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Afghanistan's Future; Newsom's Fight For Survival; Coronavirus Pandemic; UK Approves Pfizer Jabs For 12-15 Year Olds. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 01:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, welcome to all of our viewers around the world. Thanks for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow live from Atlanta. So just ahead, Antony Blinken defiance as lawmakers grill him on the chaotic exit from Afghanistan. Why he says staying longer would not have made any difference.

And the UK is officially moving forward with Pfizer jobs for kids. We also discuss what to expect from Boris Johnson's winter plan to combat the virus.

And fashions biggest night makes a comeback all the show stopping looks sort of them kind of outrageous from last night's Met Gala.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN Newsroom with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: In the face of Republican calls for his resignation, the top us diplomat is offering his strongest defense yet of the military pullout from Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers there was a choice between ending the war or escalating it, and he said there was no evidence that staying longer would have made any difference. Kylie Atwood has the details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Blinken --

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): facing fierce bipartisan criticism, Secretary of State Tony Blinken defending the Biden administration's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining if 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support equipment and training did not suffice. Why would another year, another five, another 10.

ATWOOD: And how it was done. BLINKEN: The evacuation itself was an extraordinary effort under the most difficult conditions imaginable by our diplomats, by our military, by our intelligence professionals.

ATWOOD: But Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee weren't buying it.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime, that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban.

ATWOOD: Blinken also received critical questions from Democratic lawmakers about what could have been done better. Although the evacuation of more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan was one of the biggest airlifts in history. It was marked by chaos and the death of 13 American service members.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D-NY) HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: All the things the administration could have done differently, absolutely yes, as always.

ATWOOD: At times, the hearing became a partisan battle. Democrats pointing their fingers back at the Trump administration's Afghanistan policies.


ATWOOD: Accusing republicans of relying on selective memories.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I'm going to assert that the events of August 14th had their direct antecedent, with a bad decision by President Trump and Secretary Pompeo in 2018, to elevate and legitimize the Taliban in Doha gutter by agreeing to have face-to-face negotiations.

ATWOOD: Blinken agree that the Trump administration officials did strike the deal with the Taliban, forcing the U.S. exit.

BLINKEN: We inherited a deadline, we did not inherit a plan.

ATWOOD: And now the Biden administration must decide how to work with the Taliban, which is now in control of the country, and how to defend against any potential terrorist threats emerging in Afghanistan without us troops, diplomats, or intelligence officials in the country.

BLINKEN: We lost some capacity for sure. And not having those boots on the ground in Afghanistan. But we have ways and we are very actively working on that to make up for that, to mitigate for that, to make sure that we have eyes on the problem to see if it reemerges in Afghanistan.

ATWOOD (on camera): Now, Secretary Blinken repeatedly commended the State Department officials who have worked on this evacuation effort and many lawmakers have echoed him in doing the same but there are still questions about the continuation of these evacuations from Afghanistan.

There are about 100 Americans still on Afghanistan that are in touch with the United States State Department and Secretary Blinken heard from lawmakers were urging the department to continue to work with private individuals and non-government organizations who are trying also to get these Afghans and Americans out of Afghanistan. We are waiting for details as to how that partnership really worked out. Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


CURNOW: And UN Donors Conference has secured pledges of more than a billion dollars to help Afghanistan far exceeding its goal of 600 million. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says Afghanistan was experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crisis before the Taliban takeover with poverty and hunger, spiraling.


And the World Food Program now warns 14 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation. And after decades of suffering, Guterres says Afghans could be facing their most perilous hour.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: Humanitarian aids will not solve the problem if the economy of Afghanistan collapses.


CURNOW: Arwa Damon is live this are in Istanbul. Mr. Guterres also said a whole bunch of other things really raising the stakes in terms of how dire he says the situation is in Afghanistan.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Robyn, it is in fact quite difficult to put into words at this stage. There are so many challenges that that country and the most desperate among its population are currently facing. Look, even before all of this, even before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, 76 percent of the population were living before below the poverty line.

What does that mean? That means that 76 percent of the population were struggling to put food on the table, parents were struggling to feed their children, all of that has now been amplified. And the issues that they're facing have been further aggravated. It's not just an issue, as Mr. Guterres was saying, of having the money for the humanitarian aid. You also have the logistics of its distribution and a number of aid organizations, international aid organizations have been negotiating and speaking to the Taliban, they have to, to get aid where it needs to go.

You also have the reality that during those evacuations that were taking place from Kabul, which was basically the only way in and out of the country, the Kabul airport. Aid flights were significantly slowed down nonexistent in some stages, as countries were focusing on mostly getting their own and nationals out. And then there is the medical side of all of this. We're not just talking about getting food to the hungry. A number of medical organizations that work in Afghanistan, including doctors without borders are also warning about the collapse of the country's medical infrastructure that was all ready, weak and decrepit to begin with, essential medications not available access to basic health care, very difficult, not to mention health for women who are pregnant for young girls. And so this is really a point where the international community cannot afford to turn away.

Look, if we look back at history of these kinds of conflicts, unfortunately, the reality is that while the conflict is unfolding, there is a lot of focus on what is taking place. There is a lot of effort to try to get humanitarian medical assistance where it needs to go. But then attention gets diverted. And Afghanistan is not a country where the world can actually afford at this stage to divert its attention.

And if we fail on that front, if the world does, in fact diverts attention from Afghanistan, that country is going to face, highly likely going to face actually, you know, malnutrition among children, which we're already beginning to see. And potentially what is this all going to mean? It's going to mean that more people in Afghanistan are going to unnecessarily die because they can't get the medical support that they need, because they are unable to get the food that they need to stay alive, Robyn.

CURNOW: In assemble there. Thanks so much Arwa Damon.

So Gul Maqsood Sabit is the former deputy minister of finance for Afghanistan. He is now a lecturer at Ohlone College in California. And he joins us from Union City. Good to see you, sir.

So as both Antonio Guterres and our Arwa reporting and Afghanistan's economics were in a precarious position before the fall of the government, the Taliban knew that. They've taken power without a plan, knowing the international community would not want to do business with them. How much responsibility for this precarious situation? Do you place on the new leaders and the Taliban?

GUL MAQSOOD SABIT, FMR. DEPUTY MINISTER OF FINANCE, AFGHANISTAN: In our responsibility, actually, all the current responsibility of this current situation in the situation that the country will get in falls on the shoulder of the current leaders. Now, it's a different question whether they will accept our take on that responsibility or even feel it or not, but it plays on their shoulder. There is nobody else who can take care of the suffering population. Those, you know, these people were caught by surprise, both economically and politically.


A large number of the population dependent on an economy that was heavily reliant on the international aid, that was tapped all of a sudden. There is no governance. Basically, governments is dysfunctional with no services at all. And humanitarian aid that flew into the country before, that stopped to all of a sudden, because of the political problems, and, you know, other logistical issues.

So, this is a shot for everybody. And the situation is, as you heard, rightly heard is worrying for all of us.

CURNOW: So what we've been seeing is a global call and response for aid for support. Yet, when we hear our reporter saying that, obviously, these aid agencies are having to talk to the Taliban, get security, assurances from the Taliban in terms of trying to get to ordinary people, should there be strings attached to any aid given to the Taliban, or at least an Afghanistan that is ruled by the Taliban? How much pressure or inclusive should this aid be, especially when it comes to say, women's rights? What kind of strings attached should be put on all if all -- at all?

SABIT: You know, world concerns are understandable, and in their right, they should think about those strings. But I think at this situation, we are facing a humanitarian crisis. There is a population of about 35 to 40 million, that will probably die of hunger and, you know, lack of medical supplies and other basic needs.

So at this time, I think it will not be right to link the two together. I think political pressure should be or political strength should not be attached to a humanitarian crisis or humanitarian aid at this time, because this will really result in the suffering of the common people. And I think world should separate the two. And in because if, you know, the current leaders do not really shoulder that responsibility or don't have the means to do so. Somebody has to and that's the world that has to.

CURNOW: China has pledged millions. We know that Pakistan is a longtime supporter of the Taliban, regional leaders have been meeting. How much responsibility is it then for neighbors to step up particularly those neighbors who will feel the impact of a broken economy and massive internal displacement?

SABIT: I believe this is everybody's responsibility. But I don't think only the neighbors can address this or can take care of the all the problems because this is much bigger than what they can afford to do. Pakistan has its own economic problems. They have a high ratio of debt to GDP. Similarly, China, usually their aid is mostly, you know, they have strings attached to it. And in this population right now needs help that without any strings.

I think the world must think about preventing this humanitarian catastrophe at this time, and then think about the strings and conditions later on. Because this is a problem that's currently at hand and that has to be addressed. And again, in the future, I think humanitarian aid or flowing of humanitarian aid is not the solution, because how long will you feed the population. You need an economy, a functioning economy, a functioning government or a system to feed those people. You cannot send an aid forever.

But I think at this time, before we move to the second stage of addressing governance problems, or putting conditions on the current rulers, or setting up an environment so that they can build their economy and feed the people. I think this crisis is very urgent and I think it needs to be addressed today.

CURNOW: Gul Maqsood Sabit, appreciate all of your perspective. Thank you for joining us here on CNN.

SABIT: Thank you for having me.

CURNOW: It is the final day of voting in the election to determine if California's democratic governor gets to keep his job. We'll hear how Gavin Newsom and his Republican rival are making their closing arguments to voters.

Plus details of New York City's new vaccine possible program and what is this -- what this means for people planning to visit indoor attractions in the city that's next as well.



CURNOW: Welcome back. We are just hours away from the polls closing in California where democratic governor Gavin Newsom is hoping to survive the effort to remove him from office, almost eight and a half million pre-election ballots have already been caused. Newsom and his main challenger republican Larry Elder, sharpen their final pitches to voters on Monday. Elder hit hard on California's high housing costs and pandemic restrictions that helped fuel the recall effort in the first place.


LARRY ELDER, CALIFORNIA GUBENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The average price of a home in California is literally 50 percent more than it should be. One of the many things I'm going to do when I become governor is declare a statewide emergency on housing. I'm going to declare a statewide emergency on water. And to the extent that there still are mandates that this government has imposed for state workers, mandates for every worker who's not been vaccinated to be tested once a week, and to wear a face mask at work. I'm going to be repealing, those because I believe we still have something in this country called freedom.


CURNOW: Meanwhile, Newsom brought our President Joe Biden who compared elder to former President Trump.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We're going to keep Gavin Newsom as your governor. Or you'll get Donald Trump. It's not a joke.


CURNOW: So stay with CNN throughout the day for continuing coverage of those election results.

Mayor of New York says the city is back in full force as many returned to work amid new measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now one of those measures is a vaccine passport required to take in many of New York's most well-known activities. Athena Jones has more Athena.


BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: This is the day we have been waiting for.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A pivotal day in New York City as people of all ages face new requirements aimed at beating back COVID-19 and is many of the city's municipal employees returned to their workplaces.

DE BLASIO: You're going to remember in the history of this city this day, September 13, 2021. Day that was a game changer, a difference maker, a turnaround day, this is the day. New York City's come back in full force.

JONES: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is now required at indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues. With companies that don't enforce the rule facing fines.

Children under 12 too young to be vaccinated will have to mask up. Same goes for the nation's largest school district where all students and teachers must be masked as full time in person learning begins. And all public school employees must receive at least one dose of vaccine by September 27. The city's approach winning praise from federal officials.

MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: To all the families that are watching, they've worked so hard to be prepared. They're doing everything to make sure your children and staff are safe.

JONES: Experts say widespread mandates could be key to ending the pandemic.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think that if you get trusted public messengers who put aside political ideas and convince people to get vaccinated. The other way to do it is to have many, many more mandates.


JONES: Dr. Anthony Fauci also telling the skim that when it comes to mandates for air travel --

FAUCI: I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated.

JONES: In fact, new CNN polling shows the public evenly split on whether mandates for everyday activities are an acceptable way to increase the vaccination rate. But there is more support for requiring vaccinations for office workers, in-person learning, sports events and concerts. Still after President Biden announced companies with more than 100 employees must require they be vaccinated or tested weekly, blowback with swift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an egregious overreach of federal authority.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: The problem is that I'm trying to overcome resistance but the President's actions in a mandate hardens the resistance.

JONES: And after too many maternity ward employees at one upstate New York hospital quit over vaccination requirements, a stunning step.

GERALD CAYER, CEO, LEWIS COUNTY HEALTH SYSTEM: We are unable to safely staff the service after September 24. The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies that Lewis County General Hospital.

JONES: Meanwhile, with average daily U.S. COVID deaths on the rise and nearly 100,000 people hospitalized with the virus, ICUs in Georgia and Alabama are maxed out.

The Washington Post reporting an Alabama man having a cardiac emergency died after being turned away from 43 hospitals that didn't have an available ICU bed.

(on camera): And the confusion of a when and whether booster doses of COVID vaccine will be necessary continues. Two FDA advisors who announced they'll be stepping down this fall. So they don't see the need for the general population to get booster shots. So others say the data supports boosters. Dr. Peter Hotez explaining that among other things boosters could help prevent long COVID and may prevent asymptomatic transmission. The FDA will be meeting to discuss the matter on Friday. Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


CURNOW: The British Prime Minister will announce the plan for managing the coronavirus pandemic through autumn and winter on Tuesday. Downing Street says the plan focuses on vaccines as the first line of defense, followed by testing public health advice and monitoring for variants of the virus.

The government is expected to unveil its booster shot program with details of its rollout. The prime minister will also lay out plans to repeal previous emergency powers that have been granted during the pandemic such as applying restrictions to events and gatherings. Boris Johnson says he thinks the country is well positioned heading into the next few months.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We've got to do everything that's right to protect the country. But the way things are going at the moment, we're very confident in the steps that we've taken. I'll be setting out a lot more. Tomorrow I'll be giving a full update on the plans for the autumn and the winter.


CURNOW: And the UK will now be offering the first dose of the Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine to young people aged 12 to 15. Health officials say kids will primarily receive their vaccine in schools with invitations for appointments to begin next week.

Well, joining me now is Ravina Kullar, expert on infectious diseases. Ravina, hi, good to see you. Let's just talk about the UK. Obviously, they're saying plus 12. They're going to get their shot here in the US that's been happening for a few weeks for a few months, in fact, and people are waiting for younger kids here to get a shot.

But what we're seeing in the in the U.S. is startling. A 240 percent increase in cases in American children since early July. The numbers when you break them down are staggering.

RAVINA KULLAR, INFECTIOUS DISEASES EXPERT: Thank you, Robyn, for having me on. You're completely right. It's very staggering. I mean, we've seen an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases since July in those children and that children population. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there have been over 250,000 cases this past week. I mean, that's a second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the pediatric population that we have ever faced here as a nation. Very scary for these children and their parents.

CURNOW: Yes, so children currently account for about 30 percent of COVID cases here in the US. I mean, what are the long, you know, what do we know then also about the long-term consequences for kids? A long COVID is going to impact them just as much. It's not just about whether they go to hospital not.

KULLAR: Correct. So currently there are about 2000 children which are hospitalized. Texas is leading the way with about 400 children which are hospitalized with COVID-19 infections.


Many of these children, they're in the ICU as well. Those individuals which are in the ICU, they do most commonly have comorbidities such as being obese and having some other comorbidities, but not all of them and you're right, Robyn, we don't know the long term consequences that these children can face down the line, their physical, their mental health can be negatively impacted down the down the line. So not only do they have disease, children have COVID-19 infection.

Now, it's very concerning as to what can happen long term to these children. We don't know what the answer is yes, but we do know that post-COVID are long-hauler, long -- they are long-haulers in adults where they're faced with respiratory symptoms, they're faced with mental --

CURNOW: And neurological.

KULLAR: Yes, neurological symptoms, correct, which is go on for a period of time, passed COVID -- passed after the COVID-19 symptoms have cleared.

CURNOW: So I want to ask then. So we're seeing these staggering numbers of kids getting COVID here in the US. Why is that? Has it coincided with going back to school? And has it also coincided with the fact that there really isn't -- there really is a hodgepodge, an ad hoc mask policy that's been politicized. I want to bring up a poll that CNN released on Monday, and they asked folks, you know, if they felt that masks should be mandated in schools, and only 63 percent said they should be. 37 percent are opposed. But many, many kids are being sent to schools, almost defenseless?

KULLAR: Yes, you're completely right, Robyn. I mean, I think the reason why we're seeing an increase in cases, number one, these children are back in school. Number two, these math mandates have not been enforced by all school districts. Every single state, every single county functions as its own entity. And until we all work together as a nation, these children are going to be negatively impacted.

We know for a fact that facemask do work. We know for a fact that physically distancing, and having optimal hand hygiene works to help prevent transmission. And those are the measures that we have in place, until vaccines will be available to some of these kids and until all these children get vaccinated.

So third, not every single child has been vaccinated. As of now only about 50 percent of those between the ages of 12 to 15 have received one dose of the vaccine. So until we get a dose of that vaccine in every child's arm, that can get it now this is going to be a huge problem.

CURNOW: And when can we expect then for younger kids to get a shot on their arm?

KULLAR: Well, Pfizer has announced that they're completing their trials looking at the COVID-19 vaccine and those aged -- those which are aged five to 11 years old. My projection is which Dr. Fauci also stated that we should hopefully have a vaccine available in that population by the fall period. So by October or November, those children should hopefully have a vaccine.

But I do want to tell the American people that I know everyone's impatient to get a vaccine in those eight -- in that age group, but the FDA is thoroughly conducting their trials to make sure that the vaccine is safe in kids, that the dosage is right in those children. And until we have answers to those two questions. I think we need to wait on the FDA to really see what -- whether they're going to approve the Pfizer vaccine in that population.

CURNOW: Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Ravina Kullar, really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

KULLAR: Thank you, Robyn.

CURNOW: So coming up here at CNN, the typhoon that is sweeping through East Asia has weakened but it is still on the move as you can see here some dramatic images out of the region. We have the latest forecasts, stay with us for that one.




And we've been covering this story, monitoring of course, the typhoon which has now weakened to a tropical storm in East Asia. It slammed into the Philippines and Taiwan over the weekend. It's now making its presence felt in China, as you can see from these sat images. But the worst of the rain is expected to stay offshore, which is really very, very good news.

Pedram Javaheri joins me now with the latest on this and other weather headlines. Hi.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi. You know, Robyn, this is a storm at one point it was the second strongest storm we've seen in our planet this year. It was a menacing feature and it, of course, it had a tight set across portions of eastern China, right into Shanghai.

And you'll notice on the backside of it, there are some thunderstorms still being produced in that region but the bulk of this system really beginning to dry out and break apart as it moves a little farther toward the east.

It's still just about 20 kilometers per hour shy of what would be equivalent to a category one system. But again, quite a bit of dry air on the backside of it, where all the population is.

So that is good news here as far as reducing the rainfall and the flooding threat. And you'll notice, it kind of meanders just off shore of an area that is home to more than 26 million people.

So again, a really unfortunate turn of events. It does shift off toward the east. We do expect impacts across Jeju Island within the next 24 hours and parts of the Strait of Korea into the East Sea. So it's still going to see quite a bit of rainfall associated with it. It is going to be mainly be a rain event. It's not going to be a wind- driven storm.

And again, because of its kind of long duration setup here, flooding is going to be expected, especially on the eastern side of it. If you're tuning in Japan, certainly want to be something worth noting over the next couple of days.

Now, that's not the only storm we're following, Hurricane Nicholas, this has been a (INAUDIBLE) because it has taken its time, remained offshore. Still hasn't made landfall even though models have suggested it could have made landfall as early as say seven or eight hours ago.

And it's parked right off the coast of eastern Texas. Houston, home to about 7 million people, a lot of these areas underneath the high risk. that is a rare 4 out of 4 issue by the Weather Prediction Center, which is about a 4 percent of all days to get this kind of magenta coloration which is a high risk for severe flooding.

But, they're responsible for about 40 percent of fatalities related with the storm. So that's the concern. We've had this sort of a set up in place around the northeastern U.S. where what was left of Ida moving across the region. So that's why there could be is concerning for flooding in this region.

And of course, a storm surge threats exist on the coast as well. But notice, it hugs the coast, and produces quite a bit of rainfall here. Could see as much as 300 to 400 millimeters, Robyn, in a lot of areas, across eastern Texas and parts of Louisiana as well.

CURNOW: And all those places have already been hit by more than enough rain, and storm surges in recent weeks.

Pedram Javaheri, thank you.

JAVAHERI: That is true.

CURNOW: Now nearly 1,000 firefighters are battling flames in southern Spain. The fires broke out last Wednesday, and it has since forced the closure of 8 main highways. Hundreds have been evacuated and one firefighter that has been killed.

And then the western U.S. is also under threat from wildfires. And President Biden says, it is blinking code red for the country on the impacts of climate change.


CURNOW: Mr. Biden's remarks came after he surveyed wildfire damage in Idaho and California -- both have been hard hit by recent fires. He also used the speech to push for his economic proposals that include funding for wildlife prevention methods like forest management. But he says the disasters also point to a larger truth.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that decades of forest management decisions have created hazardous conditions across the western forest. But we can't ignore the reality that these wild fires are being supercharged by climate change.


CURNOW: And as the world's climate crisis gets worse, attacks on environmental activists are rising. A new report found an average of four activists were killed each week last year -- a record high number.

And as CNN's Rafael Romo now reports, most of those killings happened in Latin America, Rafael.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The report was made after gathering and analyzing data from around the world regarding deadly attacks on environmental activists.

It was published by Global Witness, a London-based, human, and environmental rights NGO. The report's conclusions are alarming. It says, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for environmental defenders.

There was 227 killings, an average of four per week. And most of those deaths, happened in Latin America.

Colombia was the most affected country -- 65 environmentalists were killed there. Activists were protecting indigenous land or defending forests and their coca crops.

With 30 murders, Mexico rank second on the list. A third of those killed were working to stop deforestation in the country.

The only country outside Latin America that had more than 15 deaths of environmentalists was the Philippines. 29 people there were killed for attempting to halt mining, logging and dam projects.

Chris Madden, one of the reports' authors said, "It's clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed that's driving the climate crisis are also having an increasingly violent impact on people."

In the last few years, a number of killings of environmentalists has been increasing. It went above 200, for the first-time in 2017. And in 2020, there were 15 deaths more than the year before.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Mexico City.


CURNOW: And we have this just into CNN.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is in Moscow, for talks with his Russian counterpart. Vladimir Putin actually congratulated Mr. Assad on his recent election win and on his birthday.

Reuters report he also foreign forces deployed in Syria without U.N. approval are hindering the country's consolidation.

We'll continue to monitor developments, and bring you pictures of that in the coming hours, here, live on CNN.

And also still to come, China has a new sweetheart, 18-year-old U.S. Open winner Emma Raducanu. We'll explain why the Canadian-born tennis star is scoring so many new fans in the Asian country.

And after being canceled by the pandemic last year, fashion's biggest night makes a comeback. Up next, the Met Gala.



CURNOW: The so-called Oscars of the East Coast is back. The star- studded Met Gala is an annual fund-raiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. It was postponed last year, like many other things because of the pandemic.

Well this year's theme is In America: a Lexicon of Fashion.

So, let's go through some of these looks. 19-year-old singer, Billie Eilish, traded in her baggy clothes for an Oscar dela Renta gown she said was inspired by Marilyn Monroe.

Social issues were also on the beige carpet. New York Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wore a gown that had "Tax the Rich" written on it. And her fellow lawmaker, Caroline Maloney, sent a message with her shoulder panels, calling for equal rights for women, and a purse that said, you're a yes.

And newly-crowned tennis champ -- let's talk about tennis. Far better. She was also in attendance at the gala, Emma Raducanu, who just won the women's U.S. Open title, over the weekend, wowed the crowd with this stunning outfit on the red carpet. The Canadian born teenager is also wowing new fans in China, where her mom was born.

Kristie Lu Stout is following that part of the story.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tennis' news superstar, Emma Raducanu was born in Canada, brought up in Britain, now the U.S. Open champion is being claimed by China.

On Sina-Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, the "#18-year-old Asian player won U.S. Open" has received 200 million views. The U.S. Open champion's mother is from China's Liaoning Province, and the fact that Raducanu can speak Mandarin has helped boost her appeal.

After her victory in New York, she used her second language to thank her Chinese fans for their support. Some Chinese netizens like this one, picked up on the athletes accent in the Weibo post saying, "It reflects Raducanu's mother's homeland in China's northeast."

Others reflected on the pride Raducanu's grandmother and family in Shenyang (ph) must feel after her fairytale win.

In an interview on the sidelines of the Wimbledon championships earlier this summer, the young athlete described her family in China as mentally resilient and credited her mother's work ethic as a big part of her inspiration.

Raducanu cites China's two-time Grand Slam champion, Li Na (ph), as a big influence on her game. And like her hero before her, Raducanu's combination of youth, tennis talent, and international appeal, is sure to draw sponsorship from her mother's homeland.

STEVE MARTIN, GLOBAL CEO, MSC SAATCHI SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT: You think of the vast potential in the Chinese market, particularly for global brands, China (INAUDIBLE) to the market. And I think the world's her oyster here. I couldn't name a brand who wouldn't want to be associated with her at the moment. She is so positive, and has got that flare and her personality. But that's going to be humility, which will pale across multiple markets.

STOUT: Raducanu ranked 150th in the world coming into the U.S. Open, before blowing away more experienced opponents to win her first Grand Slam.

But sports marketing experts agree, to keep sponsors on the side (ph) she'll need more successes like this.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN -- Hong Kong.


CURNOW: Thanks for watching. I'm Robyn Curnow. I'll be back in 15 minutes' time with more news.

I'm going to hand you over to "INSIDE AFRICA".