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CNN International: World Says Goodbye To 2020; Stay-At-Home Order, Mandatory Travel Quarantine Extended In San Francisco; Iranian General Suggests Soleimani Retaliation May Come From Within U.S.; Boris Johnson Hails "Amazing Moment" For UK; UK Cuts Formal Ties With European Union; 2020 Brought Environmental Disasters At Unprecedented Rate. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 1, 2021 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

ZAIN ASHER, CNN HOST: We did it. We made it. We drudge through 2020 and made it out on the other side the last place in the world to ringing the New Year America Samoa in the Pacific. Let's take a look at some of the sights and sounds as the world said good-bye to one of the toughest and strangest years in recent memory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy New Year!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: On this first day of 2021, some countries are facing grim reality of a pandemic, again on the brink of spiraling out of control. That includes the United States where more than 3,400 people died of COVID-19 in just the past day and more than 125,000 people are in with the disease by the way the most ever as the U.S. closes in on 20 million cases.

Here's a snapshot of what New Year's Day is actually like in parts of this country and parts of the United States right now. Army and air force medical workers have arrived in California to help hospitals that officials say are on the brink of catastrophe.

Georgia's World Congress Center is once again a field hospital to take care the over flow of patients. And of course we have correspondents in Atlanta and Los Angeles to bring you the latest and I'm going to start with Paul Vercammen who is live for us in Los Angeles.

So Paul, just set the scene for us in California there. We know there have been four new cases of the U.K. variant found in San Diego and we also know that San Francisco is likely under a stay-at-home order. Just walk us through all of that.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, California is just being overwhelmed right now Zain. So we'll start in San Diego. As you pointed out, there are four new cases of the U.K. variant they're closely watching this. These cases cropped up in three men, two of them were in their 40s, one in his 50s, that's in addition to before a man in his 30s.

None of these are interconnected or linked in any way. So they believe that this U.K. variant may be widespread in San Diego County. Now here in Los Angeles County, just grim statistics every single day 290 people died in the last death count of COVID-19.

Hospitals, as we said, are being taxed. 7,500 people in the hospital with some form of COVID-related illness and doctors and nurses are exhausted dealing with this day in and day out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. NICOLE VAN GRONINGEN, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I can tell you that we really are at a breaking point. We're also worried that at some point we're going to have a really tough time finding the space and the staff to take care of all of the sick patients coming in with COVID-19 who really need our help.

SCOTT BRICKNER, NURSE: The best way to describe it that I could tell a friend recently was its like treading water from a hundred feet below the surface. You're already drowning but you just have to keep trying because that's what you can do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And how does the state take pressure off these doctors and nurses? Well, obviously social distancing in many ways and stay-at- home orders in effect for much of the state. San Francisco extending its stay-at-home orders, as predicted by the way and that means among other things, no dining especially no more outdoor dining. Some people would that hope that would return but it's not.

They're going to have to undergo adhering to strict regulations here in California back to you now Zain.

[11:05:00]

ASHER: Paul Vercammen live for us there. Thank you so much. And let's turn now to Nick Valencia, who is live for us from Atlanta. So Nick, clearly there has been this winter surge so much so that the Georgia World Congress Center there in Atlanta where you are outside of it is going to be used as a field hospital. Walk us through that.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, 2020 has come and gone but the pandemic very much still raging here. California, you just heard from Paul Vercammen, seems to be the center of the pandemic but things aren't very much better here in Georgia.

The Governor here, Brian Kemp, is so concerned with the surge numbers here and the winter that he's opened up for the third time since the start of the pandemic. The Georgia World Congress Center, which acts traditionally as convention center they're going to put 60 temporary beds in there for those infected by the virus.

The health systems here up and down the state are really overwhelmed. It was yesterday when Governor Kemp was addressing the media that he had a very stern message for a particular group here across the state. Talk a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): The largest percentage of cases that we're seeing in the state is coming from 18 to 29-year-olds. They have not been hit hard in most cases by this virus, but if they infect others, that is where we see problems and the risk of someone being in the hospital or worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: This is expected to stay open until at least the end of January. Today hospitalizations they are really not looking good here in Georgia. Nearly 5,000 people hospitalized and it's a record four straight days of hospitalizations across the country.

125,000 Americans wake up in a hospital today. We're also setting records for deaths, new numbers this morning from Johns Hopkins Zain shows that in the last few days of 2020, over 10,000 Americans died of the virus. Really it's sobering when you think about the worst could still be ahead of us here when it comes to the pandemic, Zain?

ASHER: Nick Valencia live for us there, thank you so much. U.S. President Donald Trump skipped New Year's Eve celebrations at his Mar- a-Lago resort in Florida instead returning early to Washington. He is still defiant over his election loss to Joe Biden apparently exploring any last options to overturn the election results.

CNN has learned that as many as 140 House Republicans who vote against certifying Biden's victory when congress meets on Wednesday that will force a short delay but has zero chance of actually changing the outcome, so why bother to prove the loyalty to the outgoing president and avoid angering his devoted base of supporters?

Tensions are rising between Washington and Tehran on the eve of a grim anniversary for Iran. The Head of Iran's Elite Military Unit is suggesting that retaliation for the assassination of its top commander General Qasem Soleimani nearly one year ago may come from within the U.S.

The U.S. actually flew B-52 bombers to the Middle East on Wednesday in its latest show of force. One senior defense official says the potential of an attack from Iran is the highest it has actually been since Soleimani's death on January 3rd last year.

All of this happening during a very vulnerable time for the U.S., the political transition in Washington. Barbara Starr joins us live now from the Pentagon so Barbara, Happy New Year to you. So the U.S. is flying B-52 bombers to the region that's its way of showing force. According to U.S. intelligence how real right now is the threat coming from Iran?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the sense that the U.S. has is that Iran has pretty much put everything in place in some respects to be able to launch an attack on very quick notice especially possibly against U.S. troops in Iraq where there are Iranian backed militias with weapons and capability.

Some intelligence indicating they are fully prepared to go. You of course never really know if the intelligence is going to pan out, do you, unless and until something happened. But in the latest developments we are told by officials' familiar with the latest information Iran's maritime forces now in the Gulf region are on a heightened state of readiness.

The U.S. not specifying just how much that may be because of the sensitivity of the situation and, again, not clear, is Iran increasing that readiness of its maritime forces to defend against what it perceives? Could be a possible U.S. action against the regime or to be ready to actually go ahead and do something.

A major concern especially because of the rhetoric you mentioned and now General Soleimani's replacement a year later very, very antagonistic in his rhetoric. And I want to read everybody what he has had to say in the last couple of days. Saying in part and I quote "Our path and resistance will not change according to U.S. mischief with the extent of the crimes that you have committed.

People from your own house may end up being the ones who retaliate, a not-too-veiled threat of where the Iranians are saying something could happen.

[11:10:00]

STARR: Again not at all clear you know, there is a lot of Iranian rhetoric very frequently but some troubling signs that Iran may be moving some military capabilities around and the U.S. keeping a very sharp eye on it, Zain.

ASHER: As well you be I'm sure. Barbara Starr live for us there. Thank you so much. Iraqi security forces are working to dismantle a large mine attached to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. The tanker which has been evacuated sis in international waters about 52 kilometers off Iraq's Coast.

A statement released by security services said the mine was discovered on Thursday afternoon. It's still not clear how exactly it got there? Al right, still to come here on CNN Newsroom out with the old and in with the new the UK and EU begin a brand new era of international relations and concerns from top medical experts in the UK over why people might now have to wait months to get their second part of their COVID vaccination. That's next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHER: A New Year and a new era for British relations on the world stage as the UK finally cuts its formal ties with the EU, the chimes of big den coming just days after both sides reached a hard won trade deal which some had feared might never happen at all.

During his New Year's Eve address Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country's destiny is now in its own hands and that he expects the United Kingdom to be truly that, united. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Pioneered in the UK but he's also free to do things differently and, if necessary, better than our friend in the EU, free to do trade deals around the world and free to turbo-charge our ambition to be a science super power.

From biosciences to artificial intelligence, this is an amazing moment for this country. We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it. And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, working together to express our values around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: Boris Johnson speaking there. Selma Abdelaziz is joining us live now from London. So Salma, Boris Johnson also said we have our freedom in our hands now and it is up to us to make the most of it. How does the UK go about doing that in this new era?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, if you ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson right now and his government of course this is a moment full of opportunities. They're going to make new deal with other countries. Forge new paths ahead with their own technology, they'll point to things like the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine which was just approved this week as a sign of innovation and progress that can be done here in Britain without the EU.

[11:15:00]

ABDELAZIZ: But if you're a business or average family, you might look at this as not really an opportunity but quite a headache. There's going to be a lot of paperwork, a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of new rules to figure out. Britain is no longer part of this special club of 27 member states and all the access that they get of the knowledge and cooperation that is in that.

So, yes, this is an opportunity for some but it's also a lot to figure out and it's come at a time Zain when you can argue that Britain has never been more isolated in recent times. The country is essentially cut off to most of the world because of travel revisions due of the COVID variant, most of this country under lock down and not allowed to travel dealing with a terrible pandemic, and a terrible surge, a job crisis.

I mean, the UK is well and truly feeling cut off from the world and then on top of this of course exiting from that special club, exiting from the bloc. Yes, it could be an opportunity but it's also a very nervous and scary time and we didn't need any more of that, Zain.

ASHER: And some of you touched on the fact that the UK is hugely isolated right now, not just because of Brexit but of course because of COVID as well. Three quarters of England is now under the toughest restrictions. Just walk us through what sort of pressure British hospitals are under right now? ABDELAZIZ: It's overwhelming. It's an overwhelming amount of pressure and it's going to get worse. One NHIS doctor saying that the next month rather this month January will be nail biting because they're expecting yet another spike in cases due to Christmas celebrations and New Year's Eve celebrations they're expecting more patients to flood the hospitals and we're already breaking records this week, right?

We had more cases in a single day than this country has seen since the start of the pandemic, more patients in hospital with Coronavirus than ever before and an ambulance service that says it's receiving thousands of calls a day and can barely keep up. And these doctors and nurses who are on the front line Zain, they themselves are suffering from this so some of them going into isolation themselves falling ill themselves with COVID which is leaving hospitals short staffed.

It well and truly a horrible crisis and by many measures worst than the first wave so we're concerning in dark time here in the UK and just constant please from the government, from the authorities and from doctors, please follow the rules, please stay at home, please doesn't go out, the health care system can't handle anymore.

ASHER: Salma Abdelaziz live for us there in London thank you so much. The end of the Brexit transition period means changes on both sides of the English Channel. There could be delays and disruptions at the border as custom checks and other inspections come into force. There are also complications around the British territory of Gibraltar, though an agreement has been in principle reached in Spain according to the Spanish Foreign Minister. For more on the perspective from the EU, Cyril Vanier is in Paris and Al Goodman is in Madrid with details of Gibraltar agreement.

Cyril, let me begin with you. Happy New Year my friend! So we got images today of the first trucks coming from France heading into the UK across the near customs border. Just walk us through was it smooth sailing? Was there chaos? Just set the scene for us.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes Zain, Happy New Year to you! Good to be on with you in 2021. Look, from a business stand point what matters here is how easily and how effortlessly and smoothly goods can transit from the UK to the EU and be bought on either side of that bored right be traded.

Well, what we saw this morning was the first truck early this morning going from the UK to the EU and it just sailed through customs because that's what has changed. Customs are back. They were gone for more than 25 years and now they're back. Meaning, that goods have to be certified and some of them will be checked ahead of time. Well, if things are done ahead of time and the system runs smoothly as it did for that truck this morning and many others since, then it works.

Now going from the EU to the UK, for the moment the - we're not quite at cruising altitude if you will because for the moment the UK has not set up its entire infrastructure so it's given them the extra six- month window for goods to come in from the EU to the UK without requiring certification. That's for goods. Now for travelers Zain, I'll try to be quick about this. We're in

front of the - on Central Paris people who come and want to transit from the EU to UK for tourism probably won't notice much difference. In fact, the pandemic is more of their enemy as far as travel is concerned than Brexit is.

However, the real difference is the end of free movement in the sense that Europeans will no longer be able to study, work and set up shop in the UK without requiring a visa, Zain.

ASHER: And Cyril standby. I want to bring in Al Goodman he is joining us live from now Spain. So Al, one of the good news for Spain is that there's not going to be a hard border between Spain and Gibraltar which is something that a lot of British citizens in Gibraltar had feared? Walk us through that.

[11:20:00]

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: Hi Zain, this is another last-minute agreement this time between Spain and the United Kingdom. Officials are saying that after this is finalized here in about six months after they negotiate the details, this will basically make for freer movement for people and goods at the land border between Gibraltar and Spain and eventually into most of the other parts of the European Union.

But Gibraltar's airport and its port would then become part of the EU's external border. So travelers from Gibraltar by air or sea would also be entering the European Union free movement area called Schengen. I think we have pictures of Winston Churchill Avenue in Gibraltar from live camera from the Gibraltar government.

You can see of course the emblematic rock, this is the very southern end of Europe, Africa the mountains of Africa you can see Morocco just across the Strait of Gibraltar. The traffic on your right is just entered from Spain it is going towards the center of town, old town the traffic on your left is coming towards the exit.

And then if we take a second look, another look at the frontier exit live cam Zain, we see a different picture. Not too many vehicles today because it's New Year's Day but this is the last part of the drive before they would go into Spain, if there had been a hard Brexit; this is where you would see the action. You would see the kinds of things which you saw with the British lorries in - long lines and nobody wanted that A lot of economic ties between Gibraltar and that part of Southern Spain, Zain?

ASHER: Right. Al Goodman and Cyril Vanier thank you both so much. Appreciate you joining us. We'll be back right after this short break. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHER: This time last year Australia was on fire. The fires were so unprecedented, like nothing ever seen before, 33 people died in that season's fires and they were expected to define the start of a new decade. But of course just a few weeks later, the first case of the novel Coronavirus were reported outside of China and one of the most critical crises facing the world was overshadowed by the pandemic. CNN's Bill Weir has more on the climate disasters of 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was a broken, record-breaking kind of year, with new levels of heat-trapping pollution surrounding the earth and as a result, new levels of disaster on it. 2020 brought too much water in some places, not enough in others.

Swarms of locusts from Asia to Africa and freakish heat waves in the Arctic the American West burned at unprecedented rates well. Blazes in Australia killed or displaced nearly 3 billion animals and the Atlantic hurricane season brought so many storms they ran out of names.

BROCK LONG, FORMER ADMINISTRATION U.S. FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: This is where we're working disasters right now.

WEIR: Every dot is a disaster.

LONG: Right.

WEIR (voice over): In his two years running FEMA, Brock Long says he sent out more disaster dollars than all of his predecessors combined.

LONG: When I was in office, we literally had a new disaster or wildfire every three days. WEIR (voice over): Now he says things will only get harder and while burnt out first responders are doing their best, the old system cannot handle this new normal.

[11:25:00]

LONG: Long we have climate change, which obviously is going to increase the frequency and magnitude of disasters, but we have not done a good job in this country of building resilient infrastructure. We don't reward communities who are seriously considering mitigation tactics, passing stronger building codes, residential codes or using smart - and the entire disaster declaration process needs to be rethought.

WEIR (voice over): But wait, you see. COVID forced the world to park cars and shut factories. Didn't that help? Well, not so much. According to scientists fossil fuel emissions only dropped 3 to 7 percent and humanity is right back to burning carbon at pre-pandemic levels.

PETTERI TAALAS, SECRETARY GENERAL, WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION: --to see these kind of 3 to 7 percent drops in emissions on annual basis from now on will be success from the climate that - so far unfortunately many countries have plans to enhance their oil and gas and coal production in the coming years and that's something that they should stop.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing water, transportation and energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme weather.

WEIR (voice over): After another year of denial and delay under Trump Joe Biden was the one with a promise to rejoin the Paris Accords and filled his cabinet with climate hocks and environmental justice worriers.

DEB HAALAND, U.S. INTERIOR SECRETARY NOMINEE: We know that climate change can only be solved with participation of every department and of every community.

WEIR (voice over): There are market forces behind them. As renewable energy booms at least 36 oil and gas companies went bankrupt this year. There were less than 20,000 electric cars in the world a decade ago now there is over 7 million. So for every disaster there are signs humanity is changing its ways. The question is how fast and by how much?

There are so many people wake up who - who get it who watch the hurricanes and the fires and say this is happening but then they know they have to get in their car and go to work or get on an airplane or maybe they have to burn fossil fuels to help put out those fires and save people and they think what can I do? I'm one person.

KATHARINE HAYHOE, DIRECTOR, CLIMATE SCIENCE, TEXAS TECH: I've come to realize that the most important thing any person can do is to use their voice to advocate for change. Have a conversation about why climate changes matters to us in the places we already live, affecting things we already care about, at our school, places of work or business, at our church, at our university, with an elected official in our city, or a state, or a country?

Using our voice to advocate for change I believe is the single most effective thing that we can do because we need system wide change that systems are made up of people.

WEIR: Happy New Year, earth lovers! Stay safe. Bill Weir, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ASHER: That rubs up CNN Newsroom. I'm Zain Asher. Happy New Year! Stay safe, good-bye!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00]