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Growing Outbreak Of Respiratory Illnesses In China Is Sparks Serious Concerns; Truce At Midnight ET, Hostage Release At 9AM ET; Interview With Son Omer Neutra Taken Hostage Orna Neutra; Interview With Son Omer Neutra Taken Hostage Ronen Neutra; Icelandic Authorities Considering A Plan To Pump Water Into Any Molten Lava. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired November 23, 2023 - 14:30:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A growing outbreak of respiratory illnesses in China is sparking serious concern. The World Health Organization is now asking Beijing for more information about an increase in cases among children. Chinese officials are blaming the surge in part on easing COVID-19 restrictions. Let's dig deeper now and discuss with Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Doctor, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for being with us. What is your level of concern over this spike in cases in China, some of them undiagnosed?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, Boris. So, right now, it's more of an interest than it's a concern in China and the United States and most other places around the world. We do see a seasonal wave of respiratory illnesses, particularly in the fall and early winter when people are moving back indoors and kids are back into school.

But in China now, we're seeing really an exaggerated wave of those illnesses. And the question is whether this is some kind of new undiagnosed pathogen or is this just the usual, but maybe augmented wave of illnesses like RSV and influenza, mycoplasma, pneumonia, and even COVID. And what the World Health Organization is asking China is for much more granularity about what they're seeing.

China had this draconian zero COVID policy, which basically lock people in their homes for extended periods of time and had a very aggressive, you know, tracking and tracing of cases. But when they finally released that policy last December, people finally were able to exit their homes. But that generated what's called an immunity debt, which is basically preventing people from being exposed to illnesses over much of the prior three years.


So, it's thought that perhaps what we're seeing now is the response to people not being exposed to these illnesses for an extended period of time. Time will tell. We'll have to see.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And, Doctor, right now, we're at the very start of virus season here in the U.S., maybe about a month or so in. How much do we need to worry about seeing a similar spike here?

DR. REINER: Well, I think we've already had a bit of that already this fall. What people should know is that we have tools to fight these illnesses. We have a booster, which is much more effective against the current strain of COVID, yet only about 15 percent of adults have availed themselves of this.

We have a new seasonal influenza vaccine. Last numbers I saw were only about 36 to 38 percent of Americans have gotten vaccinated with the new shot. So, we don't have to act helpless against these illnesses. We have the ability to attenuate the effects. So, I would encourage everyone to talk to their health care providers about how best to protect themselves. COVID, RSV, influenza, you know, we can take action against these.

SANCHEZ: To that point, there was a recent survey that found most U.S. adults aren't worried about catching COVID during the holidays. More than half also are not taking any precautions to avoid getting infected. Two-thirds say they are not concerned about spreading it potentially to their loved ones. What else, other than what you mentioned, getting vaccinated against COVID, against influenza, what else can be done to try to avoid getting sick this holiday season?

DR. REINER: Well, I think that will go a long way. But I think another major point is if you are sick, if you do feel like you're coming down with a cold or a flu or even COVID, then you really should stay home. I think if you're going during Thanksgiving today or during the Christmas season to visit family, particularly in multi- generational homes where some of your older relatives might be much more fragile than you, you're not doing them a favor if you come while you're sick and you get them ill.

So, I would encourage people to, you know, exercise some discipline and some insight and to stay home if you don't feel well.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Jonathan Reiner, I hope you get to enjoy some turkey and some football soon. Thanks for joining us.

DR. REINER: You too, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Thanks. So, the countdown is on. We're just hours away from the release of the first group of hostages from Gaza. We'll tell you what we're learning about how all of this is going to play out when CNN's special live coverage returns.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hi. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv. We're following the breaking news on the Israel Hamas temporary truce. Thirteen women and children are to be released tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. The first group of hostages to be freed under the agreement that is set to begin at midnight tonight. Families with loved ones being held captive are reacting to the news.

I'm joined now by Orna and Ronen Neutra. Their 22-year-old son, Omer, is an Israeli soldier and was taken hostage by Hamas back on October 7th. To both of you, our hearts go out to you.

First of all, how are you holding up? What's going through your mind amid this news of the expected release of at least some hostages?

ORNA NEUTRA, SON OMER NEUTRA TAKEN HOSTAGE: Hi, Wolf. Obviously, it's been a very difficult week and day for us. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is all about family, but for us right now, there's a gaping hole in our family. And there's nothing to celebrate, really. We -- you know, we're happy that there's some traction. We're happy to hear and we're hopeful. We're crossing our fingers that it works. And the first group does come out tomorrow. But it can't stop there.


BLITZER: Ronen you're -- go ahead. Go ahead, Ronan.

R. NEUTRA: No. Our son is probably not going to be in the first group of people that will be released of the hostages. But we are hopeful that this is going to be a start of a process. It may take some time. Everybody needs to be resilient. And we need to bring all the hostages back, including our son, of course.

BLITZER: Your son, Ronen, joined the Israeli army, I'm told, after deciding to defer his college enrollment in the United States. How concerned are you that part of the agreement with Hamas now does not appear to include the release of Israeli soldiers?

R. NEUTRA: Well, we know to that this is not going to be easy. We are actually in Israel right now. We're meeting officials. We are also in discussions here and we feel that soldiers should be included with all the future steps together with other hostages. There should not be any separation. Our son was guarding the border in a peaceful morning when terrorists broke in and took him.


And our expectation is that he, together with all the other hostages, will be returned as soon as possible. Healthy to our arms so we can celebrate the future Thanksgiving together.

BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. Orna, how do you feel about the truce overall? Do you think it was the right thing to do and do you want to see it actually extended?

O. NEUTRA: If Hamas holds their side of the deal and brings out additional hostages, it should be extended. And I think there's an understanding about that. We want everyone to come out.

R. NEUTRA: But honestly, we're not politicians and we're not experts in negotiation. We're just worried parents that want their kid back home. And that's all we care about. Take the hostages back.

BLITZER: Ronen, tell us a little bit about your son, Omer.

R. NEUTRA: Well, Omer is a fun American born kid on Long Island. Grown up in the Jewish community. Became quite quickly a leader, a captain of his volleyball, a captain of his soccer, and even a captain of his basketball teams in school.

Everybody loves him. Is a quiet, fun leader that people like to follow. And he decided to do a gap year after he was accepted to Binghamton University in Upstate New York. And basically, follow his grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. Came to Israel, built a country. And like other Jewish people, understanding that this the country that needs to be defended. And as such, he decided to join the Israeli army and do his part in defending the country.

O. NEUTRA: He felt that that's what he had to do. You know, he's an American kid. He's very social. He's always very inclusive. He's optimistic. He felt that it was his duty to do his share in protecting. And that was his motivation to do what he decided to do.

And -- but ultimately --

BLITZER: Well, Orna, I just want to say, Orna and Ronen, thank you, first of all, very much for joining us. And let's hope you are reunited with your son and reunited very, very soon. Appreciate your joining us.

R. NEUTRA: Thank you.

O. NEUTRA: Thank you very much.

R. NEUTRA: And Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

BLITZER: Thank you. And we'll have much more of CNN's special live coverage just ahead.



SANCHEZ: In Iceland, a volcanic eruption has been looming for several weeks. And now, we're learning that officials are considering a plan to pump water into any molten lava that reaches the surface, trying to cool it down and steer it away from nearby towns and infrastructure.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is there with a bird's eye view at the evacuation zone.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Taking off straight to the emergency zone. We're on a mission with Iceland's Coast Guard to the already affected area by what could soon be a massive volcanic eruption. PLEITGEN: So, you can see how everything here is on knife's edge, but of course, the authorities are doing everything they can to save the town and save the infrastructure.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): The town is called Grindavik. Massive cracks in the roads show the places where pressure from an underground magma stream has already been used burst through the earth's crust. The ground now uneven as the crew says they've been observing the rift widening in the past days.

ANDRI JOHANNESSON, HELICOPTER PILOT: We see differences between days. We see the -- sometimes we see the crack a little bit wider.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): Grindavik was evacuated and could soon be completely destroyed by hot lava, authorities fear.

PLEITGEN: From up here, you can already see just how extensive the damage already is to the town of Grindavik. And that crack that you see runs all the way to the ocean.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): Iceland is in an area of massive volcanic activity. While this part of the country had been dormant for around 800 years, scientists say, in the past two years, volcanic activity has come back to life with several major eruptions.

We fly over the most recent one, past the mouth of the volcano and over seemingly endless lava fields still steaming hot even months after the actual eruption ended.

On the ground, crews are working around the clock to try and build a berm to protect this geothermal power plant. And we also see the world-famous Blue Lagoon Hot Springs, normally a major tourist attraction, now closed down and also evacuated. The economic toll already immense.

PLEITGEN: What do you think it means for the people there?

HRANNAR SIGURDSSON, FLIGHT MECHANIC: I can't even imagine, you know, losing their houses and maybe their, you know, work, their whole life. Just -- it's crazy.

PLEITGEN (voiceover): Iceland's government says a major eruption here remains highly likely and it could happen in a matter of days. Iceland's Coast Guard aviators say they are on alert all the time.


JOHANNESSON: In case of the volcano starts, then we will fly over the area to help evacuate the people.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Reykjavik, Iceland.


SANCHEZ: Our thanks to Fred for that report. So, we are now just hours away from potentially seeing the first hostages released from Gaza. But right now, the war is still raging on and anxiety is sky high. How could all of this play out? When CNN special live coverage returns.