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In the Heart of the Amazon Virus Deaths Overwhelm Manaus; Germany Extends Social Distancing Rules to June 29; U.K. Prime Minister Under Fire Over Chief Aide's Breach of Lockdown; U.S. Farmers Facing Serious Labor Shortages; Pro Sports Teams Take New Steps to Return Safely; SpaceX Prepares for Historic Launch. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

The U.S. is edging closer to a grim milestone, 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. Johns Hopkins University reported 693 new deaths across the country on Tuesday. And while the infection and death rates are slowing overall, new cases are still trending up in at least 14 states.

Brazil has recorded a higher daily coronavirus death toll than the United States for a second consecutive day. The country reported over 1,000 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the nationwide toll to 2,450. But as Nick Paton Walsh reports, the official numbers don't tell the full story.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a landing of last resort, seeking salvation in a coronavirus hotbed. Tiny planes bring the sickest COVID patients from hundreds of miles away deep in the Amazon to Manaus, Brazil's worst-hit city, and to a hospital bed. A journey most make alone, from which some won't go home. This is what doing well looks like on these flights, moving. The woman on board struggling, motionless. Once they had to intubate a patient in midair.

SELMA HADDAD, DOCTOR: It's very hard to carry a weight that you don't see. Every time I carry this weight, I feel like I carried this weight.

WALSH: They arrive in a city mired not only death, but also fury. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made light of the virus and call the mayor here a piece of excrement for digging these mass graves. They had little choice here when the bodies started piling up. This month they buried 103 in one day, digging at night. Even in two hours, five come, one by one, laid in the trench. Many mourners say those aren't coronavirus deaths, but it's hard to know here.

(on camera): The official numbers in Brazil don't tell the whole picture, partly because there isn't enough testing. You can see that here. These are those who've died and have tested positive for coronavirus, but these graves, staggeringly, well, they're the ones that they suspect may have died of the disease.

(voice-over): The mass burial itself distressing.

PEDRO CHAVES, MANAUS RESIDENT: Here around 30 minutes. I just want to put my mom there and finish this. We don't need this. My family doesn't need this.

WALSH: We asked the grave diggers who thinks fewer would have died here if the President had kept quiet. No one listens to Bolsonaro, one says. He's not there for the people, adds another. He should have asked us what's going on.

But still the hospitals here receive a daily stream of new patients, these from outlying villages where local tribes live, badly hit, too. The ICU, which avoids ventilators, where possible, using less invasive means, is frenetic. And even the patients have heard what the President said.

The mayor is just trying to save lives, says Raymundo, and the President is against that.

Inside, a local indigenous leader visits, newly adopting the role from his father, killed by the virus two weeks ago. I took my father into hospital where he was intubated for five days, he says.


Now we have 300 people with symptoms. Politically, the President forgot us and is killing the indigenous people.

Bolsonaro insists he is for economic growth and safety, but the virus is still tearing through the poor here. Their remote way of life was no protection from this modern plague. It just put help further away.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Manaus, Brazil.


CHURCH: To Europe now, and Germany has announced it will extend social distancing restrictions through June 29th. A limit of ten people or two households will be allowed to meet in public places until then.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is with us now from Berlin. Good to see you, Fred. So, what's the reasoning behind this extension of social distancing restrictions?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Rosemary. I think most of it is because Angela Merkel really wants to be very careful when she starts slowly reopening this country. One of the things that we've heard again and again from the German Chancellor. She said, look, we've come this far, we've achieved so much. Obviously, Germany's death toll still being very, very low from the novel coronavirus. Let's not jeopardize the gains that have been made.

At the same time, I think you could almost say, Rosemary, that Angela Merkel and her government are almost a victim of their own success, because now many of these state governors are saying, look, we really want to open a lot faster. We want to open a lot more than has been possible in the past. They believe that the virus is currently under control. And now what they want to do is they want to save their economy.

There's one state in particular in the east of Germany that says, by June 6th, they are going to end all of the restrictions that have been in place and they're going to open everything up. There's some other states that are thinking about doing the same thing. So, while you've had that united front, really, here in Germany, between Chancellor Angela Merkel and a lot of the very powerful state governors -- of course, this is a very federalist system here in this country -- we can see that that is kind of crumbling right now as some of them want to move very fast to reopen while others say, look, let's not do this too fast to not risk another outbreak and to not risk another wave of infections coming here to Germany and possibly another lockdown as well.

Very interesting political situation here in Germany. Of course, also a country that, while it looks at all of the health implications of the coronavirus, also very much interested in saving its very large and export-based economy as well -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, we're certainly seeing a lot of that impatience, aren't we? And Fred, what's the latest on the possible lifting of a blanket travel warning in Germany?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Massive issue here in Germany. In fact, where I'm standing right now is in the center of Berlin, and there's a demonstration by tour bus operators that's going on today who are simply saying, as long as these travel restrictions in Europe are in place, the tour bus industry and a lot of other travel industries, of course, as well, are simply dying. In fact, I saw one bus go past that said, "standstill is death." They say that they pretty much lost all of their revenue and they need that to come back. Otherwise, a lot of these companies simply aren't going to come back.

And one of the things we have to keep in mind is that here in Europe, tour bus industry has been a massive growth factor as more and more people have been traveling, but other industries are the same. And there's a lot of people, of course, who are looking towards their summer holidays, whether or not those are going to take place. A lot of other European nations, of course, also looking as to whether or not Germans are going to places like be able to travel to their countries, places like Spain, Portugal, places like France as well. And then the travel industry is really, really big, so you can see that impatience. Unclear whether or not that decision on allowing that travel, lifting that ban, is going to be made today -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Frederik Pleitgen joining us live from Berlin. Many thanks.

Well, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to be questioned by lawmakers in the coming hours after refusing to sack his top adviser, Dominic Cummings. Cummings' decision to travel outside London during the coronavirus lockdown has kicked off a political firestorm. He says he isn't stepping down, despite growing calls for his resignation.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins me now live from London. Good to see you, Nic. So what's likely to come out of the grilling of the Prime Minister and can Cummings survive this increasing pressure?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think Cummings' survival will last, you know, for the near term, but I think over the longer term, that's a bigger question, you know, how will the Prime Minister handle today? Well, we know what happens when the Prime Minister gets put under pressure of questions. You know, he's sort of got this style of fluster and bluster and manages to sort of push his way through questions.

He does better at Prime Minister's question time when he's got a big audience behind him. This will be a virtual meeting. He won't have that. These will be senior MPs who really want to scrutinize him on some of the issues around his handling of coronavirus. But he only has 20 minutes of questioning on the issue of Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser.


So, I suspect that the Prime Minister's going to try to sort of bluster his way through that and, perhaps, not suffer more political damage. It completely depends. If he makes a mistake, then that will very much count against him.

Opinion at the moment, majority of public opinion at the moment is that the Prime Minister has got this wrong, that his chief adviser should quit. That's a very well-held view here, and that's a big shift over the past couple of days and another significant shift for the Prime Minister, popular view is really of the opinion at the moment that this government is not doing a particularly good job, and that's damaging for the Prime Minister. He's still ahead of the opposition leader in most of the polls, but this is not a position any Prime Minister would want to be in.

And I think, perhaps most significantly, one in ten of Boris Johnson's own MPs, lawmakers, they also say that he's handled this badly. One in ten is not so damaging, but when the public is so opposed to the position the government's taken, at time when the government needs public confidence, that's not a good look.

CHURCH: Yes and many Brits see it as a double standard, don't they? Nic Robertson joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well, the French government plans to spend almost $9 billion to bail out the auto industry. President Emmanuel Macron made the announcement, which includes incentives to boost sales of electric and hybrid vehicles. Compared to the same time last year, sales are down 80 percent, leaving almost 400,000 new cars sitting idle. In return, the car industry is expected to keep production in France. Well, next here on CNN NEWSROOM, America's farmers in crisis. With the

pandemic leading to labor shortages, see how they're planning to put food on people's tables in the age of coronavirus.



CHURCH: A labor shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic is squeezing America's farmers, and it could have big implications for the U.S. food supply. CNN's Sara Sidner has this story.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve-year-old Halley Eliason is working to help save her family farm --

WADE ELIASON, RANCHER, BOX L RANCH: Halley, go get that one over there and he's getting out.

SIDNER: -- instead of worrying about getting ready for school. She arises early to tend to hundreds of newborns. She is the youngest of four sisters whose lives changed because of the pandemic.

ELIASON: The kids have really stepped up and filled the void.

SIDNER: Already suffering from collapsed wool and lamb meat markets, Wade Eliason has 4,000 ewes to care for on his sprawling Utah ranch. But he is missing half of his workers. They couldn't make it into the country from Peru.

ELIASON: When we all first started hearing about the coronavirus, it was like, oh, OK, whatever. But, as we know, it has become very real to each one of us in different ways.

SIDNER: The six-generation farmer says he'll only have three qualified men to care for his entire flock through late fall.

RON GIBSON, PRESIDENT, UTAH FARM BUREAU: If we don't have the people to help us harvest these crops, we don't have a crop. And if we don't have a crop, America doesn't eat. It's that simple.

SIDNER: Dairy farmer Ron Gibson knows his pain. He's the president of the Utah Farm Bureau. Gibson says people underestimate the importance of highly skilled guest workers.

GIBSON: They know our fields, they know our crops, they know how we harvest, they know our animals, they know everything about what they're doing.

I don't want my tomato pickers performing heart surgery on me. But I surely don't want a heart surgeon picking my tomatoes.

SIDNER: Gibson says the pandemic has caused visa processing delays. That combined with coronavirus travel restrictions in Central and South America have created a serious labor shortage for farmers across the country.

GIBSON: I have had a lot of people come up to me and say, man, unemployment is so high, you guys probably have a lot of people that want to come work on the farm. I haven't had one person from my community come to me during this whole crisis and say, can I have a job?

SIDNER: Curtis Rowley is struggling with something else, the safety of his workers.

CURTIS ROWLEY, FARMER, CHERRY HILL FARMS: One of my biggest fears this year is if one of them gets sick, then how many more are going to get sick?

SIDNER: Some of the Mexican workers he hired managed to enter the country and get to his Santaquin, Utah orchard before delays took hold.

ROWLEY: With the number of men we have here right now, we can't afford to have even three of them get sick and not be out working.

SIDNER: After arriving from Mexico, workers were quarantined for two weeks. Rowley emphasizes hand washing and has added more housing facilities, creating greater space amongst employees. He also checks workers temperatures and routinely asks if they have any symptoms.

ROWLEY: We still have the hope. We're going to get the fruit harvested. People are going to get the best product they can get.

SIDNER: Back on the Eliason ranch, the lambing season is nearly complete. Eliason and his family hope to get through a few more difficult weeks and eventually have the rest of their workers on the ranch. For now, though, his children are taking up as much slack as possible.

ELIASON: Even if school starts, I told the girls, I say you're not going back to school anyhow because we got to take care of this at this point.


CNN's Sara Sidner reporting there. And CNN NEWSROOM continues after this short break. We're back in a moment.



CHURCH: The National Hockey League here in north America has revealed its plan to restart the season with 24 teams heading straight into the playoffs for the Stanley Cup. Now, this comes as the National Basketball Association considers a possible World Cup-style playoff format when games resume. CNN's Brian Todd has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Brooklyn Nets become the first New York-based major sports franchise to return to practice, but with strict limitations from the state and the league. Only four players can work out at a time, one player under each basket. Coaches can't be there.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: The notion of a team practicing, it's more individuals who are practicing. It's a small step, but that's all it is.

TODD: The NBA is now in talks with the Walt Disney Company about resuming its season in late July, with all the teams possibly playing at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

BRENNAN: It's almost like you're running one season right into the next season. And for something like the NBA or the NHL, that becomes incredibly problematic, because when do the players take a break?

TODD: On Tuesday, the National Hockey League announced it's going straight to a 24-team playoff tournament in two yet to be named cities.

Major League Baseball is planning a return to action around the Fourth of July weekend, with the season cut in half. No fans in the stands. Baseball previously had a plan to play all its games in Arizona. Now, the plan is to play in teams' home stadiums, but only in jurisdictions where the local governments and health officials would allow it. The NFL is preparing to start its season on-time with fans but might have to make adjustments. The Miami Dolphins owner is optimistic.

STEPHEN ROSS, MIAMI DOLPHINS OWNER: I think right now today, we're planning on having fans in the stadiums.

TODD: But from a health standpoint, is it all too much too soon?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, UCLA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: In order for teams to be able to get back online, you would have to have excellent testing protocols, planning for what happens if somebody gets sick. How they're going to be able to manage it. Will they shut down if somebody gets sick?

TODD: All considerations that the sports leagues are still trying to figure out. The dangers posed by players constantly running into each other, breathing on each other are evident enough, but even if the leagues play in only one or two locations each, what about the risk of players' interactions with people like hotel staffers who come in and out.


RIMOIN: It means that they're going to have be testing all the hotel staff on a regular basis as well, and that hotel staff should be wearing masks. Everybody should be wearing masks when in common areas.

TODD: Analysts say the country has been desperate for a return to sports since an NBA game was cancelled right before tipoff in early March, when a player tested positive for coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The game tonight has been postponed.

BRENNAN: It sounds great right now to say we'll have NBA games in July and we'll have Major League Baseball games in July, and maybe college football in the fall. That sounds great and it's optimistic, and it's a fun thought. But there is no way for sure to know if any of that can happen.

TODD (on camera): There are so many complicating factors in having these teams return that health experts are cautioning the people who run these leagues to start thinking about things that many of them are probably not thinking about right now. Like whether the players' families are going to be able to join them during their seasons in these isolated places, and they have to start thinking about the health issues regarding those families as well.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Well, the global pandemic is not delaying SpaceX's plans to send two American astronauts to the international space station.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five, four, three, two, one, zero. Ignition, lift-off.


CHURCH: Now, this was one of the test flights in March. The actual launch is scheduled to happen at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in about 12 hours. In preparation, both NASA astronauts have spent quarantine together.

And thanks so much for your company. Do stay safe. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next.