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At This Hour

W.H.O. Warns Omicron Variant Poses "Very High" Risk; House Panel To Decide On Contempt Charges For Mark Meadows This Week. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 11:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And Erica Hill. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with the developments on the new Omicron coronavirus variant. More countries closing their borders this morning, more fear over how dangerous it might be. Yet still, no one knows.

AT THIS HOUR, President Biden is getting briefed by his Pandemic Response Team. And the President will address the nation this hour about the new variant, what is known, what is not known, and what they are doing about it. It will be a couple of weeks before it's known how effective current vaccines are against the variant.

Right now, it appears this variant may be more transmissible, but may not cause any more severe disease. But that's just what's known right now. And then there's this, the United States and dozens of other countries are now banning travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries. Cases of the Omicron variant have now been confirmed in at least 14 countries including Canada. As of now, there are no known cases in the U.S. But it is only a matter of time.

We have reporters all over the world covering this developing story. Let's start with CNN's Paula Newton live in Ottawa, Canada on this. Paula, the first cases, the first known cases in North America is right where you are. What are you learning?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right here in the city, two confirmed cases. And Kate breaking for us this hour, Ontario health officials saying they have another four cases under investigation. And for that reason, health officials here in Canada are saying look, expect more cases of the Omicron variant confirmed here in Canada within hours maybe. What they are saying though, is that this is no need to panic that they are not changing any of their health restrictions so far, but leaving the door open to having more travel restrictions.

Kate, it is so interesting that these two cases and some of the other suspected cases are from Nigeria, none -- Nigeria is not on the U.S. travel ban nor is it on the Canadian travel ban. I also think it's important to note that the two confirmed cases, they're isolating for two weeks, their family, close contacts, isolating for two weeks. And Kate here in Canada contact is important. Four out of every five eligible Canadians is now fully vaccinated to travel inside this country.

Outside this country now, few exceptions, you have to be fully vaccinated. Here, authorities are assuming that a lot of these cases will actually turn out to be breakthrough cases. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Thank you so much, Paula. So we are waiting to hear from President Biden, set to address the American people about this new variant. And CNN has learned that federal officials are bracing for the first confirmed cases in the United States. We heard the story from Paula in Canada just now. But again, what it all means, we still do not know.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House where we'll be heading soon when the President begins speaking. Jeremy, what are we expecting to hear from the President this hour?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, right now President Biden is in the Oval Office with his Coronavirus Advisory Team. They are briefing him on this Omicron variant, a briefing that the President has been receiving daily. And so when the President comes out later this hour to speak, he's going to be talking about what we do know, what we don't know about this variant. And he's also going to be urging the public against panicking here.

We do expect the President to instead urge Americans that now is the time if you haven't yet to get vaccinated and to get your booster shot, if you already are fully vaccinated and eligible for that third shot. So that is the message that we're going to hear from the President. He's going to try and show that he is on top of this situation, while at the same time urging Americans not to panic. We do know that it is very clear that it will take a week to two weeks before we know exactly the impact of this variant. And that's something that the President is going to outline today.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. All right, Jeremy is going to stick close. We will be taking the President live when he does come to cameras to speak. In the meantime, the U.S. Travel Association is urging the Biden demonstration to reconsider its travel ban in response to this variant which went into effect overnight. The trade group saying that the ban isn't going to work and that it won't prevent the Omicron variant from getting to the United States. CNN's Pete Muntean live at Reagan National Airport near Washington with more on this. Pete, what else are -- is this trade group saying and what does this ban mean?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we've seen statement after statement calling these new travel restrictions by the Biden administration, a knee jerk reaction, but now the U.S. Travel Association, one of these largest groups that really represents the travel and tourism industry at large says that the Biden administration should respectfully reconsider these travel restrictions for those coming from South Africa and seven other countries into the United States.

They point to rules that went into effect only three weeks ago that allow foreign nationals to come into the U.S. so long as they prove they are fully vaccinated, so long as they prove that they have a negative coronavirus test that in essence ended a 600-day ban on travel of foreign nationals into the U.S. And the U.S. Travel Association says this, with a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S., we continue to believe that assessing an individual's risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States.


This comes as the travel industry, we're seeing really big signs of life, especially given the fact that just yesterday 2.45 million people pass through security at America's airports that is a new pandemic era air travel record, about 89 percent of where we were back in 2019, before the pandemic. So these numbers just keep going up and up and travel experts say that's due in part to the fact that international travel has resumed again. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Pete, thank you so much. So South Africa is also pushing back against the growing number of travel restrictions on the country saying that it has been punished for first identifying and alerting the world to this new strain. CNN's David McKenzie is live in Johannesburg, South Africa with more on this. David, what's happening there?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, there's deepening frustration and anger that the scientists in South Africa that many believe worked quickly to alert the world to the danger of this possible variant are being punished and the countries in this region being punished with them because these travel bans will have a huge impact on economies here that we're starting to recover from wave after wave of COVID-19, the president of South Africa joining the fray, naming countries individually, including the U.S. and saying that he's deeply disappointed.


CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICA PRESIDENT: Now these restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant.


MCKENZIE: Public health officials around the world saying they're trying to buy time but the people here I'm speaking to say, time has already run out. Kate?

BOLDUAN: David, thank you very much for that. So global markets are rebounding this morning after getting pummeled on Friday over fears of this new variant, U.S. stocks recouping some of the losses from Friday's sell off. Let's get the very latest from CNN's Matt Egan who's following this for us. Matt, what are you seeing on that front?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Kate, Wall Street is bouncing back from the Black Friday scare. But the rebound has been pretty shaky to say the least. The Dow opened up almost 400 points higher this morning. But at last check, it's only about 100 points, so not a great rebound there. Now we have to remember that, you know, what we saw on Friday was pretty significant.

We saw all three major markets Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq lose more than 2 percent apiece, it was Dow's worst day in 13 months, it's also worth taking a look at what we're seeing the oil market because oil is very sensitive to swings in confidence in the economic recovery oil class by 13 percent on Friday, worst day, since April of 2020.

We're seeing oil go up today, but not by that much by about three or 4 percent. Also a similar story playing out in the travel sector, we've seen stocks, including Expedia, United Airlines, they are up today. But that was again after a pretty significant loss on Friday. Kate, I think that all this shows continued nervousness and uncertainty about the new variant. We just don't know enough information yet to say what the impact is going to be on the real economy or the stock market.

BOLDUAN: Or on public health. There's just so much not known around this right now. Great to see you, Matt, thank you so much. Regarding that so much that is not known and what more needs to be known. Joining me right now is Dr. Margaret Harris. She's a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, Doctor, thank you for being here. I looked with interest that the WHO put out a technical brief today and it says that the overall global risk with this new variant and the way it was written is assessed as very high. What does that mean Doctor?

DR. MARGARET HARRIS, SPOKESWOMAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Good afternoon, Kate. Actually, that refers to our assessment of the COVID outbreak all together. It's at a technical sit position really that if the overall event the COVID outbreak is assessed is very high. A sub event like the arrival of a new variant is also assessed is very high. So it sounds a bit more frightening than it is. It really refers to the entire pandemic is very high risk. And that's a very important message. I think people have forgotten how higher risk we are still all facing.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right and taken altogether, the world is still at high risk of the pandemic. But let's talk -- let's focus on this new variant that is creating alarm around the world. But the question is, how much is known, how much isn't known, and what level of concern should there really be in this moment? From your assessment, what worries you most about the Omicron variant that we don't have answers to right now?


HARRIS: So you're quite right, we don't have nearly enough answers all together. Now, what we do know is that this variant has more mutations, particularly in the spike region, and that's a bit it uses to get into our cells and cause all the problems in the lung tissues and other tissues. And it has some mutations that we've seen in other variants. So it's just got more of things that we don't like the look of. But we don't have enough information about whether it's more transmissible, whether it's going to cause more severe disease. And critically, is it able to escape the effects of the immune -- of the vaccine? So does it have what we call immune escape, the ability to evade the immunity we create by having vaccines?

BOLDUAN: Dr. Let me play for you what the CEO of Moderna said this morning about this variant and get your reaction on the other end of it. Listen to this, please.


STEPHANE BANCEL, CEO MODERNA: We believe this virus is highly infectious. We need to get more data to confirm this, but it seems to be much more infectious than Delta was across is problematic. And we also believe that it's already present in most countries


BOLDUAN: Believe it's highly infectious and likely already present in most countries. Do you agree with that?

HARRIS: Well, again, we haven't got enough data to say that conclusively. What we have seen from South Africa, where they've done extraordinary science and they've been giving us data so quickly almost in real time, which is just hasn't happened before. That information is telling us that it seems to be competing very effectively with data's, Delta. In other words, more people are getting infected with it than with Delta in the same sort of place. But that's in small numbers, small areas, we don't have enough information worldwide to know that. But we do see that indeed, it is popping up in places all around the world.

BOLDUAN: In the meantime, countries are reacting. Nearly 50 countries are now restricting travel from Southern Africa. I want to play for you the reaction to this from South Africa's president.


RAMAPHOSA: Now these restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine the ability to respond to and also to recover from the pandemic.


BOLDUAN: And Doctor, WHO has spoken out against these travel bans as well. So what's your advice then to governments who want to protect their people when there is so much unknown?

HARRIS: So the first thing is to really up your tracking and tracing and your surveillance. Now, a lot of governments, a lot of countries have been dismantling that. Have been acting like everything's all over. In fact, you need to have better testing, better tracking, better tracing. The second thing is, get your people together and let them know that the public health social measures work and need to be done. And that's the stuff that nobody likes, the mask wearing, the working from home if you can, avoiding the crowds, avoiding the gatherings, particularly avoiding being enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

We've never been very good at that. We did it for a bit, but most people don't want to do it. Now, it's the time when we all must do that seriously.

BOLDUAN: Doctor --

HARRIS: -- and get vaccinated. That's the last thing.

BOLDUAN: Most importantly, at this moment, South Africa sounded the alarm very early in sharing this information. So the way that the President is talking about is that they're being punished for the good work that they did. Do you agree? Do you think that that's what this -- that's what the effect of these travel bans is, is that South Africa is being punished?

HARRIS: South Africa should get a gold medal for the quality of its science and the quality of its transparency. As I said, we have not seen nearly enough of that -- of the transparency particularly. And indeed to then make South Africa feel that doing all the right things leads to a very bad outcome is not good not just bad for South Africa and South Africa. It's bad for the world.

BOLDUAN: How so?

HARRIS: Well, other countries will then feel, why would we come out and say we've got this issue, we've got this problem, if they see this sort of consequence.


BOLDUAN: That very -- yes, that -- you can see that in the future for sure. Doctor, thank you for your time I appreciate it.

Much more to come on this, coming up, though, still had for us the House committee investigating the insurrection is looking at possibly charging Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with criminal contempt. New moves, new details, next.


BOLDUAN: The House Select Committee investigating the insurrection could be closed again on another contempt of Congress charge this week. Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is still refusing to comply with a subpoena despite former Trump Adviser Steve Bannon being charged with that same offense already. CNN's Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill, she has been tracking this. Melanie, what are you hearing?

[11:20:22] MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Kate, we could see action as soon as this week. The Select Committee had really been working behind the scenes to try to get Mark Meadows to comply with a subpoena to both turn over documents and to sit for a deposition, they wanted to exhaust every possible option there. As Trump's former Chief of Staff, he had a critical role in efforts to overturn the election, and he could have critical insight into Trump's mindset on January 6th. But the Select Committee's patience is wearing thin. Take a listen to what Adam Schiff, a committee member had to say about the panel's decision making over the weekend.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: I think we will probably make a decision this week on our course of conduct with that particular witness and maybe others. I can't go into, you know, a communications that we're having or haven't had with particular witnesses. But we are moving with alacrity with anyone who obstructs the committee.


ZANONA: Of course, if Congress does act on criminal contempt, it would ultimately be up to the Department of Justice to pursue those criminal charges. They did pursue criminal charges with Steve Bannon, a former Trump ally. Mark Meadows might have more of a claim to executive privilege because he was a chief of staff at the time. But the committee is saying they're ready to move forward this week.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Melanie, thank you so much for that.

Joining me for more on this is CNN political analyst, coauthor of the POLITICO playbook. Rachael Bade. So Rachael that was Adam Schiff but Adam Kinzinger, he actually says today that he expects movement regarding Meadows in the next day or so. I mean do you think that means that the panel is going to move to refer Meadows for criminal contempt charges? What are you hearing?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's going to be difficult for them to sort of justify not doing that, given that they've already done this for Steve Bannon. And they're trying to send a signal to other people that they need to cooperate with Hill oversight, and the subpoenas or they're going to be in trouble? So if they don't do this with Meadows, you know, their whole investigation, honestly, would be in jeopardy. And so I do think there's some concern about that.

With Mark Meadows in particular, more so than Steve Bannon, you know, you see the real importance of talking to him. I mean, this is a guy who Melanie just mentioned, was with Donald Trump in the White House on January 6th, he knows everything that happened that day, it's kind of hard to imagine that you could have a full investigation without talking to someone like this.

So, you know, it would be surprising if they don't move forward. But obviously, there's a debate about executive privilege. There is some concern among some of the members of the panel that perhaps Mark Meadows claim or Donald Trump's claim over Mark Meadows, testimony of executive privilege might be more substantial in court. But honestly, you know, Joe Biden, President Biden can try to waive that. And so they can have an ally in the White House on this if they really want this. I think it's going to be very hard for them to pass up this opportunity to go after him for ignoring a subpoena if they want to have a full investigation.

BOLDUAN: Yes, so something, I mean, some movement will happen this week, but we'll stick around to see what that is. I want to ask you also and get your take because you've been reporting on just that the House is dealing with another gross incident between members this made up Islamophobic story by Republican Congressman Lauren Boebert joking about Ilhan Omar. Boebert, apologizing over the holiday but not apologizing directly to Ilhan Omar who this was directly about.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rachael, is still has not said anything about this publicly. And you don't have to like Omar's politics to be well human and just get this right. What is your take on this in McCarthy's position here specifically?

BADE: So I mean, McCarthy, you know, it -- I do think, you know, a lot of people like yourself, I can hear it in your voice there, disgusted that lawmakers are using this sort of language and that their own leaders are not taking action to say this sort of common is wrong, we saw past Speaker Paul Ryan, John Boehner, they didn't have any sort of tolerance for these kinds of comments and to call them out.

Kevin McCarthy wants to be speaker and he, as often, sort of afraid to call out his own members, which is why he says he talks to them privately. The one difference I will say on this situation with Boebert is that McCarthy did get her to apologize publicly. She has reached out to Ilhan Omar's office and has asked for a meeting to discuss what happened. There seems to be sort of a stalemate on that situation.

Ilhan Omar's allies have told me they do not believe this apology was sincere and they don't want to take the meeting at this point. But Democrats also have a decision to make on this. You know, with Kevin McCarthy not willing to punish his own members, they're going to have to decide what they do. Do they strip her of her committees?

There's a push right now going on behind the scenes where some grump -- Democrats do want to do that. But other Democrats privately have told me and told me yesterday that there's a fear that if you punish a member who did try to reach out and did say she was sorry what sort of message does that send? And so it's a difficult situation. It's really ugly on Capitol Hill right now. And, you know, this is not the end of it. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.


BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely and unfortunately. Good to see you, Rachael, thanks so much.

BADE: Absolutely. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the sex trafficking trial against Jeffrey Epstein's longtime partner, Ghislaine Maxwell that begins today, details in a live report next.