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Military Coup in Myanmar; January Declared Deadliest Month in the Pandemic in the U.S.; Two New Lawyers to Defend Donald Trump in Impeachment Trial; President Biden Meets with Republican Senators on COVID Relief; North Korean Diplomat Defects to South Korea; Myanmar Military Seizes Power In Coup; Who Team Visits Wuhan Market; Hundreds Arrested During Protests In Belgium. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired February 01, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hello. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I am Robyn Curnow. The latest on the coronavirus relief negotiations and the impeachment drama surrounding Donald Trump in just a moment. But first, we are following breaking news.

There is political upheaval in Myanmar where the military has seized power in an early morning coup. The army detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government leaders for what are called election fraud. The military declared a one-year state of emergency.

Well, Will Ripley is watching all of this unfold. Will, hi. It's difficult, I know, to get information out of Myanmar at the moment because a lot of the comms are down. What do we know? What are you hearing from sources on the ground?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Robyn. Well, this certainly isn't coming as a complete surprise given the tension has been building in recent days between the military, which wanted to delay the start of parliament, and the civilian government which said that the military's claims of widespread election fraud are unfounded and they were going to push ahead with forming the government.

Well, the military then stepped in and all of a sudden, Robyn, you have phone lines cut, internet cut, people finding it difficult to get on social media, even T.V. channels that are not aligned with the military have been shut down.

And now they are showing propaganda, military propaganda, on television for the first time in years. You have people who are out panic buying right now wondering what's going to happen because this is a country that lived for decades under brutal military dictatorship that just started to form a democracy.

This government that was just overthrown, came into power just five years ago. They won this landslide in November, but the election didn't go the military's way. Now, there's a lot of fear and uncertainty.

CURNOW: A lot of fear and uncertainty. Also, what do we know about the whereabouts of Aung San Suu Kyi?

RIPLEY: We don't know her specific location right now. We are not exactly sure what the conditions are of her detainment, but keep in mind, Aung San Suu Kyi has been in and out of house arrest before she became the country civilian leader for the better part of 20 years.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize, but was unable to travel to accept because she was being detained and not allowed to leave the country. So, this is certainly not an unfamiliar condition for her.

What is surprising to a lot of people is the fact that she was standing up for the military at the U.N. a short time ago, defending them against genocide charges regarding the Rohingya Muslims who were forced out of Myanmar into Bangladesh. Their villages burned and reports that people were raped and murdered.

CURNOW: Yes, I mean, in many ways, she has lost a lot of credibility in recent years for her deference to the military and their actions against the Rohingya, but certainly, this is no way to deal with any of their criticism from the military's point of view. What is their endgame here? They say they are acting in accordance with the constitution, but what do you think is going to play out now?

RIPLEY: Well, we don't really know for sure aside from the fact that they've declared a state of emergency for one year and they are now going to take time to look into what the military claims is this widespread election fraud after their proxy parties secured just 33 seats of the open seats available in parliament, while the National League for Democracy Party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi had 396 seats.

That was a humiliating defeat for the military and they lost leverage in the available seats of parliament. But the way that the constitution that the military helped write is set up, the military still holds control over key government offices and the levers of power were, in many ways, kind of slanted in favor of the military.

So, a lot of people are wondering why they would choose to do this now. The military is claiming that under the constitution, they have a justifiable right to step in in this fashion if they feel that there is election fraud that could cause political instability although right now a lot of outside observers say, Robyn, this instability is being caused by the government's action themselves.

That said, even though there's culmination coming in from a lot of democracies around the world, we're not hearing condemnation from Russia and China. China, of course, a key ally of Myanmar. And in fact, we are getting reports that there were Chinese diplomats meeting with officials from the military just, you know, within the last few days.


CURNOW: Okay. So we'll continue to monitor the story, continue to monitor in the next hour as well as in the coming hours. Will Ripley, thanks so much for all of that information.

And the U.S. has just suffered its deadliest month from COVID since the pandemic began. More than 95,000 deaths were confirmed in January, far more than previous record highs in December. It comes as the U.S. is seeing more cases of the variant first detected in the U.K. And as for protections against the virus, nearly 50 million vaccine doses have been shipped out around the country. Of those, roughly 31 million have been administered.

And for the first time in almost two months, fewer than 100,000 Americans are in hospital with COVID. Still, the U.S. is nowhere close to being out of the woods as Natasha Chen now reports. Natasha?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In some ways, Americans may feel the beginning of a light at the end of the tunnel. The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 dropped below 100,000 on Saturday, for the first time since December 1st.

Only one state right now, Louisiana, is seeing an increase in new cases compared to the previous week. And more than 30 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far.

RON YABROUDY, RECEIVED SECOND DOSE OF VACCINE: I feel now that I can go see my grandkids, getting a second shot, it just -- has done wonders for me and it really has boosted my confidence to the point where I feel like I can take on the world.

CHEN (voice-over): Ron Yabroudy, who's about to turn 89, got both doses of the Pfizer vaccine which showed 95 percent efficacy during trials.

YABROUDY: Let me tell you something, there's nothing like having 95 percent on your side.

CHEN (voice-over): Moderna's trials did similarly well, but these modest signs of progress (inaudible) troubling development. In the U.S., there are more than 400 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next 6 to 14 weeks. And if we see that happen, which my 45 years in the trenches tell us we will, we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country.

CHEN (voice-over): And variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil have turned up in a handful of U.S. states this week causing some health experts to sound the alarm.

CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: My primary concern is that we need to do more surveillance in this nation. We actually trail our peers on this. We need to do more genomics sequencing. There are U.S. variants. We just don't know because we don't do the work to identify them. CHEN (voice-over): While new research is promising, it's not yet

clear if those vaccinated could still get sick or even die from the variants. A troubling thought especially as we close the month of January with the most deaths of any month since the first reported case in the U.S. a year ago.

HOLLY VANATTI, HUSBAND AND FATHER-IN-LAW DIED: Well that's been really hard too is because she's asking, every day, where is my daddy.

CHEN (voice-over): Some families like Holly Vanatti's have lost more than one relative. In her case, her husband and father-in-law died of COVID-19 within 24 hours of each other.

VANATTI: Every day I wake up and I think that this nightmare is going to be over. Unfortunately, it continues on.

CHEN (voice-over): Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

CURNOW: So 10 U.S. Senate Republicans are meeting with President Biden in the coming hours to discuss the latest coronavirus relief package. Now, over the weekend, they pitched a much more scaled down version of the presidents nearly $2 trillion plan. Here is Arlette Saenz with details from Washington.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White House is indicating they are open to negotiating with Senate Republicans on that $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Republican senators over the weekend introduced their own proposal, which was much smaller in scale, about $600 billion in funding compared to that almost $2 trillion bill from the president.

One thing that they are pushing for is more targeted checks to go out to American families who need it most. Now, a senior administration official said that $600 billion price tag is not going to scratch the itch of what they need to accomplish.

But one area where they are willing to negotiate and have discussions are those targeted checks to American families. Right now, the White House is pushing for $1,400 checks to go out to American families, while one Republican senator suggested they could down to $1,000.

Now, one question going forward is how long President Biden will give these Republicans to negotiate. The president has also made his preference clear that he wants to pursue this in a bipartisan manner. But, he has left open the possibility of moving this without Republican support. He is adamant that he wants action on this measure fast. Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.

CURNOW: And with just about a week to go before Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial begins in the Senate, the former president announced that two new lawyers will head his legal team. This comes after his impeachment defense team quit over a disagreement on their legal strategy. Here's Sunlen Serfaty with more on all of that.

[02:10:07] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump really having to rebuild his legal team from scratch, announcing on Sunday evening two new members of his legal team, David Schoen who is a trial attorney and former law professor. And Bruce L. Castor, Jr., also a trial attorney, former district attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

And this announcement by the former president comes just a few days after he split ways after all five members of his legal team walked out and left. There had been a disagreement over the legal direction they were taking.

President Trump was pushing for them to make the central part of their defense the wrong claim that the election was stolen, the wrong claim that there was mass election fraud, rather than arguing about the legality of potentially convicting a former president after he had left office.

So the big question as the former president moves to make these new legal theme (ph) part of his team, is will they follow his lead? Will they take his advice on what he wants the central theme of the defense to be? Now, time is very short and the wheels on Capitol Hill are already going to start turning this week.

The legal brief will be due in the next few days week. And then, of course, the trial is set to begin in the Senate next Tuesday. Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.

CURNOW: So let's talk about this with Guy Smith. He is a former Clinton White House adviser who served as special adviser to the president during the impeachment. Guy, lovely to have you on the show. I do want to get your sense. So this is the second impeachment for President Trump. That's historical in itself. How do you see this playing out?

GUY SMITH, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It's going to play out with a lot of chaos, not dissimilar (ph) to the way that the Trump administration has been for the last four years. We have seen here in the last week, his entire legal team quit. They quit, reported late, because Trump wanted them to argue that the election was fraudulent.

Anyone connected to any kind of reality knows that was not the case. So, real lawyers declined the case. Now he's recruited two more and it remains to be seen whether they have agreed to pursue this fraudulent approach.

And whether they do or not, what's going to happen when the trial opens in a week's time is there will be a very strong demonstration, illustration of Trump inciting an insurrection in his own government. And that has not happened since the civil war. It certainly never happened with a sitting president of the United States.

CURNOW: Is there not the possibility for President Trump and for Republicans to politically get something out of that process in the capital? We haven't heard from the president. He's banned from Twitter. Could this play into President Trump's hands in many ways particularly this false grievance that the election was stolen from him and become a distraction from President Biden's COVID plans and his new administration?

SMITH: Well, there are no question that it's a distraction and it will -- Trump will be able to generate TV attention. He will be on - he'll just mug on T.V. again, but it won't politically. It will weaken the Republicans and will strengthen President Biden and the Democrats.

Remember, the Democrats control the House of Representatives and the United States Senate because it's 50/50, but the vice president, Kamala Harris, will be able to vote whenever there is a tie. That gives the Democrats control of the Senate.

So, the Democrats and President Biden will be able to advance their agenda on COVID, on taxes, on relief for people that are in a bad way with the economy, on climate change.

CURNOW: Is there the chance though that things could change? We don't know what might be revealed, and that could really impact particularly senators, Republican senator's decisions.

SMITH: You are absolutely correct. And when you think about what we didn't know last week and what we didn't know two weeks ago, specifically, with respect to the insurrection and the incitement of the people who stormed the capital building.

What we may find is another tape with Donald Trump's voice on it, like the one in Georgia where he told the people in Georgia fix the election for me, in his own voice. If we were to have something like that, the dynamic could change and he could be convicted.


And then if he is convicted, then they can pass a resolution that prevents him from ever running for office again. I don't think he would ever run for office again anyway. I think he is so weakened and damaged politically. I mean, it's just not - not politically viable.

CURNOW: If that's the case though, why are so many Republicans finding it difficult to censor a president for inciting an insurrection, potentially from the White House, against the capital and a free and fair election? Why is it so difficult?

SMITH: Because they are from states or districts that are very Republican. An, you know, there are two rules in politics. The first rule, get elected. Second rule, let nothing get in the way of being re-elected. Now, I know that sounds crass and political and it kind of is, but if you put everything through that lens, that will explain their fear.

CURNOW: And a reminder that any impeachment process, even the second one is about politics and not law.

SMITH: That's right.

CURNOW: Guy Smith, thank you very much. Wonderful to have your perspective. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you for having me.

CURNOW: So, coming up here on CNN, he was a high-profile North Korean diplomat mixing with the elite, until he defected with his wife and daughter. We'll have this exclusive story, just ahead.



CURNOW: Welcome back. Its 20 minutes past the hour. A high level North Korean diplomat is now safe in South Korea. He defected with his wife and daughter in September of 2019, but this was only made public last week. Well, let's go straight to Seoul.

Paula Hancocks joins me now. Hi Paula. So you spoke exclusively with this diplomat. What did he tell you?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Robyn, one of the things he was most concerned about was his family back in North Korea and the safety of his family. That is something he said he wanted to talk about a lot. But the other thing that he did say was he had some advice for the U.S. President, Joe Biden, pointing out something we already know for the vast majority of us, that Kim Jong- un is unlikely to ever denuclearize.

But pointing out that in return for U.S. for sanctions to be lifted on North Korea, then potentially there could be room for maneuver for reducing nuclear capability. But the main concern he did have from the get-go was really the safety of his family.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Ryu Hyeon-woo told his teenage daughter he'd drive her to school. Instead, he drove to the South Korean embassy and claimed asylum.

RYU HYEON-WOO, FORMER NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT (through translation): I told her come with mom and dad to find freedom. She was shocked and then said, okay. That is all she said.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Ryu was acting North Korean ambassador to Kuwait until he defected in September of 2019. Part of the North Korean elite, a privileged diplomat of a country that touts itself as a socialist paradise. It was a life Ryu and his wife were desperate to save their daughter from.

In his first ever interview, Ryu reveals how agonizing the decision was to make. His voice cracks when he thinks of his 83-year-old mother, his wife's elderly parents, and his siblings, all back in Pyongyang.

HYEON-WOO (through translation): I just want to see them live long. Any thought of them being punished for what I've done just hurts my heart. HANCOCKS (voice-over): North Korea under Kim Jong-un has had a policy

of punishing the families of defectors, a deterrence for those wanting to flee, and lifelong guilt for those who escaped. Ryu says he watched the 2018 summit between then U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong- un while in Kuwait.

HYEON-WOO (through translation): As a diplomat, I thought this might be a political photo op. The U.S. can't back down from denuclearization and Kim Jong-un cannot denuclearize. North Korea's nuclear power is directly linked to the stability of the regime. I can't imagine they abolish it.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): As for advice for President Joe Biden, Ryu demur's citing Biden's lengthy foreign policy experience. But he does believe that North Korea will only consider reducing nuclear weapons, not giving them up completely, all while being accepted as a nuclear state.

HANCOCKS (on camera): What does Kim Jon-un want from President Biden?

HYEON-WOO (through translation): I think he wants the U.S. to lift sanctions.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): A move Ryu does not think should happen. He also wants the issue of human rights to be an important part of Biden's North Korean policy. He sees Biden's previous nuclear deal with Iran as a sign of hope for dealing with NORTH KOREA, but he does offer a reality check.

HYEON-WOO (through translation): North Korea is going to be more difficult than Iran.


HANCOCKS (on camera): Now, while Ryu does have regrets for his family back in North Korea, he says he doesn't have any regrets for bringing his daughter to South Korea. He said the other day he asked what she likes about South Korea and her response was that she's able to use the internet as much as she wants. Something that many of us take for granted, but something, clearly, is not easily accessible in North Korea. Robyn?

CURNOW: No, and it's a fascinating interview. What is interesting also, this is not the first that you've reported on these high profile defections.

HANCOCKS: Yes, we have seen a few over recent years. There was another one, a former diplomat in Italy who came to South Korea 2019, the same year as Ryu. There was Thae Yong-ho back in 2016. He was the deputy ambassador in London and is now, in fact, part of the South Korean parliament. He was elected in the most recent election.

And certainly, the feeling is that those who travel outside of North Korea are obviously more exposed to the rest of the world. They see the North Korean propaganda in many cases for what it is. And of course, they do have an ability to defect that many within North Korea may not.


And clearly, over the past year, at least due to COVID, we have seen border shutdown in North Korea and a markedly lower number of people able to escape the country. So certainly, there is a different position that these members of the elite are in, that these diplomats are in, that they are physically able to defect far easier.

CURNOW: Okay. Thank you so much. Paula Hancocks there live in Seoul. Thank you.

So coming up on CNN, Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling party now facing an alarming threat to its power. An update on the military coup in Myanmar. That's next.


CURNOW: Its 28 minutes past the hour. I'm Robyn Curnow. Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I want to return now to that coup in Myanmar. The military has seized power and declared a one year state of emergency. Soldiers now surround the city hall in the country's main city, Yargon.

Now, there are widespread community blackouts. We know the blanks are closed, panic buying has set in with people lined up outside stores. The military detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders early on Monday.

The army disputes the results of November's election in which the National League for Democracy won. Well, I want to speak to Melissa Crouch. She is a law professor at the University of New South Wales. She's also the author of the constitution of Myanmar and she joins me now from Sydney, Australia. Melissa, hi.

As we've been reporting, it is certainly difficult to get information out of Myanmar because a lot of the comms are down, but I do understand that you've been in contact with some people in the country. What have they been telling you?


MELISSA CROUCH, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Yes, there's been intermittent communication today. What we do know as you say is that the military is claiming that it is playing this by the book. It says it has declared a constitutional State of Emergency. This puts the Commander-in-Chief in charge and this will last for one year.

Surprisingly, what they've also said is that after that year is up, they plan to hold a fresh election.

CURNOW: So what does that mean then? I mean they say they are acting in accordance with the constitution, that they held to rights but they're justifying that claims by saying that it was fraudulent. Either way how will that go down with the people of Myanmar right now? CROUCH: Let's maybe go back first of all true last year we have the

elections in November of 2020, the NLD won overwhelmingly and since then the military has tried every possible Avenue to dispute the outcome of the election. It's gone to be Union Election Commission with disputes. It's gone to the Supreme Court but then this week was really crunch time because this week was supposed to be the meeting of the new government so inauguration of the new government and instead all of the members of parliament and many of the chief ministers have being arrested.

So we know at the moment that at least 30 people have been arrested but possibly more.

CURNOW: Including Aung San Suu Kyi and certainly eyes on her. She has an international global reputation. She's won the Nobel Peace Prize but she's lot of credibility in recent years hasn't she? For her difference to the ministry and their actions against the Rohingya. Many are disappointed that she did not speak up, that she was not tough said, that she seemed to be walking a very fine line, making political compromises.

So with the events now unfolding and her back in detention will questions be asked if she misjudged all of this. If she's been played by the very general she was trying to work with?

CROUCH: Well, I guess it's a question of whether she misjudged or whether the international community did. So you're right on one hand that the Rohingya conflict and the displacement that took place in 2016 and 2017, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh and where there was conflict that Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized for not going far enough in acknowledging the humanitarian crisis and doing something concrete about it.

Instead perhaps being seen to reinforce the military's line really in terms of what happened at that time. I think now though there's a sense that maybe some of the fears that Aung San Suu Kyi and her government had, were clearly not unfounded. They were clearly valid. She herself of course is a former political prisoner.

Some of her government are former political prisoners. They know what it's like to live under military rule or to be on the political arrest and we're now kind of seeing a rerun of that.

CURNOW: So the big question is where is she and the others? How will the military manage their detention? Whether there will be more people arrested and also what is the end game for the military?

CROUCH: Yes, look, at the moment we don't know the information, the only information that's being released today by the military is that the vice presidential - Myanmar has two vice presidents. The military is saying that one of those vice presidents who happens to be a military officer has taken on the role of the president.

As a result he's then - it appears he's then called a constitutional emergency and that's the basis on which the commander-in-chief is claiming to rule. We don't know where Aung San Suu Kyi is. There are some reports or some concerns on social media that perhaps there are fake accounts trying to encourage in all due support is to go to the streets with those incitement, I guess if you like to go to the street appears to be false and appears to suggest the military in fact wants people to go to the street so that they can kind of crack down and show that perhaps there is a need for force in this situation.

CURNOW: OK, thanks for the latest on that coup in Myanmar. Melissa Crouch there in Sydney. Appreciate it. Thanks for joining us here on CNN. Thank you.

CROUCH: Thanks.

CURNOW: So World Health Organization team has expanded its coronavirus investigation into Wuhan. After the break, a live report on their visit to a market at the very center of that outbreak. We have that story and of course we'll continue to monitor events in Myanmar.




CURNOW: So demonstrators as you can see across Europe gathering over the weekend to protest coronavirus restrictions. Police in Brussels say they arrested more than 200 people during unauthorized gatherings. Protesters angry about a national curfew and a ban on nonessential trips in and out of the country.

In Vienna, police in riot gear stopped of marches before they could reach the president's office. Austria has been in its third national lockdown now for more than a month. And a team led by the World Health Organization has visited a seafood market in Wuhan, China.

That's of course where COVID was first detected. The market is long been closed to the public and the W. H. O. team plans to conduct two weeks of field work as part of their investigation into the origins of this virus. Well, I want to go straight to our Steven Jiang. He's in Beijing and hi Steven.

I mean it's great that this team is there on the ground but it's a year in after those first cases. Highly politicized visits. What can they expect to get? What kind of information can they get now?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or I'll be - the kind of question you asked were very much on everyone's mind even before this mission began but so far, these experts have been highlighting positive encouraging signs and aspects from this trip including the visit to the seafood market.

As you mentioned it's been closed for a year and repeatedly disinfected so what kind of first hand evidence these experts could collect at this point. Very much in doubt but they said, these experts have told CNN, being there at this point gave them a sense of the state of the market in terms of its infrastructure, maintenance, hygiene and flow of goods and people. Because all the shops and equipment are still there and also they were

able to talk to locals, workers as well as public health officials who actually had collected environmental samples from the market back then so these officials were able to tell the experts where and how they collected these evidence.

Now the experts had also been given important data regarding flu like diseases in and around Wuhan in the months leading up to December 2019 so potentially offering them more clues about the origins of the virus.


So the experts have been saying the Chinese authorities have been transparent and helpful although one member did note she hoped to see future visits in the coming days conducting smaller groups because it had been very challenging to build up a relationship with their - with a large delegation sitting around.

So these members obviously very keenly aware, their entire investigation and or global spotlight. They don't want to talk about politics but sometimes it's not easy to get politics out of this because for example, they had been offered a trip to the exhibition touting the Communist Party's success in containing this virus. Robyn.

CURNOW: Stephen Jiang there in Beijing. Thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it. So you're watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Robyn Curnow. For our international viewers World Sports is next. For our viewers here in the United States, I'll have more news after this quick break.




CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow so New York City, a new report shows an alarming disparity among those who've received COVID vaccine doses. So far the number of white New Yorkers to receive their first does is more than double that of black and Latino residents.

Evan McMorris- Santoro explains how the city plans to level the playing field, Evan.

EVAN MCMORRIS- SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New data from city officials here in New York City shows that the vaccine distribution system may be falling prey to the same racial inequity problems as the overall healthcare system in this city. The data shows that white people are getting the vaccine at a much higher rate than their rate of the population whereas black people and Latino people are getting at much lower rate than the rate of the population.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said these numbers while they're early are very concerning.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK: But the information we do have shows a clear disparity. Clearly what we see is particularly pronounced reality of many more people from white communities getting vaccination than folks from black and Latino communities.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: A case in point is a vaccine distribution center in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. This place was set up specifically to serve a Latino population but our own reporting at CNN has shown that that distribution site was overwhelmingly serving white people and not the local population.

I spoke with the city councilmember from the area about the numbers.

MARK LEVINE, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMEMBER: Tragically I can't say I'm surprised but it is none the less shocking because throughout this pandemic, inequality has been revealed and exacerbated and as painful as it is, it's not a surprise to see it happen again now.

But this should shock the conscience of New York City and should force us to act in concrete ways that ensured no one is left behind in this vaccination program.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: What councilmember Levine is advocating is setting aside special hours at the vaccine distribution site for the local population, doing a better job of going out and speaking to the population. In essence not just plopping the vaccine location in the geographic area needed to find the population that's underserved but actually going out to serve that underserved population.

Without doing steps like that, Levine and other city officials say this vaccine distribution system may never be fair in New York City. Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN, New York.

CURNOW: Thanks Evan for that. So across the country COVID deaths are skyrocketing among Latinos particularly in southern California. The Los Angeles county health department says virus deaths for Latinos have shot up by more than a 1000 percent since November. A health official quoted the LA Times and called it frankly horrifying.

Well David Hayes-Bautista is the Director of the UCLA Center for the study of Latino Health and Culture and his research focuses on why the Latino community bears the brunt of the pandemic in southern California. Great to have you on the show.


CURNOW: Lovely to see you. Why is the Latino community bearing the brunt here?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: In large part because Latinos have a very high work - they've been essential workers, not the physicians and nurses but they are the farm workers that give us the food, the truck drivers, the food service workers, attenders, construction workers and Latinos have more wage earners per household than on a span of white household.

So you have more people leaving every day, being exposed, possibly bringing coronavirus, twice as likely to have children, you have more people living in a closed environment with more exposure. Anybody, any population who lived in those situations would have much higher rates of exposure, handsome case rates and death rates.

So for Latinos tend to occupy that space here in southern California.

CURNOW: So essentially what you're saying is that Latinos are being punished for living and working hard?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: Basically yes. They're being punished for working hard and keeping the state fed and they're punished for having families which many other populations have ceased having and COVID has a very opportunely snuck into their households and Latinos are paying the price.

CURNOW: Describe what the scenes are like. You've painted a very poignant picture of what it's been like, living there in southern California over the past few months, even when this death rate skyrockets in communities like yours to 1000 percent more than others. There is still a joyous community life and people aren't listening to a lot of the messaging. Why is that?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: Well, the messaging is very, very confused and garbled. You have to remember in California, we actually had flattened the curve back in April and early May. Then the messaging got very confused from Washington DC. You've have had outright resistance, usually not in Latino communities but in particularly upper income, non-Hispanic white communities such as Huntington beach so it's a very confusing situation.


And many Latinos do work for example at stores where customers come in and refuse to practice any major social distancing or mask wearing so again, it just exposes the hard working population more to the coronavirus.

CURNOW: So how is this hit the communities and give us some descriptions of what people have been saying to you and just how devastating it's been?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: Oh, it's been quite devastating. I was just over at a hospital in east LA just earlier this afternoon where families have lost multiple members of the same family and you tend to have large families living multiple generations under one roof. So it's hard to isolate when you only have one bathroom for eight people because of the high cost of housing here in California.

So it's a perfect storm. The strong social networks actually work against Latinos in terms of coronavirus.

CURNOW: And how has misinformation, not just confusion played into this? HAYES-BAUTISTA: Well clearly, there is misinformation out on the internet. We have been trying to track that and it doesn't help. For example, earlier today a group of anti-vaccers shut down a vaccine shot site at Dodger Stadium for about an hour. This only confuses things even more.

So we have a mass certainly disinformation, bad information, the lack of information plus the lack of access to services. The Latino physician shortage. Latino still less likely to have insurance so it's a perfect storm, all converging together but Latino families are the ones paying the price.

CURNOW: You talk about paying the price, clearly in terms of death rates and infections. What is the response to the vaccine and how equitable do people feel like it's going to be when it's being distribution and how it's being distributed on the ground right now?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: Well right now, it's being distributed, I believe about 5 percent of the state of California's population has been vaccinated and as you might imagine, there are huge discrepancies in who gets access to the vaccine. There are multiple cases of those who are well off are able to purchase their way into the line to get vaccine.

There's lack of information, particularly in the Spanish language media. It's hard to get an appointment for a shot if you don't have a desktop, computer, everything is working against Latinos getting vaccinated and yet that was probably the one key to trying to get this under control. Again as we need to have a very much higher, 70 to 80 percent vaccination rate within the general population.

CURNOW: Which means of course that it's going to be a long year if it's just 5 percent now. Do you feel optimistic that attitudes might change, that perhaps there will be some more equitable rollout as well?

HAYES-BAUTISTA: I certainly hope so but right now it's very disjointed as you know quite often county level services have been making a lot of the policy here in California because we have had very weak national policy so we have a pop scratch pattern of access to vaccination depending on which county, which municipality you live in.

CURNOW: Very good to speak to you. Great to have your perspective and experience there. David Hayes-Bautista, thank you.

HAYES-BAUTISTA: My pleasure.

CURNOW: Good luck.

HAYES-BAUTISTA: Thank you. Goodnight.

CURNOW: Goodnight. So nearly 75 million Americans we know are under winter storm warnings or watches with a powerful noise to bringing heavy snow and dangerous winds. Many cities will see several inches of snow along the east coast. Many of you have it already and New York could get well over a foot. Well, let's go to Pedram Javaheri. Pedram joins me now with more on

all of this. The early pictures look pretty I know but it doesn't last, does it when the snow starts piling up after a few days.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes exactly. The amount of snow, true there, you noted over a foot. This is a significant amount even for north-eastern U.S. standards and you take a look at the areas underneath the weather alerts here stretching over 1000 miles of land from eastern Tennessee, all the way towards northern Maine for winter storm watches, winter storm warnings have been prompted.

And then you look carefully at the level of concern here off the top of the charts there. The colors and the contours of purple there right around New York City. That's indicative of a level 5 concern or an extreme level of impacts around New York City for not only heavy snow and strong winds but blizzard like conditions with the strong winds and then of course power outages to boot along a very densely populated region.

You'll notice pre-emptively before sunrise even, flights on the order of 1300 of which have been canceled around the north-eastern United States and by volume and by percentage here, you notice La Guardia in New York and also to JFK airports, 70 to 80 percent of the flights have already been halted across that region for the scheduled flights come Monday.

Notice this, anytime you've got yourself wind gusts up to almost 50 miles per hour on New York City on top of a couple of feet of snow potentially, that's a major storm system and this is a classic northeaster here that parks off the shore from Monday, potentially through Tuesday before conditions finally gradually improve come Wednesday.


So the elements are in place here for not only ice to accumulate but also heavy snow fall, the strong winds and we see the storm system kind of park off shore later this morning and potentially kind of linger here through Tuesday afternoon and evening.

On the backside of this you get the significant draw of moisture from the Atlantic, Boston could pile on to well over a foot of snow fall. New York City could see anywhere from 14 to 20 inches and by the way, records here have been going back since the 1860s and if about 18 inches comes down out of the storm in New York City, it would be a top 10 all time snowstorm in over 150 years of record keeping.

And look at this, folks in Boston saying they will be plowing 2000 lane miles across the city streets within the next 24 to 48 hours. That's the equivalent to the distance of Boston to Denver, Colorado being plowed across the city of Boston here in the next couple of days as a result of this impressive snowstorm here. Robyn.

CURNOW: Goodness, that's quite astounding. Pedram Javaheri, thanks for that update. Keep us posted. So now the White House dogs are certainly taking advantage of the snow in Washington. Have a look at these pictures. U.S. President Joe Biden's granddaughter Naomi tweeted this of Champ and Major playing in the snow on the White House lawn.

You can see the Washington Monument there in the background. They are of course the first pets to live in the White House since the Obama administration.

Well, thanks so much for watching. I'm Robyn Curnow. It's been great speaking to you. We're going to of course continue with the news. Rosemary Church is right after the break.