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CNN NEWSROOM

Moderna Says Early Vaccine Trials Show Promise; More U.S. States Reopening; United Kingdom Expands Testing Eligibility; Italian Nursing Homes Devastated by Virus; China Imposes 80% Tariff on Australian Barley; Fired Inspector General Investigating Pompeo on Two Fronts. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 19, 2020 - 00:00   ET

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


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JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, hydroxychloroquine is back, with Donald Trump suddenly revealing he has been taking the anti-malaria drug as a preventative for COVID-19, despite all the evidence showing it can do a lot of harm and not much good.

A glimmer of a hope for a glimpse of what could be one day a potential possible breakthrough, human trials showing early promise as the world approaches 5 million infections a vaccine could be ready by the end of the year.

And bring it on, China's president making a surprise appearance at the WHO annual meeting and backs calls for an investigation into the pandemic.

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VAUSE: Studies and trials from Brazil, France, the United States and beyond have shown there is no benefit in treating COVID-19 patients with chloroquine and it can cause heart problems, blindness and even death. But now it is being taken by the U.S. president. He just dropped that astounding claim at a White House meeting with restaurant executives.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The frontline workers, many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I'm taking it, hydroxychloroquine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When? TRUMP: Right now, yes. A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why, sir?

TRUMP: Because I think it's good, I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it's not good, I'll tell you right. I'm not going to get hurt by it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the White House doctor recommend that you take that?

Is that why you're taking it?

TRUMP: Yes, the White House doctor. He didn't recommend it.

No, I asked him, "What do you think?"

He said, "Well, if you'd like it?"

I said, "Yes, I'd like it. I'd like to take it."

A lot of people are taking it, a lot of frontline workers are taking hydroxychloroquine.

I've taken it for about a week and a half now. And I'm still here. I'm still here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain, sir, though, you -- what is the evidence that it has a preventative effect?

TRUMP: Here we go, are you ready?

Here's my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I've heard was the study where they gave it, was it the V.A.? With, you know, people that aren't big Trump fans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It has been a few weeks now but Trump has been saying it as a potential treatment for COVID-19 for reasons people do not understand. People disagree, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's leading disease expert, who has warned against taking it for coronavirus before it's been tested.

Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against using it outside of hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of heart rhythm problems. The president could well be at risk. He is 73 and, according to his 2018 physical, he has a common form of heart disease.

Yet he's taking daily doses of an unproven drugs. His physician says they agreed the potential benefit outweighs the relative risk but he does not say he prescribed the medication. He added the president has taken several coronavirus tests and all of them came back negative.

Meanwhile, the race for a cure that actually works is picking up steam, with the drugmaker Moderna announcing a possible vaccine breakthrough. U.S. markets pounced on this news, promising news. The Dow inching up, SNP, Nasdaq logging their best day since April. As you would expect, Moderna shares are soaring, up nearly 20 percent.

The biotech company says eight participants in phase one of its clinical trial produced neutralizing antibodies to the coronavirus. Just a handful and the results are not peer reviewed but they are encouraging enough to bring about phase 2 of this trial, which usually involves several hundred people.

Then, on to the third phase, with potentially tens of thousands of participants expected to start in July. If those studies go well Moderna says the vaccine could be available as early as January.

Dr. Lloyd Minor is the dean of Stanford University School of Medicine.

Thanks for being with us.

DR. LLOYD MINOR, STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Thank you, John. It's good to be with you.

VAUSE: Talk about the vaccine in a moment but let's get to Donald Trump in deep, prescribing this anti malaria drug, chloroquine. He asked the doctor for it and the doctor said why not?

Apparently he has been taking it regularly for a week and a half. Before I get your reaction, I want you to see the stunned reaction from an anchor of the usually Trump friendly FOX News.

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NEIL CAVUTO, FOX HOST: If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus.

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CAVUTO: Or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you. I cannot stress this enough. This will kill you.

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VAUSE: Neil Cavuto, he's not a medical doctor.

But do you agree with the prognosis, given the president's health profile?

MINOR: We know from when hydroxychloroquine was used, not uncommonly as a prophylaxis for malaria, there are cardiac problems that are associated in some people with taking hydroxychloroquine.

And I am concerned about using hydroxychloroquine outside of the setting of a well controlled clinical trial. I think that using it outside of the setting of a clinical trial or outside of a hospital setting does raise more risks than benefits. And thus far, there have not been any clinical trials that have

established in COVID-19 that hydroxychloroquine is effective in either preventing or treating the infection.

VAUSE: What message does it send to Americans and the world at large?

MINOR: Well, I think it's not the right message. What we need to be focusing on is identifying therapies, antivirals that can be used to treat effectively. Remdesivir for hospitalized patients, there are now a number of clinical trials being conducted in the outpatient setting, including one here at Stanford and we're hoping some additional ones at Stanford in the near future.

We do need to focus on identifying effective therapies for this virus while we are simultaneously working on the development of a vaccine. But those effective therapies will only be developed, will only be identified through well controlled clinical trials done by experts with results that are meticulously analyzed and then reported.

VAUSE: With that in mind on the vaccine front, we have news from this little known group, Moderna. Here is the chief medical officer describing their progress and the breakthrough.

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DR. TAL ZAKS, MODERNA: These antibodies were proven to be able to block the ability of the virus to infect cells, even at the lowest dose that we've tested, at 25 mcg dose, we've already seen an immune response at the level of people who have been infected with this virus and are believed now not to be susceptible to further disease.

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VAUSE: That sounds great to people like me, who don't know a lot about this, so I want you to put it in context.

Are they on a path to a vaccine?

What's the overall timeline here?

And are we moving the conversation from if there is a vaccine to when?

MINOR: We are not seeing an effective RNA vaccine for any disease. But the initial results with eight patients who were otherwise healthy, these initial results are encouraging. They show that the vaccine prototype was safe; they also show, as indicated in the segment that you played, they also show that people develop neutralizing antibodies in response to the vaccine.

That is eight patients; it's a very early stage. All of these patients were otherwise healthy, not necessarily the group of patients they would be expected to have the most adverse effects.

But, yes, I am encouraged by the results. We also know that RNA is an inherently unstable structure. And packaging it for large-scale vaccine usage can prove to be difficult.

That's no reason not to try. And I am encouraged by the Moderna results. And I'm sure they will pursue the next steps very vigorously, as they should. Also there are more than 100 various candidates in development today.

So yes, I believe that one day it's going to be possible to have a vaccine or multiple vaccines effective for COVID-19. I'm still concerned that the timeline is more likely to be in the 12 to 18 month period than it is in the next six months.

VAUSE: The reaction to this news with pretty phenomenal. It's like a Wordsworth poem.

How often is a potential vaccine showing promising results in phase one, only to pan out?

How long is the list of potential problems on the way?

MINOR: Looking across the board, the problems outweigh the initially encouraging results.

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MINOR: That's no reason not to try. Having multiple shots with, yes, the Moderna vaccine for sure but also the other approaches that are being deployed in vaccine development, all of that is encouraging that one or more of them is ultimately going to be effective.

And we will have an effective vaccine or vaccines. But it's hard to predict win and at this stage, there is still a lot of uncertainty. We still have so much more to learn about this virus and the infection that it causes.

VAUSE: Doctor, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate your expertise.

MINOR: Thank you, it's good to be with you.

VAUSE: Brazil now reporting the third most coronavirus cases in the world, accounting for more than half the death toll in Latin America. But president Jair Bolsonaro does not seem to be taking the outbreak seriously. CNN's Shasta Darlington explains.

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SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brazil topped 250,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, surpassing the U.K. and making it the third highest in the world. The death toll is over 16,000.

In Sao Paulo, the mayor has warned that the health system is on the verge of collapse if residents don't start respecting social isolation measures. He said 90 percent of intensive care beds are full but less than half of the population is sheltering at home. The situation is similarly dire in hospitals from Rio de Janeiro to the Amazon. [03:25:03] Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro is participating in anti-lockdown rallies. On Sunday, he was seen taking pictures with supporters and even doing pushups with a group of men in red berets and camouflage. His health minister resigned on Friday, Bolsonaro has yet to name his replacement -- Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.

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VAUSE: India is starting mass evacuations. Super cyclone Amphan strengthens and is expected to make landfall on Wednesday. It's putting pressure on emergency services grappling with the coronavirus.

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VAUSE: First came outright refusal but now maybe acceptance but with conditions. China gives ground on an investigation into the global response into the coronavirus pandemic.

Also ahead, the Trump administration playing the blame game, this time criticizing its own health agency's response.

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VAUSE: Welcome back.

Donald Trump is wanting a temporary freeze on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, it could become permanent unless there is a commitment for improvement in the next 30 days. States will vote on an independent review of the global pandemic response.

More than 100 countries support an investigation, including China, which has been the focal point of criticism for many around the world, accusing Beijing of a coverup. But President Xi Jinping denies it and says the government has been transparent and added a review should take place, once the virus has been contained.

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XI JINPING, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (through translator): All along, China has acted with openness, transparency, and responsibility. We have provided the information to the World Health Organization and relevant countries in a most timely fashion.

We release the genome sequence at the earliest possible time. We shared control and treatment experience and we have done everything in our power to support and assist the countries in need.

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VAUSE: CNN's Steven Jiang in Beijing. So China went full court press with the diplomacy.

So what is this about President Xi Jinping now agreeing to this inquiry?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: Well, you know, it's interesting, John, because, China is now saying they are supporting this resolution that you mentioned, which includes an independent review to the pandemic.

But they are framing it differently. They say that this is not the kind of independent international inquiry, demanded by its critics. Instead, Mr. Xi said, this is going to be an impartial review of the global response to the pandemic led by the WHO.

So I think the language has weakened quite a bit because of China's participation, to ensure its passage. But this forum, this WHO forum, has really become a showcase of growing tensions between the U.S. and China.

Mr. Trump did not address the forum but his health secretary blamed the WHO's failure, saying it has cost lives and took a swipe at China as well, although he did not name the country, saying one member state, its concealment has made a mockery of transparency obligations.

So you see that this-for-tat between two governments continuing. But Mr. Xi has made some pledges, including a $2 billion donation to the WHO and plans to set up a logistic center in the country, to help ensure medical supplies flowing around the world, especially to Africa, where they are going to set up a regional headquarters, for health authorities and sending supplies and medical teams to poorer countries and relief measures as well.

So all these moves, viewed by Washington as very strategic, in one official's words, this is the pledge, a token to distract from other countries to investigate China and these African initiatives also viewed as measures to counter backlashes in Africa against China.

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JIANG: One thing is with Mr. Trump continuing to retreat from global institutions like the WHO, he is really creating the opening for China and Xi to step in and reshape not only the narrative, the PR and the propaganda war but to reshape these institutions, that were previously dominated by the U.S. -- John.

VAUSE: Steven Jiang, live for us in Beijing, thank you.

Xi Jinping's surprise appearance at the WHO's annual virtual meeting gave China a world platform to try to shape the narrative about the pandemic as well as taking a prominent leadership role during a time of global crisis, a position which in the past would have been filled by the United States.

And during his address, it was a PR coup. The "Financial Times" declared, "Xi seeks to cast China as guardian of global order." "The Wall Street Journal," "China pitches for global leadership role

in coronavirus fight."

"The Guardian reported," "Xi Jinping defends China's handling of coronavirus and backs review of global response."

The U.S. president declined an opportunity to speak at the annual gathering and explained to reporters at the White House.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I chose not to go vestay (ph) but I think they've done a very sad job in the last period of time. And again, the United States pays them $450 million a year. China pays them $38 million a year.

And they are a puppet of China. They are China-centric to put it nicer. But they are a puppet of China.

And I think they've done a -- even when I did the ban, Mike remembers this very well, when I did the ban, they thought it was inappropriate to do. I did a ban very early. If I didn't do that ban, you would've lost hundreds of thousands of more people in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Jamie Metzl joins us now, he's a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and an adviser to the World Health Organization, also author of "Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity."

Jamie, good to see you.

JAMIE METZL, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Don't diss my work. I'm here (INAUDIBLE) --

(LAUGHTER)

METZL: -- it is a great book.

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VAUSE: It is a great book. Absolutely. I will get through it one day, very soon, I hope.

About this meeting, the WHO meeting, both Xi and Trump were invited a month ago and the WHO wanted to bring these two leaders together, the biggest economies in the world, at a time when they are being cold to each other to create some sense of solidarity.

So without the full partnership between the United States and the rest of the world, including China, how much harder will it be for everyone to find a solution to the pandemic?

METZL: The United States has been at the center of solving the world's biggest, toughest problems for over a century. So it is a tragedy that the United States is not leading the world in addressing this terrible cataclysm that we are all facing.

So nobody is saying that the WHO Is perfect. The leaders of the WHO themselves are saying that they can improve and they must.

But the United States has supported the WHO for decades and if we want to solve this problem, we need to help the WHO fix any problems and we need to help them play the role that it must play in the world. Otherwise, it is not just the world that's going to suffer; the United States itself will suffer.

VAUSE: So representing the People's Republic of China, presidential life, maybe longer, Xi Jinping, with promises of billions of dollars of aid to fight the virus to as he is, all for the United States, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar.

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ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations with tremendous cost for the entire world.

We saw the WHO failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith.

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VAUSE: It was an obligatory attack delivered with a deadpan face. But at times like this, surely it's possible to work with China, while realizing that Beijing has to answer some serious questions. But the present urgent need takes precedent over retribution for the sins of the recent past.

METZL: Nobody needs to be engaged in a process of retribution. It is clear that United States and China must work together and the entire world must work together. We must solve this terrible problem.

And China learned a lot about how to deal with this pandemic and they have done in some respects a pretty decent job.

But I also -- I don't really agree with people who say now is not the time to point fingers. Now is a time that we must, thoughtfully and carefully, point fingers. We must realize what went wrong. If we don't identify the problem, how will we possibly going to fix it? I think it's absolutely correct.

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METZL: China really, really screwed up, particularly in the first few weeks. It is still an open question, as to where this outbreak comes from. There is a lot of preliminary evidence suggesting that, in my view, the most likely source is an accidental leak from one of the Wuhan Virology Institutes.

And even if it's not the case, there was still a very dangerous cover- up. And the World Health Organization, was not able to call the alarm in part because we the countries of the world, have not given the WHO the mandate or the power or the resources, to have that kind of global surveillance and response that it needs.

I'm here in New York and the reason why so many Americans are dying and so few Taiwanese are dying is because the Trump administration so spectacularly failed. We are not going to get through this crisis by lying about the failures. We have to be honest about them so we can fix them.

VAUSE: Yes, and when we talk about this global pandemic, the Trump administration is not at odds only with the WHO but its own leading institution, the CDC. The recent attack came on the weekend, from the White House adviser, Peter Navarro. Here it is.

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PETER NAVARRO, TRUMP TRADE ADVISER: Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test and that did set us back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: There's a whole lot in there and we don't know if it's true or not but blame rightly or wrongly, at least it's an admission that something went wrong.

METZL: The CDC is part of the executive branch. So for the executive branch to say they did it, when the "they" is the executive branch, it just doesn't make any sense. Certainly the CDC did a bad job of getting the testing out. The CDC traditionally is the best of the type of its organization in the world.

But we have to admit our failings. It's the same point as I made earlier, if we're not honest about the failings, how do we fix them?

Certainly for the United States government, to be attacking everybody else and then to be attacking itself, it's almost like an autoimmune disease. It doesn't really help. We have to be honest about the shortcomings, we need to fix them and we need to move forward and the way we can move forward, is together.

VAUSE: We've had more than 20 members of the National Academy of Medicine from Emory University in Atlanta, sign an open letter, published in "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "An unfettered and enabled CDC is fully capable of leading and guiding our nation's evidence-based response to public health emergencies. If we are to win the battle against COVID-19 we need the CDC's scientific independence and unstifled voice." That voice has been stifled since the end of February. This move by

the Trump administration to freeze out the CDC during a pandemic, it's like, take gun and pull trigger.

Is it possible to quantify what we have missed out on with the CDC being sidelined? METZL: We have had so much misinformation and it is not

misinformation coming out of Twitter or Facebook. It is misinformation coming from the podium of the White House, coming from the mouth of the president of the United States.

There is a reason why the CDC has the reputation that it has because, especially at times of crisis like this, people need unpoliticized information. And when we are not getting that from the CDC, from the experts and even the experts are on the White House podium and they have to watch their back because if they say anything that crosses some kind of imaginary political line, they could be fired, that is a really, really dangerous place to be in.

People are dying because of the failure of the Trump administration. We just need to be honest about that. We need to be honest about the failings of the Trump administration, that are leading to deaths as about the failings of the Chinese government that also lead to deaths.

And we have to fix all of these problems because it's the regular people all around the world that are going to suffer if we don't fix them.

VAUSE: Jamie, we're out of time but thank you so much. Very much appreciated. Thank you.

METZL: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: All 50 U.S. states, are now in the process of easing coronavirus restrictions, so where are others going up and others going down and why? That ahead.

Also a generation is decimated, why it took so long to control the outbreak as it swept through nursing homes.

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VAUSE: Well, President Trump continues to push for states to end their shelter-in-place orders and reopen businesses. There's not the same enthusiasm, it seems, for reopening the country's international borders.

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According to two administration officials, later this week, the White House will extend travel restrictions and tough border control measures, put in place back in March. These strict rules have also had the impact of curbing immigration.

But now, with reopening in full swing, CNN's Nick Watt reports in many states, infections are on the rise, while in others, the numbers are coming down.

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NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the worldwide scramble for a vaccine, good news. DR. TAL ZAKS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: This is really a very

first important step in the journey towards having a vaccine.

WATT: All eight subjects in a phase one trial developed effective COVID-19 antibodies. Next up, phase two, with maybe 600 subjects.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: If they enter into phase three by July, again, the goal of being able to get to a vaccine by early next year, I think, becomes more realistic.

WATT: So today, Massachusetts became the 50th and final state to lay out its plan to reopen. Construction and manufacturing are back.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R-MA): On May 25, retail establishments may also offer curbside service, and some personal services, such as barbershops and hair salons, may reopen.

WATT: In roughly a third of states, the new case count is now going down, holding steady in another third, and in the final third, it's actually going up.

Texas, two weeks after reopening began, saw some busy bars and the biggest number of new cases in a single day on Saturday. Yes, there is more testing now, but --

MAYOR ERIC JOHNSON (D), DALLAS, TEXAS: The reopening of restaurants, and movie theaters, and retail and our malls, up to 25 percent occupancy a couple weeks ago. So I think that's probably the main reason.

WATT: Still, gyms opened up at reduced capacity in Texas today, and the governor announced phase two.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Starting immediately, childcare services are able to open. Beginning this Friday, May the 22nd, a long list of businesses can now reopen or expand capacity.

WATT: Gyms in New Jersey are not yet allowed to reopen. This one did anyway. Here's how Camden County cops reacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a good day, everybody.

WATT: Restaurants also reopening today in Miami as Florida's most populous and hardest-hit counties start their process. Today, the lines started rolling again in Michigan's three major automakers. Beaches were open with restrictions on both coasts this past weekend.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was amazing, yes. We've been pretty cooped up, like everybody.

WATT: Are those folks really far enough apart?

New York City beaches remained closed, but the Big Apple might start reopening the first half of June. MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: There's been clear progress.

WATT: In South Carolina, some stores opened exactly a month ago. And in-person classes will resume at the University of South Carolina in the fall, but they'll revert to remote learning after Thanksgiving, because, "Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December."

The WHO says it will start ASAP a review of the global reaction to this coronavirus, saying we must learn to prevent a repeat.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: We have been humbled by this very small microbe.

WATT (on camera): Here in California, the governor has now tweaked and eased the criteria that counties must meet before they're really allowed to open. So now, more than 90 percent of California is eligible to start getting back to normal.

Fewer than half of the counties have pulled the trigger so far, but among them, those counties up in the San Francisco area that were the first to tell people in the U.S. to stay home, and that was 63 days ago.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

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VAUSE: To the U.K. now, and the hardest hit country in Europe is moving to expand the criteria for who should be tested for the coronavirus. CNN's Max Foster explains why.

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MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The British government very focused on testing right now. They've got a target of having a capacity for 200,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

They've now increased the number of people who qualify to have a test. Anyone over the age of 5 who has the symptoms. They're also looking at a wider range of symptoms, officially recognizing losing a sense of taste and smell as qualifications for getting a test, effectively. So not just a sustained temperature and a sustained cough, but also that loss of senses, as well.

All of this part of a wider strategy. The government announcing today that more than 20,000 people have been recruited as contact tracers. They're the people responsible for locating people who have come into contact with those who have the virus.

It's all part of a wider strategy in getting ready for the next phase of lifting the lockdown, due next month, which will see schools and some shops start to reopen.

Max Foster, CNN, Windsor, England.

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VAUSE: The COVID-19 mortality rate in Spain has flown fallen to its lowest rate since the peak of the pandemic. Just 59 deaths were reported on Sunday.

During the worst of the pandemic, 11 percent of coronavirus patients were dying. Now that number has fallen to two percent.

Death rates also falling in Italy. For the third time in as many days, the country reported its lowest daily increase in the death toll since early March. That's when the lockdown began.

Meantime, Italy began phase two of easing lockdown restrictions on Monday. Bars, restaurants, retailers and museums among businesses allowed to reopen.

Italy's Lombardi region has been hit hardest by the virus, only now beginning to reopen. The virus has devastated nursing homes there with many elderly patients dying alone.

We get this report from CNN's Ben Wedeman.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The lockdown is over in the cemetery of Nembro in northern Italy. Giacomo Bofelli (ph) succumbed to coronavirus on the 11th of March, but only now can family and friends say farewell.

Her voice breaking, his daughter, Nicoletta (ph), says goodbye.

"But we never abandoned you. We never would," she says, "because you'll always be in our hearts."

This community in the foothills of the Alps suffered one of Italy's highest per capita death tolls.

"It was as if a tsunami overwhelmed us, especially the oldest people," Nicoletta (ph) tells me.

The average age of those who died from coronavirus in Italy is 80.

(on camera): For the town of Nembro, the month of March was a month of daily death. You just need to look at the death notices here. This woman died on the seventh of March. This man died on the eighth of March. This woman died on the seventh of March. This woman, on the ninth of March, this man on the seventh.

(voice-over): Of Nembro's main nursing home's original 87 residents, 34 died from the virus, the first on the 19th of February. But it took provincial health authorities more than a month and a half to test anyone in this home.

[00:40:02]

"The very first swabs done here were the tenth of April," says nursing home director Barbara Codalli (ph).

It's been more than a month since any COVID deaths have occurred here. Now relatives can visit their loved ones again at a distance.

But the situation remains precarious for the elderly in Milan's nursing homes, where the death toll has been described as a massacre.

"She's also dying without oxygen, because we don't have machines," says a nurse who shot this cell phone video. We muffled her voice, because she fears for her job.

As the pandemic intensified, the staff at the Palazzolo nursing home assured Carla Parphilio (ph) every day her 85-year-old mother, Michaela (ph), was fine.

On Sunday, April 5, Carla called the nursing home. They said her mother was on oxygen and morphine. The next day, Michaela (ph) died.

"What's so tragic," says Carla, "for those of us who lost our loved ones, we didn't have the possibility, not just to see them for more than a month, but we also couldn't be close to them in their last days as they suffered. They needed the hand of their loved ones. And not just that. We couldn't even hold funerals."

As the pandemic intensified, the Lombardi regional government asked nursing homes to accept COVID patients, which may have contributed to the high mortality rates in the homes.

The regional government declined our request for comment, responding that the matter is under investigation.

Alessandro AzzonI's mother, Marisa (ph), was in Milan's Prevozio (ph) care home. She's now in hospital with coronavirus, in critical condition.

He shows me how sections of her care home, marked in red, were turned into COVID wards. Alessandro has founded a group demanding an investigation into nursing homes.

"The elderly," says Alessandro, "are part of society with a memory. They gave us life. We can't just throw them away."

In a corner of Milan's main cemetery, more than 120 fresh graves. Here, too, most were old, most were in nursing homes.

(on camera): This is where the unclaimed dead from coronavirus are buried. Unclaimed because many of them had no family. They died alone with no one to mourn their passing.

(voice-over): Small plastic crosses mark the end of lives lost.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Milan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: So is it a trade dispute over subsidies or political payback for supporting an inquiry into the origins of the pandemic? China's slaps huge tariffs on exports of barley. Next up could be the World Trade Organization. Details in a moment.

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FELISITA JONES, NAVAJO MOTHER: I didn't want to leave my kids behind, but I have so much to do in life with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Surviving the virus in the Navajo nation, how minority communities have been left reeling because of the pandemic.

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VAUSE: Australia's relations with China has taken another turn for the worst. Beijing announcing an 80 percent tariff on barley imports.

Australia's agricultural minister tells CNN affiliate Sky News Australia the next stop could be the World Trade Organization to try and mediate this dispute.

Now to CNN's Simon Cullen from Stanhope, Australian, on the southern down region there.

Now, this tariff apparently it had been in the works for a while, officially because of Australian subsidies on barley. But you know, it seems that, you know, the agriculture minister is desperate to avoid a trade war. So where does this all happen now? Is it, the World Trade Organization, a realistic possibility?

CULLEN: Well, John, it appears so. Obviously, Australia's very keen for this not to become a trade war, because of course, Australia and China have had a very close economic relationship. In fact, China is Australia's largest trading partner.

But the announcement of these tariffs, John, did raise eyebrows. And Australia came just hours after President Xi addressed the World Health Assembly yesterday, giving his support for an inquiry.

Now, the official line is that these two issues, the barley exports and the coronavirus inquiry, are not related, but there is a growing concern, as he suggests, from some Australian lawmakers that this is economic payback from China for supporting this inquiry, and not only that, for pushing for this inquiry.

But the trade minister, Simon Birmingham, today says that he will appeal the decision. He won't retaliate against the decision. He will appeal it all the world -- all the way to the World Trade Organization if necessary. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

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SIMON BIRMINGHAM, AUSTRALIAN TRADE MINISTER: China's decision is one that does concern us deeply, because it appears to have been based without a proper understanding of the facts or the evidence. It just doesn't stack up in terms of any analysis of Australia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CULLEN: So that is the trade minister, Simon Birmingham, speaking there. Now barley exports are worth close to $600 million each year. It's 50 percent of Australia's market, exporting to China. So these crippling tariffs would definitely shut off that market, John.

VAUSE: Simon, thank you. Yes, that would certainly be a blow for those farmers, and one that it would take time to recover from.

Simon, thank you. Simon Cullen for us in Stanthorpe.

The Navajo nation spans Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and has surpassed New York and New Jersey with the highest coronavirus infection rate per capita. Just the latest sign of the pandemic's disproportionate impact on minorities.

CNN's Sara Sidner has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The beauty of the Navajo nation masks the vengeance coronavirus has exacted on its people, even in the most remote places. In this household --

JONES: Out of nowhere, it came about and it just ripped through us.

SIDNER: Felisita Jones is one of five people in her family who has contracted the virus that takes your breath away.

JONES: I could just (INHALES SHARPLY), but I didn't want to go to the hospital.

SIDNER (on camera): How afraid were you when you realized that your mom had it, that your sisters had it, and then you had it?

JONES: I didn't want it. I didn't want to leave my kids behind, because I have so much to do in life with them. I have, altogether, nine kids.

SIDNER (voice-over): She didn't want to go to the hospital, because too many people she knows never made it back home alive.

(on camera): This is one of the hospitals where members of the Navajo nation would be brought if they needed to be in ICU, for example.

(voice-over): The nation is now reporting nearly 4,000 COVID-19 cases and a population of 175,000, which means they surpassed New York and now have the highest infection rate per capita in the U.S.

This is partly because the Navajo nation says it's tested more people than any other state: 11 percent of its population. But unlike New York, just getting to a hospital with these kinds of resources can take hours.

KELLY MANUELITO, NURSE, REHOBOTH MCKINLEY CHRISTIAN HOSPITAL: It's really hard for them to get the care they need, if it -- if they need to be intubated. They've got to have someone transport them from a facility to like Albuquerque, Phoenix is where we're starting to send people, because our ICU is only eight beds.

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SIDNER (on camera): The Navajo nation spans 27,000 square miles. There are no short distances here, which is one of the difficulties with getting resources to all of its people, with the exception of here. I'm standing in the four corners, where with one step, you can walk into four different states.

(voice-over): But with the vast distances, self-distancing might seem easy. It isn't, because mostly everyone shops at the same stores.

JONATHAN NEZ, NAVAJO NATION PRESIDENT: There are a lot of people living here.

SIDNER: The president of the Navajo nation says infrastructure and resources long ago promised by the federal government were never realized, and now there's a perfect scenario for the virus to spread.

NEZ: Thirty, 40 percent of our citizens here on the Navajo nation don't have the luxury of turning on a faucet.

SIDNER (on camera): They don't have running water?

NEZ: They don't have running water.

SIDNER (voice-over): Also, generations of families often live in one home, so if someone gets the virus, isolation is often impossible, never mind frequent hand washing.

NEZ: And we can change that with the help of the federal government.

SIDNER: For now, he's placed the strictest of measures on his people: 8 p.m. curfews on weekdays, and on weekends, a 57-hour lockdown. Not even the gas stations are open. And their lucrative tourism and entire gaming industry are closed down until further notice.

J.T. WILLIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NAVAJO NATION DIVISION OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: We're talking more than tens of millions, not just amongst the gaming, not just amongst the tourism, but also our other enterprises throughout the Navajo nation.

SIDNER: The COVID-19 battle Native Americans are facing is just like the rest of the nation, except on their tribal lands, the suffering is more acute. Forty percent of families here already live below the poverty line.

So when the tribal government traversed their nation, handing out healthy food and bottled water --

(on camera): Why is this important?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me to eat and my family to eat.

SIDNER (voice-over): The lines seemed endless. Many were gathering items to help others survive, like Felisita Jones, still self- quarantining after a bout with COVID.

(on camera): How are you feeling right now?

JONES: Right now, I feel great.

SIDNER (voice-over): Sara Sidner, CNN, in the Navajo nation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Coming up, another Friday night massacre at the White House. Donald Trump fires another independent official charged with government oversight. Cause for dismissal? Doing his job.

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VAUSE: The FBI has linked a suspected al-Qaeda operative to the Saudi military trainee who killed three U.S. sailors last year.

Mohammed Alshamrani was shot dead by law enforcement after he opened fire on a Florida military base. After cracking the encryption on his iPhone, investigators discovered the al Qaeda connection.

According to the think tank New America, this would be the first time since September 11th that a foreign terrorist group trained or directed a deadly attack on U.S. soil.

And Donald Trump is explaining his own -- in his own unique way why he fired a government watchdog. The State Department's inspector general was investigating if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked staffers to perform personal chores, but the president clearly thinks not a big deal.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes and, you know what? I'd rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes, because maybe maybe his wife isn't there, or his kids aren't there, you know. What are you telling me? It's terrible. It's so stupid. You know how stupid that sounds to the world? Unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Unbelievable, but this was about a whole lot more than dishwashing and dog walking. Here's Alex Marquardt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been accused of refusing to sit down for an interview in an investigation by the recently-fired inspector general for the State Department, Steve Linick.

Linick, as far as we know, was carrying out at least two investigations into Secretary Pompeo. The one that he was just wrapping up had to do with $8 billion worth of arm sales to Saudi Arabia. Linick was investigating Pompeo's role in fast-tracking that arms deal to Saudi Arabia.

At the time, last year, the Trump administration had declared an emergency in order to circumvent Congress, which had blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, Secretary Pompeo was asked about the firing of Linick. He did not give an exact reason for why it was carried out, but told "The Post," "I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department."

Now, there is also a second investigation Linick was carrying out, one of a more personal nature. He was investigating whether Secretary Pompeo had used a political appointee for personal tasks, including walking his dog, making a dinner reservation, and picking up dry cleaning.

Now, Democrats in both the health and the Senate have launched an investigation into the firing to determine whether or not it was legal.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. I'll be back with a lot more news, right after this very short break. You're watching CNN.

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