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Johns Hopkins: 609,000+ Cases, 26,000+ Deaths in the U.S.; Trump Deflects and Defunds WHO; Europe's Coronavirus Exit Plan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, good to see you. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in United States and all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, ahead on CNN NEWSROOM:

Facing criticism on his handling of America's coronavirus pandemic, the president, Donald Trump, deflects blame and defunds the World Health Organization.

Plus, Europe is set to reveal its plan on reopening, but some countries are still tallying record death tolls. We have that.

And pandemic dreams are becoming a reality for many people. So, we'll ask a sleep expert why you may be having stressful nightmares. You want to stick around for that.


CURNOW: So, the U.S. has now recorded its highest number of coronavirus deaths in just a single day. And so far, more than 26,000 people in the U.S. have died. So, the number of confirmed cases currently stands at over 600,000 people. That number is a global record. America has the most cases, by far, in the world.

But still, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, appeared eager to talk about reopening the economy during a briefing on Tuesday, but the nation's top infectious disease expert says the idea of reopening by May 1st is, quote, overly optimistic.

Now, it was at that briefing that President Trump announced he was withholding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, a decision made, he says, as he defends his own response to the outbreak. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED TATES: Had the WHO 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 its source with very little death, very little death, and certainly, very little death by comparison.


CURNOW: Now, the U.N. secretary, excuse me, general reacted to these remarks, saying now is the time to support the WHO, explaining it is, quote, absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against COVID-19.

So, you heard the president there criticize the WHO for not calling out China's lack of transparency. But in this tweet -- take a look -- from January, Mr. Trump was actually thanking China for its transparency, saying, quote, it will all work out well.

Here's what he's saying now when asked about those comments.


REPORTER: You were criticizing the WHO for praising China for being transparent, but you also praised China for being transparent --

TRUMP: I don't talk about China's transparency.

REPORTER: In January --

TRUMP: Well, you know, if I'm so good to China, how come I was the only person, the only leader of a country that closed our borders tightly against China?


CURNOW: And after just one day after claiming total authority to reopen the country, Mr. Trump then backed off that comment, acknowledging that it would be up to the governors to make the call about lifting their own restrictions.


TRUMP: The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized, and we will soon be sharing details and new guidelines with everybody. I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly, and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, and a very powerful reopening plan, of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate.


CURNOW: Well, Mr. Trump's reversal comes after several states rejected the claim that only he can call the shots. In California, the governor's not only pushed back against the president, but he's also outlined his own plan to reopen the state's economy and lift stay-at- home orders.

Here's how other governors across the country have responded so far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GARY HERBERT (R), UTAH: Not only Republican, but Democrat governors alike have expressed appreciation for the sensitivity to state rights that they've, in fact, shown. I've certainly polled that. I'm a Tenth Amendment guy and powers not given to the federal government under our Constitution remain with the states and the people. So, we have a responsibility as the United States of America, as sovereign states, to find our own ways to resolve some of the issues.


But it's a partnership.

GOV. KATE BROWN (D), OREGON: As a governor, I have the power to protect the health and safety of my constituents, my Oregonians, and that's exactly what we've done.

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D), ILLINOIS: It's a good thing the president finally recognized that it's the Constitution that authorizes the governors to have the power to reopen their states. And so, I appreciate that.

I think Governor Cuomo had it right when he said that, you know, the president is not a king, he's president of a United States of America.

Let me go all the way back to when he said it was a hoax and all of us were trying to deal with it as individual governors. Illinois was the second state in the United States, I think the same day, actually, as California, to put our stay-at-home order in place. It's having the effect of leveling out the cases here, but we're the ones who had to speed up testing.

I asked over and over again for testing from the federal government. They kept saying they were going to deliver millions of tests across the country. They haven't done that. We've done that ourselves.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: 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. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government, and that would go into the courts.


CURNOW: So, meanwhile, several parts of the U.S. are seeing a spike in the number of deaths and infections.

Let's go to California again. Officials there confirming more than 1,500 new cases just on Tuesday. That's the most they've ever reported in a single day since the outbreak began. And then in New York City, the estimated death toll rose to more than 10,000 people after officials changed their counting methods. Their overall tally now includes victims who were never tested for the virus but likely died from it.

Well, Dr. Mike Varshavski is a family physician and host of a popular YouTube channel that provides medical information and he joins me now from New York on all of this.

Dr. Mike, great to see you again.

I want you to talk about these numbers for me, just in the U.S. over 26,000 people are dead, inching towards three quarters of a million people infected here. It's a global record. I mean, sadly in this case, America is first.

What do you make of these numbers?

DR. MIKE VARSHAVSKI, FAMILY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Yes, you know, it's unfortunate to have us number one in these numbers because we don't want to be having people sick. We don't want to be having people losing their lives. But what we need to remember is that throughout the United States, we have different pathways of this virus, meaning that we in New York City here are at least ten days ahead of the rest of the country when we are discussing the viral curve, the curve of the spike, the plateau, and hopefully, the drop of COVID-19.

So, while we see cases spiking in New York City probably two, three days ago, we are not going to see the spike for the majority of the cities in the Midwest, in some southern portions of the United States. Those are yet to come, so expect numbers to go up and expect numbers to change. Like, I'm seeing over the last few days serious downtrend of hospitalizations here in New York. We actually are doing some steps into decreasing hospital workers. We're canceling some temporary workers that we hired initially that we needed because of the influx of patients.

But now, with it starting to flatten the curve, the social mitigation efforts working, we're hopefully making good progress.

CURNOW: Yes, that's great news. But as you're also cautioning then, this could move towards the Midwest and people mustn't get complacent. This is not a one size fits all virus, essentially. All this talk about opening economies, is there a binary choice between the economy and public safety, between health and wealth? What do you make of that conversation as a doctor?

VARSHAVSKI: Well, I think everyone has their own wish of when they would like for the economy to open. Some want it today. Some want it in a week. Some want it in a month. There is no timetable.

We have to monitor the virus. And what the virus is doing and how it's behaving is going to tell us when we can open up this country. You know, just a few weeks ago, I remember President Trump mentioning that he would like to open the country on April 12th, on Easter. We said that was likely not going to happen, and guess what, it didn't happen.

So, we need to not put deadlines out there, because they don't matter. If the virus continues to go up, if we still see the potential social spread of this virus, if we loosen social distancing, we're not going to open the country back up. And what I'd like to see to not happen moving forward is, while the president is optimistic and wants to get the economy going -- great -- I think we need to pump the brakes on saying when we're going to open up this country before we have all the information.

At the same time, I don't want to see the press continuously say, well, you know, we're not doing good. Why would we open the country?


It almost feels like the president and the press are at such odds that they're looking to pick each other off, and it's very difficult for us to get good-quality information because there's so much emotion in this situation.

CURNOW: Well, I think facts matter here. And the facts are in the death toll. And that is very clear, no matter which side of the political spectrum you're on. And those are out there.

And as a doctor, I want to know your thoughts and also the thoughts of your fellow physicians, because I know on your YouTube channel that you've been speaking to other doctors. And as you've taken this consensus and had a conversation with folks like you, what has been the most overriding concern?

VARSHAVSKI: I think the most powerful thing that I heard in my interview with over 100 physicians who are each doing their own part during this COVID-19 pandemic is that we are all unified in our response. We may be doctors from different countries. We may be doctors that have different specialties. We may have different backgrounds. But we all are working in some way to battle COVID-19.

And also, we are disproportionately affected here because we're putting our lives on the line. There were doctors in my video that I interviewed that had to move out of their home to not potentially spread this virus to their young children. There were doctors who were losing their revenues from their practices but still had to keep their practices open.

I think that we need to highlight these stories of health care frontline workers. This isn't limited to doctors -- nurses, pharmacists, custodial staff. There are so many people that go into making sure that you're taken care of, whether you're sick with COVID- 19, cancer, or trauma, that we need to celebrate those heroes.

And that's why when it's 7:00 here in New York City, we see the cheers start ringing out. I could not be more proud because we truly owe health care frontline workers a debt of gratitude.

CURNOW: You're so absolutely right and you make such a good point, that it's not just doctors and nurses. There's an entire community of health care professionals that are helping everybody, and really appreciate you and all of them for the work that you're doing. Thanks, Dr. Mike. Appreciate you joining us.

VARSHAVSKI: Thank you so much, Robyn.

CURNOW: Have a lovely day.

VARSHAVSKI: So, at this hour, we're also watching another story. The European Commission -- Europe is essentially laying out its coordinated plan to reopen the continent, and I want to show you these live pictures coming out of Brussels. A lot of talk, talk, talk, as you can see there. The proposed plan, which has been seen by CNN, says the spread of the virus is, quote, come at a dramatic cost for our economy and society and cannot last indefinitely.

So, let's bring in Nic Robertson. Nic has been following all of this.

And this is a conversation, as you've heard, here in the U.S. It's a global conversation, this tug, this push-and-pull between health and the economy, and Europe as a body now coming out with a plan. But how does that work? I mean, individual countries have been leading in many ways themselves.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Because individual countries have been affected by the virus at different times --

CURNOW: Exactly.

ROBERTSON: You know, Italy and Spain, for example, have been ahead, and they're part of the leading edge of this. But, Austria, for example, that responded very quickly, closing its borders and instituting social distancing and urging people to stay at home, also looking at coming out of this without having, you know, been affected by the pandemic in the same way. Finland today making a decision to ease back restrictions around the sort of most densely populated part of the country around the capital.

And each country is coming up with a set of different ways. Spain, for example, is allowing construction workers to go back to work. Italy, for example, is opening book shops and children's clothing stores. You know, Austria's opening its DIY and garden centers.

So, there are a panoply of different approaches, principally because each country has been affected in different places in different ways and sees different responses as being the correct way to bounce back. And I think for the European Union, while it's trying to have a coordinated effect here, which is important going forward, national borders and boundaries are going to be critical, it seems, until Europe is sort of all countries on a sort of level playing field, that they've all kind of been through what Italy and Spain have been through.

The United Kingdom, for example, has not. France has not. So they're on lockdown until May 11th, according to President Macron. So, the E.U. is struggling here in headwinds of essentially necessity and nationalism. Its economic plans have had a lot of pushback from Italy and Spain. And I suspect that while it puts forward a plan now, it's going to be a longer -- it's going to be in the longer term before it brings that unity that they want to see.

CURNOW: Yes, in many ways beyond the virus, this is also potentially sort of a deep existential question about the E.U. and how it works.

Let's also talk about the WHO, the World Health Organization. I know you've been following all that. The president in the U.S., Donald Trump, basically hitting back at the WHO for being too slow, punishing it by withholding funds.


You know, for many Americans waking up this morning, why does the WHO matter and why would this decision have an impact?

ROBERTSON: The WHO matters because it can have an impact on countries like China that obfuscated on providing information about the depth and extent of the virus months before they began to come clean on it. The WHO, when it was tackling SARS, for example, almost 20 years ago, was much more critical of China and got a much better response from them.

So, the WHO has some powers. It arguably could use more powers. But, for example, even while it was parroting what the Chinese government was saying in mid-January, that there was no human-to-human transfer, they had also begun to ring some global alarm bells, not the ones that the international community wanted to see rung, but critically, in mid-January, still many weeks before they, the WHO, gave the world to understand the scale and scope of what was happening and how it was happening to human-to-human transfer, the WHO had got the genome from China, which it then passed on to the world, which allowed countries around the world, if they activated themselves, to begin to make tests for the virus.

So, that's one critical part of what they've done. And of course, their voice, the WHO's voice, is hugely important at influencing some poorer nations, sub-Saharan Africa, as you all know very well, Robyn, possesses amongst its many countries there fewer ventilators than hospitals in New York. They need that information early from the WHO to be able to take the precautionary measures that can head off the health crisis that emerges.

CURNOW: Yes, you make an excellent point there about sub-Saharan Africa, and again, also this virus not hitting there yet. It will be. And again, also, this virus exposing inequalities, deep inequalities across the world.

Nic Robertson, you've had a long day. Thank you very much. Appreciate you explaining all of that to us. Have a good day.

So, you're watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Still to come, Germany sees its highest level of coronavirus-related deaths in a single day as well. We're live in Berlin. That is just ahead.



CURNOW: These are live pictures coming from Brussels. We're keeping an eye on the European Union news conference as they lay out their roadmap for exiting the restrictions placed on the continent. So, while Europe announces its plan, Angela Merkel is getting ready to

discuss the way forward for Germany. She's due to meet with ministers today. And it comes as the country again has suffered its highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in a single day, 285 people died of the virus in a span of 24 hours, but the amount of new infections is down significantly. So, that's one bright spark.

In Italy, though, the government is easing some lockdown measures as well. Certain shops and businesses are being allowed to open in some regions. And it's part of a three-phase plan to bring Italy back to normal, but the government says any activity that reopens to the public must respect the rules, making hand sanitizers available and enforcing the use of masks.

So, let's go to Fred Pleitgen and Ben Wedeman. They're in Berlin and Rome.

Ben, hi. Hi -- good to see you both, gentlemen, but, Ben, to you first there.

This easing of restrictions in Italy, how is that going to take place, particularly after such a devastating few weeks?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be very gradually, obviously. For instance, yesterday was when book stores and children's and baby clothing stores and certain factories could reopen, and it has to be done under certain restrictions. For instance, with the stores, only one customer is allowed in at a time, although we were outside one store, we saw two people go in at the same time.

As you mentioned, hand sanitizers have to be made available, social distancing should be maintained, and there are gradually steps going to be taken. For instance, on the 20th of April, factories will be allowed to open, those that are important for Italy's competitive situation. On the second of May, hairdressers can reopen, by appointment. On the 18th of May, restaurants and bars will be able to reopen, obviously with those restrictions applied.

By the end of the year, they're talking about perhaps allowing cinemas, theaters, and discotechs to be reopen, but all of this depends upon the numbers that are coming out and also the individual regions will have the ultimate say. For instance, Lombardi and other northern regions that have been hardest hit are not taking part in this gradual reopening at this point because those are where the numbers are highest.

And really, this is an experimental phase. If the numbers don't jump up after these limited reopenings, perhaps there will be a more general easing of the lockdown, which officially is extended until the third of May -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, Ben. Thanks for that. Appreciate it.

And then, Fred, over to you in Berlin. You know, Angela Merkel has also got her own plan, no matter what the E.U. is unveiling in Brussels right now.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. And Angela Merkel's going to speak about that with a very powerful state governors here in Germany today. And I think that you are going to maybe see some of the restrictions that have been placed here in Germany, see those ease, but at the same time, some other measures also scaled up.

One of the things that Angela Merkel has always said, which we also heard in that E.U. presser as well, is that all of this needs to happen gradually, and she said one of the prerequisites that needs to be there is that easing in cases, that the amount of confirmed new infections with coronavirus needs to go down.


And you mentioned it at the beginning, while Germany has had the highest single-day death toll today, that easing of new cases also seems to continue. Is that enough to also take away some of the restrictions? We're going to wait and find out at the end of the day. As far as the measures themselves are concerned, what we're expecting is that possibly some smaller shops here in Germany will be able to reopen.

It was interesting, because one of the governors of the biggest state here in Germany said, look, we have supermarkets that are open. We have hardware stores that are open. Why can't small shops open while keeping social distancing measures in place?

At the same time, we do expect that possibly some of those social distancing measures are going to be escalated. Like for instance, if shops are going to open and maybe one or two people are allowed inside, they'll probably have to wear masks. The same might be the case for public transport as well.

So, that's certainly one of the things where some measures might be taken back, but some measures will most probably be extended as Germany's sort of slowly trying to find its way out.

One thing, Robyn, that's very important about this country, federalism is very strong in this country, so you will see those states also take a very strong stance in measures they feel for their particular region are extremely important, Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes, I think you make an excellent point there, Fred, because we see some similarities between what is playing out in the U.S. and in Germany in many ways, where the states are taking the lead as well.

So, Fred and to Ben, thanks a lot.

Well, Russia has now marked its largest increase yet of coronavirus cases in a single day. The country reported more than 3,000 cases Wednesday and there are now more than officially 24,000 cases with viruses present in all but one region. The majority of the cases are in Moscow.

And the U.S. president's name will appear on stimulus checks sent to millions of Americans. Details on that unprecedented move, next.

Then also, Joe Biden gets a big endorsement from a man who has been there, done that.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery. And I know he'll surround himself with good people -- experts, scientists, military officials, who actually know how to run the government.