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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Concerns Over New COVID Variant; English Channel Migrant Crisis; Interview with NATO Secretary General. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired November 26, 2021 - 17:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Bianca Nobilo. This is THE GLOBAL BRIEF, on a day when the world's attention is focused on one story.

Right now, we are watching country after country shut their borders over travelers from South Africa. Concerns over a new COVID variant prompting a

very quick global response.

Also happening today, not welcome. France retracts an invitation to the British home secretary for a key meeting about the English Channel migrant


And a deep dive into the Russia's next move on the geopolitical chess board. More of my conversation with the NATO secretary general, ahead.

Moderna, one of the world's top coronavirus vaccine producers, warns the newest COVID variant may pose significant risks to the shot's

effectiveness. The World Health Organization just designated omicron as a variant of concern due to its rapid spread in South Africa where it was

first discovered.

Scientists are racing to study the strain, to find out if existing vaccines work against it. Cases have been reported as far away as Israel, Belgium,

and Hong Kong. Every hour, we're seeing more countries restrict travel from South Africa, in what's been one of the most rapid COVID responses we've

seen to the pandemic so far.

And it's happening just as parts of the world have begun to more fully re- open from the pandemic. Now, omicron is throwing a wrench into this grueling recovery process.

In the past 24 hours, there have been a lot of new developments, headlines and anxiety.

CNN correspondent David McKenzie breaks down what you need to know right now.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a world fatigued by waves of COVID-19 now renewed fear. In South Africa, scientists identifying

a troubling new variant of the virus that is dominating infections here.

DR. JOE PHAAHLA, SOUTH AFRICAN HEALTH MINISTER: A variant of serious concern which is now driving this spike in numbers.

MCKENZIE: More than 30 mutation say scientists in the spike protein alone, it's a worrying sign. Scientists are working in labs like this one in South

Africa, scrambling to confirm if the variant evades immunity from previous infections or crucially, if it weakens vaccine efficacy. Definitive answers

could take weeks.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: We think it may be a more transmissible virus, and it may have some immune

escape. Now, we don't know that for sure, but that's what it looks like.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: The European Commission has today proposed to member states to activate the emergency

brake on travel from countries in southern African.

MCKENZIE: But even without clear answers, the world is shutting its doors. Countries all across the globe, rapidly banning travelers from parts of

Africa, they say to curb the spread of the variant. Now, thousands are likely stranded.

In Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, hundreds of passengers from South Africa forced to sit on the tarmac for hours after landing, then crowding in a

COVID testing site after the Netherlands bans traveled from South Africa.

The International Air Transport Association saying, "Restrictions are not a long term solution." They've already lost billions to the pandemic.

And anger in South Africa, where officials called the bans, draconian, knee jerk measures.

RICHARD LESSELLS, INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPECIALIST, UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU- NATAL: What I found so disgusting and really, really distressing, actually from here was not just the travel ban being implemented by the U.K. and

Europe. But that was the only reaction or the strongest reaction and there was no word of the support that they're going to offer to African countries

to help us control the pandemic.

MCKENZIE: Countries in Africa, now Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium have so far confirmed cases of the variant.


NOBILO: David McKenzie reporting from Johannesburg.

The United Kingdom was one of the countries fastest to ban flights from South Africa. CNN producer Nada Bashir joins me now to talk about the

impact that it will have.

Nada, as we've been saying on the show so far, this reaction has been unprecedented in its speed, because we've seen variants before. We've also

had a case that's been detected in the Belgium. How is Europe reacting?

NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Europe is reacting rapidly. That is the key here. We didn't see that response in previous waves with the alpha

variant, the delta variant. But now, they are taking this decisive rapid action, and that really is because lessons have been learned and we heard

from the health secretary of the U.K. this morning, Sajid Javid, addressing the lawmakers in the House of Commons. And he said, one of the key lessons

learned from the pandemic was taking decisive action, taking it at the earliest possible stage. There are serious concerns now.

We saw with the alpha variant and delta variant, which are both highly transmissible, that it put increased pressure on the health-care sector,

particularly in winter months.


And we saw that with the alpha variant last winter. So, as we do head into winter months now, there are concerns across Europe that health-care

sectors could be put under immense pressure and won't be able to cope with that pressure. Now with the reporting of a case in Belgium, there are

concerns that will continue to spread across Europe. So, we are seeing that decisive action. We are seeing those travel actions. The European Union

taking a collective measure to restrict travel to the southern African Region.

This comes after the U.K.'s decision to add several countries to the red list. What that means is citizens coming back from the countries will be

required to self-isolate, quarantine ten days in a government approved hotel at their own expense. So there are serious pressures being put on

people not to travel from the region and restrictions on people coming back.

But there was also a greater emphasis on countries taking measures. We just heard from Belgium introducing really tough strict measures that we haven't

seen the last few months, limiting indoor gatherings, sporting events with crowds, pubs, restaurants. These are tough measures coming in ahead of

winter months to try to bring this under control.

And we've seen Austria, Slovakia introducing lockdowns, Netherlands introducing a partial lockdown. And it could be expected that we'll see

this continue because there are new concerns over this new variant and what we don't know about it.

Now, health experts warned the sheer number and complexity of the mutations that we're seeing in this new variant do paint a worrying picture.

And currently, companies AstraZeneca and companies are working rapidly to investigate this to see if their vaccines will be effective because that's

one of the key questions here is "A," will the vaccines and effective against this new variant? Of course much of the European adult population

is now vaccinated. But the question is, will these vaccines and enough?

And also, how transmissible is the variant? As we do move into winter, that will be a key question.

NOBILO: Nada, thank you so much. Great reporting all day. So much to stay on top of, and we'll keep issuing the questions and answers to them over

the week. Thank you.

That new COVID variant spooked the global markets, too. They saw plenty of red on this Black Friday. This was the worst day for the Dow in over a year

after Wall Street returned from the Thanksgiving holiday. Investors found what consolation they could, if only because today's trading session was

shorter than usual and volumes were light. The European markets were also shaken. The major stock indices from here in London to the continent sold

off heavily and the price of oil followed the slide.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark and U.S. futures have both fallen, with U.S. crude plunging 30 percent.

The European Health Agency is warning there's a high to very high risk from that variant and that it will spread in Europe. This comes as the continent

is already coping with a spike in cases caused by the delta strain that we were just leaking about that's causing new lockdowns and restrictions.

Belgium announcing it's tightening COVID 19 restrictions immediately because of that spike in cases. The government saying the situation there

is deteriorating rapidly.

Germany's acting health minister says in his words, wakeup calls have not reached everyone in Germany, adding that the country's current COVID

situation is the most serious of the whole pandemic. And it's focusing on booster shots. It says it will make them available to all adults to ramp up


And the Spanish region of Catalonia is postponing the rollout of mandatory COVID passes for hospitality venues. That's because so many people tried to

download the certificate that the website crashed.

The diplomatic spat over France and the U.K. over migration in the English Channel is escalating and fast. France uninvited a key secretary for a

meeting over the weekend, and French President Emmanuel Macron responded harshly to the U.K. prime minister after Boris Johnson tweeted out a five-

point plan to halt migrant crossings.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): I am surprised at the methods when they are not serious. We don't communicate between one

leader to another on these issues by tweeting and writing letters and making them public. We are not whistleblowers. Come on, come on.


NOBILO: This acrimony and the battle of political egos seemed oddly incongruous from the context it's responding to, a humanitarian disaster.

Twenty-seven people died on Wednesday, attempting to make the dangerous crossing and many men, women, and children are still stranded in makeshift

camps on the French coast.

Cyril Vanier spoke with those waiting to make the deadly crossing.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPODENT (voice-over): Migrants huddling under the rate. A father and his little girl, no more than 8 years old, seeking some


This stretch of road tucked behind a highway is one of several migrant encampments dotted near France's northern coast.


Twenty-one-year-old geography student Ahmed says he arrived three days ago from Afghanistan.

So this is where you live?

His earthly possessions, this tent and a few blankets. His final destination, he hopes, the United Kingdom.

AHMED, STUDENT: By boat is the only option.

VANIER: You know some people died trying to cross the other day.

AHMED: Yes, this is normal for us. You know, Turkish border, Iran border, much more people dying there. Nobody care.

VANIER: Consider his five-month Odyssey through Asia, Turkey, the Balkans and Europe, thousands of kilometers on foot, in trucks and trains crossing

borders illegally. And it becomes clear, Ahmed won't stop now. Nor will the others here. Some 200 migrants fleeing Iraq, Iran, the world's trouble


They are sometimes offered Shelter by government agencies, but even those who go only use it as a temporary reprieve. In recent years, migrants used

to jump onto trucks bound for England with security tightened. This is now the last leg of their journey.

The English Channel, cargo ships, strong winds, and near freezing temperatures, dangerous, but so close to England, a mere 50 kilometers

away. French police do patrol these beaches. However, a local officer acknowledged to CNN that they don't have enough resources to monitor every

inch of coastline and the smugglers take advantage.

This is one of the boats that was provided by smugglers to a group of migrants. Clearly, his one was intercepted by law enforcement. They're

about 10 meters long. They can fit several dozen people. And you can see they're fairly rudimentary. I mean, this is the bottom of the boat, pretty

easy to make, just wooden planks. Local police tell us often these are buried and then when the time comes, migrants can inflate them fairly

easily. Several dozen people get in and head out to sea in that direction.

Eight thousand migrants have been rescued at sea since the beginning of the year, according to French authorities, in operations like this one.

Strewn along the beach, engines, a jerrycan, and personal belongings is easy.

There's even in the inside pocket here a ring. Now, the people all this belongs to at this stage, either they crossed the channel and they're in

England, or they failed and they're back in France, or they're dead.

Cyril Vanier, CNN, near Calais, France.


NOBILO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made his first public appearance at this border with Poland today. Many migrants wait in the cold

temperatures hoping to get into the European Union. Lukashenko warned the problems will only grow in the coming months if a resolution with the E.U.

is not reached. But he told the people who are gathered there that he would not play politics with their fate. The EU has repeatedly accused the

Belarusian president of orchestrating the situation.

Meanwhile, more than 600 Iraqi citizens who hoped to enter Poland from Belarus are back in Iraq. They were repatriated on two Iraqi evacuation

flights. I spoke with a NATO secretary general about the repatriation efforts in relations with Lukashenko. That interview in just a few minutes.

Now, let's take a look at other key stories making international impact today. Peace-keeping troops from Australia are on the ground in the Solomon

Islands after days of unrest. Anti-government protests erupted over a number of issues. Demonstrators are demanding the government respect rights

of self-determination, resume development projects and curb ties with China. Australia has a security treaty with the Solomon Islands.

Thousands of farmers gathered on the outskirts of India's capital Friday, marking one year of protest against controversial barn reforms. The

government says it will repeal the laws next week, but the farmers said they will keep protesting until they're actually gone.

The members of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO came to an agreement that lays out the benefits of AI

but also the challenges it brings, including threats to privacy and uses of unreliable technologies.

After lengthy restoration, Egypt's ancient Avenue of Sphinxes has re- opened. A ceremony Thursday unveiled the road which links two temple complexes in Luxor. It dates back more than 3,000 years, but it wasn't

rediscovered in modern times until 1949.

You're watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF.


We'll be right back after this.


NOBILO: A startling accusation by Ukraine's president is adding to concerns about Russian aggression in the region. Volodymyr Zelensky says his

government uncovered a planned attempted coup. He says a group of Ukrainians and Russians are plotting to overthrow him next week. The

Kremlin denies any involvement, saying, quote, in general, Russia is never engaged in that kind of thing.

President Zelensky told reporters that he has audio recordings to back up these claims.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There are great challenges in our state, which are already being recorded by the

intelligence services of other countries. I will tell you frankly, I live in this process. For example, we received information that on the 1st,

there will be a coup in our country. I think this is an important information on the 1st or 2nd of December.


NOBILO: Earlier, I spoke to NATO's secretary general, who didn't want to speculate on the coup allegations, but he did say Russia's military buildup

near the Ukraine boarder is concerning, warning Russia there will be consequences if there is use of force. We brought you the first half of

that interview with Jens Stoltenberg a few hours ago, in "HALA GORANI TONIGHT".

Now here's part two, where we focus on Russian aggression across the region.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECURITY GENERAL: What we see is that Russia tries to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence, that they want -- that

they're trying to control neighbors. They have used military force against Georgia. They have Russian troops in Moldova, without the consent of the

government of Moldova and they have used military force against Ukraine.

And yes, I believe this is about that Russia really wants to try to control neighbors. I myself, is coming from a small country neighboring Russia,


And, of course, I'm very glad NATO stated very clearly that they will not accept anything like what we are seeing against Georgia and Ukraine

conducted against a neighbor country like Norway. Norway's a NATO member. Poland, the Baltic countries are bordering Russia, neighbor members, and we

have to make sure they don't suffer anything on the same kind of aggressive actions as other countries have suffered who are neighboring Russia.

NOBILO: And what is your response to Russia deeming NATO activity in the Black Sea, NATO activity in Eastern Europe, and U.S. considering sending

military advisers and weapons to Ukraine? When Russia says they see that as a provocation and a crossing of a red line, what's your response to that?

STOLTENBERG: It is absolutely wrong what Russia says because we speak about several independent nations that are working together. That there are NATO

troops in NATO allied countries in the Baltic region and eastern alliance.


That's not provocation. It's defensive, and it's something actually we do as a dire consequence of the aggressive actions by Russia against Ukraine

in 2014. There were no NATO battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance before 2014.

Second, our presence, for instance, in the Black Sea -- well, three of literal states to the Black Sea are NATO allied countries with a long coast

line, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. And, of course, there are NATO ships in the Black Sea. Freedom of navigation fundamentally important for all of the

NATO allies.

And then we are also two close NATO partners, Georgia and Ukraine. We work with the Coast Guard of Georgia. We have NATO trainers in the naval academy

in Odessa in Ukraine. We support them. They are independent sovereign nations.

And, of course, when they ask for support and we are able to provide support, that's not a provocation. It's about supporting the sovereignty of

the independent nations in the Black Sea region.

NOBILO: And we've seen this so-called hybrid warfare on the border between Poland and Belarus in recent weeks. What do you think Alexander Lukashenko

was trying to achieve?

STOLTENBERG: I think he tries to put pressure on neighbors and in a way also to retaliate because there are sanctions on him, because he has used

force against democratic opposition. He lost elections but he manipulated the elections and then he remains in power. And this oppressive behavior by

him has triggered sanctions from NATO countries.

What is absolutely unacceptable is that he is now using vulnerable people to put pressure on neighbors. He used people as pawns in a political game,

and therefore we condemn that strongly. We stand in solidarity with our NATO allies, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

I will go to Lithuania, Latvia, together with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Sunday to express my solidarity and

demonstrate that Europe and North America, E.U. and NATO stand together. And then we provide some support, and also we are in contact with partner

nations to ensure that they're not transit nations to transit a lot of people into Ukraine. And we also provide practical support at least to some

of these countries to help them deal with a difficult situation on the border.

NOBILO: Now, you've said, of course, that Germany is a key member of NATO and Angela Merkel leaves an indelible mark on the EU and on NATO. How do

you think the leadership of Olaf Scholz is going to change things for you and for NATO?

STOLTENBERG: I think for NATO, I think that he will maintain the strong support from Germany to NATO. That Germany will continue to be a committed

NATO ally.

I know Olaf Scholz well. We worked together many years, and he is a strong supporter of the transatlantic bond of North America and Europe.

And in the government platform, they have agreed, there's also clear messages that they will stand by their commitments to NATO. They will make

sure they are investing in modern capabilities for the Bundeswehr, or the German armed forces, and also welcome the fact that Germany has declared

that they will continue to be part of what we call the NATO neutral- sharing, which is the way we work together in NATO to make sure that we have a nuclear deterrent as a backbone of our deterrence against any attack

from any adversaries.

So, I am absolutely confident that Germany will continue to be a staunch and reliable ally.


NOBILO: NATO's Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg speaking to me there.

We'll be right back after this.



NOBILO: It's that time of the week again, your global good news wrap, and boy, do we all need it today. We start on the climate crisis, an issue that

often lacks good news, but coal smoke stopped rising over Portugal. The country has gone coal free, closing its last coal plant nine years ahead of

its 2030 goal. It's the fourth country in Europe to do so.

Meanwhile, the Siberian tiger could be clawing back its territory. Paw prints from the mysterious beast have been spotted in Russia's largest

province for the first time in 50 years. It's a positive sign the big cats may be bouncing back after being pushed to the brink of the extinction.

And finally, some couples love a good compatibility star sign test, but is your connection with your pet also written in the stars? One animal

sanctuary in Los Angeles is showing its furry residents astrological signs in the hopes that they can find them the perfect human match. And it seems

to be working. Foster applications have increased by 20 percent since they began their mystic endeavor.

Well, I'm a Taurus, and my cat is a Leo. So, I guess that means we're a perfect match and must finish each other's sentence. Meow. Or in order

words, good night.