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At This Hour

England Set to Delay Reopening as Delta Variant Surges; Biden Tries to Reverse Trump's America First Worldview; Vice President Harris Travels to Pop-Up Vaccination Site in South Carolina. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 11:30   ET




In contrast, it took Biden nearly a month to call Benjamin Netanyahu after he was sworn in.

So, Kate, you're already seeing the differences between the U.S. and Israel, as well as others.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Absolutely. Oren, thank you very much.

I want to turn now to a CNN exclusive report. CNN is learning that the U.S. government is assessing a possible leak at a Chinese nuclear plant. A French company that partly owns the plant and helps operate it is warning now of an imminent radiological threat.

CNN's David Culver is joining me now. He's live in Shanghai with these exclusive details. David, tell us more of your reporting.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it's a bit frightening when you hear those words, imminent radiological threat. Now, those words come from a waiver of assistance application that CNN's Zachary Cohen discovered through sources that came from this French company that, as you point out, jointly operates the Chinese nuclear power plant.

Let me show you where this is happening. It's in the south of China. It's Guangdong Province, a province with more than 120 million people. So, it is a heavily populated and dense area.

And what we've learned is that there is an increase in the radiation there. According to the sources talking to CNN, it's an increase in fission gas, which is a natural byproduct that includes xenon, which is radiological.

Now, the concern is the limits. According to the document, they accuse, the French, that is, that co-operate that plant, the Chinese of raising the safety limits, and, thereby, causing potential harms. That's the concern that's playing out right now. Now, we, of course, have reached out to the Chinese officials, the foreign ministry along with authorities in Guangdong Province. We've not yet heard back. We should note, it's a long holiday weekend that's coming to an end here. So perhaps in the next 24 hours, they will respond to this.

The plant has responded, as well as the French company that helps run it. They consider this to be under control in sorts, as they're sort of paraphrasing this. They suggest, Kate, that this is something that they can maintain, that they will find a resolution to it, and that it is operating within the safety parameters.

The big issue is, though, lack of transparency that we've seen with the Chinese in past incidents. We're wondering where this will go from here. It's going to be closely monitored not only by us but, of course, U.S. officials keeping an eye on this, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Always, transparency is a huge issue once again. David, thank you very much for that reporting.

Coming up for us, new concerns about a COVID variant surging right now in the United Kingdom, why it is leading officials there to likely delay their reopening plans and what this now means for the United States.



BOLDUAN: At this hour, England's long-awaited reopening plans may be on hold amid a wave of new coronavirus infections. The spike in cases is linked to the highly contagious delta variant that is now the dominant strain in the U.K.

CNN's Scott McLean is live in London. He's been following this for us. Scott, how bad is it there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Well, the numbers are pretty small still, less than ten deaths in the last 24 hours, less than 8,000 cases. The problem is that at least when it comes to the case count, well, they have about doubled in just the past two weeks.

Now, the government, as you mentioned, is expected to delay the final phase of reopening by about four weeks. And not everybody's happy about it. You can probably hear the protesters outside the gates here at Downing Street that are making their voice heard about an issue that hasn't even officially been announced by the government just yet.

That final phase of reopening would allow sports venues to operate at full capacities, theaters to do the same, nightclubs to reopening, and all of the limitations on social gatherings would melt away. And it's all because of this delta variant. That's why they're delaying things.

We're going to show you an animation of just how quickly that variant has spread across the U.K. The map, you can see the darker the color, the higher proportion of the delta variant. We know that it spreads 64 percent quicker than the previously dominant strain, the U.K. or the alpha variant. And it's accounting for about 90 percent of all of the new cases in the U.K. right now.

And what's really concerning is vaccine efficacy. When it comes to people who just have one dose, myself included, the efficacy drops by about 17 percent when up against the new variant, even for people with two doses, the efficacy still high, about 81 percent, but that's 7 percent lower than it would have been against the old strains.

And what's especially concerning, Kate, is that a new study out just today shows that the new variant about doubles the risk of hospitalizations as well. So this four-week buffer that this government is bringing gives them a little bit more breathing room to get more shots in more arms, a second dose for older people and at least some protection, one shot, for younger people, Kate, which I should remind you that people under the age of 25 are still, by and large, not eligible to get even their first shot yet in this country.

BOLDUAN: Important note. Thank you so much, Scott. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on this is Dr. Chris Pernell, she's a public health physician and fellow at the American College of Preventive Medicine.

Scott laid out, Doctor, kind of what is happening and coming in the U.K. right now because of the delta variant.


Just from your perspective, help us understand why the delta variant is so particularly concerning, different from other variants, I would say, that the medical community has identified and flagged before.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Yes, Kate. There are three things that we want to be able to answer whenever we're considering any variant. And the first thing is that, is it more infectious. You hear Scott talk about it's being more transmissible, upwards of 60 percent of more transmissible.

The second question we want to be able answer, does it cause more severe disease. We don't have conclusive data on that yet, but if we look at what happened in India, we definitely have cause for concern.

And then the third thing you want to be able to answer, do our currently available vaccines work? And as Scott also described, yes, they work, although it does invade the immunity somewhat.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And on the point of vaccines, if folks see that the vaccines are slightly less effective against this COVID variant, someone is going wonder should I get a vaccine in the face of this. Does it mean it's not protect -- vaccines aren't protecting us at all against this variant? Help us with that. PERNELL: No, it doesn't mean that. Remember, vaccines are most powerful because they prevent moderate and severe disease. What's severe disease? Hospitalization and even death. So if you have an 80 percent efficacy or effectiveness rate against this particular delta variant, that's better than your natural immune system could do against it. So if that's the decision rubric or the decision point that people are considering, you're safer with the vaccine.

BOLDUAN: Yes, maybe even more of a case to get the shot now that we can get this detail coming out.

I want to play for you what former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said about this variant.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: This is going to take over, and I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall.

In parts of the country where you have less vaccination, particularly in parts of the south, where you have some cities where vaccination rates are low, there's a risk that you could see outbreaks with this new variant.


BOLDUAN: So what do you think all of this means for the United States then?

PERNELL: I agree. So, through the summer, I think, by and large, we'll be safe. When I say we'll be safe, meaning that we won't have a widespread outbreak. Unvaccinated people though, you don't have a different risk level for most parts, especially if you're living in geographic regions where considerable part of the population isn't vaccinated. But once we go into the fall and to the cooler temperatures, and people go back indoors, that's when we need to know that we're protected. That's when those vaccines are going to matter more than ever.

BOLDUAN: Great point. Doctor, thank you so much.

PERNELL: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden declared today to European allies America is there. That's how he said it. Essentially, America has your back. Is that enough to reverse four years of Donald Trump's turn your back foreign policy?




JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there. The United States is there.


BOLDUAN: That is President Biden just this morning, a statement that seems intent on trying to reassure allies of the United States' commitment to NATO. It could also be a statement on Biden's intention for his entire overseas trip and his entire presidency more broadly.

What we see in the next few days, today with world leaders at the NATO Summit, and then Wednesday, his face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, what imprint will Biden leave on the world and what does it mean for the U.S. and Biden's foreign policy legacy?

Joining me right now is CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley for more on this. Doug, it seems clear Biden is trying to send a message, as he has said more than once, that America is back. What does that mean though for these historical alliances, that message?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it is the slogan that Joe Biden is going to be remembered for, and this is a very important trip to reintroduce himself to the world. And, you know, so far, it's been an amazing journey for Joe Biden. When he landed in the United Kingdom, he was embraced with open arms, he spoke to American troops, he had a great session with the queen.

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have seemed to bond somewhat, although it may not go down in history like Roosevelt and Churchill or Reagan and Thatcher. It went well considering that Boris Johnson was one of the leading architects of Brexit, and that wasn't U.S. policy. And then at the European Union countries seemed to just want to be with Biden every minute, embraced him as one of their own. The NATO discussions are going along perfectly.

So Biden has got a strong trip going on right now. So it does not want to get trip-wired by Vladimir Putin. He needs to stay on the offense, stay upbeat, be the person of change in the world and hope and do a lot of the discussions with Putin behind the scenes. He does not want to go home with a blemish on this first foreign policy adventure.

BOLDUAN: It is also clear, of course, that Biden is trying to make a clean break from the approach in both style and substance from Donald Trump. Let me just play some examples.



BIDEN: We do not NATO as a sort of a protection racket. We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for the next part of the century.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back where they're delinquent.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: And, of course, Doug, no one can forget when Donald Trump pushed the prime minister of Montenegro aside during a group photo at the summit. Contrast with President Biden elbow-bumping and couldn't be spending more time in closeness with leaders at this year's summit.

I mean, looking at history, when there is a major break with allies, does it take just one summit to fix what's been broken?

BRINKLEY: I don't think it takes just one but Joe and Jill Biden are on a great offensive journey right now. They really are reminding people that America is back. NATO has been the centerpiece, the Atlantic alliance, all the way from the Truman administration to Biden, the one weird person, president, was Donald Trump.

So there is memory in Europe, and they're hoping that Trump was some kind of aberration who's going away. The fear is we see Donald Trump from Mar-a-Lago making noise, the fact that he may be a Republican nominee in a few years would make European countries perhaps a little hesitant to believe fully that America is back to its new multilateral, pro-NATO, pro-European Union posture. But thus far, they are just, really, could not be treating the Bidens more warmly and they're just very glad to have a semblance of what they remembered as the old post-World War II America.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned the Putin meeting. I mean, his meeting with Putin, Biden's on Wednesday, we know that the meeting and press conference that he'll be holding solo will be different than that of President Trump's. We also know very clearly that that was a defining moment in Trump's presidency, when that went down. Do you think this meeting between Biden and Putin could be as defining?

BRINKLEY: I do think it could be as defining. The differences why, you know, Donald Trump kind of slobbered all over Putin, treated him as sort of a global folk hero, somebody he wanted to emulate as the strong man, Biden in this case has to go after, why are you arresting journalists, to Putin, why are you putting political prisoners away, why are you breaking treaty laws with the Arctic? Common ground, looking at U.S., China, Russia, what can Russia and the U.S. do with China? And then the other common ground is COVID, maybe Russia can help the U.K., U.S. effort to disseminate vaccines.

So there will be some positives coming out of this very frosty relationship.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Good to see you, Doug, thank you very much.

BRINKLEY: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, President Biden will soon be meeting with Turkey's president on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels. We're going to bring that to you live next.


[11:55:00] BOLDUAN: Vice President Kamala Harris is on the road again this morning. She just landed in South Arolina to visit a pop-up vaccination site. But the trip comes at an interesting moment for the vice president. She's facing criticism still over her most recent trip to Central America and what some have called a fumble to a politically sensitive question.


LESTER HOLT, MSNBC HOST: You haven't been to the border?

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: And I haven't been to Europe. I mean, I don't understand the point that you're making.

I said I'm going to go to the border and I --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When are you going to the border, Vice President?

HARRIS: The administration has asked -- I'm not finished. I've said I'm going to the border.


BOLDUAN: Those answers, not what some within the White House say now that they had prepared the V.P. for.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is here now with some new reporting about all of that. Jeremy, what are your sources telling you?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Kate, several allies and former aides to the vice president told me and my colleague, Jasmine Wright, last week that they had flashbacks watching that interview between the vice president and NBC News. They see this as part of a broader pattern of messaging challenges that the vice president has had stemming all the way back to her 2020 presidential campaign.

This time though, it came after Harris had participated in a media training session in mid-April, which was focused on improving her delivery and presentation in interviews and in speeches. And so it's clear that even though the vice president's team says they do not see a more systemic problem here, they see this as a misstep that's being overblown, in their view, by the media and by Republicans. But it's clear that she and her team at least see an opportunity to finesse her performance at a minimum here by participating in these media trainings, which she's taken part in since joining the Democratic ticket last summer.

The vice president's team, though, they say that she is focused not on the criticism that she is facing over that trip and some of her answers there but instead focus on doing the work.


And that is where we find the vice president today as she will be visiting a pop-up vaccination site.