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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Biden Announces Plan Against Omicron as Variant Dominates New Cases; First Death Due to Omicron Variant Reported in U.S.; Fauci: Fox News Should Fire Host for "Kill Shot" Comment; Boeing, Airbus Warns 5G Networks Pose Serious Safety Risk for Pilots; U.N. Afghanistan on the Brink of a "Humanitarian Catastrophe". Aired 4-5p ET
Aired December 21, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: It's Jim Sciutto.
Today, two years in and we're still talking about testing.
THE LEAD starts right now.
COVID tests now sent to your door. The military deployed to help at hospitals and medical supplies stockpiled. President Biden moments ago laying out his plan to fight omicron.
Friendly fire. Former President Trump booed by an audience full of his supporters. What he said to spark that reaction.
Plus, slow your roll out. Airplane-makers raising a major red flag about how new high-speed cell phone technology could interfere with your next flight.
And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news in our health lead. President Joe Biden just moments ago rolled out a new battle plan against COVID and a warning as omicron becomes the dominant variant in the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned. You are at a high risk of getting sick. And if you get sick, you're likely to spread it to others, including friends and family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Biden says that he is making 500 million, half a billion, rapid tests free and available by request by you and me. He's deploying 1,000 more members of the military to help at overburdened hospitals. Biden is also adding some 20,000 testing locations nationwide, as well as -- and this is important -- 10,000 new vaccine pop-up clinics staffed with help to speed up appointments, all this to slow two concerning trends. First, the skyrocketing number of COVID infections up 16 percent in
one week and, second, severe cases in hospitals. Often, most often among the unvaccinated, up 35 percent in the last month.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny starts us off at the White House with the president's message to Americans.
BIDEN: Let me give it to you straight again. Omicron is serious, potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden issuing a stark new warning, four days before Christmas, as the administration braces for a staggering surge in COVID cases.
BIDEN: Let me say again and again and again, please get vaccinated.
ZELENY: The president drawing a sharp line between the vaccinated and boosted and the unvaccinated, making yet another plea for Americans to take seriously the omicron variant that suddenly a majority of new U.S. cases.
BIDEN: I know you're tired. I really mean this. I know you're frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we're still in it. And this is a critical moment.
ZELENY: The president's plan today calls for addressing a significant deficit in testing, with 500 million rapid COVID tests to be sent to the homes of Americans who request them, preparing 1,000 military service members to deploy to overburdened hospitals. New federal testing sites starting in New York City.
On the testing front, it's an about-face for the White House, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissive of sending tests to people's homes just two weeks ago.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Should we just send one to every American?
PSAKI: When what happens if you -- if every American has one test? How much does that cost and what happens after that?
ZELENY: Today, when we asked Psaki about that moment, she said this.
PSAKI: Should I have included that additional context again in that answer? Yes, going back, I wish I would have done that.
ZELENY: The at-home testing initiative won't roll out until January, leaving the president to defend the timing today.
BIDEN: It's not -- but the alarm bell went off. I don't think anybody anticipated this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did. ZELENY: The White House also revealing a staffer who spent 30 minutes
with the president on Air Force One tested positive for coronavirus. The president tested negative on Monday and will test again on Wednesday.
PSAKI: I spent several hours with him this morning. And he is feeling great.
ZELENY (on camera): And the president also striking a defensive note on the gaps in testing. That's been one of the central challenges for this administration. It's certainly coming into sharp view now.
But, Jim, he also turned to an unlikely person to make the case for vaccinations and boosters -- his predecessor, former President Donald Trump who acknowledged he received his booster, President Biden said that's one of the few things that we agree on -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Acknowledged and then booed by some of his supporters. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's speak now to Professor William Haseltine. He taught at Harvard Medical School and is known for researching treatments of deadly viruses.
William Haseltine, good to have you on this morning.
So, you heard the president's plan today. Notably no shutdowns, saying kids should stay in schools but we're going to have at-home testing, more vaccination sites, as well as military help at overburdened hospitals. Is that the right combination of help now to respond?
WILLIAM HASELTINE, CHAIR AND PRESIDENT, ACCESS HEALTH INTERNATIONAL: It's certainly encouraging that there is taking this omicron seriously. But I have to say from the very beginning we've underestimated this virus and believe we're underestimating it again.
One thing we do need is a lot of testing. I know from personal experience as many people who are listening do that the tests just aren't available now. Back in September 2020, I wrote be editorials as well as my colleague about how important it was to have tests in everybody's hands, as frequently for everybody, perhaps two or three times a week. That's billions of tests.
Now, it sound like that could be too expensive, but you can make these tests, or the cost should be 50 cents, not $20. So that is the real cost and that's what we should be going for. But there's a lot of other things that we have to be careful of. And that is not underestimating this disease.
SCIUTTO: I want to get to that but on the issue of testing, Admiral Brett Giroir also said 500 million is not enough, but is the issue supply or might it be uptick because we have broad divisions in this country, sadly, the response often reflects the political divisions but you have parts of the country that won't get tested, right? The supply much better in places where people seem to have ignored COVID or try to ignore it as opposed to here in D.C. or New York where people are getting tested.
I mean, is uptick rather than supply the issue?
HASELTINE: I don't think that's the entire issue. I think people are much more willing to test than to do some other things like being vaccinated or to stay at home. I think one of the things we've seen in Great Britain, for example, is the government has, for many months now, made free tests available. And one of their responses is to ramp that up very significantly.
But I want to get back to something else. The president said that if you are vaccinated, you are very likely to be safe. We don't know that yet. Particularly, we don't know that for those who are vulnerable, people who are over a certain age, people who have immuno-suppressed conditions.
We don't know if the vaccines are going to protect them. We already know that this virus blows through in terms of infection most vaccines, whether it will blow through protection that is offered against serious disease and death is something we don't know yet, particularly for the vulnerable.
SCIUTTO: But we have heard, we've heard from officials at Moderna, at Pfizer, we've heard from early studies in a place like South Africa, for instance, and we've heard from senior U.S. health officials, even Dr. Fauci that if you're boosted you have a lot of protection.
Are you saying that those pronouncements are wrong?
HASELTINE: I'm saying that they are premature, especially for people who are vulnerable. We really don't have those answers yet. And we need them.
So my advice is in addition to -- think of a very basic thing. Say you go visit your relatives. If everybody is vaccinated, one answer is yes. That's not my answer. My answer, yes, if you're vaccinated and test negative within 24 hours of that visit.
Get tested, in addition to being vaccinated. That is belt and suspenders but it's a lot safer given the uncertainties that are facing us with this virus.
SCIUTTO: Okay, given those uncertainties then, do you believe the Biden administration's responses and this plan as the president announced and outlined is insufficient, is not urgent enough? For instance, are you saying that folks need to be more willing, for instance, to lock down, whether it be restaurants or schools or certain kinds of travel, right? We have loads of folks about to travel home for the holidays.
HASELTINE: Look, I remember when we were told that the vaccine would protect you against infection. And it did, for a while. Then it didn't, both because it wanes in effectiveness against infection and because the strains change.
We're now told that it will protect you against disease. We don't really know that. And so, therefore, I would say we have to be more careful than the public officials are letting us in on. I think it's time to make sure if you really want to be safe, you get vaccinated and you get tested before you meet with other people.
SCIUTTO: Okay. And that's important advice to hear because loads of people are already jumping on planes, hopping in their cars --
HASELTINE: That's true.
SCIUTTO: -- for the holiday.
Omicron, it's already the dominant variant and already very quickly in this country. What should the Biden administration do to get ready, and I hate to say, look that far ahead because we're still in it on this one, to the next one.
I mean, are you saying there's steps you have to be making now to prepare for the inevitability of another strain?
HASELTINE: I think it's a virtual certainty there will be other strains. And I can tell you one thing that I worry about, when I look at this, this virus has behaved reasonably stable with respect to disease. It doesn't cause a lot more disease. It gets a lot more transmissible.
But I remember that the sister of this virus kills 1 out of 10 people. That's SARS. And MERS, kills 1 out of 30 people.
There's nothing that we know that will prevent this from getting worse. Conventional wisdom is it should be getting better but we don't know that and we haven't seen that.
So I think we need to ramp up our research very dramatically beyond vaccines, beyond monoclonal antibodies, the antiviral drugs, broad spectrum antiviral drugs. We can't do it. We've done it for HIV. We need to do it now and we need to do it fast.
SCIUTTO: William Haseltine, thanks so much, as always.
HASELTINE: You're welcome. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: So, what does this omicron surge look like on the health front lines? We're going to speak to one hospital's chief nurse about what she is seeing, next.
Plus, Afghanistan on, quote, the precipice of manmade catastrophe with young children now dying of starvation. A look at what is being done and not being done. That's coming up.
SCIUTTO: In our health lead, the U.S. is now recorded the first death due to the omicron variant. The victim, a man from Texas in his 50s, we should note, was unvaccinated, though also previously infected with COVID.
As CNN's Athena Jones reports, the omicron variant now accounts for nearly three-quarters of all new U.S. infections.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We've really not seen anything like this before it.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Omicron now accounts for 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections. A stunning leap in prevalence less than three weeks after it was first detected in the U.S., according to CDC estimates.
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: For the next three to eight weeks, I think we are going to be in a very, very difficult place.
JONES: Hospitalizations are up 35 percent over a month ago. The U.S. now averages nearly 140,000 new COVID cases a day and more than 1,200 people are dying each day on average. And even as early indications suggest omicron may cause milder illness than the delta variant, the sheer number of COVID cases could overwhelm already stretched hospitals.
OSTERHOLM: What really is challenging is on top of that, we can expect 10 percent to 30 percent of health care workers to get infected during that time.
JONES: Doctors stressing I people who have not been vaccinated are most at risk. For the vaccinated, getting boosted reduces your risk further. While just over 61 percent of the country is fully vaccinated, less than 20 percent has gotten a booster shot. Even as a New England Journal of Medicine study says people vaccinated more than six months ago were more than three times more likely to have a breakthrough case of COVID than those inoculated more recently.
In New York, more than 70 percent are fully vaccinated, only about 40 percent of those eligible have received a booster. There is one potentially positive sign.
MICHAEL DOWLING, PRESIDENT & CEO, NORTHWELL HEALTH: We have, right now, about 460 patients in our hospitals. That's less than 10 percent of our overall capacity.
JONES: While the empire state is setting new records for COVID infections, it's not yet seeing a corresponding increase in hospitalizations.
DOWLING: This time last year during the second wave, we had almost a thousand cases this time last year. And compared to where we were back in the first wave, we had 3,500 patients in our hospitals.
JONES (on camera): And here in New York City, a big focus on boosters. Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing today a $100 incentive for any city resident who gets a COVID-19 booster at a city-run vaccination site. This booster bonus incentive program starts today and goes through the end of the month -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Not a bad deal, 100 bucks for a booster. Athena Jones in New York, thanks so much.
Let's look at how hospitals are handling this and what they are seeing there.
We're now joined by Michele Acito. She's executive vice president and chief nursing officer at holy name medical center in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Good to have you on.
It's so important for folks to see and hear from people like you because there's a sort of out of sight, out of mind phenomenon with this. Kind of go on with your normal life, but you're seeing it. You're seeing this every day.
One of the hardest hit hospitals during the height of last year's COVID. What is it like today?
MICHELE ACITO, EXECUTIVE VP & CHIEF NURSING OFFICER, HOLY NAME MEDICAL CENTER: Well, it's very different from it was a year ago when we had our second wave. We had between 70 and 90 patients after the holidays admitted to the hospital with several on ventilators.
This year, we're seeing a different trend. We're seeing a high community positivity rate, but we're not seeing as many inpatients. So, today, for example, we started with 31 patients. As we speak right now, we're down to 29.
One is on a ventilator. And so, we're seeing a much different type of illness. We're seeing a less severity so that it's more in the community what we're seeing.
SCIUTTO: That's interesting to hear.
Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, he has raised an interesting danger going forward and that is that as many as 30 percent of health care workers could become infected themselves. I wonder, if -- because omicron as we know is more transmissible than previous strains of this, as it works its way through health care workers, does your hospital have a plan?
ACITO: Yes, and this is similar. We were hit with employees who became sick with COVID during the first and second wave. So we're prepared for that. We do have a staffing crisis plan in place that we review periodically and we're ready for that.
And, you know, it's important for employees to know if they're positive or not because it's more mild. We want them to have frequent testing so that we can put them out of work and keep everyone else here safe. But we are prepared for staff to get sick.
SCIUTTO: And I do know it's early, by the way, and I know there's a lot more work that needs to be done to get a handle on the severity of the illness that this new strain causes. But you're saying where you are, what you are seeing, is evidence of milder disease.
ACITO: Yes, that's correct. Compared to a year ago, definitely milder, especially for those who are vaccinated. Those who are boosted, even more mild and then, of course, we have the unvaccinated who are the patients that get admitted, they're sicker and that's the group that typically ends up in the ICU if they're going to end up in the ICU at all.
SCIUTTO: That's something I heard consistently from states all across the country. So with that in mind, we had Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN this morning raising the possibility of reducing the ten-day quarantine, specifically for health care workers. If they are asymptomatic, perhaps down to five days.
Do you think a step like that would be smart and would help?
ACITO: I think it would help a great deal. You know, employees are asked to wear N95s and other protective equipment. So when somebody is asymptomatic and they've quarantined for five days and come back to work and follow those guidelines strictly, I think it is encouraging to know that they can come back and help with the work that needs to be done here.
We still have a COVID unit. We have monoclonal infusions and we have a test strategy. So you're dealing with potentially sick or already sick patients, and if these employees can help in those areas, then that decreases or mitigates the risk to the un -- to the people who don't have COVID working with these patients.
SCIUTTO: So you have a testing center. Oftentimes that's where folks get tested. The doctor's office, they make it to the hospital.
As you know, the president announced a plan today to offer half a billion tests to people, anybody you, me, others, people watching can order these tests at home.
Do you think that helps for people to have the opportunity to test themselves at home?
ACITO: Yes, I think that the president's idea to have more testing available is wonderful, and we appreciate it because with a milder disease, people don't always know that they're sick. They may have been exposed. They may think it's a runny nose. They may just be going to an event where there's other people and having that reassurance with a negative test or if it's positive, knowing that you need to cancel your plans and stay home is very important and should help us once again bring the curve down.
SCIUTTO: Michele Acito, I'm a New Yorker, I recognize that New Jersey accent. Thanks for joining us this morning -- this afternoon.
ACITO: Thank you. Have a great day.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, a violent remark by a Fox News host about how to ambush Dr. Anthony Fauci. Now, Fauci is responding.
SCIUTTO: Topping our politics lead, Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling on Fox News to fire one of its hosts, Jesse Waters, after waters used violent rhetoric at a conservative conference to encourage people to ambush Fauci in public and record it for conservative media to play on air.
Here is what Waters said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: You got to ambush a guy like Fauci. Get it on tape with your iPhone or buddy's iPhone. Now you're going for the kill shot. The kill shot with an ambush, deadly, because he doesn't see it coming.
This is when you say, Dr. Fauci, you funded risky research at a sloppy Chinese lab. The same lab that sprung this pandemic on the world. You know why people don't trust you, don't you? Boom! He is dead. He is dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Dr. Fauci responded this morning on CNN. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: The only thing that I have ever done throughout these two years is to encourage people to practice good public health practices. That's awful that he said that. And he's going to go very likely unaccountable. I mean, whatever network he's on is not going to do anything for him. I mean, that's crazy. The guy should be fired on the spot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: A spokesperson for Fox News has told CNN, quote, it's more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor for asking hard- hitting questions to Dr. Fauci, adding his words have been twisted completely out of context.
So, let's discuss. Former Congresswoman Mia Love, also former Congressman Joe Kennedy.
Mia, if I could begin with you. That's Fox's explanation there and you see the broader context. He was talking about people going up and trying to catch him on camera but using violent rhetoric, right? Do you think that that's explainable, excusable?
MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that words matter, and I think that we as adults, especially as a parent seeing how our children are treating each other in schools and the suicide rates in schools, I think we have to at least exercise a little bit more caution when we're speaking to people. There was no reason why we needed to use language like that.
I mean, as adults, we have forgotten that we're all Americans here and even though you disagree with somebody, it doesn't mean that you have to use language that I think is -- would instill anger in people. I mean, we can have a mutual respect with one another. We can talk about our differences.
But I think that we as adults really need to be careful with the language that we use. You can make a point without being -- without being a jerk about it.
SCIUTTO: Joe Kennedy, does this worry you? The issue, of course, is most people probably just look at that as a metaphor or a cruel joke, but you do have the potential that extremists listen and might act.
JOE KENNEDY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He should be fired on the spot. No doubt about that. I don't care if they'll try to explain it as a joke or a metaphor or in the context of asking hard-hitting questions. Jesse Watters should know better than that. Fox news should know better than that.
We're at a time when anybody in the public sphere, unfortunately, is dealing with threats to their well-being and the well-being of their loved ones, or being an elected official. Threats against members of Congress have gone up over 100 percent this past year alone. We're coming up on the anniversary of the insurrection on the capitol where five police officers ended up losing their lives because of the actions that took place.
There's no excuse for this. There should be accountability for it and the dehumanization that comes with it, the idea that somehow if somebody were to believe that Mr. Watters was in fact, telling the truth or intending what those words actually insinuated, that somehow he -- they would be glorified for it is disgusting. There's absolutely no place for it and it's the accountability.
SCIUTTO: We should note that Dr. Fauci has taken genuine threats before, which he has spoken about, both to himself, his wife and his daughters.
Another topic and, Congresswoman Mia Love, you might put this in the category of friendly fire here. Former President Trump was booed this weekend by a MAGA crowd after he revealed that he had taken the step that doctors recommend, particularly for a man of his age. He got his COVID booster.
Maggie Haberman asked him about it, got this handwritten note back. Quote, must tell the truth and very proud to have produced the three vaccines so quickly. Millions of lives saved.
I mean, that's -- that's the contrast there. You might wonder why the president and his supporters have not been claiming credit, right, for helping accelerate the development of vaccines. And, therefore, encouraging people to get this rather than making this an issue of freedom.
LOVE: Well, this is such a disconnect. This is a prime example of a disconnect.
So this is a person, the former president, taking responsibility for the COVID vaccination and when he mentions, by the way, well over 70, mentions that he took the vaccine -- took the vaccine, which he should, gets booed by his own crowd.
I found that incredibly interesting. I think that there's a disconnect there. We have got to find a way to get people, everybody as comfortable as possible taking the vaccine, giving people information. But I found that really interesting that this is a man who was taking credit for the vaccine, tells people he's gotten credit and his own crowd boos him.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Kennedy, another topic. President Biden in speaking today about new measures to respond to the omicron variant was also asked, understandably, about the death for now of BBB, Build Back Better, and asked specifically about Senator Joe Manchin. Did he go back on a commitment to you and Biden answered interestingly. He said I think we can still get something done. Do you believe him?
KENNEDY: I do. I do believe they can still get something done, and, listen, this is never over. There's always another round and big pieces of legislations like this will die a thousand deaths. I wish they were able to get this across the finish line. I wish it was bigger than the current context of what they were discussing.
That being said, I think the fact that President Biden and Senator Manchin have spoken directly to each other is an essential first step at resuscitating this effort. And, look, cutting to the chase, this is too important, not just for the Democratic Party but to our country, our planet, not to get done.
And so, hopefully, they'll be able to pick back up the pieces. I expect that after a little bit of cooling off over the holidays that that's exactly what they'll do.
SCIUTTO: There's a new parlor game in Washington as to whether Joe Manchin might switch parties here. And by the way, Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, members of the Republican Senate leadership have said, boy, they would sure welcome him. We should note for context here, Joe Biden has voted with a whole host
of the president's priorities, including dozens of judges over the course of the last several months.
Mia love, I just wonder, do you consider that a realistic possibility that Joe Manchin switches parties here?
LOVE: I don't know if he'll switch parties but I have to say that Joe Manchin is actually doing the president a favor. He is sitting there saying there are people that are in the middle that we're missing here and we have to make sure that we do a bill that all of us can get across the board.
And I do agree with Joe Kennedy. These bills die a thousand deaths before they actually get passed. So I think Joe Manchin can say exactly where he is and I think that he's actually making a lot of people in his state very happy with him.
SCIUTTO: Well, to that point, Joe Kennedy, he's getting pushback from inside his state. A surprising constituency you might say. Union representing coal miners says they want him to reconsider his opposition to build back better. Joe Biden -- sorry, Joe Manchin marches to his own tune.
Do you think that could make a difference?
KENNEDY: Look, I think any constituency from within West Virginia that is going to raise their voice about this is going to matter to Senator Manchin. It matters, Congresswoman Love and I think would say the same thing.
When your constituents are chiming in on an issue, it matters. It matters an awful lot more than, you know, some interest group the country that you don't represent and doesn't have any leverage over how you're going to vote. Your home state, your home community, your constituency is a very different thing.
And obviously for a community like the coal miners in West Virginia that have such a deep legacy in that state. And affiliation with Senator Manchin that he, I think, is quite proud of putting forward the fact that he'll always try to speak for the people of West Virginia. When you hear it loud and clearly, constituencies like the coal miners saying, hey, if you'll do that, we want you to change your vote. I think that matters.
SCIUTTO: Mia, sorry?
LOVE: Remember, this is Virginia. Remember what happened with Youngkin and the fact he was able to win. And the way that he was able to do that was because he was listening to his constituents. He was listening and laser focused on what was going on in Virginia.
So I think this is a lesson that Virginia is not happy with the bill as it is currently. So Joe Manchin is actually doing, I think, the president a favor and himself a favor by saying I'm not going to just go along to get along. SCIUTTO: We'll see if they can find some middle ground here. Joe
Kennedy, Mia Love, thanks so much, and merry Christmas to both of you.
LOVE: Merry Christmas.
KENNEDY: Thanks so much.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, a new warning involving your cell phone and your next flight.
SCIUTTO: In our tech lead, first coronavirus, then unruly passengers, now this? Major airplane manufacturers are asking President Biden to ground the rollout of 5G cell service, which is scheduled to launch next week, with much faster service. But CEOs are warning that 5G's signals could interfere with vital safety systems.
As CNN's aviation correspondent Pete Muntean reports, this could give airplane mode a whole new meaning.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It is the newest issue that could impact your safety in the sky. Airlines are warning that radio waves from soon to be turned on high-speed phone service could interfere with key instruments that pilots use to land.
In this simulator of a regional airliner, I saw how automatic warnings could stop and flight displays give confusing mismatched readings.
You would just go around and that would --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And figure it out.
MUNTEAN: Cause a big bottleneck.
In a new letter, the CEOs of Boeing and Airbus America are telling the Biden administration that interference from 5G cell transmitters near airports could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate.
On Capitol Hill last week, airline executives called it their number one issue.
REPORTER: How concerned should passengers be? How scared should they be about this?
SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: Well, the passengers will be safe, but it will be really damaging to customers. I mean, hundreds of thousands of customers a day impacted by this.
MUNTEAN: Providers such as AT&T and Verizon plan to turn on 5G in just weeks, on January 5th, with the promise of speeding up cell data in 46 markets.
But major airlines say the signals could slow down hundreds of thousands of flights. A new analysis from industry group airlines for America says 345,000 flights could be delayed or diverted each year affecting 32 million passengers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very accurately (INAUDIBLE) the altitude.
MUNTEAN: 5G interference impacts radar altimeters, critical instruments that pilots use to tell their actual height above ground and make landings in low visibility.
EDUARDO ROJAS, EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY: If you have a 5G signal, we'll increase the noise level in the rear altimeter.
MUNTEAN: Eduardo Rojas leads the radio spectrum lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
ROJAS: It's one of the most critical systems in the aircraft and helicopters, especially because it helps to land. So it is a concern. It's a big concern.
MUNTEAN: Airline executives say it's now on the federal government to ban 5G transmitters from nearby airports or delay its rollout, so your next flight isn't.
KIRBY: This is not an issue created by airlines or airline customers, and it cannot be solved on the backs of airlines and airline customers.
MUNTEAN (on camera): The FAA is directing flight crews to report problems associated with 5G signals. Jim, as a pilot, I can tell you this confusion in the cockpit comes during a critical time. Airline executives point out that other countries have figured this out and now it's time for the U.S. to do the same -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Pete Muntean, thanks so much.
Next, an unprecedented level of hunger among vulnerable children. One doctor tells us the desperation is the worst he has ever seen in Afghanistan.
SCIUTTO: In our world lead, the United Nations says Afghanistan is now on the brink of, quote, a humanitarian catastrophe. And 1 million Afghan children are at risk of dying from hunger. While the country grapples with the aftermath of the chaotic U.S. exit, an historic drought and economic collapse. As CNN's Anna Coren reports, Afghanistan is also bracing for a brutal
winter ahead. We do want to warn viewers some of the images in this story may be difficult to watch.
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A little girl sobs, gently rubbing her ears, in a feeble attempt to ease the pain tormenting her body. She doesn't have the energy to cry the way other sick children do.
Camilla (ph) is exhausted. As she lies in a hospital bed in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, slowly starving to death. The 2 1/2-year-old weighs just over 5 kilograms, 11 pounds. About one-third of what a normal toddler her age should.
Her mother is sick and we are poor people, explains Camilla's grandmother. She tried to breast feed but had no milk to give.
Camilla now one of at least a million Afghan children under the age of 5 at risk of dying from starvation. For months, the U.N. has been sounding the alarm, warning that Afghanistan was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Taliban takeover on the 15th of August saw international funds immediately dry up, triggering an economic collapse in an already impoverished country where foreign aid represented 43 percent of the country's GDP and 75 percent of government spending, according to the World Bank.
But as the U.S. withholds billions of dollars in Afghan reserves and sanctions are imposed on the Taliban government, the West's attempts to force fundamental change within the group are hurting the Afghan people.
And with the country in the grips of winter facing one of the worst droughts in decades, the most vulnerable are paying the price. In this hospital in Ghor Province in northwestern Afghanistan, up to 100 mothers and children turn up each day with varying cases of malnutrition.
Dr. Priscilla has been working here for the past six years and has never seen this level of desperation.
DR. FAZILUHAQ FARJAD, HEAD OF MALNUTRITION, GHOR HOSPITAL (through translator): Almost 70 percent of the cases are severe and this is in the city. Imagine how bad the districts are. If nobody pays attention, it's going to get much worse. We are in a disaster.
COREN: One of his patients receiving treatment is Razia. This is her third visit to hospital in eight months. Her little frame, a clear sign this child is just a few months away from turning 3 is not getting better.
MUSAFER, RAZIA'S FATHER (through translator): There is no work, no income, no food to bring her. Sometimes we have nothing to eat. Every time I see her, I get upset.
COREN: The humanitarian community is collectively issuing an SOS. UNHCR says the country is witnessing truly unprecedented levels of hunger now inflicting more than half its population of 38 million people. International Rescue Committee describes a global system failure fueling the crisis, naming Afghanistan the most at-risk country of a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the year ahead.
While the International Committee of the Red Cross says the country is on the precipice of manmade catastrophe.
The World Food Programme has been distributing aid around the country, and says the middle class teachers and civil servants are now joining the poor in the queues.
MARY-ELLEN MCGROARTY, AFGHANISTAN COUNTRY DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: Please, please think of just the ordinary people of Afghanistan, the children of Afghanistan who are facing a winter of abject hunger and destitution through no fault of their own, through just a lottery of birth.
COREN: Dr. Paul Spiegel from Johns Hopkins University has just returned from Afghanistan consulting for the World Food Programme and is alarmed by what he saw. He says Afghanistan's health system that once relied on 80 percent of its funding from international donors is now barely functioning and blames the West's sanctions which are gravely impacting government-run hospitals imploring for the system to be changed.
PAUL SPIEGEL, PROFESSOR & DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR HUMANITARIAN HEALTH, JOHNS HOPKINS: The Western governments, U.S., U.K., the E.U. have to make some decisions quickly or it's going to be too late and, therefore, there's going to be a tremendous amount of, I would say, unnecessary deaths.
COREN: For little Camilla, her trip to hospital has saved her life for now. After 15 days, she's being discharged with some medicine that may last a few weeks.
She's not very well, but at least she's alive, says her grandmother. It's better from the first day we brought her here.
But having put on just a few hundred grams, her fate is as precarious as that of her country, edging closer to the abyss.
Anna Coren, CNN.
SCIUTTO: It's one trial after another for Afghanistan. Anna Coren, thanks so much for the great reporting.
I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues coming up next with Wolf Blitzer who is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."