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Trump Halts W.H.O. Funding Over Handling of Outbreak; Interview with Lawrence Gostin, Director, W.H.O. Collaborating Center on Public Health and Human Rights, Trump Halting of Funding; Trump Retreats From Claims of Absolute Authority; Governors Respond to Reopening Economy; Some European Countries Ease Lockdown Measures; France Surpasses 15,000 Deaths, Extends Lockdown; Germany Reports Highest Number of Deaths in Single Day; Italy Cautiously Eases Some Lockdown Measures. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, why Donald Trump is pulling the plug on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Meantime, state leaders are outlining their way forward and California's governor says we have to prepare for a new normal.


GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask, dinner where the menu is disposable. Where the tables, half of the tables in that restaurant no longer appear.


CHURCH: And later, Barack Obama breaks his silence, finally endorsing Joe Biden.

Well, in just the last few hours, the death toll in the U.S. has now climbed past 26,000, as confirmed coronavirus cases also rise to more than 609,000 across the country.

And as officials in this country and around the world battle this pandemic, President Donald Trump announced he was freezing funding to the World Health Organization, as he said it reviews their role in, quote, mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus.

That decision coming as Mr. Trump defends his own handling of the outbreak in the United States. Even prior to the pandemic, the administration's fiscal year 2021 proposal laid out a $65 million cut to the organization, a more than 50 percent decrease from the previous year. But the U.N. Secretary-General says now is the time to support the

W.H.O. Explaining -- it is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against COVID-19.

So, let's bring in Lawrence Gostin now, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights and a professor at Georgetown. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, sir, as Americans waited Tuesday afternoon to get an update on the pandemic from the U.S. President at his daily briefing, instead, they heard him point the finger of blame at the World Health Organization and halt their funding in the middle of a pandemic. What could be the consequences of such a move?

GOSTIN: You know, I think there'll be profound consequences, both globally and here in the United States. This is a time when we need to come together. We're facing a once-in-a-century event. And what's happened is that this is going to disempower the World Health Organization. And at this moment in our history, when COVID is ravaging the earth and is about to go like an avalanche into sub- Saharan Africa, this will come back to haunt the United States. Because you know, we may get COVID under control here, but if it's raging in Africa and Latin America and India, in our internationally connected world, cases will start to flood into the United States. And so, even if we get it under control, we'll see a second wave, a third wave, even a fourth wave of COVID. You know, we're only as safe as the weakest link. And now we've made the global health leader very weak just at the most critical time in modern human history, frankly.

CHURCH: Well, let's listen now to what President Trump said specifically, his criticism of the W.H.O. let's listen.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had the W.H.O. done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at a source with very little death, very little death, and certainly, very little death by comparison. This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the W.H.O. willingly took China's assurances to face value, and they took it just at face value, and defended the actions of the Chinese government, even praising China for its so-called transparency. I don't think so.


CHURCH: All right, so, it is worth pointing out, CNN has reported extensively about mistakes made by the W.H.O. Our own network had to call the pandemic before the W.H.O. was willing to do so. But Mr. Trump there says the W.H.O. took assurances from China at face value. Is that true? And did it objectively assess the situation on the ground or did it not?

GOSTIN: Well, you know, there are valid criticisms of W.H.O., and even more valid criticisms of China, so I'm not going to whitewash that. And in fact, I was one of the early voices in saying that the World Health Organization should not be effusively praising China.

Having said that, around the same time that Dr. Tedros was praising China, who is the head of the World Health Organization, President Trump was also praising China, in particular, Xi Jinping. And remember, W.H.O. is at the mercy of powerful countries like the United States and China. It had no means to independently verify what China said. In fact, China did not allow W.H.O. on its soil. It didn't invite W.H.O. in until well later, and even then, a very small contingent. So, to lay this at W.H.O.'s door, when we could see this coming, I think is inexcusable.

We didn't need W.H.O. to tell us. And in fact, W.H.O. did. They said very early on that we needed to prepare for something very substantial. But we could see it. I mean, the President and everybody in America could see it like a tsunami going through first China, then east Asia, then Europe. We had weeks and probably months to prepare, and we didn't. So now, to deflect blame on the World Health Organization or China is simply -- it's false and it's hurtful, and I think it will come back to haunt the United States.

CHURCH: Yes, and President Trump blames the W.H.O. for supporting China and says it praised the country for its transparency, but as you point out, he did exactly that in a tweet on January 24th. Let's just bring that up.

And he says, China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well, in particular, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank President Xi!

So, yes, President Trump was supporting, and he was supporting China. And around this time, of course, he was trying to get a trade deal with China as well. So, let's talk about this, because at the same time, he did receive critical U.S. intelligence warning him of the threat the coronavirus posed to the nation, possibly the world, but still ignored that. Is he being sufficiently held to account on this, because clearly, his effort here is to deflect attention to the W.H.O., which, as we point out, they did make mistakes as well. But what changed his mind, do you think? He thought back on January 24th that China was transparent, doing all the right things. He doesn't think that now. What changed his mind?

GOSTIN: Well, you know, what's happened here, I think, if you take a step back, it looks like President Trump and also President Xi Jinping of China are putting W.H.O. in the middle of a geopolitical struggle, a big power competition, when we really should all be in this together. At a time when, if we ever needed global cooperation, if we ever needed to coordinate our response, now is the time.


And you know, think about what W.H.O., its role now. It's not just warning the United States. It's not just supporting sub-Saharan Africa and other low-income countries as this is going to rage in those parts of the world, but also, W.H.O. is helping to coordinate international scientific work on a vaccine. They've approved COVID test kits, which the United States has never used. And there are other global health priorities that America cares about. The United States helps fund things like, at the W.H.O., mental health, AIDS, polio eradication, things that Americans care about. It's really impossible for me to believe that the American public and our values would accept this kind of behavior.

CHURCH: We will watch to see what happens next. Lawrence Gostin, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your perspective and analysis. We appreciate it.

GOSTIN: Thanks. Sure.

CHURCH: And governors across the United States have rejected President Trump's assertion that he, quote, calls the shots and has the power to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen the country. Now, after facing pushback, the President appears to be backpedaling his earlier comments.


TRUMP: We have lots of different pieces. It's a puzzle. We have beautiful pieces, beautiful states with capable governors. They know when it's time to open, and we don't want to put pressure on anybody. I'm not going to put any pressure on any governor to open. I'm not going to say to Governor Cuomo, you're going to open within seven days. I want him to take his time, do it right, and then open New York. I'm not putting any pressure on the governors.


CHURCH: Well, meantime, the estimated death toll in New York City rose sharply Tuesday after officials made changes to their counting methods. The city's overall tally now includes victims who were never tested for the virus but likely died from it. So far, officials have counted more than 3,000 of these probable deaths. Combined with the number of confirmed deaths, the overall death toll has risen to more than 10,000.

Well, despite the growing number of fatalities, models have estimated that some states are past the peak of the pandemic, while others are expected to reach that point within a week. CNN's Erica Hill reports on how governors across the country are responding to the outbreak.


GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: We can't get ahead of ourselves, a dream of regretting. I don't want to make a political decision that puts people's lives at risk.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California Governor Gavin Newsom making it clear, what's ahead will be different.

NEWSOM: You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask, dinner where the menu is disposable.

HILL: As states prepare to gradually reopen, California's setting expectations for this new normal, which could include regular temperature checks, staggered school days, and a continued ban on large gatherings, like concerts and sporting events, all aimed at one goal -- stopping this virus.

ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK GOVERNOR: We think we are at the apex, on the plateau.

HILL: On the opposite coast, encouraging but cautious updates from New York, as Governor Andrew Cuomo tells President Trump, he won't be pushed into reopening too soon.

CUOMO: If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it.

HILL: Both governors working with their neighbors for a coordinated, science-based response, as researchers warn, some form of stay-at-home orders may need to continue into 2022, unless a vaccine becomes available.

Meantime, in South Dakota, hundreds of confirmed cases at this pork processing plant, which is now closed indefinitely while the state remains open.

STEVE ALLENDER, RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA MAYOR: We really don't know what the holdup is. We've been identified as one of the nation's hotspots in Sioux Falls. And so, it's just a question of when does it infiltrate the rest of our rural communities?

HILL: In Louisiana, schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Florida's Surgeon General telling his state to buckle down.

SCOTT RIVKEES, FLORIDA'S SURGEON GENERAL: But I cannot emphasize enough that we cannot let our guard down at this present time. Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off, this is going to be our new normal, and we need to adapt and protect ourselves.

HILL: As Tennessee's governor announces plans for a phased reboot beginning May 1st. And those watching the virus each day urge caution.


DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, PHYSICIAN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: If we are planning to do this appropriately, in a way that prevents continued spread of the virus and more deaths, May 1st is a pipe dream.

HILL (on camera): Dr. Anthony Fauci telling the "Associated Press" as well that May 1st was, in his words, a bit overly optimistic for many areas in terms of a reopening date. The governors of these coalitions that have formed clearly focusing on the data, not the dates. Back to you.


CHURCH: And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come, Italy is now easing restrictions in some areas, but only if key rules are followed. We'll have more details when we come back.


CHURCH: In Europe right now, we are seeing somewhat of a split. Spain and Austria are allowing partial returns to work. Some shops and businesses are being allowed to reopen in Italy, while the U.K. and France are extending their lockdowns. All that as the European Commission gets ready to lay out its roadmap for reopening the region. We'll hear from that next hour, of course.


So, let's go live to Normandy, France, where CNN's Cyril Vanier is there live for us. So, Cyril, France has been hit particularly hard by this pandemic with deaths surpassing 15,000 -- shocking numbers. How is the country dealing with that? And of course, now this extended lockdown.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR, YOUR WORLD TODAY: Rosemary, I think by and large, people understand that France cannot do what Austria has done. It is too early for this country to start reopening because we're still in the eye of the storm. Upwards of 700 people died yesterday. And in fact, new polling suggests that people support the extended lockdown that was announced by the President earlier this week. The lockdown was extended by another month, until May 11th. So, now May 11th is the critical date. And as I said, the French understand that staying confined until then is just a necessary measure to save lives and stop the spread of the virus.

Starting May 11th, people will start gradually going back to school -- children -- and workers will start going back to work. It's going to be a partial reopening of the country. And this really is a compromise date between the need to save lives and save the health care system and also the need at some point to start reopening the economy, because recession has already set in here in France.

But on May 12th, it's not going to be life back to normal. I mean, first of all, children are maybe going to be wearing masks in schools, and there's some concern over that. But secondly, it's only part of the country that will be reopening, because bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, museums, festivals, any large gatherings, none of that is going to reopen until at least mid-July. And elderly people as well as people with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems are also not going to be allowed to leave their homes. We don't know when the confinement in the stay-at-home order will be lifted for them.

So, as I said, Rosemary, it's this compromise between saving lives and restarting the economy. And for the moment, the polling suggests that the French have some appreciation for that.

CHURCH: Yes, understood. We are going to all wake up to a whole new world. Cyril Vanier, many thanks to you, bringing us the latest from Normandy, France.

And CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live now in Berlin and joins us. Good to see you again, Fred. So Germany's Angela Merkel moved quickly and early in response to this pandemic, and now the country is preparing to emerge from its lockdown. What's the plan?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Rosemary. Well, one thing is clear here in Germany, is that if the country is going to start emerging, it's going to be very slowly and very gradually. What is going to happen today is that Angela Merkel's going to talk to a very powerful state governors here in Germany. Of course, Germany's a very decentralized, federalist system, and so Angela Merkel needs to get all of them on board if there is going to be any sort of easing of the restrictions.

Now, there are some that want to move forward a little more quickly, and there's others who say that the restrictions need to stay in place completely for an extended period of time. How fast that's going to move, we're going to wait and see later today.

But there are really three key areas that they're talking about right now. One is those social distancing measures. Another thing is perhaps opening some shops. And then the big issue that everyone here is talking about is possibly reopening some schools.

As far as social distancing is concerned, the government has essentially already said that is probably going to stay in place. In fact, it might become even more strict. If Germany is going to start to allow, for instance, smaller shops to reopen, like Austria, by the way, did yesterday, then possibly people are going to have to wear masks if they are going to go into those shops. They might also have to start wearing masks in public transport as well. There is not going to be any large gatherings here in this country.

The big issue is -- and really, one that's being talked about the most -- is what about schools? There are some states that say, look, now is the time to start gradually opening schools, especially for some of the older classes, where children really need to see whether or not they are going to be able to get their high school diplomas at the end of the year, and there's others who are saying it simply is still too early. It's going to be a very interesting day today to see what sort of measures are taken and to what extent, if at all, Germany is going to loosen some of these restrictions that have been in place -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll be watching to see. It certainly looks like masks and social distancing will be in all our futures going forward. Fred Pleitgen joining us there live from Berlin. Many thanks.

Well, in Italy, the government is easing some lockdown measures. Shops and businesses are being allowed to open in some regions. It's part of a three-phase plan to bring Italy back to normal, or the new normal, we should say. And as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports, this is giving a glimmer of hope to those stuck indoors.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rush hour in Rome, yet more than a month into the lockdown, no one is rushing anywhere.


Starting Tuesday, the government here is easing that lockdown ever so slightly, allowing, among other things, bookstores, stationery shops and shops selling baby and children's clothing to reopen. Although in the hard-hit north, the lockdown remains unchanged.

For Rome shop owner Manuela Achadi, it's a step in the right direction. We're all hoping to go back to a normal life, she says. Yet, a normal life is still elusive.

Landmarks usually teeming with tourists are empty. It's been a while since anyone threw a coin in the fountain here. While grass grows thick between the once-well-tread cobblestones in Piazza Navona. Spring is in the air, but the roadside to the seaside is deserted, the beach off limits.

(on camera): It's getting to the point where cabin fever is colliding with spring fever. People are getting restless. Over the long Easter weekend, the police handed out more than 42,000 fines to those accused of violating the emergency regulations.

(voice-over): The government has extended the lockdown until May 3rd, a move some support.

I wish it weren't like this, but I agree, says Marta. It's inevitable, given how many people have been infected.

Her friend, Linda, insists it's already too much. We're living in a dictatorship, she says. I don't agree. We're just numbers. We don't count.

People may be restless, but the dogs are fine. They're free to go outside, taking their humans for frequent walks. We're gradually becoming accustomed to house arrest.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


CHURCH: Starting to look hopeful. And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Still to come, Barack Obama endorses his Vice President for the top job and says Joe Biden is the right man to tackle the pandemic.