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"The New York Times": Trump Saw What Was Coming; Epidemic Exposes Holes in U.S. Health Care; British Prime Minister on the Mend; U.S. Now Leads in COVID-19 Deaths; Iran Eases COVID-19 Restrictions; Presidents in Brazil, Nicaragua and Belarus Ignore Health Warnings; African Nations Face Dire Consequences of Disease; Cell Phone Technology Tracks Lockdown Violators. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 12, 2020 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Michael Holmes.

Now on this Easter Sunday, the United States finds itself in a sobering and tragic position. It now has the highest number of reported coronavirus deaths in the world. More than 20,000 people in the U.S. have succumbed to the pandemic. Think about that number, 20,000. And the number of infections is more than half a million.

Based on Johns Hopkins figures, the U.S. has almost a third of the world's reported cases. For the first time in the nation's history, every state is under a disaster declaration at the same time.

In Los Angeles, employees and customers of essential businesses must now wear face coverings. And in the pandemic's American epicenter, New York, the governor says the curve is still flattening but even the encouraging news is terrible news because so many people are dying.


ANDREW CUOMO (D), GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: Terrible news is the number of lives lost, 783 yesterday. That is not an all-time high. You can see that the number is somewhat stabilizing but it is stabilizing at an horrific rate.


HOLMES: President Donald Trump was asked about a timetable for easing back on restrictions and reopening the country. He said he would make that decision, quote, "fairly soon."

But would Mr. Trump listen to any of the political, business or medical leaders he says will help him make that decision?

A new report in "The New York Times" reveals how the president downplayed or simply ignored warnings about the virus from very early on. CNN's Jeremy Diamond breaks it down for us.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: According to "The New York Times," it was the third week of February when the government's top public health experts concluded that aggressive social distancing measures would need to be implemented in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But when that decision was made by those public health experts, the president was traveling in India. So the experts decided that they should brief him in person when he returned.

But that flight, from India back to Washington, was a momentous one. During that flight, the president grew furious at watching the stock market crash after Dr. Nancy Meissonier, one of the government's top public health experts, warned that there would be severe disruptions to daily life.

So instead of that briefing that the president was set to receive upon his return from India to implement those social distancing guidelines, the president held a news conference, putting vice president Mike Pence in charge of the coronavirus efforts.

From there, we know that the White House response began to shift, focusing especially on public messaging, trying to assure the American people that they had the response under control.

Now we also know that, beyond that briefing and beyond those conclusions by those public health experts, there were warnings inside the Trump administration in January as well as in February.

We reported on the memo by Peter Navarro, the president's trade adviser, in late January, warning of trillions of dollars in economic losses and that millions of Americans could be infected with this virus.

We also know that the deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, he was also sounding the alarm back in January about the potential for a global pandemic.

The president, meanwhile, though we know exactly what he was thinking at that time because he was telling the public. The president, in January and in February, repeatedly downplaying the threat of this coronavirus pandemic, insisting that he had under control -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.



HOLMES: And joining me now is CNN security analyst David Sanger, also the national security correspondent for "The New York Times" ad co- author of this extraordinary reporting.

Really remarkable, David, so much detail. What stands out to me, bluntly, the president downplaying the risk that it seems he knew about or should have known about, as early as January.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That is right. What we learned in the course of our reporting was that the National Security Council, part of the White House, of course, was so intent on this issue in January, they were holding daily meetings about it.

By January 27th, they held a meeting of what is called the deputies, the number twos in all of the different departments. But it was such a big issue that everybody else crowded into the room.

Of course, within a few days the president did do the ban of Chinese nationals and others who had been in Wuhan from coming into the United States.


SANGER: But that had huge holes in it.

First of all, American citizens were able to come back in and they weren't particularly vigorously tested.

But secondly and perhaps most importantly, if that bought him a few weeks to prepare, he didn't do the preparation. He didn't get out and tell people, hey, look, there's something coming at us, we have to be prepared for and pray it doesn't show up.


SANGER: But he didn't have time to order the ventilators or the personal protective gear or anything else.

HOLMES: In fact, quite the opposite. I mean, there was one quote, I will read a senior medical adviser, in an email on January 28th, I think it was, and he says this, quote "Any way you cut it, this is going to be bad. The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe."

Yet, the president, the administration kept on playing it down, saying it would go away, a miracle, cases would be down to zero and on and on and on.

So just how early did the administration know it should be acting decisively, yet did not?

And by administration I mean the president.

SANGER: That quote came from an email we obtained that had been written by Carter Mecher, who was the -- is the chief medical officer of the Veterans Affairs Administration, our agency.

And he, of course, has long experience in dealing with these kinds of pandemics. But by the third week of February, just three weeks later, this was pretty much the widely held view inside the White House, the full medical community and so forth.

Yet, it took them three weeks until the middle of March to convince the president.

And the president said three contradictory things here. First he said no one could imagine this happening. Well, of course, they did, they even ran exercises in the Situation Room of what this would look like.

The second thing he said was, I knew it would be a pandemic all along.

Well then, why didn't he act on it?

And then the third thing he said is, you know I wanted to be a cheerleader for the country.

Well, It's fine to be a cheerleader for the country but if you think something is coming that's going to kill a good part of your populace, before you are a cheerleader, you have to get up there and do some warning about the preparations that need to be made.

HOLMES: Yes, being a cheerleader while keeping the public in the dark about something he knew was coming, it just beggars belief.

Another quote was that the president was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials. It is hard to believe these delays did not cost lives last month, at least a month.

SANGER: It is hard to believe that they didn't. It will be impossible to assess, I suspect, what might have been. Now this is a president who has always been driven more by what the stock market does than anything else.

And his first big moment of rage here came on his way back from his trip to India which he took in February.

And he was, at that time, incredibly upset that the head of the Centers for Disease Control had given a pretty blunt statement about how Americans are going to have to prepare for something that could change their lives out here for a while and certainly their habits.

So when he landed from India, he called the secretary of Health and Human Services and chewed him out for the way the head of the CDC had described this.

Well, of course, it turned out she was exactly right and that became the message that the administration turned out but only three weeks later. And you can imagine how many more people were infected in the interim.

HOLMES: Thousands, tens of thousands, more. I mean, the president is notoriously suspicious of what he likes to call the deep state. But in this very situation, what he sees as the deep state are, in fact, longtime government experts, scientists, medical professionals.

SANGER: This combines two characteristics the president has. One, as you point out is, he doesn't like the deep state and he went into this year, of course, beginning with impeachment, determined that he was going to rout out the deep state loyalists who we thought were trying to bring him down.

And that was a theme both during and after impeachment. You saw in what he did with the State Department officials, you saw it with what he did with the inspectors general.

But there is also a deep and abiding mistrust of experts, scientists, data-driven decisions that he can't particularly manipulate or spin. And I think that made him even more suspicious of the doctors and scientists here.


SANGER: And he did not have a whole lot of experience in thinking about epidemiology before. So he was learning on the way as well, as we all have been in the course of the past few months.

HOLMES: Yes, unfortunately, a suspicion of things like the deep state can be political in other situations. In this situation, a matter of life and death. I've got to leave it there, David, thank you, David Sanger. Terrific reporting, you and the team.

SANGER: Thank you, it's great to be with you.


HOLMES: So precious time squandered in the U.S. response to the coronavirus, that's time that could have been spent, of course, stocking up on vital supplies, identifying shortfalls in testing and establishing mitigation efforts sooner, much sooner, all of which could have helped the country turn the corner sooner in this pandemic.


HOLMES: Joining me now is Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, CNN medical analyst, and chief clinical officer of Providence Health System. Dr. Compton-Phillips also oversees clinical care at 51 hospitals, including the one near Seattle, where the first few COVID-19 patients were treated.

It's great to have you back, Doctor. Let's start with what you were seeing in terms of trends in the U.S. The president has been sounding a very optimistic note but it is too early for that kind of talk?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think we are seeing glimmers of hope. We are starting to see, here in Seattle, we actually think we are past the peak. In New York, we think we are at the flat part of the curve.

In other parts of the country, we are starting to see a slowdown so we really think we are starting to see benefits from social distancing.

That said, that doesn't mean you get to immediately turn on the economy and make everything go back to normal.

HOLMES: A lot of people think, well, one "The New York Times" analyst said it will be 200,000 within a few minutes. Speaking of "The New York Times," there is a report out showing that

the warnings given and concerns raised were brushed off or ignored by the White House. CNN does confirm that includes an agreement by the government's top public health officials in the third week of February that mitigation like aggressive social distancing should happen; it did not happen, as we know.

How might delays like that may have impacted what subsequently happened in the U.S.?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: There was a great article in "National Geographic" a couple of weeks ago, looking at what happened in the 1918 flu pandemic. There they found that in cities that had sooner and longer social distancing, many, many lives were saved, that places that did social distancing later after the infection had gotten a toehold in a community, a lot more lives were lost.

So the longer we went without having social distancing, without closing the schools and infecting the economy, the more people were affected by this virus.

HOLMES: So quite literally, it would've cost lives. I wanted to ask about the testing issue because everybody is talking about that still, despite what we hear from the White House. It does appear to still be woefully inadequate.

In terms of testing enough people, those who are asymptomatic but spreading in order to be able to promptly this identify, isolate, contact trace, is that still a concern for you?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: It is absolutely a concern and it is how we are going to the economy moving again. Not only do we have to get the number of infections way down to a handful, we have to have the testing capacity once we are able to start ratcheting up our ability to go out of our house again and get back to our lives.

We have to be able to start testing and isolating anybody who does have the virus, which means we have to have much broader access to testing that is available today because, despite what's promoted at times from various quarters across the U.S., it definitely -- there are bottlenecks in terms of getting everybody we need the testing.

HOLMES: It certainly seems to be the case.

I want to ask you a sort of broader question and we have an international audience. I certainly grew up in a universal health care country and lived in a couple of others. Health care in the U.S. is by and large an employee benefit. In most cases if you don't have a job, you don't have insurance or the ability to buy your own.

I'm curious, with a pandemic like this, what holes perhaps in the U.S. health care system have been exposed?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Many holes, unfortunately. They come up in several different ways. One is, if people are uninsured, if they are homeless, if they have no papers, they are not here in the country legally, they don't have access to health care insurance. And right now, if people like that don't feel the capacity to come in and get tested but they have a fever and a cough, they are out in the community infecting others.

So the fact that we don't have universal access to care can actually make this epidemic go longer and be worse. So it really is time to start looking at our health care system and understanding what we can do to patch those holes.

HOLMES: Good points as always.


HOLMES: Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips thanks so much, it's great to have you on.



HOLMES: Well, it is Easter Sunday; of course, in much of the world, the holiest day on the Christian calendar and with millions of people around the world hunkered down at home, celebrations look much different than last year.

Pope Francis offering a message of hope, saying, do not be afraid. Do not yield to fear. He spoke inside an empty basilica on Saturday night. In just a few hours, he will consecrate Easter mass in front of a symbolic congregation of around 20 people.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll have an update on British prime minister Boris Johnson as he continues to recover from coronavirus and we will have his message for the workers who are caring for him.

Also Iran beginning to ease coronavirus restrictions on some of its businesses. We'll find out which ones are reopening. Stay with us. We'll be right back.




HOLMES: "I owe them my life," those words from the British prime minister Boris Johnson to the workers at the London hospital where he is recovering from coronavirus.


HOLMES: Mr. Johnson sounding very grateful there in his first public statement since he was brought in a week ago. And what a week it's been for the prime minister. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in London for us.

So after time in the ICU, the PM on the mend and grateful, tell us about it.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Certainly and obviously, as you're mentioning, the United Kingdom one of a number of European countries that has entirely free health care for most people.

And obviously he was pointing out that the NHS, the National Health Service, there, were those who brought him back from a condition, frankly, which I think many underestimated initially when he was first admitted into what was suggested to be precautionary circumstances, possibly tests as well, that radically worsened over 24 hours to the point where he was said to be receiving oxygen treatment inside an intensive care unit.

Only, though, I believe three nights spent in the ICU. Then he was out again. We heard as he was leaving the ICU he waved at nurses. But this is the first statement he's actually made to say to those NHS staff I can't thank them enough. I owe them my life.

That possibly brings forward the gravity of the situation that prime minister Boris Johnson was facing. Obviously no government wants to admit their leader into the hospital unless it's absolutely necessary.

I think most people were shocked that both the prime minister himself had not been protected from this disease but also reminded, as Britain hit the peak about a week ago when he was put into hospital, about exactly how indiscriminate and grave the situation is for the United Kingdom, startling that yesterday 917 people lost their lives, putting Britain as it nears what we believe to be the plateau of the peak here according to U.K. officials, on pretty much parity with Italy and Spain in terms of the daily death toll.

Some government figures have suggested these daily tolls that count positive cases in hospitals that have subsequently died may be underestimating those who die in care homes and elsewhere, possibly by a factor maybe of 50 percent or so, shocking to think. Michael.

HOLMES: Wow. And I think a lot of countries are now sort of realizing that, too, that they're probably underestimating the number of deaths caused by this.

On the NHS, you know, it's long been said that it's sort of been underfunded and things like that.

What is the state of NHS staff?

How have they been affected?

Are they well supplied enough?

WALSH: Well, there's been great controversy in the United Kingdom about personal protective equipment, frankly, as there has been around the world. There is a global shortage, partly because nobody ever anticipated this extraordinary bulk need of protective gear.

In the United Kingdom it's the government who gets the key focus and there has been consistent criticism for the last two weeks as to whether or not adequate protective gear has been given to the front line NHS workers dealing with COVID-19 patients.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, was asked 48 hours ago how many had died while working to fight this virus. He wasn't able to give an answer himself until the following morning, where he said 19 had lost their lives.

The home secretary said that she was, quote, "sorry" if people felt there hadn't been enough done for supplying PPE to front line workers. Officials here consistently saying they're doing all they possibly can to get as much as they can to the people who need it.

But there's been discrepancy, frankly, in the minds of workers as to what guidelines permit them to wear. I remember speaking to one doctor 10 days ago, who had gone to a hardware store and purchased for himself a visor to put over the surgical mask and also a hazmat suit.

But he had been told to go home because those protective equipment didn't fit the guidelines. Things have since been eased and more protective equipment been permitted or encouraged at the front line.

But you have to have some degree of sympathy for a government here that is struggling to deal with a global competition for these kinds of items. But at the same time, too, occasionally possibly overworked to the point that their messaging around how this can be dealt with often comes off, some criticizing the statement from the home secretary yesterday saying that she felt sorry about -- she was sorry that people felt about the delivery of PPE not being adequate as being a half apology, not really what people needed to hear.

So a real struggle for the U.K. but really we are at a point now where we may be getting near to a thousand deaths possibly a day, which is a startling number frankly for anyone to behold.

HOLMES: Yes, very sobering. Nick Paton Walsh good to see you, thanks, Nick, there in London for us.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, some world leaders are acting like the global pandemic isn't a big threat. In a moment, how some are downplaying the virus.

Also, the U.S. president wants to send Americans back to work and jump start the economy but is it his call to make?

We'll talk about that as well after the break.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

The United States now reporting the most coronavirus-related deaths in the world, the number of fatalities now more than 20,000 and there are more than half a million reported cases of infection. All of this according to Johns Hopkins figures, from one death to more than 20,000 deaths in 42 days.

In Los Angeles it is now mandatory for employees and customers of essential businesses to wear face coverings. And in New York the governor says the curve is starting to flatten but the number of deaths is still staggering. And for the first time in U.S. history, every state is under a disaster declaration at the same time, never happened before.

The U.S. president eager to reopen the economy as soon as possible. His advisers are urging though to consider the deadly consequences of sending Americans back to work too soon. Mr. Trump says he will weigh their advice but still isn't sure what choice he will make.


TRUMP: I'm going to have to make a decision and I only hope to God that it's the right decision. But I would say, without question, it's the biggest decision I've ever had to make.



HOLMES: Joining me now, Catherine Rampell, CNN economics commentator and "The Washington Post" opinion columnist.

Thanks for being with us, Catherine. A lot going on. We have been hearing the president on the subject of reopening the economy. He called it the biggest decision I've ever had to make.

Firstly, let's clarify this, is not really his decision, is it?

It's up to the governors, the mayors, individual business owners, right?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. If you look at who has actually been issuing the orders to shelter in place, to engage in social isolation, close down schools, businesses, that sort of things, it's not the president, right?


RAMPELL: It's governors, it's mayors, other municipal officials who are making those kinds of decisions. So Trump can issue guidance, I suppose; that would encourage these local and state leaders to reopen the economy.

But it doesn't seem like it would have force of law at this point. And even if they decided to listen to him, of course, beyond that, just because businesses are allowed to operate does not necessarily mean that customers are going to feel comfortable going out and eating at restaurants or attending concerts or other things that continue to be high risk. HOLMES: I think 60 percent of Americans think it's a good idea to

stay indoors at the moment. It's interesting, too, when the president was asked directly what metrics he would use in deciding whether to reopen the economy, which we have established is in his decision, I mean, he just pointed to his head and he said that's the metrics there.

CNN reporting part of his consideration has been pressure from Wall Street, friends on Wall Street.

How much influence do you think they have on him in the middle of a public health emergency?

RAMPELL: I think he basically listens to the last person who was in his ear at any given time. So if that was a friend on Wall Street, if that was some sycophant in the White House, that is who he will be listening to, or people who tell him what he wants to hear.

My concern, of course, about the advice being given by CEOs, is that they are not public health experts. And we need to be listening to the public health experts about what we need to be doing policy wise, guidance wise, in order to mitigate the spread of this outbreak so that the economy can be on a better footing.

Actually, there was no tension between what economists think is good for the economy in the long run and what public health experts say is good for saving lives.

What you need to do is to save those lives and get the spread of infection under control, hospitalizations down, so that people can go about their normal economic activities and so, in the long run, basically, the economy can normalize more quickly and there will be less damage.

HOLMES: And without false starts, exactly.

Is there a sense from those you are in touch with that the president is, in some ways, willing to risk at least some element of public health in order to boost the economy in what, let's face it, is an election year?

RAMPELL: Yes, I mean, he has been pretty clear about that, right?

He has said essentially that he needs to make sure that the cure is not worse than the problem or the cure is not worse than disease, referring explicitly to the fact that he is unhappy that economic activity has been shut down and people are out of work.

Of course, we don't want those things, we don't want to have record high numbers of people filing for unemployment and businesses going out of business and new filings for bankruptcy and things like that.

We all want the economy to get back onto a solid footing but, again, there is no actual trade-off here. I think Trump seems to think there is a trade-off here between doing what is best for public health and doing what's best for the economy. But economists are saying that is not the case.

HOLMES: I think it's a third of American renters did not pay their April rent. That is a staggering number. Even before this crisis, also, the Federal Reserve found that four out of 10 Americans did not have the savings or other resources to cover any unexpected $400 dollar expense.

Millions of people just lost their jobs; in many cases, their health insurance as well, some of those checks are starting to arrive

But realistically, it's not a lot of money, is it?


HOLMES: I speak to the social and economic damage being done here.

RAMPELL: No, and people are suffering. Again, we have seen record high unemployment claim filings. We do have these so-called stimulus checks starting to reach people's bank accounts but not coming quickly enough.

It's going to be weeks, if not months, before the last group of people who are eligible for those checks get them. And when they get them, it's not going to be sufficient. In the United States, we are doing other things to beef up the safety net, including expanding the number of people, the types of people who could be eligible for unemployment insurance.

But states are not really quick enough to ramp quickly enough for all of that. So, look, Congress has done a few things to try to ease the pain. It's not sufficient. There is going to have to be another coronavirus relief bill of some sort, even beyond the fact that we've already passed three rounds of relief at this point, including a record $2 trillion -- it's called stimulus but it's really not stimulus, it's just relief at this point and survival at this point. There's going to have to be more to be done.

HOLMES: Exactly.


HOLMES: Catherine Rampell, always a pleasure, thanks for being on.

RAMPELL: Thank you.


HOLMES: The Iranian government is beginning to ease some of its coronavirus restrictions. It's allowing what it calls low risk businesses to begin opening.

According to the health ministry that means takeout services, businesses where people aren't sitting inside. But the easing of restrictions does not include Tehran. The capital has to wait another week. All of this coming, of course, as the number of infections in Iran

continues to rise. For more on this, let's turn to CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley, joining us from Abu Dhabi.

Tell us about the government's plan.

How is this going to work when cases are still going up?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, you put your finger on the conundrum the Iranians are facing as indeed are governments around the world facing, not least in the West where the calculation is when to lift lockdowns that are doing devastating amounts of economic damage to a country while at the same time trying to contain the spread of this virus.

President Rouhani said yesterday that he would be lifting the large number of restrictions, particularly on economic activity around the country, even in the city of Qom, 1.2 million, there was at the beginning of the spread of this virus some weeks ago now very much at the epicenter.

There will be no public gatherings, no cinema, no restaurants open but they are trying to get economic activity going not in the capital, that won't be for another week, Michael. And the reason for this, of course, is that the Iranians are deeply impoverished, not least because they're facing U.S. sanctions at this time and unable to have much money around to restart their economy -- Michael.

HOLMES: And briefly speaking of that, Iran heavily, heavily sanctioned.

How does that impact its ability to fight the virus?

KILEY: It's been catastrophic, the Iranians say. They've accused the U.S. administration of Donald Trump of medical terrorism. This is because even countries in the European Union, who are trying to help, have to do so with gifts in kind. They can't send money because that would violate federal banking systems.

And that seems to be also what is snarling up a desperate appeal by the Iranians for a $5 billion injection of funds from the International Monetary Fund, an organization that's never been reached out to before, one that is being reached out to, of course, by other nations around the world, who are facing economic reconstruction in the post virus economic dispensation.

But that is not something that so far the Americans are allowing the Iranians to have.

HOLMES: Sam, thanks so much. Sam Kiley there in Abu Dhabi for us.

While most governments around the world are doing everything they can, of course, to curb the spread of COVID-19, some countries are acting as if there is no global threat at all. The Brazilian president dismissing coronavirus as, quote, "a little flu." Matt Rivers with more on that. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These three men, the presidents of Brazil, Nicaragua and Belarus would in normal times not seemingly have a ton in common, but these days the common thread here is that while other leaders around the world are taking drastic steps to try and prevent the further spread of this coronavirus, these three presidents are not.

Start in Brazil where President Jair Bolsonaro was out and about this week on Thursday visiting a bakery, taking photos, drawing crowds, the kinds of stuff he's been doing in public for weeks now.

Brazil has recorded more than 1,000 deaths, nearly 20,000 cases. The Health Minister has urged lockdown measures be put in place but the President has said he's more worried about the economy.

You don't shut down a car factory because of car accidents, he said. Further north in Nicaragua while President Daniel Ortega attended a virtual meeting last month. He hasn't been seen in public since this military parade on February 21st.

So the response to this outbreak has come from his wife. Vice President Rosario Murillo who regularly says her country's fate is in God's hands.

We don't have community spread, she said on Thursday with infinite thanks to God. So the government lets life go on normally. State-run media Web sites or even promoting holiday discounts this weekend and markets in Managua.

And from Nicaragua to Belarus, more virus dismissal in that country where this past week President Alexander Lukashenko played in a hockey game, saying there were no viruses inside the rink, implying that it was too cold.

It's better to die standing than to live on your knees he said. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lukashenko has encouraged people to keep playing hockey.


RIVERS: Experts worldwide say that prevention measures must be used to stop the viruses spread and we have seen country after country tell people to stay at home. But these three presidents seem to be doing the opposite -- Matt Rivers, CNN.


HOLMES: The number of coronavirus cases is relatively low so far in Africa but they're rising exponentially and there is not a lot of testing. We're going to have a look at the unique circumstances on the continent that could pose a real threat to its people. We'll be right back.



HOLMES: It is not uncommon for leaders in Africa to seek medical treatment abroad. The coronavirus, however, is a wake-up call that health systems in many African nations need plenty of work.

Health officials projecting that, by the end of April, some African countries will have more than 10,000 cases. Meanwhile, the continent, the least equipped to deal with it.

Joining me now is Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thank you, Doctor, you've called the virus, quote, "an existential threat to our continent."

I mean, it doesn't get much more serious than that. How bad could it be?

DR. JOHN NKENGASONG, AFRICAN CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Thank you for the opportunity to be on your show.

When I said that I meant it. If we see what is happening in Europe, when we see what is happening in the United States and we compare and predict and project what can possibly happen to Africa, I think it becomes extremely concerning.

So we are currently about 10,000 cases reported across the 55 countries in Africa with about 740 deaths. But that situation can change very, very quickly and our health systems are extremely fragile.


HOLMES: Is there a way of even knowing how widespread the virus is?

I mean, there's not a lot of testing going on.

Is that estimate of numbers pretty much a guess?

NKENGASONG: Well, that is a best estimate based on the testing that is currently on the continent. I don't think we are testing enough because we lack the test kits. We work very closely with the World Health Organization and other partners like the Jack Ma Foundation to scale up.

But that isn't even enough. A country that is extremely aggressive in testing so far is South Africa and they've tested about 70,000 tests, which, in my opinion, is not enough. So I think the access to tests is a great challenge for us.

HOLMES: Africa has unique circumstances. A third of the population live below the poverty line. You've got millions of people who rely on day labor to feed themselves and their family. How difficult is it to lock down places like that, a lots of people in

slum housing, they're crammed in together.

It's not ideal, is it?

NKENGASONG: You're right. We try and (INAUDIBLE) between a hard place and a rock, where we knew that social distancing, known interventions in public health that would definitely slow down the spread of this virus.

But at same time the issues you raised are clearly the realities of our lives here, so it becomes a huge challenge. So I think what we need to do is put that in our own context and build relationships with those communities and create champions, who can actually take this message into their community and help us to inform and educate their population and build that trust so that it can actually (INAUDIBLE). We just don't have any options.

HOLMES: You touched on this earlier and let's go back to it. It's hard to generalize across so many nations in Africa.

But in general, what is the state of health infrastructure capability across the continent?

I mean, I know one statistic that South Sudan, for example, has four ventilators; the Central African Republic the same.

How bad could it get if those health infrastructures get overwhelmed?

NKENGASONG: Extremely bad. It's what we characterize as an existential threat to us and it's a looming disaster. As you know, those systems and infrastructure do not get fixed overnight. It's supposed to be a process and it takes time.

And you don't go to war. Yet, we're at war with the coronavirus in Africa. Let's be frank with that. We are extremely underresourced. I think this is a global crisis that will require global solidarity and global action if Africa has to have a chance to fight back.

HOLMES: And very briefly because we're almost out of time, what do you want from the world?

What is your message?

NKENGASONG: My message to the world is that you cannot -- we cannot fight these battles and win them in the West. It has to be a global victory. The battle is to be fought locally but the victory has to be a global victory. Africa has to be factored into the equation of the battle against the coronavirus.

HOLMES: Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of African Centers for Disease Control, thank you so much. We wish you well, appreciate your time.

NKENGASONG: Thank you for the opportunity.

HOLMES: To stop the spread of the coronavirus, states are enforcing strict stay at home orders but that is not stopping some people from going out. We'll show you how one state is using your cell phone to track your movements. We'll be right back.





HOLMES: Welcome back. New Mexico has more than a thousand cases of coronavirus and it has begun using people's cell phones to track their movements. The technology lets state officials know if people are following social distancing guidelines. And New Mexico is not alone. Sara Sidner investigates.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Official government orders to stay at home stare you in the face, but are you obeying them?

The tech company Unacast knows, grading the nation state by state, even county by county.

As of Friday, Nevada, Vermont and California were at the top of the list as far as residents staying put. Six states were near failing. Overall, the United States got a C-plus.

How did they do it?

It is by tracking cell phone data.

And now, some state governments are hiring companies to do it, too. They developed social distancing models that gauge how well residents are adhering to stay-at-home orders.

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (D-NM): As we dig deeper, using cell phone data --

SIDNER (voice-over): The state of New Mexico is one of the firsts to go public about hiring a company, Descartes Labs, to get cell phone geolocation statistics.

MIKE WARREN, CO-FOUNDER, DESCARTES LABS: We came up with a way to measure statistically how far a typical person in a community was going far away from where they started their day.

SIDNER (on camera): So, you actually could track cell phone to show that people were following or not following the stay-at-home order?


SIDNER (voice-over): Mark Warren says other states have also signed on during the pandemic. China goes even further. It is using citizen smartphones to control their movements around their cities. A QR code on their phone determines where they can go.

SIDNER (on camera): Americans are really concerned about that kind of personalized tracking. Is that concern addressed by the technology?

WARREN: Absolutely. I personally and concerned about that as well. So, we have got a number of controls that prevent us from tracking individuals.

SIDNER (voice-over): He says the data sold to the U.S. government is just statistics. Anonymous information that does not reveal who the phone belongs to. You play a role and being tracked, too.

When you download certain apps and agreed to let them use your geolocation on your phone, that data is being used by third-party companies and advertisers.


SIDNER (voice-over): And now some state and local governments. There are plenty of companies buying the tracking data. For example --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on spring break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is not happening.

SIDNER (voice-over): Remember those spring breakers who flocked to beaches even after the warnings to social distance?

X-Mode collected spring breakers' phone data. Another company, Tectonix, was able to show where those spring breakers ended up. Those little points of light are cell phones pinging from the beaches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): As we zoom further and further out, it becomes clear just how massive the potential impact just one single beach gathering can have.

SIDNER (voice-over): If just a few of those spring breakers had contracted coronavirus, they could have spread it far and wide. Now, governments want this kind of data in part to see if stricter measures to distant citizens are needed.

GRISHAM: I am talking with governors around the country about how you do that. And again, everything on the table, including if we needed to, I would consider curfews.

SIDNER (voice-over): All of these tracking capabilities have brought up the quintessential question about privacy.

How much of your personal liberty are you willing to give up for security or the health of the nation?

WARREN: Like many things, it can be used for good or it can be used for evil.

SIDNER: Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


HOLMES: Thanks for spending part of your day with us and watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes. Do stick around now. I'll have more news in just a moment.