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E.U. Countries Regulate the Unvaccinated as Cases Surge; Migrants in Belarus Moved to Warehouse, Sent Home; Concern Deepens for Chinese Tennis Star; Canada's British Columbia Inundated with Heavy Flooding; Vaccine Skepticism Driving Romania's COVID Death Toll; Japan's Shohei Ohtani Wins American League MVP. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, I'm John Vause. Ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, with Europe in the grip of a wave of COVID infections, containment measures are now targeting those who caused it, the unvaccinated by choice crowd.


From one nightmare, heading back to another. Hundreds of migrants, stuck in a no man's land of suffering on the border between Belarus and Poland, heading back now to the misery they tried to escape.

And standing up to China. How the Women's Tennis Association grew spine, and did what the IOC, the NBA, NBC, Apple, Nike, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and others never did.

ANNOUNCER: Now, from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: Right now, as Europe struggles with another wave of the coronavirus, there seems to be one factor common to all countries where cases are rising: a relatively low rate of infection. The lower the rate, the worse the outbreak.

A decision not to get vaccinated has never been a purely personal choice. Experts say, collectively, those choices have impacted us all and extended the pandemic by months, even a year.

But now, that choice is increasingly coming with a direct cost. Or, to be more accurate, a direct loss of freedom. With new restrictions being imposed in parts of Europe, specifically targeting those who are not fully vaccinated.

The German Parliament has announced only the fully vaccinated, or those who've recovered from COVID, will be allowed into public venues, a decision the German chancellor says she was forced to make because of a spiking rate of infection among the unvaccinated.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): The situation is highly dramatic, and it will be very important that action is taken quickly, that action is taken consistently, that controls are improved.


VAUSE: Earlier this week, Austria became the first country in Europe to target the unvaccinated with new restrictions in areas with a high rate of infection. Similar measures are being taken in Greece, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

CNN's Melissa Bell has more now, reporting in from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Europe once again the epicenter of the pandemic, with country after country announcing record rises in COVID-19 cases. Country after country, as well, announcing fresh restrictions, this time much more targeted, first of all, against the unvaccinated, but also aiming to provide boosters more quickly for those parts of the populations that have already been vaccinated, as immunization levels begin to wane, this far after their first or second doses.

Germany, the latest example of the German Parliament, announced in a series of fresh measures that will mean that people either have to be vaccinated, have a negative test, or have recently recovered from COVID in order to take public transport, in order to get into their workplaces.

With Angela Merkel meeting on Thursday evening with the regional leaders, to decide on the fact that where incidence rates are particularly high, the unvaccinated will be banned from sports and cultural events altogether.

Very similar to what we've been hearing from the Greek prime minister this Thursday evening, as well, announcing that the unvaccinated will henceforth be banned from cultural and sports activities, explaining that this is very much an epidemic now of the unvaccinated.

The Greek prime minister pointing out, if Greece had had the vaccination levels of a country like Portugal, the incubation levels in Greece would be 5 times less than they are.

Countries looking to bring those COVID-19 figures down, even as the continent heads into the Christmas season.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


VAUSE: Dr. Eric Topol is a professor of molecular medicine and executive vice president of Scripps Research. Good to see you. Welcome back.

DR. ERIC TOPOL, EVP, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Thanks, John. Good to be with you again.

VAUSE: OK. Health officials in Europe, they're placing the lion's share of the blame for this outbreak on relatively low vaccination rates. Here, listen to one one health official here.



MARCO CAVALERI, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: As we're progressing into the winter season, we are seeing that COVID-19 infections, and hospitalizations, are on the rise, in almost all of the member states. And the bulk of the patients in intensive care are the unvaccinated.


VAUSE: So the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control predicts only countries with a vaccination rate of about 80 percent or higher will dodge the worst of this current outbreak. The U.S. is at 60 percent fully vaccinated. I want you to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Unvaccinated people were 13 times more likely to become infected than fully vaccinated. And unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated people.


VAUSE: Right now, though, it seems to be those who believe that Europe is prologue for the United States, and that winter will be bad, while others say that, you know, the infections may increase, but vaccines will mean fewer deaths, fewer hospitalizations. Antivirals will help, that kind of stuff.

So where are you on this? What are your thoughts?

TOPOL: Well, we've got a really tough time ahead. Europe is leading the way. We're seeing that Delta is not done with us yet.

There's some uncoupling in the western Europe, because the vaccination rates, as you touched on, John, are higher than, generally, those in Eastern Europe. And, overall, countries that have really high vaccination rates, over -- well over 80 percent fully vaccinated, they're doing well. But we're seeing even breakthroughs there. I mean, if you look at countries like Iceland, for example.

Austria is really taking a very severe blow, in terms of case burden. And noteworthy is that all these countries and western Europe are far better vaccinated than the United States.

One of the problems, though, that you have mentioned is this focusing, on only the unvaccinated. That is the goal, is getting those people unvaccinated, but the waning is an important issue. And if we don't get those boosters into those people that are past six months, especially those who are over age 40 or 15, that's what's going to be a big part of this -- this wave.

And so, really, we've got to really get on that everywhere.

VAUSE: Yes. Germany recorded another 50,000 new infections on Thursday. The country's disease and control center believes the true scale of infections can be twice or three times as many. With those sort of numbers, with the waning immunity and a low rate of infection, or vaccination, rather, would you expect to see Germany go into a full nationwide lockdown relatively soon?

TOPOL: Well, hopefully, that's not going to be the case. I mean, it really depends on how successful this campaign is, and other mitigation measures, like the masking, distancing, and avoidance of indoor gatherings, that sort of thing.

But, if those don't proceed in a really accelerated way, then that is a potential.

We're not going to have any lockdowns here in the U.S., in spite of the need, potentially, in certain places. But certainly, in Europe, we're seeing that. Certainly in Austria and other countries.

So, you know, this is some -- this is a temporal measure, but far better is getting those vaccinations to the highest rates possible.

Certain countries have been immensely successful. If you look at Spain, for example, they're withstanding this recent western European surge quite well.

VAUSE: What we're seeing in Europe is that it happened first in Austria, with these targeted restrictions, putting, you know, the onus and the burden on the unvaccinated. Germany followed. Now according to "The Independent," Slovakia puts unvaccinated into lockdown, as COVID surges across Europe.

It's kind of more of a lockdown light, if you like, as opposed to a full lockdown.

The prime minister of the Czech Republic announced similar measures there, as well. Here he is.


ANDREJ BABIS, CZECH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The entrance to various services, restaurants, museums, et cetera, will only be granted to the vaccinated and those who have overcome COVID-19.


VAUSE: So there are the conditions that are in place. Do you see this as being effective, not just in slowing the spread, but also, you know, the stick approach to get people to actually go out and get vaccinated? Because what they do impacts everyone else.

TOPOL: Well, it's true. There's a stick approach, but there's also, I think, a gap here. Because we don't do, with it being so hyper- contagious, those people who have waned unity from their two shots, they can -- are capable of transmitting. Somewhere about half as much as those who were unvaccinated.

So, just by bringing people who are vaccinated into, you know, restaurants and indoor gatherings, that doesn't mean it's going to stop the spread.

So, you know, all of these things are critical, and so that's why, I think, just labeling it only of the unvaccinated is too narrow a strategy.

VAUSE: From the very beginning, this has been an all of the above approach, really, when it comes to containing this virus. And it still holds true today.

Dr. Eric Topol, thank you. Good to see you.

TOPOL: Thank you, John.


VAUSE: In India, three controversial farming laws are going by the wayside. The laws led to massive protests across the country since they were passed in September last year.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday that all three pieces of legislation will be repealed.

The laws relaxed some of the rules that protected farmers from unregulated free market. But many farmers say it led to unfair competition from large farming corporations.

The huge crowds of migrants gathered at the border crossing between Belarus and Poland are gone, moved to a nearby warehouse. But the crisis is far from over.

Belarus has flown hundreds of people back to Iraq, but other migrants are still hoping for refuge in Germany. E.U. leaders blaming Belarus for orchestrating this crisis, in retaliation for sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko.

CNN's Matthew Chance spoke exclusively with the Belarusian foreign minister.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the airport, in Minsk, the first repatriation flight waits to board. The passengers, mostly Iraqi Kurds, didn't make it to Europe. But at least their ordeal in Belarus is at an end.

This is a nightmare they left behind. Officials confirm this forest camp on the Polish border, is now, empty. The shocking images, of desperate migrants languishing in the cold here, have left a mark.

Now, for the first time, CNN is able to hold a senior, Belarusian official to account. VLADIMIR MAKEI, BELARUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: And to see how they

suffer, it's very difficult for a normal human being. We are not interested in having this situation here indoors.

CHANCE (on camera): But you say you don't want to see these scenes. But you're accused, Belarus is accused, of orchestrating this whole crisis; of encouraging these migrants to come here; and of directing them towards that border. You created these things.

MAKEI: Yes, we have heard a lot of accusations towards Belarus. This is a false assessment of the situation.

CHANCE (voice-over): Also false, according to the foreign minister, U.S. and European allegations that Russia, which recently flew these strategic bomber flights over Belarus in support, is really behind this crisis, encouraging its ally to distract the west, while preparing military plans elsewhere, in Ukraine.

MAKEI: Regards to this migrant crisis, I can definitely say that Russia has nothing to do with it.

CHANCE: But it was President Putin, he tells me, who set up telephone calls between the German and Belarusian leaders this week, helping to defuse the crisis.

And, it needed defusing. This was the scene when angry migrants tried to force their way into Europe past Polish border guards. A refusal of Belarus to intervene fueled rumors they encouraged these attacks.

(on camera): The European union says that Belarus has created this crisis to punish them, in revenge for the sanctions that the E.U. has imposed against Belarus for its -- for its crackdown on the opposition. How do you answer that allocation?

MAKEI: It's a lie. It's an absolute lie. Belarus has shown the dark side of the European democracy. And you have seen, for yourself, what was happening -- what happened at the border within the last two or three days.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's shown the strength of European unity, too. The now remaining migrants in Belarus are being housed in this giant, heated warehouse, back from the volatile border.

But with Europe refusing to back down, it's Belarus that must now keep them, or send them home.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Minsk.


VAUSE: Around the world, demands are growing louder for Chinese officials to reveal the whereabouts of tennis star Peng Shuai.

The response, though, from Beijing has been silence.

Peng vanished two weeks ago after accusing a senior Chinese party communist official of sexual assault.

U.S. tennis champion Serena Williams is among the latest to call for an investigation, tweeting, "I'm devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated, and we must not stay silent."

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, live this hour for us in Hong Kong with more on the story.

That seems to be what the strategy here is, is to try to keep the focus on Peng Shuai, and try and keep her in the news so that she doesn't vanish, like others have, in the past?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that is what the WTA is doing. They are standing up to China.

In an interview with CNN, the chairman and CEO of the WTA said that that they have been trying to get in contact with Peng Shuai, that they have very strong concerns about her. And that the WTA is willing to give up its business in China if Peng Shuai is not safe, and if her allegation -- and they're very serious allegations -- are not properly investigated.

Now Peng Shuai is, course, is a national sporting icon and a hero in China. A two-time Grand Slam tennis champion in women's doubles tennis.

And, it was just over two weeks ago, on November the 2nd, when she accusing a very powerful man, the former vice premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, of forcing her to have sex with him.

She made this accusation on her verified Sina Weibo account. It's a popular social media platform in China. It was a 1,600-word, lengthy post. It was immediately taken down. And Peng Shuai hasn't been seen, or heard from publicly ever since.

The WTA and other tennis professionals and groups all around the world have joined an international chorus about concern for her. But the WTA is now saying that they are willing to put their business in China on the line for her. Listen to this.


STEVE SIMON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION: We're at a crossroads with our relationship, obviously, with our -- with China and operating our business over there. There's no question about it.

There's too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this, that we let business, politics, money, dictate what is right, and what's wrong.


STOUT: Look, the WTA has significant business interests in China. Its Asia Pacific headquarters is in Beijing. The WTA finals, which were supposed to take place this year, in Xinjiang. Because of COVID, they're not taking place there, but in Mexico. Next year, they'll be moved back to Xinjiang, and they'll stay there every year for the next decade.

As we heard from the chairman and CEO of WTA, Peng Shuai's ordeal, he says, is much bigger than business. And many observers are pointing out that the WTA's response has been far stronger than what we've seen from other organizations, let alone governments. Listen to this.


NATASHA KASSAM, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC OPINION AND FOREIGN POLICY, LOWRY INSTITUTE: The WTA have been quite bold, compared to other organizations that have interests and China. They've really come out swinging.

You could also argue that they've really been pressed into this situation. You know, most of the other cases where we've seen China interfering with other organizations, they haven't had a colleague or a teammate disappear. But this is on a different level.

So, the WTA's reaction is strong, and it's hopeful, and it's using the leverage that it has.


STOUT: Concern is rising for the safety of Peng Shuai and the safety, the general safety, of athletes, especially now. The Beijing Winter Olympic Games, now just two and a half months away -- John.

VAUSE: Yes. They came back quickly, and another pressure point, I guess, for the international community, when it comes to human rights abuses, as well.

Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout there, live for us in Hong Kong.

Pam Shriver, a 22-time major champion in doubles and world No. 3 in women's tennis. She joins us now. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

PAM SHRIVER, TENNIS CHAMPION: John, thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Almost from the moment Peng made her allegations of sexual assault, the WTA has been supportive and now assertive in demanding answers about where she is from Chinese authorities.

One commentator wrote for "Sports Illustrated" that, "It's no secret doing business in and with China can be, and often is, deeply problematic. Ask Apple. Ask Nike. Ask the NBA. Ask NBC, which has to negotiate how and whether it wants to address human rights abuses and the Uyghur genocide and lifetime appointments during its Olympic coverage."

Ask the International Olympic Committee, you could add. Ask Google. Ask Yahoo! The list goes on and on and on. So why is that women's tennis has been the stand-out here, at least in this instance? SHRIVER: Well, I think when you think about the principles that

women's tennis was built on over 50 years ago, with the leadership of Billie Jean King, and they really stood up to principles of equality and treating women fairly, equally and certainly not to be censored.

So while it's, of course, a very difficult business decision to challenge a partnership with China, it has to be done. I don't think Steve Simon, CEO of the WTA Tour, has any other choice.

VAUSE: Well, he was speaking to CNN just a few hours ago, Steve Simon, and he did say that, you know, if he had to walk away, if WTA had to walk away from China, they would. Here he is. Listen to this.


SIMON: We have to start, as a world, making decisions that are based upon right and wrong. Period. And we can't compromise that. And we're definitely women looking to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it. Because this is certainly -- this is bigger than the business.


VAUSE: That's great to hear, but in the past, since 2011, since Li Na won the French Open, and tennis -- women's tennis really took off in China, the WTA was making a lot of money out of China. It still does. And was relatively silent through all the human -- ongoing human rights abuses to the Uyghurs in the north, to members of the Falun Gong, to Nobel Peace Prize winners being locked up.

You know, there's no such things as free speech, no democracy, no individual liberty.


And yet, the had the WTA kind of -- you know, sort of dealt with that by not really doing anything about it, if you like.

So, again, it has profited from this. Is this now what you would say is a significant shift, or are these cases different?

SHRIVER: Well, I think the word "complicated" certainly is exactly what this is. Steve Simon inherited this situation, where so many tournaments are now in China. You mentioned 10 years ago, Li Na became a worldwide sensation in the first Chinese major winner, winning both the French Open and then the Australian Open.

And China became -- looked like a great developing nation for women's tennis. And I think we all thought, even since the Olympic Games in 2008, that human rights would become better and not stay the same.

So, you know, sure, you can question whether or not it seems a little bit odd now, just because one of our own is having major issues with her freedom, and we're wondering about her safety. But I think now that it has hit this close to home, we're at a crossroads, and it's time now to make the tough decision that you can't do business when your -- the safety of your players are at risk.

VAUSE: Well, the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing holds a regular briefing for journalists. On Thursday this is how they dealt with Peng Shuai's disappearance. Listen to this.


ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: Are there any other questions about Peng Shuai? Please ask them all in one go. My reply is very simple: This is not a foreign affairs matter. And I am not aware of the relevant situation you mentioned.


VAUSE: That kind of sums up the overall strategy here by China. Ignore it, deny it, and don't acknowledge anything about it. And hope that eventually, it will go away. And, you know, do you think this will work, because it has in the past? Those who've dared to speak out sometimes simply just vanished.

SHRIVER: Well, we're all praying, those of us who've played the tour, and certainly, the players that are currently playing the tour and are peers of Peng Shuai. We're all praying for her safety.

Obviously, she must have known by posting what she posted that she was putting herself into some -- some danger.

And, you know, there's a lot of questions, of course, when hopefully, she is free to answer questions. And I think all of us would like to ask her.

But in the meantime, like other brave women tennis players who have risked their careers, we've had players from former Soviet Union accept prize money against the wishes of former Soviet. There's a long history of women tennis players standing up against governments.

Now, this is a tough one. I mean, no kidding. We're all scared for Peng Shuai. But in the meantime, what the WTA can do is change their course of doing business with China, unless we know that she is safe and free.

VAUSE: And keep talking about this story, keeping the focus on Peng Shuai, so that, you know, her name is out there and she doesn't vanish. Thank you, Pam. Good to see you. Thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

SHRIVER: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Well, still to come, roads have been buried by mudslides. Entire towns are underwater, and now farmers are trying to save their livelihoods after massive flooding in western Canada.


[00:25:11] VAUSE: Well, they're counting their losses from the devastation caused by catastrophic flooding in British Columbia. Some major roads remain underwater, or covered by mud and debris, and that's causing long transportation delays in moving goods from Canada's largest port.

More details now from CNN's Paula Newton.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Using motorboats, canoes, and jet skis, farmers in the Canadian province of British Columbia scramble to rescue cattle stranded in frigid waters. A desperate rush to pull them to safety.

They are surrounded by floodwaters, as far as the eye can see. Highways, homes, farmland, all submerged in water. In just two days, a month's worth of rain has fallen on this area, triggering mudslides, isolating mountain towns, and devastating communities where agriculture is the lifeblood.

HENRY BRAUN, ABBOTSFORD, MAYOR: Well, this is a disaster. The farmers are very adaptive to dealing with the situations and figuring out how to do things. But we need to get some more help.

NEWTON: For days, dramatic rescues plucked people from the deluge of mudslides and flooding, harrowing scenes like this one playing out on roads and bridges.

TYLER RICHARD, LOCAL RESIDENT: This area right here was absolutely chaotic yesterday. Absolutely everything was underwater. The street was flooded out. There was motorboats flying around in the park. It was just completely unreal.

NEWTON: The province now in a state of emergency. Canada's prime minister promises hundreds of armed forces are to help with evacuations, supplies, and more.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We will continue to work closely with the province, with indigenous leaders, with community leaders, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to support the people of British Columbia through this incredibly difficult time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to make it.

NEWTON: The floods came less than five months after another weather- related catastrophe wreaked havoc on British Columbia.

In late June, a record-setting heat wave fueled devastating wildfires, scorching land and temporarily displacing thousands. The whiplash of extreme weather events, a clear impact, scientists say, of climate change.

DAVE PHILLIPS, SENIOR CLIMATOLOGIST, ENVIRONMENT CANADA: It is the year, I think, where climate change has begun to bite deep and hard in Canada. It's a reality for millions of Canadians.

NEWTON: At a North American summit in Washington, leaders pointed to the devastation as more evidence of the need for action.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're both keeping our minds close to the families affected by the storms, flooding in British Columbia area and the Pacific Northwest.

But one of the things we've spent time on is on our global agenda is climate change. We've spent a lot of time dealing with that. And we're on the same page as to the need for us to move on it, and get the rest of the world to move.

NEWTON: As increasingly extreme weather takes another deadly blow, for those living through its impact, help, and action, can't come soon enough.

Paula Newton, CNN.


VAUSE: Let's get the very latest now and bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam with more on the forecast and what they can expect, I guess -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, look John, November is typically the wettest month of the year within the Pacific Northwest. But when you start shattering record highs and record precipitation events in a 24-hour period, the term weather whiplash that Paula just mentioned in that video just a moment ago, really comes top to mind.

And we referenced the atmospheric river, this moisture transport in the upper levels of the atmosphere. Well, that was responsible for the extreme rainfall that we experienced across the Pacific Northwest.

And I want you to notice that we don't have this atmospheric river event at the moment. High pressure that's going to take control of the weather and clear things out.

But notice that line of moisture stretching as far south and west as Hawaii. That is another atmospheric river that is going to set up for the Monday and Tuesday timeframe. You see the precipitation totals just piling up over the coastal regions of British Columbia. So we're going to monitor that for the middle to first half of next week.

One recent study has just indicated that, by the year 2100, the potential for atmospheric river events to become more frequent, more intense, even wider and longer in depth that could impact these regions, that is a significant concern, especially when you talk about this weather whiplash, when just 145 days ago we are breaking record high temperatures in British Columbia. And also now just within the past few days, rainfall totals leading to the potential of mudslides and landslides just like this.

So for the moment, a brief lull in the precipitation, but more precipitation in the forecast coming up -- John.

VAUSE: Derek, thank you. Derek Van Dam there with the very latest. Appreciate that. [00:30:03]

When we come back, the high price of misinformation. Morgues filled beyond capacity as conspiracy theories and blatant lies about vaccines spread across Romania.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Bucharest's biggest hospital. The morgue has the capacity for 15 bodies, but within the last 24 hours alone, 41 people have died.



VAUSE: Well, controlling the spread of misinformation about the COVID vaccine has been almost as challenging as controlling the virus itself. Now those rumors and conspiracy theories are taking a tragic toll in much of Eastern Europe.

It's especially acute in Romania, which has the second lowest vaccination rate in the E.U., one of the highest mortality rates in the world.

More now, here's CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): There's a jarring finality about death from COVID-19 at the Bucharest University Hospital. Workers nail coffins shut, and spray them with disinfectant.

Anguish echoes from the next room. A woman sees her loved one for the very last time.

(on camera): This is Bucharest's biggest hospital. The morgue has a capacity for 15 bodies. But, within the last 24 hours alone, 41 people have died. The overflow, ends up here, in the corridor.

(voice-over): Every day, more COVID dead are wheeled into the morgue. Nurse Claudiu Ionita is close to the breaking point.

"They keep coming, they keep coming," he says. "We're working for nothing. We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

And dark is Romania's tunnel. The country is in its fourth wave of COVID, its worst yet. The death toll from coronavirus hit a record level this month. Intensive care units are strained to the limits.

Hospital director Catalin Cirstoiu tries to put the death toll, in perspective.

DR. CATALIN CIRSTOIU, MANAGER, BUCHAREST'S UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: In Romania, each day, we have 400 patients who are dead. You know? Four hundred people, it's a huge number. It's a community. It's a village. You know?

WEDEMAN: Romania has one of Europe's lowest vaccination rates against the disease. There are no lines at this Bucharest vaccination center. Medics say they struggle against fakes news, suspicion, and superstition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of doctors, myself included, who worked with COVID patients, and we are trying to tell people that this disease actually exists.

WEDEMAN: Parliament member Diana Sosoaca has even tried to physically block people from entering vaccination centers.

"If you love your children," she says, "stop the vaccinations. Don't kill them."

The vaccines have been extensively tested in children and proven to be safe and effective. But she and others have sent wild rumors and magical thinking swirling through social media.

Colonel Vileriu Gheorghita, a doctor, runs the country's vaccination program.

VILERIU GHEORGHITA, HEAD OF ROMANIA'S VACCINATION CAMPAIGN: We have, unfortunately, hundreds of deaths each day. So this is the reality. And more than 90 percent of patients who died were -- were unvaccinated patients.

WEDEMAN: Nearly 36 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. From rural areas, however, it's half of that.

The village of Bosanci is an hour's flight from Bucharest and a world away. Religion holds sway here. Many put more faith in God than science. Village mayor and Pentecostal pastor, Neculai Miron, refuses to be vaccinated.

"We're not against the vaccine," he insists, "but we want to verify it, to be reassured. Because there have been many side effects. We don't think the vaccine's components are very safe. It's not a safe vaccine."

Experts say the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19. And just down the road, Dr. Daniela Afadaroaie has vaccinated 10 people on this day.

"No," she tells me. "We haven't seen any side effects in any patients we've vaccinated."

In the county seat of Suceava, fresh graves in the cemetery, stark evidence, of a recent surge in deaths. Every day in Romania, a village is dying.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Suceava, Romania.


VAUSE: We'll take a short break. Back in a moment. You're watching CNN.


VAUSE: A rare unanimous choice by baseball's America League for their Most Valuable Player award. Shohei Ohtani is in Los Angeles Angels. He received all 30 first-place votes after an historic season.

The 27-year-old superstar drew comparisons to Babe Ruth for his greatness as both a pitcher and a hitter this season.

Let's go to Tokyo now live. Blake Essig standing by. They must be pretty pleased about this over there?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. John, Japan as a whole couldn't be more excited about Shohei Ohtani. And there really was only ever one choice for American League MVP, and the decision, as you said, was unanimous.

Shohei Ohtani, the unicorn of Major League Baseball, did it all this year. He had 46 home runs, had 100 runs batted in, and stole 26 basis, as well as being one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball.

Now, in sports as in life, it's difficult to appreciate greatness when it's happening in the moment. But make no mistake about it, even though was only a single season, Shohei Ohtani is great.


ESSIG (voice-over): There are a lot of great baseball players, but few have the ability to break down barriers, change what people think is possible, and inspire quite like Japan's Shohei Ohtani.

DR. QT, SHOHEI OHTANI SUPERFAN: He just enjoys it. He enjoyed great work.

ESSIG: On the mound and at the plate, he's almost larger than life.




ESSIG: And the fans, they just can't get enough of Japan's two-sworded superstar. From artwork displaying Ohtani as an actual superhero. To this music video.

His worldwide following is enormous.

DR. QT: To me, Shohei, he's like an alien. He's like from somewhere, you know, not from on this earth.

ESSIG: Although his extraterrestrial origins are debatable --


GRAPHIC: Number one. MVP. He did it. Congratulations, Shohei.

ESSIG: Hironobu Kanno, who lives in Ohtani's terrestrial hometown of Oshu City, says his success on and off the field is fun to watch.

KANNO (through translator): We are so proud of his MVP title here in his hometown. He's not just a professional baseball player. He's a two sword player, doing something that nobody has ever tried before.

ESSIG: That, of course, isn't exactly true. But unless you were around more than 100 years ago, it's probably new to you.


ESSIG: This, bat, jersey and signature, on display at Japan's Baseball Hall Of Fame belong to Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time and the only other true two-way player in baseball history, to pitch and hit throughout a single season.

SHOHEI OHTANI, 2021 AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP (through translator): I feel humbled that I'm even being compared to Babe Ruth. He was not just a player that put up big numbers, and that's what makes him especially amazing. It's rare to become an athlete that is remembered forever.

ESSIG: A comparison that Hall of Fame curator Yuto Inoue says will likely follow Ohtani throughout his career.

YUTO INOUE, BASEBALL HALL OF FAME CURATOR (through translator): Many Japanese people are paying attention to Ohtani. His game results are broadcast on TV every day. And even people who aren't interested in baseball are paying attention to him.

It shows how big of an impact he's having in Japan.

ESSIG (on camera): While Shohei Ohtani isn't enshrined in Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame just yet, exhibits like this, with game used items from his early playing days, already line the halls.

INOUE: We've got his old uniform, gloves, a bat, and spikes on display.

ESSIG (voice-over): And as Ohtani continues to rack up stats, records, wins, and awards --


ESSIG: -- this collection, and his legend, will only continue to grow.


ESSIG: Now, Ohtani is now the second Japanese-born player to win the American League MVP. Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki did it in 2001.

For Ohtani, moving forward, the big question will be can he stay healthy and can he continue to operate as this two-sworded player, as he's known here in Japan. And if he can, John, Showtime Shohei could go down as the best player in baseball history of all time.

VAUSE: Well, the 2021 Angels go down as possibly the worst team ever to produce a unanimous MVP. Yin and yang, I guess. Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there in Tokyo.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. WORLD SPORT starts after a break. I'll be back at the top of the hour. See you then.