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Trump Contradicts Intel; Flight Attendant Union Urges Federal Agencies to Require Masks; Virus Hunters Predict Next Pandemic; Kim Jong-un's Health Mystery. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired May 1, 2020 - 09:30   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Secondly, it says it agrees with the scientific consensus that this was not a manmade or genetically modified virus. So that is also an important detail that they provide.

But then this statement goes on to say that they really do not know specifically where this virus began. They are surging their resources to look into this.

But I want to read you what the statement says on that front. It says, quote, the IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.

That statement, as you said, Jim, came out hours before President Trump spoke yesterday, but it is directly at odds with the statement that we had from President Trump yesterday saying that he has a high degree of confidence in the fact that it came from a Wuhan lab.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And we should note the president's record on this is inspires a lot of skepticism to that claim.

You have reporting that the administration has already formulated punishments for China. What exactly is being considered and is there serious consideration of this?

ATWOOD: There is serious consideration of this, Jim. We have heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo time and time again, we have heard some parts of it from President Trump that China should pay a price for this pandemic.

Now, what is not clear is when the time will be for them to pay that price. Secretary Pompeo has repeatedly said the time will come for recriminations. But what I have learned is that there are officials across U.S. government agencies who are working on options for what that price could actually look like. It includes sanctions.

It also includes canceling on U.S. debt obligations potentially and new trade policies. So these are some of the possibilities that are just being looked at, but they're really in the early stages because it could be very dangerous if they move too quickly here to try and punish China while these medical supplies are going through China and really needed here in the U.S.

SCIUTTO: Well, canceling U.S. debt obligations, of course, would have enormous implications for the market and how others view U.S. debt.

ATWOOD: Right.

SCIUTTO: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Beth Cameron, former senior director of health security and biodefense for the National Security Council.

Great to have you on, Beth Cameron. You have a lot of experience here.

As we know, and the record is clear, China did attempt to cover up the outbreak in the early stages. We did a lot of reporting on that on this network here.

Is that delay responsible for the extent of the outbreak here in the U.S., in your view?

BETH CAMERON, VP OF GLOBAL BIOLOGICAL POLICY, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: So the first thing that I would say is that it's unclear exactly who knew what, when and where. And I think that it's completely important that we have very strong, transparent information sharing for public health emergencies that are of national concern.

But the extent of the outbreak in the United States, we know that we learned about the outbreak in late December. In January, we knew what the sequence of the virus was. And we've had a lot of time to be able to ramp up diagnostic testing, personal protective equipment in an organized federal response. So I think it's unfair to say that that -- that delay is what has caused the challenges that we're seeing now with our disorganized federal response.

But, yes, it's important going forward that we have all countries sharing information about public health emergencies like this one as quickly as possible because time is absolutely of the essence.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that China should be punished at some point, if not now, at some point over its initial handling of this outbreak?

CAMERON: I think we need to look at what the international health regulations actually are. So the international health regulations are the treaty that requires countries to report public health emergencies of international concern. And, by the way, that includes the United States sharing disease information with the rest of the world as well.

The WHO does have the capability to put in place some trade measures and other things in response to violation of the IHR, but, look, this is an international fabric that we have not paid attention to around the world for a really long time.

And I think that coming out of this pandemic, what's most important is that we work with our partners around the world. and that includes China, to be able to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies as quickly as possible.

That means funding for pandemic preparedness, that means fixing the supply chain gaps we have for personal protective equipment, and that means critically, importantly being able to develop vaccines and supplies that we can surge for 7 billion people on the planet. So we have a lot of work to do and right now politicizing this and having international food fight with China is absolutely counterproductive.


SCIUTTO: All those things you listed are unanimously recommended by health experts, broad-based testing, contact tracing a national plan, et cetera. The fact is, we're not seeing that. And the president has now deferred responsibility for many of those things to states. Without a national plan, can the U.S. effectively get a handle on this?

CAMERON: The answer is categorically no. We ran that experiment for February, March and April in this country and the results of that experiment are that we weren't able to get ahead. We had to implement the social distancing measures that are in place now. And we still don't have a unified plan for coming out of those socially distance -- those -- those social distance measures across the country in a unified way that is consistent with public health and the economy, which we know are inextricably linked.

So I think the answer to your question is, no, we need that unified federal plan and we need it not just for our own country, but for our work with partners. We just saw a report yesterday from the African union. They cannot access diagnostic tests on the African continent. So what we do here is absolutely linked and we can't stop this pandemic in the United States unless we stop it everywhere.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The idea that it sort of stops at borders has already been disproven.

Beth Cameron, thanks so much for joining us today.

CAMERON: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: And you can join CNN's Jake Tapper as he investigates what really happened at the White House as the U.S. started fighting Covid- 19. CNN's special report "The Pandemic and the President" airs Sunday night at 10:00.

More and more airlines are now requiring passengers to wear face masks on planes. Could this be a national standard? Why isn't there a national standard? We'll have more.



SCIUTTO: United is now the latest major U.S. airline set to make face masks mandatory for all passengers boarding its flights. The shift in policy coming as a major flight attendant union calls for the government to issue federal guidance, requiring masks for crew, front line employees, in addition to all passengers.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now from Washington.

So, Pete, explain the patchwork that is now emerging now. Some airlines doing it. Others not. What does it look like up there?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really looks like airlines are pretty much outright requiring that folks wear masks on board flights. Although, you're right, it is a bit of a scattered shot approach.

JetBlue first requiring this earlier this week, making its passengers start wearing masks starting next week. United followed suit, then Delta, and Alaska being the latest. Still really no word from Southwest.

You know, industry groups want an across the board requirement rather than just the patchwork here and there. Airlines for America is calling for this. The Flight Attendants Union is calling for this. They want that federal requirement and a federal ban on leisure travel by air.

SCIUTTO: OK, so, simple question here, and you've heard this from the Flight Attendants Union asking for this. Why is it not as simple as the FAA issuing guidance and saying this is what's safe, this is not safe?

MUNTEAN: Well, yes, we know the industry groups want this. And even House Democrat Peter DeFazio, who heads the Transportation Committee, went straight to the FAA administrator just days ago requiring this. We know that there's CDC guidance for flight crews, even airline agents to wear face coverings on the job, although the CDC has stopped short of an explicit requirement.

You know, this all comes at a time when airlines are really shedding more routes. The flights are getting more scarce. And that means that the density on board flights, the amount of passengers on board flights is actually ticking up a tiny bit. Airlines for America says that the average amount of passengers on board a passenger flight right now are about 17. That's up from just about 10 only a week ago. So still unclear why there is no federal requirement of face coverings on board airlines just yet.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's just a long way from having a couple hundred people on those planes too. It will be a different situation.


SCIUTTO: Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

Well, virus hunters are working to prevent the next big pandemic. And it is leading them where? To bat caves. We're going to speak to one of them next. Why that's important, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SCIUTTO: President Trump has now claimed, without citing evidence, that Covid-19 likely originated in a government lab in China. We should note that contradicts findings from scientists who actually research bats where this virus is believed to have originated.

So enter the virus hunters, dressed from head to toe in hazmat suits, face masks and gloves. They set up nets outside caves, wait for the sun to set, collect thousands of bats. After putting them to sleep, these scientists collect samples, draw blood, gather droppings, all a part of research to try to prevent the next big pandemic. Bats could be important to this.

Joining me now is Peter Daszak. He's a virus hunter. Over the past ten years, he's visited 20 countries to do his research.

Peter, good to have you on this morning.

The first question to you, because it's very much in the news, does your research shed light on whether this virus leaked from a government lab or jumped from bats to humans in the way that the Chinese government says, which is via a wet market and so on?

PETER DASZAK, PRESIDENT, ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE: Oh, absolutely. I mean our research, we've been looking at these viruses for 15 years. Ever since SARS, across southern China and southeast Asia, we've found that bats carry hundreds of these coronaviruses, many of which we've shown are able to infect people.

They're able to infect themselves in the lab. In fact, some of those viruses have been used in the development of this new breakthrough drug Remdesivir. You know, we need to know about where these viruses are and what the chances of them getting into people.

Our research shows that between one and seven million people a year are likely exposed to these viruses across rural southeast Asia. That's a huge interface (ph), a huge risk for future pandemics. And that's where we should be looking, I think, to find the next pandemic and to stop the next pandemic.

SCIUTTO: So how do you do it? How does doing the research you do -- which can be dangerous, right, because, you know, there's a risk of kind of finding something in there and then exposing it to the human population -- how important is that to preventing another pandemic like this?


DASZAK: Well, it's absolutely critical. I mean what we've been looking at, we targeted these caves in southern China for a reason, working with our Chinese collaborators. We knew SARS originated in rural southwest China in bats. So we went out to find out what other viruses there are that could likely emerge. We then get the genetic sequences of those viruses and pass them over

to the people designing vaccines and drugs, just like Remdesivir, the breakthrough drug. And they test these drugs against a wide range of those viruses and show that they can not only treat SARS and Covid-19, but also potentially future pandemics that might emerge. It gets us ready to prevent pandemics, not just wait for them to happen.

SCIUTTO: Now, if SARS originated from bats and now Covid-19 originated from bats, I mean that sounds like it's a -- I don't want to say regular occurrence, but it does -- it's not an isolated occurrence then.

So what can folks and governments and health experts do now so that we don't have to go through this again?

DASZAK: Yes, you're absolutely right. Our science shows that these -- these pandemics are increasing in frequency. Spillover events from wildlife to people coming faster and faster. And because we have this global network of travel and trade, they're going to spread faster, they're going to hit our economies in a most severe way. So we've got to start preventing pandemics.

We can work with countries around the world, with local communities to reduce risky behavior, like eating bats and putting them into the wildlife trade. We can also work with vaccine developers and drug developers to find out what viruses there are around the world, like the -- sort of what has been proposed by the Global Virus (ph) Project. Let's find all of these viruses, find out the genetic sequences, design vaccines that work against all of them so we're protected against all future pandemics. That's the vision.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can. Is there anything you've turned up in your research that would indicate this was deliberately leaked or spread into the human population by China versus coming through transmissions like SARS in the past?

DASZAK: Well, I mean, an expert group, very early on in the outbreak, looked at the genetic sequence of the -- the new virus, SARS coronavirus two (ph), which was released pretty quickly by a Chinese scientist to the world, and they showed, with pretty much no doubts at all, that this -- this is not a bioengineered virus. There's no evidence of human tampering.

And, really, when you look to the -- what's happening in nature with this one to seven million people a year exposed, that's clearly is where this virus came from. We need to focus on that and stop it.

SCIUTTO: Peter Daszak, we appreciate the work you do. Thanks very much.

DASZAK: My pleasure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So where is the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un? State run media has reported on the North Korean leader's official duties, even though he has not been seen in public for quite some time. We're going to have a live update, what this all means, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SCIUTTO: State-run media in North Korea is claiming today that Kim Jong-un is continuing his official duties. This even though he has not been seen for some time. Questions continuing to swirl about his health. President Trump has said that he has, quote, a very good idea about exactly how Kim is doing. He has refused to elaborate.

CNN's Will Ripley joins us now from Tokyo.

Will, you know North Korea very well. Who should our viewers pay more attention to, Kim's absence from public view, or these claims in North Korea and state media?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: His absence from public view and the silence on -- you know, on the side of the North Koreans ever since you broke this story more than a week ago, Jim, that the U.S. was monitoring intelligence that Kim's health was potentially in grave danger after surgery.

When President Trump talked about getting a nice letter from Kim Jong- un, the North Koreans responded in less than a day. And yet this is now a discussion that has world leaders from here in Japan, Shinzo Abe, to the U.S., President Trump, talking about whether Kim Jong-un is healthy and able to lead. And the North Koreans normally would come out very defiantly with a statement denying this and saying that their leader is in good health and in full command.

Instead, what we've been getting is this stream of very small articles claiming that Kim Jong-un sent a thank you note to various worker groups, including, ironically, to his propaganda department. That was one of the bulletins in the (INAUDIBLE), North Korea's main newspaper today.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledging that the U.S. has not seen Kim in public for more than two weeks, something that he says is unusual, but not unheard of. And it's true that Kim did vanish for 40 days back in 2014 only to later reemerge walking with a cane after reported surgery to assist in his ankle, according to South Korean intelligence.

But the difference between then and now is that back then there was a lot of speculation that maybe there was some sort of political upheaval going on and that's why you didn't hear from Kim. This time around there's been a lot more specific intelligence and reporting about Kim's health potentially being in danger.

Of course, there was the U.S. intelligence that you reported about, Jim, and there have been a whole variety of stories ranging the spectrum from Kim Jong-un is hiding out from the coronavirus pandemic, inside his country, even though North Korea denies having a single case, to, you know, Kim Jong-un being at death's door. And, really, at this stage, we can't believe much of it until we hear the facts from the North Koreans. SCIUTTO: Yes.

RIPLEY: And clearly they are not in any rush to let the world know what's really going on.

SCIUTTO: Noble to hear the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, saying that the U.S. is prepared to deal with whoever is leading North Korea.


SCIUTTO: Will Ripley, great to have you on the story. Thanks very much.

A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Dozens of states are now attempting what is really a high stakes balancing act. They are now using restrictions in an attempt to kick- start their economies. Look at the number of states there.