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U.S. Confirms Its First Death from Coronavirus and Italy Confirms More Than 1,100 Cases; Joe Biden Wins South Carolina Primary; Center Right "Ordinary People" Party Scores Big Win in Slovakia; Family Says British Woman Infected in Iranian Prison; Trump Says He'll Meet with Taliban after Historic Deal; Turkey Says It Won't Stop Refugees Headed to Europe; Trump Supporters Accuse Media of Manipulating Coronavirus Outbreak. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 1, 2020 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Joe Biden banked everything on the win in South Carolina and it paid off. Next, we look ahead to Super Tuesday.

Hundreds desperate to escape danger in Syria at Turkey's border with Greece.

Also coronavirus numbers here surge. Why a British mother imprisoned in Iran thinks she is among the infected.

Ahead here in the next two hours. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're coming to you live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Thanks again for joining us.

Our top story: we're following the spread of the coronavirus around the world. Cases worldwide have topped 87,000 with nearly 3,000 deaths. Outside of Mainland China, the biggest clusters are in South Korea, Italy and Iran. And heightened travel restrictions and advisories for Italy and South Korea.

Meantime, deaths are being reported for the first time in more countries. Australia and Thailand and the United States all announcing their first fatalities. U.S. president Trump is urging people, though, not to panic in the wake of the first death in the U.S. He spoke on the outbreak on Saturday doing his best to put a positive spin on the situation.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Additional cases in the United States are likely but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover. So healthy people if you're healthy, you will probably go through a process and you'll be fine.


CNN's Elizabeth Cohen has more on the United States death and concerns on how the virus may be spreading.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: In the United States on Saturday, a turning point in the coronavirus outbreak, the first death in the United States. It was a man in his 50s in King County in the state of Washington. He had underlying medical conditions.

As we've seen in China and elsewhere, this virus is typically deadly for people who are older or for people with underlying medical conditions -- or both. The other two cases in the same county in the state of Washington, a nursing home resident a woman in her 70s, she is now in the hospital in serious condition.

Also a health care worker, that worker is in their 40s and in the hospital in satisfactory condition.

All of these cases are called community spread. None of these people had traveled to China or other coronavirus hot spot. They had not known anyone who had traveled to China or anywhere else so it is unknown how they contracted the virus. Back to you.


ALLEN: More now on South Korea, home to the most cases outside of Mainland China and that figure has risen just higher with a number of confirmed cases surging past 3,700. Here are some of the vigorous efforts to try to stop the spread. Soldiers are being mobilized to disinfect public places such as train stations. Paula Hancocks joins me now from South Korea.

What other precautions are South Korean officials taking?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, of course, there is greater concern as these numbers continue to rise. We've seen some significant rises over the past few days and we have just had word of the youngest patient so far in South Korea.

A 45-day old baby, we understand, has been found to be positive with the coronavirus and it's because of her father -- or at least her father is also positive and a member of a religious group, Shincheonji, which has really been at the focal point of the coronavirus outbreak here; 60 percent of the cases confirmed are linked with this one group.

Now one of the directors of that group is doing a PR offensive this weekend to try and talk about the fact that they have done the best they can but amidst some great criticism.

[04:05:00] HANCOCKS: First of all, I asked him how it took one week from the first connection between the virus and the group to actually giving the full list of members.


KIM SHIN-CHANG, SHINCHEONJI (through translator): We tried as quickly as possible to provide all the info the government has been asking for. Our administration efforts have been delayed so unfortunately we may not lived up to the expectations of the people. But we did our best.

HANCOCKS: The mayor of Daegu is reporting your group to the police for omitting members' names and for hampering the fight against the virus. He clearly does not think you've been transparent.

KIM (through translator): On the 25th, our headquarters gave a list of all the members, including domestic and overseas. I'm sure that Daegu city also received this as well as the KCDC. We also gave a list of all those who have been educated at the centers on the 27th.

HANCOCKS: You say your group has been very transparent but we know that 600 peace officers had to be drafted to try and track some of the members down because they were not answering phones.

This slows things down. This is the accusation, that this has slowed down the fight to be able to stop the spread of this virus.

KIM (through translator): Within the list we have those who are currently in the military, those who may be overseas for work and those who have changed their numbers and failed to report it to us and those who were unable to pick up their phone because they were busy.

The authorities did not take that into consideration and thought the members unreachable if they did not pick up their phone twice.


HANCOCKS: And the death toll also rising here in South Korea, now at 18 -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Paula Hancocks there for us in Seoul.

Turning to the European epicenter of the outbreak and that is Italy. Cases there have now topped 1,100 and at least 29 people had died. It's causing a hit to the country's tourism industry and officials there have warned of overcrowding in hospitals.

CNN senior correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Milan, Italy, for us, which has the highest concentration of cases in that country.

Ben, hello to you.

What is the latest on the situation there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we heard last night, the civil protection agency has put out the latest statistics: 1,129 cases in Italy, plus 29 dead. Now just to put it in perspective, on the 20th of February only two cases. So the numbers are continuing to increase.

And Lombardy and other regions have imposed extraordinary measures. Schools will be closed for another week. The so-called red zones, where the outbreak was most concentrated, where about 50,000 people live, those restrictions will be continued for another seven days.

We've heard that American Airlines is no longer flying to Milan and, of course, we heard vice president Mike Pence, saying, advising Americans not to travel to the most affected areas like this one.

But yes, here we are Sunday morning, very few people out. I haven't actually seen any tourists in the last half hour since we got here. So definitely, the impact is being felt on this region, not just in terms of tourism, where we've seen a 70 percent increase in cancellations of hotel rooms there.

But the economy in general is coming to something of a standstill as a result of the extraordinary measures being taken by the local government -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Ben, as far as treating those that come down with coronavirus, we heard some hospitals say they hope they can stay ahead of the demand.

What's the feeling there about Milan and beyond being able to care for those if these numbers keep still going up?

WEDEMAN: Well, we attended the other day one of the region's press conferences, which had a large number of medical experts there. And it seemed to be the opinion of most of those present that, if the numbers continue to increase at their current rate, there will be a crisis in terms of beds in the intensive care units.

Now many people, several hundred people in this area, are -- who are infected with the coronavirus are in self-quarantine. Basically, they are staying at home.


WEDEMAN: But many others who are in these intensive care units that are basically reaching capacity at this time. So things are under control at the moment. But that may not be the case in the coming days -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Well, you know, I hope you don't see company there where you are, Ben, there in Milan. You're by yourself and that's probably a good thing. Take good care and thank you. Ben Wedeman for us.

Let's talk more about the outbreak. Right now I'm joined by Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist and an associate professor at the Australia National University Medical School.

Doctor, thank you so much for talking with us.


ALLEN: All right. Let me see if you could hear me now.

SENANAYAKE: I can hear you now.

ALLEN: All right, thanks for letting us know that. Well, let's start. We just saw our reporter standing alone in Milan on a Sunday morning. We see what's happening in South Korea. You know, we have the first death in the United States from a community based transmission.

What are your biggest concerns right now about the spread of this virus?

SENANAYAKE: My major concern is that so many countries, in such a short period of time, are showing so (INAUDIBLE). And these (INAUDIBLE) like the United States, Italy, have a very strong (INAUDIBLE) system but there's an opportunity --

ALLEN: As you can hear, we don't have a clear signal with the doctor. We'll work on that and get back to him in just a moment.

Right now, we'll turn to the U.S. primaries and a big win in South Carolina for former Vice President Joe Biden.

But what does it really mean for Super Tuesday, which is this Tuesday?

We'll talk about that, next.





ALLEN: A big night for former Vice President Joe Biden and he desperately needed it and he got it. A resounding win in South Carolina's Democratic primary, dealing a blow to Senator Bernie Sanders' momentum and thinning the field, with business man Tom Steyer soon dropping out despite coming in third.

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar finishing in the single digits. Ryan Nobles is with the Sanders campaign. But let's begin with Jessica Dean, who is at Biden's victory celebration in Columbia, South Carolina.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: South Carolina delivered vice president Joe Biden a blowout win, his first win in this Democratic primary. And while his campaign, even the candidate himself, were predicting a win here in the Palmetto State, even this exceeds expectation. A big, big win here for vice president Biden.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All those, you have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign.

Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared his candidacy dead. Now, thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won and we won big because of you.


DEAN: The campaign is telling us that they think this is going to give them the momentum and the money that they need to really boomerang into Super Tuesday in a couple of days, with all of this energy that they are hoping to be able to consolidate that moderate lane of the Democratic primary in this process.

We'll see how that shakes out. Now South Carolina behind them, the Biden campaign turns of Super Tuesday and all the Super Tuesday states. We'll see Biden in a number of them in the coming days -- in Columbia, South Carolina, Jessica Dean, CNN.



RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt that Bernie Sanders is ready to move past South Carolina. In fact, he didn't spend any time in the Palmetto State on Saturday, instead devoting his time to the important Super Tuesday contests that are just a couple days away.

Sanders spending time in Massachusetts and here in Virginia, where he told the crowd he was ready and willing to put up a big fight in this state and believe they could come away with a victory.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to congratulate Joe Biden on his victory tonight. And now we head to Super Tuesday in Virginia.


NOBLES: But there's no doubt that the results in South Carolina are going to have an impact on the vote on Tuesday. The Sanders campaign never expected to win in South Carolina but they did have hope that the margin was going to be a lot closer than it turned out to be.

In fact, the Sanders campaign devoting resources in the closing days of the South Carolina primary, hoping to make it a little bit closer. It didn't turn out that way. It was the big bump that Joe Biden was looking for.

We'll have to see how this all turns out because Sanders has been able to spend more money and time in those Super Tuesday states than Joe Biden has. And they still believe Tuesday is going to be a very strong night for the Sanders campaign -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Virginia Beach, Virginia.


ALLEN: Let's talk about what happened and what's next. I'm joined by Amy Pope from international think tank Chatham House and a former deputy Homeland Security adviser under President Obama.

Good morning.


ALLEN: What does Joe Biden's rout in South Carolina signify to you?

POPE: Look, he needed to win the primary for a number of reasons. Right. His showing in the three states before were disappointing to the campaign.

And he needed to show people that he was still in the race, that he could still command a significant majority, that he had the support of Democrats and, most importantly, African American Democrats, who have been a crucial vote and where the other candidates have really struggled to win the support.


ALLEN: Right. So Biden came in number one but, as we just heard, Bernie Sanders a little disappointed that he was that far back.

Did that surprise you?

POPE: Not really. This demonstrates, when you're looking at particular communities within the Democratic Party, there are some where Bernie just has not performed that well and where Biden has sort of the traditional strength and traditional relationships.

And he really needs to bank on those if he's going to be successful to get the nomination, ultimately. Obviously, this is one state. But it was crucial that Biden demonstrate that he could really bring in a tremendous amount of support if he's going to continue in the race.

ALLEN: You could see the relief on his face when he gave that super- charged speech afterwards.

Sanders is riding on a coalition of young, liberal voters, energized by rising support of Hispanics and Biden now vaults to the top of a more racially diverse, older and moderate wing of the party.

With Super Tuesday around the corner, which wing right now might prevail?

POPE: Oh, my goodness, that's difficult for anyone to predict, I'm sure.


POPE: But it's a really unusual situation that we're in. We're seeing what, frankly, I think the Republicans saw during the Republican primary the last time around, right.

We have so many candidates in the field, representing so many different points of view and, in some ways, the fact that there are so many candidates means that more traditional candidates are losing support, that they're really fighting for votes and they're fighting among amongst themselves for votes.

As long as we have such a crowded field, I think it's going to be difficult for any one candidate to move far ahead. And particularly true for someone like Joe Biden; if it was really a Bernie-Biden contest, I think we'd see a lot more support for Biden because right now that part of the field is quite crowded.

ALLEN: Right. Only Tom Steyer has dropped out since his third place showing in South Carolina. Of course, we've got Bloomberg, the billionaire in the mix, as well, on Super Tuesday. And still Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar are hanging in there. It's not like it is solidifying. It could be all over the map after Super Tuesday.

POPE: It could be. Bloomberg is a bit of a wild card here and that is simply because he has so much money. Right, if he really decides he wants to spend 10 percent of his fortune on winning the nomination, that is going to be tough for any candidate.

And, you know, that distorts the field. If people are only seeing commercials from Bloomberg and then you have the Biden campaign, that is not spending the same amount of money, it creates a dynamic that we haven't really seen before in a primary.

And I think that's the wild card here. And whether that ultimately siphons votes away from Bernie, it's a good bet.

ALLEN: We're on different tracks here. The Democratic Party, you know, they used to come to some point of unity to be able to best Donald Trump.

And the big issue is, who can beat Trump?

Moderates in the party must feel emboldened that a moderate candidate came out from South Carolina because there's some thinking that, if a moderate is a candidate for the Democrats, perhaps some non-Trumper Republicans will cross over.

What are your thoughts on that?

POPE: I still look to the midterm elections, which, to me, are instructive about where the American people as a whole are. What we saw was frustration with the extremism on the Right and the Left, a move toward the middle, the election of more moderate Democrats in traditionally Republican districts.

So based on that history, my view is still that the best way forward to beating Donald Trump is to choose a moderate, who can appeal to many more Americans, as opposed to just appeal to particular members of the Democratic Party.

Ultimately this has to be a president who can govern the country, not just one party. I think that's what Americans are really looking for.

ALLEN: Well, Super Tuesday just two days away. We'll be watching, of course. We'll talk with you, again. Amy, always appreciate your insights. Thank you.

POPE: Thank you very much.

ALLEN: So we are now going to move from the United States to Slovakia. An opposition movement is looking like the winner of Slovakia's parliamentary election, with most polling stations reporting the center right ordinary people's party has captured 25 percent of the vote.


ALLEN: Saturday's election has been widely seen as a referendum on corruption following the 2018 murder of a journalist and his fiancee. Fears that a party was tied to neo-Nazis could do well are proving unfounded. The far right anti-immigrant, anti-E.U. people's party, Our Slovakia, won just over 8 percent of the vote there.

Next here, the U.S. is expanding travel restrictions as the country reports its first coronavirus death.

Also, why the family of a woman jailed in an Iranian prison is demanding she get tested for the coronavirus.




ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. Here are the headlines for you.


ALLEN: Well, the coronavirus developments have President Trump urging people not to panic. Jeremy Diamond has more from the White House.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump stepping into the White House press briefing room for the second time this week amid the coronavirus outbreak. The president trying to change the public narrative around this and reassure the public about the future of this epidemic.

Of course, earlier in the week, the president really downplayed the coronavirus outbreak, even contradicting public health officials who assured the public that the situation was going to get worse before it got better. As the president took to the podium on Saturday, he did so with that situation indeed worsening.

More cases globally, more cases in the United States and the first death due to coronavirus was confirmed moments before the president came out on Saturday to address the public.

Now the president also addressed some of his controversial comments from a rally in Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday night, when he suggested that this was all a hoax.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: 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 and this is their new hoax.

A hoax referring to the action that they take to try to pin this on somebody because we've done such a good job and the hoax is on them.


DIAMOND: Even as the president there defended his use of that term, clearly not apologizing as he characterized it as talking simply about what Democrats were saying about his response, the president also got some of his facts wrong today.

And that's because the president claimed that the first victim of coronavirus was a woman. The first victim was a man; a senior administration official telling me that was because of a faulty briefing given by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control director to the president.

That official got bad information from officials in Washington state, where that first victim died.

Nonetheless, not something really reassuring, as we're trying to see this administration get a handle on all of this. Just one more point here. The president insisting that the markets are very strong in the United States.

That was a pretty stark statement for the president to be making after a week where Wall Street had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. Moody's Analytics also forecasting now that there is a 40 percent chance that the United States economy will head into a recession in the first half of 2020.

That was not a fact that the president was willing to come to terms with on Saturday as he addressed reporters. Instead, the president focusing on the positive and continuing to portray kind of an optimistic outlook of this outbreak -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.


ALLEN: Mr. Trump also announced new travel restrictions to combat the spread of the virus. The U.S. issued do not travel warnings for Italy and South Korea. And the president expanded the existing travel ban on Iran.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: In addition to the existing ban on travel by most Iranian nations, we're banning the travel of anyone who has been to Iran in the last 14 days. They're having a very big outbreak. And they say here and now if we can help the Iranians, we're doing certain things for them now. If we can help the Iranians and we have the greatest health care professionals in the world and if we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so. We would love to be able to help them and all they have to do is ask.


ALLEN: A British Iranian woman jailed in Iran says she believes she has been infected with the coronavirus. In a statement released by her family, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says she has not been tested but felt sick all week.

She is serving a five-year sentence near Tehran on espionage charges. Her husband wants her tested immediately and is calling on the British government to make that happen.

Milena Veselinovic is joining me now from London with more about this story.

What are the chances that they will get involved here to help her?

MILENA VESELINOVIC, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Natalie, the British government has given her something called diplomatic protection last year and that means her issue has been formalized as a state to state issue between U.K. and Iran.


VESELINOVIC: But in practical terms, it hasn't really changed her circumstances. So what happened on Saturday is that she called her family to update them on her health. She had been feeling ill all week with a runny nose and a cough and she's been shivering for at least two nights.

She also told them other women on her ward have been experiencing similar symptoms and, based on what she told them, she had most likely contracted coronavirus. But important to mention that she had not been tested by the prison authorities.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, believes she contracted the virus in part due to what he called a lack of hygiene materials available to prisoners. We have reached out to the Iranian authorities for comment to ask them about this and we have not yet heard back. What we do know is that there is a major coronavirus outbreak in Iran

right now; there's 43 confirmed deaths out of nearly 600 cases. Even the deputy health minister has tested positive. And human rights organizations have expressed concern that they think this virus has moved on to the prison population.

ALLEN: And what a terrible situation that means that she could be in and the others. It's a story that we'll watch closely. Thank you so much.

President Trump said the risk of the coronavirus to the American people remains very low. However, the Centers for Disease Control warns that it's not a matter of if but when the virus will spread in the United States. Brian Todd looks at what you can do to prepare.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Top American health officials say they expect to see more cases of coronavirus in the U.S. They're not sure how much the virus may spread inside the U.S., but they say Americans everyday lives could be impacted and they need to prepare for the worst.


TODD: What exactly does that mean?

CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: That may include canceling mass gatherings, sporting events, having people work from home as much as possible.

TODD: And experts say possible school closures, but they stress that all may occur only in certain areas where there could be some community spreading of the virus, not all across the country. So what can the average American do to prepare or to fend off coronavirus? Experts say there are some very simple but important steps.

CHRIS MEEKINS, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Those include items like washing your hands for 20 seconds. Most people do it less than five to 10, including not touching your face not touching your eyes if you haven't washed your hands recently. TODD: Fist or elbow bumps, experts say, would be good alternatives to

shaking hands while the outbreak is at its height. Use knuckles or elbows to touch elevator buttons and doorknobs instead of your fingers. Stay home if you're sick. What about wearing masks as we see people do so often in Asia? Experts say Americans don't need to wear masks on a widespread basis. One reason, they don't always work perfectly.

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: That could actually sometimes be more harmful to you than not wearing a mask. Because if it's not fitted right, you're going to fumble with it, you're going to be touching your face which is the number one way you're going to get disease is unclean hands touching your face. TODD: And there's longer-term preparation Americans are being advised to make. Experts say, think of it like an approaching hurricane.

GOUNDER: Having maybe two weeks' worth of food at home in terms of dry goods, can goods, frozen goods, in case for whatever reason, you know, there were to be some quarantine instituted. And I think actually most importantly having a good supply of prescription medications on hand.

TODD: What Americans should not do, expert say, is panic. The transmission and fatality rates from coronavirus are extremely low. In the U.S., most people who get it will survive. As far as things we enjoy and do every day like going to restaurants --

MEEKINS: People should continue to go out to eat. I'm continuing to eat out and I'm not worried. And my job in the government was to be worried about the worst possible things that could happen.

TODD: What about everyday travel for Americans on subways and buses? Experts say, we should not refrain from taking subways and buses to work. Just create a few more inches of space between you and those close to you if you can. Same for air travel, they say. Don't change plans or stop traveling unless there's a significant spread of coronavirus inside the United States and there's a large cluster in a particular city. Then maybe you look at adjusting your travel there. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: The war in Syria may be setting up yet a new migrant crisis for the European Union. How Turkey's looking to use refugees as a bargaining chip. We'll have a live report coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM.





ALLEN: Afghanistan's president is already shooting down part of a historic deal between the U.S. and Taliban. Ashraf Ghani there is no commitment to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and he's made this clear to the chief U.S. negotiator.

The deal was signed in Qatar Saturday in a bid to end America's longest war. President Trump says he will soon meet with Taliban leaders. And a source close to the Taliban tells CNN's Nic Robertson, those talks could come as early as next week.

The agreement lays out a timetable to withdraw foreign troops within 14 months and also aims for a permanent cease-fire and direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. The war in Syria is triggering another standoff between Turkey and the

European Union. Turkish President Erdogan says his country cannot take more refugees and is encouraging them to go to Europe.

That set up clashes at Turkey's border with Greece on Saturday, as you can see here. Some people threw stones and Greek police fired tear gas to force migrants back. But that isn't stopping many of these people, not all of whom are Syrian.

Men, women and children had been piling onto buses in Istanbul. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon has reported extensively from Syria and she's joining us now from the Turkish side of the border with Greece.

And it seems so many of these people are determined, now that Turkey has opened its borders, to somehow keep moving on.

What is the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, look, the scenes we see playing out here are the direct result of what happens when people's misery and desperation turns into a political weapon.


DAMON: Now the Turkish authorities along the border have pushed the media back from the areas that we had access to over the last 48 hours. But what we were able to see there yesterday, the images coming out, show you how people are having to live out in the open.

They're cold. They don't have access to proper food. There's very little humanitarian aid out there. And they don't know if the border with Greece is ever going to open.

The Greeks are saying that they have stopped thousands of people from coming across. There are frequent clashes between the younger refugees, the youth who are trying to use rocks to force their way through the border crossing. The Greek authorities are firing tear gas back at them.

Some people are trying to make it across rivers that demarcate the border between Turkey and Greece. People we spoke to there said Greek authorities forced them back after smashing their phones and tearing up their IDs, something that the Greeks deny.

But Turkey has been funneling refugees up in this direction, using them as leverage to try to pressure Europe over what has been happening in Idlib. Turkey is looking for more support, not just rhetoric from Europe, NATO and the United States.

And also Turkey is, to a certain degree, quite fed up with the fact that it has been largely shouldering the burden of the humanitarian crisis on its own. It's home to upwards of 3.5 million refugees. It has threatened Europe with them in the past. And now over the last few days, making good on that threat to open its

own borders. But for those who are moving up here and thinking that perhaps they have a chance of going across, the Greeks have kept their borders shut. Europe doesn't want them and never really has.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. We'll wait to see if the world will respond to help the situation. But I guess it goes back to the new fighting, Arwa, that you reported on between Syria and Turkey and that is called a new influx of people trying to get out from Idlib.

Is there any communication going on between Turkey and Russia to try to tamp things down?

DAMON: Before I answer that question, let me clarify something. The crisis in Idlib is not causing a refugee influx into Turkey. Turkey shut its southern border with Syria a long time ago.

The crisis, the violence in Idlib is causing a humanitarian crisis of proportions so high that humanitarian aid agencies are unable to handle it. That is happening inside Syria, up against Syria's border with Turkey.

Because Turkey wants support on that front, because Turkey wants support in its military operations inside Idlib, where it is finding itself up against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and de facto because they're backed by the Russians, up against the Russians, is now trying to leverage the refugee population that already exists within Turkey's own borders to pressure the Europeans into supporting them.

How is it doing that?

It is encouraging this movement towards Turkey's border with Europe. It is encouraging it by facilitating transport. It is encouraging it by reporting high numbers of people, who have allegedly made it across to Europe, tens of thousands, according to what we're hearing from Turkey. That is being denied by the Greek authorities and also doesn't really match what we were witnessing yesterday.

People are struggling to make it across. The Greeks have beefed up their presence on the other side and are forcing people back. But Turkey views what is happening inside Idlib as an existential crisis because on the one hand, it is also saying the reason why it is pushing its existing refugee population towards Europe is to free up space if it is forced to open that southern border.

What we're seeing right now goes back to the manipulation of these people's desperation, people that have already seen their plight grotesquely politicized and now Turkey pushing them toward its northern border with Europe in an attempt to get support for what is happening on its border with Syria.

ALLEN: Got it. Totally understand and these poor people are being used as pawns in this situation. Arwa Damon, thanks for your reporting.

Supporters of Donald Trump say the media are using the coronavirus to try to take down the U.S. president.


ALLEN: Is that the case?

I don't think so. Just ahead, Brian Stelter takes a look at the conspiracy theories that are going viral.





ALLEN: Conspiracy theories might be spreading faster than the coronavirus itself. Some Trump supporters and right-wing critics in the U.S. are accusing the news media of exploiting the virus, allegedly to make the Trump administration look bad. CNN's Brian Stelter reports.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh one of many cooking up partisan conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. Chief among them, it's the news media's fault.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: They think this is going to be what brings down the president. That's what this is all about.

STELTER (voice-over): Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney making the shocking claim that the media is somehow using the virus to take down Trump. Mulvaney picking up right where FOX's Sean Hannity left off.


STELTER (voice-over): Blaming Democrats for making this political.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Sadly politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease in what is the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump.

STELTER (voice-over): These talking points are bouncing back-and- forth between the Trumps and their TV surrogates, portraying the president as the victim in chief and saying the president's perceived enemies actually want people to die.

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: Anything they can use to try to hurt Trump, they will. For them to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so they can end Donald Trump's streak of winning is a new level of sickness.

STELTER (voice-over): Junior didn't back up that wild claim. But the Trump campaign promoted it far and wide. This is not the first time the Trump machine has conjured up a conspiracy narrative full of misinformation and fearmongering. But this time, the backdrop is a public health emergency. Still, irresponsible claims abound.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.

STELTER (voice-over): Experts have debunked them. But it's all part of a Trump defense strategy, fighting a virus by playing politics.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Identity politics trumped public health and not for the first time. Wokeness is a cult.

STELTER (voice-over): And as for the virus, it has no idea what political party anyone is in. It is a nonpartisan illness, spreading in a partisan war -- Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: That is our first hour. Please, stay with us, I'll be right back with more news and our top stories.