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China Reports Lowest Number of New Cases in Weeks; Asian Markets Mostly Higher for Second Straight Day; Japan Cancels Cherry Blossom Festivals. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired March 3, 2020 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.
Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the coronavirus goes global, as new confirmed cases fall in China, the number of new infections around the world has surged.
Then there was five: just five Democrats left running for the presidential nomination and that is a big boost for Joe Biden. The former vice president on a roll ahead of Super Tuesday.
And the definition of insanity, doing the exact same thing and expecting a different result. Israel votes for a third time in 12 months and, once again, the results seem likely to be political deadlock.
VAUSE: The novel coronavirus could be reaching a dangerous new stage. Around the world, the number of infected now exceeds 90,000.
The World Health Organization says in just a 24 hour period, there were almost nine times more new cases reported outside of China than there were inside. The outbreaks now most concerned are in South Korea, which is reporting 600 new cases on Tuesday alone, as well as Italy, Iran and Japan, which have thousands of infections.
The U.S. says it has more than 100 cases nationwide, including six deaths in one state. China is seeing its lowest new numbers since January, with tens of millions of people put on lockdown, after nearly 3,000 deaths there are signs that China maybe getting the virus under control. South Korea is the hardest hit country outside of mainland, China.
For the very latest here's Ivan Watson live in Seoul.
So what exactly are the officials and South Korea doing to try to cope with this surging case? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the most recent strategies that was announced was to try to relieve some of the pressure on hospitals by dividing out people who may have coronavirus, those with critical symptoms, more serious symptoms that need hospitalization and more serious care and those people who may have milder symptoms and don't need as much supervision.
So the government has proposed setting up for milder care a second track of treatment in community treatment centers. And hopefully that can relieve the burden of some of the hospitals, open up some beds and let some people who really need help to get a room in those hospitals.
So that is one measure that has been proposed, otherwise the schools are going to remain closed until at least March 23rd, that is a pretty dramatic move that has been made to try to reduce the infection rate.
But if you look at the numbers and if the infections keep going at the pace that we have seen it is likely that South Korea will reach the 5,000 mark of infections this week. And if you consider that a little bit more than two weeks ago, there were only 31 confirmed cases in the country, that is dramatic and just symbolizes what public health crisis this country is facing -- John.
VAUSE: Absolutely, South Korea and other countries as, well. Thank you Ivan Watson, live for us in Seoul.
The European Union is raising its virus alert level as the infection spreads. France reporting more than 100 cases, many sporting events have been suspended and popular tourist sites like the Louvre are closed. Overall, Italy remains the bloc's hardest hit country. Ben Wedeman has more, reporting from Milan.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The authorities here in Lombardy where we are say that they will continue with the measures to try to restrict the spread of the virus, continuing with the closure of schools, universities, museums, those red zones, where 50,000 people live in -- basically under -- in their houses.
They're not allowed to leave their villages. Those will continue for at least another week. The authorities are also advising anybody over the age of 65 to minimize social contact, to try and stay in their homes for the next 15 days because they are the ones most susceptible to this virus.
VAUSE: In Iran, the first shipment of aid from the World Health Organization has arrived, two weeks after the first case of the virus was reported there. Teams of doctors and specialists bought eight tons of medicine and testing kits.
An adviser to Iran's supreme leader has died from the coronavirus. And the number of confirmed cases in Iran has passed 1,500, with close to 70 reported deaths.
Six deaths have been reported in the United States, as the numbers come in Washington is trying to take notice, the message in the administration remains that there is no need for panic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's be clear, the risk to the American people of the coronavirus remains low, according to all experts that we are working with across the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: More now from CNN's Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As these cases of the coronavirus skyrocket in the United States, you are starting to see President Trump and his administration officials take a different tone on this, holding several meetings yesterday to make sure they are putting a public face on all this by not only meeting with those drug company executives, a meeting that was initially about drug pricing but later turned to talk about a vaccine.
But you also saw the vice president meeting and having conversations with governors in addition to that briefing he held yesterday with the members of the coronavirus task force, which have included several other administration officials, including members of the president's own cabinet and Dr. Burks (ph), the specialist that vice president Pence picked to put on that team, who said she just got in from South Africa to give you a sense of how fast moving all of this is for the administration.
It comes as, in recent weeks, for the last several weeks as these health officials were sounding the alarm, saying it is inevitable that you are going to see cases in the United States, President Trump was continuing to downplay it saying he did not think it was going to be as big of a deal, really trying to calm people's fears because we are told by sources he was worried about a sense of alarm would due to the financial markets.
When the president was in the meeting with the drug company executives yesterday, you saw a really notable moment where they were talking about the timeline to develop a vaccine. The president seem to be saying he believed it could be just a matter of months, with the biggest timeline there being a year.
And you saw Dr. Anthony Fauci, on that coronavirus task force, who briefs the president on a daily basis stepping in to say that is just how long it would take them to start testing it, not to get it to the point where you could actually use it for these Americans who are testing positive for coronavirus.
It gives you an indication of how things are operating back here in the White House. But they are trying to put on this public face to say they are up to speed and they're adequately prepared to handle this.
That response has come under an intense amount of scrutiny.
VAUSE: It's only been a few months since the coronavirus was first detected and there is still much that is not known. But like all previous outbreaks this one will come to an end. One possible scenario is that the disease will be tapering off when enough people have immunity, either through infection or vaccine.
Past pandemics have ended when the virus runs out of people to infect and the train of transition is broken. For more, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us.
It's good to see you and essentially I got it right, that's how things work. There are other scenarios, including the possibility that the virus establishes itself and continues to circulate. It may become seasonal. But from what is known, including the fall in the numbers from China, how do you see this outbreak coming to an end?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: People have often made the comparison to SARS in large part because it is the same family of viruses; that was also a coronavirus .a
And if you look at the trajectory of that, we were reporting from Iraq together during SARS and the start at the end of the year of 2002 and it peaked around March and April as the season started to get warmer. So it was ended by July of that year.
This may behave that way. H1N1 in 2009 was very different. At the nine-week mark -- and I think we have an animation to show this, quickly -- you will see that there was a coronavirus.
GUPTA: There was Ebola, MERS and H1N1. Watch these lines here, it's very interesting. H1N1 is the green line that's spikes there, right at day seven. But this is the time that was bought by what happened in China. The purple line is lower. But then it spikes and right now at the nine-week mark coronavirus, actually is a higher number of cases, as compared to H1N1.
But if you carry that out up to one year, look at what happens to H1N1, 60 million cases at the one-year mark. So that could happen with coronavirus. And it could just become endemic to the population, a circulating pathogen around the world.
VAUSE: At this point, a vaccine is seen as the only effective way to eradicate the virus. The sooner it is ready for widespread use, the better. The president met with pharmaceutical companies on Monday, saying a vaccine could be just months away and here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I've heard very quick, numbers a matter of months and then a year would be an outside. Number were talking about three to four months, in a couple of cases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Compared to other vaccines, a vaccine for the coronavirus is being developed at record speed, from what the experts have said. But possibly they're saying next year or late next year, a few months from what the president says, giving everything that has to happen does not seem possible.
GUPTA: It doesn't seem possible and for a fact, because I've been at these briefings, that the president has heard the reality of this. It is true there are many candidates and they will start putting these into clinical trials.
And as you mention, getting to the candidate stage has gone at a record speed but the problem is you have to go through the clinical trials. And it's very hard to speed up that process, you have to prove it is safe and effective. And then you have to trial it in large populations of people, it takes time.
And I think if this virus has a seasonal variation, as we were saying, this vaccine would not be ready until next season. And I know that the president has heard that from many of his advisers.
VAUSE: Until the vaccine is ready, it seems containment is the key, I want you to listen to Michael Ryan from the World Health Organization, here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MICHAEL RYAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Here we have a disease for which we have no vaccine, no treatment, we don't fully understand transmission, we don't fully understand case fatality.
But what we have and are genuinely heartened by, is that, unlike influenza, where countries have fought back, where they have put in strong measures, we have remarkably seen that the virus is suppressed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Officials in Italy, which have a lot of cases are saying that the next few days will be crucial because by week's end, they will know if they are containment measures worked.
And given the E.U.'s open borders, what are the consequences if those containment measures there fail?
GUPTA: The saying goes and they have been saying this around Ebola and H5N1, H1N1, that an infection anywhere is an infection everywhere. The amount of travel and travel beyond these borders makes a big difference with regard to the success of containment. We are on the precipice between containment and mitigation.
And really from the World Health Organization standpoint, if we are in mitigation phase meaning that we are going to decrease the number of cases along, not trying to contain it, this would be called a pandemic at that point.
And a pandemic is more than just a word, it would mean that the strategies change then in terms of how we address this. It's no longer about trying to contain it, travel advisories, the sort of things don't make a difference anymore.
Widespread testing doesn't make a difference because we know the virus is spreading around the world. It's about trying to mitigate how quickly it spreads through social distancing and things like that.
I'm not alarmed by this. But I would say that I think that it's pretty clear in the United States and many countries around the world that this virus is circulating in the community and has been for sometime.
The first patient in this country that was diagnosed was on January 20th; this past Friday, six weeks later they found people who were infected with the same descendants of that original virus. That means that virus was circulating in the community for six weeks and probably hundreds of people were exposed.
That sounds like bad news because so many more people were affected. But keep in mind, those people, most of them, the vast majority of them did not go to hospitals or clinics because they did not get sick.
GUPTA: So that is very much fitting the pattern of what we saw in China. Most people who get exposed to this virus are not really becoming symptomatic, at least not to the point when they would go to the hospital.
VAUSE: If the mortality is correct at 2.3 percent, we're looking at 98 out of 100 people survive, regardless and, what we have seen is the concern which is bordering on panic in the United States. Look at this headline from "The Washington Post," "Long lines, low supplies, coronavirus chaos sends shoppers into panic buying mode."
Another one from "USA Today," "Coronavirus fears spark panic buying of toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer."
And just to clarify a few things, especially these face masks, that are selling out on Amazon and other places, the vast majority of them do nothing to prevent transmission. And at the end of the day, the best protection that anyone can do is wash their hands, there's a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands, right?
GUPTA: Absolutely. With regard to face masks and this is something that I get it because, again, I've seen this in other pandemics and outbreaks, people want to exert some sort of control somehow. And frankly you are hearing all these headlines and then told to wash the hands, washing hands doesn't seem like enough to people.
They have to go buy a mask. But you are right because the surgical masks are not going to protect you. They're not airtight and viral particles can get around the sides and through the bottom of the mask itself, the only masks that are protecting you are the respirator masks that have to be fitted specifically for you, do a fit test every time you wear it, which is why it's used in hospitals.
So you understand the desire for people to try to take control somehow. 3but I think it's important to know that it's maybe providing a false sense of security. As far as washing the hands it is one of the most effective ways to do it, with good old-fashioned soap and water and making sure you do it long enough and that you are watching all parts of your hand. I usually try to do six movements on each side of my hand and within the fingers and don't forget the thumbs and it takes 20 seconds per hand. So 40 seconds roughly, if you're doing it properly.
VAUSE: Top and bottom of the hands, both sides.
VAUSE: Exactly. Sanjay, thank you. Appreciate it, thank you
GUPTA: They call it Super Tuesday, a big day in the Democratic presidential primary, in 14 states Americans will head to the polls, 3$ percent of the pledged delegates are at stake, the most in California and Texas. Just before voting begins there's been a much needed boost for former Vice President Joe Biden. CNN political correspondent Arlette Saenz is in Dallas with details.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the eve of Super Tuesday, Joe Biden is here in Texas, trying to project a message of strength and unity. Three of his former rivals met here with him and officially endorsed his presidential campaign.
It's been quite the turn of events for Joe Biden over the last three days, starting with that decisive victory in South Carolina. And now Biden is trying to get the moderate support in this race. Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke, who dropped out months ago, joined him in Dallas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is up to us all of us to put our country back together, to heal this country and then to build something even greater. I believe we can do this together. And that is why today I am ending my campaign and endorsing Joe Biden for president.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I ran for president we made it clear that the whole idea was about rallying the country together, to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for the values that we share.
That was always the goal, that was much bigger than me becoming president. And it is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president.
BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At a time that this country, is so polarized, so deeply divided, we need somebody who can bring us together and heal us.
We need somebody who can reestablish the moral authority of the United States. We need somebody who will fight for democracy, here and abroad, because democracy is under attack here and abroad. We need Joe Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAENZ: Biden is hoping to turn this into a two person race between himself and Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is the current leader in delegates and he is looking to amass an insurmountable lead when it comes to delegates on Super Tuesday.
Super Tuesday is the biggest night of the Democratic primary calendar, with more than 1,300 delegates up for grabs, across 14 states, including delegate rich California and here in Texas, where Biden was campaigning on Monday.
SAENZ: Joe Biden will spend Tuesday in California as well as with supporters in Los Angeles, where he hopes to have a successful Super Tuesday night.
VAUSE: Stay with CNN for super coverage of Super Tuesday, we have a team of super reporters across key states.
Is it three time's a charm for the Israeli prime minister?
Exit polls show a good night for Netanyahu but maybe not good enough to end the deadlock.
And we will go live to Beijing where Xi Jinping is talking about a fall in the number of new coronavirus cases and it does not mean this crisis is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Our rivals said the Netanyahu era is over. We turned the tables, we turned lemons into lemonade.
(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Benjamin Netanyahu claiming victory after Israelis' third election in less than a year. Exit polls show his right wing coalition bloc has 59 seats. There is 120 seats in the Knesset, which means you need 61 for a majority. Well, 61-59 seems like they're too short. Benny Gantz is projected to have 54 seats.
Journalist Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem right now.
They have Netanyahu with 59, how does it work out?
ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: John, it is still a victory for Netanyahu. In his words it's a great victory, that's what he told his euphoric supporters. But as you say despite that, winning more seats than the opinion poll said he was going to, the exit polls still show him not winning a majority and the numbers do not add up.
There could be one reason why, in his speech last night, for the first time in quite some time, Netanyahu struck somewhat a conciliatory tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NETANYAHU (through translator): It was a great victory for the right bloc.
NETANYAHU (through translator): And it was a great victory for us, the Likud Party. However, I want to clarify, I mean, I want to be the prime minister of everybody, every single citizen in Israel, the ones who voted for left or right, choose not Jews, from all sectors, as you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOTKINE: While he is focused -- he says he is in the mood for reconciliation, he is very much focused on outright victory. That is what he wants most, we are still going by the exit polls, we won't get the final results until much later, in the day. It is still possible he gets over the line but this stage it is unlikely.
VAUSE: Elliott, we appreciate the update.
We will stay in Jerusalem, now we are joined by Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent as well as analyst for "The Jerusalem Post."
Gil, talking about voter fatigue, the coronavirus, a whole bunch of reasons that there was going to be a low voter turnout. That did not happen; quite the opposite, so none of this is not high voter turnout.
Does that impact the exit polls in any way?
GIL HOFFMAN, "THE JERUSALEM POST": The exit polls are not impacted by the low voter turnout. We have received a message all the votes have been counted and they are currently being double checked for accuracy. And we are going to get the final results sometime late afternoon today.
But so far, from the votes they've told us about, the exit polls appear to be accurate and Netanyahu has won a victory in this election.
VAUSE: But he got 60 seats back in April, the first time they went into vote in this cycle. And that was not a enough to form a coalition, so how does he do it with 59?
HOFFMAN: It will be a challenge because none of the parties in the opposition want to join the prime minister, who is going on trial into weeks. If they weren't going to joining him back then, they're not going to want to join him now.
He will actually have to try to pry away individual members of parliament, with promises of cabinet ministries and implementing the policies they ran on, as I wrote on the cover of today's paper, this is the time not for any more promises but for compromises.
VAUSE: Yes, but this is the thing, I guess in the past, we've seen an unwillingness I guess if you like, for people outside of that right- wing bloc, to compromise with Netanyahu and vice versa, for him to compromise with them, it looks like the kingmaker is still Avigdor Lieberman.
Avigdor Lieberman yesterday said, that he won't join with the ultra orthodox again, he thought that Netanyahu's political career was over. He rules out the Arabs as well. He will have to give up on one of his promises, in order for a government to be formed.
VAUSE: So we don't really know who's the winner is at this point, we know the loser is Benny Gantz. His Blue and White Party won just 32 few seats compared to Likud on 37.
Is there any explanation why he had such a bad night?
HOFFMAN: My guess it's a very bad campaign over the last few weeks, he lost a lot of momentum and already from the moment that Netanyahu went to Washington and unveiled the Trump peace plan, Gantz was seen as superfluous.
But he went to Washington and they succeeded in changing the agenda, for issues that are more comfortable for him and those in Israel wanted the peace process to move forward. Netanyahu says he's moving it forward soon, immediately after the election, so people needed an alternative further to the center left.
VAUSE: Very quickly we are almost out of time, there is still a question about an indicted member of the Knesset, is legally allowed to take the lead to form a government.
Do you know where that stands at this point?
HOFFMAN: The supreme court earlier, refused to answer that question because they saw it as theoretical. Well, it is no longer theoretical and there will also be attempts by Netanyahu's opponents, to pass a bill saying that it is illegal for a prime minister to be on trial.
So it is still possible legally to bring Netanyahu down. It should be interesting in the weeks ahead to see what will happen.
VAUSE: Interesting is indeed the word, to say the least. Gil, in Jerusalem.
Well, the coronavirus is quickly spreading across the world but in China the number of new cases is falling sharply, we'll be live in Beijing with China's containment efforts.
Also ahead, global markets trying to shake off the virus for a second straight day after last week's very big losses.
VAUSE: The number of new cases from the novel coronavirus in China continues to fall. On Monday, officials reported 125 new cases across the mainland, the fewest in about six weeks.
President Xi Jinping has praised the country's response to the outbreak. He was visiting a research facility at the time. He also urged medical experts to continue working on treatments for the disease.
Steven Jiang is live again for us in Beijing this hour. So Steven, I guess at this point, would it be accurate to say China has turned a corner in its dealing with this outbreak?
STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, John, I think they have won some battles, but the war against this virus is very much ongoing.
But you're right. The government, including President Xi, would very much like to direct people's attention to these promising figures you just mentioned. You know, for several days, outside of the epicenter in Hubei, the number of newly-confirmed cases was in single digits.
Now, that number creeping back to 11 on Monday but still a very low figure compared to what is going on outside of China. That actually has prompted some gleeful, even condescending coverage or comments, especially on social media, saying how China is dealing with this crisis much better than most other countries of the world.
Of course, many would argue that it was the initial mishandling by the officials here, or even alleged cover-up that may have led to this outbreak to begin with.
But all these arguments aside, though, I think one growing concern or worry for the authorities here is imported cases instead of exporting cases. On Monday, for example, the eastern province of Changchun (ph) reported seven confirmed cases, all people just returning -- returned from northern Italy. They all worked in the same restaurant in Bergamo, which is one of the hardest-hit regions by this virus outbreak. And here in Beijing, two recent new cases involving people returning
from Iran, another region hit hard by this virus. So now, because of these newly-confirmed cases involving people returning from other countries and because of South Korea, which of course, is a neighboring country with a spike of cases, the authorities here are really strengthening their screening and quarantine rules, targeting international arrivals, mandating it 14-day self-quarantine or medical observations for anyone returning from these high-risk regions.
Of course, John, they are stressing these apply to both Chinese nationals and foreign citizens. They are not being discriminatory -- John.
VAUSE: OK, Steven. We appreciate the update. We appreciate your work for the last three months almost on the story, so thank you for being with us. Steven Jiang, live in Beijing.
Asian markets are mostly trading higher for the second straight day as they continue to rebound from last week's losses. Investors are betting central banks will step to ease the economic impact on the coronavirus.
Kaori Enjoji is live in Tokyo. And you know, this is the question. Central banks can cut rates and -- you know, I guess, but that doesn't do a lot to fix the supply chain. So I guess, you know, there's only so much the central bank can do.
KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Exactly, and I think that's playing out very clearly in the Tokyo equity market today, because in the first couple of hours of trading, the expectations were running high that there would be some kind of concerted action from the central bankers and finance ministers; but then we had a U-turn. And the equity market in Tokyo quickly slipping into negative, and it's now down three-quarters of 1 percent.
And I think all along, as central bankers and the ECB and international institutions stepped up their rhetoric over the last couple of days, saying that they're going to do all they can to try and shore up the capital markets, the nagging question has been this is not a financial problem.
So financial measures that were taken, say, back in 2011 when we were in the height of the European debt crisis are probably not going to work. And as you rightly pointed out, if a factory is closed, cutting interest rates is not going to get that factory up and running.
If a person catches the virus, and that causes a company to shut down their factories, an interest rate cut is not going to help there either.
So having said that, there are measures that they can do. For example, the Bank of Japan has been flooding the capital markets with cash. It does cushion the blow. But having said that, when you take a look at the way U.S. treasuries
have been responding, the fear factor clearly is still high, as the cases from coronavirus continue to mount throughout the world.
So, I think initially, people were expecting that there might be some kind of coordinated interest rate cut. Now, those hopes are fading. I think the question still remains whether or not central bankers and finance ministries really have the keys to try and turn this rout around.
Having said that, we are seeing a little bit of stability come back into some of the other regional markets here in the Asian region, but you have to remember, it's still a long way to go before we recover the big losses that the markets suffered around the world last week.
I think people are still focused on corporate profitability, whether corporations and how much corporations can resume business in the first quarter and beyond.
And you have to also remember that the European central bank and the Japanese central bank interest rates are already at negative. And in the case of Japan, it's already halfway towards a recession, because the final three months of 2019 were negative, a negative growth.
So I think there are some lingering expectations of measures from the central bankers, but at a practical level, as you pointed out, it doesn't help to get factories back on board.
VAUSE: Yes. We're seeing -- we're seeing a lot of corporations pull their financial projections and profit projections, I guess, and basically reassessing at the moment.
So Kaori, thank you for being with us. Kaori Enjoji, live for us in Tokyo.
A massive rally on Wall Street Monday after its worst week since the 2008 great recession. The Dow surged almost 1,300 points, the biggest point gain ever in a single day. The S&P and the NASDAQ also surged, each arising about four and a half percent.
Japan's tourism industry, though, is taking a huge hit because of the coronavirus. The government has canceled several cherry blossom festivals, which usually attract millions of visitors. Here's CNN's Will Ripley, reporting from Tokyo.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They come on planes, trains and automobiles. They also come on cruise ships, from places near and far, millions of people chasing that fleeting moment, that brief window in Japan's early spring when streets and riverbanks transform from mundane to magical.
Few natural wonders rival the breathtaking elegance of Sakura. Japanese cherry trees in full bloom. Taking in their transient beauty is a popular pastime in Japan called hanami. Private hanami cruises are a huge part of Kohei Amata's (ph) business.
"The Japanese people love the culture of hanami," Amata (ph) says. "I think most people's desire to enjoy the cherry blossoms is even stronger than their fear of coronavirus."
That fear is driving people away in droves.
KOHEI AMATA (PH), TOUR GUIDE: Fifty percent of our customers.
RIPLEY: Fifty percent have canceled because of the virus? That's got to really hurt financially.
AMATA (PH): Awful, yes.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Each canceled reservation is more than 500 dollars in lost income.
The local government says, on a typical year, more than 3 million people take in the tunnels of cherry blossoms lining the Meguro River. Not this year. The Japanese government is encouraging the public to avoid large gatherings.
(on camera): Japan's iconic cherry blossom festivals are just the latest casualties of an ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic.
(voice-over): The virus is passed among people. Health experts encourage social distancing. For Japan, that means empty offices, people working from home, empty sporting events, from barren baseball stadiums to a toned-down Tokyo marathon, raising questions about what the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will look like.
But nothing symbolizes the soul of Japan quite like Sakura, making it wildly popular with people seeking that perfect picture.
(on camera): It seems like this is the perfect Instagram spot that people love to see.
YUKIMI KAWASHIMA, FASHION DESIGNER: Yes. I recommend the most beautiful view from here.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Japanese fashion designer Yukimi Kawashima has been working and photographing in Tokyo's Nakameguro District for more than a decade.
"I feel sad people cannot enjoy the Sakura as usual," she says. "It's a pity these streets won't be full of people this year."
She hopes this crisis will pass quickly, like Sakura season itself, so people once again feel safe to go outside and enjoy what many Japanese consider the most beautiful time of the year.
Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please
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