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Easing Restrictions to Reopen the U.S.; North Korean Leader in Grave Danger After Surgery; Trump to Suspend Immigration; U.S. Oil Crashes Below $0 A Barrel. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Good to see you.

Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, just ahead --


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: And I will say that, you know, we have more people moving around, we're probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we're a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago.


CURNOW: Georgia closed late and is opening early, but at what cost? America is wrestling with when and how to re-open for business.

Also, serious questions about the health of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, following a recent surgery. We're live in Seoul and Tokyo with the latest on that one.

Plus, President Trump claiming he will temporarily suspend immigration into the U.S. over coronavirus fears. How will this impact the outbreak? That's also next.


CURNOW: So here in the U.S. several states are preparing to ease the restrictions they imposed to contain the coronavirus even though America's death toll has now surged past 42,000 people. The governor of Georgia says he will allow some businesses to re-open this week despite warnings from health officials.

Governor Brian Kemp says the move is a, quote, small step towards restarting the American economy, but the list of businesses allowed to re-open is anything but small. Gyms, barber shops, bowling alleys, even tattoo parlors can resume business as early as Friday while theaters and restaurants can re-open on Monday.

Georgia has already confirmed nearly 20,000 cases and the governor admits those numbers could rise even further.


KEMP: And I will say that, you know, we have more people moving around, we're probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we're a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago.


CURNOW: Well, other states are preparing to relax restrictions as well. Alaska's governor says restaurants and hair saloons in that state could open up by the end of the week, but a source close to President Trump's coronavirus task force warns if some states re-open too soon, the U.S. death toll could surpass the modeling estimates of 60,000 deaths.

Meanwhile earlier, the task force spoke with governors about testing capacity in their states. And Mr. Trump insisted he's provided them with tremendous amount of testing capacities.

So, Erica Hill has more on how states are planning to ease restrictions.

Here's Erica.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons, massage therapists all clear to reopen in Georgia on Friday.

KEMP: This measure will apply statewide and will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions.

HILL: Theaters and restaurants can open April 27th. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed for now.

Some businesses in neighboring Tennessee will also be back on Monday. The state's stay at home order will now end April 30th. Neither state has seen a 14-day decline in cases which the president recommended before moving into phase one of reopening.

South Carolina giving some retail stores and beaches the green light. Four coastal communities, however, will keep existing restrictions in place noting there is, quote, no evidence from medical professionals that indicates the threat has diminished setting up a stark contrast across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the worst is yet to come for a lot of people.

HILL: Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia singled out by the White House task force as potential new hot spots. Ohio, the latest state to close schools for the remainder of the academic year, as experts caution a rush to reopen could backfire. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND

INFECTIOUS DISEASE: Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen. So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you're going to set yourself back.

HILL: Beaches in Jacksonville, Florida, now open with limited hours and what appears to be limited social distancing.

DONNA SHALALA, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRAT: Jacksonville is right across the border from Georgia, and it tells you that one state can't make a set of decisions that are inconsistent with public health and with science because it's going to affect another state.


HILL: As states and cities look for a path forward, testing continues to be key.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: The question is how fast can you increase the volume of tests? Because the more tests, the better. That is the axiom. The more tests the better.

Test nursing homes, test schools, test teachers, test prison facilities, but you need the volume of tests.

HILL: The city of Detroit now testing its essential workers. Amazon using thermal cameras to screen for fevers. New York state began antibody testing today, but officials stress we still don't know how effective those antibodies are.

(on camera): Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia was also asked about whether this move to start re-opening businesses on Friday could lead to more positive cases in his state and he acknowledged, yes, it absolutely could, but says he feels the state has what it needs in place to deal with any additional positive cases. The governor also talking a lot about small businesses as he was weighing this decision talking about the need to get the economy back and the need to get the small businesses back to work.

Back to you.


CURNOW: Thanks, Erica, for that.

So, not everyone here in Georgia supports the governor's decision for re-opening on Friday. The mayor of Savannah, Van Johnson, says he is beyond disturbed, calling it a reckless action. We also heard from Atlanta, Georgia's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, talking a bit earlier on CNN.


KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, ATLANTA MAYOR: Our metro area has about 6 million people, more than half the population in the entire United States, but we have less than half of the people who have tested positive. Where are our hot spots? Our hot spots are in areas like Bibb County around Macon that didn't shut down. When we open up houses of worship, we have to think of Albany, Georgia, with one of the worst outbreaks in the country. That by and large came from two funerals.

And so, I'm perplexed that we have opened up in this way. And again, I can't stress it enough, I work very well with our governor and I look forward to having a better understanding of what his reasoning is, but as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don't see that it's based on anything that's logical.


CURNOW: Well, the head of the World Health Organization is warning countries that lifting these restrictions does not signal the end of the outbreak. He says nations still have to ramp up their testing in order to diagnose and track infections.

At a news conference on Monday, he also called for more solidarity in order to slow the spread. Take a listen.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Easing restrictions is not the end of epidemic in any country. Ending the epidemic will require a sustained effort on the part of individuals, communities and governments to continue suppressing and controlling this deadly virus.


CURNOW: Well, Dr. Dale Fisher is an infectious disease expert and a professor of St. Paul National University. He joins me now live from Singapore.

Doctor, great to have you.

And I know you're all the way on the other side of the world in Singapore, we're here in Georgia, I you are an expert on these infectious diseases. And I don't know if you can see, but I mean, the link where we are in Georgia in terms of the curve, do you think the time is right now for people to be let out and allowed to go on with business as usual?

DALE FISHER, W.H.O. GLOBAL OUTBREAK ALERT & RESPONSE NETWORK STEERING COMMITTEE: I mean, I understand why people want that, but really to undo lockdowns and other social restrictions really requires the transmission rate to be under control. Reclaiming of your health system to have the beds emptied out, the ventilators sort of back available again. But, also, is your system in place to deal with more cases?

You know, clearly, most of the world wasn't ready when it started. But now, hopefully, then, with testing in place, the ability to diagnose people early, ideally to isolate positive cases and do the contact tracing and quarantine, these are all the components you need in place before I think it's safe to undo things.

CURNOW: Yes. And from the experts, and even from the warnings from the Atlanta mayor, that's not in place in Georgia. In many ways, this has become the microcosm between the push and pull, the tug between the public health and the economy. And it's certainly a pressure that is felt across the world.

But if you were here in Atlanta and across Georgia, do you think it's wise for folks to go out and get a haircut on Friday, maybe a spin class on Saturday, perhaps even a tattoo or massage on Sunday? I mean, what's the scenario when people start doing that?


FISHER: Well, I think it's risky. I mean, it might be -- you know, if you're going to do that, at least try and make it as safe as possible, you know? Make sure that the social distancing is in place. Make sure temperatures are being taken, people are offered hand rub. Stay away from crowds.

You know, if this is the decision that's being made, then do your best. But, honestly, if other things aren't in place, I think your -- any place is vulnerable to overwhelming its health systems. If they're not already like that, then that's the risk.

That's -- you can't just ignore this virus, you see. You know, places that if you -- Wuhan, that was ground zero, you saw what happened to the health facilities there. These weren't people with mild illnesses, these were deaths and these were people that needed ventilators, including young people.

Italy was really caught off guard early on. I think New York was clearly caught off guard. So, there are so many examples of around the world of people that -- or cities, and countries that frankly weren't ready and they're now hit hard. You can't just pretend it doesn't exist.

CURNOW: So, as an infectious disease expert, and somebody who I know sits on a committee with the World Health Organization, looking at global alert and responses, in terms of where we are now, just give us a sense of how much worse do you think is to come. Do you have a sense of optimism that this is managed in some places? Or the fact that there are all of these hot spots, these little mini epidemics, not so many, that this is something that's going to keep on boiling up for months, even years to come.

FISHER: I mean, they all think the end game is probably a vaccine.


FISHER: And this will take a year plus until it's been made, gone through the trials, been ramped up and administered to enough people to provide, you know, protection on a broad scale. And until then, we're going to see many, many different types of outbreak. This will depend on the context, what country you're in, how dense it is. You might have heard Singapore has got its own outbreaks in the

foreign worker dormitories which are huge numbers going through, whereas the rest of Singapore is on a different trajectory altogether.

So, you know, China's trying to come out of lockdown, New Zealand is coming out next week while other cases are extending and ramping up. So, there's different scenarios everywhere and we just need to keep learning from each other and not being I guess immature about it.

You know, learning, adapting, changing and trying to keep your people safe while doing the best you can for the economy because it's not like public health people are anti-economy. We want -- we want this as well. So, it's about a balance.

CURNOW: It certainly is, but also perhaps listening to the science over the politicians is a wise way as well in terms of these situations. The numbers, the data are leading the way or should be.

Dr. Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert, coming to us live from Singapore, really appreciate all of your expertise. Thanks for joining us, sir.

FISHER: My pleasure.

CURNOW: Have a lovely day.

FISHER: So, the U.S. president claimed he will soon -- this is a new story we're following. He will soon sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the country. He says the move is in response to the pandemic, but hasn't provided any details.

Well, CNN's John Harwood reports now from Washington -- John.


JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump took a surprising late night step in his attempt to get on top of the coronavirus crisis announcing via Twitter that he was temporarily suspending all immigration into the United States.

The White House did not provide supplemental information explaining the justification for the move or how it would be implemented. Many immigration related activities have already been put on hold by the coronavirus crisis. The president did not announce a ban on travel into the United States, only on immigration itself.

Now, this comes at a time when the president is facing intense criticism over his response to coronavirus. In polls, the American public say the president was too late in addressing the issue, governors are complaining he's not providing them enough help with testing, which is needed to re-open the economy.

Now, this is not a new theme for the president. He's, of course, talked about restricting immigration as part of his national Make America Great agenda since the 2016 campaign. He's tried to reduce legal immigration levels throughout his presidency. The question is, why would you do it now late at night over social media?


I talked to Kori Schake who's the head of international relations at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. She's a veteran of the George W. Bush administration. She said it looks like a panic move.

John Harwood, CNN, Washington.


CURNOW: Thanks, John.

So, now to this developing story. The U.S. is monitoring intelligence out of North Korea. We're hearing leader Kim Jong Un is in grave danger after surgery. That's according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge.

These are the last images to air on state media 10 days ago. Mr. Kim missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday last week, which is North Korea's most important holiday. However, South Korea says it's seeing no longer -- it's seeing no unusual signs.

So, Paula Hancocks is standing by in Seoul, South Carolina. But we begin with Will Ripley who's reported from North Korea 19 times in the past six years.

Paula, thanks. We'll go to you in just a minute.

But, Will, hi. What do you make of this information coming from this U.S. source?


Well, it's not surprising that the United States is telling one thing and South Korean and Chinese intelligence are saying something else. There is inevitably going to be a lot of confusion during a time like this where the state of the North Korean leader's health is uncertain.

If you think back to 2011 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il died, it was couple of days where everything in North Korea appeared absolutely normal after his death before North Korea officially announced it.

So, frankly, it's all speculation until we get the facts as North Korea wants the world to know them. Until we get some sort of official announcement.

We know that Kim Jong Un does have health issues. He is visibly overweight. He often is photographed with a cigarette in hand. So, clearly, he's a heavy smoker.

And even though he is young, in his mid to late 30s, depending on, you know, which year you believe he was born, because North Korea has never released his exact birth year, not to mention, they don't release information about his movements and they're not going to be forthcoming about his health condition because it's a heavily guarded secret. There will be a lot of speculation and we have to wait until we get something more substantive. That has to come from Pyongyang.

CURNOW: Yes, it certainly is. Well, let us know if you hear anything. Will Ripley, thank you.

Paula Hancocks, over to you. I mean, the reaction in South Korea, as Will said, is pretty self-explanatory. Tell us what they're saying.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Robyn, at this point, the South Korean officials that we've spoken to have said something very different to what he heard from the U.S. source telling Jim Sciutto. What we have heard from the Blue House is that they say there is no unusual activity that they see in North Korea.

But then another South Korean official tells CNN that they believe that Kim Jong Un is not in Pyongyang at the moment. He's elsewhere in the country but with top North Korean officials. Now, it's quite unusual to give journalists that level of detail that they believe at this point. Also, this official saying no unusual signs, supporting reports about his health condition have been detected.

So, the South Koreans really are playing this down at this point. And many experts that I've been speaking to throughout the day as well to wonder whether or not his health is in such a serious predicament, but they all point to the fact that it was unusual that on April 15th, one of the most important days in the North Korean calendar, the birth date of the founder of the country, of Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, that Kim Jong Un was not publicly seen, was not mentioned within North Korean media. That is unusual.

And just the day before as well, there was a military drill that was also short range cruise missiles, something that Kim Jong Un would ordinarily be at. It's quite often that he is physically at these launches. But we didn't have any footage or images of that particular incident which we generally do 24 hours after.

So, this is just playing into the speculation as to where exactly Kim Jong Un is at this point.

Now, remember, back in 2014, having the exact same discussions with these experts. For 40 days, Kim Jong Un was not seen and the speculation was rife as to what had happened to him at that point. He then did appear with a walking cane and it appeared he had a cyst issue on his foot.

But it is what it is with North Korea, until they tell us what's happening, we simply don't know for sure, the South Koreans and the U.S. at this point are telling fairly different narratives -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes, they certainly are.

Paula Hancocks, good to see you. Thank you.

So, investors are dealing with yet another financial headache, a record collapse in U.S. old prices. More on the fallout on that one, next.



CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, U.S. oil prices are being shaky after a stunning collapse on Monday. So, levels from a delivery crashed below zero. Just take a look at the numbers here. Quite astounding.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused oil demand to drop so rapidly that the world is running out of room to store barrels.

Well, Christine Romans joins me now from New York with more on all of this.

Yikes! I mean, it's -- I mean, I'm kind of at a loss for words when you see those numbers because it's just -- wow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: How can something as valuable as crude oil be worthless less than zero? That shows you how upside down the world is right now.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we've essentially shuttered big parts likely in global recession right now, how deep, no one knows for sure. And that means the demand for oil has simply collapsed. And so, producers who are pumping this stuff are essentially paying, at least yesterday they were, paying people to take it off their hands. Paying to get rid of the valuable thing that they pump and they supply. So, it's just a remarkable upside down situation.


And when you look at prices as they stand right now, they are positive in West Texas Intermediate Crude, Brent Crude, they're $20 a barrel, and $16.66 a barrel, still down very sharply, of course, and below the level that most producers make money. So, it doesn't even pay to be pumping the stuff at this point.

A couple of things here, you had a lot of supply, you had this price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. That has been -- we thought resolved with some production cuts announced in recent weeks, but simply that -- taking that production off the market just isn't enough to make up for what is essentially collapsing demand.

I mean, think of it. Hundreds of millions of people, billions of people are staying home. They're not going to work. They're not driving a car. They're not using petrol. And in many cases, you got factories that are shuttered or working at much -- you know, much less capacity. So, the thing that the world runs on, crude oil, just isn't in demand right now the way it normally is, and that has turned everything upside down.

CURNOW: I think you use a very good analogy. Upside down world, well, it certainly feel like. In fact, I think we all feel like we're living in our own personal dystopian futures. It's right now and it's kind of bizarre on all levels.

Good to see you. We could chat more.

ROMANS: You, too, Robyn.

CURNOW: But thanks, we'll talk during the week. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Yes, bye-bye.

CURNOW: OK. So, still to come -- "Re-open PA" and "Jesus is my vaccine". Signs and slogans and a whole bunch of noise, but not much social distancing, that's for sure, at this Pennsylvania protest. We'll take you there, next.


CURNOW: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow. It is 5:30 here in the morning on the East Coast in Atlanta. Good to have you.