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CNN NEWSROOM

Kevin Hassett Econometric Model Finds Optimism; Coronavirus Outcomes Vary Around the World; Predatory Giant Hornet Spotted in Washington State. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 4, 2020 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Our next guest has taken an in-depth look at President Trump's move to reopen the country, even as the death toll from the coronavirus keeps surpassing the administration's predictions. President Trump now says 100,000 Americans dying is a realistic number. Just two weeks ago, he was predicting 60,000 deaths.

In "The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey writes, quote, "The span of 34 days... when Trump agreed to extend strict social-distancing guidelines... tells a story of desperation and dysfunction."

TEXT: The span of 34 days between March 29, when Trump agreed to extend strict social-distancing guidelines, and this past week, when he celebrated the reopening of some states as a harbinger of economic revival, tells a story of desperation and dysfunction."

SCIUTTO: "Washington Post" White House reporter and CNN political analyst Josh Dawsey joins us now.

One detail caught our attention here, that the White House put together its own team to kind of track this. And Kevin Hassett -- former chairman of Trump's Council of Economic Advisors, with of course no background in infectious diseases -- was chosen to guide it. Why him in particular in this case?

[10:35:09]

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Kevin Hassett has been one of the chief proponents of reopening the government. He has been arguing repeatedly that the economic damage could be, you know, negative-40 percent GDP, double-digit unemployment that stretches on for many months.

So he's put together what he calls an econometric model that had shown a rosier picture of deaths for some time. And that has been looked upon by some White House advisors as a way to speed the reopening of the government.

And that's -- and there's a number of folks in the White House who have really wanted to reopen soon, and are -- and have said, you know, they don't think the death toll was going to be bad as the IHME and the other models that we've become accustomed to.

SCIUTTO: The economy, I mean, you talk about how the election features large in this and the president's thoughts about November and where he needs the economy to be, to boost his chances of re-election.

DAWSEY: Well, that's right. The president saw his greatest asset as the economy, and he wanted to cast his campaign largely on his economic accomplishments. And now you're looking at, you know, GDP falling, unemployment rising, you know, joblessness numbers growing. You have lots of grim indicators, and you have lots of White House advisors who say they are only going to get worse.

On a recent call with different conservative groups, Ken Cuccinelli, one of the top immigration officials, said, you know, we really need people on TV defending us because the messaging hit is going to be stunning, when the numbers come out in the next couple of months.

So the White House is trying to begin the reopening of the economy because they are fearful that if they don't, then they will not have good numbers by November. They will have no turnaround by November.

SCIUTTO: Is that judgment movable if -- if and as we watch the death toll rise here, right? I mean, we're at 67,000. The president had, just a couple weeks ago, said that might be the top end of deaths. Now, he's saying 100,000. And the predictions, of course, Deborah Birx repeated this this weekend, that their actual range from the health experts is 100 to 240,000. Does the White House position in your view change as it sees the death toll increase?

DAWSEY: Well, a lot of it will be what the states' position is, Jim. I mean, the White House can put out guidelines, they can push states, they can urge states. You can have the president tweet things like "liberate states." But if these governors feel like the deaths are surging in their states, a lot of them will be, you know, reticent to open.

You see New York, already saying -- New York City, we're (ph) essentially going to be shut down this summer. You have lots -- while you have some states like Georgia and Oklahoma and other places reopening, you have a lot of states just aren't willing to do it.

And one of the things that some --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

DAWSEY: -- in the White House are fearful of is we start reopening to try and improve the economy, and then there's another spike in cases, and then you have to, you know, close it down and start again. And that would be the worst-case scenario for them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And some have made the point it's a false choice, right? That they're -- if the death toll rises, there are economic effects from that as well. Josh Dawsey, great to have your reporting. Thanks very much.

DAWSEY: Thank you. [10:38:15]

SCIUTTO: Well, Russia is now facing a crisis on two fronts, reporting a record number of coronavirus cases while battling an economic uncertainty.

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SCIUTTO: Pressure is mounting on Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russia becomes the latest coronavirus hotspot. CNN has reporters there and all around the world to bring you the latest developments. Let's begin with Matthew Chance, who's in Russia.

And, Matthew, Russia initially downplayed this. Vladimir Putin downplayed it as an issue of course. Now, it has expanded there as a problem. How is it responding now and can we believe the numbers that are coming out of Russia?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right. I mean, just a couple of weeks ago, Vladimir Putin went on state television saying, don't worry, you know, I've got this situation under control.

But the situation looks far from in control at the moment, where you're seeing a sort of daily count of people infected with the virus climbing by 10,000 every day for the past couple of days, it's now risen to 145,000 people who are confirmed with the virus.

But, you know, there's a lot of skepticism around those numbers. It is just the tip of the iceberg. Even the mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, a couple of days ago, said that he believes that two percent of the population of Moscow, which is a city of, you know more than 10 million people, may have the virus. That would be 250,000 people, he estimates, have the virus just in Moscow alone.

Yes, the death toll has been pretty low -- suspiciously low, some might say -- just over 1,300 people in a country of 140 million people. Look how many people have unfortunately died in the United States. It's a bigger country but, you know, even so.

And so, you know, there's a huge potential upside for those death figures and for those casualty (ph) figures to rise in the days and weeks ahead as the picture becomes more clear in Russia.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's hard to hide those numbers as people pass away.

Let's go to Nic Robertson now in Greece. And, Nic, Greece, something of a success story here, has it not been? Early to social distancing restrictions, and that's been reflected in the overall numbers.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it's pretty stark when you look at it. The prime minister here acted before anyone died through coronavirus, so putting a hard, tough lockdown in place very quickly.

[10:45:06] So far, across the whole of the pandemic in Greece, you've got about 10.6, 10.7 million people living here. They've had 145 people so far die with the virus, and about 2,600 infected. Those numbers alone are quite staggering. You know, some major cities around the world have numbers like that on a daily basis.

What we've also found while we've been here -- I've been talking with the prime minister, and feels that they got it right, they didn't get everything right but so far it looks good. And of course, the big challenge is opening up the economy, going forward. Tourism's a big part of that, 20 percent of the economy. They're doing baby steps towards that; they hope to be having tourists by July.

But another staggering thing I found here, Jim, we went to the main hospital in Athens that handles COVID-19, they're only using about one-fifth of their ICU beds. Yes, they've got some critical cases in there but the hospitals are not overwhelmed.

And I spoke to one of the leading doctors there who told me, amazingly, that not a single doctor or single nurse in the hospitals has contracted the virus. Why -- and the answer to this one, I asked that question -- is because they weren't overwhelmed because the government acted quickly. But because they had enough PPE -- plenty to go around -- was the message from the hospital.

And I think there are lessons to be learned, and the prime minister here says absolutely, he's looking to learn lessons around the world but it does seem that Greece, on the face of it so far at least, has done some things right.

SCIUTTO: Good to hear. Nice to have success stories.

Scott McLean now, to Spain. Now, Scott, as you know, Spain had one of the worst outbreaks, but the numbers trending down there, the government, beginning to lift restrictions. What's been the impact so far?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Jim. So we're on Formentera Island in the Mediterranean right now. It only had seven cases of the coronavirus, but it still had to lock down for seven months like the rest of the country.

Because it has so few cases, it's sort of skipping a step and reopening a week before the rest of the country. That means that churches are allowed to open at one-third capacity; it means that stores are allowed to open without an appointment; and it means that restaurant and bar terraces can open.

This is a scene about as close to normal life before the coronavirus that we've seen here in a very long time. But the reality is that things are not normal, not by any stretch. Even to get to this island from Ibiza on the ferry, we had to get a coronavirus test. We had to have our finger pricked, our blood taken to figure out whether or not we were positive for the virus. Thankfully, we were negative.

One thing, quickly, to show you, Jim, and that's that a lot of businesses, they're not opening at all. That's because this island and many others like it rely so, so heavily -- almost 100 percent -- on tourism alone, and they say that if they open, it means that no one will come. They will simply lose money.

And so this island is far from back to normal -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, it's a challenge faced in so many places, so many countries. Matthew Chance, Nic Robertson, Scott McLean, thanks to all of you.

[10:48:16]

For the first time ever, the murder hornet -- nor making that up -- has arrived in the U.S. The insect's a huge threat, but what can scientists do to stop them, if anything?

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SCIUTTO: So this may sound like something out of a Hollywood horror movie -- we wish it was, but murder hornets are a real thing. And for the first time, they've been spotted here in the U.S. At more than two inches long, the Asian giant hornet has a stinger that can kill a human if stung several times. And they're also threatening the honeybee population. CNN's Bill Weir joins me now.

So, Bill, I mean, honeybees, already under enormous threat, climate change, et cetera. But beekeepers, reporting piles of dead bees? I mean, what's happening here?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It is. It is like a horror script in the insect world, they're finding these honeybee hives full of decapitated honeybees. And at first, they couldn't figure out what was happening.

And then what made the most sense is, as you said, it's the murder hornet, this Asian giant hornet that has a mandible that can just rip the head off a honeybee and go through dozens of them in seconds. They feed the thorax to their offspring, and then can take over that hive.

And it's the first time these insects have been discovered in North America. They were discovered up in Canada, now Washington State, two different sightings. And they're so worried, as you say, because honeybees are our pollinators, so much of our food supply depends on these little friends of ours nature. And to have an invasive species like this come along at this time, when they're reeling from colony collapse, is really troubling.

SCIUTTO: OK, two questions. One, are they also a danger to humans? And, two, what can be done about them if anything?

WEIR: Yes, so they -- as you said, if you get stung a bunch of times, these things kill up to 50 people a year in Japan. They describe the sting like being poked with a red-hot thumb tack through your flesh, they can sting through a beekeeper's suit.

So -- but the much more troublesome is what they'll do to the food supply. And the only way to stop them is to try to catch the queen as they leave their -- you know, in the spring, start looking for new places to build nests and colonies. And that's really, really difficult but entomologists say we have just a short window of time to try to find these things and kill them before they spread across the country.

[10:55:05]

SCIUTTO: And are they spreading across the country or just in isolated places at this point?

WEIR: Just isolated places so far, Vancouver Island, up in the Pacific Northwest, a couple different spots. They could tell from tests that they weren't connected, so there were two different separate invasions. And that's what's most troubling.

SCIUTTO: Goodness gracious. Bill Weird, thanks very much. We know you'll stay on top of it.

WEIR: One more thing -- yes, we will, thanks Jim.

SCIUTTO: I know. Last thing. Goodness.

Well, the president, now saying he expects around 100,000 deaths in this country from coronavirus, a big revision upward from what he said just a couple of weeks ago. What does that mean as more states, at the same time, are reopening?

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