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At This Hour

Omicron in 19 Countries, Travel Bans and Restrictions; Biden Vows No Lockdowns Now; South African Doctor Treating Omicron Seeing Mostly "Mild" Symptoms; Omicron Sparks Volatility in Global Markets; Interview with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Whip, on Omicron's Impact on Economic Recovery; Trump Lawyers Try to Block Records from Insurrection Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan.

Extreme measures: Japan taking a major step to try to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. Other nations considering how far they will go.

Executive privilege: lawyers for Donald Trump in court right now hoping to block insurrection investigators from getting their hands on his presidential records, all centered around that shameful day in American history.

And the opioid crisis: how the pandemic has pushed drug overdose deaths to a record high.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here, everyone. At this hour, we are following several developments on the mystery still surrounding the Omicron coronavirus variant. At least 19 countries now have confirmed cases of the variant, which has spread to five continents.

This morning, Japan is taking a major step after reporting its first case, shutting down its borders to all foreign travelers.

The South African doctor, who was one of the first to treat patients sick with this new variant, calls travel bans an overreaction, especially since there is so much we still don't know. Listen.


DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, NATIONAL CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: I think it was an overreaction. I do understand that there's a lot of mutations in this virus. I do understand that it might be much more far spreading than the Delta variant.

People say, yes, but I'm trying to protect my people.

So then the question would be, how do you know it's not in your country yet?

How do you know that a lot of those infections that you are currently seeing that is severe, how do you know it's not -- might be related to the Omicron?

How do you know?


BOLDUAN: Here in the United States, where there are no confirmed cases yet of the variant, President Biden insists shutdowns, like what we saw early in 2020, are not needed.

The president is urging Americans to remain calm and, for those who are unvaccinated, to get their shot now. And the CDC is strengthening its booster recommendations, saying all adults should get one.

We have all these developments covered for you. Let's begin with Japan's new travel ban.

What does it mean?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: It means, for the next month, no foreigners will be allowed into the country. Japan confirmed its first case of this new Omicron variant. It was detected in a man believed to be a diplomat in his 30s, who traveled from Namibia to Tokyo.

And he tested positive at Narita International Airport in Tokyo upon his arrival on Sunday.

Starting on Tuesday, Japan sealed its borders to all noncitizens, to all foreigners, including international students, also people wanting to visit family, friends and relatives in Japan.

This is a very strict measure that other countries like Israel and Morocco have implemented as well. The ban will run for at least one month.

Inside Japan, it is generally welcomed by the public. Japan is not taking any chances here, with its current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, saying this is an emergency precaution to prevent, in his words, "a worst-case scenario." Listen to this from the prime minister.


FUMIO KISHIDA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We will ban all new entries of foreign nationals from all over the world as of November 30th.


STOUT: Prime minister Kishida wants to avoid the sort of political fallout and criticism that brought about the fall and the resignation of his predecessor in September. The former prime minister of Japan, Suga, he was roundly criticized for his slow response in his handling of the Delta variant.

And the current prime minister of Japan, prime minister Kishida, he will hold an emergency meeting on this latest variant, Omicron, with his ministers; that meeting to take place shortly. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kristie, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

President Biden is vowing that shutdowns like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic are off the table for now. And he's defending his travel ban on eight South African nations. The president admitting that it will not prevent the variant from coming to the United States but he insists that it could slow it down, could slow its spread.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House with more on this.

Jeremy, what are you hearing from there today about all of it?

Because so much is still unknown.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Listen, coronavirus is right back at the center of activity here at the West Wing of the White House.


DIAMOND: We know officials are working to put together the finishing touches on that strategy that we're expected to hear President Biden outline on Thursday, for how the United States is going to fight the coronavirus this winter. Listen to the president talking about that yesterday.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Thursday I'll be putting forward a detailed strategy, outlining how we're going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.


DIAMOND: So you hear the president there emphasizing the fact that he is not looking to do additional shutdowns or lockdowns. Instead, it will be doubling down on what we've seen from this administration so far, vaccinations, boosters, testing.

We heard the president talk about that yesterday. Even as the United States waits for the next week or two to learn more about this variant, President Biden emphasizing what Americans can do now: that is to get vaccinated; if they are vaccinated, to get their boosters, if they are eligible.

And also the president urging people not to panic. That is kind of the sense I'm getting at the White House, not a sense of panic yet but certainly concern about this variant and efforts to ramp up these anti-coronavirus efforts at the White House so the president can present a comprehensive plan on Thursday. BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you.

Let's turn to global markets and how they're reacting. They are rattled this morning. Stocks in the United States have been under pressure and are under pressure at this hour amid the concerns that current vaccines may not be effective against the new variant.

Still not known but that is, of course, a concern. It comes as the nation's top economic leaders are testifying on Capitol Hill right now about the threat that the variant poses to America's recovery. Let's go to Matt Egan, he's watching this, keeping a close on eye on what we're hearing from the Fed chairman.

What are you hearing from the Hill?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Well, the focus is obviously on what these two leaders of the nation's economy are thinking about this new variant. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen talks about how we don't know enough information yet to assess what the real risk is to the economy.

But she said the best protection is for people to get vaccinated and to take their booster shots. Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, he did address some of the risks facing the economy. Here's what he had to say.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to the employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation.


EGAN: "Increased uncertainty for inflation," worries about slower job growth, slower economic activity. He also talked about how supply chain issues could get worse before getting better.

On the stock market, in the last few minutes, the Dow hit session lows, down about 530 points, 1.5 percent. The market is reacting to some comments made by Powell. He talked about how the risk of higher inflation has actually gone up.

And he expressed some support, some openness to talking about removing and unwinding the Fed's stimulus bond-buying program a little sooner than expected. So that is not sitting well with investors.

On top of all of that, investors are trying to make sense of how severe the symptoms are for Omicron and how effective vaccines are going to be. So at this point, Kate, there's a lot more questions than answers.

BOLDUAN: Yes, in terms of investing and in terms of public health, right, Matt?

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Let's get back to the science of all of what is still unknown about the Omicron variant but what we are learning more about day by day. Joining me now, CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, one doctor who's treating patients infected with the Omicron variant in South Africa told CNN this morning that the cases she has seen so far seem to be, in the way they put it, quote, "extremely mild."

Do you take comfort in that?

What does that do to your level of concern about the Omicron variant now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that could potentially be good news. This is a doctor taking care of patients on the ground there. But as everyone has said already, these are early days.

We know that the majority of the patients that were initially seen were young and those patients tend to have milder sort of courses of illness already. So you know, how much of that is something we should take comfort in versus this is sort of a natural trajectory of this particular virus, I think there's all sorts of data.

There's two things to point out. One is that South Africa was in a quiet time right now in terms of the overall pandemic. It's sort of late spring there, Kate. Numbers have come way down. Weather is getting warmer, all of that.

But at the same time, when we dug down into some of the data, we see, in the particular province where this may have originated, the hospitalization rates have gone up.


GUPTA: They're not nearly as high as at other times in the pandemic. But they have gone up at a time when hospitalization rates from respiratory diseases are typically coming down.

Does that mean anything?

I don't know. That's the sort of data investigators will be looking at.

Then what does South Africa mean to the rest of the world?

Meaning, if this has become the dominant strain in South Africa, that happened at a time there wasn't a lot of competition from Delta.

A very different picture in the United States where Delta is far and I way the dominant strain.

Will it outcompete Delta?

We don't know yet just based on looking at South Africa.

BOLDUAN: That is really interesting.

Then one of the main questions, of course, is what is the impact that this variant has on the effectiveness of vaccines that we have currently, right?

The CEO of Moderna predicted to the "Financial Times" in an interview that current vaccines are going to struggle with Omicron.

He said, "There's no world I think are where the effectiveness is the same level we had with the Delta variant."

He went on to say, "I think it's going to be a material drop. I just don't know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I've talked to are, like, this is not going to be good."

A lot of people are reacting to that, Sanjay.

What do you think?

GUPTA: First of all, again, we don't know that this will necessarily become the dominant strain because of what we're seeing in South Africa. It doesn't mean it will happen around the world, as I was mentioning.


GUPTA: That's the backdrop of all this. But I've talked to several different people, who work on vaccines and they sort of echo the same thing. But it can mean different things to different people.

You get a cushion effect when you get a vaccine, so you get the number of antibodies that are protective against disease. And as you heard initially, these vaccines were some 95 percent protective against severe illness.

That cushion may be eroded because of some of the mutations they're seeing with Omicron. But what that might mean clinically for patients may not be as big a deal, meaning that, in the laboratory, it may seem like a big deal but, in the real world, it may not feel that much different.

I think it makes the case right now, Kate, that people who have been thinking about vaccines but haven't yet gotten one, they should reconsider. These vaccines, they do look like they will at least offer some protection against Omicron.

If you're due for a booster at this point, six months out from your Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two months out from J&J, you should get that booster because it will increase that cushion effect.

So I think that that's sort of what we take away from it. Within a couple of weeks we'll have a much better idea. They'll take the virus, take blood from vaccinated people, put it in a test tube and see what happens. We may find out it's very protective or it's eroded a bit or we need something more.

BOLDUAN: Yes. One thing unique about this new variant is the sheer number of mutations it has. Of course, smarter minds are saying this and I'm learning more about it.

But how significant is just, the number of mutations versus what these mutations actually do?

GUPTA: Yes. That's a great question. I should, just context-wise, there have been, you know, lots and lots of variants that have emerged through this pandemic but only a few have risen to the level of being a variant of concern.

What is "become a variant of concern"?

Well, they've seen certain mutations, out of the 50 or so that Omicron has, that have been associated with being able to evade antibodies. That's some of that immunity escape.

There is other mutations that may make it more transmissible. So these are signals. It's kind of like cooking in a way. You're putting a bunch of things into a dish.

Are they going to retain specific qualities or is something else entirely going to come out of all these mutations?

We don't know. In the past, Kate, they made a Delta-specific vaccine. They made a Beta-specific vaccine. They were trialing those at various times during this pandemic; didn't end up needing them because the current vaccines were still effective against those strains.

And that could happen here as well. So you know, I hate to be the person who echoes that I don't know. But I think that's the most honest answer right now. Once we get those lab studies and we see clinical data in terms of hospitalizations around the world, we'll have a much better idea.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's good to see you, Sanjay. Thank you so much.

A quick programming note, please join Sanjay and Anderson Cooper for a new CNN global town hall. Dr. Anthony Fauci will be joining them and answering your questions about the Omicron variant. "Coronavirus Facts and Fears," tomorrow night 8:00 pm Eastern, only on CNN.

Coming up for us, the lead scientist who helped discover the Omicron variant will be joining us live from South Africa to talk about what they are uncovering about this new strain.


BOLDUAN: Also ahead, how will this new variant impact President Biden's economic agenda?

We know that top economic advisers are on Capitol Hill now. I'm going to talk to the number two Democrat in the Senate about that and more. Next. (MUSIC PLAYING)



BOLDUAN: The Omicron variant poses a new threat to the U.S. economy and recovery from this nearly two-year long pandemic. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell are testifying now on Capitol Hill in a Senate hearing about this.


BOLDUAN: Powell warning a short time ago that the spike in COVID cases, the emergence of the new variant, quote, "pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation."

Joining me now for more is Democrat Dick Durbin, senator from Illinois.

Downside risk, unemployment and economic activity, increased uncertainty for inflation, that is not good news for anyone.

Could this derail the legislative agenda you're pushing so hard on and now facing some really tight deadlines?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: I don't believe so. Let's get to the bottom line, both the president and the witnesses you're quoting are being honest with the American people.

Honesty suggests we know something about this variant but not all we need to know. It will take days or perhaps weeks to understand the impact of current vaccines on this variant. It will take time to determine the spread of it and the seriousness of this virus as it moves forward.

In the meantime, we have a job to do going beyond the current variant, which I hope is one of the last, and really address what America needs to get back on its feet. We are focusing on helping working families.

Four years ago under the Trump administration, there were tax cuts for the wealthy. We're trying to cut the cost of living for working families across America.

BOLDUAN: To do that, the Build Back Better bill, you need all Democrats to get this spending bill through. And you know that, of course. Yet every time senator Joe Manchin has been asked about the bill and the debate around it, he talks about inflation.

Yesterday he added, the new variant in as a reason to pause, how he said it. Let me play what he told reporters.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Inflation is now more than transitory and on top of that you have this new strain of COVID we're very much concerned about. No one knows what is effect it is going to have. And you have inflation on top. So all these things give you cause to pause.


BOLDUAN: Cause to pause.

Do you know what that means for the Build Back Better bill now?

DURBIN: I'm not sure. We need Joe Manchin's vote to pass it. He's been engaged in negotiations for weeks on end, perhaps for months.

I said to him at least a month ago, Joe, you've made your mark on this bill. You've dramatically cut its cost. You've also made sure we pay for everything we do. It doesn't add to the deficit so it's not inflationary. You've done these things, Joe. Now close the deal.

It's time for us to do something for the American people and this will help them.

You want to put Americans back to work?

Of course they're concerned about COVID. They're also concerned about child care. We address that in this bill, as we should. So there are elements that I think will help America get back on its feet and will not be inflationary.

BOLDUAN: He does not seem convinced it's not inflationary. I've looked at all these interviews, Senator. Every time he's asked about his position on the bill, he talks about concerns over inflation.

Do you think there's more uncertainty today about this bill's future, especially hearing what Powell is saying now with the concern over the variant?

DURBIN: No, not at all. The point is here we know we have an economy that's gaining strength, getting back on its feet. We've had substantial job creation and we need more. We know that businesses are getting back on their feet. We see it in restaurants and shops and shopping across America and the holiday season.

We want to fortify that and try to say to the working families of America, this bill is on your side, whether talking about daycare or the extension of pre-K, schooling opportunities, the idea that perhaps your mother or grandmother is going to have home health care so she can stay in her home and be independent as long as she wants.

All these are family values that need to be strengthened as this economy recovers.

BOLDUAN: Again, Joe Manchin, though, not yet, at least not yet, seeming convinced. But you are, as I mentioned the deadlines earlier, you're up against a bunch of deadlines right now, as it seems to happen every December, of course.

The debt ceiling has to be dealt with by December 15th.

Is it your understanding that Senator Schumer also wants the Build Back Better bill on the Senate floor that week?

DURBIN: That's our goal. Of course we have to go through the parliamentary tangle. I won't try to explain that to your viewers other than to say it's complicated and it takes longer than you think. But the bottom line is if we're going to get this done, we need a deadline. Deadlines work.

Why do most people wait until April 15th?

Because that's the deadline.

Why do they wait until the last minute to make a dental appointment?

Because there's a deadline. They've got an appointment they've got to keep. The same is true for the Senate. When we have deadlines, we respond to them, as we should.

BOLDUAN: Senator Durbin, thank you for your time.

DURBIN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, lawyers for former president Trump are in a federal court right now, trying to keep his White House records secret.

Will congressional investigators win this battle this time?

The latest in a live report next.





BOLDUAN: Happening right now, a federal appeals court is hearing arguments on whether to block or allow the release of key Trump administration documents related to the Capitol insurrection led by Trump supporters.