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Coronavirus Outbreak; Afghanistan Violence; Bethlehem on Lockdown over Virus. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2020 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, and welcome to Studio 7 here at CNN Center in Atlanta. I am Michael Holmes.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak tops 100,000. It is far from contained.

Cruise ship quarantine: a ship off the coast of the U.S. is the latest to be affected by the virus.

Afghanistan violence: the U.S. deal with the Taliban was supposed to be reducing violence.

Why are attacks still happening?

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HOLMES: Welcome, everyone. The coronavirus outbreak appears to be tapering off in China, at least for now. But new cases are surging in the rest of the world. Nearly 21,000 cases now confirmed outside of China, including more than 330 cases now in the U.S.

American health experts recommend that the elderly, as well as people with chronic medical conditions stay home and avoid social events and crowds. The global death toll is now nearly 3,500 people, well over 100,000 total cases.

And off the California coast, at least 21 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship have tested positive. For more on the situation aboard the Grand Princess and elsewhere around the U.S., here is CNN's Nick Watt.

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NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On board the Grand Princess cruise ship, uncertainty and fear, how many, if any, passengers are positive. The testing continues. At least five from the ship's last leg of its voyage caught the virus. One died.

CYNTHIA TRAVERS, PASSENGER ON GRAND PRINCESS: He was around a lot of us on the cruise up on the 14th deck where we all kind of lounged and hung out. WATT (voice-over): It's an older crowd and that demo is hardest hit.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Those over the age of 70, were looking at 10-15 percent case fatality rates.

WATT (voice-over): In Washington State where at least seven deaths are now tied to this nursing home. There is grief, fear and now confusion. Add Herrick's mom among the dead.

PAT HERRICK, MOTHER DIED FROM OUTBREAK IN NURSING CENTER: --tested, I want her body tested. And I've been told, well, we do that. You know, we just gave to assume that it's natural causes. And so I'm saying, it's not OK. I need to have her tested for the larger picture.

WATT (voice-over): The University of Washington just announced no more classes on campus. The North Shore School District already shut down. At least 80,000 students in the Seattle area now being kept home.

JESSICA READ, KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL UP TO TWO WEEKS: They said up to 14 days they might be closed.

WATT (on camera): Are you concerned that you know the virus is going to get inside your home and that you and that you and or your kids might be infected?

READ: Yes, my middle son has asthma. So it's mild asthma. But that's a big concern. Seems like here it's really what it's going for is the lungs.

WATT (voice-over): The number of confirmed cases across the country climbing at nearly three per hour in just over the past day.

And Connecticut, Emma, just back from Italy, where nearly 200 have died, is in self-quarantine, just in case.

EMMA, COLLEGE STUDENT IN SELF-QUARANTINE AFTER STUDYING ABROAD: I've been allowed to like pet my dog every once in a while, but it's pretty lonely.

WATT (voice-over): In New York State right now more than 4,000 in a similar situation.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): This is like a flu on steroids.

WATT (voice-over): Eleven new cases in the state announced today, all connected to contact with one man, who's right now being treated in a Manhattan hospital.

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HOLMES: Nick Watt reporting there.

Now, on Friday, U.S. president Donald Trump got a firsthand look at the coronavirus response with a visit to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC. Here is what he had to say about the infections now aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it were up to me, I would be inclined to say leave everybody on the ship for a period of time and to use the ship as your base. I like the numbers being where they are, I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship. That wasn't our fault.

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HOLMES: Italy, meanwhile, is reporting 49 new deaths and almost 800 new cases on Friday alone. This shows maybe how cautious people are being cautious around others, the Italian prime minister, avoiding a handshake. With more details on the countries outbreak.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Italy is reporting the largest single increase in the number of new coronavirus cases yet. According to the Civil Protection Agency, there are 4,636 reported cases of coronavirus, among them 197 dead.

The authorities continue to struggle to bring this outbreak under control. Meanwhile, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome is calling for all Christians to fast and pray on Wednesday. He says to ask God's help for our city for Italy and the world. While the Islamic community here is calling for cancellation of all public activities to stop the spread of this virus.

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HOLMES: Joining me now, Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a professor of epidemiology and community health services at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, also the former director of communicable disease control and prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, more than well enough qualified to talk about this.

I was wondering if we could, start, Doctor with the messaging. The president says that when it comes to the coronavirus, he, his word, stopped it. You had Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser, saying coronavirus outbreak has been contained.

Clearly from a medical standpoint, are either of those statements true?

DR. ROBERT KIM-FARLEY, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The issue of containment means that everything then is not having any local spread and we do have areas of local spread in the United States at this time.

HOLMES: Tell us about this testing kits issue. You don't know how many people have it if testing isn't being done. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the bottom tier of the world when it comes to testing. When the U.S. tested 1,500 people, the South Koreans were testing 10,000 a day.

Do you think there could be unnecessary spread going on because of this lack of testing?

KIM-FARLEY: Maybe not so much unnecessary spread but I think we certainly do have spread going on that we may not be aware of. In one sense, as these million plus kits come out over the next week or so, I think we are going to have increased numbers of cases being reported just because there is more testing going on.

HOLMES: The president said on Friday, anyone who wants to test can have one. He called the test kits "beautiful" but it is demonstrably not the case. Speak to the importance of transparent messaging at a time like this from the public's perspective.

KIM-FARLEY: You bring up a very good point. It is very important for public health officials to be consistent in their messaging, to be able to make sure the public understands what they can do themselves personally.

And when it comes to community wide measures, that their clear understanding is what may need to be closed, what needs to be changed in terms of going to, events things like this. But that should be very clearly messaged so that there is no confusion on the part of people in the community.

HOLMES: I wanted to ask you about the readiness for what might come. There are modeling scenarios out there, even moderate ones, that show potential for perhaps 1 million hospitalizations going forward, more needing intensive care, tens of thousands needing ventilators. That would overwhelm resources.

What plan is being made for the situation, what is planning for that?

KIM-FARLEY: It will be a challenge for the public health officials in the United States. What is being done, we are more prepared today than we were yesterday and will be more prepared today than we were yesterday.

We have to try through such measures such as personal non- pharmaceutical interventions, covering the cough, ensuring that we are not shaking hands anymore. If we need to, to institute these community wide measures, these things will blunt the epidemic, will make it over time, go slower. That will then help ease some of the pressures we will see on our health care system.

HOLMES: I was wondering, from a medical standpoint, not necessarily a political one, health insurance. There are millions in the United States without sick pay, without insurance. Tests are going to be free, apparently. But not hospitalization or doctors' fees, these things that could bankrupt people who are not insured.

Should provision be made for those people given how widespread this could become?

KIM-FARLEY: I think society has an obligation to make sure we are protecting the most vulnerable, including those who may not have access to some hospitalization to make sure that everybody for coronavirus is getting the care that they need, whether that is at a clinic or whether that is actual hospitalizations, even if it means intensive care units.

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KIM-FARLEY: This needs to be provided.

HOLMES: I'm wondering, when you look at the overall situation this is how it's been handled, there's talk about cuts to the system in recent years, the removal of the White House pandemic response unit, budget cuts to the CDC and so on.

How much of an impact does that have on what we are seeing now in terms of preparedness?

KIM-FARLEY: Public health infrastructure in the United States has been defunded or underfunded for several years going on. I think it is a good opportunity now as a society and for elected officials to take a good look and realize what the value of public health is, why you need to have even in times when things may not be an outbreak, strong, robust public health programs, that are planning for such events such as this.

We need surge capacity in hospital systems, all of these things, very important for us to fund a very robust public health network.

HOLMES: Surge capacity is a phrase we are going to hear more and more. Good points well made, Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, thank you so much.

KIM-FARLEY: A pleasure to be with you, Michael.

HOLMES: A slowdown of Chinese travel in the wake of the coronavirus is being felt across the globe. How the tourism industry that has relied on Chinese people traveling abroad is coping with the outbreak.

Although still to come, agreements to end the violence in Afghanistan but that violence persists, details on the latest deadly attack and who is claiming responsibility.

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HOLMES: It has been a week since the U.S. and the Taliban signed a historic agreement aimed at ending violence in Afghanistan but violence has indeed persisted. And ISIS is actually claiming responsibility for a deadly attack on Friday at a crowded ceremony in Kabul, 32 people killed, another 58 wounded. CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson with the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The audience at the event literally had to duck for cover on the floor beneath their seats when the gunfire broke out.

It was gunfire followed by rocket fire, according to Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the number two in Afghanistan, the CEO in Afghanistan. So he spoke exclusively to CNN and explained the gunfight that was going on.

It lasted well over two hours. The government forces eventually being able to take on the gunman, killing the three gunmen who were attacking this national event. Now this was a national event for a national martyr.

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ROBERTSON: But the martyr was an ethnic Hazara. The ethnic Hazaras are a minority in Afghanistan and are also Shia Muslims and it is more typical of ISIS to target the Shia Muslims for their faith than it is for the Taliban.

The fact the Taliban denied it was their attack also points to ISIS being responsible. This comes at a time of rising tensions on a number of fronts in Afghanistan. Part of the deal signed between the United States and the Taliban last weekend was that the Taliban would maintain a reduction in violence, that the Afghan government would then release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Afghan government has said it's too quick for them to do that, they are not able to do that ahead of the deadline that was March the 10th, just a few days away.

And on top of that as well, you have the inauguration of the new Afghan president early next week. And that is a contentious issue as well at the moment. So a lot in play in Afghanistan at the moment.

This attack, though, very deadly, even by Afghan standards -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

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HOLMES: And joining me now in New York is CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot. He is also a senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations and a columnist in "The Washington Post."

And you have written about this in "The Washington Post." Let's talk about this deal. Since it was signed there have been dozens of attacks by the Taliban, also ISIS.

Do you think the Taliban has any intention of abiding by the agreement?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It sure doesn't look like it. But it's a little bit unclear entirely what is in the agreement because there are classified annexes. I guess the Taliban can argue that they are biding by the letter of the agreement, which is that they are not allowing their territory to be used for attacks on the United States, which seems to be mainly what President Trump is concerned about.

And I think there was a kind of informal agreement that they would not attack major towns or U.S. troops. And so I guess you can argue that they are abiding by that.

HOLMES: The Taliban, of course, they are open about it, they do not recognize the elected government as legitimate, which isn't a great start.

I mean, what are the chances that they will in any way or meaningful way cooperate with the central government as opposed to what a lot of people think is likely and that's launching into an all out battle to retake Kabul and rule all over again?

BOOT: I think the latter option is much more likely. In fact NBC had a story just today citing U.S. intelligence sources, saying there is good evidence indicating the Taliban have no intention of abiding by any kind of peace agreement. They are basically just waiting us out and they don't have to wait that long.

They have been waiting 18 years now, all they have to do is wait another 14 months and our troops will be gone and the government of Afghanistan will be essentially at the mercy.

So why would they compromise at this point?

They just have no incentive to make any concessions or to stop fighting. And so I don't have a lot of hopes for these intra-Afghan talks that are supposed to talk soon. It's not even clear if they are going to start because president Ashraf Ghani has said he is not going to release the 5,000 detainees from the Taliban that the U.S. has promised to release as part of the accord that was concluded in Doha.

So the outlook for a settlement looks, I would say, pretty grim at this point.

HOLMES: The Taliban doesn't even recognize the government as legitimate. The U.S. president, he doesn't seem too concerned, actually.

I mean he said a couple of things but he said, quote, "Countries have to take care of themselves. You can only hold someone's hand for so long."

And then when he was asked if the Taliban could essentially seize power as we have been discussing, he said, quote, "It's not supposed to happen that way but it possibly will."

What message does that send to the Afghan people?

BOOT: It's basically sending a message that the United States is abandoning the people of Afghanistan and the democratically elected government of Afghanistan because Trump was saying, basically, I don't care if the Taliban take over as long as the U.S. troops withdraw.

That is I think a terrible and dispiriting message to send and it will ensure that when the U.S. troops do withdraw, 14 months from now, the government of Afghanistan is going to have a hard time keeping it together because they are going to feel abandoned by the international community and by the United States in particular.

And sadly we have seen this movie before. It's similar to what happened in 1975, two years after the U.S. basically abandoned South Vietnam and then South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam. That's the precedent that everybody is concerned about.

And President Trump's comments certainly do nothing to reassure anybody that that is not the way it is going to work out.

And then you know, of course, ultimately, will it be a smart decision for the U.S.?

There is always the probably correct argument that when it comes to Afghanistan, winning might not be possible. But losing certainly is.

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HOLMES: And the risk of that is a terror base that existed prior to 9/11. "The New York Times," a few months ago, was reporting that U.S. intelligence had warned that a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would lead to an attack on the U.S. within two years.

Could this backfire on the U.S. in a strategic and security sense?

BOOT: It could backfire very easily. We have evidence of that pretty recently when we pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and, by 2014, U.S. troops were back in Iraq because ISIS was on the rampage.

And the Iraqi security forces were falling apart in the face of this Islamic State onslaught. So that is very recent and a very troubling precedent for what could happen with a premature U.S. withdrawal. I mean there is no question, everybody wants to go home, nobody wants to have U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 18 plus years.

But the reason previous presidents have not withdrawn is because they were afraid of the consequences of that withdrawal.

And you know, it's possible that Donald Trump will rethink this and certainly if the Taliban are not abiding by the accord, he has every right to maintain U.S. forces. But he certainly sounds like he wants to pull them out, no matter what, regardless of the huge risks that we run by doing so.

HOLMES: Good points as always, Max Boot, I appreciate you coming on and discussing.

BOOT: Thanks, Michael.

HOLMES: The U.S. president Donald Trump has named Republican congressman Mark Meadows as his new and next chief of staff. Meadows replacing Mick Mulvaney, who had been acting in the role for more than a year. Mulvaney, according to the president, will become special envoy for

Northern Ireland. Meadows is President Trump's fourth chief of staff since taking office a little more than three years ago.

We will take a short break. When we come back, the impact of the coronavirus being felt across the globe. And one of the hardest hit industries is travel and tourism. How the outbreak is costing it billions in lost revenue -- when we come back.

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HOLMES: Welcome back. Wild, whirlwind, whiplash, weird -- lots of ways to describe the U.S. markets this week. Coronavirus fears and confusion were evident again on Friday on Wall Street. The Dow closing down nearly 1 percent for the day. Then ending the week up nearly 2 percent, if you can figure that out.

Same for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq, they finished down for the day but up for the week. And that is a bit of good news considering Bank of America estimates global stocks have lost about $9 trillion over the past couple of weeks.

Well, coronavirus outbreak has shut down one of the holiest sites in Christianity, Bethlehem is on lockdown as new cases emerge there, grinding tourism to a halt. CNN's Oren Liebermann takes us to the city's now quiet and empty streets.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This road would normally be full of cars slowly creeping forward towards checkpoint 300, the main crossing point between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

On the other side of that, is Israel. But it's not the weather keeping people away. The city is on lockdown after seven cases of coronavirus were identified here Thursday. Early in the morning, CNN saw Mohammed al-Azza (ph) sitting defiantly outside of his shop, selling souvenirs for tourists.

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LIEBERMANN (voice-over): "I will try today," he told us "But if there's no one, then I'll have to close for a month."

When we meant back 90 minutes later, Mohammed had already packed up and gone home.

Off the road, Benzie's (ph) iconic Walled Off Hotel was shuttered, no guests to welcome today.

Overnight, the Bethlehem municipality put this video on their Facebook page, showing the city being disinfected, including Manger Square, the tourist heart of the city. On Friday, The Church of the Nativity, seen as the birthplace of Jesus, was closed. The little door through which most worshippers enter the church firmly shut.

On the other side of the square, the Omar bin Khatib mosque stood empty as well; Friday prayers, the most important of the week, canceled.

Nineteen-year-old Mustafa (ph) was one of the few out and about.

MUSTAFA (PH), LOCAL CITIZEN (through translator): Whatever God wants will happen. But I think people are overreacting. We should take care of ourselves.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): A few miles away in neighboring Beit Jala, we found security tape still up outside the Angel Hotel, the center of the outbreak here, which is being linked to a Greek tour group that stayed last week, one of whose number was tested positive for coronavirus on his return to Greece; 14 Americans, including 13 from the Three Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, who arrived at the start of the week on a tour of the Holy Land had been told to self- quarantine.

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CHRIS BELL, PASTOR: We were asked to come back to the hotel, we did. And we have been quarantined here for two days and we just got tested for the virus, which comes to the question what is going to happen next?

The resounding answer for us is we just don't know. And that's the hardest part, the not knowing. We don't know. We don't know what our tests are going to come back as. We do want the authorities to give us more information and we want to know what's going on. And we want to be able to go home as soon as possible.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): One man who was happy to go about his business was Jamil Azza (ph), who was filling his car with gas.

"People are afraid as they don't know who has the virus and who doesn't," he said.

Jamil himself wasn't overly concerned, though, placing his faith in an age-old elixir.

"I don't wear mask because I don't need it. I drink alcohol," he said -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

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HOLMES: Meanwhile, the popular South by Southwest festival is a coronavirus casualty. Officials in Austin, Texas, announcing Friday that the annual tech film and music conference is canceled this year. It was supposed to start next week.

City officials said the decision was made to reduce the risk for attendees and the community. Several big companies had already pulled out, including Twitter, Facebook and Intel.

Thanks for spending part of your day with us. I'm Michael Holmes. This has been CNN NEWSROOM. I will have your headlines in a moment.