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Cases Surge Across Parts of Europe as Winter Looms; U.K. Leaders Say Vaccinations Are Way Out of Pandemic; COVID Cases Jump in Some Asia-Pacific Countries; Filthy, Used Nitrile Gloves Make It into U.S. Supply Chain; California Vigil Honors Slain Cinematographer; China's President Delivers Speech Amid Ongoing Tensions; Princess Mako to Wed Kei Komuro on Tuesday; Storm Triggers Landslide in California. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired October 25, 2021 - 00:00   ET




Coming up on the show, with COVID cases on the rise in the U.K., ambulances are lining up outside hospitals, full of sick people waiting to get treatment.

Also, a CNN investigation reveals how soiled surgical gloves are being repackaged, and finding their way into the U.S. supply chain.

Plus, a royal wedding in Japan, but their path to the altar has been anything but a fairytale.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Good to have you along this hour.

Europe is struggling to control a dramatic rise in COVID infections and deaths. Cases are climbing in many countries, as restrictions are lifted and falling temperatures drive more people indoors.

I want you to take a look at this map. It shows cases rising in almost every country over the last weekend except Finland.

Eastern Europe is battling its worst outbreak of the entire pandemic, and the dwindling vaccination rates there. The number of new COVID deaths in Russia, Ukraine, and Romania are now among the highest in the world.

And then in western Europe, new infections in Germany have soared to their highest levels since mid-May. And France reported more than 6,000 cases in the past 24 hours alone.

And then in the U.K., experts are warning that the latest surge could push the healthcare system to a breaking point. Take a listen.


DR. KATHERINE HENDERSON, PRESIDENT, ROYAL COLLEGE OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: We're already in an intolerable place where we have got large queues of ambulances with vulnerable people waiting in those ambulances to be uploaded into department, and other patients at home, waiting to be picked up by the ambulance. That's the thing that really worries me, that these are patients who have not yet received treatments, that we don't necessarily know what's wrong with them but we're really struggling to get into our healthcare facilities to then work out what we need to do.


CURNOW: Fred Pleitgen has more from London on all of that.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The coronavirus infections here in this country are continuing to surge. In fact, the United Kingdom has been over 40,000 new daily infections for more than the past week running. And in fact, the U.K. health secretary, he came out this past week, and he said that he fears that the infections could reach up to 100,000 per day as the winter gets closer, and of course, as the winter progresses, as well.

Nevertheless, the British government is saying that they don't want to implement what is called a Plan B here in this country, which would obviously mean more strict measures.

In fact, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, he also came out late this week, and he said that, yes, the infections have been on the rise, but at the same time, he also believes that all of this is still well within the parameters that had been predicted.

Now, the way the British government seems to want to get out of this is by vaccinating its way out of it. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, on Saturday issued what he called a call to arms, which means, obviously, people putting out their arms to get their jabs.

And it really is three pillars that all this rests on. On the one hand, booster jabs for people who are over 50, and those who are at severe risk of COVID.

Then also getting the people vaccinated who have not yet been fully vaccinated. He said there are certain people who may have not gotten their second jab yet.

And then, it's also children as young as the age of 12, who can get a single jab vaccination. So it's those three pillars.

Now, all this comes at the same time that folks represent the medical profession that here in this country are, indeed, sounding alarm bells. In fact, senior members of the National Health Service, and also the British Medical Association, they came out, and they said, yes, this country needs the Plan B as fast as possible. They are calling for mask mandates. They are calling for physical

distancing. And in certain areas also, vaccine passports, as well. Also because they say if this country doesn't act fast, it could face what they call a winter of crisis.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, London.


CURNOW: Thanks, Fred, for that.

So COVID cases are rising in the Asia Pacific region, as well. New Zealand is reporting its second highest daily case count of the pandemic. Many of them are in Auckland, which remains under a strict lockdown until more people get vaccinated there.

Over the weekend, officials announced the first community case in its south island in nearly a year.

Meanwhile, Singapore reported more than 3,000 new daily cases on Sunday. You can see here the sharp uptick in cases in recent weeks, compared to very few cases reported during the zero COVID efforts.

Well, journalist Manisha Tank joins me now from Singapore. What more can you tell us about the rates where you are?


MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST: Yes, well, Robyn, you know, good to talk to you about this, because here in Singapore, it feels like very much setting the agenda on what it's like to live with COVID. This is something that Singapore talked about three or four months ago.

And now we are seeing the results of it. There was an acknowledgment that the Delta variant, in particular, is very, very difficult to control, and that was when the government and senior voices went on record to say, we will now have to live with this disease and treat it as if it's endemic.

What's the basis for that? It is getting vaccination rates up. Here in Singapore, those who've had double doses, running 84 percent.

And in the last two days, we've had it announced that CoronaVac and Sinovac are two vaccines that will be added to the special fast-track process, as those that can be administrated.

That is for the people here in Singapore who are still resistant to getting mRNA-based vaccines, in terms of the delivery of the -- the vaccine itself into the system.

But also, just as we went to air, I received my own alert for a booster shot that I'm being invited for. And I think it's very interesting, when you compare it to what Fred was just saying there, because people over the age of 50 in the U.K. are getting those boosters. Here in Singapore, we've already got to my age group, which I can tell you is a little bit less than 50. But that shows you how fast this booster rollout is happening.

And this is what needs to happen, according to the Singapore government, in order to live with this disease. And this is the reason that you are seeing these increased rates.

Most of those cases, they are on home recovery programs. They are not making it to hospitals, but that said, the Singapore government is trying to ramp up the number of ICU beds, and measures, to actually get more funding and to get more -- to get doctors onto telemedicine lines to help people.

I just want to jump to New Zealand. A quick mention of that. It was back in August, Robyn, that was indicated that they would get their vaccination program going. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying until it's at a level of 90 percent, we shouldn't be thinking about opening up borders. So there's a lot of work to be done there.

And a quick note on China. So China has recorded 38 new locally- transmitted cases of COVID-19, three cases found in Beijing. And that's really important.

This has resulted in the Beijing Marathon, due to be held on October 31, being postponed and also, a raft of restrictions being put in place.

We are around 100 days away from those Winter Olympics in Beijing. That is very much on the agenda for 2022. China still going with a zero COVID policy, but a lot of people in this region asking how much longer that can actually last, Robyn.

CURNOW: Manisha Tank there in Singapore, thanks for that.

Well, Dr. Jayne Morgan is a cardiologist and executive director of the Piedmont Healthcare COVID Task Force here in Atlanta. She joins us now from Jacker (ph) Island in Georgia.

Doctor, hi, great to have you on the show. I want to talk about a number of these regions in these countries. In particular, why are we seeing high numbers of people getting sick in countries with high vaccination rates, such as the U.K.?

DR. JAYNE MORGAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PIEDMONT HEALTHCARE COVID TASK FORCE: So we continue to see these vaccines being under challenge with this Delta variant but still holding very will, and that by and large, we still see much lower rates of hospitalizations and much lower rates of death.

But this Delta variant is highly transmissible, highly contagious, and we see our vaccines under challenge with these breakthrough infections. And we also see the unvaccinated being infected much more easily, and continuing to spread this virus, as well.

CURNOW: Are we talking here about Delta, which we've all being trying to live with, in some capacity, wherever you are in the world. But what do we know about Delta Plus? Its origin, and also how it tends to, as you say, put pressure on the vaccines?

MORGAN: Right. So we see the sub-lineage of Delta coming out, and we see it emerging more so in the U.K.

Now, this particular sub-lineage really only has two mutations. And that doesn't mean that it's better or worse, but it certainly doesn't have as many mutations as its parent, the Delta variant.

That being said, it's still a variant of interest, VOI, by the World Health Organization. And we're keeping an eye on it. It's just passed, I think, about the 6 percent mark, and in the U.K. We do have three or four cases here in the United States. It doesn't make it anywhere near the dominant strain. But we are certainly keeping an eye on it at this point.

It's unclear whether it will be more virulent or actually be not much to think about at all. We're keeping an eye on it.

CURNOW: Yes, but certainly a concern for anybody listening to this and seeing these numbers. I mean, are we set to sort of end this cycle of boosters and variants and shocks of new variants? And how does this also impact people's willingness to vaccinate in the first place, if they're skeptical?


MORGAN: And so, you know, where we see ourselves in this cycle is that we really, as a society, as a global society, have never really followed science and moved in a path that we should have.

And so we see scientists coming out with recommendations, and then we see part of society following those recommendations, other parts not following recommendations.

And then that forces scientists, the CDC and other agencies, to come out with follow-up recommendations, or amendments. And then, some people follow them; some people don't. And so on and on and on we go.

The reason we're having to talk about boosters now is because we never reached that herd immunity. We never reached that critical mass level that was necessary to protect us.

And now, we have come to the point, out at six or eight months, where we see the vaccines starting to wane. We didn't anticipate that it would take this long. And so now, we're having to discuss boosters. And so science continues to evolve, as we also evolve with society.

CURNOW: If we look at our reporters who just filed these pieces from London, from Singapore, speaking about an uptick in cases in Beijing, for example. What do we know about -- about the way many of these countries, New Zealand, for example, looked for sort of zero -- zero COVID policies?

There is a growing acceptance, isn't there, that we're going to have to live with this. That there's no way that you can eliminate it. MORGAN: You know, I think we are going to see more and more countries

abandon this zero COVID policy, because it just appears to be untenable, if we cannot move the majority of our society in the direction of reaching heard immunity and being vaccinated.

And so the problem with this virus becoming endemic in our society -- we've begun to hear that term more and more, meaning it exists in a low level. Meaning -- means that this virus, however, continues to have opportunities to replicate and mutate, and provide more challenging, perhaps, viruses and variants in the future, even in a low-level endemic state. It doesn't make it less dangerous.

And so if you're going to live in that state, we have to be aware of that. It's not going to be like the flu. This virus has the ability to continue to change and challenge our civilization.

CURNOW: And that's an existential statement that you're making there. And I mean, particularly when we look at the numbers. France, more than 6,000 cases just in the past 24 hours. German infections have soared to their highest since mid-May. We're looking at new COVID death rates in Russia, Ukraine, Romania. And winter has barely just begun.

How concerned are you?


MORGAN: Absolutely, Robyn. And there is a level of concern as we move into this cooler weather. Right? This is when viruses really proliferate.

And yet, we've seen them really surge in very, very hot weather, and now we're moving into cooler weather, where we understand that this is where they thrive and where they live.

And what else happens? Our behavior happens. We are more indoors. We're in close proximity. We're in confined spaces. We have less ventilation. So we should expect more transmission, as well, as we move into these cooler months.

CURNOW: Dr. Jayne Morgan, really appreciate your expertise. Thanks so much for joining us on CNN. Thank you.

MORGAN: Thanks, Robyn. It's a pleasure.

CURNOW: Some 28 million U.S. children, though, could be eligible for a COVID vaccine within the next few weeks.

A panel of FDA advisers will meet Tuesday to discuss whether to greenlight Pfizer's vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. Then, CDC advisers are scheduled to weigh in a week later.

Dr. Anthony Fauci laid out the expected timeline on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: So if all goes well and we get the regulatory approval, and the recommendation for the CDC, it's entirely possible, if not very likely, that vaccines will be available for children from 5 to 11, within the first week or two of November.


CURNOW: Now to a CNN exclusive. We have learned millions of substandard, sometimes used, medical gloves have made their way into the U.S. supply chain, possibly putting patients and healthcare workers at risk.

And as CNN's Scott McLean reports, shipments of these secondhand gloves continued for months and months, despite multiple warnings. Here's Scott's piece.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This rundown industrial area on the outskirts of Bangkok is the hub of a new trade that's making a few people very rich while putting millions of others at risk.

These are bags of discarded medical gloves, many filthy dirty, confiscated by the Thai Food and Drug Administration in December. It says they're part of the global supply chain aimed at countries worldwide, desperate to buy medical-grade nitrile gloves, amid a worldwide shortage that will take years to ease.


One of the customers who thought he was buying the real thing was a Florida-based businessman Tarek Kirschen.

TAREK KIRSCHEN, CEO, V12 HEALTH: We start getting phone calls from clients, completely upset and you know, yelling and screaming at us.

MCLEAN: Kirschen was one of many customers of a Thai company called Paddy the Room Trading Company.

KIRSCHEN: These were reused gloves. They were washed, recycled. We don't know what they were, where they came from. Some of them were dirty. Some of them had blood stains.

MCLEAN: Kirschen says he sent the gloves to landfill and notified the U.S. FDA in February.

But this is just one case. In the middle of a pandemic, Paddy the Room had plenty of willing buyers. And the U.S. continued allowing the shipments into the country, according to import records examined by CNN.

Louis Ziskin's company was another looking to cash in on the lucrative business.

(on camera): You guys were seeing dollar signs.

LOUIS ZISKIN, CEO, AIRQUEEN: Yes, 100 percent. We saw dollar signs. We also saw we had legitimate medical customers who were literally begging for this stuff.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Ziskin's company, AirQueen, paid Paddy the Room more than $2.7 million for 400,000 boxes of medical-grade nitrile gloves, reassured by glowing inspection reports, purportedly carried out by a reputable third party.

But that inspection company tells CNN those reports were forged.


MCLEAN: The shipment was independently inspected when it arrived in Los Angeles. Most of the gloves were actually lower-quality latex or vinyl, packed into nitrile boxes. Many others were very clearly soiled and secondhand.

(on camera): Not fit for use in a hospital?

ZISKIN: Not fit for use by anybody.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Ziskin's shipments sat for months in an L.A. warehouse, so we sent an expert, and our camera, to see for ourselves.

Douglas Stein has spent 30 years importing PPE from Asia and has been tracking fraud and scams in the nitrile glove industry since the pandemic began.

DOUGLAS STEIN, CEO, PPE ADVANTAGE: You can see the way it's packed, they're just clumps, like somebody just took handfuls and stuffed them in the box. These were washed, definitely. This one is completely brown, discolored. This is nitrile, but you can tell it's been through a washer and a dryer. And it's changed color due to the heat.

MCLEAN: Ziskin's shipment of counterfeit, soiled gloves came in fake boxes of the legitimate Thai brand Sri Trang, which says it has nothing to do with Paddy the Room. Kirschen's gloves where branded Sky Med, a company the Thai FDA says is, quote, "for sure fake."

ZISKIN: To me, the fact that these companies were never blacklisted is shocking.

MCLEAN (on camera): Emails provided to CNN show that back in February, his company did inform U.S. Customs and Border Protection that Paddy the Room was sending substandard and used medical gloves to the U.S.

Yet, import records show that 28 containers, totaling more than 80 million gloves, were imported to the U.S. from that same company after Ziskin's warning was sent. It's unclear where most ended up, or if they've been used in a medical setting.

(voice-over): The Department of Homeland Security is investigating Paddy the Room, but acknowledged to CNN that fake medical products do reach the U.S. MIKE ROSE, SPECIAL AGENT, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

INVESTIGATIONS: I think all of us would love to get to a point that not a single counterfeit dangerous good entered the U.S.

MCLEAN: In March, Ziskin's company also informed the FDA, which that same month acknowledged that Paddy the Room was using fake safety documents for its shipments. The FDA did not alert concerns about Paddy the Room until August, five months after they were tipped off. It would not comment on the ongoing investigation.

But in any case, so desperate was the need for PPE, that some of the normal checks on imported nitrile gloves had been temporarily waived.

STEIN: There was just no other answer. That opened the floodgates for all the nefarious behavior.

MCLEAN: The FDA told CNN that to help ensure the U.S. has enough gloves during the pandemic, it does not intend to object to the distribution and use of patient examination gloves that lack full safety paperwork, as long as they meet standards and don't create an undue risk.

In reality, there are no routine checks on gloves arriving into the U.S., unless a company has been flagged.

CNN attempted to reach out to Paddy the Room and its partner company, but they did not respond to questions.

The Thai FDA raided Paddy the Room in December last year, but did not succeed in shutting it down.

(on camera): How can that happen?

SUPATTRA BOONSERM, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL, THAI FDA (through translator): They just kept moving around and created a new fake company. Once being shut down, they would move to another location.

MCLEAN (voice-over): It's not just Thailand that has a problem. Law enforcement officials say similar scams are common throughout Asia.

(on camera): Now, two other companies told CNN they've also received unusable gloves from Paddy the Room, but the truth is, we don't know how many fake or used medical gloves have entered the U.S. during the pandemic.


Louis Ziskin went to Thailand to try to get his money back, but was charged with assault and kidnapping after a confrontation with a glove salesman. When Thai police produced no evidence against him, he was allowed to leave the country, though Thai police tell CNN the investigation is not closed.

As for all those gloves in the L.A. warehouse, they were finally seized by federal authorities, five months after Ziskin first raised the alarm. Scott McLean, CNN, London.


CURNOW: Great reporting there. Thanks to Scott for that.

Well, coming up on the show, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech as tensions remain high with Taiwan. Details on what he had to say in a live report from Beijing.

Plus, new details about the moments leading up to the death of a movie crew member accidentally shot to death by actor Alec Baldwin. We have that story, as well.


CURNOW: Mourners have been honoring the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at this vigil in Burbank, California. She was killed in an accident last week, shot to death by actor Alec Baldwin on a film set in New Mexico.

Authorities say, Baldwin unknowingly fired a live round from what was supposed to be a prop gun.

Well, CNN has obtained new photos of Baldwin meeting with Hutchins' family, her husband, and 9-year-old son, after the shooting. In one image, you can see the actor embracing Matthew.

Baldwin has said his heart is breaking for the family, and he's fully cooperating as police investigate.

Meantime, we are learning more details about the moments leading up to her tragic death. The "Rust" director told authorities Baldwin was practicing his gun for -- practicing drawing his gun for a scene, when the weapon discharged. He said cameras were not rolling when the tragedy occurred.

Lucy Kafanov has more on the investigation and the safety concerns surrounding the film set.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, authorities are still conducting their investigation. We know they spent the weekend combing every inch of that Bonanza Creek Ranch, the set of the film "Rust," where this tragic shooting took place on Thursday.

But we are getting some new details about the assistant director, David Halls. The affidavit names him as someone who picked up one of the prop weapons, who walked it inside the structure where the crew was doing their filming that Thursday, handing that prop gun to Alec Baldwin, while shouting, "Cold gun," which should have meant, no live rounds. Of course, we know what followed.

According to the affidavit, Alec Baldwin shot the weapon. As a result, Halyna Hutchins, the 42-year-old director of cinematography, killed. The director, Joel Souza, 48 years old, wounded in the shoulder.

Now, sources do tell CNN that David Halls was accused of things like, quote, "disregard for safety protocols and weapon pyrotechnics"; fire lanes and exits being consistently blocked; also, instances of inappropriate sexual behaviors on at least two productions that were filmed back in 2019.


Now, one pyrotechnician who worked with Halls told CNN, and I quote, "The only reason the crew was made aware of weapons present was because the assistant prop master demanded Dave acknowledge and announce the situation each day."

She said that he consistently failed to announce the presence of the firearm to the crew. That's a pretty usual safety procedure for most film sets. You announce the presence of a weapon, whether it's a prop or not.

Another crew member told CNN that when Halls did hold these safety meetings, they were short, and they were dismissive. She said that he told crew members that guns would be the same as the production always used, and questioned why they'd have to hold those meetings in the first place.

CNN did reach out to David Halls for comment. No reply as of yet.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


CURNOW: And in just the last hour, Chinese -- China's president delivered a speech marking 50 years since Beijing was admitted to the United Nations.

Taiwan, however, remains shut out of the U.N. And Xi Jinping's remarks come as the tensions with the self-governing island remain high.

CNN Beijing bureau chief Steven Jiang joins us now, with more on those comments.

Steven, hi. Good to see you. What else did Xi Jinping say?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Robyn, in his latest speech, the Chinese strongman leader really didn't say anything we hadn't heard before. He, of course, insisted on this multilateral approach to international affairs, with the United Nations at its core.

And a lot of the same buzzwords we have often here from the Chinese leadership. Win-win cooperation, each country choosing its own path.

But of course, the Chinese are celebrating this occasion that was very much the product of the Cold War. Really, requiring a bit of historical context here. Because after the communists won a bloody civil war here, the defeated

nationalist government fled to the island of Taiwan. But they were allowed to continue representing the entire Chinese territory at the U.N. until 1971.

The Beijing government replaced the Taipei government at the U.N. that year because of warming relations between Beijing and Washington, as the two sides moved closer to deal with a common enemy. That was the Soviet Union.

Now, you fast forward to today, of course, tensions are now high, or even growing, between the United States and China, while ties between Moscow and Beijing are getting stronger and closer.

The two countries, actually, just concluded a seven-day, weeklong joint military exercise, sending 10 warships from each navy to sail around Japan, including, for the first time, passing two very important, strategically important choke points.

And that, of course, was seen by many as a response to what this united front, formed by the U.S. and its key allies, including Japan, against Beijing, for the, also against other authoritarian regimes like Russia. And that, of course, also includes the U.S. and its allies sending their warships through the Taiwan Strait, in response to Beijing's, increasingly aggressive military maneuvers against Taiwan.

So really, you know, all of this, 50 years out, you see a lot of worries about a new Cold War now emerging between Washington and Beijing, with a lot of the same players involved but with their roles and positions shifted or reshuffled -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thanks for that update there, Steven Jiang, in Beijing. Good to see you.

So coming up on CNN, Japan's Princess Mako will marry her sweetheart on Tuesday, but the couple's experience has been no royal fairytale. Not at all. We'll explain in a live report in Tokyo.

Plus, details on the new program to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States.



CURNOW: U.S. President Joe Biden's former envoy to Afghanistan says he's left the post because of internal debates that weren't based on reality on the ground.

Zalmay Khalilzad defended his talks with the Taliban and the withdrawal agreement he helped negotiate under former President Donald Trump. He said the U.S. hasn't been tough enough on former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

He also acknowledged the final withdrawal was ugly but said it could've been a lot worse. He predicts Afghanistan's outlook is grim, unless the Taliban change their approach to governing.


ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: If they don't, the Taliban, don't move to more inclusiveness, respecting the rights of Afghan people, and then honoring their commitment to us on terrorism, there will be no move towards normalcy, and there shouldn't be. There should be no release of funds, so their economy could collapse, and that collapsed, that a new civil war could start.


CURNOW: Well, for more than 55,000 Afghans who didn't want to stay in the country and are currently on U.S. military bases, the White House is clearing the way for them to move to permanent homes.

A resettlement program will now allow private citizens and military veterans with ties to the Afghans to sponsor them and bring them to their their cities.

Matt Zeller is a U.S. Army Reserve captain who's eager to meet the Afghan interpreter he helped evacuate.


MATT ZELLER, U.S. ARMY RESERVE CAPTAIN: I'm thrilled. This is exactly what is needed. I've been asking the White House, personally, to do this now for several weeks.

I have learned through my years of experience in resettling these Afghans and Iraqis that come to the United States under the special immigration visa program, that the key to that success, the key to them not ending up in endemic poverty, is being paired with a U.S. military veteran as early in their resettlement process as we possibly can. This is absolutely what is needed at this time.


CURNOW: And the last time the U.S. resettled close to this number of refugees this quickly was after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. More than 130,000 people came to the U.S. in an eight-month period then. Another story we're following here at CNN, the wedding of Japan's Princess Mako to her longtime partner is set for Tuesday. The princess, who turned 30 on Saturday, is a niece of Emperor Naruhito and grew up in Japan's imperial household. But she's giving that up to marry a commoner.

On Tuesday, she'll wed Kei Komuro, a lawyer who works in New York. And while this may seem like a royal fairytale on the surface, the reality for the couple has been very different.

Selina Wang joins us now from Tokyo with more on this -- this story. And again, I mean, these royal marriages are never simple, are they? And this one certainly has been a long time coming for this couple.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, ever since, Robyn, they announced a message back in 2017, it has just been relentless brutal media scrutiny and public disapproval.

When I talk to people here in Japan, it is just so clear how emotional this issue is. For many Japanese, the royal family is revered as this proud symbol of the country, and some think that the fiance and the allegations against his family are contaminating the image of the imperial household.

On the other hand, people in Japan, some of them say that the princess and her fiance should be left alone to live how they want to, especially since, Robyn, she's suffering from complex PTSD and will be forced to leave the royal family anyways.


WANG (voice-over): After a three-year delay, Japan's Princess Mako is finally marrying her college sweetheart Kei Komuro on October 26. But it's anything but a royal fairytale.


The couple has been through years of brutal media scrutiny that the palace says has caused the princess to suffer from complex PTSD.

Princess Mako's psychiatrist said she feels pessimistic and finds it difficult to feel happy, due to the persistent fear of her life being destroyed.

The wedding was planned for 2018 but was pushed back after reports emerged that Komuro's mother failed to pay back $36,000 she borrowed from her ex-fiance. Komuro disputed the account, saying the money was a gift, but the gossip spiraled to dissect every part of his family.

Public opinion turned against him and his union with the princess.

The latest scandal is Komuro's ponytail. When he arrived in Tokyo earlier this month with the new look, local media pounced on it as yet another sign of how he's unfit to wed the princess. He since cut the ponytail off.

NANCY SNOW, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, FULLERTON: The ponytail is just a telltale sign of his maybe challenging the establishment.

WANG (on camera): But the fact that he was so vilified for having a ponytail, what does that tell us about Japanese society?

SNOW: Well, Japan can be very conservative. Japan is changing, too, but when it comes to anything attached to the imperial family, we know that change is always threatening.

WANG: This is the palace grounds where Princess Mako grew up in Japan's notoriously strict imperial household. Women here are barred from the throne, and if they marry commoners, which is their only option, they have to give up their titles and leave the royal family.

The princess is entitled to a payment of about $1.35 million to help her start a new life, but she is going to forego that payment, reject tradition, and after the wedding, move to New York with her fiance, where he works at a law firm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a dramatic exit. It's a warning to the imperial house.

WANG (voice-over): Several small-scale protests against the wedding have been held in Tokyo. Demonstrators say the royal family is revered as a symbol of unity. But instead of bringing the country together, this marriage has divided the public.

KEI KUBOTA, PROTEST ORGANIZER (through translator): There are so many doubts and misgivings about Kei Komuro and his mom, and people fear the image of the royal family will be sullied.

WANG: But other residents wish the public would be more empathetic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She has been waiting for years, and it must be painful. I think it's amazing to see them keep their love.

WANG: With Princess Mako's departure, Japan's royal family continues to shrink. There's only one young successor to the throne, Mako's younger brother, the survival of the world's oldest monarchy depending on one schoolboy.


WANG: Japan's royal woman are held to these ruthless standards, even though they can't take the throne.

Now, while surveys show that most Japanese are in favor of a reigning female, of course, this has strong opposition from the country's powerful ultraconservatives.

Now Princess Mako's exit from the royal family, her move to the U.S. has drawn these comparisons, of course, with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. While there are significant differences, you do have royals from the east and the west choosing not to follow society's expectations. They are escaping the royal microscope and trying to live life the way they want, Robyn.

CURNOW: I think you used the right word there: "ruthless." Good for that princess. Thanks so much. Keep us posted on how she's doing. Selina Wang there.

So still to come, California is dealing with the effects of a massive storm. Details of the damage it caused. That's next.



CURNOW: You're watching the raw power there of Mother Nature on Spain's Canary Islands. More than a month after it began erupting, parts of the La Palma

volcano's main cone have collapsed, as powerful bursts of red-hot lava light up the sky.

Thousands of people are being forced to evacuate. No wonder, looking at these pictures.

Spain's prime minister has promised to speed up aid to the hard-hit fishing and farming industries in that area.

Meanwhile, a massive storm is wreaking havoc across parts of California. Various areas are under flash flood warning, which have triggered deadly flows.

A large landslide shut down a major highway, and officials expect it to stay shot for days.

Well, joining me now is Pedram Javaheri.

Pedram, hi, good to see you. Folks like you are warning people across the U.S. that they are -- they must expect quite a lot of weather this week, and I say weather with a capital "W."

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, absolutely. You know, what's been incredible, of course, is so many months, Robyn, of little to no rainfall across this region.

In fact, I was looking at some of these observation points. Literally bone-dry, not a single drop of rain going back to the middle of March. And of course, you usher in the last couple of days, and we get more rainfall than seven, eight, nine months put together in some of these areas around portions of the western United States. And the rainfall totals as impressive as it gets.

Almost 10 inches in Strawberry Valley. That's about 250 milliliters coming down, just north of Sacramento. And Sacramento is the state capital. They're coming in with 5 inches.

They hadn't seen any rainfall since March 17. They've now seen rainfall almost every single day for the last four days. So it speaks to what has been happening here.

And this total here of about 125 milliliters, or 5 inches, is a 24- hour total coming down. So an incredible amount for anybody, but you bring it down in an area that has been bone-dry, it's problematic.

You've got about 40 million people across the U.S. underneath flood alerts, but one in three of those 40 million are right here, across the northern half of the state of California, where these areas of flooding concern have really been exacerbated, especially when you get up to the higher terrain. That's where the burn scars are. That's where the landscape has been charred, with about 800,000 hectares of land that were consumed from multiple fires. The Dixie Fire, you'll recall; Caldor Fire, as well.

You'll notice the placement here, with the highest threat for excessive rainfall right there in these higher elevations. The reason this is very concerning, of course, is when you remove that soil, not only do you have no more soil and vegetation left to absorb that heavy rainfall, Robyn, but the soil itself becomes hydrophobic. The crust of it here, as it burns with extreme heat, the ash on the surface here becomes actually more water-repellant than pavement. The water hits it. It runs off, picks up debris that has been sitting there, Robyn.

All of this can wreak havoc in communities downstream. And that is exactly why this is such a big story for our friends in California -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. Thanks for that. Pedram Javaheri, appreciate it.

And thanks to you for watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow in Atlanta. I'll be back in 15 minutes' time with more news. I'm going to hand you over to WORLD SPORT right now.