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Taliban Trying to Show Good Image to World Stage; WHO Highlights the Difference Between Third Shot and Booster; Vaccine Still The Best Defense; La Palma Still in Lockdown; World Bank Admits Its Mistake. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired October 12, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on CNN Newsroom, life under Taliban rule, the religious police are instructed to be more moderate, but others are carrying out swift and brutal so-called justice.

Advisers for the World Health Organization are now recommending additional doses of COVID vaccines, but only for certain individuals. Plus, the lava from the are erupting volcano on Spain's La Palma island sparks a factory fire and triggers a lockdown.

UNKNOWN: Live from CNN center, this is CNN Newsroom with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Thanks for joining us.

Well, the Taliban are trying to strike a balance between legitimacy on the world stage and their version of Sharia law at home in Afghanistan. Their latest chance comes in the day ahead as government officials will meet with U.S. and European diplomats in Qatar.

Italy's prime minister will also chair a virtual summit seeking badly- needed humanitarian aid for the country. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres says he is alarmed the Taliban are breaking their promises to women and girls. He says the country will never recover without their participation, and he is urging the world to help save the failing economy.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: With assets frozen and development aid paused, the economy is breaking down. Banks are closing and essential services such as health care has been suspended in many places. We need to find ways to make the economy breathe again. I urge the world to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH (on camera): The Taliban insists their approach to governing is gentler and less oppressive than in the past, but stories persist of vulnerable Afghans tortured and shamed with medieval techniques.

Our report from CNN's chief correspondent Clarissa Ward contains graphic images.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the image the Taliban want to project. Friendly and pious, bringing peace and security. On the streets of Ghazni City, Taliban official Mawlavi Mansour (Ph), Afghan, goes from shop to shop, talking to the owners.

He asked how the security situation is with the Taliban in charge. "The situation is good, praise be to God," the man says. It may well be a performance for our cameras, but it is telling. The Taliban wants to show they have changed.

When you're talking to the men, and some of them don't have long beards, are you saying anything to them about their beards, or does it matter right now?

"We tell the people that this is the Prophet Muhammad Sunnah, and make them aware" he says. "But we don't want to force the people to do this." In another part of the market, the newly resurrected much feared religious police, are also keen to show they are taking a lighter touch.

They gather the shopkeepers to introduce themselves, and warned them about the importance of following the Sharia. Make sure your women cover themselves, one Taliban tells the crowd, they should not travel without a close male relative. And man stands nearby, casually smoking a cigarette. A punishable offense under the previous Taliban regime, but no one says a thing.

Back at their headquarters that the ministry for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, the men are still settling in. Up until recently, this was the ministry for women. The man now in charge seems leery of my presence and refuses to meet my eye. He says their mission is to help Afghans embrace Islamic rule.

And what do you do if they are not following your interpretation of Sharia law?


MAWLAVI ABDULLAH MOHAMMED, TALIBAN MINISTRY OF PROPAGAION OF VIRTUE AND PREVENTION OF VICE (through translator): We act with accordance to Sharia law. Firstly, we inform people about their deeds. We preach them and deliver their message to them in a very nice way. The second time, we repeat it to them again. And the third time, we speak to them slightly harshly.

WARD: If his words sound like talking points, that's because they are. As we leave, he hands us a newly-issued Taliban booklet outlining the group's gentler approach.

So, he says that this book contains the rules for how they should carry out their work.

But old habits die hard, and back in Kabul, it's clear not everyone is following the new guidelines.

It's badly bruised.

In a secure location, Wahid (Ph) shows as the ugly marks left behind after he says he was whipped by Taliban fighters. We changed his name for his protection. He tells us three fighters stopped him at a busy traffic circle for wearing western style clothing. They took him into a guard hut and demanded to see his cell phone.

UNKNOWN (through translator): I had photos on my phone related to gays people. Also, the clothes I was wearing were a gay style. They took me and covered my mouth. Two of them held each of my hands, and a third hit me. First with a with, and then with a stick.

WARD: What reason did they give for doing this to you?

UNKNOWN (through translator): When they were beating me, they kept saying that I was a gay, and I should be killed. They had very scary faces. They were enjoying beating me.

WARD: That lurid brutality was on full display weeks earlier in the western city of Herat, when the bloody bodies of four men were hung in public for all to see. The Taliban said they were kidnappers, killed during a raid. On one man's chest, a grim warning, abductors will be punished like this.

Remarkably, many in the crowd seemed to approve of the Taliban's medieval displays. People are really happy about this decision, this man said. Because people believe that by doing this, kidnapping can be removed from this province.

In another grotesque display, two alleged criminals, their faces painted, were humiliated before a cheering crowd, the punishment the Taliban favors for petty thieves. After the corruption of the former government, the group has seized on a frenzied desire for swift justice. But they are savvy enough to know how it looks to the rest of the world.

Back in Ghazni, our attempts to see the justice system in action are repeatedly stonewalled. We're told that the Sharia high court is closed despite the people waiting outside.

We're trying show you that you had the --

As we try to persuade the Taliban to let us in, we see two men head into the court. Our Taliban minder relents and lets us follow them. But in the court, the judge makes it clear that we are not welcome. "Tells them to stop," he says. We are quickly assured out.

We have been trying all day to get into the Sharia court. They're not letting us but they also won't give us a reason.

It may be that what happens behind closed doors here doesn't fit the Taliban's new carefully cultivated image. And that the movement born in conflict is still brutal at its core.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Ghazni.


CHURCH (on camera): Members of Britain's parliament are slamming the U.K. government over its handling of the COVID crisis. In a damning new report, they blame the government for a waiting too long to impose a lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, resulting in unnecessary deaths. They say decisions on lockdowns and social distancing and the advice that led to them rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced.

This happened despite the U.K. counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world. The U.K. must learn what lessons it can of why this happened if we are to ensure it is not repeated. The U.K. is one of the hardest hit countries in Europe in this pandemic, with more than 138,000 COVID deaths.


Well, vaccine advisers with the World Health Organization are now recommending an additional COVID vaccine dose for people with compromised immune systems. They say a third dose is needed to ensure those people are fully protected. The advisers were careful to distinguish their recommendation as an extra dose, not a booster shot. The WHO has opposed offering boosters until more of the world can be vaccinated.

And for more we are joined by CNN's David McKenzie in Johannesburg. Good to see you, David. So, tell us more about this guidance from the WHO panel and what it all means.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, it might seem like semantics, but it's an important distinction the WHO is making here. Their advisory group is saying that people who are immunocompromised, so that includes those suffering from HIV AIDS or type one diabetes who may not be able to mount enough of a reaction, an immune reaction to the vaccine to have lasting effects.

They say those people around the world should be given the opportunity to expand their primary vaccine doses, so for the seven WHO authorized vaccines to get one more dose of those vaccines to help bolster their immunity.

It does mean that the messaging can be a bit confusing to people because they continue to say that booster shots, that is for people over a certain age in the U.S., Israel, and the E.U., or just people who feel they want to get more of a protection against COVID-19.

They said that still isn't something they command despite several countries doing it. CHURCH: And David, how will poorer nations achieve this, given many

don't even have enough supplies to give the first dose, which of course was the reason why the WHO initially held back on this recommendation?

MCKENZIE: Yes, well they held back on the booster recommendations, something they are continuing to do. And the short answer is they won't be able to. Those countries that have low vaccination rates or not very robust access to COVID-19 vaccines, which continues to many countries around the world, including here in Africa.

As we have been speaking about for many, many months the vaccine availability in poorer countries is still very, very low, less than 10 percent, far less than 10 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. Here is a reminder from the WHO why they say booster shots shouldn't be given.


KATE O'BRIEN, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF IMMUNIZATION, VACCINES AND BIOLOGICALS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: This time and as the director general has called for, a moratorium on booster doses for the general population because giving those booster doses to individuals who already have had the benefit of a primary response is, as has been explain before, like putting too lifejackets on somebody and leaving other people without any lifejacket.


MCKENZIE (on camera): Well, the news isn't all bad here in South Africa. The country has just crossed the 25 percent of all adults mark are fully vaccinated, adults in the country, and that is expanding day by day. So, there are bright spots across the African continent, but overall, I must say, Rosemary, the concept or even the possibility of immunocompromised people getting another shot is very low indeed.

CHURCH: Yes. Understood. David McKenzie bringing us the very latest on that. I appreciate it.

Well, the U.S. could soon have a new tool in its fight against COVID- 19. The drug maker Merck has asked for emergency use authorization for its antiviral pill to treat COVID. The company says early trial data shows the pill cut the risk of hospitalization or death by half. If approved, it would be the first oral treatment for COVID that people could take at home.

Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider is an internal medicine physician at the California Pacific Medical Center. She joins us now from San Francisco. Thank you, doctor, for all that you do.


CHURCH: So, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the Merck antiviral pill will ultimately be a game-changer but shouldn't be a substitute for getting vaccinated. How much do you worry that people who are now refusing to get the shot will rely on this antiviral pill once it's available instead of getting vaccinated, and how do you stop that from happening?

UNGERLEIDER: Well, these are important questions. You know, as we know on Monday Merck requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for this pill. It is quite a breakthrough. This medicine is taken by mouth, which is convenient. It's relatively inexpensive, and as you said, appears to markedly reduce hospitalization and death if it's taken on early on in the course of COVID-19.


You know, at this point the company said that they are seeking authorization for the pill to be given the bill only to high-risk adults, so people over 60 or younger people with underlying medical issues. And it's not clear if it's going to be available for people who are vaccinated.

I would say that this is certainly exciting news. I do want to point out that vaccination remains our most important tool to control this pandemic, because it prevents you or it can prevent you from getting sick in the first place. And preventing infection should always be our top priority.

You know, we are moving towards a future where vaccines most importantly are non-pharmaceutical interventions and then advances like this and other anti-viral are that are in the pipeline can allow us to return to a more normal life. But I have to say vaccination is really the key to all of this.

CHURCH: And we just can't emphasize that enough, can we? And doctor, the WHO is now recommending an additional third COVID dose for those with compromised immune systems. But they are avoiding the term booster because of course, just a few weeks ago they were telling the U.S. and other wealthy nations not to give booster shots until poorer nations have access to vaccines.

What's changed their minds, do you think, and how much is politics playing a role here in this refusal to refer to this as a booster shot?

UNGERLEIDER: Well, it's a little different. Right. So, this advisory group to the World Health Organization met for four days. They concluded that people who have weaker immune systems should receive an additional dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and this is because we know people who are immunocompromised are less likely to have adequate protection following the initial vaccine series.

And then we also know that there are higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. So, the WHO really carefully pointed out that this recommendation is different than the extra doses for people who have an adequate primary response to vaccination.

This is that booster, which have been reviewed and implemented in the U.S., in Israel and some other European countries. You know, the WHO plans to review this issue of boosters coming up during a session on November 11th. But really to date have been very focused and importantly on getting the limited supply of the world's vaccines to countries where fewer people have been vaccinated. So, we'll see what they have to say come November.

CHURCH: Yes. So many countries not even having access to that first dose of course. And doctor, meantime we are seeing vaccination rates rise in many countries, and in the United States COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending down. But we have seen this before.

So, how cautious do we need to be at this time? And what advice would you give those viewers of ours heading into cooler temperatures with winter on the horizon?

UNGERLEIDER: Well, that's right. New COVID cases are down about 40 percent in the U.S. compared to last month. This is good news, as we head into fall and winter. But sadly, we really are relatively high levels of deaths.

If we look at the states with the highest infection rates there in the areas where the air is turning colder. People are spending more time indoors. None of these places have high enough levels of vaccination to help curb community transmission. And I suspect this will be quite problematic, because we know this virus spreads most quickly when unvaccinated people spend time unmasked indoors.

I think we do need to look back at the recent history in the U.S. and around the world and notice that COVID tends to have about a two-month cycle where we often see a 60-day surge followed by a drop and then another surge. And we actually don't know why this is.

What we do know is that this virus and the Delta variant in particular is going to exploit any gaps in immune protection. We saw that this summer in the more unvaccinated regions of this country.

So I think as we look ahead to the colder months, the holidays which are about two months from now, no one can say for sure what's coming, but until we have many more people fully vaccinated, including our young children, we need to remain very cautious, and if we learned anything this summer it's that we cannot declare victory prematurely.

CHURCH: Yes. Very sound advice there. Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, thank you so very much.


CHURCH: And still to come, thousands of people are in lockdown and it's not due to a COVID outbreak. Why officials in the Canary Islands are telling people to stay inside. That's next.

And later, the president of the World Bank spoke exclusively with CNN about mistakes made in the bank's handling of key reports. We'll hear from him, just ahead.



CHURCH (on camera): Welcome back, everyone. As many as 3,000 people on Spain's La Palma island are under lockdown after lava sparked the fire at a cement factory on Monday. Authorities say the lockdown is to protect people from the potentially toxic fumes and smoke.

The volcano on La Palma has been erupting nonstop for more than three weeks. The lava has destroyed more than 1,000 buildings and hundreds of hectares of crops like bananas, avocados, and vineyards.

Journalist Al Goodman joins me now from Madrid to talk more about this. And Al, the people of La Palma have had so much to deal with. What is the latest on the situation there?

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: Hi, Rosemary. That lockdown now underway for 20 hours for those people closest to that cement factory. Lockdown means stay inside, doors and windows closed, you can go outside only for at most urgent region -- reason.

Officials say now that they are not just worried about the cement factory and the emissions from that fire, which was started when the lava came into the factory, but it's an industrial park and they feel that other businesses may also go up in smoke and that could pose further dangers.

Officials also watching the wind shift. Right now, the airport in La Palma which has been closed is currently open. If the wind shifts and start sending volcanic ash back that way that could also cause it to close again. This volcanic ash is like snow on your car. You are trying to clear it off, clear off the runways.

Right now, the airport is up with a few cancellations and some delays. That lava flow at its widest part is one and a half kilometers wide, a mile wide, and it's been moving in three big prongs. One of the prongs already reached the ocean about two weeks ago.

Spectacular images forming a new part of the coastline, a triangle -- a triangular-shaped addition to the coastline. It didn't just go underneath the water. It formed a new piece of land there a volcanic ash. A volcano. And up north, which is where the lava flow is going, that has gotten that industrial park, that could also reach the sea.

So across the island, when you have the industrial park right now, you have banana plantations, which is the lifeblood of the economy of this island, a major -- it's a small island it produces, it out produces its weight in bananas, a third of all the Canary Islands bananas come from this place, and many of them come right here to the mainlined and on into Europe.

So, there's a massive economic problem. The government has declared a disaster zone. Some money is reaching there, but there is no end in sight. Officials say this is normal for a volcano, Rosemary. It could go on for days. It could go on for weeks.

CHURCH: Yes. And we have seen that in other parts of the world. Al Goodman -- Al Goodman, thank you so much for bringing us up to date on that situation. I appreciate it.


Well, the World Bank president admits mistakes were made as a scandal threatens to overshadow its meetings this week with the IMF in Washington. In an exclusive interview, David Malpass told CNN's Richard Quest there were certainly mistakes in the bank's handling of the doing business economic report.

Last month an independent law firm found top World Bank officials had put undue pressure on the report's authors to boost the ratings of China and Saudi Arabia.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: How do you protect your staff from legitimate or otherwise pressure from an individual country, and there have been several that have been identified, and you and I have been around this long enough to know that this sort of thing happens. Countries do put pressure on different organizations. How can you protect legitimate pressure, how can you protect your staff?

DAVID MALPASS, PRESIDENT, WORLD BANK GROUP: One is to make a very clear statement that the World Bank operates on transparency and there is an environment that does not retaliate with staff. And there are substantial safeguards within the bank in that regard, in the justice process within the bank, so we are reinforcing that and we are working to have the lead climate for all staff to be one that he is conducive to do good to the mission.

The core is to have the mission of reducing poverty and improving shared prosperity for our clients is ultimate, and that requires a good environment for staff. And there are multiple procedures to protect that.

QUEST: Last question in this area, sir. But you -- I understand this didn't happen on your watch. But you are now the president of the World Bank and you are the man who has the task of leading to clean it up. This is amongst the most embarrassing incidents that the bank has faced.

MALPASS: There were certainly mistakes in the process of the bank, and the bank needs to find ways to avoid that into the future, and I'm working on that as hard as I can so that the bank has a good environment to create quality projects into the future.


CHURCH (on camera): Kristalina Georgieva was running the World Bank at the time of the allegations, but is now the managing director of the IMF. She says she disagrees with the findings of the investigation.

Well coming up next, U.S. President Joe Biden is facing a tough test as tensions escalate between Taiwan and Beijing. More on that, still to come.



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Well, Kim Jong-un says North Korea's weapons program is not meant to start a war with anyone but instead to prevent one. According to state media, the North Korean leader cited hostile policies from the U.S. and the military buildup in South Korea.

Kim made the speech standing next to weapons and missiles at the country's Defense Development Exhibition. Analyst say, North Korea appears to be pushing ahead with its missile program and has started expanding its main nuclear reactor to make fuel for nuclear bombs.

Well, heightened tensions between mainland China and Taiwan are putting the U.S. in a tough position and could become a major test for President Joe Biden. Beijing is calling for peaceful reunification with Taiwan but in recent weeks it sent dozens of military aircraft into the island's Air Defense Identification Zone. Taiwan, meanwhile, remains defiant and its president saying the island won't bow to pressure.

On Monday, China's military release this video showing drills in Fujian province, directly across from Taiwan. The exact date when they took place is not known.

CNN's Will Ripley has more


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Taiwan's growing arsenal are on full display at this weekend's National Day Parade to defend against a growing threat from China, this small island is spending big on weapons, many made in the USA.

F-16 fighters, patriot missiles, $5 billion in U.S. weapons sold to Taiwan last year. Taiwan arm sales skyrocketed during the Trump years. The former president's hardline stance against China, one of the few Trump era policies embraced by President Joe Biden.

Defending Taiwan's democracy against authoritarian China has rare bipartisan support. Some worry Washington politics maybe provoking Beijing, even pushing Taiwan and the U.S. into dangerous territory.

JESSICA LEVINSON, PROFESSOR OF LAW, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: If you do take steps to look like you are aggressively defending Taiwan then you arguably put them in a more vulnerable position. You arguably again, irritate China.

RIPLEY: Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen, says the island is on the front lines of a much bigger battle.

TSAI ING-WEN, PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN (through translator): Free and Democratic countries have been allergic to the expansion of authoritarianism and Taiwan is on the forefront of the defense line of fellow democracies.

RIPLEY: China sent a record 150 warplanes near Taiwan in just five days this month. Biden's balancing act, calming Cross-Strait tensions, defending democracy, and preventing a conflict that could cost American lives.


LEVINSON: I think Taiwan really presents a challenge to any American presidential administration, because you're trying to balance competing interests.

RIPLEY: This is an extraordinary sight, four kinds of domestically produced missiles rolling through the capital in front of Taiwan's presidential palace. An ominous sign of escalating regional tensions.

CHANG YAN-TING, FORMER TAIWAN AIR FORCE DEPUTY COMMANDER (through translator): We cannot control whether or not the Chinese Communist Party has the ability to attack Taiwan. But we are able to control and make sure it does not have the motivation to do so.

RIPLEY: Every Chinese leader since Mao has vowed to take control of Taiwan. Analysts say, President Xi Jinping maybe the first with the military, mighty enough to do it, even as he calls for peaceful reunification.

YAN-TING: Whoever wins Taiwan, wins the world.

RIPLEY: China is locked in territorial disputes across the Indo- Pacific region. Taiwan, Beijing's biggest unresolved issue and some say Biden's biggest test.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


CHURCH: And joining me now from Taipei, is Maggie Lewis, professor of law at Seton Hall University. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, just how dangerous are these rising tensions between China and Taiwan and how likely is it that the China would flex its military muscle and decide to attack Taiwan?

LEWIS: There is no doubt that the tensions are higher than they have been for a long time and I want to emphasize that we're at the sensitive period, right after the PRC National Day, October 1st and the ROC, the Republic of China National Day. So we are going to see some more theatrics. But on a day-to-day basis, I'm in Taipei I took the dog for a walk. I took my older son to a birthday party. So, I think sometimes that aspect of daily living gets lost in the international media.


CHURCH: But Taiwan has been bravely defiant in response to pressure from China. But the small island it would be no match for the military might of China if worst-case scenario. So what is giving Taiwan the confidence to do this to push back? Does the self-governing island believe the U.S. and perhaps others would step in and help?

LEWIS: Well, of course it would be no match if Taiwan was facing Beijing alone. It relies on that support of knowing that, you know, should not provoke China but rather have an attack upon itself that the U.S. would likely intervene. There is no guarantee of that intervention. That is under the strategic ambiguity policy, but there is strong confidence that the U.S. will back up Taiwan. And we've also seen increasingly vocal support from Japan and other friends in the area.

CHURCH: Of course, this means the pressure is now very much on U.S. President Biden, with some suggesting this might be his biggest test. What would he likely do if this ends in conflict between China and Taiwan, either as a result of some miscalculation or by design?

LEWIS: Well, first, I hope we can avoid the miscalculation, and Biden has made that point speaking to Xi Jinping about the worst kind of force, you know, we don't want to have an accidental war. So, we look back for example, of 20 years ago when there was a collision between the U.S. EP-3 jet in the PLA, the Chinese fighter jet, and that crisis was able to be talked down without a lot of drama. I don't think it would be the same today.

So we need to make sure we try to avoid those kinds of miscalculations and accidents. And then I think we need to just look at that Taiwan is not just protecting Taiwan for the sake of the Taiwanese, but Taiwan is extremely important to U.S.'s interest in the Indo-Pacific.

CHURCH: Of course, talking to you, I really get the sense that you just see this as really a storm in a teacup. I mean, that this will eventually go away, this is more a timing. Is that what -- am I reading that correctly from you?

LEWIS: I think that we need to think of this is as a long term game and that we need the U.S. to be a strong steady partner for Taiwan. And we need Taiwan to focus on building up its own defense. And it's not just about the big ticket items, about the planes and the missiles. It's about having resilient population that can handle having the electricity grid for example go down for a week. And so, I think we need to not get too excited in the moment, but really plan for the long game.

CHURCH: All right. Maggie Lewis, many thanks for your analysis and we appreciate it.

Well, still to come, after a decade of civil war, Syrians living in the country's last rebel stronghold now have another fight on their hands, a devastating outbreak of the COVID Delta variant.


CHURCH: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political block has won the most seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections while Iran's favorite candidates came up short. That is according to initial results from Iraq's electoral commission. The U.S. and Iran have tried to influence Iraq's political trajectory ever since Sunni leader Saddam Hussain was toppled in 2003.

But in a speech Monday, al-Sadr reminder the world that his powerful political movement opposes foreign interference and that, quote, "Iraq is only four Iraqis." He said all embassies are welcome in Iraq as long as they don't interfere with the country's affairs.

Austria has a new chancellor after Sebastian Kurz resigned amid corruption allegations. Kurz stepdown days after prosecutors raided his office, he and members of his team are under investigation for allegedly using government money to pay for positive media coverage. Kurz denies it and is still a leader of the center-right Austrian People's Party. His replacement, Alexander Schellenberg, is a close ally of Kurz and remains loyal to him.


ALEXANDER SCHELLENBERG, AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I will, of course, work very closely with Sebastian Kurz, the chairman of the New Peoples Party. The largest party in parliament under whom the People's Party successfully won two national elections. Anything else would be absurd in terms of Democratic politics. Moreover, I consider the accusations circulating to be false and I am convinced that in the end, it will turn out that there is no truth in them.


CHURCH: Comments like those are fueling the opposition's claims that Kurz will effectively remain in charge with Schellenberg acting as a figurehead.

Syria is still consumed by the civil war that has lasted more than a decade and now the country is fighting COVID-19. Jomana Karadsheh takes us to one of the last opposition strongholds, Idlib, Province. Its relative isolation is no longer protecting it from this virus.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Grief is no stranger to this part of Syria. But this time it's not bombs and bullets, it's COVID 19 that claiming more and more lives. The White Helmets, known for their heroic rescues, pulling countless bodies from underneath the rubble of bombed out buildings, now bury Idlib's dead.

No one really knows how many lives COVID-19 has claimed but every day since August they have been digging new graves. When they are not ferrying the dead, the White Helmets are still trying to save lives, transporting hundreds of patients to the few hospitals left standing after years of Russian and regime airstrikes. Hospitals treating COVID-19 are overwhelmed. Oxygen is in short

supply, and so are doctors. Officials here say there are only 200 doctors treating COVID-19 patients in Northwestern Syria. Years of war have left this last major opposition stronghold, home to more than four million people with only 900 doctors.

This nearly isolated part of the world was spared the worst of the pandemic. But health workers say the Delta variant is wreaking havoc with limited testing capabilities, it's hard to know the real extent of the spread. Medical NGOs say the situation is catastrophic with the positivity rate of more than 50 percent.

IBRAHIM ABOUD, DIRECTOR GENERAL, AL-ZIRA'A HOSPITAL (through translator): Over the past six weeks, the curve started increasing slightly with the Delta variant. We felt the danger and prepared ourselves at the hospital, and the logistics and schedules. We prepared the workforce but didn't expect that this wave was to be this strong and this severe.

KARADSHEH: It's not just the Delta variant, vaccines have been slow to arrive here. Less than 1 percent of Northwestern Syria's population is fully vaccinated. It's hard to believe that these (inaudible) streets of the city facing it's second and worst wave of the pandemic. But this is a population that has lived through hell. People here have been craving the normalcy this past years, relative calm has brought.

UNKNOWN (through translator): People have suffered a lot from airstrikes, from chemical attacks, and we had lived through many wars. So we have developed immunity, emotional immunity and permanent immunity.

KARADSHEH: While many parts of the world prepare for a post pandemic life, Syria's latest nightmare maybe just beginning.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.



CHURCH: Just days after Lebanon's electrical grid went dark due to severe shortages, its fuel supply took another hit. This fire that erupted at a major oil storage facility destroyed hundreds of thousands of liters of gasoline. The cause of the fire is not clear but it happened when the fuel was being moved to an army storage tank, and it took 25 fire trucks to put it out. As Ben Wedeman explains it's the latest painful chapter for a country in crisis.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After Lebanon completely ran out of fuel over the weekend and the country was plunged into total darkness, the lights have now gone back on but only barely.

The Lebanese army stepped in and provided just enough fuel to allow the countries two main power plants to operate to produce around two hours of power a day which has been the state of the situation in the country going back several months before this weekend blackouts.

The Lebanese government is bankrupt, the economy in a state of collapse, one of the worst the world has seen in the last 150 years according to the World Bank. This collapse is a result of decades of incompetence mismanagement and corruption that have caused the Lebanese currency the, Lira, to lose around 90 percent of its value has led to massive increases in the price of food, and severe shortages of petrol and medicine.

Now several would-be save years have stepped forward to try to address Lebanon's energy crisis. Iran has sent fuel via Syria and handed it over to Hezbollah. Iraq has sent several shipments of fuel and the United States is in the process of trying to work out a complicated arrangement whereby Egypt would provide Lebanon with gas, Jordan would provide Lebanon with electricity, but the details of this arrangement could take months to work out.

It is not clear who would pay the bill and, of course, the United States would have to modify its sanctions regime against Syria through which the electricity and gas would have to pass. And to add insult to the injury of it all, Saturday, the day the lights went out in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon the country's Energy Minister, Walid Fayad, was spotted relaxing on the Beirut Beach. Crisis? What crisis?

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Rome.


CHURCH: And Lebanon isn't the only place struggling to keep the power on. The largest province in China's industrial region is facing more shortages. Officials there have issued its second highest alert of power shortages for the fifth time in two weeks. The province has been hit by widespread power cuts since mid-September. The crisis is being blamed in part on soaring prices for coal.

And coal is at the heart of India's power shortages as well. State leaders have warned the central government of a coal shortage that has already caused power cuts in several parts of the country. But despite the warnings the Indian government insists it has enough supplies to meet demand.

And still to come here on "CNN Newsroom," a navy engineer is accused of trying to sell highly classified plans for America's nuclear powered submarines. New details about an alleged insider spy plot. That's next.



CHURCH: U.S. Federal prosecutors say a married couple accused of spying are a flight risk and need to be held in jail before trial. The Justice Department also warns they could destroy evidence if set free. Details remain scarce about the sting operation that nab the pair, but what we do know about the case is bizarre.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Some of the country's most closely guarded nuclear submarine secrets inside a peanut butter sandwich. Over the weekend the FBI and U.S. Navy arresting navy nuclear engineer, Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, for attempting to sell classified information to a foreign government. Alleging the couple used methods out of a spy novel to pass the information to an undercover FBI agent.

After messaging with agents for months, the couple allegedly left a memory card at a dead-drop location in West Virginia in June, where the FBI found it, wrapped in plastic and place between two slices of bread on a half of the peanut butter sandwich.

Allegedly inside, details of military sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia Class Submarine reactors. Virginia Class Submarines are some of the most advanced stealth submarines in the world, capable of staying underwater for months at a time. They can engage targets at sea and on land as well as gather intelligence and deploy Navy SEALS.

The Toebbe's allegedly conducted two more dead-drops, the final one, in August, with a memory card in a chewing gum package that allegedly contained schematic designs for the Virginia Class Submarine. The FBI says that Jonathan Toebbe has been a Navy employee since 2012. He worked at a lab in Pennsylvania on nuclear propulsion where he maintained a top secret security clearance.

His wife Diana is a teacher in Annapolis, Maryland, who allegedly acted as a lookout for her husband during the dead-drops. In one of his messages, Jonathan Toebbe allegedly wrote, he was extremely careful to gather the files I possessed, slowly and naturally in a routine of my job. We received training on warning signs to spot insider threats.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It was a mix of some very sophisticated methods used by Mr. Toebbe and his wife, and some really sloppy ones.

SCHNEIDER: The couple allegedly wrote that they were seeking a total of $5 million in cryptocurrency. The FBI says they paid the Toebbe's $100,000 over the course of the investigation.

The biggest mystery remains, who did this nuclear engineer think he was selling these government secrets to? The FBI only refers to it as country one in the court records and that country alerted the FBI which then began its undercover investigation. Toebbe and his wife will appear in federal court on Tuesday. Prosecutors are asking that they remain locked up calling them a flight risk and saying they could destroy evidence.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: We are counting down the Wednesday's Blue Origin launch which will carry Star Trek's Captain Kurt into space. Ninety-year-old, William Shatner, will join three others on an 11-minute ride to the internationally recognized boundary of space. The launch was delayed from today over weather concerns. Shatner and the crew spoke with CNN's Erica Hill about the journey.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): William Shatner. A lot of excitement as I know you know about this trip especially for you. I was really struck by how candid you have been in some of your interviews that you were a little terrified you said, a little frightened, obviously excited. This weather delay is that helping or hurting those feelings?

WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: It's extending my feelings.


It's, you know, it's a combination of things. It's not all terror although there is some bubbling elements of that. But also, I am totally versed in the safety of what we are doing and we have been spending days here, in and out of these very difficult chairs. It's a great workout getting in and out of these throne chairs and we have been lectured and told about the safety procedures.


And so, that adds an element of (inaudible) from the niggling elements of dangers. I feel comfortable that I am also uncomfortable. And I will be very happy when we go up and we are in weightlessness and we know we are safe because everything else should be all right. And we have that moment of inspiration which I feel will be there when we are looking into the vastness of the universe.

HILL: Real quickly before I let you all go, there's a lot of talk about are you or are you not an astronaut after a flight like this? So this all goes down the line, Glen, you can go first, then on to Audrey. Will you consider yourselves an astronaut once you're back on planet earth?

GLEN DE VRIES, CO-FOUNDER, MEDIDATA SOLUTIONS: I'm going to consider myself a changed person and it doesn't really matter what you want to call me.


HILL: Audrey?

AUDREY POWERS, V.P. OF MISSION AND FLIGHT OPERATIONS, BLUE ORIGINS: I will, I will take the astronaut title. I would very much appreciated being held in that club.

HILL: William Shatner, astronaut? How's the sound of that?

SHATNER: Small a.


SHATNER: Followed by two s. It's a little jeopardizing.


CHRIS BOSHUIZEN, OPERATING PARTNER, DCVC: I don't think it's fair to call this tourism yet. It's too early in this new public space age for us to call this tourism. You know, there are risks, and I think all of this have made a decision to be part of this flight and to be pioneers to help open the door to space for everyone else, but, you know, this is space exploration. This is the first steps into space for the human race.


CHURCH: He's going to have a blast. Blue Origin's new ship is scheduled to launch tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

And thank you so much for your company. Enjoy the rest of your day. I'm Rosemary Church. "CNN Newsroom" continues with Isa Soares next.