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U.S. CDC Signs Off on Moderna, Johnson & Johnson Boosters; Organizers in Ital Cancel Covid Green Pass Protests; Melbourne, Australia Reopens as Covid Restrictions Ease; Queen Elizabeth Returns Home After Overnight Hospital Stay; Refugees Stranded Along Poland- Belarus Border; Two Prominent Businessmen Put Behind Bars in Nicaragua; Dodgers Survive Elimination with Win Over Braves. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares. If you're just joining us, let me bring up to date with our top stories at this hour.

A tragic accident on the "Rust" movie set. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun, and it discharged killing the film's director of photography and injuring the director.

And according to the FBI, dental records show remains found at a Carlton Reserve belong to Brian Laundrie. He disappeared days after fiancee Gabby Petito was reported missing.

Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially signed off on Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines as booster shots. The agency also endorsed using booster interchangeably a so-called mix and matcha approach authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And that means any of the three approved boosters can be given regardless of the initial vaccine. A member of the FDA vaccine advisory board spoke to CNN after the decision. Take a listen.


DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: I think they were the right decisions. Basically, what they're saying is that if you're over 65, you'll clearly benefit from a booster dose independent of which vaccine you've gotten. If you're between 50 and 64 and you have the kind of medical condition that puts you at high risk of severe COVID, then you, too, likely benefit from a booster dose.

For the most part, young healthy people are protected against severe disease. What's been amazing about these vaccines whether it's Moderna or Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson, protection against severe disease has really held up. It's held up for all age groups. It's held up for delta. But I think that for those two groups I just mentioned, a booster dose I think clearly would be of value.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SOARES: While U.S. cases have been on the decline, new infections and deaths have been rising sharply across Europe in recent weeks. Have a look at this. The U.K. reported more than 52,000 case on Thursday, a level really not seen since last July. But the Prime Minister Boris Johnson is rejecting calls for new restrictions.

Italy's new green pass to prove vaccination or testing status is getting a lot of pushback on the streets. The protests planned for this weekend were abruptly canceled at the very last minute because of potential violence. The fear, of course, is the protests may still happen.

And in Australia, the city of Melbourne has finally reopened ending one of the world's longest COVID lockdowns. Angus Watson is standing by for us in Sydney. But first, I want to begin this hour with Barbie Nadeau who joins us in Rome. And Barbie, there is rising opposition to this green pass. You and I have spoken about this before. And we have seen violent protests. So, who exactly is behind this protest? Who is leading this?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, this is one week after the green pass mandate has been in effect, and there is still a lot of tension about this. Now this protest in the port town of Trieste was organized by people who work in that port. And they have had great support all across the country. They canceled this protest. They are expecting about 20,000 people at the last minute, 12 hours before. A lot of people would have been en route to go there already. But they said to the people who were supporting them to instead stay in their town.

So, in Rome they've asked people to gather at Piazza del Popolo here, even though the official police said there is no authorized protest. So, a lot of people are wondering where they should protest to support the port people in Trieste, to demonstrate against the green pass. And we are expecting to see a lot of confusion about where these people will gather all across Italy. There were about 25 cities that have now been asked to protest at home. So, we're going to see what happens as the day progresses. But there is a lot of concern by authorities here that things could get a little hot later on today -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, do keep us posted on the developments there. Barbie Nadeau for us in Rome this hour. Thanks very much, Barbie.

I want to go over to get more on the lockdown in Melbourne -- the COVID lockdown in Melbourne from Angus Watson. And Angus, it's been a day of celebration for those in Melbourne, no doubt, in what has been one of the world's longest lockdowns. But COVID cases are still stubbornly high. So, what's the strategy here from the government?

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: That's right, Isa. The strategy here is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. People are confident to get out now and celebrate, as you say, because the vaccination rates have gotten higher and higher in the capital Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria. Now in Victoria, we're seeing 70 percent of adults over the age of 16 fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 90 percent of the adult population has had one shot. So that's given the government the scope to start relaxing some of

these restrictions. And as you say, Isa, Melbourne has been particularly affected by lockdowns as the pandemic has gone on. One of the most lockdown places in the world. It's a cultural capital, however, for Australia, a restaurant capital, and they are some of the things people can go out and start enjoying again on what was a beautiful day down there in Melbourne. Here's what some people had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Visiting family and friends. It's just fantastic. It's been such a long time since we've been able to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been sort of separated from what I could do for so long. It's super nice to be back today. And it's a sunny day, so it's, like, perfect.



WATSON (on camera): Now, more good news for people in Melbourne today. The state Premiere of Victoria Daniel Andrews announcing that as of the first of November, it would order open its international border through Melbourne airport. Melbourne joining Sydney in welcoming Australians, residents and their families across the world back into Melbourne without having to quarantine. That's if they are double-dose vaccinated.

But, Isa, wait. He's seeing this very strange situation here in Australia where the more vaccinated states of New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian capital of the territory, are open to each other, and the world, the less vaccinated states Queens and West Australia, South Australia, want to hang on a little bit longer to see if they can give their populations a chance to catch up on those vaccination rates. So, if you're in Sydney next month, you'll be able to travel to London, but you won't be able to travel to Perth -- Isa.

Angus Watson for us in Sydney, Australia. Thanks very much, Angus. Good to see you.

Now in New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said COVID restrictions will be lifted only when 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated. Once each district hits that target, then a new traffic light system will come into effect that uses vaccination certificates. So far only 68 percent of the country's eligible population is fully vaccinated. This comes, of course, as the larger city Auckland enters its 12th week of lockdown. Cases continue to climb with the new daily record of nearly 130 cases reported on Friday.

Well, here in U.K., Queen Elizabeth is back at Windsor Castle and in good spirits after spending a night in hospital. Buckingham Palace says the 95-year-old returned home Thursday afternoon after undergoing preliminary investigations on Wednesday. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins me now live. And Salma, good morning to you. I mean, it really is easy to forget that the Queen is 95, because she does so much, doesn't she?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely, Isa. I mean, just looking at the official record, she had 16 events in just the month of October. She's also expected to be in Glasgow in a few weeks' time to cover COP26. She is absolutely a busy woman.

And we found out about this hospital stay after the fact the news sort of broke yesterday after there were some leaks that forced the palace's hand. And here's what we know so far. The Queen did stay overnight in the hospital on Wednesday for preliminary investigations according to palace officials. She returned to Windsor Palace on Thursday at lunchtime and is said to be in good spirits. Palace officials say she even was at her desk on Thursday for some light work duties. And that coming up they will be balancing, of course, her need for rest and time as well as her very busy and demanding schedule and her need as well to fulfill there.

So already COP26 is where she is expected next so you're going to be taking this into account in the future.

I just want to give you a little story here, Isa, that I read today. An anecdote from earlier this week that tells you exactly where the Queen's spirit lies. There was a magazine, a local magazine, that wanted to award her oldie of the year award. She rejected it firmly. And in a statement from her palace essentially said, the Queen believes you are only as old as you feel. And she does not feel she's adequate for this title. It gives you a sense that even at 95 years old, this is a Queen that is going, going, going. She's been head of state for nearly seven decades here. It is someone that generations of people across this country have expected to see on a very regular basis -- Isa.

SOARES: And good on her, Salma, for rejecting oldie of the year. But let me ask you this. In terms of the engagements coming up, are we being told by Windsor Castle whether she's reducing those engagements? Do we know any more?

ABDELAZIZ: Well, we're going to still -- we're still waiting to find out more from palace officials. Her schedule is set in terms of COP26 Glasgow. That is a date that is coming up and the Queen is expected still to be there. But there is an expectation that potentially there might be more of a balancing act in the future. But you have to remember, the Queen wants and needs to be at these events. This is something that she very much desires doing.

Again, 16 events just in the month of October. Of course, Northern Ireland, that was a trip that was scheduled for the day that she ended up going to hospital. Instead, she said she reluctantly accepted that advice according to palace officials. So, yes, there is an expectation there might be some more balance, but we're waiting to find out more -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, she's such a role model, isn't she? Salma Abdelaziz with the latest there. Thanks very much, Salma, good to see you.

Now, Nicaragua's government goes after more political opponents as its presidential election gets closer. Now the family of one jailed former diplomat says they're afraid for his life. We have that story coming up.

Plus, EU leaders have fresh criticism for Poland over its treatment of refugees strand along the border with Belarus. We have the latest with Fred Pleitgen next.



SOARES: Now, leaders of the European Union are meeting in Brussels at this hour and two disputes with Poland are expected to top their agenda. Many members say Warsaw's challenge to the EU treaty, the threat to the block's very foundation. And then there's Poland's treatment of refugees also isn't letting them in. And some accuse border guards really of pushing them back into Belarus.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has been following the story for us and joins me now here on set. And Fred, there's so much we can really get into in the story. Let's start first on where Europe stands with this worsening situation at the border. We have heard from your reporting throughout the week that the EU believes that Lukashenko is orchestrating this. From that side, what can the EU do here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's really the big question. And it's also one of the things when you hear about the criticism that many have of Poland, the EU always couches that and says, look, we believe Lukashenko is very much at fault in all of this. Because he's the one, they say, who's manufacturing all this. He's the one who is essentially telling people to come there and then pushing, literally pushing them across the border.

I mean, we've talked to refugees who said they were driven to the border by Belarusian border guards who then cut the barbed wire fence for them and pushed them across. Now, the Poles are obviously saying, look, this isn't going to happen here. What they did do is they declared the area around their border into an emergency zone, and that means no press is allowed inside. That means no NGOs are allowed inside. And they've been accused of a lot of these NGOs who are operating outside of that zone of simply taking people who do make it across and pushing them back. And that, of course, is something that meets with a lot of criticism.

SOARES: But you and I were talking a couple days ago actually -- while I was getting my makeup done, in fact -- about sanctions and airlines being involved. Does that have teeth?


PLEITGEN: That could have teeth. Because the thing is -- so essentially, it's a really fundamental question actually for the European Union. Because the Poles are saying we're not letting anyone across our border. We're not only going to build the barbed wire, we're going to build a wall as well. When the rest of the EU has wall, they're obviously not very happy about that at all.

And so, what they did, is the German Foreign Minister -- especially because that's where they end up realistically. They're saying, look, we need to sanction the airlines that fly these people into Belarus, that knowingly fly people to Belarus. Because the thing is, if you have a route, for instance, of a Middle Eastern airline that flies, let's say, from Beirut to Gradno in Belarus, right. That's not exactly a touristic center. They're saying, look, they know these people are going to try and get across the border. They know these are not students that are going to stay in Belarus. So, the EU is saying there's airlines are benefiting from this, and those airlines need to feel some teeth as you say, from the European Union.

SOARES: But Poland, very quickly, has also been blamed for being very heavy handed here.

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. And the Poles, they really, they make no excuses for it. They say that's the line they're going to continue to follow.

SOARES: Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

Now Syria has carried out the death penalty on those accused of setting last year's devastating wildfires which killed three people and scorched thousands of acres of land. The Syrian ministry of justice says 24 people were executed on Wednesday after being convicted on terrorism charges. The government says they all had made full confessions. Nearly a dozen others received life sentences with hard labor.

Now, Nicaragua is stepping up its crackdown on political opponents ahead of next month's presidential election. Two prominent businessmen were put behind bars Thursday including Michael Healey who is seen in this picture. Police say the other businessman is Alvaro Vargas. They joined 37 others who've been locked up since May. And they include seven presidential hopefuls and a foreign minister. His children who are in the U.S., told me they are afraid they may never see their father again.


SOARES (voice-over): Was denied permission to leave the country and my passport was retained. Those were the last words Francisco Aguirre- Sacasa exchanged with his children, Georgie and Roberto in the United States on July 27. Words that shook them to their call.

ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA, SON OF FRANCISCO AGUIRRE-SACASA: They took my father out of the car, and that's the last time my mom saw him until, you know, a month later, when he was in jail in Managua in federal prison.

SOARES (voice-over): And that's the last time anyone has seen Francisco Aguirre- Sacasa as a free man. A doting grandfather with a love for life. But also, a D.C. man at heart. Now at 77, the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. remains behind bars in the notorious Chipata Prison for allegedly committing acts of conspiracy and treason under a law passed last year, empowering the government of Daniel Ortega to lock up opposing voices as coup plotters and traitors to the nation.

DANIEL ORTEGA, NICARAGUA PRESIDENT (through translation): Criminals who have attacked the country.

SOARES (voice-over): Charges the Georgie and Roberto, the creator of the hit series Riverdale, say are simply baseless.

R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: And nothing concrete has been said or given to anyone who's working with my father, on our father's case. So, it's Kafkaesque.

SOARES: I have in my hand here, the government's report on what they say is the evidence against Francisco. Now, I can't show you it, for further my source could face reprisals, but I can tell you this. There's no real evidence here. What it does indicate is that he's been arrested simply for speaking his mind. For instance, the government cites as evidence online videos where Francisca describes U.S. sanctions against the Ortega regime as extraordinary and important.

R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: It's outrageous what's happening, you know, in the United States' backyard -- as we like to say about Central America. Our father sadly, was caught up in those -- in that machinery.

SOARES (voice-over): This very machinery has, according to Human Rights Watch, arrested 37 opposition leaders and critics since May, many of whom says the watchdog group are facing human rights violations and abuses.

The State Department says Nicaragua's presidential election next month has lost all credibility. And while the E.U. and the U.S. have already imposed some sanctions, Latin American expert Christopher Sabatini says the Biden administration can and should do more.

CHRISTOPHER SABATINI, SENIOR FELLOW, CHATHAM HOUSE: If the U.S. cannot act on this egregious case of human rights abuses within its own sphere of influence, it really sends a very strong signal, not just in Nicaragua, and not just in Cuba and Venezuela, but to other aspiring autocrats throughout the hemisphere, and of course, globally.

SOARES (voice-over): For Georgie and Roberto, this isn't political. It's personal.


R. AGUIRRE-SACASA: I think my biggest fear is that one day we're going to get a phone call from someone in Nicaragua that says that our father died in jail.

GEORGIE AGUIRRE-SACASA, DAUGHTER OF FRANCISCO AGUIRRE-SACASA: So here we are speaking up for those that don't have a voice right now, hoping that our efforts afford us the opportunity to see him again.


SOARES (on camera): And CNN has asked for comment from Nicaragua's public ministry and we're still waiting to hear back.

We'll have much more news after a very short break. Do stay right here.


SOARES: There is fresh trouble for the NBA in China. Fans are angry after some harsh criticism from the Boston Celtics player. Enes Kanter called Xi Jinping a brutal dictator and said Tibetan people's rights and freedoms are nonexistent. You can see China's foreign ministry says Kanter's only looking for attention and his comments are not worth refuting. We'll stay on top of that story for you.

Now, the Atlanta Braves are just one win away from going to the World Series if they can get past the Los Angeles Dodgers. Patrick Snell has the highlights in our minute in sports for you.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Isa, we start with Major League Baseball's post season where the reigning World Series champs the L.A. Dodgers still have hope in their series with the Atlanta Braves. Thursday night in the City of Angels, the Dodgers emphatic 11-2 winners, Chris Taylor hitting three home runs. The Braves now lead the series though 3-2. They need just one win to advance to the World Series. Game six Saturday right back here in Atlanta.

Meantime, a humiliating defeat for Roma. This in the Europa Conference League is a breath-taking goal for Patrick Berg, setting the tone for Bodo/Glimt. Stunning 6-1 victory over the (INAUDIBLE) giants, the Norwegian team ensuring this is the first time that any Jose Mourinho team has ever conceded six.

Meantime Mourinho's former club Tottenham, slumping to a surprise 1- nil defeat in the Netherlands, to be tested. Maximilian Wittek was the only goal of the match there. As Spurs have beaten, 7-goal thriller in Prague, Lucas Paqueta scoring his team's third of the night after they trailed 2-nil, to spot of 4-3 lead off, the final. With that, Isa, it's right back to you this Friday.

SOARES: Thank you very much, Patrick.

Now, Ohio is proud of the Wright brothers who designed their famous plane in Dayton before their famous manned flight in 1903. So, have a look at this. How did they get this wrong? If you look close, you'll see Ohio's new license plate show the birth place of aviation banner trailing out of the front of the brothers' plane. So, a correction, and now that banner on the Wright flyer is in the right spot.

The embarrassment, though, didn't stop there. North Carolina chimed in saying, leave Ohio alone. They wouldn't know. They weren't there. North Carolina, of course, was where that famous first flight took place in Kitty Hawk.

Thanks very much for joining, I'm Isa Soares. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett is up next. They'll have much more for us on the breaking news we brought you at the top of the hour, the deadly accidental shooting on the set of Alec Baldwin's latest movie. Do stay with us right here on CNN. Have a wonderful weekend. Bye-bye.