Return to Transcripts main page


Scientific American Backs Biden in First-Ever Endorsement; Grieving Daughter Criticizes Trump's COVID-19 Response; Biden Outlines COVID-19 Response, Pushes for Mask Mandate; Venezuelans Fear COVID-19 Diagnosis More Than Death; South Africa Plans to Reopen Its Borders in October; Navalny Team Now Believes He Was Poisoned at Hotel; U.S. Fed Says It Will Keep Interest Rates Near Zero. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, after receiving a coronavirus briefing from health experts, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said when it comes to a potential vaccine, he trusts what scientists have to say, not President Donald Trump. Biden's support for science hasn't gone unnoticed. For the first time in its 175 year history, "Scientific American" is endorsing a presidential candidate. The magazine's editor-in-chief told CNN they felt it was their responsibility to make the endorsement.


LAURA HELMUTH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: We took the decision very seriously. You don't break a 175 year tradition without a really good cause. But when we went around to the editorial staff it was unanimous. And it wasn't that long a discussion. We all agreed that, you know, all the evidence shows that Trump has just been catastrophic for science and for public health and for the environment. And Joe Biden has, you know, really smart policies that should make the world better. So, we felt like it was our duty to speak up.


CHURCH: And one woman whose father died from the coronavirus has harshly criticized President Trump for his handling of the pandemic. Here's what she said at the Democratic National Convention last month.


KRISTIN URQUIZA, FATHER DIED OF CORONAVIRUS: Donald Trump may not have caused the coronavirus, but his dishonesty and his irresponsible actions made it so much worse. We need a leader who has a national coordinated data driven response to stop this pandemic from claiming more lives and to safely reopen the country.


CHURCH: So, let's talk now with Kristin Urquiza, thank you so much for being with us.

URQUIZA: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: And Kristin, you wrote an impassioned obituary for your dear father, saying his only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life. When you heard what the President said Tuesday night at the town hall, denying he downplayed COVID-19 and under-playing the wearing of masks, what did you think?

URQUIZA: I mean, what we saw, again, from the President was a commitment to not actually tackling this pandemic head on. And quite frankly, he delivered monologues of incoherent word salad. Which makes me question even if he is mentally fit to do the job. He questioned Joe Biden's ability about mandating a mask ordinance, but that's actually his job as the president to do. I have no confidence in President Trump's ability to protect humans in the face of this pandemic.

CHURCH: And Kristin, when you hear this President Trump's attitude toward people of color who we know are at high risk, what is your reaction to that?

URQUIZA: That is infuriating. My dad was Mexican American. We know that this pandemic is disproportionately impacting our community. And we're also the folks that have been on the front lines of keeping the skeleton economy going, ensuring that we are in the fields, picking vegetables or in the grocery stores. We have been disrespected time and again by this administration. And it makes me so angry.

CHURCH: And Kristin, let us just listen to what Donald Trump's Democratic rival, Joe Biden had to say about COVID-19 and vaccines on Wednesday.

BIDEN: I would make the case why it is necessary. I'd have the scientists to lay out in detail why. And I would go to every governor and I would go to governors related to Republican and Democratic governors, and I would say, we have to have this national mandate. We must do it. And at a minimum, what I would do is I would not walk around saying masks don't matter.

CHURCH: So, there he is talking about a mask mandate. He also talked that same address about vaccines and being led by scientists. So, Kristin, what is your reaction when you hear Joe Biden talk about how he would deal with this pandemic?

URQUIZA: What we are seeing from Joe Biden is a commitment to a coordinated data driven, national response.


We know that if we instituted a mask mandate, we would save at least 100,000 lives between now and the end of the year. And what Donald Trump is doing instead is putting politics over science. He has done this so much the fact that "Scientific America" magazine has actually endorsed Joe Biden. The first time that it's ever done that in history. And when I hear Joe Biden talking about the careful process that we

need to go through to ensure that the vaccine is safe for people to take, I know that that is the scientific method and we need to ensure that these vaccines are safe, and not having some you know, snake oil being thrown at us on election day in some sort of political stunt.

CHURCH: Right, and Kristin, how are you and your family doing? And what do you think when you hear the audio of President Trump admitting to downplaying the virus and other revelations linked to Bob Woodward's book?

URQUIZA: It has been a hard week for me and my family and the 6 million people who contracted coronavirus, and the 200,000 families who have lost a loved one here in the United States. It is a stab in the back that the President chose to lie and advocate his central duty, which is to keep Americans safe.

CHURCH: Kristin Urquiza, thank you so much for talking with us. We wish you and your family the very best through this incredibly difficult time. Thank you.

URQUIZA: Thank you.


CHURCH: Well, Venezuela is reporting just over 63,000 coronavirus infections, some of the lowest case numbers in Latin America. President Nicolas Maduro says that's because the country is handling the pandemic better than its neighbors. But medical workers speaking with CNN have a different explanation, and those with suspected infections are telling horrific stories about how they're being treated.

CNN's Isa Soares is following the story from London. She joins us now live. Good to see you, Isa. So, the government is saying one thing while Venezuelans are telling a very different story. What did you find?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rosemary. When the numbers started coming out -- the official government numbers started coming out of Venezuela, many had raised eyebrows. Because it simply did not match what we were seeing throughout the continent, throughout South America.

And so, that really propelled me to try to try to find out what was happening on the ground. Why Venezuela wasn't following that trend that we were seeing in the continent. And I for months have been speaking to doctors, have been speaking to nurses and they are telling me the picture that they are seeing on the ground is far from the picture that Nicolas Maduro is painting. In fact, it's far, far worse.

Here's our report from Maracaibo in Venezuela.


SOARES (voice-over): In the once oil rich city of Maracaibo in Venezuela, COVID 19 comes hand in hand with fear and repression. This mother of three knows this all too well so much so, she is still shaken by her experience.

TEXT: I sometimes am sleeping at night. And I wake up thinking I am in the motel.

SOARES: Like others in the story, she spoke to me on the condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals. She tells me she was quarantined against her will in this motel after she lost her father to suspected COVID-19 and a rapid antibody test came back inconclusive.

TEXT: I was immediately isolated, from that moment on I heard nothing from my family.

SOARES: She says inside there was little food or water and personal hygiene, a luxury.

TEXT: They said they were going to give me person hygiene supplies and they only game them to me after 15 days.

SOARES: Away from family and unable to leave her room, she says she was held for 23 days despite never testing positive for the virus.

Doctors tell us this motel is one of many being used by the Venezuelan government to house suspected COVID patients. In a bed to keep them off Venezuela's crumbling hospitals, where the situation is similarly desperate.

The main hospital here, one doctor tells me, has only 9 ICU beds. Six hours of available water a day, intimate in power, and when x-ray machine that hasn't worked for months. Details that even health care workers aren't comfortable sharing because of the climate of fear.

In this video from a hospital in Maracaibo shared on social media. Patients protested the shortage of medical staff.

TEXT: There's no medication nor nurse. Please help us. Help us.

SOARES: Begging for help. Patients say this man was left dead, abandoned in his bed for days.


To date, Venezuela has reported some of the lowest COVID-19 numbers in the region, but with testing limited to a small number of government controlled labs, patients may wait up to 70 days to learn their results. Doctors and NGOs tell us many cases go unreported and some die without even knowing if they have COVID.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TEXT TRANSLATION: There's at least twice as many cases than what is reported as deceased in the official lists.

SOARES: Doctors have been calling for increase testing since the pandemic reach the country. The Venezuelan academy of Physical Mathematical and Natural Sciences is currently predicting a peak of up to 14,000 daily cases. An early report in May was met with a threat of physical violence by a government official on TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TEXT TRANSLATION: This is an invitation for the state security forces to visit these people.

SOARES: They're not just empty threats. Doctors on the ground tell me authorities here have arrested health care workers who speak out publicly. They say it's the government's way of maintaining control over the political narrative.

(on camera): Is their pressure also for doctors not to note down who has contracted COVID and who has died from COVID? Is that that type of pressure?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, TEXT TRANSLATION: Yes, exactly. There's that kind of pressure.

SOARES (voice-over): So, while doctors work under the government radar and patients stay away from the streets, embattled President Nicholas Maduro tightens his grip on power under the guise of COVID 19.


SOARES: Now, Rosemary, CNN gave the Venezuelan government multiple opportunities to respond, not just to the accusations but also to the criticism of the conditions we saw in the motels and those hospitals and thus far we have received no response -- Rosemary

CHURCH: Thank you for that incredible and shocking report, Isa Soares joining us there.

Well, South Africa will reopen its borders for tourism and business at the beginning of October. The South African President says the reopening will be gradual now that infections have gone down. And starting this Sunday restrictions will be eased on public gatherings, the nightly curfew and retail alcohol sales.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Johannesburg. He joins us now live. Good to see you, David. So, we have seen other countries open early and see infections surge. How much concern is there that this could very well happen in South Africa?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, it is a significant concern from health officials and the President who announced those significant relaxations of the COVID restrictions. They do worry that there could be another surge of this virus. But it seems they feel comfortable to try and attempt this.

Also, the economic pressure to open up the borders, to bring tourists and businesses back into the country is very strong at this point. South Africa took a massive hit to its GDP. More than 50 percent down in the second quarter during the harshest lockdowns.

Now you might remember, Rosemary, that South Africa really started closing its international borders back in mid-March before there were, you know, around 100 confirmed cases. We saw in this country a peak of cases several weeks ago. Up to 15,000 confirmed cases a day. That's now down to less than 2,000 and less.

So really the feeling from health officials here, doctors I've spoken to, is that the public health system weathered the storm. Those numbers in hospitals right now are relatively low. They're even closed quarantine facilities and some of those surge field hospitals. So, there's a sense that the worst is over at this point.

But when people come into this country, they'll have to get a COVID-19 test to prove that they had it within 72 hours of departure. They haven't yet announced the specific countries that are allowed to come in, but they've hinted that places with surging infections may not be on that list. But with all these relaxations there is at least a hope that South Africa is getting back to some kind of normal.

CHURCH: All right. We'll keep a very close eye on that. David McKenzie joining us live from Johannesburg. Many thanks.

And you're watching CNN. We're back in just a moment.



CHURCH: A new and curious development to report in the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexey Navalny. In a new post on his Instagram account, his team says lab tests in Germany found traces of the nerve agent Novichok on a water bottle taken from his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk. CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now live from Moscow. So, Matthew, what more are you able to tell us about this new development?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's an interesting development because it's the first real indication we've had for some time about the means by which Alexey Navalny, Russia's most vocal opposition figure, was apparently poisoned when he was on that tour of Siberia last month.

His team, as you mentioned, posting on social media, that it was a water bottle that was inside his hotel room inside Tomsk that it's believed the traces of Novichok were found, that Novichok poisoning was then confirmed by several other laboratories in German and elsewhere as well.

There's some video, actually, that the Tomsk team of Alexey Navalny on the ground took shortly after they got it confirmed that he had been poisoned. They went to the hotel room in that city. They recorded everything on video that they saw. They even took pictures of the water bottles that had been left empty after he had drunk the contents on the desk inside the hotel room. And so, that's really interesting sort of testimony, video testimony, if you like, about the circumstances that may have led to the poisoning of Alexey Navalny.

Now we've all seen the images of Navalny writhing in agony onboard the aircraft that was carrying him from the city of Tomsk back to Moscow. An aircraft that was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk, another Siberian City, simply to make sure he got emergency treatment. And being stretchered off that aircraft, really compelling, awful images, frankly.

There was another photograph as well that just before he got on the plane of him sipping a cup of tea in the airport cafe. And so, the speculation as being that was the point at which he may have ingested some kind of poison. But what we now know from the Navalny team, it was in fact some hours before that in the hotel room in Tomsk that he may have actually ingested that Novichok that the German laboratory and other laboratories now say was the reason for his acute sickness -- Rosemary.


CHURCH: All right, Matthew Chance, bringing us the very latest on that development from Moscow, many thanks.

Well, the U.S. Federal Reserve says the economy is going to need more help. What the central bank is doing while Congress remains stalled. Back with that in a moment.


CHURCH: Well, good news for borrowers. Not great news for savers Wednesday from the U.S. Federal Reserve. It's planning to keep interest rates near zero potentially for years to come to help the U.S. economy recover from the COVID crisis.

CNN's John Defterios joins us now to explain the decision and what it might mean for investors and the economy. Good to see you, John. So, this was a clear signal from the federal board chairman. Rates stay down for longer, but Wall Street and overseas markets were not impressed. Why is that?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, you know what, there's no simple remedy, that's the reality, Rosemary, because we're in the slog here of the second wave. That's why Jerome Powell kind of signaled more stimulus is needed.

Let's take a look at what the U.S. futures are telling us right now. They're down across the board around 1 percent to 1.3 percent.


That matches the losses that we saw in Asia and currently underway in Europe at the same time.

But Jay Powell was very clear with his messaging as I was suggesting here. The recession may not be as bad as we expected, a negative 4 percent instead of a negative 6.5 percent. But that's predicated on the troika moving and finding common ground on this stimulus package, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and even the White House.

Donald Trump is even suggesting to the Republicans in the Senate, don't be so stubborn here. We need to get a deal done and there's a gap between $1.5 trillion and $2.3 trillion in the House. And resistance from Republicans to provide support to states and cities who are underfunded right now. They don't think it's the role of the federal government.

We're going to get a snapshot here on the jobless benefits again. And this is why Jerome Powell was worried, Rosemary. 850,000 is the number that's expected in less than 4 hours with constant claims at 13 million. This is something we've never seen in our history. So, improvement. Interest rates stay low, but we need more stimulus and, Rosemary, that translates into a lot more debt for the next generation.

CHURCH: All right. It does. John Defterios joining us live from Abu Dhabi, many thanks.

Ad just this quick programming note, be sure to catch CNN's Town Hall with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden moderated by Anderson Cooper, 8 p.m. Eastern, that's 1 a.m. Friday in London, 8 a.m. in Hong Kong only here on CNN.

And thanks so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.