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THE SITUATION ROOM
More than 2.8 Million People Infected Worldwide; Some Governors Report "Flattening of the Curve"; Interview with Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview with Mayor Kelly Girtz (D-GA), Athens Clarke County; CNN: White House Officials Discussing Plans to Replace HHS Secretary; Japan Exceeds 13,000 Confirmed Cases with 360 Deaths. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 25, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
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.
Around the world right now, more than 2.8 million people are known to be infected with the potentially deadly coronavirus. Probably a lot more than that. Earlier today, the number of people killed by the virus surpassed 200,000. More than a quarter of those fatalities are in just one country, the United States of America where more than 53,000 people have now died after being infected. All of that in only seven or eight weeks.
Despite those still rising numbers, a glimmer of hope at least in some states tonight where governors report the number of people sick and dying from the virus are for now at least leveling off. It's called the "flattening of the curve." In Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska, governors are gradually easing the lockdown restrictions. Some businesses, public spaces and recreations centers are being allowed to reopen under various conditions. The people in Atlanta protested at the governor's residence today, insisting that it is too soon for business at usual and that people's lives are at risk.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization issued a warning today to people who have already been infected with coronavirus. Scientists, they are now saying, there is no evidence to support the possibility that people who had the virus are protected against getting it again.
And this just coming into CNN. Top U.S. Army officials announcing that there will be a graduation ceremony at West Point in June. This pictures from last year's graduation. The secretary of the Army confirming that the graduation will include appropriate protective measures for the 1,000 graduating cadets and their families. President Trump said earlier this month, he would give the commencement address at West Point.
Let's begin with some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now, amid criticism over the response to the coronavirus pandemic. I want to go to our White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, you have some significant new reporting right now on a potential major departure. What can you tell us?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, a senior administration official has confirmed to me that White House officials are discussing plans to remove Health and Human Services Alex Azar from his position leading that key department of course in this coronavirus response.
Wolf, this comes after a week of several critical stories about Alex Azar and his handling in the early days of this coronavirus pandemic. One of those stories in particular caught the attention of a lot of officials which was that Alex Azar, his chief of staff, his most recent job was as a dog breeder and that this official, this chief of staff was put in charge of the early White House Coronavirus Task Force. So, that is what we are hearing now.
Wolf, of course, one official did stress to me that none of this is imminent. In fact, it seems that there is no real appetite inside the White House for some serious shake-up during this coronavirus pandemic. This -- we are still, of course, Wolf, as you know, still in the middle of the response to all of this. And, of course, Wolf, any plan to fire the Health and Human Services secretary would need signoff by the president. That has not happened yet.
So again, a lot more could still happen. But a senior administration official confirming that there are discussions among White House officials about potentially replacing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Wolf?
BLITZER: There are reports they are also putting together a short list, potential candidates out there. He really hasn't been - correct me if I'm wrong, many of the White House task force briefings, at least in recent days. Is that right?
DIAMOND: Yes. He certainly has not been. And Wolf, you to also remember early on in this pandemic when this really began to catch the attention of White House officials and of the president. Alex Azar was previously in charge of this Coronavirus Task Force. And when President Trump returned from his trip to India in late February, as the stock market was crashing, as the CDC was warning of severe disruptions to daily life for Americans.
The president returned to Washington in that very day, decided to put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of that task force. That was a decision at that time that caught Alex Azar and several other officials complete off-guard. It was not something that the president had telegraphed until he arrived at that White House briefing room, the podium that day and announced that he was going to put Vice President Mike Pence in charge. So, Azar has certainly already previously been sidelined in his role as a top official in the response on all of this.
Of course, he still is a member of the task force, a key member of that task force. But you're right, Wolf, we have not seen him as frequently at many of those briefings. And again, the media coverage of Alex Azar in the last week has not been positive because there's been a lot of blame and put on to Alex Azar for the early response to this pandemic in late January and in February including the facts that some officials say they believe that Alex Azar wasn't serious enough in conveying to the president how serious of a threat this coronavirus truly could be.
BLITZER: We haven't seen him doing a lot whole of media interviews either which suggest maybe the president doesn't have a whole lot of confidence in him right now.
We are hearing a suggestion, you know, Jeremy, that the president may also be considering whether he actually wants to continue those daily press briefings in the White House briefing room. What are you learning about that?
DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. And we did see the president tweet just a few hours ago that he really doesn't think it is worth his time and effort to continue attending as many of these coronavirus press briefings. That may be of course how the president is spinning this to try and justify the fact that he is it seems beginning to scale back his appearances in the White House briefing room but no mistake, Wolf.
The reason why that's happening is because the president's allies and White House aides have really been urging the president to scale back those appearances. Not because of the questions that he's being asked as the president suggested in this tweet earlier tonight, but because of the answers that the president is giving and because of the statements that he is making in those White House briefings.
Of course, Wolf, it was just a couple of days ago when the president suggested that people might drink or ingest disinfectant to try and rid themselves of the coronavirus. That was a suggestion that of course was not only wrong but dangerous because of course it could be lethal for Americans to ingest those kinds of products. But it certainly did exacerbate those concerns, Wolf, from those White House aides, those allies of the president, both inside and outside of the administration who really feel like some of the times these briefings because of how long they go on, because of the statements that the president is making. That they really are self-defeating for the president and certainly has sparked concerns among the political advisers to the president as far as his chances for reelection.
BLITZER: Yes. There was a meeting of the task force today at the White House. But no press briefing afterwards as they usually. Yesterday was a very short and the president refused to answer questions following that - opening statements yesterday as well, only about 22 minutes yesterday. Sometimes they have been going on for 2 hours or 2 1/2 hours, those press briefings.
All right, Jeremy Diamond, excellent reporting as usual. Thanks very much.
In Arkansas right now, there are some cautious steps towards reopening. The Governor Asa Hutchinson says he's hoping to open many businesses and group venues like churches, for example, on May 4. But is it too soon?
Today, CNN learned that the state prison in Gould, Arkansas with at least 800 inmates have now tested positive for coronavirus along with at least 33 staff members. The Governor Asa Hutchinson is joining us now. Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for joining us.
I want to discuss what is going on in your state in a moment. But I wonder if you want to give us your reaction right now to the possible shake-up that we have just been reporting of the news organizations are reporting as well, at the Department of Health and Human Services?
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, I've always had a very good relationship with Secretary Azar. They have been very responsive to us on the waiver request that we've had. So, you know, the president obviously has to have his team in place. But I think he has been a positive force in terms of dealing with this crisis and helping the states get through it.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your plans to get the economy going in Arkansas. And all of us hope it will get going soon. You got to air of course on the side of caution. The White House guidelines as you know, Governor, say states should have a downward trajectory of positive tests before reopening. In Arkansas cases are actually doubling roughly every two weeks. So, why are you taking these initial steps to reopen?
HUTCHINSON: Well, I have set the date of May 4th in terms of the date we will look at lifting some of the restrictions if we have the right level of progress. The gating criteria that the White House left, there is some flexibility for the states as the president indicated. And you're looking about three or four criteria that they set, we are in really good shape in terms of our positivity, on our testing, on our hospital capacity, on our personal protective equipment. All of those look good for us. We have plateaued in terms of our cases but we haven't seen 14 days of decline. That's exactly right.
And so, we're going to look at it step by step. I have set this week as decision points for restaurants and for hair salons. That doesn't mean we are going to lift the restrictions. It says we're going to make a decision upon those based upon the data.
We look at all of the facts. And the people are ready to go to work so there is a lot of pressure point on there. They don't want to be unemployed. They want to work. But we want to have the right safety precautions in. We want to be able to continue to control the spread of this.
You did mention the prisons which is a great concern to us. That's not the community spread that we're most concerned about. We're very concerned about it in the prison environment. We're taking steps there. But that's a unique environment there. And we'll not simply make the decision based upon what's happening there but we look at it from a state-wide perspective. BLITZER: Yes. That is a serious problem in the prisons. Not only in Arkansas, but many prisons around the country right now. What about nursing homes in Arkansas?
HUTCHINSON: Well, we have had our challenges there as well. Of course, we put in the restriction of no outside visitors into the nursing homes. And we have a great Department of Health that does the contact tracing. It has allowed us to manage the breakouts when we have them in a nursing home environment. But we want to make sure they get the special attention that's needed. We want to have the testing capacity for them as we have. But right now, that's an area of concern although it's not the same extent as it is in a number of other states.
BLITZER: Arkansas is one of eight states that didn't issue a formal stay-at-home order during the outbreak. In hindsight, Governor, do you think you should have considered that?
HUTCHINSON: No. It was absolutely the right decision to make. I think we see now looking back, that you know we are easy -- better coming out of this, the fact that we had a targeted approach. We closed state parks. We closed restaurants. We closed things that made a difference for us, but we kept other businesses open with social distancing, with wearing a mask, and that has been effective strategy for us.
And I think you could see that in other states because they have to figure out how do they come out of and open any businesses and what is the criteria that they use. We are going to come out of this in the same way. We are not going to necessarily come out all at once on one day. But we're going to look at industry by industry. How we measure it? How can come out of those and lift some of the restrictions? Get back to business but do it in a safe way. And that's been our approach from day one.
BLITZER: Safety first. Earlier tonight the Kentucky Governor Beshear told CNN, he strongly disagrees with Senator Mitch McConnell, on the Senate majority leader's comments that declaring bankruptcy might actually be best for state governments. You're the governor of a state. Would bankruptcy be an option, God forbid, if the economic situation clearly deteriorate for Arkansas if this pandemic led to that kind of budget crisis? Should you file for bankruptcy or get more federal financial assistance?
HUTCHINSON: Well, neither one. Neither one is the option we look at. We balance the budget every year. That's mandated. And so, when we have a budget shortfall, we simply tighten the belt and we continue to balance the budget. That's the way we're going to do it. And more states need to follow that example.
But let me - and I'm glad you asked the question. Obviously, I would not use the word bankruptcy and I hope no state has to go through that. We hope that they can come back in their economy. But I believe the Congress has had the right priority thus far in putting money into small businesses and the self-employed and the unemployed, making sure that that is feeding the recovery of our economy.
I don't believe that we need to go and use the U.S. Treasury and mortgage our grandchildren's life and say we are going to fund all the states and their budgets. I have great reservations about that. And I think we need to go slow on that. And I think we have to really look at each state and what is their budget situation. It is too early to really determine that and how they come out of that. I think we have to be very cautious about saying we're going to be funding all the states' budget shortfall.
BLITZER: Yes, that would be bad. If filing bankruptcy would be bad as well. Both of them pretty awful scenarios.
Governor Hutchinson, as usual thanks so much for joining us.
HUTCHINSON: Great to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good luck to all the folks in Arkansas. You got a great state down there.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization today out with a worrying new study that says recovered coronavirus patients could still get re- infected. We're going to talk about what that means for the search for a vaccine. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The World Health Organization is out with a new and potentially very disturbing new warning. Even if you've recovered from coronavirus, the World Health Organization is now saying there is no evidence, at least not yet, you can't be infected again.
Joining us now two experts. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, he is an epidemiologist, our CNN political commentator. And also Dr. Bhakti Patel, she's an assistant professor of medicine, a pulmonologist, critical care physician at the University of Chicago
Dr. El-Sayed, the World Health Organization is urging governments around the world not to issue so-called immunity passports or risk- free certificates to survivors. What does this mean for people who have survived this coronavirus?
DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST AND PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT: What that means, Wolf, is that we just don't have a scientific consensus that tells us that having had coronavirus and therefore having antibodies which are the body's markers to having had a disease, means that you are actually going to be immune.
And so, you potentially could get infected again. That's not to say that it's definitely the case. It is just to say that the science isn't clear. We need a lot more science before we start making public policy that tells us that some people are actually immune and can be out in society, potentially going about their day and inadvertently having the disease and passing it on. And so, there's just a lot more science that we need to know. BLITZER: Yes. There's so much we don't know. The experts like you guys don't know yet. And we are learning a lot, but there is still a lot more that needs to be learned. Dr. Patel, we got some videos, some new video I want to show you from viewers over at the beach in Southern California. This was in the middle of a heat wave. But you can see this got somewhat crowded over there. How concerning is it that considering the number of cases in California, that people are now sort of hanging out at the beach?
DR. BHAKTI PATEL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: It's very concerning. You know, we know that often patients got people get COVID-19 from people who are asymptomatic. So, I know that there is a tension to reopen business as usual and get back to our normal lives but we need more testing to know who's infected, who's not infected. And so, as we go back out into the world, we have to ensure that we maintain the social distancing so we don't continue the spread.
BLITZER: Yes. That's important. Dr. El-Sayed, as you know, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious diseases, offered a new recommendation today about testing. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We don't want to get fixated. Right now, you know, we are doing about 1.5 to 2 million per week. We probably should get up to twice that as we get into the next several weeks and I think we will. Testing is an important part of what we are doing, but it's not the only part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He is actually talking, Dr. El-Sayed, about doubling the amount of diagnostic testing in the next several weeks. He is confident we could get there. Are you?
EL-SAYED: Look, at this point there still remains concern that this far into this pandemic we still are talking about why we don't have enough tests. And that's really problematic. And we know that the next phase of dealing with this pandemic, hopefully when we start seeing cases fall - and it's not happening yet but when it happens, we're going to need to be able to ramp up our testing, to be able to do what's called contact tracing. And without the testing onboard, to be able to do that, it's really hard for us to move out of this phase of mass social distancing.
And so, it really is critical. It's still a concern that a lot of folks have about whether or not we can get there in time. And it's really frustrating to think that this far in this is still the remaining step.
BLITZER: Dr. Patel, you are an expert on what's called noninvasive therapies that prevent long-term complications in patients on ventilators. You research has found that keeping patients breathing on their own often has a lot more benefit. Does that seem to be the case with the coronavirus as well?
PATEL: Yes. So, you know, we have typically learned that ventilators are life-saving for patients that need them. The problem with coronavirus is that our typical strategies to prevent patients from being on a ventilator using certain masks, that could potentially aerosolize the breath that they're exhaling, potentially even expose the healthcare worker. So, our usual tools to prevent patients from needing a ventilator have been limited.
So, there's been renewed interest in helmet ventilation which is a different type of way of ventilating patients without exposing the healthcare worker. And those were those bubble helmets you might have seen coming out of Italy. And we had done a clinical trial that showed that helmet ventilation could prevent intubation about 20 or 80 percent of the time. And so, people have been really interested in renewing the helmet program as a way to prevent patients from needing a ventilator and perhaps even sparing ventilators for those who really need them.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we really appreciate both of you for joining us. Dr. Patel, Dr. El-Sayed. We are grateful to both of you. We're obviously going to continue to watch what is going on together with you.
Meanwhile, businesses, including nail salons, barber shops, even bowling alleys, they are now open in Georgia. But as new infection rates continue to rise, there is a lot of worry still that have maybe too soon. A mayor of one city in Georgia who disagrees with the move joins me live. That's next.
BLITZER: For small business owners a lot certainly goes into the decision about whether to reopen. Their livelihood is at stake, along with the paychecks their workers so desperately need. But people are still dying out there. So, they have to balance that with an unprecedented public health crisis. It is not easy by any means. CNN's Natasha Chen spoke with some owners facing this dilemma.
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Businesses like Jenkins Barber Shop opened on Friday for the first time in almost a month.
ERIC GREESON, BARBER: Sterilize your chairs between customers. As you can see, we have the benches marked.
These are disposable here.
CHEN (voice-over): Georgia's governor says the state is ready.
GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): We will allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers. CHEN (voice-over): Barbers like Eric Greeson who happens to be diabetic.
GREESON: As a barber, what we have to do and I definitely would not have opened anything against the health officials' recommendations or the president.
CHEN (voice-over): The president, who initially supported states to, quote, "liberate" pulled a 180 issuing a public rebuke of the Republican he once endorsed.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't like to see a lot of things happening and I wasn't happy with it and I wasn't happy with Brian Kemp.
CHEN (voice-over): The state won't see a peak in daily COVID-19 deaths until next week, according to widely accepted data.
GREESON: Everybody is scared of this basically, but we're also afraid that if we don't open, then the person down the street will and then we won't have a business.
CHEN (voice-over): This barber shop was one of two that were opened out of the 10 Donna Whitfield visited on Friday morning.
DONNA WHITFIELD, BARBER AND BEAUTY SUPPLIER: These are our gloves. We'll probably run out by the end of next week.
CHEN (voice-over): She is a barber and beauty supplier in Georgia and Alabama. It was her first day back in the truck in a month. She'd rather not risk bringing the virus home to her husband, who has cancer, but she also can't afford not to work.
WHITFIELD: I'm just kind of on the fence. I don't know. You know I hope we're doing the right thing.
CHEN (voice-over): The right thing for Randy Hicks is making sure his 25 employees at Southern Lanes Bowling Alley could still support their families. And he knows people may criticize his decision.
RANDY HICKS, OWNER, SOUTHERN LANES: I'm sorry for that. I hope they don't hold it against us for no reason. We're not trying to hurt anybody. If you look, we just want to get a business going.
CHEN (voice-over): Fellow owner Deborah Holland is a cancer survivor.
DEBORAH HOLLAND, OWNER, SOUTHERN LANES: I am conscientious about what we have, the cleanliness that we have, the exposure we have. I don't want to have to go to the hospital with this virus or anything. I'm missing half a lung.
CHEN (voice-over): The phone kept ringing with eager customers who all had to do temperature checks before coming in, could only use half of the 32 lanes, and were limited on the number of bowlers per lane. Even with restrictions, there was a strong sense of relief.
HOLLAND: I literally felt the burden being lifted off my shoulders.
CHEN (voice-over): And many of their regulars felt the same, like Leon Perpignan, who came before doors even opened.
LEON PERPIGNAN, BOWLER: I just want to do something that I enjoy doing and I haven't done in a while. Besides all the honey to-do-lists are done.
Natasha Chen, CNN Douglasville, Georgia.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Natasha.
In Georgia, hair salons, as you saw, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors. They reopened yesterday. In some places, there were lines to actually get in. But there were also some protests. People are bitterly opposed, at least some people, to the Governor Brian Kemp's decision to lift restrictions especially when it comes to professions that do not lend themselves to social distancing. The mayor of Athens, Georgia, Kelly Girtz, is joining us right now. Mayor Girtz, thanks very much for joining us. So, how are members of your community in Athens-Clarke County, for example, responding? Are most of these businesses reopening in your area as well?
MAYOR KELLY GIRTZ (D-GA), ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY: Wolf, business center after business center from very small establishments to some large chains have indicated that they are not going to open in Athens. And many of these have stores across the state and they have indicated that they are concerned about the health of their patrons. If you look at the text of the governors' order, there are certainly a lot of requirements that are in place for any business that opens.
But it sends a strange and a mixed signal when we are hearing from places like Johns Hopkins that there are some clear ways to come out of this and we are not out of the wilderness yet. We are continuing with new infections, new deaths statewide. And we have got about - we got to think about this as a statewide issue, not just a local issue. So, we've not seen these business openings here in Athens because people want to keep themselves, their patrons and the customers safe.
BLITZER: They want to err on the side of caution as they say. I know you disagree with the Governor Kemp's decision, but what flexibility do you have as mayor of Athens to impose any guidance or safety measures you deem necessary, or do you have to live by the statewide decisions that the governors put forward.
GIRTZ: The governor was explicit in preempting localities from doing anything different than what the state is doing. But myself and our unified city county commission passed a resolution just this week, calling for people to continue to shelter in place.
The governors from this community and he was a small business owner here for a long time. He was a builder. And what we are saying is in the same way that when you build a home, you need to build a foundation before you install a cabinetry. We need the public health foundation. And I believe that's what Mayor Bottoms in Atlanta, myself, Hardie Davis in Augusta, and others are calling upon the governor and president to do is build a strong public health foundation so that we can make sure that all of our residents are safe and that we don't put businesses in a bind. It's confusing for these businesses to try and determine what to do. When they hear national public health experts say one thing and they're getting a different message out of the governor's office.
BLITZER: I've spoken with several other mayors in Georgia. And one of the biggest complaints they have is they never even heard from the governor before he made this decision. Did he call you? Did he consult with you at all, Mayor?
GIRTZ: No. I do interact with the governor on a regular basis, but I didn't get any consultation. I had asked him very early after we put our shelter in place order in place. Because the first in stake to consider at least some modest measures statewide well ahead of when he did that. It's clear that when you do these transitions, there need to be a structure in place. It has to be rational. And one of those items is that you have to see at least this two weeks decline in new cases before you take the first step much less the kind of steps the governor has recommended which in my book would be step three or four or five.
BLITZER: Mayor Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens in Georgia. You got a great university there. The University of Georgia there, a world class university. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.
GIRTZ: Thanks Wolf. Be safe.
BLITZER: You, too.
As new cases, by the way, of the coronavirus spiked in Japan, healthcare workers there are warning their healthcare system is simply not prepared for the onslaught. So, why are so many residents simply ignoring social distancing guidelines there? We are going live to Tokyo when we come back.
BLITZER: In Japan right now, a fresh surge of coronavirus cases is putting pressure on the country's healthcare system. There are currently more than 13,000 known cases in Japan and 360 confirmed deaths with nearly 60 new confirmed cases among crew members onboard in an Italian cruise ship that's docked for repairs in Japan. No passengers are on that cruise ship.
CNN's Will Ripley is joining us from Tokyo right now. Will, so are Japan's health officials handling this crisis? WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is becoming a very worrying situation for health officials and for the Japanese public, Wolf, because there's a lot of other countries are flattening the curve, the exact opposite is happening here in Japan. In fact, just in the last month, the number of cases of coronavirus has increased by more than 10 times and yet here in Tokyo, a city of 13.5 million, they are testing fewer than 300 people per day.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Loudspeakers are blaring across Tokyo, warning people to stay home. Some are listening. Many are not, packing supermarkets, parks and playgrounds, even Pachinko gambling parlors. Japanese health experts warn without social distancing, hundreds of thousands could die of coronavirus. Getting tested remains incredibly difficult.
Futa Nagao's 4-year-old daughter Kaudu (ph) had a 104-degree fever, 40 degrees Celsius for four days.
FUTA NAGAO, TOKYO RESIDENT: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): My wife and I were very nervous, he says. Desperately asking for a test. But they kept saying no. They even hung up on me.
Within days, his entire family was sick. They tried to get tested for two agonizing weeks.
NAGAO: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): It was scary, he says. Our first daughter also had a fever, then a seizure. We took her to the hospital, but it was too late. Ichiko (ph) was just 16 months old when she died of flu related meningitis 5 years ago.
Nagao's wife and children were never tested for coronavirus. Dr. Fumiue Harada says the same thing is happening to a lot of his patients.
DR. FUMIUE HARADA, TOKYO PHYSICIAN: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): Only 10 percent of my requests were accepted, he says.
(on camera): 90 percent of your requests, denied.
(voice-over): On average this month, Tokyo is testing less than 300 people a day. Japan's health ministry has repeatedly told CNN widespread testing would be a waste of resources. Just this week, some areas did begin offering drive-through and walk-through testing but it's not widely available.
Undertesting is not the only problem. Hospitals are turning away ambulances. At a rate, four times higher than last April.
(on camera): So, your patient is lying there for up to nine hours getting no treatment whatsoever, and hospitals kept turning him away?
HARADA: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): I have never experienced being turned away by so many hospitals before the coronavirus outbreak, he says.
Japan's Medical Association warns the public health system is on the brink of collapse. Running low on ICU beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment.
HIROMI, NURSE: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): We only get one mask per week, says Hiromi. CNN agreed not to use her full name or identify her hospital.
(on camera): How is one mask a week possibly enough to keep you safe from a virus?
HIROMI: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): It's scary, she says. Showing me the cloth mask she uses.
Experts warn cloth masks don't protect nurses from coronavirus. Several Japanese hospitals have already become clusters of infection.
HIROMI: (speaking in Nihongo)
RIPLEY (voice-over): I'm worried about how long this will continue, she says. I'm afraid there's no end in sight.
With case numbers skyrocketing in Japan, this may be just the beginning.
RIPLEY: Japan is entering the golden week holiday period under a nationwide state of emergency. Now that will mean that fewer people are going to work and hopefully fewer people packing public transportation and offices in large cities like Tokyo. The question, Wolf, will people stay home? Will they abide by the government's request that they practice social distancing? There is an observable sense of complacency among some members of the Japanese public in part because the number of cases when compared to other countries is still relatively low as is the number of deaths. But keep in mind, there is still a severe lack of widespread testing. And the government's messaging about coronavirus didn't really get serious, Wolf, until after they announced the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
BLITZER: It's very disturbing. On a very different subject, Will, you are an expert on North Korea. You've been there many times in recent years.
There is reporting that the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un is in grave condition right now. What more can you tell us about that?
RIPLEY: It is obvious, Wolf, that something significant is happening right now inside North Korea. Ever since CNN's Jim Sciutto broke that story about the U.S. margining intelligence of the leader's health could be in serious jeopardy. North Korean State Media has not confirmed it and they haven't denied it. Their reports have been very standard. And yet, we have to look at clues. Some of those clues are coming from intelligence and that intelligence reports have been really conflicting from one end of the spectrum to another in terms of Kim Jong-un's health condition.
But we also have some new satellite images released by U.S. think tank 38 North. They show what appears to be Kim's train at his luxurious beachfront compound in the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan. It's a place that he loves to go to. He has launched missiles from there. He used to spend his summers there as a child. And now, his train is there.
Why is this significant? Well, I know from my trips to Wonsan that Kim Jong-un usually prefers to fly there himself. He often flies his own plane to Wonsan. It's much more convenient for him. The train could be an indication that Kim Jong-un is unable to fly perhaps because of a surgical procedure. It could be a decoy. It could also be, Wolf, because of the fact that they might be preparing for a very serious procession. Protocol would dictate taking a train for a very serious event. We will just have to wait and see.
BLITZER: We will watch together with you. Will Ripley in Tokyo. Thanks very much.
Unprecedented is the word that we keep using to describe this time that we're all living through. It applies not only to the health and safety crisis we're all caught up in but also the response. A tribute to everyday heroes who are doing unprecedented work to make sure we get through this. That's next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: That was Alicia Keys and Jay Z performing "Empire State of Mind" at a very packed Time Square only four years ago. But today look at this. Things are very, very different. Streets are empty, you won't find a concert, you won't find a show to attend. People are staying far away from one another. But not forever and hopefully not for long.
Before we go, I want to share a very different message from Alicia Keys. A very important reminder at a brand-new song she debut right here on CNN, that because of the countless heroes here in the United States and around the world, the rest of us can stay home and stay safe.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much for joining us. I'll be back tomorrow night, 6 p.m. Eastern for another special SITUATION ROOM. In the meantime, good night, be well. Watch this.
(ALICIA KEYS SINGING "GOOD JOB")