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Concern Deepens for Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai's Safety; India to Repeal Controversial Farming Laws; E.U. Countries Take Aim at Unvaccinated as Cases Surge; Transmission Rate of COVID is Rising in Israel; Jailed Activist Earns Press Freedom Prize for Courage; Canada's British Columbia Reels from Heavy Flooding; Japan's Shohei Ohtani Wins American League MVP. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 01:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up this hour on CNN Newsroom, standing firm, the CEO of Women's Tennis tell CNN the association is prepared to lose millions of dollars and cut ties with China over the fate of missing doubles champion Peng Shuai.

Over a year longer, times violent battle with the government a win for farmers in India. The Prime Minister announcing parliament will repeal reforms aimed at deregulating the farming sector.

And weather whiplash Canada from deadly wildfires to a month's worth of rain in just two days, leaving the country reeling from catastrophic flooding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN Newsroom with John Vause.

VAUSE: Pressure is going on China as the International Tennis community demands answers on the whereabouts of tennis star Peng Shuai. She vanished more than two weeks ago after accusing her former Vice Premier of China of sexual assault on social media. Now the head of the Women's Tennis Association threatening to pull his business from China if Peng is not found safe.


STEVE SIMON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION: When we have a young person who has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations, knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, for us to not support that and demand justice as we go through it. You know, we have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong, period.


VAUSE: The world's best tennis players continue to speak out this coming from three Serena Williams on Twitter. I'm devastated and shocked to hear the news about my peer, Peng Shuai. This must be investigated, and we must not stay silent.

But China is stonewalling reporters, questions about Peng whereabouts and sexual assault allegations. This comes as they've been growing diplomatic concerns raised over Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.

More all of this, CNN's Kristie Lu Stout anyway live for us in Hong Kong. So, let's just start the very beginning, where we stand right now with this, I guess the computation between the Women's Tennis Association and the Chinese government?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the WTA is really coming out swinging hard right now. They are taking a stand against China. In this interview with CNN, we heard from the CEO and the Chairman of the Women's Tennis Association. He says that they've been trying to contact the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai that they have very strong concerns about her and that the WTA is willing to give up its very lucrative business in China, if Peng Shuai is not fully accounted for, and if her allegations are not properly investigated.

You know, Peng Shuai is of course a national sporting icon in China. But she's also known all over the world because she's a two-time Grand Slam champion. It was two weeks ago, she made that serious accusation about a very powerful man, the former vice-premier of China Zhang Gaoli, claiming that he forced himself on her, forced her to have sex with him that was posted on Sina Weibo, it was surely taken down and she has not been seen or heard from ever since, under blanket censorship in China since then.

The WTA has continued to say they're deeply concerned about her. And now we're hearing from its chief that they're willing to put their business on the line in China for her. Listen to this, here is Steve Simon.


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


LU STOUT: And many observers have pointed out that the WTA's response here is far more forceful than what we have seen from other organizations or even governments. I want you to listen to this insight from Natasha Kasim. She is an analyst and also former diplomat.


NATASHA KASSAM, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC OPINION AND FOREIGN POLICY PROGRAM, LOWY INSTITUTE: The WTA have been quite bold compared to other organizations that have interest in China. They really come out swinging, but 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 sporting organizations, they haven't had a colleague or a teammate disappear, right? This is on a different level. So, the WTO's reaction is strong, and it's helpful and it's using the leverage that it has.



LU STOUT: Concern of course continues to rise about Peng Shuai her whereabouts, her safety and also the general safety of athletes in China with the Beijing Winter Olympic Games quickly approaching. John.

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

Pam Shriver, a 23-time major champion and doubles and world number three in Women's Tennis. She joins us now. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.


VAUSE: It's 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 when 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 wicked genocide and lifetime appointments during its Olympic coverage.

As the International Olympic Committee, you could add, ask Google, asked Yahoo, the list goes on and on and on. So why is it that Women's Tennis has been the standout 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 there have always 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, 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 you 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 willing 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: Yeah, that's great to hear. But in the past, since 2011, since Li Na when the French Open, tennis -- Women's Tennis really took off in China, the WTA was making a lot of money out of China, still does, and was relatively silent through all the human, ongoing human rights abuses to the wiggers in the north, to members of the Falun Gong, a Nobel Peace Prize winner has been locked up. You know, there's no such thing as a free speech, no democracy, no individual liberty. And yet the WTA kind of 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 the situation where so many tournaments are now in China, you mentioned 10 years ago, Li Na became a worldwide sensation, being the first Chinese major winner winning both the French Open and then the Australian Open. And China became a look like a great developing nation for women's tennis. And I think we all fought 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 is 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 the safety of your players are at risk.

VAUSE: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing holds regular briefing for journalists on Thursday. This is how they dealt with Peng Shuais' disappearance. Listen to this.


ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translation): 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 irrelevant situation you mentioned.


VAUSE: That kind of sums up the overall strategy here by China, ignore it, deny any knowledge 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, you know, those who have dared to speak out sometimes simply just vanish?

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 our peers of Peng Shuai were 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 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: Keep talking about this story, keep keeping the focus on Peng Shuai so that, you know, her name is out there, and she doesn't vanish. Thank you, Pam, good -- so much -- thank you so much for being with us.

SHRIVER: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: We really appreciate it.

For a year now, government efforts in India to reform the farming sector have been met with widespread and at times violent protests. Small farmers say three new laws in particular would leave them vulnerable to being business. And now it seems the Prime Minister has conceded to feet announcing those three laws will be repealed by parliament. Vedika Sud is live in New Delhi, with more she joins us with the very latest. This has to be considered a big win for the farmers and a loss for Modi, right?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely a big win for the farmers, John, but let me put this into context. This announcement by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been made on a very auspicious day, because today is the birth anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith.

Now predominantly, a lot of these people who follow Sikhism belong to the state of Punjab, neighboring Delhi, and a lot of farmers come from there. And this state goes through elections along with a couple of others next year, including the state of Uttar Pradesh, western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have a huge percentage of farmers who have been protesting in and around Delhi and other parts of the country, especially northern India for the last year. And they were demanding that these three laws be repealed, which the prime minister today has announced. A lot of people are now wondering if this is solely because of the upcoming state elections in the states that I just told you about.

Now, the Indian Prime Minister has mentioned that these laws will be repealed in parliament in the upcoming session that will start later this month. But the Indian farmers and the farmer unions have come out and reacted to this announcement stating that they will not end the protests anytime soon, until this has officially withdrawn in Parliament, and they've also demanded something which they have been demanding over the last one year, which is a legal guarantee that they want on the MSP, which is actually a minimum support price for crops in India.

For now, there are two crops that have this MSP assured, but then other 21 crops that farmers are demanding and MSP on.

Now over the last one year, they've been barely any talks officially between the farmer unions and the central government. There were talks initially, but they fell through. There was also a point where the Indian government actually stepped over the line reaching out to the farmer union saying, OK, for two years, we're going to keep these laws aside, and then we'll talk about it but that was something that the farmer unions did not want.

So, this has been seen as a huge climb down, John, by the Indian government. But, of course, it comes very, you know, at a very timely moment really given that the elections, the state elections are due next year. And this is something that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which Prime Minister Modi leads is really very keen to win in the states of Punjab which they do not rule currently, and they do rule the state of Uttar Pradesh, but anti-incumbency remains a factor there. John.

VAUSE: Saying this all came down to politics. I'm shocked. Vedika Sud, live for us in New Delhi.

Europe struggles with yet another wave of the Coronavirus, it seems to be one common factor, countries where cases are rising, all have relatively low vaccination rates. And now new restrictions in many countries are specifically targeting those who are not fully vaccinated. During parliament and as only the fully vaccinated are those who recovered from COVID-19 who be allowed to public venues. 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. Well, for the very latest here's CNN's Melissa Bell reporting in from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Europe once again the epicenter of the pandemic, with country after country announcing a 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, the German parliament announcing a series of fresh measures that will mean that people either have to be vaccinated have a negative test or have written recovered from COVID in order to take public transport in order to get into their workplaces with angler Merkel meeting on Thursday evening with the regional leaders to decide on the fact that where incidents 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 that if Greece had had the vaccination levels of a country like Portugal, the intubation levels in Greece would be five times less than they are. Countries looking to bring those COVID-19 figures down, even as the continent heads in, to the Christmas season. Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


VAUSE: Controlling the spread of misinformation about COVID vaccines has been almost as challenging as controlling the virus itself. And now those rumors and conspiracy theories are costing Eastern Europe. It's especially cute in Romania, because the second lowest vaccination rate in the E.U., one of the highest mortality rates in the world. We have more now from CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a jarring finality about death from COVID-19 in Bucharest University Hospital, workers nail coffin shut, 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 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 clothes UniSA 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 with death, 400 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 fake news, suspicion and superstition.

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

WEDEMAN: Parliament member, (inaudible) has even try 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 Valerie Gheorghita, a doctor runs the country's vaccination programs.

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

WEDEMAN: Nearly 36% of the population is fully vaccinated. Rural areas, however, (inaudible).

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

NECULAI MIRON, BOSANCI MAYOR (through translation): We're not against the vaccine, he says, but we want to verify it to be reassured because there have been many side effects. We don't think the vaccines components are very safe. It's not a safe vaccine.

Experts say that 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, no, no she tells me we haven't seen any side effects in any patients we 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: A CNN exclusive is ahead. CNN's Matthew Chance has some tough questions for the foreign minister of Belarus about the migrant crisis his country is accused of creating.

Also, back to the misery, hundreds of migrants caught up in the hybrid war between Belarus and the E.U. now being forced to return to everything they wanted to leave behind.


VAUSE: Well, the migrants who've been caught in a no man's land of misery at a border crossing between Belarus and Poland had been moved to a nearby warehouse, hundreds of others now heading back to Iraq. E.U. leaders blame Belarus for orchestrating this crisis in retaliation for sanctions on the Lukashenko government. But the Belarusian Foreign Minister says that is a lie. We spoke exclusively with CNN's Matthew Chance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the airport in Minsk, a first repatriation flight weights to board. The passengers, mostly Iraqi Kurds didn't make it to Europe. But at least that ordeal in Belarus is at an end. This is the nightmare they left behind. Officials confirmed 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, and now for the first time CNN is able to hold a senior Belarusian official to account.

VLADIMIR MAKEI, BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: And to see how they suffer, it's very difficult for normal human being. We are not interested in having this situation here in Belarus.

CHANCE: But you say you don't want to see these things, 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 false assessment of the situation.

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


MAKEI: With regards to this migrant crisis, I can definitely say 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 Belarussian 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. The refusal of Belarus to intervene fueled rumors they encourage 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. was imposed against Belarus for its crackdown on the opposition. How do you answer that allegation?

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

CHANCE: It's showing the strength of European unity too, but 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 must now keep them or send them home. Matthew Chance, CNN Minsk.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Those claims by the foreign minister have been met with a good deal of skepticism across the European Union. Here's the E.U. foreign policy chief.


JOSEP BORRELL, E.U. FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: I'm not saying if he's lying or not, I'm just saying that these 1000s of people coming from, more than 10 different countries, all of them who are willing to go to Minsk and for Minsk being transported to the European Union borders is strange that it happened just, because everybody thought at the same time that, that was a good idea. I think that this had been orchestrated, this has been organized this has been pushed for. And now there is a problem, a humanitarian problem, because these people have been cheated, someone promised them that they could go into Europe. And now when they see that it is not possible, they are in a very bad situation. And even if they are there by some reasons that nobody knows.


VAUSE: Over months thousands of migrants have been lured to the border of Belarus and Poland with a false promise of easy entry into the E.U. But now the hundreds of Iraqis have dream of a better life in Europe has come to an abrupt end. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iraqi officials say they're going to be organizing more of these repatriation flights, what they describe as these voluntary returns. But as you can imagine, people who are coming back are not coming back because they want to really -- they have no other choice. We have all seen these tragic events that were unfolding on the border in Belarus in recent days. The Iraqi government, Iraqi officials say that their citizens were exploited by traffickers and smugglers. But also, they accused the government of Belarus of using these refugees and migrants in its crisis and standoff with the E.U.

So many people, so many of these refugees and migrants are coming back with absolutely nothing. People used up their life savings, thousands of dollars to try and make it to Europe through this new route via Belarus that opened up over the past few months. And now they're coming back with nothing.

And what is really surprising for so many of us who have covered Iraq for years, is that many of those who have left thousands of them have ended up in Belarus are Iraqi Kurds from Iraq's Kurdish region for years that was considered to be the more stable, more prosperous, more secure part of the country. So, it's very surprising to see so many Iraqi Kurds leaving.

And when you ask people why this is happening, I've spoken to Iraqi Kurds, and they tell you it's mostly because of the economic situation that has deteriorated in recent months, in recent years, it is the high unemployment, but also this real general feeling of utter hopelessness where people feel they have no future in the country, no future in this region, and the only way they can secure their children's future is by getting to Europe. And that is why a lot of people say that while the Iraqi government is dealing with this current crisis, what it really needs to be dealing with is the root cause of this crisis. What it is that is driving people to leave their homeland.



VAUSE: Well, it's the COVID R rate and in Israel it's slowly creeping up. When we come back, why that rising R rate is causing new concerns for the Israelis.

Also ahead, images from the early days of the COVID outbreak in Wuhan, China, showed the world just how bad things really were with the pandemic. And they also cost this citizen journalist her freedom. Her family worries it may have already cost her her life. More on that in a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The COVID R rate tracks the rate of transmission and in Israel it's now at its highest level for about two months. The R rate is at 0.9 7. In simple terms, that means with every 10 people with COVID, they will infect 9.7 others which means the virus is not spreading, but still experts worry the current decline in new cases may be coming to an end.

At one point, Israel led the world in vaccination, so it offers a window into what might happen next elsewhere. Tuesday, 550 new cases were reported. Nearly 78 percent of those are unvaccinated. Israel has approved a vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds and is expected to start administering doses this week.

Let's head to Tel Aviv now. We're joined by Dr. Ran Balcer. He is chair of Israel's National Advisory Expert Team on COVID-19's Response.

Doctor, good to have you with us. Thank you for taking the time.

DR. RAN. BALCER, CHAIR, ISRAEL NATIONAL ADVISORY EXPERT TEAM ON COVID- 19 RESPONSE: Thank you very much, John. It's good to be here.

VAUSE: OK. So the concern here now is what this actually means in terms of the pandemic and this number has fluctuated since the beginning, so if you take a look at it, it was as high as almost 3 at the very beginning of the pandemic. So in other words, one person could infect three others. It got down to less than 0.5. That's when the vaccination started to kick in en masse.

So I'm wondering if you look at those numbers, and look at how it's all panning out, is this a reflection of waning immunity eight months on from the start of that vaccination campaign?

BALCER: So, you know, R has been below one basically since September at which point we concluded that an extremely intense booster vaccination campaign that reached the majority of the previously vaccinated people and we had over 90 percent over elderly that were previously vaccinated with two doses. At that point, already had their booster dose.

At which point, R came down which means that fewer and fewer people were infected on a daily basis. And right now we reached a plateau of about 500 newly infected people per day. Now this is a higher number than we used to see in May and April before Delta came in and before we had our fourth wave.


Now that wave that took place since June, July, until the end of August, was quite fierce. And, it was driven both by Delta and by waning immunity. And we were first here in Israel to be able to show the detrimental effects of waning immunity, and the absolute necessity of taking a very, determined booster campaign if one wants to refrain from additional waves of infection.

VAUSE: OK. So then tell us, what are you doing? What's the plan now as this R number creeps up? Because anything over one is indicative that it's spreading and getting worse. So what's the plan of attack here to try and get this number down as much as possible?

BALCER: So again we need to remain vigilant and see whether this is a plateau, or whether R, as you say, goes above one and we see a resurgence. Now we are assessing that we are better protected than we were in July because over four million people have been vaccinated with the boosters. That being said, there is a cohort of especially young people that were vaccinated about five and six months ago that will now the waning immunity might begin to show and a booster campaign could be something to be considered in that group, too.

In addition to that, we are aware of the fact that right now about 50 percent of our daily cases are in children in ages below 11. And so the vaccination campaign for children that's about to start next week might be able to also turn the tide and allow us to maintain safely within the safe zone, without seeing a resurgence, if there will be a good uptick of vaccines among these children.

VAUSE: You know, even though we're looking at the effectiveness of these vaccines, and it's sort of waning over a period of time, that's in terms of like protecting from catching COVID in the first place. They still remain effective in preventing hospitalization and preventing people from dying. Is that what you're seeing in the latest numbers that you're getting, that essentially yes, there is waning immunity, but they are still actually effective at keeping people alive?

BALCER: Well, I would say this is half true. It is true to say that there is enough residual immunity in those that had two doses of the vaccine to reduce, to some extent, their likelihood of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19. But that protection is considerably waning as well through time. And so if one wants, especially among the elderly, if one wants to protect themselves from severe illness and more than six months have elapsed since their last vaccine, they will need the booster dose.

And what we've shown in a paper from the Clalit Research Institute that was published in "The Lancet" over a month ago is that if one takes the third dose, their protection from severe illness, from hospitalization, and from death, is increasing dramatically with the booster dose. So, one, increases 90 percent protection from severe illness. Over 90 percent protection of severe illness through the booster dose, above and beyond the residual protection from the second dose that they received over six months earlier.

So, really, if -- I'm looking at what's happening in Europe, and I'm looking at what's happening in other countries that see an incline in despite a very good vaccination coverage. And the only remedy for this, the only sustainable strategy in order to maintain and prevent future waves is to provide booster doses, a third dose, which I think should be part of the basic vaccine dosage.

So three doses I think in six months apart are what you need in order to get the appropriate protection up to six months.

VAUSE: Yes. A three-dose regimen. It appears that's where we're heading with this pandemic.

Dr. Ran Balcer, thank you so much.

BALCER: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: Take care.

U.S. policy on vaccine booster soon could take another giant leap forward in the coming days. It's possible that any adult who wants a booster will be able to get one. The FDA expected to make a decision to approve the Pfizer booster for anyone 18 years and older -- over, rather. And Moderna could soon follow. The CDC also are meeting later which means a thumbs up for one or both vaccines could happen this weekend.

The decision by a U.S. agency is a bit behind as a number of states have already made their decision to open up booster shots for all adults.

Zhang Zhan is a Chinese citizen journalist who documented overcrowded hospitals in Wuhan like this during the earliest days of the COVID pandemic. Her work raising global awareness of the outbreak, has now earned her the 2021 Press Freedom Prize for Courage from Reporters Without Borders. But it's also landed her at a Chinese prison where she is being on a months' long hunger strike.

As CNN's David Culver reports, her family is hoping they can save her before it's too late.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Traveling alone to the original epicenter, in the height of China's COVID-19 outbreak last year, she documented the plight Wuhan residents under a brutal lockdown.


For that, 38-year-old Zhang Zhan has been languishing behind bars for 18 months. Now, on a hunger strike and on the brink of death, her family and lawyer filing a petition for medical parole in the hope of saving her life.

In early February 2020, Zhang, a lawyer turned activist, highlighted harsh realities on the ground. She posted more than 100 clips on YouTube, showing hospitals flooded with desperate patients and shops empty.

ZHANG ZHAN, JAILED CITIZEN JOURNALIST (through translator): Maybe I have a rebellious soul. Why can't I film that? I was just documenting the truth. Why can't I show the truth?

CULVER: In May of last year authorities from Shanghai detained Zhang, then putting her on trial for picking quarrels and provoking trouble. A charge often used to silence government critics. According to the verdict seen by CNN, officials accused Zhang of "recklessly fabricating and spreading content that distorted the coronavirus control measures in Wuhan." And "for seriously disturbing the public order."

Last December, a court sentenced her to four years in prison. Family members say Zhang went on a hunger strike soon after her arrest. Her condition in jail rapidly deteriorating. Authorities here enforced to put in a feeding tube. The 5-foot-10 journalist now weighing less than 88 pounds. A skeleton of her former self. On Twitter, her brother posted she may not survive the coming cold winter.

Zhang not the only one targeted for trying to expose the realities in Wuhan. Chen Qiushi, another lawyer who posted videos critical of the authorities' early mishandlings, disappeared for more than a year, only recently resurfacing in public. Chen Mei and Cai Wei jailed for 15 months after they archived news reports of the Wuhan outbreak that had been censored. Others like Fang Bin who uploaded the video of body bags in a Wuhan hospital have simply vanished from public view.

Also silenced, numerous whistleblowers. The most famous, Dr. Li Wenliang. Police had reprimanded him for spreading rumors when he first tried to tell friends and colleagues about the then mystery illness. His eventual death from COVID made him a martyr in China with the government begrudgingly embracing him as a hero.

To counter all the critical voices, the propaganda czars later even deployed more than 300 state media journalist to Wuhan, pulling out all the stops to reclaim the narrative. An effort that's continued to this day as state media breathlessly cover other countries COVID debacles and conspiracy theories on the virus origins. Trying to sow doubt and deflect blame. As for Zhang Zhan, she's never wavered in believing her own innocence with her lawyer telling CNN --

ZHANG KEKE, ZHANG ZHAN'S LAWYER (through translator): She told me that she thinks her arrest, prosecution, trial, and detention were unlawful. Only by going on a hunger strike did she feel she could express her frustrations.

CULVER: A desperate call for attention on China's growing intolerance for unfiltered information.

(On-camera): We did reach out to Zhang's family to see if they wanted to comment on record. They declined our request for an interview. They don't want to anger the government any further so as to potentially worsen the situation.

David Culver, CNN, Beijing.


VAUSE: Well, roads buried by mudslides and towns underwater. Now farmers scrambling to save their livelihoods after a massive flooding in (INAUDIBLE).



VAUSE: Widespread flooding has effectively left the Port of Vancouver cut off. Roads and railways have been washed away, badly damaged, it could take up to two more days to ease the bottlenecks which have been caused by the flooding and mudslides. Many farmers in the region also feeling the economic pain from this natural disaster.

As Paula Newton reports, some are now fighting to save their livelihoods.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN 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, BRITISH COLUMBIA 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's 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 in British Colombia. In late June, a record setting heat wave fueled devastating wildfires, scorching land and temporarily displacing thousands.

The whiplash of extreme weather events are clear impact, scientists say, of climate change.

DAVE PHILIPS, SENIOR CLIMATOLOGIST, ENVIRONMENT CANADA: It is the year, I think, that 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 the British Columbia area and the Pacific Northwest. But one of the things we spent time on with our global agenda is climate change. We've spent a lot of time dealing with that. And we are 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, those living through its impacts, help and action, can't come soon enough.

Paula Newton, CNN.


VAUSE: Let's go to meteorologist Derek Van Dam to see what the weather will have for the region in the next couple of days -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John. Check out this map I just found from NASA's Earth Observatory Program. They have a remote sensing satellite that shows the amount of rain that fell on Sunday, November 14th. This is Vancouver Island, here, southern British Columbia. Anywhere you see this darker shading of red, that was over 100 millimeters of rain in a 24-hour period. Remember, this is the same location, just less than a half a year ago that set all-time record high temperatures for British Columbia.

So Paula mentioned it in the package you saw just a moment ago. This is weather whiplash. We go from extreme to extreme and this is climate change unfolding right before our eyes. We talk about atmospheric rivers. This moisture train that comes from the ocean and literally deposits significant amounts of precipitation depending on exactly where it is funneled and where that moisture is transported.

Well, at the moment, we have a brief lull in the activity. We're going to say goodbye to a departing low pressure system, high pressure controls the weather for the next couple of days, but look at that. You see that stream of moisture coming from the Pacific Ocean? It almost looks like it originates towards Hawaii.


That is called an atmospheric river. Where it sets up, you still have to -- still have to get the details ironed out. But one thing is for sure, computer models picking up on more precipitation, especially north of the areas that were hit hardest earlier this week. But the last thing we need is more precipitation on top of what has already fallen and caused so much devastation across this area.

Here is Vancouver's weather forecast over the next seven days. These atmospheric rivers are likely to become more frequent and more intense by the end of the century as our climate continues to warm -- John.

VAUSE: Derek, thank you. We appreciate the update. Derek Van Dam there with the very latest.

Well, coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, Shohei Ohtani finishes an incredible baseball season with the Los Angeles Angels, named the American League's Most Valuable Player. A live report from Tokyo and how his native Japan is now celebrating.


VAUSE: Welcome back. A unanimous choice by baseball's American League, first Most Valuable Player of 2021. Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels received all 30 first place votes after a 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 live to Tokyo now. CNN's Blake Essig standing by with more on the reaction there.

And this is a pretty big day. A very exciting day for the people in Japan.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John. You know, I mean, to put this into perspective, the guy who finished in second place in the AL MVP voting in any other year would have won. But as you had mentioned, he didn't receive one first place vote. And in this case there really was only one choice for American League MVP. And that decision was Shohei Ohtani.

The unicorn of Major League Baseball. He did it all this year, hit 46 homeruns, had a hundred runs batted in, stole 26 bases. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. He started 23 games. He only lost two. Now in sports, it's difficult to appreciate greatness as it's happening in the moment. But make no mistake about it, 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 just enjoys playing ball.

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

And the fans they just can't get enough of Japan's two-sword 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 super being from somewhere. You know, not from this earth.

ESSIG: Although his extraterrestrial origins are debatable --

HIRONOBU KANNO, SHOHEI OHTANI SUPERFAN: Yes, number one, MVP. (Speaking in foreign language) 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 are around more than 100 years ago, it's probably new to you.

This bat, jersey, and signature on display at Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame belonged 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 wasn't 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 Yuko Inoue says will likely follow Ohtani throughout his career.

YUKO INOUE, CURATOR, THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM: 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. He 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 (through translator): 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 --

This collection, and his legend, will only continue to grow.


ESSIG: For Ohtani moving forward the big question will be, can he stay healthy and can he continue to operate as a two-way star? And if he can, Shohei Ohtani could go down as the best baseball player of all time -- John.

VAUSE: Sadly he says he's going to spend a quiet night at home to celebrate, which will be good for him.

Blake, thank you. Blake Essig, live for us there in Tokyo.

Well, now to an out-of-the-world event so rare the last time something like this happened was nearly 800 years ago. Across North America, partial lunar eclipse is underway which will make the moon look blood red. Stargazers from, New York to Hawaii can see the event at its peak in the next few hours. It's expected to be the longest partial eclipse this century.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us after a very short break. The news continues with my friend and colleague, Michael Holmes.