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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Coronavirus Cases Reaches Half A Million At 21,000 Deaths; Social Distancing Should Have Been Earlier Enforced; Pastor In Louisiana Held Large Easter Service; Tornado Hits Mississippi, Louisiana And Texas; Cautious Optimism Over Coronavirus Slowing Down On Reopening The Country; Georgia To Peak In Two Weeks On Coronavirus Deaths; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Released From London Hospital; Pope Francis Streams Easter Mass Inside St. Peter's Basilica; New Restrictions In China On Research On Coronavirus. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 12, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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 death toll from coronavirus globally has now surpassed 113,000. And nearly 22,000 of those deaths are right here in the United States. The U.S. also reporting more than 540,000 cases spread across every state and nearly every U.S. territory.

Also today, some stunning words from the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, telling CNN he believes more lives could have been saved if the White House had put out social distancing guidelines earlier as health experts in the Trump administration had wanted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: You could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.

But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you're right, I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's immediately go to our White House correspondent, Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, Dr. Fauci telling our Jake Tapper that had measures to contain the virus been taken earlier, more people almost certainly would be alive right now here in the United States.

So, why was there so much pushback to the advice that the president and others were getting from their own public health experts? JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, by mid-

January and into February, there were a slew of administration officials who had begun to sound the alarm about the scale of the coming pandemic. We know that there were warnings from the government's public health experts, national security officials, and even the president's trade adviser, Peter Navarro.

But as Dr. Fauci said, there was also pushback. Many of the president's political and economic advisers were wary of the ramifications of shutting down the country, both for the economic devastation that could potentially ensue as well as for the president's re-election prospects.

This is, of course, an election year, Wolf. And the president has really tied the economy to his political fate. Public health experts inside the government, meanwhile, had concluded by the third week of February on the need for more aggressive mitigation and social distancing efforts. That was what was broadly reported in "The New York Times."

And one administration official did confirm that to me. We do know, wolf, that it took weeks for them to be able to brief and ultimately convince the president to move forward with those mitigation efforts. It wasn't until mid-March that President Trump did that.

Meanwhile, in January and in February, we heard the president publicly repeatedly downplaying the scale of this potential pandemic, and insisting that his administration had it under control.

But Dr. Fauci today making clear that either way you cut it, the fact that the administration didn't move forward with those mitigation efforts until mid-March meant that there could have been more lives saved, had they acted sooner. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, the former vice president, Joe Biden, wrote a "New York Times" opinion piece today, Jeremy, laying out his plan to reopen the country. He also places a lot of the blame on the current occupant of the White House. Tell us about that.

DIAMOND: That's right. The former vice president, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laying out three key steps that he believes need to be taken right now in order to address this pandemic.

He talks about getting a significant decrease in cases, getting widespread testing in place, and also preparing the health care system for potential flare-ups.

Just as the president is beginning to look at how he can start to reopen the economy, potentially as soon as May 1st, former Vice President Joe Biden also addressing that, saying that first these steps need to be taken, but also looking back at what the administration has done so far and laying the blame squarely with the Trump White House.

Vice President Biden writing, "As we prepare to reopen America, we have to remember what this crisis has taught us. The administration's failure to plan, to prepare, to honestly assess and communicate the threat to the nation led to catastrophic results. We cannot repeat those mistakes."

[17:05:54]

And in line with that thinking, Wolf, we are hearing the vice president in this op-ed saying that the health and the economic responses to this crisis should not be apart, particularly if you look towards reopening the country.

We know that the president, however, is taking the approach of numerous different task forces within the White House, creating just the latest one -- one focus exactly on that question of reopening America. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jeremy, thank you. Jeremy Diamond reporting from the White House for us.

Joining us now, the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser. Hello, lieutenant governor, thank so much for joining us. I know these are very, very difficult times. Your state reporting, what, roughly 20,000 cases, more than 800,000 deaths in Louisiana.

You just heard Dr. Fauci acknowledge that if the Trump administration had put out those social distancing guidelines three weeks earlier or so, mid-February, even late February, rather than waiting until mid- March, lives would have been saved.

Dr. Fauci also said this, and I'm quoting him. He said -- I'll read it to you, "A lot of pushback about shutting things down back then." Do you think your state, which had the Mardi Gras celebrations going into late February, without any guidance at all from the federal government, we now know, if they had received some guidelines, would that had saved lives? You might have canceled Mardi Gras?

BILLY NUNGESSER, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, LOUISIANA: Well, absolutely. We surely -- had we had knowledge of what was to come, we would have taken a different look at it. And it's hard to look back now and say we should have canceled Mardi Gras.

But with 840 people deaths in the last 30 days here in Louisiana, surely some of those people probably wouldn't have been infected, had we took action sooner. But there was only one death -- one infection that we knew about during Mardi Gras.

BLITZER: Yes, but there were clearly -- if you read that very extensive article of "The New York Times," by mid-February, several of the president's top health experts were saying, you've got to do something, you've got to shut things down, otherwise, that one, that two, that three, that's going to escalate.

And we now know what 21,000 deaths here in the United States within, what, 42, 43 days. Are you angry that no one from the federal government gave you any advice about shutting things down?

NUNGESSER: Well, as I said, we didn't have that information. Surely, I know our governor didn't. And had we known what was to come, we probably would have taken other action. You know, it's difficult juggling -- tourism is a big industry in Louisiana, but we sure have to put the lives of the citizens first and the health of their safety.

So, Mardi Gras is a big celebration. It brings a lot of people to Louisiana. And in hindsight, had we know, we probably would have taken a different action.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure you would have. And all of us who have been to New Orleans, elsewhere in Louisiana, it's a great state, a great city, that is dependent on tourism like a Mardi Gras. It's a lot of economic wealth that comes to the state as a result of that.

And because of that, in March, you were critical of the mayor of New Orleans for canceling events like the St. Patrick's Day, saying at the time, it sends a message to conventions and anyone coming to the city that it might not be safe. What was that based on? Do you regret making that statement, lieutenant governor?

NUNGESSER: I absolutely do. I was wrong and the mayor was right. And I apologized to her. I was looking at four or five large conventions that had not canceled coming to New Orleans, at the time. And with little information about how quick this thing was spreading, I thought it sent the wrong message to those conventions.

At the time, we were still planning on coming to New Orleans. They had since canceled, because we saw a big flare-up the next week, right after the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. So the mayor did the right thing and in hindsight, I was wrong and she was right.

And I was looking in charge of the tourism industry. I was looking at the tourism aspect of it, and not knowing what was to come in the weeks to follow that.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, it's totally understandable. So much of Louisiana, the restaurants, the hotels, so much else depends on that tourism and that's probably completely dried up right now.

I want to play something else for you, lieutenant governor. This is Dr. Fauci once again. He spoke to our Jake Tapper earlier today about the process of reopening the country based on the availability of testing. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: It is not going to be a light switch that we say, okay, it is now June, July or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on. It's going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you've already experienced and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president, though, is seriously considering trying to reopen the U.S. economy on May 1st or so, about 19 days away. Do you think your state, Louisiana, will be ready to go back to normal in less than three weeks?

[17:09:59]

NUNGESSER: I'll be having those conversations with the governor. It's ultimately his decision and I'll support whatever decision is made with him and the medical professionals. We would have to see a lot of that curve coming down, I believe, to open back up.

But, you know, we realize over 5 million people in the USA in the tourism industry will lose their job by the end of April. So, as quickly as we can get it back open safely, we should do it. But I think we've got to see that curve coming down before we look at a date and a time to reopen Louisiana.

And I'll start having those conversations with the governor on Monday. I've already talked to the mayor, and together we'll make the right decision for the safety of Louisiana to open it at the appropriate time.

BLITZER: Yes, the key word "safety" right now. You got to err on the side of caution. You don't want more people dying in Louisiana or elsewhere around the country. As you probably know, lieutenant governor, the coronavirus model that's frequently cited by the White House shows Louisiana hitting its peak last Wednesday. Does that match the reality of what you guys are seeing on the ground right now?

NUNGESSER: Well, it hasn't been a great spike, but it surely has not headed south yet. Over 20,000 infected. You mentioned the 840 deaths, in the last 30 days. So as long as people are still dying and those numbers are still going up, I don't think we can say we're over the hill yet.

We've got to see those numbers start to go down. We did have a dozen less people on ventilators, but we've got to see the positive cases go down and of course those deaths start to level out and head south.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of the churches around -- not only Louisiana, but around the country right now are empty in favor of virtual Easter services, which is totally understandable. But there is a pastor, as you well know, near Baton Rouge, the Reverend Tony Spells who has been defying orders and getting hundreds of people to gather during this outbreak.

What's your message to folks who believe it's a sign of their devotion that they still show up for church at really dangerous moments like this?

NUNGESSER: Well, I think it's disrespectful, not only to the people that show up at church, but to all of Louisianans, for anybody to call a gathering of people because they're just so in disrespect for the lives of those people, not only that are coming to the church, but to their families and their elders and their families as they go back home.

So, for anybody to encourage people to go out in those gatherings for any reason is unacceptable until this thing is over. And I just think it's disrespectful.

BLITZER: Well, it's also dangerous. We saw some video, we just showed our viewers. Maybe we will show it again. They're very close quarters, they're holding hands, they're singing, which would be under normal circumstances, that would be a totally understandable, but right now, that's pretty dangerous.

NUNGESSER: It really is. It's just a total disrespect and not adhering to the orders that everyone else is following. It shows little respect for anybody, the people that go to his church as well as all the people in Louisiana, because they're going to leave there, somebody is going to get infected and spread it to other people.

BLITZER: That video we were showing, by the way, was from earlier. It wasn't today, but clearly there were services today as well. We're also seeing, lieutenant governor, some images of damage from a probable tornado in Monroe, Louisiana.

How prepared is the state right now to respond to emergencies like at a time when first responders and hospitals, they are clearly already overtaxed?

NUNGESSER: It's going to be a challenge. You know, we're going to be getting into hurricane season and the governor has already tasked his team to look at a model of seeing a hurricane and dealing with this virus at the same time.

That would be very difficult to try to evacuate people and put them in a shelter when you're trying to keep people apart. So that would be very challenging. But we're going to be looking at those models and looking at the worst-case scenario of doing just that.

Yes, that was a horrible thing that hit the north Louisiana today and our first responders are up there doing a great job, but it has stretched them thin during this time of crisis.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, thank you so much for joining us. I know you guys have so much going on right now. We're grateful to everything you're doing. Louisiana, clearly still a hot spot right now. We hope things get better and get better quickly. Let's watch together. Thanks for joining us.

NUNGESSER: Happy Easter.

BLITZER: Happy Easter to you, as well. Thank you so much. The top doctor on the White House coronavirus task force is expressing cautious optimism right now that the outbreak is slowing a bit. Does that mean efforts are working? What does that mean for reopening the country? We're going to turn to the doctors on the front lines when we come back. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: Right now, there are more than half a million coronavirus cases confirmed here in the United States, nearly 22,000 deaths also confirmed. But earlier today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert shared a shred of optimism. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: On the same day that the New York metropolitan area had the highest number of deaths they had, when you look at the admissions, the hospitalizations, the intensive care and the need to intubate, that not only has flattened, it's starting to turn the corner. So that's where we're hopeful. And it's, you know, cautious optimism that we are seeing that decrease.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Patrice Harris is the president of the American Medical Association. She's joining us now. Dr. Harris, thank you so much for joining us. Do you share Dr. Fauci's cautious optimism?

[17:14:50]

PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Wolf, thank you for having me back. I think cautious optimism is appropriate, as long as that is in the context of our continuing to ramp up our testing capacity, making sure that we have the PPE, the personal protective equipment that we need, making sure that all areas, regions that may not yet be hot spots have capacity for ICU beds and ventilators.

So, absolutely, we've seen improved numbers in the hot spots and we can take that and make sure that we are prepared and mitigate any potential new hot spots.

BLITZER: If you were advising lawmakers, Dr. Harris, in this country right now, about when to reopen the country, what would your guidance be?

HARRIS: Well, my guidance would be to base our reopening of the country on the science and the evidence. Just this past Tuesday, I gave a public address and it was to really have us all make sure that as we work through this pandemic, actually, any public health crisis, that we rely on the science and the evidence to inform policies, practices, and decisions. And so, that would be my major piece of advice.

BLITZER: Should it be decided on a state-by-state basis or on a national level?

HARRIS: Well, certainly, I believe that we will have to have rolling openings, if you will. I think that is what Dr. Fauci said. Again, we should base that on the evidence. We know that not every region has a hot spot and in the regions that are not hot spots, they have an opportunity to test and trace.

And so, there will be differences in cities and states and regions, but again, in each city, state, and region, if they are following the data, the science, and the evidence, that will be a good practice. BLITZER: You're a strong proponent of testing. Tell us why you believe

testing will be so important in allowing a potential return to at least some sort of normality?

HARRIS: Well, we received so much information from testing and that is why it is very important that we roll out as quickly as we can the rapid testing. And that's why we also need to make sure we develop and roll out antibody testing.

I think in all phases, in the containment phase, in the mitigation phase and in the recovery phase, if we know who is infected at the moment, who has been infected and has recovered, those will be key data points as we make decisions about who can go back to work, right?

I can tell you that physicians are anxious to get back to practice. Many outpatient physician practices have reduced their hours. And that means that there are unmet health needs happening right now.

We know that children may be getting behind on their vaccinations and the last thing we need is another outbreak of an infectious disease. So, we really need this data so we can make critical decisions about getting back to work, getting our physician practices opening and getting the country back open.

BLITZER: I know a lot of your colleagues are worried and some of them even expect a second wave of coronavirus and more illnesses to come, whether in August, September, in the fall. What's your analysis?

HARRIS: That is a continued worry. Again, which is all the more reason to have the most data that we have available, that we can get through the testing. But also, we need to make sure that we continue to prepare. We need to make sure we are prepared for the next wave.

Again, we can hope for the best, but we absolutely need to prepare for the worst. And with data, we can know where we might have another outbreak, and we can make sure that we are prepared.

BLITZER: Dr. Harris, as usual, thank you so much for what you're doing. Thank you so much for joining us.

HARRIS: Thank you.

BLITZER: The state of Georgia is expected to hit its peak in a matter of weeks. And just in, the governor there is announcing plans to build a temporary hospital in Atlanta ahead of the expected surge. The Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, standing by live. She'll join us. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:00]

BLITZER: Breaking news right now. We're getting word that a very large, very destructive tornado is on the ground right now in southern Mississippi. A tornado emergency had been issued earlier by the national weather service for parts of Covington and Jeffresson Davis counties.

So far today, there have been more than a dozen tornado reports across eastern Texas, northern Louisiana, and southern Mississippi. More severe weather is expected through the evening. We'll continue to watch this for you.

In the meantime, the coronavirus model often cited by the White House shows some states may have already hit their peak in this crisis, but others, like the state of Georgia, could still be weeks away. Right now, Georgia's department of health is reporting more than 12,000 total cases, as more than -- as well as more than 400 confirmed deaths.

I'm joined now by the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. What are you hearing from hospitals in Atlanta right now, as they brace for what's projected to be, if you believe the models, a peak case load in about two weeks. Are they telling you they have enough supplies?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GA: Well, right now, we do have enough supplies, Wolf. And it's good news for us. It's unfortunate that we have been able to watch what's happening in other cities, but the upside to that, it's given us an opportunity to prepare and increase our capacity.

[17:29:58]

The governor mentioned today that we will be expanding to 200 additional beds at our World Congress Center. We also allowed essential construction to continue in the city. And so we have a new state of the art hospital wing opening up with an additional 123 beds.

Right now, we are a bit under capacity in our hospitals, because we have canceled all elective surgeries, so that's given us a bit of breathing room. But just as the entire country is competing to get PPE, we are competing on a municipal level, as well as with our hospitals. So, so far, so good, but we aren't taking our foot off of the pedal yet.

BLITZER: Yes, you shouldn't. You've got to err, as I keep saying, on the side of caution. The governor of Georgia, your governor is asking people to stay home today, rather than attend Easter services or other celebrations. Have you had any reports of large gatherings in Atlanta today?

BOTTOMS: Fortunately, we have not and I can say that people in Atlanta really did heed the warning when we closed down the city several weeks ago. People seem to be taking this very seriously. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had to close down one church, but I have not gotten any reports today of large gatherings.

And again, I think being able to watch CNN and the national news, we see how unfortunate we are not to have the onslaught of people in our hospitals in a way that other cities do. And so I think people are heeding the warnings and it's my hope that they continue to do that. BLITZER: We heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci today that lives almost

certainly would have been saved had social distancing guidelines been put into place in mid-February or so instead of waiting until around mid-march.

If you had known these recommendations were being made behind the scenes -- I know that they didn't inform local governments or state governments -- would you have tried to shut down your city earlier?

BOTTOMS: I absolutely would have. In fact, I did it as soon as the alarm was sounded personally for me. Dr. Carlos del Rio from Emory University, one of the leading and infectious disease experts in the country consulted with me and a number of business leaders in the city and told us that we had essentially a 24-hour window that we needed to close our city and our businesses down.

And I immediately took action to do that. And many of our other companies, our Fortune 500 companies, did that in the city. I think that's why we are in the position that we are in now. But certainly, for places like Albany, Georgia, where we have seen this huge outbreak, it certainly would have been helpful to have this information even a month in advance.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise. The Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta right now, are you telling you that no one from the CDC actually informed you, the mayor of Atlanta, get ready, this is going to be a disaster?

BOTTOMS: Wolf, I was on spring break with my kids on a beach the first part of March. So, there were conversations with my team about what coordination we had. I know the governor had convened a task force so that we could begin discussing it.

But just by way of example, I had a state of the city address scheduled for March 16th and it was really at the urging of the Coca- Cola Company that I cancel that the day before because we were still prepared to go forward.

That's how uninformed I was as a mayor and we were as a city at that time. We did not recognize that we literally were in the eye of the storm and I didn't shut the city down until a week later.

BLITZER: Yes, nobody told, you know, the mayor of New Orleans. I'm sure she would have closed down -- she would have closed down the city, too, for Mardi Gras if someone from the CDC or elsewhere had said to them what they were saying privately to the White House.

The CDC, as you know, is also now recommending that everyone wear cloth face coverings while out in public. The state of Georgia, however, has a law on the books that makes it misdemeanor to cover the majority of your face. You tweeted this. Let me read it.

"I was appalled to see two men in another city escorted from a store for wearing masks, as now recommended by the CDC." You have now directed officers not to enforce the statute. Why do you think the governor hasn't already suspended that law statewide? BOTTOMS: Well, you know, I can't speak for the governor, Wolf, but

again, we've had to go this alone in so many ways. And in my other life, I was a judge and a lawyer. I and I woke up one morning and remembered that there was this law on the books and I thought about what I had seen on television with these two men and that's the reason that I instructed our officers not to enforce that law.

[17:34:57]

So, I can't speak for the governor. He may not have known, because, again, certainly, it was nothing that had been a top-of-mind conversation or discussion. But I think that's why it's important as leaders that we continue, that we listen, as much -- we lead as much as we follow. That's been helpful for me.

And Atlanta, looking at what's happening in other cities and other states and having people look to us too and nobody knows our communities better than we do. And so that's why I've taken several actions that I know are in the best interests of our communities and hopefully others will follow, as well.

BLITZER: Yes. Wearing those face coverings will save lives. There's no doubt about that. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, thank you so much for what you're doing. Thanks for joining us.

BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: So, millions have celebrated Easter today in front of a computer. Pope Francis gave a solitary service at the Vatican earlier today. But the president chose to listen to one pastor's service in particular. It's putting a bit of a spotlight on the pastor's controversial past. We have details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:00]

BLITZER: Today is certainly such a holy day for millions of Christians here in the United States and around the world. But in the middle of a pandemic, celebrating Easter looks very different from years past, very different.

Instead of gathering together for services, many are gathering around a digital screen to watch stream sermons, prayers, and blessings. President Trump acknowledged this in his Easter message on twitter and he tweeted he would be tuning into services at a Dallas mega church led by Pastor Robert Jeffress. I want to bring in our White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, right now.

Sarah, tell us about a little bit of controversy emerging regarding the pastor whose service the president was planning to watch today.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. Pastor Robert Jeffress, certainly someone who is a controversial figure, but he's a pastor that's favored by President Trump. This is certainly not the first time that the president has evaluated Pastor Jeffress. He, for example, invited Jeffress to pray at a church service before

his inauguration. Also, Jeffress was selected to pray at the opening ceremony for the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. So, a lot of high-profile roles for him.

But like you mentioned, Jeffress has a style that has obviously courted controversy in the past. He's gone after Mormons, Catholics, and Muslims. For example, suggesting that Islam promotes pedophilia in the past, also making a number of inflammatory claims, such as claiming that former President Barack Obama paved the way for the anti-Christ.

And his description of Mormonism as a cult actually led Mitt Romney to condemn publicly Jeffress in 2018. He described Jeffress as a religious bigot, protesting the fact that Jeffress was invited to speak at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Today, during his Easter services, Jeffress gave President Trump, who he knew was watching, a number of shout-outs. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT JEFFRESS, SENIOR PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: Mr. President, our church absolutely loves you, as do millions of Christians across this country. We appreciate your strong articulation of the Christian faith.

I've never heard a stronger affirmation of faith than the one you gave Friday, Good Friday, in the Oval Office. We thank you for your commitment to religious liberty and we thank you for your strong leadership during this coronavirus crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: So there you heard well, Jeffress praising the president's COVID-19 response during his Easter services. Jeffress has defended President Trump on a number of fronts including against allegations of infidelity.

He says the president has done more for Christians than any other president. And he's not just a faith leader that the president likes. Jeffress is actually an adviser to President Trump, Wolf, and he also sits on the president's evangelical advisory board. BLITZER: All right, very interesting, indeed. All right, Sarah

Westwood reporting for us. Thank you, Sarah, very much.

Still ahead, the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of the hospital and saying it could have gone either way after testing positive for coronavirus. We'll have a live report from London. That's coming up. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:45:00]

BLITZER: The world today is hearing from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, revealing details of his personal battle against coronavirus. Johnson in a video statement admitting it could have gone either way for him.

Johnson today released from the hospital, now at the prime minister's country estate to recuperate. CNN's Bianca Nobilo is in London for us. Bianca, tell us about the prime minister's message of gratitude today.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a side of the prime minister that we've never seen. This is a man that likes to appear invulnerable, a winner, an effervescent personality. He's never been publicly vulnerable or emotional like this.

He expressed his deep gratitude to the National Health Service in Britain, saying that he owes them his life. He also, in a personal display of thanks, named some of the nurses who had taken care of him and tended to him over his most critical moments. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER OF UNITED KINGDOM: And I hope they won't mind if I mention, in particular, two nurses who stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way. They're Jenny from New Zealand -- Invercargill on the South Island to be exact, and Luis from Portugal -- near Porto.

And the reason in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night, they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: Wolf, the prime minister's fiancee, Carrie Simmons, who's expecting their baby in early summer, said that the last week had understandably been dark and she said that she never felt like she would be able to repay the debt that she owed to the health service.

Now, the prime minister is continuing his recovery at Chequers, the prime minister's country estate. And while that is welcome news for his family and for the country, it is juxtaposed with an absolutely wrenching milestone here in the United Kingdom.

Over 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths confirmed in hospital. Now, Wolf, that's likely to significantly underreport the amount of deaths in this country, because unlike France, it doesn't include deaths in care homes, where the most elderly and vulnerable to this particular virus are dying, nor does it include those who die within the community.

[17:50:08]

There is also still immense pressure on the government to make sure that PPE ends up in the hands of the medics who need it. There were some harrowing reports last week from doctors and nurses association saying that their frontline workers in some instances, Wolf, were being told to hold their breath because they didn't have the right equipment. So, while this is very good news about the prime minister, it's so

important that it doesn't eclipse what is the incredibly tragic and deepening tragedy that we're witnessing in the United Kingdom, as we're not even at the peak yet, Wolf.

And now the focus will be on the government's continued response to this, whether or not they do need to do more testing, and certainly, make sure that the PPE ends up in the hands of those medics who are fighting this battle on the front line, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's truly such a horrendous situation in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe as well. Bianca, thank you very much for that report. We'll stay in close touch with you.

And on this Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian year, Pope Francis offered Easter mass inside a nearly deserted St. Peter's Basilica. Worshippers were unable to attend in person amid the pandemic.

Social distancing didn't, though, prevent the Pope from streaming the service around the world. As part of the ceremony, he gave the traditional Easter blessing to the city of Rome and to the world.

And while all of Italy remains under lockdown for Easter, the legendary tenor, Andrea Bocelli, offered the gift of song by performing in Milan's deserted Duomo cathedral. He described the performance as not a concert but a prayer. Listen.

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BLITZER: Right now Beijing is tightening its grip over coronavirus research as the world is fighting to control the spread of this deadly virus.

The Chinese city of Wuhan and its so-called wet markets where wild animals are held and sold, a hotbed of viruses, are the likely epicenter of the virus. CNN's Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong with more on China's new coronavirus restrictions.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: China has issued new regulations restricting the publication of research about coronavirus. CNN learned about this from the web page of Fudan University. It's one of China's most elite universities.

And the guidelines were published there last week, saying, "Any paper that traces the origin of the virus should be strictly managed." And the guidelines had instructions for academics about which government agency they could apply to, to publish the results of their research about the origins of the coronavirus.

That website included the name and e-mail address and phone number of an official at China's Ministry of Education. And we called that individual. The person who answered the phone confirmed these new guidelines had been issued but said they weren't supposed to be made public.

Shortly after our phone call, the web page was removed from the university's site. But we've since learned that at least two other Chinese universities have had similar web pages published with guidelines, and one of them actually removed that information as well.

Now, why is this important? Well, the first cases of coronavirus were detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December of last year. And there's been a pattern of government officials at different levels punishing and trying to shut down doctors and researchers who have tried to sound the alarm about this deadly disease.

They include Dr. Li Wenliang from Wuhan, who was summoned to the police and later caught coronavirus and died in the hospital in February, and he's since become a hero in China. The disease, of course, has spread to a pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

And any additional information or research we can have about this disease will probably be important. No country, arguably, has more data than China, which detected the first known cases of coronavirus. And now there seem to be new obstacles to sharing that research with the outside world. Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

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