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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Omicron Rapidly Spreads In UK; Israel PM's Historic UAE Trip; Taxi Driver: Putin's Former Job. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired December 13, 2021 - 17:00   ET



NICK WATT, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. This is THE GLOBAL BRIEF from Los Angeles. I am Nick Watt, in for Bianca Nobilo.

Tonight, Omicron will become the dominant variant in London within the next 48 hours. That warning from the UK health secretary as England ramps up its

booster program.

Then, an historic trip. The Israeli prime minister visits the United Arab Emirates for the first time since the normalization agreement. We'll

explain the significance ahead.

And, are you talking to me? That was terrible. But taxi driver Russian style, a new left field Putin trivia nugget later in the show.

A tidal wave of Omicron is coming. The worrisome warning from Britain's prime minster as cases of the COVID variant multiply across the UK. Today,

tens of thousands of Brits lined up for COVID boosters, and confirmation of the country's first Omicron death.

Britain's health secretary says their health pass will soon require a booster shot in addition to two vaccine doses. Omicron, he says, is fast

replacing the Delta variant as the country's greatest COVID threat.


SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: While Omicron represents over 20 percent of cases in England, we've already seen it rise to over 44 percent

in London. And we expect it to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours.


WATT: And across the channel, France is struggling to accommodate COVID patients in packed ICUs as it battles a fifth wave. While a top executive

warns Omicron threatens to trigger a sixth wave in January, and mainland China has reported its first case of Omicron identified in at least one

traveler who arrived from overseas. China is already battling a COVID outbreak in a major port city south of Shanghai.

Unclear if it's Omicron, but South Africa's president is now self-isolating after catching COVID-19. Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive Sunday after

coming down with mild symptoms.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Johannesburg for us.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nick, the president's office here saying that he has a mild case of COVID-19. He felt ill over the weekend

and is isolating, temporarily handing over his duty to the deputy president here in South Africa.

But Cyril Ramaphosa took this opportunity to remind people of what is most important right now. He said that vaccines dramatically reduce the chance

of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Let's protect ourselves. It's free, easy, and it works.

Now, Ramaphosa had a dose of Johnson & Johnson many months ago. He was due, in fact, to have his booster shot this week. That, of course, now will be

delayed. There is a sense right now, a deep breath everyone's taking to see, well, how bad will this Omicron dominated wave in fact be?

There's been extremely rapid rises of cases both anecdotally and in the stats, but at this stage -- and I stress, only at this stage, there hasn't

been a rise of hospitalizations and death to the same degree that we saw in previous waves, say, ambulance workers, health specialists, doctors that

I've spoken to here in South Africa and throughout the region.

Now, it's important to stress that over the next few days and weeks, that could change, so we have to watch this carefully, but there is a sense that

an underlying immunity amongst a population because a previous infection and possibly those vaccines actually working to stop severe disease is

having an impact, and what happens here over the next few weeks and into the new year could be a clear signal what could happen in the rest of the

world -- Nick.


WATT: Now, Oxford researchers are reporting that two doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines lose much of their protection against Omicron

within a few months.

Joining me now from England is Northumbria University virologist, Sterghios Moschos.

So, Doctor, the Britain government seems to be putting all their eggs in the booster basket here. Is that a good strategy?

STERGHIOS MOSCHOS, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY VIROLOGIST: It's half the strategy. We have been calling for vaccination and the sustained use of

non-pharmaceutical interventions -- the social distancing, the masking, the ventilation, and hand face space mantra, in parallel to vaccination all



Just the vaccine alone is not adequate, because if we have transmission, especially amongst communities and individuals who refuse to be vaccinated,

then these individuals are going to flood the NHS -- health-care providers worldwide, really. So vaccination is only part of that equation we need


WATT: Right, and listen, the British government as we have been reporting is slightly compromised right now on this topic because of their parties

last year. So taking that into account and also the guidance that they're giving out, is it clear enough? I mean, do people in Britain know what they

should be doing and will they do it?

MOSCHOS: I think the situation of the government is a little bit difficult right now, because they need to be going out, giving messages about things

that are achievable, measurable, quantifiable, and -- we've got an SMART acronym we use about targets we should set for yourself ourselves, and yet

the British government again and again and again, since these magnanimous announcements of we will have, you know, track and trace system, the best

this, the best that, the best the other, only to just within 24, 48 hours scaled back a bit their ambitions. That's exactly what they've done this

time around.

So frankly, the messaging need be extremely clear, and w to emphasize the importance to people that they immediate to "A," get vaccinated, and "B,"

understand that for at least two week after they have been boosted, not just vaccinated, they're not going to be fully protected. And in that

period, they should really stay home, minimize any kind of contact outside their immediate family and household circle, and basically do this best

they can not to expose themselves to this galloping variant of the virus.

WATT: Right, so listen, you're mentioning there this buffer period between getting the booster and the booster really taking effect. So, frankly,

people are running out of time to get that booster for it to kick in before Christmas, right?

MOSCHOS: Yes, pretty much that's it. So, if you've got to go ahead with having a Christmas get together, I hope not a Christmas party, many people

don't learn from their mistakes from last year, but it's about time they did.

But at the end of the day, if you decide to go ahead and have a Christmas get together, hopefully, this will be with individuals who have been

boosted, especially if they're elderly, and in the days before you travel to get to the setting, it would be wise to take on a daily basis a lateral

flow test as a minimum and minimize your contact with other people.

Because the last thing you want to do is bring this virus to the people you love and watch them fall ill and goodness knows what afterwards, hopefully

nothing more serious. But on that note I need to emphasize the first data from Denmark are actually very sobering because we are seeing that the rate

of hospitalization with Omicron in Denmark at least seems to be equal if not worse than Delta. If they prove to be worse, we're in for a very rough

ride in January.

WATT: I mean, we were just hearing from David down in Johannesburg. I mean, what does what's happening in South Africa tell us about what we can

expect in the next few months? I just -- it just came in, the positivity rate there is again creeping up now, 31 percent. But what do the stats and

realities down there tell us about what we have in store in Britain and elsewhere?

MOSCHOS: I think a lot needs to be put into context. South Africa is a nation that is not very well-vaccinated. It's also a nation with extreme

poverty, which means there will be extremes of malnutrition. There's a very high incidence of diseases like malaria and HIV, which affect your immune

system and therefore, your capacity to respond to the virus. And there's also the genetic predisposition to worse outcomes amongst the Africans.

That being said, that doesn't mean that the virus coming here won't find fertile ground amongst genetically diverse populations. So, we may find

ourselves being hammered by this virus simply because, yes, it's grown and adapted to the population in South Africa, but it's still able to run right

through the white population in Western Europe and the rest of the world, the Western momentum sphere, and China as you announced earlier.

So, we really can't be playing Russian roulette with a virus with ourselves or those we love, especially those we love through the next few weeks. Yes,

there are some indications that the disease might be mild, but the question people need to be asking themselves is, are these individuals that have the

financial capacity to go and seek health support and they're not going to a witch doctor in Africa? To what extent are we getting an accurate reporting

of what's happening?

Because among the population where extreme poverty exists, there is very little health care as well.


WATT: Sterghios Moschos, thank you so much for your time.

MOSCHOS: You're very welcome.

WATT: Now, Australia is reporting its first hospitalized Omicron case. The country has so far recorded 64 total cases of the variant, but this latest

cause for COVID concern hasn't stymied re-opening plans. The state of Queensland welcoming back domestic vaccinated travelers on Monday after it

reached its 80 percent fully vaccinated goal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We haven't been on a plane for 18 months. So, it's -- yeah, but just come back it's going to be exciting walking on the beach.


WATT: The state has been locked off from the rest of the country for the past five months after the Delta variant sent much of Australia into

lockdown. Anyone wishing to cross the border required an exemption and 14 days of hotel quarantine.

Australian citizens abroad are also now able to enter Queensland again, but must still quarantine, meaning that anyone who touches down today would be

alone for Christmas in a hotel room.

Also happening on Monday, the Australian prime minster welcomed South Korea's president and announced a quarantine-free travel corridor for the

fully vaccinated from South Korea and Japan.

Now to an historic handshake unimaginable just a few years ago. For the first time ever, the leader of Israel and the United Arab Emirates met in

public Monday. Naftali Bennett visited Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at his private palace 15 months after their countries

normalized relations.

A joint statement indicates they focused on strengthening economic ties and trade. But no mention of Israel's number one concern, Iran. That had to be

a major point of discussion.

Mr. Bennett says his visit reflects a new reality for the Middle East. We'll here from CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem in just a moment. But first,

here's Sam Kiley in Abu Dhabi.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no question that for Naftali Bennett, this has been a diplomatic triumph. A four-hour

session between the Israeli prime minister and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. A lot of talk of deepening the relationship, but no mention though

of Iran, and that really is the elephant in the room. The Emiratis have been enjoying something of a rapprochement with Tehran. The believe that

the heavy sanctions that had been imposed by the United States and indeed of threats of military action coming out of Israel to try to prevent Iran

from developing a nuclear weapon are a necessary and unhelpful, and their view is that Tehran needs to be engaged with.

This is a change of policy, but one the Emiratis have been sticking to, particularly noting that Naftali Bennett, when he came out of his meeting

with crown prince talked about how long the meeting was, but how straight forward it was. And that's a clear straight signal that although they may

have been in broad agreement about the need of stability in Iran, they certainly do not agree about the approach next. But there's a lot more

significant to this visit, as we'll hear from Hadas Gold in Jerusalem.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, I want to illustrate just how significant of a change this is. Just a couple years ago, Israelis weren't

allowed to enter the UAE. Today, the Israeli prime minster was welcomed to the private palace of the crown prince with handshakes and smiles.

Here's what Naftali Bennett had to say before returning to Israel today.

NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Throughout the day, we had meaningful, in-depth, and straight forward talks about our two nations,

about the region, and about our economy and technology and what we can do together. I'm flying back to Israel very optimistic that that relationship

can set an example of how we can make peace here in the Middle East.

GOLD: And in a joint statement after the meeting the two leaders said this meeting was part of a tremendous partnership and announced they are

accomplishing a joint research and development fund.

As Sam noted, Iran wasn't mentioned explicitly, but Israeli media reported that Bennett planned to present to the crown prince Israeli intelligence on

alleged Iranian activities that affect the Emiratis. For Israel, though, this engagement between the two leaders, this visit so critical on what

they see as a vital strategic relationship in the region, especially in the face of Iran.

And they are clearly trying to go to the next step of this relationship. The prime minster, Naftali Bennett, has invited to crown prince to visit

Israel, and he accepted the invitation.


WATT: Now, let's take a look at the other key stories making an international impact today.

Russia is now threatening to deploy intermediate long range missiles in Europe. The country's deputy foreign minister claims NATO is planning to do

just that and Moscow will have to respond.


The EU meanwhile says it's considering new sanctions against Moscow now that Russian forces are building up near the country's borders with


Denmark's former immigration minister Inger Stojberg has been handed a 60- day prison sentence for illegally ordering the separation of underage couples seeking asylum. Stojberg has denied giving an illegal order, saying

the goal was to protect underage girls and stop child marriages.

Two people are still missing a suspected gas explosion in Sicily. The blast demolished four houses in Ravanusa, killing at least seven people according

to the fire brigade. Rescuers are continuing to work and have pulled four bodies out of the rubble today.

Condolences and prayers from the pope for victims of the deadly tornado outbreak in the United States. Devastation to parts of the American

heartland total and vast. Officials still struggling to quantify exactly how much has been lost.

On Friday night into Saturday, at least 50 tornadoes ripped through eight states, flattening homes, businesses and entire communities. More than 100

people are feared dead in Kentucky. The hardest hit state, at least 74 confirmed killed so far. Officials expect that number to grow. And now,

survivors are struggling to secure food, water, and shelter.

Brian Todd is in Mayfield, Kentucky, where the damaged buildings themselves are posing more danger to people -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Nick. It's still very much a dynamic search and rescue operation in much of downtown Mayfield and a

salvage operation. But you mentioned the danger of people having to come back to homes and businesses to try to sift through that and find some

valuables or anything.

Look at this operation right here. This is a huge shovel, just picking through huge mound of debris, heavy machinery trying to get through heavy

material to try to find, you know, valuables and possibly in some of these cases, they're using this kind of machinery to move piles of rubble to try

to find people in the debris here.

So, you get a sense of how dangerous it is. If you try to come up here and walk up here on something like this, walk through an area like this to try

to recover something from a home or business, look at this -- you've got shards of glass, sharp objects, all over the place here. Over here is

another example.

Look at this building that completely collapsed despite the fact that it was made out of brick, and another dynamic playing out is they are letting

traffic in here, but the traffic is still very heavy. Trying to get back to homes and businesses to salvage things, but the traffic is also providing

some complications because we talk to two guys that were working to restore Internet poles and, they said the traffic is inhibiting their work.

So in the course of people trying to get back to their homes and businesses to recover something, you've also got these salvage operations, Nick, that

are really complicating things for rescuers and others responding to this.

WATT: Thanks for that report, Brian.

Coming up, claims of COVID lockdown parties. It may have been a virtual quiz, but the fallout from the British prime minster is very, very real.

His government facing more allegations of rule-breaking last year.



WATT: A tidal wave of infections is coming, says the British PM as he faces a tsunami of scandal.

Let's return to our top story. Urgent efforts are under way to contain the rampant omicron variant in the UK while Boris Johnson's leadership,

analysts say, is in its deepest crisis yet. Why? Well, multiple allegations of fun filled Christmas parties at Downing Street last year while the rest

of the nation suffered under new restrictions.

A new photo has emerged showing Mr. Johnson hosting a virtual quiz alongside Downing Street staff. He's denied breaking rule and is being

defended by the British health secretary who says it's up to official investigations to determine what happened.

Nina Dos Santos is in London with the latest reaction from Westminster -- Nina.


Well, the party isn't quite over for Boris Johnson just yet, but halfway through his term in office, it might be time to do some cleaning up of a

few issues. While he is facing the situation where he has to explain himself and whether or not his staff broke COVID rules this time last year,

whilst at the same time asking member of his own parliament to try to vote for rules to beef up COVID restrictions once more as the Omicron variant

gets more and more of a foothold on these shores.

This is a desperate situation for a PM to try to get a public health vote through tomorrow but to do that, we'll have to rely on some of his

political rivals. And that is a huge change of fortune for somebody who up until recently was considered the Conservative Party's biggest vote winner

since the heydays of Margaret Thatcher in the 80's.


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): UK's prime minister once riding high among conservatives, now the target of outrage from all sides. Behind the recent

outcry? Festive gatherings and this Christmas quiz hosted by Boris Johnson inside Downing Street which may have broken COVID rules limiting

socializing last year.

Downing Street says the prime minister and others attended virtually.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I am certainly breaking no rules. The whole thing will be looked into by the cabinet secretary.

DOS SANTOS: First, the government denied parties ever happened. Until an aide was caught joking about the restrictions on camera in this leaked

footage. Now, three events are being investigated.

ALLEGRA STRATTON, FORMER DOWNING STREET OFFICIAL: It was a business meeting. This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting. And

it was not socially distanced.

DOS SANTOS: Aside from the question of parties, there were bigger issues at play. Johnson's government has been marked by allegations of sleaze, of

improper lobbying and of how an upgrade to the prime minister's official apartment was financed, which Johnson says he paid for.

Trusted lawmakers and advisers have resigned, risking once safe conservative seats, and the polls have now flipped. The opposition is

sensing an opportunity.

SIR KEIR STARMER, U.K. OPPOSITION LEADER: Of course, there's a question what the conditions should be, but there's also this basic question of

trust. And that is broken with the prime minister and that's why he is unfit for office.

JOHNSON: No one should be in any doubt there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.

DOS SANTOS: Cues the boosters and with the threat of Omicron, Johnson is back to enacting tougher measures once more, harder to sell now to a weary

public, and growing frustrations in parliament where a vote to rebel against the new moves could happen this week.

With Westminster about to break for the holidays, the PM's tenure isn't quite at breaking point just yet. But it has lost some of its spark.


DOS SANTOS (on camera): Well, Johnson has spent much of the day alongside his health secretary talking about the Omicron variant and urging people

not to consider this as being mild.

What the government has tried to do over the last two days is accelerate a booster program offer all eligible adults in the UK another shot of a

COVID-19 vaccination before the end of the month. That means, Nick, we're talking about targets potentially vaccinating up to 1 million people every

single day. There's big question marks here in Westminster, whether that is something that can be achieved, but with Omicron now doubling in term of

infections every two to three days.


That's much faster than the delta variant, and obviously, authorities are worried, despite the Downing Street distractions -- Nick.

WATT: Thanks, Nina.

You are watching THE GLOBAL BRIEF. We'll be back right after this.


WATT: You've seen him riding a horse shirtless. You've seen him fishing shirtless. You've seen him hang gliding with a shirt on. But have you ever

seen the Russian President Vladimir Putin driving a taxi? Probably not, but it has happened.

Mr. Putin recently revealed that he drove a taxi to make ends meet after the fall of the USSR, while calling that collapse a tragedy for most

citizens. The comments are reported by Russian state media, excerpts from an upcoming film on the country's history.

Putin spoke about the experience saying he earned extra money as a private driver, but it's unpleasant for him to talk about.

In 1991, the Soviet Union was hit by an economic crisis and disintegrated, pushing Russia to become an independent nation. Putin, of course, went on

to rule that country and continues to do so.

That was THE GLOBAL BRIEF. I'm Nick Watt in Los Angeles.

"WORLD SPORT" is up next.

Thank you very much for watching.