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Afghanistan's Future Under Sharia Law Unclear; Somber Ceremonies Mark 20th Anniversary Of 9/11; Teen Players Square Off In Women's Tennis Championship; Strong Typhoon Chanthu Batters Taiwan; Man Walks Over 500 Miles To Honor Fallen 9/11 Firefighter Brother; Push To Remove Governor Newsom Enters Final Stretch; Three Countries Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines; Beijing Rides Nationalist Wave, Pursues Crackdowns. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi. Welcome to all our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow. Thanks for joining me.

So coming up on CNN, right now the tribute of light is shining in New York, two towering reminders of where the World Trade Center buildings once stood. How the victims of that stressful day 20 years ago were honored. We have that story.

Also, a strong typhoon is churning in the western Pacific. The storm is barreling toward Taipei with China next in its path.

And two tennis champions square off for the U.S. Women's Open title. While only one teenager hoisted that singles trophy, tennis was certainly the big, big winner.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Thank you for joining us this hour.

Twenty years has not diluted the painful memories of 9/11 or the unspeakable agony inflicted on the victims' families.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alexander Ajchiang (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dorothy J. Chicharro (ph) Gilliam (ph).

CURNOW (voice-over): On Saturday, the nation tried to provide some solace, a symbolic arm around the shoulder to let each wounded soul know they are not alone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Safreed Jakar (ph).


CURNOW (voice-over): One by one, the names of the victims were read aloud, each one an empty place at the table. The grief and sorrow of so many captured by a young girl, as she spoke directly to the uncle she had never met and imagined how he might be today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My uncle, firefighter Christopher Michael Mozzillo, I know you're with us every day, watching over us. And even though I never met you in person, I still miss you a lot.

Mom always tells me all the crazy fun things you did and I'm sure, if you were here, I'd probably be doing them with you. Thank you for being the best guardian angel.


CURNOW: So New York City right now, these two brilliant shafts of light where the Twin Towers once stood in Lower Manhattan. The president and the first lady paid their respects to the victims at all three sites, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. And we begin our coverage with CNN's Polo Sandoval in New York -- Polo.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At dawn, the unfurling of a flag over the side of the Pentagon, hit by a jetliner 20 years ago, signaled the beginning of the day of tributes.

It's one of three sites where Americans gathered in somber remembrance, honoring each one of the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th. At the footprints where the Twin Towers proudly stood over Lower Manhattan, President Joe Biden and the first lady were joined by the Obamas and a sea of 9/11 families to memorialize those lost two decades ago.

At 8:46 am, the first of six moments of silence marking the instant the first hijacked airliner struck the North Tower. Mike Low's daughter, Sara, was a flight attendant on that plane.

MIKE LOW, FATHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: As we recite the names of those we lost, my memory goes back to that terrible day, when it felt like an evil specter had descended on our world. But it was also a time when many people acted above and beyond the ordinary.

SANDOVAL: The tributes continued throughout the morning, with the nation pausing five more times: the moment each Twin Tower fell, when the Pentagon was attacked and the moment United Flight 93 crashed into the field in Pennsylvania.

KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is truly an honor to be with all of you at this field of honor.

SANDOVAL: Along with Vice President Kamala Harris, President George W. Bush, who served as commander in chief in 2001, helped lead a memorial at that site.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all. The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people.

SANDOVAL: And at the Pentagon, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, honored the victims of the attacks and the service members who died in the subsequent war in Afghanistan.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS: Never forget those who were murdered by terrorists. Never forget those who rushed to save their lives and gave theirs in exchange. Never forget the sons and the daughters, the brothers and sisters and the mothers and fathers, who gave their tomorrows for our todays.

SANDOVAL: Tonight, the sky over Lower Manhattan lights up again with the annual tribute and light.


SANDOVAL: It's a reminder of the nation's resilience and an iconic symbol honoring those killed and the nation's unbreakable spirit -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


CURNOW: The FBI has released a newly declassified document revealing details about its investigation into the September 11th attacks and whether the Saudi government provided support for the hijackers.

The 2016 document describes multiple contacts between the hijackers and several Saudi associates in the U.S. The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in those attacks. And the Saudi embassy said it welcomed the release of the records.

More documents are expected in the days ahead after President Biden ordered the Justice Department to review previously held information about the attacks.

And the war that began in the wake of those deadly attacks has only just ended. Less than two weeks after the final U.S. military withdrawal, Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. To put it simply, prices are high and money is scarce. And many Afghans face an anxious daily reality.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The change of regime has brought disappointment for everyone. Especially the younger generation. And women and the educated class. There are no hopes for their country, their education or their future any longer. They have no faith left. They are in a state of suspense.


CURNOW: The Taliban is seeking international legitimacy and have formed an interim government. But its hardline makeup will complicate normalization. It's unclear how radical the interpretation of sharia law will be this time around. But one Taliban police chief told CNN nothing has changed.


QARI HAQMAL, TALIBAN POLICE CHIEF (through translator): There is no difference between the laws 20 years ago and now. Only back then, the U.S. was too powerful. They were doing a lot of propaganda. All other countries were under the United States.

Therefore, they had made plans for their invasion. There was no other problem. The mujahideen still have the same law. There hasn't been any change to it. Obviously, people change. But that hasn't changed. It is the law of Allah. There is not going to be any change in it.


CURNOW: Arwa Damon has reported from Afghanistan. Arwa joins me now from Istanbul.

Arwa, hi. Certainly that kind of attitude chilling for those who have been left behind, who still remain in Afghanistan.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly must be, Robyn. One can't even begin to imagine, especially since right now we're also hearing all sorts of contradictory messages.

Remember, when the Taliban first took over Kabul, they were saying women would be allowed in education; they would have the right to work. Now you're hearing from the police chief in Mazar-i-Sharif saying that, no, the laws are going to be exactly the same as they were 20 years ago, where basically women did not enjoy any of those rights.

Neither did young girls, effectively denied an education, a future and any ability to be productive members of society, denied the right to basically dream of bettering themselves, bettering their country.

And, you know, at the same time, if one were to be in Afghanistan right now, the other reality is that you can't get out. Afghans are effectively trapped in Afghanistan at this stage. Those who managed to get out are very much the lucky ones.

And when it comes to the Taliban's rule, even if we do get a Taliban that is less strict than the one of 20 years ago, this is still going to make it one of the most, if not the most oppressive regime when it comes to girls' and women's rights in the world.

And when it comes to the role that the international community could have played, that global leaders could have played? They've effectively abdicated responsibility. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the U.S., Great Britain, other Western nations, it's not necessarily about how to pressure this Taliban government to ensure that girls and women's rights and other rights as well are being upheld.

The conversation really centers about how to ensure that no security threat emerges from an Afghanistan that's being ruled by the Taliban but also, how to keep Afghans from leaving Afghanistan, because, at this stage, a lot of countries are prioritizing the fact that none of them really want to deal with another refugee or migrant crisis, the likes of which we saw in 2015-2016 with the war in Syria.

And so, for many Afghans, they do feel completely and totally abandoned. What has happened to them, the fact that they everything have enjoyed over the past 20 years, the relative freedoms and democracies, have all of a sudden disappeared. This is something that beyond heartbreaking at this stage -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thank you for that.


CURNOW: Arwa Damon, as always, there, live in Istanbul.


CURNOW: I want to go now to Sajjan Gohel, a terrorism expert and international security director for the Asia Pacific Foundation. He joins me now live from London.

Good to see you. You heard Arwa there, talking about the role of girls and women.

But that also overlaps with the security situation, doesn't it?

SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Very much so, Robyn. I couldn't agree with Arwa more. What she said is 100 percent accurate.

If you see women's rights collapse in Afghanistan, degraded, women kept out of the picture, literally, then that will be a resulting in the rise of extremism, because women's empowerment directly challenges male supremacy. The Taliban misogyny institutionalizes violence toward women.

And that also then becomes a magnet for foreign terrorist fighters. We saw it in the 1990s in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda. Then we also saw it with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, post Arab Spring.

And unfortunately, we're seeing very similar eerie similarities taking place in Afghanistan right now. So if women's rights suffer, if civil society collapses, you will see a rise in extremism. The two are very much interconnected.

CURNOW: Obviously, the anniversary, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, there has been a lot of reflection, a lot of thoughts on what went wrong, what went right, the lessons learned. I want to break it up, if you don't mind.

In the 20 years, particularly when we look at the retreat from Afghanistan in the last few weeks, what has been the one lesson that has been learned, in terms of dealing with terror threats on a global scale?

GOHEL: Well, every 9/11 anniversary almost serves as a kind of reflection point as to where we've progressed in the war on terrorism. And there has been many successes in terms of a lot of plots are disrupted on a weekly basis. They perhaps don't get the attention that perhaps they could.

But it is a behind-the-scenes effort by counterterrorism agencies; cooperation, intelligence sharing has also increased. But unfortunately, what remains to be a big challenge is the fact that terrorists are still able to operate in the dark, whether it is physically or virtually.

And in the case of Afghanistan, one of the biggest challenges was trying to get countries like Pakistan on board, where you saw the Al Qaeda leadership and the Taliban based in Pakistan.

And I think various U.S. administrations, from the Bush, Obama, Trump and then Biden administration, are getting increasingly frustrated that Pakistan wasn't doing enough to dismantle the infrastructure of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

And unfortunately, we are now seeing the Taliban return to Afghanistan, perhaps a stronger place than they were during the 1990s. They control more territory than they did back when bin Laden was there in Afghanistan.

CURNOW: Many security experts have said that Joe Biden's position, that terrorism emanating from Afghanistan was not, you know, a national security issue for America, that things like climate change or even a real pivot towards China were far more important from a foreign policy perspective and also national security perspective, do you agree with that?

GOHEL: Well, there is no arguing that climate change is an existential challenge to humanity. But I would say it's not in competition with counterterrorism, that the two still can go hand in hand.

It is true that terrorism has stopped in Afghanistan but that was largely because you had a coalition presence, led by the U.S. in the country.

And let's also keep in mind, Robyn, that President Obama, when he was in power, he ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014. So for the last six, seven years, you had a reduction in fatalities on coalition troops. The costs have come down.

But they provided peace and stability to the country. And there was a stalemate with the Taliban.

The worry now is the Taliban are back in power. You have got proscribed designated terrorists running the country, such as Sarajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI's most wanted list. He was also a close ally of Al Qaeda.

And if, unfortunately it seems to be the case, that they are not only defending Al Qaeda but they potentially have been cooperating with them behind the scenes, then that means that you could see a return to extremism.

And that will also then play a problem, not just for Afghanistan but impact on us because you'll see foreign fighters going there for training and potentially plotting against the West in the future. History repeats itself. And we've seen unfortunately too many examples of that.

CURNOW: And quickly before we go, the Taliban is trying to be an international partner. They need foreign aid. They're looking for some sort of legitimacy as the leaders of Afghanistan.


CURNOW: Is that an opportunity to leverage them and perhaps not create a vacuum or an opportunity for terrorism to breed there again?

Is there some chance to manipulate at least the expectations of the Taliban and what kind of a home they provide?

GOHEL: Unfortunately, our options are limited. The Taliban, as you said, very much wants recognition and legitimization. But they haven't changed. Their misogyny toward women, drug trafficking, harboring extremists, these are the metrics they'll have to be judged by.

And the early signs are not very good and countries like Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey continue to establish closer ties with the Taliban. That then undermines the ability to try and get them to come back to a sense of normality and learn that the 21st century is about equality for all.

CURNOW: A sober assessment there 20 years after 9/11. Sajjan Gohel, thank you very much for joining us.

GOHEL: A pleasure.


CURNOW: So ahead on CNN, how two teenagers battled their way into the U.S. Women's Open tennis final. One of them lost but they both won the hearts of the sporting world. Stay with us to meet the victor.





CURNOW: I'm Robyn Curnow. It is 20 minutes past the hour. Good to have you along.

Let's talk about sports. The women's tennis final at the U.S. Open was billed as the battle of the teenaged sensations and it did not disappoint. It was the first all-teen championship match for the American title in 22 years. In the end, 18-year-old Brit Emma Raducanu won her first grand slam title by defeating Canadian Leylah Fernandez.


CURNOW: We are tracking a typhoon as it now moves away from Taiwan. It's no longer a supertyphoon but it's certainly still a monster storm with category 3 strength winds and heavy rain. And it has been battering Taipei.



CURNOW: Thank you for watching CNN. If you're an international viewer, I'm going hand you over to "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER." That is next. If you're joining us here from North America, I'll be right back with more news.

And as we head to break, we do want to show you part of Bruce Springsteen's emotional performance at Ground Zero today. Take a listen.






CURNOW (voice-over): Bagpipes accompanied the American flag as it was carried through Lower Manhattan on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Solemn ceremonies were also held in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

President Biden and the first lady paid their respects to the victims who died in each of those places.


CURNOW: And while he was in Pennsylvania, the president reflected on the emotional difficulty of these anniversaries but said they're important and they need to be done. For more, here is Arlette Saenz.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden, visiting all three sites of the September 11th, 2001, terror attacks. Marking the 20th anniversary since those attacks, on Saturday. The president, starting his day in New York City, at Ground Zero.

Where he was accompanied at the 9/11 Memorial by former president Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

They stood at that site as each of the names were read of those killed in the terror attack 20 years ago. The president, also stopped in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to lay a wreath at the site where Flight 93 crashed into that rural Pennsylvania field, after some passengers overtook the hijackers who had hoped to land that plane in the Capitol. Instead, it crashed and killed those on board, in Pennsylvania, 20 years ago.

The president, wrapping up his day at the Pentagon, laying a wreath there, with Vice President Kamala Harris. And, in a video, released ahead of the 9/11 remembrances, the president called for a moment of unity.

As he was speaking with reporters on September 11th, he shared the story of how one of his friends lost a loved one, a son, in the tower attacks, in New York City. And he recalled the emotions that many of these families are feeling, on this anniversary. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a tough day for him and for everybody who lost somebody. And, you know, I know you heard me say it before and I'll probably get criticized for saying it again but these memorials are really important.

But they're also incredibly difficult for the people who are affected by them because it brings back the moment they got the phone call. It brings back that instant we got the news, no matter how many years go by.


SAENZ: The president, trying to strike some empathy there, on this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The president, calling many of the actions of people that day, genuine heroism -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: And one detail about the 9/11 attacks is that the U.S. President was on camera when he learned about the attacks, as we all saw.


CURNOW (voice-over): George W. Bush was visiting a school in Florida at the time. His chief of staff, Andy Card, whispered in his ear that the U.S. was under attack.

Former ABC news correspondent Ann Compton was in that classroom. She also was on Air Force One as Mr. Bush flew out of Florida and she recalled one of the terrible decisions he had to make while on that flight.



ANN COMPTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: That limited communication made worse when Air Force One felt it needed to go to a much higher altitude. And that further destroyed his ability to talk to people on the ground.

And he wanted to go back, and he was asked at one point by Vice President Cheney, who technically is not in the chain of command, should U.S. military jets shoot down any other plane, civilian jetliner being suspected of being hijacked?

The whole idea of, you lose lives in the air, you don't lose them on the ground.



ACOSTA: Those were the choices that were being contemplated.

COMPTON: But what president enters office saying, I may have to do this.

It's unclear whether the president gave his thumbs up before Cheney passed it on or whether it was after. The president agreed either way.

That flight was already nose down into Shanksville and they did not know it. We did not know it.


CURNOW: Now we have been seeing some heartfelt tributes to those who lost their lives in those attacks. But one man's tribute to his firefighter brother, literally, has been a journey of several hundred miles, that ended on Saturday in Lower Manhattan, as Jason Carroll now explains.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One might say that with every step Frank Siller takes, he comes one step closer to honoring the memory of his brother, Stephen.

FRANK SILLER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TUNNEL TO TOWERS: Everyone thought he was their best friend. You want to know why? Because he treated everybody that way.

CARROLL (on camera): He sounds like a wonderful man.

CARROLL (voice-over): Stephen Siller was a New York City firefighter who, on the morning of 9/11, had just finished his shift with Brooklyn Squad One. [03:35:00]

CARROLL (voice-over): He went back to work after learning a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower. Siller grabbed his gear and drove toward Manhattan. When he saw the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed, he got out and ran through the tunnel with 60 pounds of gear on his back toward the Twin Towers.

Stephen was one of more than 300 New York City firefighters killed that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Frank, way to go!

CARROLL (voice-over): Now his brother, Frank, is paying tribute to him --


CARROLL (voice-over): -- by trekking more than 500 miles through six states in six weeks to honor not only his brother but all the heroic first responders from that day.

CARROLL: How did you get the idea to do something like this?

SILLER: Well, I was -- I know I was going to do something with walking because --

CARROLL: Why -- why walking?

SILLER: Because walking is very therapeutic. And I like only doing things if it -- if it has meaning. It just has to be the right thing.

And once I thought of that, I said, oh, my God, that's it. I didn't know how many miles it was and I didn't care but I knew it was the right thing to do.

CARROLL (voice-over): On August 1st, Siller began his journey at the Pentagon.

SILLER: Our first mission is to make sure we never forget what happened 20 years ago.

CARROLL (voice-over): Twenty days later, he made it to Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The week after that, Hershey, Pennsylvania --

SILLER: Thank you. God bless you.

CARROLL (voice-over): -- where word of his journey had started to spread.

CARROLL: Emotionally, I'm just wondering how this walk has affected you.

SILLER: Look, every day was very emotional. And many times, I've broken down and cried privately. You know, I just can't help myself because -- and I don't know what moment it's going to be. And I don't know what little thing was going to trigger it.

CARROLL (voice-over): Last week, Morristown, New Jersey.


CARROLL (voice-over): This week, it's New York City.

SILLER: I like that. Let's be happy. Let's be happy.

CARROLL (voice-over): Throughout it all, never missing a step, walking a little every day, sometimes with a group or alone.

And when the weather was not so great, at times talking to his brother, Stephen.

SILLER: Yes, I laugh at the rain. I laughed at the heat. Whatever my brother wanted to throw my way because he was a big buster.

CARROLL: Really?

SILLER: Oh, he was a -- he liked to bust chops. And so whatever he threw my way, I laughed. I said, Stephen, I know what you're doing. I know what you're doing.

CARROLL (voice-over): The final and most challenging leg comes this Saturday, September 11th.

CARROLL: What do you think you'll be thinking about when you walk through the tunnel, the tunnel that your brother walked through on that day?

SILLER: I've been -- I've been looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time because I know how much I'll be overcome with emotion.

CARROLL (voice-over): But he says he's ready to complete his walk and carry the memories of his brother and the other men and women who lost their lives that day.


CURNOW: Thanks to Jason Carroll for that.

And in Florida, scuba divers placed a large American flag underwater to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11.


CURNOW (voice-over): This is the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Divers attached the flag to a historic military shipwreck some 60 feet or 80 meters beneath the ocean surface. That ship was intentionally sunk 20 years ago to serve as an artificial reef.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW: California's governor is fighting for his political life ahead of Tuesday's recall election. Why some observers believe the race will be close, even though they far outnumber Republicans in the state.

And the U.S. isn't the first country to implement vaccine mandates. Coming up, we'll speak with a public health expert and find out how effective these mandatory vaccinations are.





CURNOW: So some U.S. Capitol Police officers could face disciplinary action in connection to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. On Saturday, the department released details of its internal investigation.

It found six cases where officers broke the rules but said there had been no evidence that any of the officers actually committed a crime. So far, it's unclear if each case involved a different officer. Officials say a seventh case is pending.

And California governor Gavin Newsom is in the final stretch of a fight to keep his job. His fate will be decided at the polls on Tuesday, when the state holds a gubernatorial recall election. President Joe Biden is set to actually campaign for Newsom before that. As Natasha Chen now reports, millions of ballots are already in.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 7 million ballots have been cast so far in this recall election, many of them mail-in ballots because every California voter automatically receives one in the mail.

But with just a few days left until the election, there are also early in-person voting centers, like this one in Beverly Hills, available for people to walk in.

Now we talked to voters in this heavily Democratic area, who tell us this election is about preventing a Republican takeover. And what they are seeing in other parts of the country are influencing their decision here in this state election.

DANIEL FINK, CALIFORNIA VOTER: Thanks to the deliberate incompetence of the Republican governors in Texas and Florida -- I'm a grandparent. Our sons are all in their 30s but I'm a grandparent -- where parents are not allowed to protect their children going to school because the governor prohibits mask mandates in the school.

CHEN (voice-over): The people we talked to said they voted no to keep Governor Newsom in office but they also said they don't feel 100 percent confident that will happen. CHEN: There was caution in their voices as they recognized how much

division there is even in a very blue state. Now the ballot has just two questions but it can be confusing for some.

The first question asks voters whether they want to recall Governor Newsom. If the majority of people say no, then he stays in office.

But if the majority says yes, then the second question becomes important. The second question asked voters who should replace Newsom if he is recalled.

And with 46 candidates to choose from, the person with the most votes becomes governor. You can choose a candidate for governor even if you oppose the recall. But Governor Newsom's campaign has been telling supporters to simply leave the second question blank -- back to you.


CURNOW: Thank you so much, Natasha.

So despite some U.S. states showing a decline in recent COVID infections, others are struggling to stay on top of a surge that is certainly taking a devastating toll. Now the U.S. averaged more than 1,100 COVID deaths each day over the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The recent increase prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to lay out a plan on Thursday for vaccine mandates. He is hoping to curb a spread that is largely being driven by the Delta variant and the unvaccinated.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to unvaccinated Americans is this.

What more is there to wait for?

What more do you need to see?

We have been patient but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.


CURNOW: Mr. Biden's new vaccine requirements could apply to as many as 100 million Americans. Even so, this mandate is not as sweeping as in some countries, three of which are requiring their entire adult population to be inoculated.

Indonesia, which has reported more than 4 million COVID cases so far, was the first to impose a COVID mandate back in February. Following suit in July were Turkmenistan and Micronesia, each of which have reported no locally transmitted cases and want to keep it that way. In the last hour, I spoke to public health expert Michael Baker about

how well the vaccine mandates are working out in those countries and if they're making a difference.


MICHAEL BAKER, MNZM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Well, those three countries you mentioned are outliers in terms of the whole approach to COVID-19. Turkmenistan isn't reporting cases or its vaccine coverage. So we don't know how the policy works there.

Micronesia, of course, is a great success story. They've excluded the virus entirely. They've essentially followed an elimination approach. But their vaccine coverage is still low.

And I think Indonesia, again, has struggled to get high vaccine coverage for a lot of factors. And I'm not sure that this mandate is really making any difference there.

CURNOW: Do you see, though, other countries slowly taking this decision to mandate all adults?

I know Italy is potentially looking at it, weighing this up as well.

BAKER: Well, almost every country on Earth has some kind of vaccine mandate. Obviously starting with occupational groups, border workers, health care workers, people in essential industries.

And also they are adding mandates for certain situations. And you think about international travel, domestic travel, traveling on public transport, these are situations where we are seeing these policies happening.

And obviously, this is expanding to a wider range of occupational settings. So one way or another, vaccine mandates are really very common across the globe.

And obviously they're important, particularly when you have occupational health and safety issues or where you have workforce groups that interface with the public. I think we're going see more of vaccine mandates over time.


CURNOW: Public health expert there, Michael Baker, speaking to me a little bit earlier.

So Pope Francis says he is glad papal trips have been restarted as he landed in Hungary about two hours ago. It's his first international trip in months. He'll stay in Budapest for several hours before going on to Slovakia for four days.

The short stay in Hungary is seen by some as a slap in the face of prime minister Viktor Orban. The nationalist leader is vehemently opposed to immigration and Pope Francis has been calling on countries to open their doors to migrants. So you're watching CNN. Minecraft, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, some of the most popular online video games played by millions of you across the world. But some people are concerned that it's not all fun and games.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: It's a common concern among gamers and parents the world over.

Can video games be addictive?






CURNOW: Is it fun or a potential addiction?

That's a question about online gaming often debated among players, parent and health experts worldwide. Well, in China, the government says it can be addictive to minors and as Kristie Lu Stout reports, Beijing has moved to limit their playtime.


STOUT (voice-over): Playtime is pretty much over for China's young online gamers. Beijing has banned online gamers under 18 from playing on weekdays and limited their play to only three hours on most weekends.

China's media watchdog says the rules are necessary to combat gaming addiction.

STOUT: It's a common concern among gamers and parents the world over.

Can video games be addictive?

STOUT (voice-over): In 2018, the World Health Organization introduced gaming disorder as a new mental health condition. Signs include impaired control over gaming, gaming taken precedence over other interests, continuation of gaming despite negative effects and impaired social functioning and distress.

SHEKHAR SAXENA, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Gaming disorders is a disorder of control, so the person cannot hold onto the amount of time for gaming and it keeps increasing. It can cause several health problems. Physical, as well as mental.

STOUT: According to the WHO, the characteristics of gaming disorder are very similar to substance use disorders and gambling disorder. But not everybody agrees. According to a 2020 study, co-authored by American psychologist Chris

Ferguson, there is a lack of consensus on the issue of video game addiction. About 60.8 percent of scholars surveyed agreed pathological gaming could be a mental health problem but 30.4 percent were skeptical.

CHRIS FERGUSON, PSYCHOLOGIST: It's an issue of scholars have been arguing about for, probably, 30 years. And what has happened is there are all these questions about it that are unresolved in this community. Like, even as basic as is this a real thing?

STOUT (voice-over): For years, China, the world's largest video games market, has worried about the impact of games, blaming it for rising rates of nearsightedness and setting up boot camps that use military drills to try to kick the habit.

STOUT: And China now wants to combat gaming addiction by restricting how long young players can game online.

How effective is this?

SAXENA: Very drastic public health measure.


SAXENA: Gaming disorder is only present in a very small minority of all people who game. Because gaming, by itself, is not always harmful.

STOUT (voice-over): But health experts say the question isn't how many hours a child spends gaming but whether excessive play is a sign of a deeper mental health issue.

FERGUSON: If you just take away the games, you leave them with a pre- existing condition. So it doesn't really fix anything. It kind of just takes away the thing that they were using to distract themselves from their suffering.

STOUT: Experts advise parents to monitor their kids and focus on harm reduction rather than unplugging entirely and missing out on the occasional thrilling fight to the finish -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


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