Return to Transcripts main page


Ousted Vaccine Director Files Whistleblower Complaint; Under Growing Criticism, Trump Visits Arizona Plant; White House Considering Phasing Out Task Force; Intel Chief Nominee Says Virus Will Be Top Priority; World Health Organization Says 100+ Potential Vaccines in Development; U.K. Overtake Italy's Death Toll, Now Highest in Europe; Human Trials Begin for Potential U.S.-German Vaccine; China Warns Protesters, We Will Not Sit Idly By; White House Economic Adviser Says Unemployment Rate Could Reach 20 Percent. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are still rising, but the White House has decided it may be time to disband its coronavirus task force.

Hong Kong is easing up its restrictions and protesters are planning to head back on the streets, but China already has a stern warning. We will have a live report.

And a top economic adviser to the U.S. President says unemployment could hit 20 percent when numbers drop this week as major companies lay off workers.

A new blow to those trying to stop the coronavirus. Research says COVID-19 has been spreading in people since late last year, not nearly long enough to offer widespread immunity. In the U.S., the death toll is now reaching beyond a staggering 71,000. That is according to Johns Hopkins University.

Remember, it was just last week that the model used by the White House projected there would be around 74,000 deaths months from now. That key model now forecasts the death toll will nearly double by August. An infectious disease expert told CNN this is a long-running pandemic.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We're only in the second inning of a nine-inning game. What we've seen so far is just the start. About 5 percent to 15 percent in New York and maybe as high as 20 percent of the population have been previously infected. This virus is going to continue to transmit in people, by people, with people, for until at least it gets to 60 percent or 70 percent before it will slow down. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: The Trump administration's former vaccine director has a bone to pick with the White House. Dr. Rick Bright claims he was punished for contradicting the President. He says he sounded the alarm over the virus early on, and now Kaitlan Collins tells us he's fighting back.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vaccine chief who was ousted from his job in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic says his early warnings about the outbreak were ignored. Dr. Rick Bright led the government vaccine agency BARDA until a few weeks ago. And in a new whistleblower complaint filed today, he alleges his early warnings about the outbreak were ignored and his caution about a treatment pushed by President Trump led to his removal. Bright says he raised concerns about U.S. preparedness for coronavirus as far back as January, but he was met with indifference, which then developed into hostility. HHS hasn't commented on his complaint, and President Trump has refused to answer questions about Bright.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He says he was retaliated against and that's why he was removed from his job.


COLLINS: The complaint was filed hours after President Trump left Washington for his first cross-country trip in months.

TRUMP: No, I'm leaving for Arizona.

COLLINS: Facing criticism over the federal government's response, Trump is visiting a Honeywell facility in Arizona that produces N-95 masks. He opted for a stop in the battleground state, instead of a closer Honeywell faculty in nearby Rhode Island.

TRUMP: Everybody traveling has been tested. We have great testing. And literally, they've been tested over the last hour.

COLLINS: As he left Washington, Trump downplayed predictions about a steep rise in cases and deaths from coronavirus.

TRUMP: But that report is a no-mitigation report, and we are mitigating.

COLLINS: An influential model often cited by the White House now forecasts that 134,000 people could die of coronavirus in the U.S. despite those numbers, President Trump confirmed reports that the White House is considering winding down the coronavirus task force.

TRUMP: I think that as far as the task force, Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we're now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening, and we'll have a different group probably set up for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying mission accomplished?

TRUMP: No, no, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it's over.


COLLINS: Trump also confirmed today he won't let Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the House next week, though aides said it was because Fauci was too busy. Trump made clear that the underlying reasons are political.

TRUMP: Because the House is a setup. The House is a bunch of Trump- haters. They frankly want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death.

COLLINS: The President's Arizona trip came as his intelligence chief nominee was undergoing his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, where John Ratcliffe assured Senators that the pandemic would be his first priority.

JOHN RATCLIFFE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE NOMINEE: I believe the immediate focus of the IC must be directed to the geopolitical and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as well as its origins. The American people deserve answers. And if confirmed, I pledge that the IC will remain laser focused on providing them.

COLLINS: If confirmed, Ratcliffe will be thrust into the middle of a battle over where the coronavirus originated. President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have tied it to a research lab in Wuhan, China, though the U.S. intelligence community has not reached a conclusion.

RATCLIFFE: Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I will provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence.


CHURCH: Joining me now is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine at George Washington University. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So, President Trump plans to dissolve his coronavirus task force by the end of this month, right in the middle of a pandemic that has so far killed more than 71,000 people, and all this as the country reopens. What is your reaction to the disbanding of this task force?

REINER: I think the President's trying to make the pandemic go away, but the virus isn't cooperating. In the United States, we're barely at the peak. If you exclude New York City, the New York City metropolitan area, the rest of the country still has cases that are increasing every day. So the number of cases is increasing every day, so the pandemic is far from on the decline in most parts of the United States. It's still very active. We're in the middle of this. So, the notion that we can simply, you know, quote, reopen the country, disband the pandemic task force and just sort of focus on reopening business is I think a big mistake.

CHURCH: We all know, of course, the testing, isolating, contact tracing, all at a high speed and extensively is the key to getting on top of this pandemic.

REINER: Right.

CHURCH: Why aren't we seeing that in this country and why hasn't the superpower been able to pull that off? Other countries have done it.

REINER: Yes, it's inexplicable. The countries that have been able to really flatten the curve, the infection curve, and drop the new infection rates close to zero have done it with a combination of very, very aggressive testing, even more aggressive contact tracing. Places like Singapore seek to find all the contacts for a new case within two hours of that person testing positive.

In the United States, we would need hundreds of thousands of people to do that, but we have so much unemployment right now, we actually have the capacity to hire people to do this, and we need to start doing this on a massive scale. We need to do simple things, like wearing a mask. Many of the Asian countries that have suppressed the virus have done it by really mandating that if you're in public, you need to have a mask on. We get mixed signals in the United States.

The President of the United States, who I desperately want to get this right, he got it wrong today. He went to a mask faculty and refused to wear a mask. A simple measure like that can significantly reduce person-to-person transmission, particularly because we know that the virus is transmitted in many instances from an asymptomatic person. So, these small measures, small and large measures all add up to reducing both the rate of infection and the mortality with this virus, and we're really failing at it right now.

CHURCH: I did want to ask you about these new human vaccine trials. They're under way in the United States, and of course, elsewhere. If and when there's a breakthrough -- and let's hope there is -- how does everyone in the world get vaccinated, and who decides who goes first? What's the process there?

REINER: We'll have relatively small doses of vaccine in the millions, not in the hundreds of millions, fairly soon after we know that a vaccine works. And then we're going to have to make some interesting decisions. We're going to have to decide who goes first. Do we vaccinate our most vulnerable population? So do we vaccinate all of the folks in nursing homes?


Do we vaccinate first the health care providers in the country?

And then there is the question of if a vaccine is discovered in a specific country, does that country take all that vaccine first, or do they share it with the world? How is that going to work? Is the vaccine going to be patented, or are we going to allow the vaccine -- is the inventor going to allow the vaccine to be shared with other companies to mass produce it on an unprecedented scale? We have to answer these questions and we have to answer them now.

CHURCH: Yes, a lot of challenges lie ahead with that. And we will know next month, at least, if the Oxford University vaccine will work or not, so that will certainly be a first step.

I wanted to ask you, too, though, there's a new genetic analysis of COVID-19 that was taken from more than 7,600 patients around the world showing the virus has been circulating since late last year. And of course, we learned from France that there was a patient there that they thought had pneumonia back in December. It turns out, that frozen sample was tested, and that was COVID-19. What do you make of all this?

REINER: The virus has been around earlier than we thought. We've also learned recently that the virus has mutated a little bit, which might explain the differential in virulence that we've seen in parts of the world. The original virus that came out in Wuhan to places like the West Coast of the United States and some parts of Europe was perhaps not quite as virulent as a mutant strain which appeared in Europe in mid-March and infected places like Italy with a terrible fervor and then went to New York. So that might explain some of the differences in infectivity and death rates in different parts of the world.

CHURCH: Dr. Jonathan Reiner, always a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much.

REINER: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: Well the United Kingdom has reached a grim milestone, overtaking Italy's death toll on Tuesday. Worldwide, only the United States has more deaths now than Britain. The new figures putting greater pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with members of his government warning of a long road ahead.


DOMINIC RAAB, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: We will need to adjust to a new normal where we as a society adapt to safe, new ways to work, to travel, to interact, and to go about our daily lives.

JONATHAN VAN-TAM, BRITISH DEPUTY CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: This is with us for quite some time, potentially for as long as until we get a vaccine. So, from that perspective, we have to be really careful and really sure-footed. And I'm just not going to suggest for a moment that any of this should be rushed.


CHURCH: And CNN's Nina dos Santos joins us now live from London. Good to see you, Nina. So, the British government has been criticized for its slow response to this pandemic. How is Prime Minister Boris Johnson going to respond to these numbers, and of course, the increased scrutiny? NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's going to come in for some

criticism and pointed questions, you can imagine, from all sides of the House of Commons, because this is a systemic issue for the United Kingdom, Rosemary. We know that the U.K., of course, has the unpleasant title of being the worst affected country inside Europe from the coronavirus.

Its death toll, as you pointed out there, reaching 29,427 people yesterday. That surpasses Italy at 29,315. And remember that more than 600 people again lost their lives yesterday to coronavirus. So, although the death toll is falling in terms of the increase isn't quite what it was before, there are still hundreds of people losing their lives.

Also, remember that scientists around the world had already predicted back on April 9th that the U.K. could well be the worst affected country in Europe, largely because they said that it hadn't locked down its borders early enough. And that's also another point of contention. It has emerged that only a few hundred people ended up in quarantine, despite the fact that more than 18 million passengers arrived on the shores in the last couple months, coming from countries that had the coronavirus within their borders.

These are the kind of questions that Boris Johnson is going to be facing. He's likely going to try and put a positive spin on things to say that, look, we're doing what we can now in terms of testing, which has been ramped up, albeit not to the government's own self-imposed target as yet, consistently. And also, they're launching a contact tracing app to try and get an idea of who has had coronavirus and who has been in contact with somebody who's been infected and should self- isolate. That pilot scheme is going live on an island off the south coast as of today -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Nina dos Santos, many thanks, bringing us that live report from London.

And in just a few hours, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to discuss and then announce the next steps for loosening her country's lockdown.


And there's some other promising news from the country. Fred Pleitgen is tracking that for us from Berlin. So, Fred, what are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Rosemary. Yes, this comes from the research sector, really, a German company BioNTech and their American partner Pfizer have now started clinical trials for a possible coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Last week they already started similar trials in Germany and now they've gotten the go-ahead to do that in the U.S. They want to expand the trials really fast. And they also say if everything goes according to plan, they could have millions of doses ready for use by the end of the year. Here's what the company's CEO told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PLEITGEN (voice-over): A simple injection that some hope could help bring an end to a global pandemic. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announcing today they dosed the first participants in the U.S. with a vaccine candidate in a clinical trial. Twelve study participants in Germany received doses last month.

BioNTech's CEO saying preclinical data showed good results.

UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: We've seen vaccine responses, we've seen strong vaccine response at even low dose. And we believe that this vaccine response since we have seen that in different animal models and will also translate into vaccine response in human subjects.

PLEITGEN: The program is called BNT-162. And it's actually a group of four trial vaccines using what's called an mRNA, or messenger RNA approach which causes the body to produce a protein that triggers an immune response.

Pfizer and BioNTech claim if the certification process goes smoothly, they could have millions of doses ready by the end of this year, hundreds of millions in 2021.

BioNTech's CEO saying he believes regulators will move fast.

SAHIN: The benefit of a vaccine in a pandemic situation is much, much greater. And therefore, therefore, approval and authorization of a vaccine in a pandemic situation has to follow other rules than what you have seen in the past.

PLEITGEN: But there is a long way to go and a lot that can go wrong. Pfizer and BioNTech are only two of a flurry of companies and institutes trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine ASAP.

The World Health Organization says there are currently more than 100 vaccine candidates under development, though only eight have been approved for clinical trials. The first was an experimental trial vaccine spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health.

In the U.K., researchers at the University of Oxford are also in clinical trials with their own vaccine candidate. The chief researcher telling OUTFRONT they're hoping to make the vaccine ready for use by fall.

ADRIAN HILL, LEAD RESEARCHER, OXFORD'S VACCINE TRIALS: We'll probably enroll as many as 1,000 people into this trial, partly because we've used this type of vaccine before for other indications, and partly because we believe the safety protocol should be very good.


PLEITGEN: So, Rosemary, as you can see, some possibly very encouraging signs there coming out of Germany and the United States as well. But of course, we always have to keep in mind that there are a lot of experts around the world who are hitting the brakes and telling people not to get ahead of themselves. Of the more than 100 vaccines that are currently under development around the world, most probably a lot of them won't be coming out any time soon, and many of them won't be certified at all.

So, it's a very, very difficult business and often one that does take a very long time. However, Pfizer and BioNTech are saying right now they are very hopeful that they may be one of the ones that could make a difference in this global pandemic -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Absolutely. Cautiously optimistic I think is where we're all sitting right now. Fred Pleitgen, many thanks, bringing us that report from Berlin. Appreciate it.

And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come, a stern warning from China to protesters in Hong Kong. If they come back on the streets, Beijing will take firm action. We will have a live report from Hong Kong in just a moment. Stay with us.



CHURCH: Well, China has a stern warning for protesters in Hong Kong -- if demonstrators return to the streets, Beijing will, quote, not sit idly by. Last year saw massive antigovernment protests, but this year there have been smaller protests that have been swiftly shut down by police.

CNN's Ivan Watson joins us now live from outside China's Hong Kong liaison office. Good to see you, Ivan. So, what's been the reaction in Hong Kong to this threat from China?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there have been requests for more protests on Sunday, but the Hong Kong police have issued a letter of objection, citing regulations against the spread of the coronavirus as justification for trying to stop a mass protest.

There is a little bit of an inconsistency here, though, because Hong Kong's government is going to be lifting some of its coronavirus restrictions as of Friday, reopening cinemas, for example, and bars, because the city, the administration, and its people have done really well against the epidemic, the pandemic, thus far, so it does make you wonder how long the authorities can use the spread of the disease as a justification to stop public shows of dissent.

Clearly, the liaison office here is not making any bones about it. Some of the harshest rhetoric we've seen yet coming from within the representative office of the Chinese central government here in this partially autonomous city, comparing the protesters who committed acts of vandalism and clashed with police for six months in 2019, to a virus here in Hong Kong.

And saying, quote, Hong Kong will not be at peace unless the violence is eliminated. The central government will not sit idly by with this destructive and recklessly demented force in place.

[04:25:00] We're getting signaling from the Hong Kong authorities and from the central government in China that it will not tolerate a resumption of the kind of clashes and protests that really brought large parts of downtown Hong Kong to a halt week after week during the last six months of 2019 -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Ivan Watson with that live report from Hong Kong. Many thanks.

A top Trump adviser is predicting the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Ahead, why the White House can't spin what's expected to be a horrendous report.

And some U.S. fast-food restaurants don't have enough meat to make their signature burgers. There's plenty of food but also weak links in the supply chain. We'll explain.


CHURCH: The U.S. jobs report comes out Friday, and it is expected to be the worst in decades. President Trump's senior economic adviser spoke with CNN's Poppy Harlow.


KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: My guess right now is that it's going to be north of 16 percent, maybe as high as 19 percent --


HASSETT: -- or 20 percent. So we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

HARLOW: Wow! Well then --

HASSETT: It's a tremendous negative shock, a very, very terrible shock.


CHURCH: And Christine Romans joins us now from New York. Christine, unemployment possibly as high as 20 percent. How would the country deal with that?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS, CHIEF BUSINESS, CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way it's trying to deal with that is these jobless benefits, trying to get people aid from the states with extra federal benefits of $600 a week just to try to get them by until some of those people can go back to work. I mean, a great proportion of those 30 million people who have been put out of work, the idea is they're going to go back to work when all this is over.