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L.A. County Extends Order; Interview With Mayor Libby Schaaf (D-CA); Damning Portrait Of White House Response. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 11, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. hitting somber milestones today with the death toll surpassing 20,000 people. That puts the United States at more reported deaths from this virus than any country in the world. One death in this country to 20,000 death in just 42 days.

Also today, for the first time in American history, every state in U.S. territory is under a federal disaster declaration at the same time. The number of people reportedly now sick with the Coronavirus, more than 520,000 nationwide.

And this grim view from an island just off New York City this week. City workers digging large trenches and burying coffins. Many of those people dead of the Coronavirus and either without families or unclaimed by next of kin. The city says normally 25 people a week are buried this way. But these days, it's around 25 people every day.

Overseas this weekend, airline flight attendants in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom grounded for the time being. They're volunteering in large numbers to work in over-burdened hospitals. They say it's a perfect transition. Most flight attendants do have some medical training and security clearances.

And Pope Francis, on this night before Easter, speaking inside what would normally be a crowded St. Peters' Basilica. He urged the Catholic faithful to not be afraid and he prayed for the dozens of priests who have died in the Coronavirus pandemic.

Back here in the United States, this just in to CNN, the state of New Mexico has now banned mass gatherings at houses of worship, that includes for Easter Sunday church services. New Mexico's governor tweeting just now, quote, "The risk is simply too great. Please, you must stay home."

That's begin our coverage this hour in California, where the state has extended its stay-at-home order through May 15th. The (ph) people comply. The state's health secretary now says the peak of cases may not be as high as previously expected. As of this hour, California has more than 21,000 confirmed cases and just over 600 deaths. But a Los Angeles county health officials, they are warning Californians must abide by social distancing to beat the threat from the virus.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Los Angeles for us. He's joining us now live. The L.A. mayor, Paul, is putting additional measures in place to help flatten the so-called curve. What more can you tell us?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mayor Garcetti is keeping on the pressure. First off, he has said that people who go to essential businesses, such as grocery stores, must wear a face covering. And, in turn, the workers at those stores must wear some sort of face covering or mask.

And then, tomorrow, Easter Sunday, normally in Los Angeles, you would see these gatherings in parks and you would see people holding picnics, Easter egg hunts and the like. He has banned those gatherings in L.A. parks. T That also extends to churches. There will be no grand celebration of in the downtown cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Normally, 10,000 people would be spread out over three services. But, tomorrow, all you'll see in that church is a pianist, a canter and the archbishop, himself, Jose Gomez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAAC CUEVAS, DIRECTOR, IMMIGRANTS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS FOR THE L.A. ARCHDIOCESE: Well, the archbishop has made it a point to continue being our spiritual leader here in the -- in the city. And he hasn't missed a beat and people really appreciate him for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we should note that anybody around the country can tune in on Sunday if you feel like you want to join (ph) us.

CUEVAS: Anybody around the world who's ever come by Los Angeles or is dreaming about the day that they want to visit Los Angeles can start by checking out mass with archbishop Gomez online.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And also here in California or here in Los Angeles County, they are extending that deadline to May 15th for the social distancing. Back to you now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Paul Vercammen in L.A. for us.

The California Governor Gavin Newsom says the state has seen a drop in the number of ICU patients, but warned against reading too much into one data point. Health officials there are heeding that advice, still bracing for the worst-case scenario. They must be cautious right now.

CNN's Stephanie Elam takes us inside one hospital that's taking unprecedented measures.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing in what is now known as the Los Angeles Surge Hospital.

[20:05:01]

ELAM: This critical care unit here, in the heart of Los Angeles, is going to start taking on patients that are Coronavirus positive. This is not going to be a normal hospital, in that it won't have an E.R. These will be patients transferred from other hospitals, and then brought here to treat them solely for Coronavirus.

You can see they've got their ventilator set up and they have these rooms. Some of them are private. Some of them are not. Because these are people who are all fighting the same battle. This is one of the 11 hospitals opening throughout the state of California before the expected peek.

What we've seen in a lot of the hospitals is setting up of negative pressure rooms. This is a place where we know the virus cannot get out. And this could be a place where they would put patients who really are in the biggest fight for their lives.

One of the things they're able to do is treat those patients together. And that means setting up beds to cohort them, because they're all suffering from the same illness. All the supplies they need will be right here in this one area.

At full capacity, this Surge Hospital will have 266 beds available. It's been a public-private partnership. So, that means the state of California, the county of Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health working to open up this hospital. PPE, ventilators, all of the equipment that is necessary that we've heard has been hard for these hospitals to get, it'll be up to the state of California to make sure that they have what they need.

And looking at which hospitals in the area need to transfer patients out because they may be at capacity. L.A. County will step in and figure out where patients need to be transferred out to make sure that there's more beds freed up in those areas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Stephanie Elam reporting for us. Thanks for that report.

The Los Angeles County in that area. But I want to move further north right now to the Bay area. I want to check in with the mayor of Oakland, California, Libby Schaaf. Mayor Schaaf, thanks so much for joining us. So, what's the situation in Oakland like right now?

MAYOR LIBBY SCHAAF (D), OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA: Well, you know, we are cautiously optimistic that our early actions to employ social distancing and shelter in place is flattening the curve. Now, we are not letting up on our vigilance. We are continuing to move our most vulnerable into isolation hospitals. We're working with the governor to move folks into FEMA-secured trailers. And then, we are calling on the generosity of our residents who have really shown up with incredible food delivery, donations to our relief fund. Everything from $5.00 from little kids to Steph and Iesha Curry that have helped keep the World Kitchen here to deliver 600,000 meals to kids that normally rely on school for their meals as well as our homeless service providers.

BLITZER: Yes, that's so important. Without school, a lot of these kids are not going it get the food, the meals, the nutritious meals that they deserve and that's so important that that is happening right now. I know the schools are closed.

We've seen, Mayor, a sharp disparity among the rate of infections for minorities. They've been much higher in many cities across the country. Are you seeing that same pattern emerge in Oakland?

SCHAAF: Well, honestly, racial disparities in COVID deaths did not surprise us here in Oakland, California. We have long had a department of race inequity that is really trying to close those types of disparities.

And while we are still waiting for better data that is disaggregated by race, we know that all of the risk factors for COVID, like asthma and diabetes and heart and lung disease, are in far higher rates in our African-American communities. So, this is not a surprise for us, but we're encouraged that it is getting national attention.

BLITZER: Yes, it should be getting a lot more national attention, indeed. Because lessons have to be learned. We've got to fix this problem in this country.

You announced, Mayor, that you're closing, what, 74 miles of streets in Oakland to cars to give walkers, runners, cyclists more room to exercise, for example. That program launches today. What are you hoping to achieve with it and are there concerns that people will congregate?

SCHAAF: Well, this is to actually relieve some of the congregating that we have been seeing in our parks. We have beautiful weather here and then people do have to go on necessary errands. They have to walk their dogs. And we were seeing people actually walking out into streets to avoid passing each other on sidewalks. We were seeing overcrowding in our parks.

And so, by closing just to through traffic, not emergency vehicles or local traffic, but to through traffic, closing off these roads that are already our bicycle routes.

[20:10:02]

SCHAAF: We are actually giving people room to social distance. It's also a reminder to people, we're calling it the slow streets movement, that people need to drive slowly. We cannot afford car accidents. Our healthcare system cannot receive any further stresses than what it has right now.

BLITZER: One quick question before I let you go, Mayor. What about schools in Oakland? How long are they going to be closed for?

SCHAAF: You know, they will be closed for the rest of the school year. I'm very aware of that, because I have two school kids at home myself. But I really want to commend folks like the Curries, Chef Andres who came here when we had the Grand Princess disembark in Oakland. One of the wonderful aftermaths of that story is the World Central Kitchen is now helping feed our school children, while they are trying to engage in distance learning. But we are not going to have kids back in school until the fall.

BLITZER: Yes, let's thank Chef Andres and Steph Curry for all the important and good work that they are doing. We're grateful to them. Mayor Schaaf, thanks so much. Good luck to everyone out in Oakland and in California.

SCHAAF: Great. Thank you. It's an incredible time. We all have to come together.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly do. Let's hope we do.

Meanwhile, there's a new report in "The New York Times," and it paints a damming picture of how the Trump administration stalled in its initial response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Warnings from experts and government officials simply ignored. Two of the reporters behind this report, they're standing by live. They'll join me next.

Plus, the Coronavirus has stuttered, has shuttered I should say, businesses across the country. Small business owners are finding themselves hit especially hard. So, why aren't they getting the help they so desperately need?

[20:11:57]

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BLITZER: Warning after warning simply ignored. In a very, very tough and sobering article, "The New York Times" lays out, in very stark detail, how behind the scenes at the White House what was going on. Voices calling for action simply went unheard. And I'm quoting now. Let me quote from the article that just moved in "The New York Times."

"Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government, from top White House advisors to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies, identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action. The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing, instead, on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy, and batting away warnings from senior officials."

That's from the article. This is what Americans heard from the president as the threat grew and grew. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

The Coronavirus, which is, you know, very well under control in our country.

We're going down, not up. We're going very substantially down and not up.

When you have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.

Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They're there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.

We're doing a great job with it and it will go away. Just stay calm and it will go away.

Some of the doctors say it will wash through. It will flow through. Very accurate, I think you're going to find in a number of weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, joining us now with more on this, really excellent reporting, CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger; and CNN National Security Analyst Mark Mazzetti. Both contributed to this article in "The New York Times." Mark, what were those alarms that were sounded by these senior officials?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, so, you just played a litany of the president's statements, basically downplaying the urgency of Coronavirus and the pandemic. And what our story lays out is the repeated warnings that are coming up through the system. Whether it's in the intelligence world, the national security council, health officials, they're all, as early as January, warning the president, himself, that this is going to be a huge problem.

And what our story tries to lay out is how the system, itself, from a lot of different places, was relaying that warning to the president. And, for various reasons, his political future, his own personal benefit, his incuriousness maybe about what might happen, he ignored those warnings.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really, really powerful, as I said, reporting.

David, "The Times" reporting, also, details a really chilling e-mail from a senior medical advisor in the administration. It's dated January 28th. Let me read a couple sentences. Any way you cut it, this is going to be bad. The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe.

That e-mail came one week after the first case of Coronavirus had been diagnosed here in the United States, in the state of Washington. Three days later, on January 31st, the president took his first concrete step, instituting that travel ban from China.

So, David, how much of a role did the desire to secure a China trade deal eventually play in the president's initial calculus on Coronavirus responses?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITIAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, it's curious, Wolf, because early on, the president didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize the first phase of the China deal. And he wanted to go fairly light on the Chinese.

By the time that e-mail was written, and it's a pretty stark e-mail from the chief medical officer of the Veteran's Administration who had had a long experience with epidemics like this, it was becoming clear that not only were there cases in the United States, but he knew where this was going.

[20:20:14]

SANGER: When the president put the ban on the entry of Chinese at the very end of January, he took a step that many of his medical professionals didn't think, at the time, would actually do much good. It probably did buy him some time.

But I think the most striking thing that Mark and I and my colleagues found was that he didn't use that time. In other words, he had bought a few weeks and he didn't use it to stock up on personal protective gear to begin making an assessment of whether there would be enough hospital beds and ventilators. All of the things that had they begun ordering in early February, in case this containment didn't ever work, would have been flowing in by around now.

BLITZER: Yes, really missed opportunities. Mark, the gap between the warnings and the distancing guidelines suggest, at the very least, there was a very serious communication breakdown between the president and his top medical experts, top intelligence advisors. Is there a sense that the president learned from this to follow the advice of his experts?

MAZZETTI: Well, one of the things that I think, in reporting this, that's striking is that it wasn't that long ago, we have to roll back the clock and say, you know, the president went into this year in the middle of an impeachment inquiry. He had just been voted to be impeached. And, for President Trump, the impeachment was proof, in his mind, that there was the government, the deep -- so-called deep state was against him.

And he went into this year, sort of, determined to insulate himself from the deep state. To surround himself by people he, quote, "trusted." And I think that's what comes through in this story is that people who are in government, people who are experts, people, whether they're medical or national security or intelligence, are treated with suspicion. And that had deadly consequences in the case of how the president has chosen to respond.

Now, whether he's learned or not, we will see. But we see that, you know, this is now built in to how he thinks about things. This idea that the experts might actually be out to get him.

BLITZER: You know, David, let me read another portion of your article in "The New York Times." Quote, "There were key turning points along the way, opportunities for Mr. Trump to get ahead of the virus rather than just chase it. There were internal debates that presented him with stark choices and moments when he could have chosen to ask deeper questions and learn more. How he handled them may shape his re- election campaign. They will certainly shape his legacy."

That's what you guys wrote. So, did the need to control the message, on the part of the president, interfere with the mission to control this deadly virus?

SANGER: Well, I certainly think it did. And the moment that that comes into play, Wolf, is right around the third week of February. The president's coming back from a trip to India, you may recall. And he reads at the head of the Center for Disease Control had offered a pretty stark assessment that this was coming our way and could change our lives.

And he's enraged as he is landing on Air Force One. Lands. Calls the secretary of Health and Human Services and chews him out, for the fact that the message had been relayed so bluntly by the head of the CDC. She is, then, pretty well shunted aside. And that's right around the time that Vice President Pence was put in charge of the task force. And his first real task seemed to be to control that message.

And it took about three weeks between the time that the experts there, who were convinced things needed to shut down in the United States, could actually get in, see the president, and persuade him of that. Of course, that's the role he took, in the end. The decision he took in mid-March. But he could have taken it about three weeks earlier. And it'll be a hard thing to assess over time, whether that would have made a difference in the number of lives lost.

BLITZER: Yes, that's -- the three-week period was really, really significant. David and Mark, I want both of you to stay with us. We have much more reporting that you guys have done. I'll also bring in a top infectious disease specialist to get her analysis on these delays in preventing this deadly outbreak here in the United States. Stay with us. You're live in a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

[20:24:54]

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BLITZER: A truly damming new report out in "The New York Times" paints a picture of a president waiting to act on Coronavirus, despite receiving warning after warning from top advisors and medical experts, losing days and weeks in the fight against what he has characterized as an invisible enemy.

Back with us are two of the co-authors of "The New York Times" article, David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti. Also joining us is CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Celine Gounder. She's an epidemiologist, an infectious disease specialist. Dr. Gounder, you've, obviously, read this new reporting in "The New York Times." How detrimental were those delays of a few weeks?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, I think the month of February 2020 will go down in infamy.

[20:30:00]

And really having led to the deaths of many, many Americans that could have been very much prevented. That was a time when we should have been scaling up in terms of supplies, in terms of hospital preparedness, in terms of testing, and that was a really lost opportunity to save many lives.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. it's -- I mean, we have no idea how many lives were lost. But Dr. Gounder, I'm just looking here a month ago on March 12, there were 38 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States. And now if you look at the right part of your screen, more than 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States. And looking back if the President would have acted at the end of January, early February, mid-February, late February, what kind of difference potentially could that have made?

GOUNDER: Well, and this is the thing when you have a disease that grows at an exponential rate, you know, you're going like this. So just that tiny amount on the curve and days actually translates into a big difference on the curve in terms of numbers of cases. And so, you know, you can compare other cities within the U.S., for example, even New York City, which has done pretty well versus San Francisco which instituted its locked down a few days before New York City.

That actually translated into a huge impact. So, if you then, you know, extrapolate that to the rest of the country when you have delays of even a couple days, that can really result in many more lives lost.

BLITZER: Yes. You know, David, I want to, you know, be part of your article describes in very detailed form of panic taskforce meeting on February 21st. Let me play a clip of what the President discussing coronavirus six days later said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have done an incredible job. We're going to continue. It's going to disappear, one day it's like a miracle it will disappear. And from our shores, we've -- you know, it could get worse before it gets better could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: David, at that time, was the President aware of the taskforce conclusion that certain places simply would need to be completely shut down?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, it's not clear at that moment with how much he had absorbed that message. But certainly that is the message that all of his senior advisors were trying to go bring to him, that he had many reasons not to want to hear that. He believed at the time that it would worsen the economic situation and less perhaps worse than his reelection chances. I don't think that he had fully taken on board, what he only really understood in late -- in mid-March, which was that if you didn't solve the virus issue, then the economy was going to go down anyway. He somehow thought that he could sort of dance past this and, you know, since that time, we've heard him say, Wolf, that he said, statements like the one you just played, because I wanted to be a cheerleader for the country.

Well, it's important for a leader to be a cheerleader for a country. But it's also important for a leader to get out ahead of something and say to people, you may not see it now, but there's something big coming at you and we have to prepare. And that's the moment he lost. It was that leadership capability that he did not execute until -- as the doctor just suggested it was weeks late.

BLITZER: You know, and, Mark, clearly, the President saw some of his advisors simply being alarmist, was shutting down the country even possible that early. Did he fear that people would have seen that as an overreaction at the time?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. So you had a lot of different channels that were sounding these alarms and for different reasons, the President discounted them. You had Peter Navarro who is a trade adviser and a real China hawk who writes the memo as we reported. It's briefed to the President but even -- not just the president, but others in the White House discounted Navarro views in part because he is so hawkish on China.

And there was a sort of crying wolf element to it. And so that was discounted. Then Alex Azar, the department -- HHS director, he was seen as being a Chicken Little and the overly alarmist. And so that was another reason to discount what the President what the -- you know, what he was warning. And so, I think there were -- as David pointed out, reasons why the President was determined to have his set view, the economy, the concern about the economy, the concerned about his reelection, the voices of the economic team, Steve Mnuchin and others, carried a lot of weight.

And those who were against them as we reported in the story and sometimes very heated arguments in some cases were drowned out.

[20:35:08]

BLITZER: Because Dr. Gounder as you know it, early were -- in early January, some of the experts in the government were telling other experts and telling the President for all practical purposes in daily briefings, that this could turn out to be a pandemic, that would be simply awful. Now, we're all smarter with hindsight, obviously, but if the -- if the President ordered specific action, then what might have happened?

GOUNDER: Well, I think we would have seen far less spread and we would have been in a position one our hospitals would not have been overwhelmed like we saw recently happened at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, but also it would have been -- we would have been able to do perhaps more testing by now, we would have had a better handle on where the disease has spread.

And we would perhaps be able to do contact tracing, which means a much more targeted approach like what the South Koreans have done for sample. And if you can do those things, you don't have to shut down the country for as long and as dramatically. And I fear we're going to be seeing the administration repeat some of the same mistakes now, as they are talking about lifting some of these measures that they're not making the plans necessary, the preparations necessary to lift measures.

And that's going to again, require things like testing and contact tracing that we're still not able to do right now.

BLITZER: Yes. That's so sad, indeed. Dr. Celine Gounder, David Sanger, Mark Mazzetti, guys, thank you very much and the reporters from the New York Times, you and your colleagues, thanks for that important article that just moved. Appreciate it very much. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing small businesses across the United States to simply shut down and right now many of them are in really, really deep trouble while their workers aren't getting the paychecks they so desperately need.

So many workers live paycheck to paycheck. We're going to take a closer look at what needs to be done right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:41:06]

BLITZER: In three weeks' time, more than 16-1/2 million people here in the United States have filed for unemployment benefits. That's a full 11 percent of the entire American workforce suddenly out of a job. That sounds like data points, but every one of them is a person with a family, friends, someone whose livelihood is now gone, at least for now. And uncertain for tomorrow. Here's CNN Vanessa Yurkevich.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: For the millions of Americans applying for unemployment, this probably sounds familiar.

JACORY WRIGHT, ELEVATOR DISPATCHER: You have to hang up and call back. Hang up and call back. Hang up and call back.

ED CHAN, GIG WORKER: It was tough. The system does crash.

YURKEVICH: Right now, millions of Americans, no matter their age, sex or race, are confronting a chilling but shared reality. Unemployment offices around the country, ill-equipped to deal with the sheer volume. Phone lines jammed, sites crashing and lines of Americans in Miami, waiting for paper unemployment applications.

WRIGHT: I already can't swim, and I literally feel like I'm drowning.

YURKEVICH: Jacory Wright lives in Dallas, furloughed from a job he loves on Tuesday. It was the most he's ever made, $18.00 an hour. But Wright still lives paycheck to paycheck. And now, without health insurance.

WRIGHT: My insurance is gone. I'm HIV positive, so now I have to go through the process of being able to get my medicine paid for again. And it doesn't just take people out of a financial comfort zone temporarily. It literally does a domino effect to certain people.

YURKEVICH: It was a domino effect for Stephanie Bonin too, who has owned Duo Restaurant in Colorado for 15 years.

STEPHANIE BONIN, OWNER, DUO RESTAURANT: In order to be able to reopen down the road, we had to make the hard decision to lay our entire staff off.

YURKEVICH: That's 20 people, including herself, without jobs, now applying for unemployment.

BONIN: We are creating an entirely new population of -- a new population of people who are not used to being in the social services program. It's a change of identity for, I think, many, many people in the United States right now.

YURKEVICH: Ed Chan, from Queens, New York, is a gig worker, stringing together four jobs to make $40,000 a year.

CHAN: I think it might take me at least another year to rebuild my life, my portfolio of work right now. So it kind of sucks. I mean and it's a dreadful thing to think about, but that's what (INAUDIBLE)

YURKEVICH: If March's unemployment numbers are a sign, April will bring more sleepless nights. Last month, jobs in the restaurant industry fell over 400,000. And the unemployment rate for black workers shot up to 6.7 percent.

WRIGHT: If you don't have a job at the moment, if you don't have insurance at the moment, if you didn't save up, if you don't have wealthy parents, you are shut off at the moment. Your life is on hiatus.

YURKEVICH: Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Vanessa. I want to bring in CNN Business Editor- At-Large, Richard Quest. The host of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS." Richard, we learned tonight the IRS started sending out the first wave of stimulus payments to Americans that distributions are part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress last month signed into law by the President. One other help is on the way with so many Americans suddenly desperate for help.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: The IRS money will go towards immediate bills that you haven't been able to pay. The other two major programs that people will be following will be the Payroll Protection Plan which is of course the companies can borrow money and they've gone for small business loans. And of course the emergency relief that's also available, that's on the individual level to some extent.

[20:45:07]

QUEST: Then you've got the large corporate plans, where you've got people like the airlines, you've got companies like large employers of tens of thousands seeking debts, seeking to borrow money. But Wolf tonight, I think that that last report made it very clear, that help that's coming from both the money that's the cash from the Treasury, from the IRS, and the Payroll Protection Plan. It can't get that fast enough. But the size and scale of the operation means that it was always going to be inundated.

BLITZER: Because so many people right now are desperate for help. As I pointed out, they live paycheck to paycheck. They're not -- they don't have a paycheck right now. They're going to food banks. They're desperately waiting in long lines to even get food that they need. The President says he hopes to be able to reopen the economy maybe by May 1st but from an economic standpoint, a purely economic standpoint, what would it even mean to open the economy at the Federal level, when so much is -- so much of what is needed right now has to come down to state and local levels.

QUEST: Russian Roulette is what you would be playing and you will be literally gambling with the lives of Americans. That -- that's not hyperbole. That is what it would be. If this economy is opened too soon. Now the governors or the president, no one envies those people the task that they have to make. But at the moment, Wolf, the more mundane, everyday issue is how you put food on the table.

How do you get one of these small business loans? How do you enroll in the payroll protection plan and move on this point? The plan has been designed very fast, and it's not very accurate. I'll give you one example. Businesses need to be able to choose when they take the loan. But the way this whole thing is structured, you have to be first in line before the money runs out. So you've got loads of businesses taking loans now, which will -- they've helped (INAUDIBLE) grounds, will turn into loans. And they don't need it just yet.

Wolf, I'm not being overly critical because it was done fast. But the reality is, the system is not working as it should. Companies are not getting small businesses, the money they need, and it's going to run out unless it's refilled.

BLITZER: Yes, they got to move, they got to move quickly. And it's so, so critical right now. Richard Quest as usual. Thank you very much. And problems here in the United States is enormous but there are problems all over the world. We're going to show you how Moscow is right now using a digital app to try to track residents and try to control the coronavirus pandemic before it spirals out of control there.

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[20:52:27] BLITZER: More than 12 million people living in Moscow were under a stay-at-home order right now as Russia tries to control the spread of the coronavirus. And -- while countries around the world are struggling to make sure people follow these orders, the Kremlin has now launched a new digital app to track who is violating the lockdown in Moscow. Joining us now our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance.

So, Matthew, how exactly are they tracking people? How are they trying to find out and how are the people in Moscow I should say reacting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not everyone's happy, of course, about the idea that their freedom to travel has been restricted in this way. But in terms of how they're doing it, that app you mentioned that's already been built, hasn't been actually rolled out yet. But it would involve facial recognition technology, geolocation technology that would essentially give the Russian authorities the knowledge of where everybody was at any given time.

Now, obviously, they're doing that. They say for, you know, good reason to prevent the spread of the virus any further. There's been an explosive growth of this virus inside Moscow in particular. But, you know, human rights groups and others and critics, you know, say that, you know, this is potentially a slippery slope toward even more authoritarianism in the country. At the same time, what Russia is rolling out is a system of passes, a highly restrictive regime, that's going to mean that, you know, people if they want to go on any simple journey now, more than just being locked down, they're going to have to get a special permit on their mobile phones from the authorities.

And that will be checked, it will be policed. If they're found in violation of it, they'll be fine. And so, as Russia tries to cope with this escalating pandemic in the country, they're resorting to these very restrictive authoritarian methods to try and, you know, to try and gain control over the situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Matthew, you're in London right now, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he's unfortunately out of intensive care. He's still in the hospital. His brother, though is now criticizing the carry got early on. What's he saying?

CHANCE: Yes. His brother, Max Johnson is calling it a shambles. The fact that the Prime Minister, he said, didn't get the kind of close medical attention he should have got when they knew that he was exposed to the virus earlier on. Of course, Boris Johnson spent three nights in intensive. He's now out of intensive care and apparently is doing much better. Within the past couple of hours according to the Press Association here in Britain, Prime Minister Johnson has released his first statement thanking the NHS staff, saying, you know, can't thank them enough, saying I owe them my life.

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BLITZER: Hopefully he's going to get that get completely better and we'll watch all that closely. Matthew, thank you very much. Matthew Chance reporting from London.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, Massachusetts has now ordered 3000 National Guard troops to be called up as that will show Boston could see a virus search imminently. The Boston Mayor Marty Walsh he's standing by live, we'll discuss when we come back.

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