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Two U.S. Congressmen Test Positive for Coronavirus; Asian Markets Down After Wall Street Plunges; Outbreak Impacts Persian New Year Celebrations; Concern Grows over How Virus Will Impact Refugees; President Trump Invokes Defense Production Act; U.S. Ramps Up Response as Cases Soar Past 8,500; U.K. School Closures; Europe Hit with Critical Shortage of Medical Supplies; China Reports No New Domestic Cases. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 19, 2020 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

Difficult times, drastic measures: Donald Trump puts the U.S. on wartime footing to combat the coronavirus. But the world's most vulnerable communities don't have a fighting chance against COVID-19. We're looking at the challenges facing refugee communities.

China turns a corner with the coronavirus. For the first time, it says it has no new local cases to report.


NEWTON: With the coronavirus spreading around the world, more countries are responding with wartime measures. We're seeing curfews, border closings, supply rationing, even troops on the streets. Now Donald Trump is assuming his role in the battle.


QUESTION: Do you consider America to be on a wartime footing in fighting the virus?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do. I view it in a sense a wartime president, we are fighting. It's a tough situation here.


NEWTON: The president is invoking a 1950s law that would let him force factories to produce medical equipment. Think about that. It would include badly needed masks and ventilators. He says that he will only use those powers in a worst-case scenario.

He ordered two U.S. Navy hospital ships to the coasts of New York and California to believe overcrowding in hospitals. Extraordinary. The problem is it could still take weeks to deploy those ships. About 2,000 Air and Army National Guard members are deployed across 23 states.

CNN's Nick Watt looks at what else the U.S. is doing to battle the coronavirus crisis.


TRUMP: It's the invisible enemy.

NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Military metaphors, sign of the severity, we could still be weeks away from peak infection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have hospitals that will start to break this weekend, in the next few days.

WATT (voice-over): The administration tells us there is a federal stockpile of over 10,000 ventilators and more on order.

TRUMP: No matter what you have, it's not enough.

WATT (voice-over): At one Washington state hospital they are making their own masks using supplies from a craft store.

TRUMP: We ordered millions of them but we need millions more.

WATT (voice-over): We might also need more hospital beds and staff.

ANDREW CUOMO (D), GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: We're reaching out to retired nurses and doctors, nursing schools, medical schools.

WATT (voice-over): Ford, Fiat, Chrysler and GM all about to halt U.S. production, saying that they will sanitize all of their plants. Nationwide, many workers have already been laid off, like Manhattan bartender Tanya Palkaninec.

TANYA PALKANINEC, BARTENDER: I just have to keep living my life. There's a ball of anxiety there constantly.

WATT (voice-over): JetBlue calling their losses stunning, say typical daily takings have fallen from $22 million to an average of $4 million. And they are paying out $20 million a day in cancellation credits. Some executives now taking a 50 percent pay cut.

Misery on misery, cancellations at Chicago's Midway because the control tower closed for cleaning when several technicians tested positive for coronavirus. In San Francisco and elsewhere, millions now allowed out only for essential needs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The streets are fairly empty.

WATT (voice-over): Note essential needs include walking the dog and jogging.

Elsewhere, some criticism that the young especially are not taking social distancing seriously.

TRUMP: They don't realize that they can carry lots of bad things home to their grandmother, grandfather, even their parents.

WATT (voice-over): A federal coronavirus plan at CNN shows the administration preparing for a pandemic that can last 18 months or longer and involve multiple waves.


WATT: Here in California now a quarter of the population, nearly 10 million, living under some type of shelter in place, stay home unless you have to go out.


L.A. County has seen confirmed cases double in the last two days. Nationwide, similar picture. Confirmed cases have doubled. Now testing is getting better. Reporting is getting better. But also, more people are getting this virus. If I have the virus, chances are I will pass it on to two or three other people. That is why we are being told to social distance. Stay home.


NEWTON: Nick Watt there. Many people saying, just act like you have the virus and that's how you can follow the instructions Nick was talking about.

When we move on to other countries across the globe, the U.S. is not the only country comparing it to war. Germany, that has reported more than 8,000 cases, says it has not faced a crisis like this since World War II. In a rare plea televised speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for national solidarity, urging all people to stick to government guidelines to fight the virus.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): It is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, not since World War II has there been such a challenge to our country, that so much relies on our universal solidarity. I am absolutely sure that we will emerge from this crisis. But how high will the sacrifice be?

How many loved ones will we lose?

To a large degree, we have the answers in our own hands. We can now all act decisively and together. We can accept the current restrictions and stand together and be there for each other.


NEWTON: To Britain now, where British prime minister Boris Johnson has finally announced the indefinite closing of most schools in the U.K. That begins Friday. Exams have been canceled. The prime minister also warned that further restrictions on the public might be necessary in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: We live in a land of liberty, as you know. And it's one of the great features of our lives. We don't tend to impose those sorts of restrictions on people in this country. But I have to tell you, we will rule nothing out.


NEWTON: But the partial school closures are an attempt to combat the virus without crippling the country's infrastructure. CNN's Nic Robertson explains.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This announcement was something people were expecting to happen. The prime minister had been under a lot of pressure to shut down schools.

His concern, he said this publicly on a number of occasions, he was concerned that if children were sent home, some parents who work in vital sectors, like the health service, social care, giving the police force, supermarkets, delivery drivers, all these jobs that are vital for the economy, that they would be at home taking care of their kids.

So not closing all of the schools, making provisions for those children of parents with vital jobs, this is how he framed it.


JOHNSON: We therefore need schools to make provision for the children of these key workers, who would otherwise be forced to stay home. They will also need to look after the most vulnerable children.

This will mean that there will be far fewer children in the schools. That will help us to slow the spread of the disease. These measures are crucial to make sure that the critical parts of the economy keep functioning.


ROBERTSON: The prime minister was asked how long will kids be off school, he didn't have precise answer for that.

Scotland's prime minister indicated it could be all the way until September. The prime minister leaving his options open. But because he's under pressure, because people are using the underground train services, bus services, people still going to pubs, there is a concern that the prime minister is not taking a tough enough line with London, containing people more in their homes.

That something he pushed back on. He said this is a country of liberties, where we are not used to doing that. But under the pressure, he said he was not ruling out any decision. So it leaves open that possibility that there could be tighter controls in the coming days placed on London and the residents here -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.



NEWTON: Apparently panicked shoppers are forcing grocery stores to ration some items to keep scenes like this, shelves stripped bare from recurring. Look at that. There's nothing left to buy. Some chains are limiting items per customer, especially things like toilet paper, soap and milk.

They say that if people shop like they usually do, everything will return to normal. Unbelievable.

To Italy now, they just had its biggest single day jump in cases. The Civil Protection Agency reported more than 4,200 new cases Wednesday, bringing its total to more than 35,000 cases. With a very high death rate, nearly 3,000 deaths so far. CNN's Barbie Nadeau has more information on the startling update.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been another devastating day in Italy as we get new numbers from the Civil Protection Authorities. We know that there are 4,207 additional cases of novel coronavirus over the last 24 hours.

We've also been told there are 475 additional deaths. We are finding out a little bit more information about the people who are dying. We've been told that the median age is 80 and 30 percent of those people have died are female.

We've also been told that the time on average it takes between when they started showing symptoms and when they died is eight days. This comes amid a nationwide lockdown. It's becoming more difficult for the 60 million people here. They can only leave their homes to get basic groceries, walk their dogs, go to the pharmacy.

We've seen so many police around the city, trying to get people to go back inside. It's a beautiful spring day. They are telling people to get off park benches, take their kids, go back home. That is the only thing they believe will stop the spread and bring Italy out of this nightmare -- Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


NEWTON: A nightmare it is, not just in Italy, Spain too. Their small businesses especially at risk of coronavirus. Risk everywhere, as the economy shuts down right around the world. CNN's Al Goodman offers a glimpse from one Madrid neighborhood.


AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's kind of difficult to recognize my neighborhood these days. Everything has changed because of coronavirus. This is a bar where I have my morning coffee. Like almost everything else in this country, it is closed.

How are you?

This is my friend Santiago. I have been buying office supplies from him for nearly a decade.

His printing shop is also closed. Debts are mounting.

"I owe $10,000 to suppliers," he says, "but I can't pay them right now because the little I have must be for my family."

Small businesses need an urgent injection of cash. This coronavirus safety warning from the hospital across the street was his last printing job. The people out of their homes, going food shopping, going into the pharmacy.

"Sales are down 50 percent," he says, "but they have to stay open because they are an essential service."

"We have to be very careful," he says. "We don't have enough gloves for every day. We don't know when this will end."

That is just in my neighborhood. Across Spain, similar stories are told -- Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


NEWTON: Almost 15 minutes of information there for, you still a lot of questions. We will try to get some answers for you. For that, we are asking Dr. Anne Rimoin to join us. She's a professor of epidemiology at UCLA.

Thank you for joining us. We know this is gripping California obviously as well. Look, we just went through Europe. It is clear how this virus is ravaging Europe. Is North America likely next?

Doesn't matter how much the shutdown is, we are going through that now.

Do the spikes in the cases and deaths alarm you now?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA: Absolutely. We have to look at the global data, very compelling. Countries that have not deployed rapid social distancing measures, that have been very extreme in nature, they are suffering the same thing that Italy has suffered.

We in the United States, having had major testing failures, not being able to ramp up quickly, to test people, to employ social distancing measures, are far behind the curve.


RIMOIN: So I believe we will be going in the same direction as Italy.

NEWTON: You do expect hospitals to be overwhelmed?

You expect a lot of suffering in terms of people getting sick with this virus and having severe respiratory illness?

RIMOIN: You have to look at the global data. The global data tells us what happens when we don't have the right methods in place. The good news is we've had a little bit of time to prepare. We're probably 10 days behind Italy as we understand it.

So hospitals are ramping up. They are doing the best they can. But we do have major stretches, with PPE, personal protective equipment that is necessary. The masks, gowns, gloves, these things are in short supply here. The truth is it will depend on how well the social distancing methods now in place are working, how well the population sticks to it.

NEWTON: To that and something that is alarming, we interviewed a doctor, Steven Choi, the chief quality officer for Yale New Haven Health System, just outside of New York. That's a hot spot right now.

We asked him what keeps you up at night. He said the lack of social awareness in the community. He said this battle will be won or lost outside the hospitals. He says we have days to respond to this call for action, not weeks or months.

How, Doctor, do you take that plea, from someone who is on the front line at a hospital in the United States, trying to get through to some people in the United States that, as you said, it is business as usual in some communities?

RIMOIN: I think that the reality has not set in for the vast majority of the American public. What is different about the United States is we have not had to deal with these types of emergency situations, before.

I spent my career in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa, where epidemics have ravaged communities and people understand what it means to take action, that public health depends on the community.

So I agree strongly with that statement. The battle will be fought on the basis of how communities behave.

If people can take social distancing seriously, really limit the spread, we keep talking about flattening the curve, the only way to do that is with really good community engagement. This is no different from any other outbreak we've ever seen and it all rests with the community.

NEWTON: I'm sure it's still possible to flatten the curve, but do you believe that social distancing started too late to where we need it to get to be?

RIMOIN: It's never too late to do something, to make it better. We're at a critical point.

Could it have been better if we all started earlier, had the testing ramped up earlier and we knew what we were dealing with?

Absolutely. But there is still time to make it better than it would have been if we did nothing or a little. Every minute counts. That's the key thing that I think people have to understand. Every single minute counts. Let's do the best we can. Any social distancing that happens now will pay off two weeks from now.

So I think --


NEWTON: In terms of some of the problems that have happened in the United States, one is testing, I read in the Italian press there was a community in Italy of 3,000 people, small community, they decided to test everyone. They then isolated the people that were positive. In the next week they had zero cases.

Do you believe that, going forward, as testing ramps up, that will contribute?

RIMOIN: Absolutely. We can test and understand who has COVID-19, who doesn't. We can do the same thing on a larger scale. It's dependent on the testing available.

We know that it's not just about getting the test kits; that's just one thing but there are other pieces that we need. There are reagents that make the tests work. We need the swabs. There are shortages in many places. It's not just the tests. I think people need to understand that testing, while critical, is not just a magic kit that gets put in someone's hand, gives a result.

I think there are complicated steps pulling it all together. But I think that with good testing and social distancing, we will be much better off.

NEWTON: I have to go but there's one thing that is top of mind for many. They are wondering, if we get through this wave, people get infected, can you get re-infected or does that give you the key for what we want, immunity against the virus?

RIMOIN: What we know about this coronavirus is based on what we know from other coronaviruses.


RIMOIN: Others can provide protective immunity, at least for a bit, we don't know where we stand with COVID-19. We keep hearing of instances of reinfection, there are likely to be relapses when the virus has not completely cleared and comes back again.

This happened with SARS, in fact. This is not an unheard-of phenomenon. We are waiting to find out what it all means. That's the tough part of where we stand with the novel coronavirus.

NEWTON: It's really tough. The waiting, especially when experts like you say you are still waiting for the data. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

RIMOIN: My pleasure. NEWTON: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will answer even more of your question

at a third global CNN town hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears," Thursday 8:00 pm Eastern here in the United States. Friday at 4:00 am in Abu Dhabi and 8:00 am in Hong Kong.

The program will replay a few hours later at 4:00 in the afternoon in Hong Kong.

China is not out of the woods yet but they've learned valuable lessons from this virus, live in Beijing just ahead.




NEWTON: Now the number of coronavirus cases in China is dwindling. Good news for all. Authorities report only 34 new infections in the past day. Those are all people arriving from other countries. Even though their outbreak is far from over, the country holds valuable lessons for all of us. CNN's Steven Jiang is live in Beijing.

How about that, Steven, we were interviewing you a few weeks ago, talking about how incredible it was to see so many early millions of people shutting their homes in quarantine. Here we are.

What have we learned?

What incisive things do we know from the data and research that I know you've been tracking for so many weeks?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: That's right, Paula. These brutal efforts to contain virus here, is being watched around the world, given the dramatic turnaround in China. Better measures include a roundup of all suspected cases, tracking everyone's medical condition and travel history, using big data and high tech.

A lot of these measures have serious human rights and privacy concerns, that's why people are saying that they can not easily be replicated in other countries. But the fact is we are already seeing some of these policies are being adopted by governments around the world, at least in some form, including the U.S.


JIANG: We are talking about region wide lockdowns, mass closure of businesses, mass testing as well as obsessive health checks. So these things are worth noting. Analysts say that not all of China's failings are due to its authoritarian system. Same thing could be said for their successes, it's not due to their system.

When you get rid of the political prism, I think that what's happening in other countries around the world in other countries, you're seeing this mass mobilization, the extreme policies we've seen in the past during the wartime.

The global pandemic is indeed a war. One quote I've heard lately is very relevant here, Paula, that is wartime democracies are efficient, effective and fearsome -- Paula.

NEWTON: Something to think about, especially as Trump said we were on a wartime footing.

Going to the numbers, good news. Yet there is that boomerang effect, right. China must be worried about the travelers getting into the country, are infected.

JIANG: That's right. They were increasingly concerned about a new wave of infections coming from overseas. That's why officials in Beijing especially taking increasingly stringent and quarantine measures for new arrivals.

Anyone arriving from overseas is required to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a government facility at their own expense. So no more self quarantine at home. They're also cracking down on people who try to lie about their health condition or travel history in order to sneak in.

There's even indication that authorities will divert Beijing inbound international flights to nearby cities, to do screenings, before allowing healthy passengers to come into the city.

They're also advising Chinese living overseas not to rush back unless there's an urgent need. But that's a tall order as things get worse outside of China, where things are coming under control inside.

NEWTON: Yes, people want to come home. Steven Jiang, thank you as always.

Now with the pandemic pounding the American economy, lawmakers are rushing to provide relief. What's on the table ahead.

Plus, what impact of those stimulus plans having on global markets. We'll look at Asia reacting this hour.




NEWTON: Welcome back, U.S. lawmakers racing to approve $1 trillion stimulus plan to try to cushion this economy, obviously fragile. The Senate majority leaders say Republicans are getting close to a agreement.

Meantime Trump signed a law providing free testing for the virus and paid emergency leave. Still the economic predictions can only be described as grim. The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has warned that unemployment can skyrocket as high as 20 percent. It was lower than 4 percent. [00:30:16]

The leaders of the government would let that happen. Deutsche Bank warns U.S. gross domestic product could shrink by 13 percent in the second quarter.

And Goldman Sachs predicts U.S. growth will plunge 5 percent in the next quarter.

You know, complicating all of this, and it's going to give you pause, U.S. lawmakers' efforts to pass that stimulus package is being complicated by the virus itself. Two lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first members of Congress to do so.

Now other lawmakers who came in contact with them, of course, are taking steps to avoid spreading this entire virus through the U.S. Congress.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So there are four members saying that they're going to do self-quarantine, including Steve Scalise, who is No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives. And there's probably more being added to that list as we speak, because the attending physician in the House sent a note to all colleagues, all members, saying that they are mapping out where these members were. They are finding out who they were close to and making the calls. Obviously, fellow members and also staff members.

And the other thing they're doing is working with the architect of the Capitol to scrub down the areas of the Capitol where these members were.


NEWTON: Peter Mathews joins me now from Los Angeles. He's a political analyst and professor of political silence at Cypress University. And unfortunately, I hate to be blunt, we started with the medical and health crisis, a pandemic. We are now in the depths, the beginning, in fact, of a very deep economic crisis, and now we have a political crisis. This is serious, the fact that two of them tested positive, isn't it?

PETER MATHEWS, POLITICAL ANALYST/PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, CYPRESS UNIVERSITY: It's amazingly down to the depths of the deep. We cannot despair, though. We still have to bring the country back.

But it is pretty serious right now, with all three of those things hitting at once. And the economy is just -- it's going to end up with the Great Depression if we don't watch it and get this stimulus package through. Almost a trillion dollars the president was asking for. Hopefully, they'll extend it and the House will actually vote for that, for getting that money to people's hands. It has to go to the working people of America. The checks have to go right to them so they can go out there and spend it and also alleviate they've had -- they've got. NEWTON: But to that point, Peter, the only moments of bipartisanship

we have seen in years could now be sabotaged by this virus going through Congress. I mean, isn't this extraordinary in terms of the implications of needing these members there to vote, and yet wondering how you get it done if, really, no one should go back to Congress tomorrow, likely, from a medical point of view.

MATHEWS: This could be the first time in history where it had a direct impact on policy based on the condition of the actual members of Congress. And it's so ironic given what's going on, and it's very dangerous, and they're actually looking into maybe having remote voting. But they'd have to change House rules for that. It has to be done soon. They've got to work something out, because the votes have to be taken so these packages can be passed and save the country from disaster, and a lot of people's deaths, as well.

NEWTON: Peter, is that possible? Can they -- can they change the rules and get this done, even if they have to do it remotely, from wherever they're quarantining in D.C.?

MATHEWS: They will have to change the rules, if they can do that, so it works. But they can do it quickly if need be, and they can do it remotely. The whole idea is to get it done. And it's a real big challenge, obviously, because so many people are being infected. Over 8,500 people have been infected; 140 have died already. And it's getting -- it's skyrocketing every day.

And we should look at South Koreans and see how they handle it, as well. They had rather rapid, quick testing early on, 10,000 people a day. And they got the whole thing under control by putting people into, you know, seclusion, social distance, other kinds of strict measure. That was done earlier. And South Korea now had a leveling off of their infection rate. It's actually starting to decrease. It's decreasing already. So we have to look at other countries, as well; learn from them.

NEWTON: And in terms of stimulus and its going through, I mean, unfortunately for the United States, they're shouldering a lot of this, because the entire global economy is waiting to see what happens with their stimulus in order to carry the day. I mean, do you worry that this is really going to destabilize things?

I guess what I worry about is that in the next eight hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, you're going to have this virus derail, perhaps, something that the entire world is waiting to see.

MATHEWS: The world really is, because America is the largest engine. It's the largest economy in the history of humankind, and it's a driving force, and the world is waiting to see if we can get it together again in this moment of terrible crisis.

And members of the Senate and the House have to do this somehow or the other, get it passed. And the president is ready to sign it and get the money in people's hands so they can start stimulating the economy again and taking care of their own bills. People will be on the street otherwise. People can't pay their rent right now, because they've been laid off, hours have been cut back. Many restaurants have closed.


It has to be done, though, Paula. It really has to be done.

NEWTON: And you're confident that that rule change can happen. And you think they will find a way, infected or not?

MATHEWS: I do believe they will, because they really have to do that. And it's so important that both houses get it together and get this voting done right away. And not delaying one minute. Every time they delay one hour, even, hundreds more people are getting infected and are dying. And the economy could collapse. I mean, you're looking at the great possibility of a 20 percent employment rate if this keeps going, and that will be the level of the Great Depression, that kind of unemployment. And the thing that brought us out of the Great Depression was stimulus. A federal program like the New Deal right now.

NEWTON: Yes, a lot on the line there. Peter Mathews, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

MATHEWS: My pleasure. Thank you.

NEWTON: OK. The New York Stock Exchange says it will temporarily close its trading floor after two people there tested positive for the disease.

Now, the president says the move will not force the markets to shut down. But starting Monday, the exchange will only trade electronically.

Now, in the coming hours, U.S. stocks are expected, yes, to stop drop again. You see there by about -- futures down about four percent. All of them, all three indices in the red.

Markets close sharply lower, meantime, Wednesday, despite the stimulus proposal from Washington. The Dow fell more than 6 percent and has now erased almost all of the gains it made up under the Trump administration.

Stock markets in Asia are also struggling to shake off coronavirus concerns. Journalist Kaori Enjoji joins me now from Tokyo. It must be tough in Asia to try and digest all of this information as you see the level of cases rising, and as there's still a lot of question about the stimulus package in the United States.

KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Absolutely. And the markets -- the equity market continues to be very, very nervous. And as you saw there, with the Dow's future down now, down now by 900 points, there's nervousness across the board yet again.

This is despite unprecedented coordinated action by the central banks. We had the Fed earlier on this week, on Sunday, and then a chorus of similar moves by other central bankers. And today the Australian Central Bank, the RBA, also cut interest rates and moved into quantitative easing.

The Bank of Japan is doing its part, as well. They're offering to buy one trillion yen worth of bonds. Because there was a -- there was a scare earlier on in this week, when yields started to move up, because Japan is a heavily, heavily indebted country. Their debt to GDP ratio is over 200 percent, the highest among industrialized nations.

So any whiff that yields on government bonds are moving higher sends jitters throughout the capital markets. So they're trying to respond to that. Still, it's not doing enough to turn around sentiments on the equity market. I think people are nervous as to what the government is going to do from today onwards, whether or not they're going to extend the school closures. Whether they're going to extend the requests for people to stay home.

Right now, there's no lockdown in place in Japan. And as schools are -- tend to be closed now for the spring holidays, the question is what the government is going to advise people to do in the weeks going forward, Paula.

NEWTON: Right. Kaori Enjoji for us from Tokyo with that update. Appreciate it.

Now, like many countries right around the world, Iran is banning all nonessential travel. But another factor is complicating efforts to contain the pandemic.

Plus, sounding the alarm to protect millions of refugees as the coronavirus spreads throughout the world. Where refugees are most at risk. Next.



NEWTON: OK, Iran has confirmed 147 new deaths from the coronavirus. The death toll there is now at more than 1,100. There are more than 17,000 cases in Iran. That's what's reported. And as Fred Pleitgen tells us, huge shortages of medical supplies are complicating the efforts to fight this virus.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The holiday season in Iran more somber than many here have ever experienced. Gearing up for what are usually massive Persian new year celebrations.

Only few venture out for the traditional nighttime fire festival.

"Unlike in normal times, people just go out with their family members. And it's not like previous years when everybody could feel assured. Groups of people have decreased significantly," this man says.

And he adds, "Every year was pretty busy. But this year it has not been very busy due to coronavirus." Friday prayers have already been canceled for the third straight week,

and Iran remains in the grip of the novel coronavirus, with large numbers of new infections and a significantly rising death toll every day.

Iran's supreme leader has banned all but essential travel throughout the country, and those that do attempt to drive to other parts of Iran get their temperatures taken at checkpoints like this one outside the coronavirus hot spot Qom, south of Tehran.

"Among the passengers, we refer those with a high fever to the emergency network, which is based here. And after final diagnosis, they will be referred to hospital," the head of Iran's Red Crescent says.

The government says it's escalating its response to the outbreak, showing new field hospitals like this one in southern Iran.

And trying to keep people from venturing out onto the streets unnecessarily, while President Rouhani tries to assure the population that their basic needs will be met.

"As you can see today in our shops and supermarkets, there's everything there. Our stocks are full. Our stocks of basic goods are full, and everything is available," he says.

But Iran acknowledges it faces a severe shortage of medical supplies, blaming U.S.-led sanctions and asking the international community for help, while others are helping themselves. In this public effort in Birjand in eastern Iran, they're making medical face masks for nurses dealing with an onslaught of new coronavirus cases.

As this country, already hit hard by sanctions, struggles to cope with a major medical emergency that will have a big impact on its most important holiday of the year.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


NEWTON: The Trump administration wants to use the coronavirus outbreak to push through some of its toughest immigration restrictions. President Trump confirms he's looking to block asylum seekers from entering the United States from Mexico as an way to curb the spread of the virus. The plan may also include returning illegal migrants without due process.

But Mexico says it has not received a formal request from the United States about the return of migrants.

Now, as world leaders work to prevent migrants and refugees from crossing their borders, the Norwegian Refugee Council was sounding the alarm, warning if action is not taken, the coronavirus will decimate refugee communities.

The council says more than 70 million displaced people around the world right now, and more than 29 million of them are refugees. It warns once the virus reaches parts of Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela, where health systems have collapsed, there will be mass casualties.

And it is urging world leaders to do their part, saying, "Coronavirus doesn't discriminate or play politics, and neither should the world when it comes to supporting those most at risk of contracting this illness."

Mohamad Zaman joins me now. He's a professor of biomedical engineering and international health at Boston University.

I mean, we cover it here so much on CNN. But let's set the scene, right?


It's crowded conditions. No water. No private bathrooms. At this point in time, in a lot of these refugee camps, the weather is also miserable.

No primary health care. The coronavirus hits. And there's no testing. There's no hope. You can't self-isolate. You can't go to the hospital. This is what can happen, right?

MUHAMMAD ZAMAN, PROFESSOR OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AND INTERNATIONAL HEALTH, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: That's right, Paula. I think there's every reason to assume that the challenging conditions that we are seeing sort of in our neighborhoods here in the U.S. and elsewhere are going to be much worse in refugee camps.

I think the fact that there is an environment where conditions are cramped. There's often not enough clean water.

The two main aspects of the problem that are being highlighted as potential solutions are a mitigation strategy -- extensive handwashing and social or perhaps physical isolation -- these are not viable solutions.

And then on top of this, I think, there is very little coverage of the challenges in these places. And of course, testing is going to be a challenge.

I want to highlight one more thing. Oftentimes, it is not very easy for refugees to just go to a health facility to get tested. There's tremendous amount of xenophobia that these communities face. Traveling to a health facility may mean exposing themselves to physical, emotional, mental harm. And expecting them to sort of have to make that journey which may, in some cases, cost them is quite, I think, unreasonable.

So I think we are looking at a challenge. The data isn't there. And to assume that somehow these communities have not been exposed, I think, would be naive. We just don't have any data on that.

NEWTON: Yes. And we're unlikely to have data for so time. And I want to highlight one specific situation that's going on now in

Syria in Idlib. Arwa Damon has covered what is going on there. That's internally displaced people. And then some people have gotten across the border into Turkey.

You know, when you and I visit refugee camps, we know that sometimes they can become like villages. And so in some of those places, perhaps some modicum of sanitation, some information, and can kind of do something to, you know, really do something about any, you know, spread of the virus.

When you think about the U.N. has already warned us about the humanitarian catastrophe already going on right now, what happens if coronavirus hits through those vulnerable places in Syria and on the border with Turkey?

ZAMAN: I think -- I think you raise a very important point here, Paula, not just in Syria alone, but there are millions of IDPs in Yemen and a war that has been going on for several years now, where the health infrastructure has been decimated, where the capacity to really reach a health facility is completely nonexistent.

I think in Syria and Idlib, and in Yemen and elsewhere, we are looking at a challenge that is going to be tremendously hard to contain for these vulnerable groups.

I think there is one other thing that we often ignore, and that is we often talk about people with underlying health conditions here in the United States, whether it is New York or Boston. People in these refugee communities also have the same underlying health conditions -- cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension -- and a whole lot more challenges.

So I think we are really looking at a very potentially dangerous situation that really can be decimated -- I mean that can decimate these communities.

NEWTON: Yes, and I will point out, as well, that in a lot of these communities, refugee communities, the population, yes, they are young, and yet they are so vulnerable, because they are already suffering from respiratory tract infections just from being in the camp in the first place. And that will be something that, hopefully, health professionals around the world will be looking out for.

I want to come to a place, though, where we can -- There are so many, unfortunately, that we can list. I've spent the last seven or eight years traveling to Venezuela quite often. I've been to many of their hospitals. And I can tell you, they already didn't have anything. Never mind medicine, they didn't have running water. They didn't have electricity. They didn't have plastic. They didn't have anything at all to even protect themselves.

And that goes from every corner and crevice of the healthcare system. Didn't matter if it was a hospital or primary care.

In a situation like that where you can actually have people, they've crossed the border into Colombia, a lot of them. The borders are closed right now, but they will cross again. What happens if you do get coronavirus in a community like that?

ZAMAN: I think the likelihood of it spreading rapidly in the community is very, very high. Not just for the reasons that you mentioned, that there is no health care, but also because of people interacting with each other.

I think it is also reasonable to assume that not everybody is getting the information that is necessary themselves. And even if they did, you can imagine the tremendous frustration to tell people who do not have any access to any clean water, or any water whatsoever, to tell them to wash their hands regularly. I mean, that just sounds absurd in a place where their struggle for survival is so acute.


NEWTON: At this point what do you think the U.N. or any other global network could do to mobilize?

ZAMAN: I think there are several things. And I think one has to recognize that U.N. alone will not be able to do everything. I think we have to look at all possible avenues. Regional sort of organizations, national governments, public health agencies that are interested in sort of protecting the health of vulnerable communities. I think U.N. is one of those agencies, but certainly, the problem is bigger than a single agency. I think that's the first thing.

I think we also have to recognize that we have to build trust with the local communities. You can't send in people who don't even speak the language, who have a history of sort of using disproportionate force and are going to really make people very scared and very sort of worried about their health and safety.

And I think we have to think of a multi-pronged approach that really builds on local communities, that looks at national government. They have to be involved. And international, multilateral support system.

The most important one right now is to really bring this issue front and center. The fact that what you just said is actually extremely frustrating, that people are not talking about it. And there's some kind of a hyper nationalism that exists, where each country is only going to look for its own citizens in a place where people are stateless and voiceless and have no political agency. Who's going to take care of them?

NEWTON: You raise such good points. And yet so troubling, really, to think about. As you said, it seems to have really descended into every country for itself.

Professor Zaman, thanks so much for bringing these issues to light.

ZAMAN: Thank you very much.

NEWTON: OK. People around the world are trying to keep themselves busy while on lockdown, or quarantine. How far a little good can go. You'll want to see this.





NEWTON: That is soul-affirming right there. Beautiful rendition of the ballad "Danny Boy." The violinist, meantime, and her brother, went to visit their parents at a retirement community in the southern U.S. that's closed to the public right now. That's why they're on that balcony.

They stood beneath that balcony while their father sang the serenade with his wife by her side. So cute.

Simple acts of kindness, of course, we all know can make a difference. They should make a difference right now. Well, you've been told to keep a distance from each other to slow the virus. There are other ways to connect. CNN's Martin Savidge shows us more of the good that is happening right now.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These may feel like dark days, with headlines of contagion, fear, reporting. Random acts of corona kindness are everywhere.

Like a front porch in Columbus, Ohio, where a young brother and sister put on a concert for a 78-year-old neighbor who had shut herself off from the virus and the world. Dressed in their best, the 6- and 9- year-old delighted their audience of one.



SAVIDGE: In Italy where so many had died, and so many more are isolated, they sing to each other from balconies. At night, voices echo through the streets, with canine accompaniment.

In Spain, where they're also suffering, to say thank you to doctors and nurses battling to save lives, people step outside and applaud everywhere.

In Houston, at Irma's Southwest Restaurant, now ordered closed, a couple left something behind, a $9,400 tip. "To pay your guys over the next few weeks," the anonymous note said.

JANET MONTEZ, ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER, IRMA'S SOUTHWEST: This is beyond. I mean, I don't even have words for it. I just really don't.

LOUIS GALVAN, OWNER, IRMA'S SOUTHWEST: We have to let our staff know that we may be off the work for 15 to 30 days, depending on how long that is. But the gift we got today should help soften the blow.

SAVIDGE: At a Cleveland watering hole, also closing, a customer added a little something extra to his less than $30 bill: $2,500 for the staff.

When the NBA stopped the games, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star Kevin Love started thinking about the arena staff without work. He donated $100,000 from his foundation to them, hoping others would follow his lead in their towns. They did.

Teachers may not be rich like athletes, but they have a wealth of knowledge, and on Facebook many are sharing it to help answer questions and help others learn.

Elsewhere, the elderly are on the minds of many. People offer to grocery shop for those who cannot or may not want to leave their homes.

Stores have begun allowing older customers their own exclusive shopping hours to limit exposure to crowds.

And when coronavirus concerns prevented her from going into a nursing home to show her grandfather something, a young woman stood at his window, simply pointing to the engagement ring.

The virus, forcing us apart, seems also to be bringing us together, closer than we've been in a long while.

Martin Savidge. CNN.


NEWTON: Thank you, Mr. Savidge. We needed that.

And thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula newton. More news after a quick break.