Return to Transcripts main page


Is Italy's Outbreak a Preview for America?; Number of Dead in Spain Exceeds 4,000; Japan Braces for Economic Impact of Postponed Olympics; Doctors Describe Apocalyptic Scenes at New York Hospital; The World Pays Tribute to Health Care Workers. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 04:30   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: So the United States has overtaken China with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world. They are now well over 82,000 infected people in the U.S. A staggering 15,000 new cases were confirmed just on Thursday. And it's worth noticing that the U.S. has just 1/4 of the population of China.

Also globally the virus has spread rapidly in recent weeks. Johns Hopkins University NOW reports more than half a million infections in almost every corner of the world and more than 24,000 people have died.

In hard-hit Italy meanwhile hospitals are overwhelmed by the crushing surge of infected patients. It could be a preview of what's in store for America's virus hotspots and the ethical dilemma doctors may soon have to face.

Delia Gallagher has more.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In some of northern Italy's cemeteries there's no space left for the dead killed by the coronavirus. Hospitals are crumbling under the sheer number of patients and U.S. experts warn if this disease could cripple Italy's strong health care system, the U.S. could be next.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It essentially got out of hand and became difficult for them, as good as they are, and they're very good, to be able to contain it in a way that is contact tracing, all that kind of thing. It was more mitigation. How do we deal with what we have? They're in a very difficult position.

GALLAGHER: In this exclusive footage given to CNN, doctors show us operating rooms in a hospital in northern Italy turned into makeshift intensive care units. Barely conscious patients. Doctors and nurses pushed to the brink. They now have to choose who will live and who will die. Some medics have described it as war time triage.


Patients with the highest chance of survival get priority, and it's doctors, nurses, and emergency workers who are exposed to the greatest risks. At least 39 medical professionals have died in Italy since the crisis.

DR. ANGELO PAN, HEAD OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE, CREMONA HOSPITAL: Even a smaller error can give you the infection and then you have to hope not to get any serious problem.

GALLAGHER: It's a stark picture for those in the U.S. now fighting the disease. America's doctors are already planning for the ethical challenges they will soon face.

In Italy exhausted doctors struggle physically and mentally from the strain they hope other countries will learn from them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We're not even counting the dead anymore. Look at the news that's coming out of Italy and take note of what the situation really is like.

GALLAGHER: A dire situation and a warning for the world.

Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.


CURNOW: Thanks, Delia.

Now Spain is another country overwhelmed by the coronavirus. The number of dead there has exceeded 4,000 with more than 56,000 people infected. But Thursday's increase in the death toll was actually much lower than Wednesday's, which is lending a little bit of hope.

Meanwhile, these pictures have come into CNN. It looks like a hospital ward, doesn't it, yes? But in normal times this is a huge Madrid conference center adapted for the country's new reality.

So let's go over to Madrid now. Al Goodman joins us.

Hi, Al. The country's health minister says the latest data on the virus suggests phase of stabilization. Are you feeling that on the ground? And that is a little bit of good news, isn't it?

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: It is, Robyn. If we just go back to the beginning of the week, Spanish officials may have been a little overly optimistic saying that the peak of the curve could be coming within days. One of them even said this week, but that hasn't happened. So now they're saying that it's coming soon. They're confident it's coming soon and the figures do seem to back them up.

The fatality figure you just mentioned, the latest increase was a 19 percent increase but the previous day that was down from 27 percent. And for those going into the intensive care ward, the latest increase was 16 percent down from 20 percent a day earlier. So some encouraging information there but there have been ups and downs. For instance, on the medical equipment that Spain is trying to desperately get into testing kits, the government announcing Thursday they had bought a series of kits, a lot of them, from a Spanish company that imported them from China.

It had the European Union quality symbol on it. But Spain following protocol tested it in their national reference lab and it didn't work. It didn't give the data that would tell you whether you have coronavirus or not in enough cases so that had to be discarded. That's one of the setbacks. Meantime, they are expecting $500 million worth of new testing equipment, masks, gloves coming in over the following weeks.

Meantime, briefly, there's been just a terrible human toll here, especially in senior citizens homes. Most of the patients who have died are over 70. Officials say most of them in hospital. But several hundred have been in senior citizen homes including two dozen in just one home here. So we are seeing now Spaniards, including a friend of mine who on Thursday went with their family to get their mother, elderly, out of one of these senior citizen residences to bring her back home because she doesn't have the virus. They don't want her to catch it in one of these homes.

Back to you, Robyn.

CURNOW: A real concern for pensioners all over the world. And families as well.

Al Goodman, thanks. Good to see you, my friend, live from Madrid. Thank you.

So Japan is preparing itself for the economic impact of delaying the Olympics over the coronavirus pandemic. By some estimates it could wind up costing tens of billions of U.S. dollars as Will Ripley now reports -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No visit to Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood is complete without a ride on a rickshaw, but this year almost no one's riding.

(on camera): This is a lot of empty rickshaws here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We have to fight like -- you know, like a coronavirus.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Finding customers is like fighting over scraps for rickshaw drivers like Yoshi Furuya (PH), and now that Tokyo 2020 is postponed at least until next year the road ahead is looking long and lonely.

Japan's tourism industry is bracing for an economic bloodbath. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars are on the line.

(On camera): When you combine postponing the Olympics, and the coronavirus outbreak, can you put a price tag on how much that's going to cost Japan?

SAYURI SHRAISHI, KEIO UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: It's likely that the loss will be around $36 billion U.S.

RIPLEY: $36 billion U.S.?

SHRAISHI: The damage is quite big.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Keio University professor, Sayuri Shraishi, says that astronomical cost includes cancellation and maintenance fees for more than three dozen Olympic venues, compensations for thousands who's already purchased condos in the Olympic Athlete's Village, billions in broadcasting rights and prepaid advertising.


SHRAISHI: If we do it next year we don't know how successful it's -- 2000 all this will be.

RIPLEY: More than four million tickets are already sold, some seats costing up to $3,000.

(On camera): $800 for tickets?



(voice-over): Demand was so high, ticket holders like Kenji Fuma had to enter a lottery. He wonders if his luck has run out.

(on camera): Has anyone told you what's going to happen with your tickets?

FUMA: Nothing has happened yet. So even government didn't send any emails and didn't make an announcement. So we're just waiting for their next step.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Fans are not the only ones waiting. Olympic organizers need to sort out a mindboggling jigsaw puzzle, resolving scheduling conflicts with other major sporting events, rescheduling Olympic qualifiers.

Kaori Yamaguchi is a 1988 Olympic judo bronze medalist and a member of Japan's Olympic Committee. She knows postponement has a huge impact on athletes.

"If the games are delayed by a year, their training schedule drastically changes," she says. "But I think the athletes can handle it."

Yamaguchi says this is a marathon, not a sprint. The coronavirus crisis will end. The Olympics will go on. Japan will have its moment in the global spotlight.

Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CURNOW: Coming up next, we hear from doctors at one New York hospital. We'll take you inside to see what health care workers are facing as they struggle to cope with the surge of coronavirus patients. That's next.


CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow. So while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that one hospital there is holding its own, we are hearing unsettling reports about concerning conditions inside other hospitals in the New York area.


Doctors and nurses say they are living on the edge right now. Brian Todd has their story and more from the doctors you heard from earlier as well.


DR. COLLEEN SMITH, EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR, ELMHURST HOSPITAL: All the people that you see, they all have COVID.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Colleen Smith says she doesn't care if she gets in trouble for taking this footage and sharing it with the media. Smith is an ER doctor at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, one of the hardest hit facilities treating coronavirus patients in New York City. The video she took, which she sent to the "New York Times" shows an overloaded emergency room. Patients lining up outside and a refrigerator truck which she says the hospital had to get to store the bodies of patients who died.

SMITH: I don't have the support that I need and even just the materials that I need physically to take care of my patients, and it's America. And we're supposed to be a first world country.

TODD: Smith told "The Times" on a regular day prior to the outbreak her ER would see about 200 people. Now it's about twice that. She filmed a new shipment of ventilators Elmhurst had just received from another hospital.

SMITH: Five. Five ventilators, that's all I got.

TODD: Staffers at Elmhurst described the scenes at that hospital to "The Times" as apocalyptic and said calls over a loud speaker of, quote, "team 700," the code for when a patient is in danger of dying come several times on each shift.

CNN has reached out to Elmhurst Hospital for a response to Dr. Smith's video and comments. The hospital has not replied but in a previous statement they said they are working hard to meet demand but caregivers at other New York area hospitals are also worried and are talking about it.

Dr. Meredith Case, an internal medicine resident that Columbia's Presbyterian Medical Center, tweeted, "Today was the worst day anyone has ever seen. But tomorrow will be worse. We are on the precipice of rationing."

Dr. Susannah Hills, a head and neck surgeon at the same hospital, tells CNN she believes it's inevitable she is going to be exposed to coronavirus.

DR. SUSANNAH HILLS, HEAD AND NECK SURGEON, COLUMBIA PRESBYTERIAN MEDICAL CENTER: In my department the procedures that we do are procedures that tend to aerosolize the virus or emit particles into the air, and that's particularly high risk for exposure.

TODD: Some hospital staffers seem on the verge of breaking. A nurse at a Long Island hospital who treated coronavirus patients posted on social media, "I cried in the bathroom on my break. I cried the entire ride home."

SMITH: We don't have the tools that we need in the emergency department and in the hospital to take care of them and -- and it's really hard.

TODD (on camera): Another doctor, a pulmonary specialist at a prominent Boston hospital, says she's scared right now to share the same air in a room with a coronavirus patient. She says she comes in, does only what she needs to do and then leaves the room. She says she can't even spend a few moments reassuring those patients, which leads to the overwhelming numbers of people feeling isolated, patients and doctors alike.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CURNOW: Now as part of CNN's coronavirus town hall, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Bill Gates. He's calling the pandemic a nightmare scenario.


BILL GATES, CO-CHAIRMAN, BILL AND MELISSA GATES FOUNDATION: Well, this is a terrible pandemic because it spreads human to human in a respiratory way. You can infect somebody when you're still fairly healthy, and there are many things like Ebola that aren't like that. You're, you know, flat on your back before you become significantly infectious.

So this is kind of a nightmare scenario that in 2015 I gave a Shattuck lecture, I wrote an article for the "New England Journal of Medicine" and talked about how we needed to invest in new platforms so that we could quickly make diagnostics, make drugs, and make vaccines to stop an epidemic before it got to large numbers.


CURNOW: And you can always go to our Web site to find more information about the coronavirus and all that Bill Gates has been talking about, also like the mixed signals coming out of Russia. Does it have the spread of the virus under control there? Head to for that story.

Time for a short break now. When we return, honoring those who answer the call to duty. How people around the world are celebrating heroes backing the coronavirus pandemic.



CURNOW: So this is the scene across London a few hours ago as the United Kingdom came out into the streets to honor the national health service workers who are saving lives in hospitals around the country.

Now those were actually just residents of one street in London. Doctors and nurses across the world are overworked and overwhelmed and overstretched. So no doubt they are very relieved to be getting that kind of support, but people around the globe are also trying to find other ways to say thank you as Issa Soares now reports.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In lockdown, isolation or in quarantine the world is uniting briefly opening their windows and doors and honoring their health care heroes. The hundreds and thousands of men and women around the world putting their health and their lives on the line for all of us. They do it out of duty or calling or passion. But still, the world applauds.

The tributes have been global from Spain, where the medical staff came out to welcome the recognition, to Italy, France, the United States, and right around the world.

These are some of the faces of our health care heroes. The soldiers on the frontlines. And they have the physical and emotional scars to show for it. Their faces exhausted and bruised for wearing tight protective masks for hours on end. But the scars have all go deeper.


Ruben Herrera (PH) is an emergency room nurse from Spain and tells me he hasn't seen anything like this in his 14 years in the job.

RUBEN HERRERA, EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) At this hour, really, I feel as if my chest is about to explode. I've spent most of my evening injecting patients in wheelchairs because there are no free beds available, not even to put out in the corridors.

SOARES: Across Italy medical staff say conditions remain dire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) We're working in a state of very high stress and tension. Psychological tension has gone through the roof. Unfortunately we can't contain the situation in Lombardy. There's a high level of contagion and we're not even counting the dead anymore. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) All the doctors and

nurses have been selected to give a hand in a situation that is something like a movie. If you didn't see this you wouldn't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) It's hard above all to see people who are sick and don't have family close to them in this moment.

SOARES: And here in the U.K. experts say the peak could still be weeks away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to rest (INAUDIBLE), we still go in. It's scary. But we're still showing up for work.

SOARES: So to slow down the virus they're calling on all of us to do more than just clap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) I'm Francesco, and I want to say this. I'm getting applause when they see me because they know I'm an ICU nurse. That doesn't make sense. They way to thank us nurses is by staying at home.

SOARES: Isa Soares, CNN, London.


CURNOW: So you can find out how you can help feed the hungry, protect health professionals, aid refugees and support service workers during this pandemic, please do go to

So that's the show for now. I will be back, though, with another hour of CNN NEWSROOM just ahead. Stay with us.