignificant hurdle.

But as I said at the beginning here, there is an expectation that, after almost 40 years of war, that this is a moment of possibility and opportunity. And that is what we'll hear from secretary of state Mike Pompeo later today.

ALLEN: We'll end on that note because, yes, that is a very hopeful place that these talks are in. Thank you, Nic.

HOWELL: Now to Syrian refugees finding themselves caught in a dispute between Turkey and the European Union.

ALLEN: Hundreds are gathering with hopes of reaching the E.U., many of them trying to escape intense fighting in Idlib. Turkey says that it cannot handle more refugees and warns it may open its border with Greece. But Athens is tightening its border security, saying illegal entries will not be tolerated.

HOWELL: What a scene there.

And Arwa Damon has been reporting on the plight of the refugees. And she is live from a border crossing on the Turkish side of the border, where many have gathered.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, just to set the scene for you, that is the border crossing that these refugees are hoping to get through. Turkey has in fact opened its side of the border; it is no longer stopping people who want to cross into Europe, whether via land or via sea.

Now there has been quite a bit of tear gas going back and forth at this location. We saw that bit earlier. And now a group -- this group has pushed forward and appear to be staging something of a sit-in. You see mostly men here and that is because they are the ones who are sort of on the front line of this effort to try to force the border open.

But on either side of this, there are hundreds of families, women and children, who have come here because they think that somehow they are going to be able to getting across.

And this happened because, on Friday, there were statements being made attributed to a senior Turkish official and others that stated that Turkey would be opening its border, that it would no longer be stopping people who tried to cross.

This is very much the politicization of this refugee crisis, it being maneuvered because other negotiations have not worked out and from Turkey's perspective, for a number of reasons. Turkey feels like it has been left alone to shoulder the largest burden of refugee crisis.

But also because Turkey wants to put pressure on Europe to support it when it comes to refugees but also to support it in Idlib. Word is spreading throughout everyone that is here that this sit-this is taking place.

This has also been a move that many have said is quite controversial because it is the plight of these refugees being used to try to, by Turkey, at least to put pressure on the Europeans. Turkey is saying that it already hosts upwards of 3.5 million refugees and it can't take in anymore if it has to deal with a even bigger influx from Idlib.

Turkey says that it has to somehow clear people out. So the government has been indirectly encouraging refugees to move towards the border whether by sea or land.

And it gets very cold. A lot of people have been setting up fires, they were forced to stay here overnight. And trying to get through, a lot of them have women and children with them as well.

But the bottom line is the Greek side of the border remains closed. But those we're talking to say that we have to take this chance, we have to try to get to Europe, we have to take advantage of this potential reopening of the border on the Turkish side. But right now they are out here waiting.


DAMON: And they don't have access to any sort of humanitarian assistance and they don't really know what is going to be happening to them next.

HOWELL: You explained the political back and forth and the human plight.

And is there a sense of hopefulness there?

What are people saying to you?

DAMON: I mean, there is on the one hand a sense of hopefulness and that, because the Turks opened their side of the border, they might be able to get through.

People we've been talking to actually say that they are well aware of the fact that they are being used as political pawns. But for them, it doesn't matter because they say life for them in Turkey has been quite difficult. And they say that they have to take this chance.

They have to take this opportunity, even though that they are also aware that many countries in Europe aren't necessarily going to be welcoming them.

And also worth mentioning, there are a lot of different nationalities here. We've been hearing a lot of -- we've been speaking to some Syrians, a lot of Afghans. And they are still keeping the women and children mostly back because, when that tear gas starts coming in, it does get quite intense.

And is this going to end up being manipulated for some sort of negotiation in the future?

That is unclear.

How long is Turkey going to keep this open?

That we don't know either. But again, we're seeing that this, using refugees and their plight as a political pawn, that is what global politics at the end of the day in today's world boils down to.

HOWELL: Arwa Damon, showing us live what is happening at the Turkish- Greek border. Thank you for your reporting.

ALLEN: Next here, an opposite mix of weather across the U.S., how some areas are getting pummeled by snow, others wondering what happened to winter and why climate change may be behind all this.





HOWELL: Snow is piling up in epic proportions across some U.S. states and others are left wondering, where did the snow go? Where is winter?


ALLEN: All right. The day's top story is ahead and an announcement about one of our team members.

HOWELL: We'll be right back.