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Some U.S. States Start to Reopen Despite Warnings; WHO Reviewing Antibody Responses to COVID-19; U.S. Meat Processing Plants Close amid Outbreak; Spain Allowing Children under 14 to Exercise Outside; Boris Johnson to Return to Work Monday; Italy Deaths, New Cases Continue Downward Trend; White House Officials Discuss Plans to Replace Health Secretary; Trump Administration Weakened Mercury Rule for Coal Plants; Satellite Photos Raise Questions about Kim Jong-un; Vietnam Reports Low COVID-19 Infections, No Deaths; Comedian Entertains Fans with Basketball Star Impressions. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 26, 2020 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:00]

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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, and welcome to Studio 7 here at CNN Center in Atlanta. I am Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company.

Well, right now, millions of Americans are taking part in an experiment of sorts, willingly or not. They live in a handful of states relaxing rules designed to keep people safe in order to thaw their frozen economies.

Now remember, the U.S. has both the most reported coronavirus infections and deaths in the world. The state of Georgia's easing of restrictions has been the most aggressive and the most controversial.

The governor let businesses like tattoo parlors, salons, gyms and bowling alleys reopen on Friday. Monday, restaurants will be able to see customers, with some restrictions. Health experts, even president Donald Trump and his administration, warned it is too soon.

And Savannah's mayor said there isn't enough testing to safely reopen. Dr. Anthony Fauci from the White House Coronavirus Task Force says that needs to change quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We do not want to get fixated. Right now we are doing about 1.5 million to 2 million per week. We should probably 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 is not the only part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: A different member of the task force could be fired, meanwhile, in part, because of how he has handled the crisis. CNN learning the talks are underway to replace Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar. The White House would not confirm the report. We will have more on that, coming up shortly.

Now the number of virus-related deaths in the U.S. is approaching 54,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 939,000 confirmed cases. Still, some governors say the tough measures are paying off in their states. CNN's Karen Kaifa explains.

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KAREN KAIFA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Jersey governor Phil Murphy says his state's curve is flattening but they cannot let up.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): We need to see more progress and more slowing before we can begin implementing any effort to get ourselves on the road to the new normal.

KAIFA (voice-over): The state's death toll, second only to neighboring New York, added 250 people, topping 5,800 on Saturday as a handful of states like Georgia reopen businesses this weekend, others are at crucial points in their fights, like Massachusetts.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R-MA): We are in what we've referred to as the surge here in Massachusetts.

KAIFA (voice-over): The state of Illinois says at least 2,600 of their healthcare workers have tested positive for coronavirus so far. Kentucky governor Andy Beshear will allow a gradual reopening in the healthcare sector Monday, things like dentists, physical therapy and lab services. As for the rest...

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): If we don't do this right and we have a second spike, we end up with more economic damage.

KAIFA (voice-over): New York's current restrictions run until May 15th. Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledges the seven weeks of limitations so far have been difficult but said they are worth it.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Maybe the life you saved is not your own. OK. You still saved a life and that's not a bad way to spend one day or 56 days.

KAIFA (voice-over): The White House Coronavirus Task Force, meanwhile, met on Saturday but did not hold a public briefing -- in Washington, I'm Karen Kaifa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Dr. Emily Porter is an emergency physician. She joins me now from Austin, Texas.

Always a pleasure, Doctor. Thanks for being with us. I mean, we -- we knew there was no certainty of immunity with coronavirus. But I think a lot of people were hopeful. And, now, we've got the WHO warning, again, that having had the virus, well, you cannot rely on immunity from catching it again.

How concerning is that, if it does turn out there is no immunity?

DR. EMILY PORTER, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: That's super concerning because that, by definition, means that vaccines might not even help. If you have no immunity from catching it and recovering, then how do you know a vaccine is going to prevent immunity?

And that's kind of what we've all been hoping for. If we don't have a treatment, then let's get a vaccine or immunity that way or at least herd immunity, if enough people in the community got something and recovered, then that herd immunity, either by catching it or by vaccination, you'd think would be OK.

Unless the virus mutated, for example, or there were a new strain. But if we don't know, we're in big trouble.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. A lot of people concerned about that. I mean, there's been a lot of talk, to that point of places starting to reopen, and -- and even issuing so-called immunity passports.

[02:05:00]

HOLMES: Prove you've got antibodies and you're good to go.

You know, how risky is that sort of approach if, indeed, there is no immunity?

And how risky is what we are seeing in places like Georgia, anyway, when it comes to fears of a second wave?

PORTER: I think it's very risky because, unless you know that you have enough antibodies that you will not get reinfected, the idea that you would get an antibody test and it comes up positive, it might make people let their guard down and say, well, I've already had it so I can't get it again.

So I don't need to wear a mask. I don't need to practice social distancing. I can go hang out with Grandma, who's 95. I can, you know, go be around.

And then how many more people could they pass it onto if they did get reinfected?

So that's why the WHO actually said they think immunity passports are a bad idea and they are recommending against them because there is no proof right now and not enough data to show that anybody has immunity.

So that's going to spill over into any of the states that are opening back up. My husband and I talked about this tonight.

What would I feel comfortable with?

Like if I had an antibody test that said there was a 90 percent chance that I wouldn't get reinfected, would that be enough for me to go back to Vegas?

Or go on vacation?

I don't know because, even then, I could -- even if I didn't get sick, that doesn't mean I couldn't pick it up on my hands and give it to somebody else, even if I didn't get sick in the process and be a vector.

HOLMES: Good point. I wanted to ask you about the role of testing as well. It's still so important in this conversation. I mean, widespread testing that gives a picture of spread, of hotspots, tracing and so on.

Dr. Fauci's saying it needs to, at least, double, the rate, that is. It does seem crazy that testing has been such a failure during this epidemic.

PORTER: Yes. I think testing varies state to state. For example, in Texas, we're 48th out of 50th in terms of per capita testing. So it really varies. I think New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, places that have been hit really hard, they've gotten a lot of resources. So you know, they have a lot more testing. That's helpful.

But you need it to where anybody can go to any urgent care and get a test, just like you can with the flu. But maybe more important than testing of presence of disease or antibody testing is, actually, besides a vaccine, is actually to just keep social distancing and keep practicing what we're doing and pretend like everyone has it and you're sick all the time.

Mask up. That, we know, handwashing, those things, we know. We have rapid flu testing but if you find out you have the flu, how many people really stay home and quarantine for 14 days?

Whereas, if you feel sick, you really need to stay home for 14 days if it turns out you might have coronavirus. That's -- contact tracing seems to be more important than testing, at this point, maybe.

HOLMES: Right. We're almost out of time. I did want to ask you. There are so many worrying things about this coronavirus. Issues coming out. And one has been strokes. "The Washington Post" and others reporting a worrying number of cases of young, previously healthy people, getting strokes, testing positive for COVID-19 even though they had no symptoms.

I mean, what is the fear here?

It sounds like a clotting issue.

What do you make of that?

PORTER: It sounds like it's inflammation is what we're thinking that it's causing strokes. Widespread, systemic inflammation, rather than just a local inflammation in the vessel wall.

What's interesting about these strokes is that they're happening in really young people and they're happening in large and small arteries as well as veins. Generally, strokes are in pretty major arteries of the brain.

The really scary thing is that if you have a clotting disorder caused by inflammation and you get clots in your heart, that's a heart attack. You get a clot in your lung, that's a blood clot in your lung. You die of a pulmonary embolism.

It's possible older people were having strokes but were dying of lung disease or heart disease first. And these younger people are dying of the stroke because they have good enough hearts and lungs that they're being spared from those problems. But a stroke is what's actually killing them or leaving them unable to talk or walk.

HOLMES: Still a lot to learn. Dr. Emily Porter, always a pleasure. Thank you.

PORTER: Thank you so much, Michael.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: We want to update you now on a story we told you about yesterday. Researchers who studied coronavirus patients in the New York City area, who were put on ventilators, say they're updating their figures and it's a major difference.

The report, earlier this month, this is in the "Journal of the American Medical Association," no less, indicated that 88 percent of those patients, on ventilators, died. Now with more complete data on patients, more patients, the state's largest healthcare network has lowered that figure significantly, saying about 25 percent died.

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HOLMES: It seems meat processing plants in the U.S. are being hit especially hard during the pandemic. Several plants across the country have become ground zero for infection in rural communities. And with many of them shutting down, workers tell Gary Tuchman they're beginning to worry about their health and their future.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cars rolling into the parking lot of the Tyson pork production plant in Waterloo, Iowa, hundreds of them. The plant itself has been shut down. But the employees are waiting in a long line to take company provided tests for COVID-19.

The plant only shut this week after COVID-19 positive tests of employees have reached the 182 mark.

Earnest Latiker works at the plant.

ERNEST LATIKER, TYSON FOODS EMPLOYEE: I'm scared.

TUCHMAN: Scared because he said somebody that he worked next to for hours tested positive. So Latiker went ahead and got a test on his own.

LATIKER: I have not gotten my results back yet.

TUCHMAN: Latiker is a husband and father of a baby. And is one of the many employees of the plant, people in the community and politicians who called for the plant to close earlier when the word of the first infection came to light.

He says he called the Tyson H.R. Department last week.

TUCHMAN (on camera): And you said what?

LATIKER: I was concerned about the coronavirus being in the plant and I was scared for me and my family.

TUCHMAN: And what did H.R. say to you?

LATIKER: They told me, I was -- I was safe. And they told me that everything was OK. And they told me I will have a better chance of catching the coronavirus going out to Walmart than in Tyson. Come to work. You're safe.

TUCHMAN: And did you believe them?

LATIKER: I wanted to believe them. And then, I needed that money at the same time, so I went to work.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This employee doesn't want to reveal his identity, fearing retribution from the company.

(on camera): Do you feel they care about your health?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not as much as they need to. TUCHMAN (voice-over): He waited hours in the line to get tested and he

also got tested on his own last weekend and was negative. But felt if he did not do it again at the plant, he may not be allowed to come back to work when it reopens.

But he is angry, particularly AT how the company dealt with one of his co-workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was sick, asked to go home, was told that she could not go home because she did not have a fever at the time. A couple days later, she ended up testing positive for the virus.

TUCHMAN: The company tells me it can't address the specific situation as described.

Tyson is paying employees while the plant is closed. However, many workers remain angry at the company.

But the president of Tyson foods did not seem contrite in an interview on CNN, in which he said the company is fully committed to the employee safety. DEAN BANKS, PRESIDENT, TYSON FOODS: We are part of the community. And from everything had that we have seen, the spread of the disease in the community is affecting us in the plant.

TUCHMAN: But the much more common sentiment here is the opposite is true, that the spread of the disease at the plant has affected the community.

Ernest Latiker feels that way.

(on camera): Will you go back to work once they say it's safe to reopen?

LATIKER: Yes, I got to feed my family. So, yes, I will go back to work.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): After we met him, Ernest Latiker found out he tested negative, a feeling of relief amid the continuing tension -- Gary Tuchman, CNN, Waterloo, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Spain's children get to enjoy outdoor playtime for the first time in six weeks. We will take you to Madrid as Spain eases some lockdowns.

Also, the British prime minister about to get back to work after recovering from coronavirus. His absence has left a void at the top of one of the hardest-hit countries on Earth. We'll have that and more after the break.

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HOLMES: Welcome back.

Many of Spain's children are getting some lockdown relief. Starting today, children under the age of 14 are allowed to go outside for the first time in more than six weeks. Spain's prime minister, also, preparing to present a wider plan for easing restrictions across the country.

But he warns it will be a gradual, cautious process. Al Goodman joins me now, from Madrid.

Tell us about the changes and how Spaniards and health experts feel about it.

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: Hi, Michael. The kids will be able to go out once a day, for one hour, within one kilometer of their house or about a half a mile, with one adult who lives with them. Now this hasn't happened, as you just said, for the entire six weeks

of this lockdown order. Now parks like the Ratiro Park here in Madrid and parks across the country and playgrounds for kids, those will remain closed.

But this is a big deal. The government's been under a lot of pressure from families and politicians to make this happen, to let them get out of a lot of these Spanish apartments that are so small.

The health experts did not want this to happen until the numbers stabilized and they have. The numbers in the coronavirus pandemic here in Spain, they have. The number of deaths is going down now in the 300 range per day. That's a tragedy for each of those families.

But it had been in the 400 and 500 range. And just for the last couple days, there have been more people who have recovered than new cases listed. So the prime minister went on television on Saturday night, telling the nation that, if this goes well with the kids, by next Saturday, all Spaniards may be able to go out for an hour to do sports or just take a walk with the family.

This is part of the deescalation phase, as he put it. And here is where he said the nation is right now. Here's what he said to the people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEDRO SANCHEZ, SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This first victory against the virus is a partial, modest victory but it is the victory of the whole of Spanish society and teaches us, above all, the path that we have to travel in the coming weeks. It is a victory of all of us and, for that, on behalf of the government, I thank you.

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GOODMAN: It's going to be a gradual deescalation, he says. And some of Spain's regions that have been less hard hit may get out earlier than others. He says, it's going to be a step-by-step approach. And if there's a falling back, if more cases show up, quickly, they will have to lock things down again. Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Al, appreciate your reporting there in Madrid for us, Al Goodman.

The British prime minister Boris Johnson is set to be back at work Monday now that he has recovered from COVID-19.

[02:20:00]

HOLMES: That's what a Downing Street spokesperson tells CNN. Dominic Raab will step aside in order for Mr. Johnson to make a full return to the job. Isa Soares joining me now from London, Boris back to work.

What's he been saying and what's going to be in his inbox?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Michael. I think he'll have his work cut out, that's for sure. Boris Johnson coming back to work, we are being told, on Monday. We're being told also, Michael, he is raring to go.

This is just two weeks after he was released from St. Thomas' Hospital with COVID-19. He will have to face, first and foremost, the tensions within his own party, within the Conservative Party.

Some Conservative donors calling for the lockdown measures to be eased because of the toll they fear that could be taking on the U.K. economy. Others looking at the numbers and saying it is too soon to be easing the restrictions.

Of course, the prime minister's own brush with death, of course, may influence that decision when he makes it. A colossal decision, may I add, when he makes it in about a night or so.

But he has the numbers and the science behind it, Michael. And if we look at what we have seen in the last few hours, the 24-hour period, we saw 813 deaths. But really, the devastating and the grim milestone that we are talking about here in the U.K. is that the U.K. has now passed 20,000 deaths.

And of course, behind every single number here we're reporting is a name, is a loss, is a family that will never be the same. And we heard, on Friday, from the government, basically saying that those numbers and the numbers they're hearing in terms of the rate of infection basically proves that we're not there yet, asking people to really stay the course.

The U.K. is not out of the woods yet, according to the home secretary -- Michael.

HOLMES: So important to make that point that you made about every number there is not just a number. It's a family. I wanted to ask you, too, about the U.K. introducing these mobile tests for frontline workers.

What's that about?

SOARES: Yes. So what we've seen the last 24 hours is that the government has created these mobile units that basically are up and down the country, Michael, to test those essential workers, those people most in need.

And this will be led by the military. The military here will be traveling up and down the country, setting up these units. They hope to get more than 90 units or so going by the start of May to test these people up and down the country, people who don't have access to -- to testing.

These units can be set up, Michael, in 20 minutes and test results can be done in 48 hours. Now this is important, because you and I have talked about this before. The government, at the beginning of the month, pledged to be testing roughly around 100 or so thousand tests a day. Despite all these tests they have been promising, Michael, there

haven't been -- they've promised -- they haven't actually met any of this. In fact, the last tests in the last 24 hours was 28,000 tests.

So those promises by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, still hoping, of course, these mobile units will ramp up the testing. Also worth pointing out, the website launched on Friday to allow essential workers to book slots to be tested, that has gone two days now, by 10:00 in the morning, is completely booked up.

So hopefully, these mobile units will go to those most in need -- Michael.

HOLMES: Testing, still, such a major issue and in a number of countries, including here in the U.S. and there in the U.K. Isa, good to see you. We'll talk to you later.

Now Italy has been under national quarantine since March 9. But lately, its numbers of new cases and deaths have been shrinking as well. And despite the restrictions, Italians say they do understand that their sacrifices are for the greater good. Here's CNN's Ben Wedeman.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than six weeks, lockdown has been a way of life for Italians. And while, elsewhere, there have been protests calling for a return to normal life...

BEPPE SEVERGNINI, COLUMNIST AND AUTHOR: It's all quiet on the Italian front.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- columnist and author Beppe Severgnini spoke to me from the hardhit northern province of Cremona.

SEVERGNINI: You hear the sound of ambulances every day, as we have for the last six weeks. You don't really -- like New Yorkers now, probably. You don't really need much to be convinced. And that's why I said, OK, I think it makes sense to stay home.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Italy was the first country to impose a nationwide shutdown, during which a usually unruly people has been largely willing to obey the rules.

[02:25:00]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): "I never expected Italians to be so disciplined," says Vladimiro. "Instead, we took seriously what the government told us."

In part, it's because the death toll from coronavirus has been so high, more than 25,000, and, in part, because of who is dying. The average age of death from the virus is 79. And, here, the grandparents are a national institution.

FEDERICA DE VIERNO, ROME RESIDENT: Old people are considered very important because they're pieces of history. You learn from them.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): In a country that has seen empires rise and fall, family is the one constant.

ANDREA CALORO, ROME RESIDENT: I think it's just a matter of respect. I mean, we've been asked, basically, to do nothing, to do something. So we stay home and we take it easy. And it's our way to protect our -- yes -- our maybe oldest people.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Yet, the longer the lockdown goes on, the gloomier the prospects for Italy's economy.

WEDEMAN: For now, the government says the country can start to reopen May 4th. The reopening will be cautious. It will be gradual. Italy can ill afford a second wave of this virus.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): An entire generation, a nation's history, is at stake -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: And coming up after the break, the White House may be looking to replace its Health Department chief. Why Alex Azar might have fallen out of the Trump administration's good graces. We'll have that and more when we come back.

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HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes and you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Several U.S. states easing restrictions designed to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Georgia has already allowed tattoo parlors, salons, massage therapists and bowling alleys to reopen. Restaurants will be able to seat diners for Monday.

Now this comes as the national death toll approaches 54,000 and deaths are growing in Georgia.

There are some glimmers of hope, though. Some governors reporting that the infection curve seems to be flattening in some states. The Trump administration is considering some major starting shakeups, meanwhile, namely in the top health office. Jeremy Diamond explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There are discussions underway at the White House about potentially replacing Alex Azar. He's the Secretary of Health and Human Services. A senior administration official tells me that at this point nothing

is imminent but there are discussions among White House officials about replacing Azar. These discussions are coming following a spate of new stories that are quite critical of Alex Azar's role in managing this coronavirus response of the Trump administration, particularly in the early days of the response.

You will recall that Alex Azar was actually in charge of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the early days. It was him and his department who really handled the response in January and in February to coronavirus.

Even as the president was publicly downplaying the seriousness of this threat, Alex Azar was working with other officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, to really manage this response.

The White House's deputy White House secretary press secretary has a response.

"The Department of Health and Human Services, under the leadership of Secretary Azar, continues to lead on a number of the president's priorities. Any speculation about personnel is irresponsible and a distraction from our whole of government response to COVID-19."

Again, just to stress, this is not something that is happening imminently. But the fact there are these discussions within the White House certainly is notable, particularly because we know the president has really been trying to blame others for the slow response.

He has looked towards the World Health Organization, he's looked towards China, so it is possible that Alex Azar could become the next scapegoat as the president moves forward -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: More measures to keep immigrants out of America could be coming soon. This would be in addition to President Trump's executive order, barring potentially thousands of people seeking a home in the United States. He signed that order on Wednesday.

The acting Homeland Security Secretary suggesting the administration could go a step further, with a focus on temporary visas. The president says his order is in the best interest of the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This pause on new immigration will also help to conserve vital medical resources for American citizens. A short break from new immigration, depending on the time we're talking about, will protect the solvency of our healthcare system and provide relief to jobless Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And, joining me now, CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon. He is also the author of "Washington's Farewell," a great read.

John, great to have you back on, my friend. The world is, quite rightly, laser focused on this virus and dealing with it. But in the U.S., a lot of other things are perhaps slipping under the radar.

I wanted to ask you, most recently the Trump administration changes to the immigration policy, supposedly temporary, no guarantee of that. And, of course, you have got Trump's immigration advisor, Stephen Miller, who would like a whole lot more.

What is your read?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Stephen Miller, who is a zealot on the issue of immigration, told folks on a surrogate call that, while it was supposed to be a 60-day decree, he really hoped it would be a (INAUDIBLE) wedge of something much bigger.

This is part of a larger agenda that he and Trump have tried to produce to shut down foreign immigration. And as with any ideologue, you never want to leave a good crisis to waste. That's part of the problem of keeping our eye on the ball on policy while the pandemic occurs because some folks are going to try to get away with murder.

HOLMES: Yes. I wanted to also ask about deregulation, as well.

[02:35:00]

HOLMES: The latest being the weakened regulations on release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants because nothing like a little more mercury in the air.

It's another step towards rolling back health and environmental protections right in the middle of a pandemic and adds to a raft of environmental regulation rollbacks.

What do you make of that?

AVLON: Well, look, this has clearly been a long standing priority of the administration. There is no reason they would stop rolling back environmental regulations just because of something like a pandemic.

But of course, it does beg the question, why in the world would that be a priority?

Increasing pollution into the air during a pandemic doesn't seem to make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And if it doesn't to you, it's because it doesn't actually. But it is a policy priority for this administration.

And they are going to go full steam ahead, whatever they feel they can get away with away with undercover when folks are paying attention elsewhere, they will. But it's not a new policy. It's simply a continuation of an agenda they have had for quite some while. And they'll run into some roadblocks in the courts as well.

HOLMES: It's been worrying a lot of people for a long time. Another aspect of this, and I wanted to ask you, how on demand is this administration, in terms of experts and career professionals?

Again, this has been going on for a long time but there's been years of staff and funding cuts to any number of crucial departments and agencies. And, you know, let's remember there is a raft of acting heads in various areas. I know you've got some things to say about governance issues, exposed by this administration's response.

AVLON: Well, you know, let's start with the whole acting secretary phenomenon because it's an important point. The president's basically made a decision that he likes having acting secretaries in place.

What that means basically is they haven't been confirmed by the Senate which means the administration doesn't have to go through that rigmarole, as they see it, of accountability from the co-equal branch of government.

And also the person will be on pins and needles making sure his fealty is to the president, who can remove him any time, rather than looking out for his agency or its stated mandate.

All of this is part of a larger erosion of the administrative state. We could have a debate about the right size of government.

But one of the things I think the pandemic is exposing that is an ideological approach that tries to make government so small that it can't adequately respond proactively to a pandemic is not serving its people.

And as you look at how demographics or destiny in American politics, I think you are going to see this pandemic wake a lot of folks up to the fact that, you know, maybe we've cut too far. Maybe, here's a crazy idea, expertise matters.

And a democratic society deserves to have a government that can be responsive to the needs of the people. These are policy problems. We see America was caught flat footed on this. It's, in large part, because the president didn't want to deal with it. He was in denial.

But the more you erode experts and you degrade science from an ideological perspective, you have an antiscience agenda, you leave people of your country vulnerable.

And I think there is going to be a pushback to that vision of government that could have profound implications, not just in the next election but over the next generation because what's happening is clearly not working.

And if the alternative is an authoritarian state, that's a real bad option, too. And so those are false choices. We need to have a strong democratic state that can take -- that elevates confidence in government again.

HOLMES: Really good points. Quickly, only got a minute left but I want to ask you about the election approaching and you got the president pushing the incorrect theory of mail-in voter fraud and attacking the U.S. Postal Service. Firstly, do you think those two are related, as election approaches?

And how important might mail-in ballots be in this election, considering the pandemic?

AVLON: Well, look, absolutely mail-in ballots matter. This is not a radical new idea. It's done in a number of Western states. The president and members of his administration vote by mail.

And this is simply a way to ensure that people can go to the ballots if there is particularly a second bump in the pandemic that doesn't decrease turnout. And -- and -- and Republicans who fear, including the president, this will somehow disadvantage them, I don't think are looking at the facts.

It may disproportionately depress turnout among older people, who are more likely to vote, statistically, for the president and the Republican Party. But we need to make sure this election goes forward and we can lower all the barriers to entry as possible.

Keep in mind, around the world right now, there are authoritarian regimes trying to take advantage, opportunistically, of this pandemic. What's happening (INAUDIBLE) is a scandal.

And we need to make sure that democratic nations, lowercase D, hold ourselves to a higher standard. And that the barriers to entry to participate in our elections are lowered, not heightened, in a time of pandemic (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: John Avlon, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

AVLON: Take care.

HOLMES: When we come back, the mystery deepens. New satellite photos raising questions about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. We'll have that when we come back.

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[02:40:00]

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HOLMES: Vietnam is being lauded for its response to the coronavirus. The rate of infection in that country, relatively low compared to the rest of the world.

So what did they do right?

Let's take a look at how Vietnam is approaching prevention.

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HOLMES (voice-over): Vietnam, a country of 97 million people and less than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19. And no deaths. That's the official figure from the government and that has caught the attention of experts and the international media.

The World Health Organization attributes Vietnam's apparent success in beating back the virus to the Communist state's ability to get the public to cooperate, including mass quarantines, lockdowns, mandatory social distancing and aggressive contact tracing and testing.

NGUYEN MANH VIEW, COFFEE SHOP WORKER (through translator): Vietnam's strategy in the fight against COVID-19 was remote and early prevention even before the pandemic got complicated.

HOLMES (voice-over): The first two cases of the virus were detected in January. Authorities immediately suspended flights to Wuhan, then the ground zero of the pandemic, and closed the border with China to all but essential trade and travel.

In addition, aggressive contact tracing began, relying on grassroots Communist Party networks in neighborhoods. Here's how one Hanoi resident put it.

"We go to each and every alley, knocking on each and every door. We follow the guidance from our government that fighting the pandemic is like fighting our enemy."

Easing the restrictions came after no new confirmed case was reported in about a week. But the authorities here insist the crisis is not over. In fact, a town in a province close to the Chinese border was locked down early this month after one case of the virus was detected.

[02:45:00]

HOLMES (voice-over): Restrictions also remain on two villages during the capital, Hanoi, according to state media. Hanoi residents welcome the easing of restrictions but this man, reminding people not to let down their guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The social distancing has been eased. But this outbreak is unpredictable. Therefore, we cannot anticipate anything.

HOLMES (voice-over): In the meantime, many here, just happy that a semblance of normality is back.

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HOLMES: Turning our attention now to North Korea and new questions surrounding the whereabouts of dictator Kim Jong-un. He was last seen in public on April 11 and missed an important event on April 15. Well, now, satellite photographs are raising suspicions that something serious might be unfolding. Here's CNN's Will Ripley.

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WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is abundantly clear right now that something major is happening inside of North Korea. Ever since CNN's Jim Sciutto broke a story that the U.S. is monitoring intelligence that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un health may be in great danger after a surgical procedure, state media inside of North Korea has been radio silent, business as usual. They've not confirmed, not denied. They haven't said anything.

So we've had to look at clues, including these new satellite images released by the U.S. think tank 38 North. They show what appears to be Kim Jong-un's train at his compound in the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan.

It is a beachfront, luxurious compound where Kim Jong-un spent his summers as a child. It's a place he loves to be. He has also conducted missile tests from that location. But the significance of the train being there now is that it lends credibility to reports that Kim Jong-un is there. But the presence of the train neither proves or disproves his health condition.

What I do know from my trips to Wonsan, is when he goes there, he prefers to fly. He often flies his own plane. It's faster and more convenient for him. If he is currently unable to fly because of a surgical procedure or another reason, the train could be a way for him to get back more comfortably to a place like the capital, Pyongyang.

We know he also chooses to travel by train during very formal or serious events, such as his summit in Beijing with the Chinese president or in Hanoi with the U.S. president Donald Trump.

We also know that Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, reportedly died on his train. He was taken back to the capital in a formal way. We don't know why Kim Jong-un's train is at his compound, where it may be going if it decides to leave the station.

Given that there is so much secrecy right now, so much confusion about the health status of Kim Jong-un, every clue that we see from satellites, intelligence, it is significant -- Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.

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HOLMES: The coronavirus has shut professional sports down for now. But close to a million people on Instagram are still getting their basketball fix. More on one impersonator's megastar moves coming up.

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HOLMES: Welcome back.

The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily halted professional sports, as you may have noticed. But one man is keeping sports alive with his spot-on impressions of basketball stars like LeBron James and Steph Curry. Close to a million people, including me, follow him avidly on Instagram. CNN's Patrick Snell has more.

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MAX PERANIDZE, NBA COMEDIAN (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) Lebron's not easy, because actually (INAUDIBLE) LeBron (INAUDIBLE) and I twisted my ankle.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attempting finely- tuned impressions of your idol is not without its peril says 22-year- old Max Peranidze. But his attention to detail when it comes to imitating some of basketball's biggest names is now more than ever paying off in the most impactful way.

PERANIDZE (voice-over): There's no live sports (INAUDIBLE) so I'm trying to try my best to, you know, keep up with the spirits and make the videos for people that, you know, are going through hard times. (INAUDIBLE) I do my best just to make good videos, funny videos.

I get (INAUDIBLE) like, oh, I needed this, thank you, you know what I mean. Like this, I get the encouragement from the fans, you know me and I just want to stay consistent with it.

SNELL (voice-over): Max turned to his own brand of hoops comedy when a freak injury curtailed his college basketball career in Los Angeles. And while his popularity is now soaring with close to a million followers on his maxisnice Instagram account, he remains ever mindful of the sacrifices along the way.

PERANIDZE (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) get a job and (INAUDIBLE) so you know, I just, sometimes I'll be hungry, sometimes I'll eat like one time a day.

SNELL (voice-over): The last few months, though, have been truly life transforming for Max, who arrived in the United States as a 10-year old from Moldova. His videos even capturing the attention of French World Cup winning football star Antoine Griezmann.

PERANIDZE (voice-over): I just woke up and (INAUDIBLE) and then it was him and his message was, he was like, I'm a big fan. You're hilarious and I was just like, wow. Because I know he's a famous (INAUDIBLE) player and everybody knows him. He has a big following base. So I was just like, that's dope. I was happy and ever since then I just kept it cool with him.

SNELL (voice-over): And if you want further proof Max and his talents really are now living the dream...

PERANIDZE (voice-over): I just got a deal from him one day. One day I was chilling on the couch, I was -- I think I was eating a cheeseburger or something, And I just I look at my phone and I get a DM (INAUDIBLE) and he's like, yo, and I go, yo, what's up?

And he tells me like, so I got this show coming on (INAUDIBLE) Tuesdays, I mean, I would like you to be a part of that. Would you be down for something like that?

And I was like, I was like, man, you don't even have to ask me. Count me in.

[02:55:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Garage door like this (ph). (INAUDIBLE) little brother (INAUDIBLE). Me, Max, in hand (ph).

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, FORMER NBA STAR: That dude's making that much money on social media, both them dudes got a nice little career.

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SNELL (voice-over): And when it comes to working on future material, Max is already busy, clearly inspired by the U.S. TV miniseries, "The Last Dance," featuring the 1997-'98 Chicago Bulls and the iconic Michael Jordan.

PERANIDZE (voice-over): Jordan's the greatest (INAUDIBLE) NBA. He's just -- he's one of the greatest to ever do it. (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE).

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HOLMES: Check him out on Instagram, he's a pretty funny guy.

Well, Banksy's "Girl with a Pierced Eardrum" has joined the coronavirus era. The mural by the elusive British artist is now wearing a blue surgical face mask, a representation of the fear and worry in the U.K. as the pandemic spreads there.

The image, a parody of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" has adorned a Harborside build in Banksy's home city of Bristol since 2014. It's unclear if this change was actually done by the artist or a fan.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. This has been CNN NEWSROOM. But don't go away. We'll have more news in just a moment.