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Human Vaccine Trials Underway At Oxford University; South Korea Says North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Alive And Well; Most of Germany Now Required To Wear Masks In Public. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 05:30   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time since his own battle with coronavirus. Mr. Johnson is warning against relaxing the U.K.'s virus restrictions too soon, as you heard there.

Well, let's go to Isa Soares, joining me now from London. He is basically telling people to be patient.

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so. Good morning to you, Robyn.

You know, we saw an upbeat, an optimistic Boris Johnson there. And I think really the message was really designed to show one, that he's back in charge and two, that people need to stay the course as this is the moment -- a moment of opportunity but it's also a moment of maximum risk. Telling people to stay the course.

Urging people to really contain their impatience. He said he understands their frustrations but this is not the moment to ease lockdown because that would throw away all the good work the people in the U.K. have done.

Now, he's also promised to be transparent with people and he said he will outline a plan in the coming days. This is something that the leader of the opposition here, Keir Starmer, has been calling for -- a strategy on exactly what a lockdown exit strategy would look like.

So he has pressure as well from Keir Starmer, pressure from those within his own party -- some who say that really, the prime minister should be easing lockdown -- the restrictions -- and some saying actually lifting them because it's actually doing some damage to the economy.

But, Robyn, I do wonder how much his brush with death -- when he said it could have gone either way if you remember when he spoke after he left hospital -- how much that is coloring some of his decision.

Take a listen to what he said earlier.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If this virus were a physical assailant -- an unexpected and invisible mugger -- which I can tell you from personal experience it is -- then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.


SOARES: Now, wrestling it to the floor. He also said this is the moment to fire our engines -- it will be done step-by-step.

But he talked a lot Robyn about a second phase -- entering the second phase. Hospitalizations are dropping, at least in London. We have seen the number of people dying -- that's been lowered, of course. Every single number is a family -- is a loss to the family that will never be the same.

But he did say that entering second phase -- and that's the key point. The preparations for the second phase and that second phase relates to really trying to ease the economy step-by-step. But clearly, not there yet, Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, thanks for that update. Isa Soares there in London. Thank you.

So, a non-profit group involved in the effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine says it might be necessary to start manufacturing vaccines even before they are fully tested. The group says its plan would mean vaccines could be delivered right away once all safety trials had been completed.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is helping to fund several vaccine research projects, including at Oxford University where a human trial of a vaccine is currently underway.

Well, Professor Andrew Pollard is the lead scientist working on that project and he comes to us now live from, yes, Oxford. Professor, good to see you.

I know that there's a lot of pressure on folks like you, so just give us a sense of how the initial few days of your human trials have gone, so far.

ANDREW POLLARD, DIRECTOR, OXFORD VACCINE GROUP, PROFESSOR, PEDIATRIC INFECTION AND IMMUNITY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY (via Skype): Well, we got underway on Thursday and things are going very well. I mean, I think it is a lot of pressure but actually, there's an enormous team of people here working on this and so that pressure's not just all on me. It's spread across 200 people and so for each person, individually, it's not so bad.

CURNOW: You seem quite bullish. How optimistic are you, then?

POLLARD: Well, I -- I mean, we're conducting a clinical trial to try and work out first of all, the safety of this new vaccine, but also whether it works. So, I mean, we're optimistic. We know lots about the platform and about how it performs. But at the end of the day, we have to do clinical trials. We need to know where the -- this vaccine -- indeed, any of the new vaccines being developed can actually prevent this very severe disease, COVID- 19. And you can only do that by very carefully controlled clinical trials.

CURNOW: Yes, and talk us -- let's talk about your trial. How many people are in your trial? I don't think it's that much, including the control group. And why -- and why have you done it this way?

POLLARD: Well, the way the trial is conducted is we split our volunteers into two groups. One group who gets the new COVID-19 vaccine and the other group who gets a meningitis vaccine, which will have no protection at all against coronavirus.

And as we go forward in time, they will meet coronavirus in the community at some point in time and we're trying to work out whether disease becomes more common in the group who had the meningitis vaccine who won't have any protection than in the group who had the COVID-19 vaccine. Then we -- then we can work out an estimate of how well it protects against infection.


And in order to do that, we -- in this initial trial, we start with a relatively small number of people but we will build up so that we have around about 1,000 people vaccinated in the trial. And if things go well with that, we'll move into further trials in older age groups and then much larger numbers of people to allow us to have a better chance of picking up the -- an efficacy of the vaccine.

CURNOW: And, I mean, I know everybody's questioning it to try and figure out what about timelines here. I mean, is that just a false question in terms of saying do you have an idea of when this might work out? Because we just don't know how it's going to unfold within people's bodies.

POLLARD: Well, it's a false question in the sense that it's so dependent on whether there's virus being transmitted in the community. And here in the U.K., as around the world, many countries at this moment are in lockdown which reduces the transmission of the virus, which is great news for our health systems. But unfortunately, it feels extremely unlikely that this virus will go away and so it will be back again in the future.

So that means --

CURNOW: So -- sorry, just to interrupt there, so what you're not doing is that you're not just exposing both the controlled group and the vaccine trials to the -- to the -- to the virus. You're actually sending them out and saying hey, you might or might not be coughed on or sneezed on. So it's random whether or not they're exposed to it and when they're exposed to it.

POLLARD: Yes, so they meet the virus in the wild. It's not -- it's not an experiment where we deliberately -- CURNOW: OK.

POLLARD: -- infect them. Those experiments are -- to do that are being discussed about how that might accelerate vaccine development but there are no carefully designed models to do that. And clearly, there's a potential risk if you give too much virus to someone intentionally, then you could cause harm.

So there's a lot of work going on to try and think about how that might be done in the future. But today, we don't have that option. We don't have a model that's established where we know the right dose of virus that infects people but is safe.

And so, we have to use the natural experiment of vaccinating people and seeing whether the vaccine protects them from disease. And, of course, that's how almost all vaccines have always been developed.

CURNOW: Yes. Well, we talk -- let's talk about that. I mean, do you see this being expedited in some way? Do you see your trials perhaps skipping maybe one phase or pushing through to sort of mass manufacturing in a way that we haven't seen with other viruses?

POLLARD: Well, I think the --

CURNOW: Other vaccines.

POLLARD: I think the answer to that is that in a pandemic situation rather than doing things in series -- so normally, you would spend some time trying to establish whether the vaccine works. And then once you've shown it works you then plan largescale manufacturing for production. If we do that we will be waiting years before we have a vaccine that could be deployed to the population.

And so, there is a need, I think -- and I think that's the international funders -- and you mentioned CEPI before -- are already looking at how early on in development there could be the investment in manufacturing so that if we have vaccines that show themselves to work well, that we're then not waiting another year before we have vaccine available. So we have to start manufacturing at risk.

CURNOW: And risk, I think, being the operative word here.

Before we go, you've obviously spent your career looking at different types of viruses, different types of vaccines. What is the one thing that sticks out for you in terms of this pathogen? What is the one question you have?

POLLARD: Well, I think there are lots of -- lots of questions. In some ways, we know quite a lot about the biology of coronaviruses already. There's been two previous epidemics of them over the last 20 years. And so, we've got a lot of understanding about what we needed to do to make a vaccine, which is one of the reasons why so many developers are already at a stage of getting it to human trials only a few months after the virus was discovered.

But the really important questions for a vaccine are first of all, do they work in humans -- are we going to see protection? Then if they do, how long does that protection last? And that is going to need time to address that. Will we need future doses in a year's time or two years' time if we do have a protective vaccine? So there's many unanswered questions.

I think perhaps given the severity of the disease in older adults, the biggest hurdle that we may face is having a vaccine that really -- gives really good strong immune responses in the elderly where we know the immune system isn't as robust, particularly in making responses against vaccines.

CURNOW: OK, good luck. I hope it all goes well. We're all counting on you around the world. Thank you very much.


Andrew Pollard there from Oxford -- appreciate it --

POLLARD: Thank you.

CURNOW: -- to you and your team. Have a lovely day.

So we're getting more clues from South Korea about the whereabouts of Kim Jong Un. We have that story next. The latest on the North Korean leader's disappearance -- there he is there. Where is he? That's ahead.


CURNOW: So, a top aide to the South Korean president says Kim Jong Un is quote "alive and well." Well, that's despite reports he was in grave danger following surgery. He missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April the 15th sparking rumors that he was very ill or even dead.

Well, CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now live in Seoul for more on all of this. Still so many questions and not a lot of answers, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Robyn. I think the only thing that everybody agrees on is the fact that he was absent on April 15th from that key day -- the Day of the Sun, one of the most important days within North Korea. And that is where the speculation started -- where was Kim Jong Un?

We have heard conflicting reports from around the world. As you say, a key aide to an adviser to President Moon Jae-in here in South Korea says that Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He says that he's believed to be in the Wonsan area of North Korea just on the coast since April 13th.

Now we also heard from President Moon Jae-in himself today because today is the two-year anniversary of the first summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un up in the DMZ. And he didn't mention Kim Jong Un's health at all. What he did say is that he was looking to the future of the peace economy. That the shared trust between himself and Kim Jong Un, the way he was speaking, showed that he clearly thinks he still has a partner to be talking about peace in the future with.


Now, obviously, there are many conflicting reports. I did speak to one former high-profile Elite member within North Korea who is now a South Korea lawmaker, Thae Yong Ho. And I asked him about the fact that he was absent on April 15th, which Thae admitted shows he probably does have some health issues. But he said going beyond that you have to be very wary of people who say they know the details.


THAE YONG HO, FORMER NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT: The only people who can confirm his real condition might be Kim Jong Un's wife or his sister or his close -- you know, the aides. Those rumors of where he is now, whether he has any surgery, I don't think that is really based on the facts.


HANCOCKS: He also took us back to when Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong-il, passed away. And he was within the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang at that point and he said that he and many others within the Foreign Ministry learned about that the same time as the rest of the world did.

In fact, the foreign minister himself, even though that announcement was kept secret for two days, only found out about an hour before the rest of the world, just to show how secretive they are when it comes to the health of the North Korean leader, Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes. I mean, we know that this is a guessing game but we also know that this cultive personality around a North Korean leader is also what fuels a lot of this speculation. I mean -- and that's why there are just so many questions here.

HANCOCKS: Well, the country lends itself to speculation -- the fact that it is not transparent, the fact that very little is known about the whereabouts, about the movements of Kim Jong Un. Thae Yong Ho was saying that even within the Elite itself -- even within those very high within the regime -- they don't know where Kim Jong Un is from any time to the next.

So we have seen Kim Jong Un disappear from public view a number of times. Back in 2014, about 40 days, he was missing. And then he came back and it was believed that he had had foot surgery. He came back with a walking cane. He's also had a couple of occasions this year alone where we haven't seen him for more than two weeks.

But the fact is everyone points to April 15th. That was the first time that he hadn't paid respects to his grandfather -- to the founder of North Korea -- and that was something which really did raise alarm bells.

CURNOW: OK, thanks so much. Paula Hancocks there -- appreciate it. You're watching CNN. So still to come, Germans now required to cover their faces every time they're in public. We'll go live to Germany after the break.



CURNOW: Children in Spain were allowed outside on Sunday. Such a relief, no doubt, for them and their parents. Confinement rules for young kids were loosened on Sunday morning. Children under 14 can now go out once a day for up to an hour as long as they're with an adult.

And, Italy, meanwhile, announced a staggered reopening. Starting May the fourth, manufacturing and construction resume, restaurants can offer takeaway services now, and some travel restrictions will be loosened. And we know that funerals with up to 15 attendees can now be held.

And, Germany is also beginning to loosen up some restrictions. As of this week, all German states will now require their citizens to wear masks in some form of public life.

Well, let's go straight to Potsdam, Germany. That's where we find our Fred Pleitgen. Fred, hi, good to see you.

Glad to see you've got your mask on, too. And I understand that the German government has ordered millions of masks to be distributed as well.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly have, Robyn. And a delivery of masks actually arrived in Germany over the weekend from China. They say they're going to get about 10 million masks here in the country for those then to be distributed to the federal states.

And it's quite interesting this morning to see here on the streets of Potsdam, which is just outside of Berlin, how people are dealing with this new requirement to wear masks in a lot of public places.

Here, it's public transports and if they go into the stores. You'll recall that just last week Germany reopened some smaller shops -- allowing shops under 800 square meters to reopen -- and now people have to wear masks when they go inside those shops.

I just spoke to a shopkeeper and she said people actually seem to be happy that that's the case now. She feels that it gives them more of a sense of security. That people actually still do maintain their distance but a lot of them just feel a little better going into a closed space.

Now, all of this comes after Angela Merkel loosened some of the restrictions on physical distancing here in this country -- of course, allowing those shops to open and some other places to open as well. But then she also had a word of caution where she said that she fears that Germany could be squandering some of the gains it has made in combating the coronavirus pandemic by opening up too quickly.

And, of course, now you see this requirement of masks, which was initiated by each German state separately. This is not a federal requirement.

This is what the German states are doing in a reaction, where some of them are saying look, we don't want to open up too much. We don't want to squander those gains. We don't want to potentially have to go back to another full-on lockdown where stores have to close again. And so, therefore, a lot of them are now saying people need to wear these masks in public places.

But again, as is always the case in Germany, it certainly is different in different places that you go to. Here where I am right now is Potsdam in the state of Brandenburg, where you have to wear a mask inside shops. Thirty minutes down the road, in Berlin, you don't have to do that. You only have to wear them on public transport.

So each state does that for themselves. But all of them have been saying look, they fear that if they open up too quickly it could have devastating consequences for this country's economy and for the health of many people. And so, now all states have come together and said yes, we need to have some form of requirement to wear masks in public spaces, Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes, this is culmination in its best form. Fred Pleitgen there in Germany. Germany certainly has led the way in terms of a success story of how to manage this.

Great to have you on the show. Thanks, Fred.


So, now with public worship suspended in much of the world, some religious institutions are finding creative ways to reach the faithful and those who need a little bit of extra help.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a worship phone-in line amid the lockdown in the U.K. This is a 24-hour service. It's called Daily Hope and it's available starting today. And this is, I think, especially for elderly people who don't have access to the Internet.

So, callers will be able to get a special greeting from the Archbishop before being able to choose from a range of options, including hymns, prayers, reflections, and advice on COVID-19. That's lovely.

So, thanks so much for your company. I'm Robyn Curnow. Please do stay at home -- medical -- and help our medical workers by staying safe. And also, if you can, wear a mask wherever you are.

"NEW DAY" is next with John and Alisyn -- enjoy. Have a great week.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, RESPONSE COORDINATION, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Social distancing will be with us through the summer. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only a handful of states are really approaching the legitimate thresholds to consider opening up and Georgia is not one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're probably going to see our cases continue to go up. I believe we'll be able to stay on top of it.

STACEY ABRAMS, (D) FORMER GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We are not ready to open. The people who power that economy are at risk.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: As we begin to reopen the economy in May and June you are going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September.

KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: This is the biggest negative shock that our economy has ever seen. We're going to be looking at an unemployment rate that approaches the Great Depression.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, April 27th, 6:00 here in New York.

And this morning we really are at an inflection point in the fight against coronavirus. The number of cases worldwide is approaching three million.