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U.S. Death Toll Surpasses 100,000; Second Day of U.S. Protests Over George Floyd's Death; Chinese Premier Give Rare Press Conference; China Approves Plans for Security Law for Hong Kong; Latin America Becomes New Epicenter as Cases Spike; British Prime Minister Says Inquiry into Cummings Would Be Waste of Time. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 28, 2020 - 04:00   ET



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

We're following two big stories this hour. First, the staggering coronavirus death toll here in the United States now more than 100,000 people. It is a shocking number that experts say could have been lessened by quicker and more decisive action.

Also, the close of the National People's Congress in China after it approves plans for new a new national security law for Hong Kong. The Chinese Premiere is expected to give a news conference this hour.

But first, the heartbreaking number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19. In less than four months the disease has killed more than 100,000 people. That means on a global scale roughly 1 in 4 deaths was an American. U.S. President Donald Trump has not said anything publicly about this grim statistic. But former U.S. Vice President and presidential candidate, Joe Biden, offered condolences to the victim's families.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a fateful milestone we should have never been reached -- that could have been avoided. According to a study done by Columbia University. If the administration had acted just one week earlier to implement social distancing and do what it had to do, just one week sooner, as many as 36,000 of these deaths might have been averted.


CHURCH: Now one U.S. medical expert says the U.S. is not handling the pandemic nearly as well as many other countries.


JEFFREY SHAMAN, PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We are losing restrictions where we don't have the virus fully under control. Look, we have models to work off of. We really should be looking at how South Korea and New Zealand and Germany and Taiwan and Israel and Iceland have controlled this disease. South Korea has done it best. They've really suppressed this disease and they kept it at very low numbers. We are instead unfortunately playing a dangerous game because we haven't really fully suppressed it. We're at around 20,000 cases a day right now. South Korea is at around 20. That is, we're 1,000 times more cases in a country that is seven times larger.


CHURCH: And that point is driven home by this graphic. It shows the number of deaths in countries such as Germany, Japan and South Korea are just a fraction of the U.S. total. Back when the first U.S. death was reported in early February, President Trump confidently predicted the health crisis will be over by now. Here's what he said then and as recently as this month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By April, you know, in theory when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away.

The coronavirus, which is, you know, very well under control in our country, we have very few people with it. The people are getting better. They're all getting better.

We're going down. Not up. We're going very substantially down not up. The original 15, as I call them, 8 of them have returned to their homes to stay in their homes. When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days it's going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.

It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear.

We would have lost 2 million. We would have lost more if we did it a different way. But you're talking about 100,000 more, a little bit less. More? Who knows.


CHURCH: The nation's top infectious disease expert is speaking out on ways to help prevent the spread of the virus. But Dr. Anthony Fauci's comments are not fully aligned with President Trump's views and actions. CNN's Jason Carroll reports.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Despite the President's mixed messaging on mask wearing, the nation's leading expert on the pandemic remains crystal clear. Social distancing and wearing masks works to help stop the spread.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I do it when I'm in the public for reasons that , A, I want to protect myself and protect others. And also because I want make it to be a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing.

CARROLL: What does not work is this. Scenes from a now infamous lake side pool party in Missouri this past weekend.

FAUCI: We all want to reopen. Everyone understands that. But when you see some of the scenes that were shown just now, that's very troubling because that's inviting there to be an issue.

CARROLL: 14 states are still seeing increases of new cases, several of them in those in the South.


Today the nation's capital becoming the latest major city to announce its reopening. Starting Friday, barber shops, hair salons and outdoor restaurant dining all allowed but with a warning.

MURIEL BOWSER, WASHINGTON D.C. MAYOR: Moving into phase 1 means that more people can get infected.

CARROLL: In Florida, Disney World and some of the surrounding theme parks announce they hope to reopen to the public in July but some new rules --

JIM MACPHEE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, WALT DISNEY WORLD: All of our cast members have a social distancing squad, understand the policy and are encouraging and persuading guests to ensure that they keep their masks on at all time.

CARROLL: While in hard hit Miami Dade County the beaches and hotels will welcome people again starting Monday with some restrictions. Restaurants on South Beach's famed Ocean Drive have already opened their doors today. On the other coast, retail businesses, churches and pools can reopen in California, again, with limitations and a word of caution.

GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: We still haven't gotten through the first wave.

CARROLL: And late this afternoon Caesar's Palace and MGM Resorts announce they will be reopening their marquee properties in Las Vegas June 4th. The numbers continue trending in the right direction in nearly 20 states including Texas and New York, the epicenter of the pandemic. New York City still under a stay at home order while Long Island just outside of New York City has already begun phase one of reopening with some construction, manufacturing and curbside retail. Looking ahead, many businesses banking on hopes a vaccine will be developed by the end of the year. Dr. Fauci says it may not just be wishful thinking.

FAUCI: I still think that we have a good chance if all the things fall in the right place that we might have a vaccine that will be deployable by the end of the year.

CARROLL (on camera): Again, 100,000 lives lost. So many of those victims right here in New York City, which is why that number is particularly sobering to those who live here.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: Joining me now is CNN medical analyst, Dr. Celine Gounder. She is a former assistant health commissioner in New York City and joins us now. So good to have you with us, doctor, and thank you for all that you do.


CHURCH: Now as the United States passes the grim and disturbing milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, we are reminded that other nations not only lost fewer souls but they also got this virus under control. What mistakes were made in the U.S. to get this so terribly wrong?

GOUNDER: Rosemary, I think this is going to go down as the great American tragedy. I think unfortunately we did not think this could happen to us. We somehow thought that we were immune to something like this, both at a governmental policy level as well as at a public health level. And so we didn't take the measures that were needed. So this was not about banning travel, this was about realizing that no matter what kind of travel restrictions there were in place, this was going to arrive on our shores and we needed to take strict public health measures on the ground here to control it.

CHURCH: So how do we turn this around? Top White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN a second wave or peak is preventable with action. So what action does the U.S. need to take right now?

GOUNDER: Well, you know, I think going back in time first a little bit, we needed to implement lockdowns once there was enough community transmission that other measures were no longer possible. We dragged our feet on that. We did it too slowly. We didn't do it aggressively enough. And we're lifting those measures too quickly. And in that time when we had those social distancing measures in effect, we should have been building the capacity to test, to do the contact tracing, to isolate people who are infected, to separate them from those who are not infected. And the whole idea there is to break chains of transmission. We have not built that capacity. So we're really not in a better position now than we were before our social distancing in terms of the public health capacity to respond.

CHURCH: And meantime, of course, the wearing of masks is now becoming politicized with President Trump mocking those who wear masks. Dr. Fauci told CNN that wearing a mask shows respect for others and stops the spread of the virus. How do you get that message across given some people won't wear them because the President refuses to and others think masks show fear?

GOUNDER: Well, I think stoicism is actually a stronger show of strength than deciding to be cavalier about this. And I think the idea here is to show strength on behalf of your family and your community. Unfortunately, wearing a mask and abiding by public health recommendations has become politicized.


Where it's really a way of showing I'm a part of a certain political tribe, a part of a certain culture. And that really is completely divorced from the science or what makes sense from a public health perspective.

CHURCH: Doctor, some experts are now suggesting that the 6-foot W.H.O. recommendation may not be enough in some indoor conditions because COVID-19 is spreading via aerosols, exhaled by highly contagious infected individuals showing no symptoms. So what's your response to that? What should we be doing now?

GOUNDER: Well, from what we know, the settings that are most likely to produce aerosols are in the medical profession, when we, for example, do certain kinds of invasive testing on certain patients or when somebody is speaking loudly or singing. So there actually exhaling their secretions much more forcefully. So the kinds of places where we've seen this happen, for example choir practices, dance clubs, sporting events would be another one that I would worry about where people are yelling and cheering. And so, you know, I think there's no perfect distance that that you can say is going to be absolutely safe. I think it's really about layering different protective measures and masks would be an additional one of those.

CHURCH: Yes, that seems to make sense. Each time we talk the mask seems to come up, doesn't it? So Dr. Fauci says there is a good chance a vaccine will be ready by the end of this year. Do you agree with that? Do you think that's overly hopeful? Or do you think we can all sort of hang on that?

GOUNDER: Well, I think, Rosemary, it really depends what you mean by a vaccine will be ready. Is it ready for front line health care workers? Is it ready for maybe very high-risk populations? Is that ready for the general population? I think we're looking at, at least a year before something is available to the general population. So you know, for the average viewer at home it's going to be a while yet.

CHURCH: So we have to learn to live with this and I guess masks seem to be the way to deal with that, don't they? Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you so very much for talking with us and again, for everything that you do.

GOUNDER: My pleasure.

CHURCH: All right. Happening right now in Beijing, the Premiere -- you can see him there -- of China is giving a rare conference. A rare press conference after the close of the National People's Congress. Just an hour after Parliament approved plans for a new national security law for Hong Kong. And these are his first public comments since tensions have flared between Beijing and Washington over COVID- 19 and more recently the United States criticism of that controversial legislation. We will continue to monitor this press conference. And as the news comes to hand, we will turn it around and bring it to you. So very significant there for Hong Kong and for a whole lot of other reasons. But very rare news conference from the Chinese Premiere.

Let's move on for now. And crowds have gathered for a second day to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday in police custody in Minneapolis after a white officer was videotaped kneeling on his neck for some 9 minutes. During the day officers in Minneapolis formed the barricade to keep protesters back from the police station. Things seemed tense but calm. But that quickly deteriorated. As night fell the crowds grew and an automotive supply store caught on fire amid protests in the same area. Protestors shattered windows of the police precinct and some became more violent. Our Sara Sidner was on the scene.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the police department, the third precinct here in Minneapolis. They have created a barrier around the particular precinct that some of the windows have been smashed in and they've been battling back and forth with protestors, many of them throwing water bottles. The police responding with beanies and responding by shooting tear gas. But now we're seeing all those lights there. You're hearing people yelling at the police with their hands up.

Those lights are actually the fire department because just across the street the Auto Zone is on fire. So you can really see it. It's starting to billow. And I'm going to have cite push in. Now those sounds that you are hearing are flash bangs and fireworks. So sometimes you're hearing the flash bangs from police. And many times you're hearing fireworks that are from the protesters who are sometimes blowing those off near different parts.

Now we do not know how this fire started at Auto Zone, but this whole area here, this whole city block here has been a hot spot all day. East Lake Street, Minnehaha. There, right there. They're starting to -- we're going to move back. They're starting to throw Molotov cocktails. We're going.


Our Sara Sidner with that report.


No serious injuries to police or protestors were reported. All of this violence and anger has been caused by the death of George Floyd, as we mentioned. The video of his confrontation with police is disturbing. And we caution you. It is difficult to watch. This video was taken by a bystander and shows Floyd pleading for help as an officer pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd's neck. Those police officers have since been fired.

Well protesters in Los Angeles attacked police vehicles on a freeway late Wednesday. One person can be seen smashing the back window of the car with the skateboard, as another man gets on the hood of the car. The man who fell off of the car was taken to a hospital. The Los Angeles county sheriff says he does not condone the assault of an officer who was doing his job. In a statement the sheriff said violence is unwarranted and takes away from the message of the protests.

Well later this hour, more on the protests around the United States and the mayor of Minneapolis speaks out about the officers involved in George Floyd's death.


CHURCH: As you come back to us, we are looking at these live pictures. The Premier of China is giving a rare press conference.


We brought it to you this a little earlier. This is after the close of the National People's Congress. And just after Parliament approved plans for a new national security law for Hong Kong. And these are his first public comments since tensions are flared between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus pandemic. And more recently the United States criticism of that controversial legislation.

So let's go live now to Steven Jiang who joins us from Beijing. So, Steven, we have been monitoring these pictures. But of course, we don't know the content of what he said. What's he been talking about so far?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Rosemary, the Premier is still answering the first question from the Reuters agency asking him about China's plunging economy and what the government responses will be. But of course, as you mentioned, the Premier will have a full plate during today's press conference. So many issues to talk about from the ongoing pandemic to the plunging economy. But also course, Taiwan, the increasingly contentious relationship with the U.S. not to mention the very controversial Hong Kong security law you just mentioned. He is very likely to be asked about it. And he is going to -- if we are expecting this correctly, is going to broadly answer the question. Reiterating the Chinese government's long-standing position that this is long overdue in terms of enacting this law in Hong Kong 23 years after Hong Kong sovereignty returned to China. He's also going to -- likely going to reiterate the government's determination and its ability to enact this law despite these growing international criticisms.

Now what we are unlikely to hear is specific Chinese countermeasures against the U.S. government if Washington goes ahead to impose sanctions on China over Hong Kong. Because right now U.S. officials are still weighing their options. Trying to strike a balance between the punishing the Chinese government but not hurting U.S. interests in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong citizens.

Now as you mentioned, the 3,000 or so, National People's Congress delegates about an hour ago just approved this proposal to enact this very controversial law in Hong Kong. Now the actual legislative process writing this law begins with a standing committee and that's going to take some time. But the passage and the enactment, of course, is never in doubt. Because in the minds of the Chinese government these recent protests that began last year really reinforced the notion that Hong Kong is increasingly becoming this bastion of anti- China forces, not only from local pro-democracy activists but also from a growing pro-independence movement, not mentioning what they call rampant foreign interference in Hong Kong's political affairs, especially from the U.S. government.

So they really are running out of patience with Hong Kong local authorities to enact this on their own. That's why they have decided to act now to take this matter into their own hands -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And of course, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said that the consequences of this could very well be that because Hong Kong would no longer be autonomous. It would lose its special trading status. What would be the ramifications of that?

JIANG: That's right. That is certainly going to be potentially the biggest stick the U.S. has over Hong Kong. But even though Chinese officials have not officially responded, state media here has made it clear that the Chinese government has taken such potential consequences into consideration when they were thinking about this proposal. So according to state media the Chinese authorities are ready and willing to accept them and absorb them. So in the words of one nationalistic newspaper, the era of China being scared of the U.S. is now officially over.

And as you know, of course, Hong Kong is only but one of many issues now between the two governments which are really having a daily war of words on a number of issues. Not only Hong Kong but also but also pandemic control and South China Sea. So all these issues really making this relationship increasingly contentious with the terms of a new cold war, decoupling being thrown around on a daily basis. What Chinese experts and scholars have been lately saying is this relationship is now entering its darkest hour in decades, especially in the coming months.

The Chinese defense ministry, for example, just on Wednesday said the two countries are entering a period of high risk after the President saying that countries -- People's Liberation Army should keep improving its battle preparedness amid this ongoing pandemic. So quite unsettling words as we enter this period of uncertainty and a lot of potentially serious consequences -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, those rising tensions have many in the global community very concerned. Steven Jiang, many thanks to you. We will of course continue to monitor Premier Li's press conference for any comments he may make on Hong Kong.


And our other top story, the U.S. has reached a grim milestone. More than 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus. And just as the U.S. is still seeing an increase in new cases, Latin America is as well. The region has become the new epicenter. Mexico being one of the worst hit countries has confirmed more than 3,400 new cases in the past day. Its largest increase so far. Chile also reporting a large spike in infections. Nationwide the virus has sickened more than 80,000 people and killed at least 840. But Brazil is seeing the deadliest outbreak by far. In the past 24 hours alone it reported more than 1,000 new deaths and 20,000 cases.

Well British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an inquiring into his senior advisor Dominic Cummings would be a waste of time. Cummings has stood up intense backlash for breaching lockdown rules in March. Johnson stressed the need to move past the controversy after members of Parliament pressed him on the issue.


YVETTE COOPER, BRITISH LABOUR MP: You have a choice between protecting Dominic Cummings and putting the national interests first. Which will it be, Prime Minister?

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think my choice is the choice of the British people. I would want us all make a bed, and that is as far as we possibly can, to lay aside party political point scoring and to put the national interests first and to be very clear with the British public about what we want to do and how we want to take this country forward. And we come now to an important juncture when moving to step two of our roadmap and I think that this conversation to my mind illuminated why it's so important for us to move on and be very clear with the British public about how we want to deal with that.


CHURCH: And Mr. Johnson also apologized for the anxiety and hurt that people may have felt towards Mr. Cummings' actions.

Still to come on CNN, why some business owners in small American towns are feeling forgotten by the government as they struggle to stay afloat. And feeling nervous as their states reopen. Back in a moment.