Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Poland Under Strain As 2 Million Ukrainian Refugees Cross Border; Europe Seeing Surge In Cases As New Variant Emerges; CNN Investigates Mariupol Maternity Hospital Strike. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 11:30   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: At this hour, the Ukrainian government says there are nine humanitarian corridors that are set up to be open today helping to evacuate trap Ukrainians from some of the hardest-hit cities. More than half of the 3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine have gone to Poland, which is struggling now to keep up with a sudden influx of people needing food, shelter, and help rebuilding their lives. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Poland with the latest.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): It's been a long road. Liberty may lie ahead but at least safety has been reached for now. Ukrainian children and their mothers who've made it just across the border to Poland, their first night of peace spent in a school gym, so much of what is here provided by volunteers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the beginning, the aid flowed spontaneously from many different sources but I must admit these were not from the government. I do not hide that we are disappointed here because this volunteering has accelerated. We are starting to fade here.

BELL: But still, more refugees arrive at the border town of Przemysl, about a thousand per train, and several trains a day carrying what little they can of their former lives, pinning their hopes of survival on the kindness of strangers. Mainly women and children who've left their fighting-aged men behind.

ALESSANDRA OVSIIENKO, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: It's difficult. And really, I don't know what I feel because I had a little baby. I love my family. I help. I had plans, and now I don't have plans.

BELL: Of the more than 3 million who fled Ukraine, about 2 million have come to Poland, a figure that means that the country's population has risen by 5 percent.

WOJCIECH BAKUN, MAYOR OF PRZEMYSL, POLAND: We react very quick but we can do this for three, four weeks, not for a long time, so we just wait for reaction, our government as well as E.U. countries.

BELL: In Brussels, the commissioner in charge gave a tour on Thursday of the Emergency Response Coordination Center from where the European Union is organizing its largest emergency response to date.

JANEZ LENARCIC, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR CRISIS MANAGEMENT: So we now have 1 million refugees per week. So if this goes on -- if this goes on 10 more weeks, yes, we could reach the figure of 15 million people.

BELL: European transport ministers meeting last weekend in the Polish city of Krakow to try and figure out the problem of bottlenecks caused by the sheer number of people arriving at places like Przemysl station seeking peace, and for now, just safety.


GOLODRYGA: Melissa Bell joins us now. Melissa, it was just stunning to hear that official say that we could see that number rise to 15 million refugees in the near term.

BELL: That the figure is eye-watering and, of course, it gives you an idea of the logistical nightmare that the European Union is going to be facing over the course of the next few weeks of its fears for that flood of refugees needing urgent shelter, water, food, homes over the near term, of course, the hardest-hit here in Poland. And we've had another important reminder that an important piece of news that we've just had confirmed, Bianna, and that is that Poland is going to be officially asking NATO at the next NATO meeting for a peacekeeping mission to be sent to Ukraine.


BELL: Now, that is significant because it would be the first time that NATO boots were out on the ground in Ukraine, they would be peacekeeping. But nonetheless, it would be a significant development on the part of NATO. The other NATO ministers would have to agree to it, but it is a reminder of Poland's proximity to all this, especially given events of the last 24 hours and those strikes on Lviv, not terribly far from where I'm standing here at the border. As the Polish Prime Minister said at a press conference this morning, Bianna, the bombs are now falling on our doorstep.

GOLODRYGA: A significant development. And just to confirm with you, Melissa, is that, Poland asking for U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in Poland itself or in Ukraine?

BELL: It would -- it would be asking for a peacekeeping mission to be sent to Ukraine. So if other NATO ministers decided on that, we would be talking about a peacekeeping mission, a NATO peacekeeping mission just across the border in Ukrainian territory. Of course, that would be a massive step for NATO to take, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, a massive game-changer in this war to have U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in Poland itself. Melissa Bell, thank you so much. And still, ahead, the concern is growing that a new wave of COVID cases may soon hit the U.S. What health officials are watching right now that has some sounding the alarm? That's coming up.



GOLODRYGA: Well, the last thing any of us want to think about and talk about now is another wave of Coronavirus, but health experts warn that that could be coming.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would not be surprised if that in the next few weeks, given the fact that we've begun to open up and we have an increase in the BA.2 variant that we'll be seeing an increase in cases. Hopefully, that's not associated with an increase in hospitalization and severe disease.


GOLODRYGA: And that warning comes as cases in Western Europe are surging. The U.K. and the Netherlands seeing cases jumped nearly 50 percent since last week. And in Germany, new cases hit a record seven- day high, more than 1700. These numbers are leading many to worry that it's only a matter of time before the same happens here in the U.S. Here to talk about all of this a CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Always great to have you on, Dr. Reiner. So you heard Dr. Fauci say that given what he's seeing in Europe and Asia that we'll be seeing an increase in cases in the U.S. imminently. What should people be prepared for?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We should be prepared for another surge. So throughout this pandemic, we have followed the United Kingdom and Western Europe by about three weeks, so what happens there typically happens here. And as you've said, right now in the United Kingdom over the last two weeks, they've seen an increase of about 60 percent in cases.

In Germany over the last two weeks, they've seen an increase in daily cases of about 26 percent and what they're seeing is not a sort of resurgence of the original BA.1 Omicron variant, what they're seeing is a second peak now of BA.2, the more transmissible variant and that is now slowly starting to rise in the United States. And I expect that we will see pretty definitive evidence of an increase in cases in the United States, probably by the end of this month.

GOLODRYGA: So, what more can you tell us about the BA.2 variant? How serious is it? If it's more transmissible, that's one thing, but is it effective against vaccines?

REINER: Right. So we know that as you said, this variant is remarkably transmissible. BA.1 was about the most transmissible virus that anyone has ever seen and this is about 30 percent more transmissible than BA.1. The good news is that it does not appear to evade vaccines more than BA.1 and does not appear to result in more severe disease. But it's an issue that relates to the denominator. If more people are getting infected, more people are going to get

sick, more people will be hospitalized, and more people will die. Still today, we have about 1200 deaths per day in the United States, and in about a month, we'll reach that horrible milestone of a million Americans dead. So right now if you've not been boosted, now's the time to get boosted.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, just an unbelievable figure just to hear that come out of your mouth, a million Americans dead in two years. You've been warning that mask mandates were lifted too soon. How does that factor into any of these new variants and a new rise in cases?

REINER: We've been in a low and no one's welcome -- the low you know more than me. But if you look at what's happened in Europe, we know that this pandemic is not yet going away. And when you start to peel away mitigation efforts, it becomes a sort of successively harder to reinstitute them when you need them. You know, there's been a group that has basically branded themselves as the urgency of normal, you know if they felt an urgency to return to normal.


REINER: Well, we're at a time where 1200 people are still dying every day and I feel the urgency to keep people from dying.


Reiner: And until you know, Americans aren't dying in these massive numbers, we need to you know continue to do everything we can to prevent the real catastrophe that this virus has inflicted on this country. And we are going to need, in many places in this country, to resort to these efforts in the next few weeks. And how are Americans going to respond when CDC or local authorities say, you know, you should put your masks back on? It's going to be hard to get people to do that.

GOLODRYGA: I know. But --

REINER: You know, when you're running a race, we -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, I was just going to say I hear what you're saying, but I guess the argument for lifting the mandates was that a good-faith measure for Americans so they would know that this wasn't just an endless mandate right in perpetuity, but one that would only be enforced when necessary. Don't we need that kind of flexibility when dealing with something that's likely to be an endemic virus?

REINER: The problem is we removed mask mandates at a time when there were about 75,000 cases of this virus per day in the United States. You know, the last time we ratcheted back mask mandates last June, there were about 7000 cases per day. So we pulled some of our mitigation when the virus was still very active. Now, we've been fortunate that cases have continued to drop you know fairly rapidly in this country, but there's a clear sign that this virus is coming back. One marker is to look at wastewater in the United States. And about a third of the wastewater sites now we're starting to see an increase in a viral activity.


REINER: And that's a -- that will predict this virus coming back so we will need to reach to mitigation measures.


REINER: I'm not sure the sort of the month without masks has been worth it.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the wastewater metric has really been an effective one. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much.

REINER: My pleasure.

GOLODRYGA: And coming up, CNN takes an in-depth look at one of Russia's most brutal attacks so far in this war and debunks the Russian claims that its bombing of a maternity hospital was legitimate. We'll have the new investigation for you up next.



GOLODRYGA: This morning, CNN is learning more about the bombing of that maternity hospital in Mariupol. CNN's Katie Polglase takes a look at the attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking a foreign language.

KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE RESEARCHER (voiceover): Kharkiv is hummed (PH), Melitopol, now, Mariupol.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaking a foreign language.

POLGLASE: Despite being an apparent war crime, medical facilities have been repeatedly hit by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine and with each hit, a new justification. For Mariupol, Russia set the stage days before the attack happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The armed forces of Ukraine have set up a five- position there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Expelled the staff and patients from the maternity hospital and equipped combat positions in it.

POLGLASE: CNN has found zero evidence such military positions were present in Mariupol's maternity and Children's Hospital on the afternoon of March 9, and it was civilians that emerged from the buildings, pregnant women injured and distressed. City officials say 17 people including children, women, and doctors were injured. Since then, at least five people have died.

CNN built a model that revealed many signs that civilians were still using this hospital and therefore it was not a justifiable military target. This satellite image taken just hours before the attack shows cars parked outside. This is the crater left behind. War crime investigators, Truth Hounds, told CNN it is consistent with a 500- kilogram high explosive bomb dropped from an aircraft.

Just meters away, this sign reads children's diagnostic consultancy unit. According to the hospital website, it housed children with immune diseases among other illnesses. Over here is where people began emerging after the strike. Women heavily pregnant have been carried with arms draped over the shoulders of others, helping them get out of the chaos.

And here, Firemen can be seen running inside assisting people to escape. The internal devastation is significant. The voice you're hearing is of one of the survivors speaking to the Associated Press who gave birth shortly after.


POLGLASE: Another, seeing here being stretchered out, later died alongside her newborn baby. These women's stories have epitomized the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. And yet even their suffering has been questioned with Russian officials claiming on Twitter and the news programs that they must be actors.

ALEXANDER VASILIEVICH SHULGIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO NETHERLANDS: This is only one woman rushing down the stairwell. Here, she changed clothes and she's been brought on this stretcher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you're showing this to me but if you have any real evidence that it's not -- as been staged --

SHULGIN: Yes, this is real evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you show it to me? I'm just a journalist in the Middle East, why don't you show it In the United Nations?

SHULGIN: No, but --

POLGLASE: While Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov returned to the original line, this attack was justified.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This maternity hospital had already been seized by the Azov Battalion and other radicals. All the pregnant women, all the nurses, all the service personnel were already expelled from there. POLGLASE: As these attacks on hospitals, clinics, even ambulances continue, CNN is tracking each one. In total, we have verified 14 incidents across Ukraine. The World Health Organization has now confirmed 44. And with each hit, the ability of people in Ukraine to get medical help during this conflict is made more and more difficult. Katie Polglase, CNN, London.


GOLODRYGA: A really important report there. That is it for us. Thank you so much for watching. INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts right after the break.