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Peng Shuai Purportedly Seen in New Videos; Panic at Atlanta Airport after Accidental Weapon Discharge; COVID-19 Lockdowns In Europe; Health Workers Face Burnout; Chile Presidential Elections; Supply Chain Chaos Impacts Holiday Shopping; Vaccine Skepticism Driving Romania's Death Toll; COVID-19 Patient Wakes after Weeks in Coma; Lahore Ranked World's Most Polluted City; NASA to Test Anti- Asteroid Defense System. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 21, 2021 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I am Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, raising more questions than answers, Chinese state media, releases videos, purportedly, of a top tennis player, not seen for weeks, since accusing a top official of sexual assault.

Pushed to the limit and then some: we take a look at the enormous mental and physical toll, health care workers have had to endure, for almost two years.

And, later --


HOLMES (voice-over): Frantic scenes at the busiest airport in the U.S. A gunshot sparks panic, during the height of holiday travel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: And our top story, dramatic new developments in the case of missing tennis star, Peng Shuai. On Sunday, rather, several members of the Chinese state media, published short videos on social media, purporting to show, her alive and well.

Now remember, she has not been seen since she accused one of China's most powerful former leaders of sexual assault, nearly 3 weeks ago. In one clip she is purportedly standing in line, with other people, at the junior tennis challenger finals in Beijing, on Sunday. She is the second from the left there and appears to be waving and smiling, to an unseen crowd, as an emcee announces her name. Another clip, purportedly, shows her greeting young tennis fans and

signing autographs, on oversized tennis balls at that same event.

And, this video, shows her having dinner with her coach and friends, at a Beijing restaurant. CNN has not been able to, independently, verify when any of these videos were taken.

Now that latest video appears to be an attempt by Chinese state media to dispel concerns about the tennis star's safety and whereabouts. But many critics say it actually raises more questions than answers. Let's turn to Paula Hancocks, with more reporting on the video you just saw, from inside of the restaurant.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have seen that they were tweeted out by the "Global Times" editor and that these videos, he did say, were, clearly, he shot on Saturday, showing her eating at a restaurant, with friends and also, her coach.

CNN cannot, independently, verify these videos. We, also, can not verify exactly when they were shot. But listening to what those at the table were saying, one individual, a man, was talking about tennis matches coming up, saying, tomorrow, November the 20th. He was then quickly corrected, by someone next to him saying, no, tomorrow, November 21st.

So really, they were at pains to point out the date, within this video. We did not hear, in the two clips that we have seen, Peng speak, at all. So of course, there are now questions as to the veracity of this video and, we are hearing from many, across the world, in the tennis world, for more proof of the well-being of the Chinese tennis star, who has not been heard, from directly, since November 2nd, when she made accusations of sexual abuse, against a former vice premier, in China.

We have heard that the United Nations is calling on China to prove the well-being of Peng. We've heard that the White House is deeply concerned. The head of the Women's Tennis Association has threatened to pull out of China if they are not forthcoming, saying, that this is bigger than the business.

So clearly, there are still many concerns simply because the fact is everything we have heard and seen, from Peng Shuai at this point, has been through Chinese state media. We have yet to hear anything, directly -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


HOLMES: And here is more from the Women's Tennis Association about the newly released Peng Shuai photos and videos.

Chairman and CEO Steve Simon, says, quote, "It remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video, alone, is insufficient." He goes on to say, "Our relationship with China is at a crossroads."


HOLMES: A short time ago, CNN asked Robert Kuhn, a longtime adviser to Chinese leaders, for his thoughts on Peng Shuai and how the Chinese government reacts to her sexual assault allegations. Have a listen.


ROBERT KUHN, AUTHOR AND CHINA ADVISER: This is unprecedented in China, for an ordinary citizen to level this kind of accusation against a senior leader, albeit retired but nonetheless, a senior leader, much revered in China.

That said, the whole approach of China will be to protect the system because China believes that its system is responsible for all the success. China is the second largest economy, bringing 800-plus million people out of poverty, now moving toward what they call common prosperity.

All of those things, they say, are completely dependent upon the leadership of the party, which has been strengthened recently but at the sixth plenum, in their political meeting, where the party is in charge, Xi Jinping is the core of the party, Xi Jinping thought will lead the party's ideology.

So all of that -- and we're heading toward the Winter Olympics, which is very important in China, and, suddenly, this comes on the scene. So China will do everything possible to lower the heat on this story but will not compromise its core point about the absolute leadership of the party, which means that it will not be subject to pressure or make compromises with the so-called independents, what they say, is Western values.

I think that is the one thing we can be sure of.


HOLMES: And there'll be more of that interview with Robert Kuhn by Paula Newton in the coming hours, here on CNN.


HOLMES: Riot police in Europe faced another night of unrest, as protests erupted over new coronavirus restrictions.


HOLMES (voice-over): This time, protesters setting off fireworks and building bonfires in The Hague. The night before, a similar protest turned violent in the port city of Rotterdam. Tens of thousands of Austrians, filling central Vienna, on Saturday, to protest the country's new vaccine mandate, the first of its kind, in western Europe. Some scuffles, breaking out in the demonstration, which was organized

by a far-right political party. The virus is surging among unvaccinated people in Europe. And many Austrians are angry, that they are heading into another national lockdown this week.

Slovakia and the neighboring Czech Republic, meanwhile, both reported their highest numbers of new cases to date. Vaccination rates in those two countries are among the lowest, in Europe.

Many other E.U. countries, are also, experiencing record new numbers of cases and as governments bring back stricter measures, public frustration is boiling over. CNN's Barbie Nadeau reports.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the last weekend before a nationwide lockdown, in Austria. Tens of thousands of people, in Vienna, protested the new COVID-19 restrictions.

One protester, says, "I want my freedom back. One would think we live in a democracy but now, this is a coronavirus dictatorship."

Austria is introducing some of the strictest measures in the region, to try to contain the virus. As of Monday, all residents, whether vaccinated or not, are back under a stay-at-home order. No one is allowed to leave home, except to work, shop for essentials or exercise. And, in February, COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory.

The decisions have infuriated some in the country. Even though Austria, like many countries in Europe, is experiencing staggering numbers of new infections. The demonstration in Vienna was organized by the country's far right Freedom Party, which says it will combat the new measures, though, the party head couldn't attend, after testing positive for COVID-19.

In the Netherlands, city workers in Rotterdam, are cleaning up, after a night of violent protests over a proposed corona pass, which would limit access to indoor public venues to people who are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Rioters burned cars and threw rocks at police, who responded with warning shots and water cannons. Some residents say they are appalled by how out of control the rally became.

One man says, "I am very angry about it. They renovated the center of the town and a bunch of idiots destroyed it."

Crowds, are also, filling the streets of the capital of Croatia, opposing a COVID passport, for government, in public buildings, which goes into effect on Monday.

Loud, agitated, pockets of discontent around Europe.


NADEAU (voice-over): As governments, increasingly, lose patience with vaccine resistance and take more drastic measures, to try to stop the spread of the virus. As people gather indoors, because of the colder weather.

The World Health Organization, saying that another 500,000 people, in Europe, could die by March, unless urgent action is taken. The rallies for personal freedom and against the restrictions taking place in cities across Europe, as strained ICUs across the region, struggle, to keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients, some of them just fighting to stay alive -- Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


HOLMES: Let's take a closer look at COVID in the U.S. Despite a recent plateau in new infections, cases are creeping up again, particularly, in northern states and the Midwest. Officials are trying to get out in front of a surge in cases, with the CDC authorizing COVID booster vaccines for all adults on Friday. But some health experts say, it has already begun.


DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We are starting to see now the beginning of that winter wave. We've had a 14 percent increase in cases over the last week. And we're about to go, yet again, over 100,000 new cases a day.

And it's starting up in the northern Midwest, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. So that is very concerning that the winter wave is now upon us and now starting.


HOLMES: Now it is those surges in cases and hospitalizations that have pushed health care systems in the U.S. and indeed, around the world, to breaking point. And after nearly two years of fighting the coronavirus, it is pushing health workers themselves to the brink.

Public attitudes, are not helping much either. The fact they are risking their lives, every day, to save those who refuse to do something as simple as putting on a mask or getting vaccinated, it's all taking a toll.

In a recent survey of more than 6,000 acute and critical care nurses, 92 percent say they believe the pandemic has depleted nurses at their hospitals; 66 percent feel their pandemic experiences have caused them to consider leaving nursing and 76 percent say the unvaccinated threaten nurses' physical and mental well-being.


HOLMES: Dr. Esther Choo is an emergency physician and professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.

Good to see, you Doctor. Important piece that was in "The Atlantic" and, basically, doctors and frontline health care workers are inherently resilient by virtue of what they do and go through. What does it say when so many are leaving the profession?

DR. ESTHER CHOO, OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: Yes, thank, you Michael. It is, really, remarkable to me. Part of our training is toughness, is expecting to be able to handle a lot and actually to see the worst moments of people's lives. So to not only be resilient to the hours and the physical work but also to be really mentally and emotionally resilient.

So over the course of this pandemic, we've lost almost one in five health care workers and it, really, it is a testament to how extreme the situation has gotten that so many find it not bearable.

HOLMES: You were quoted in that article, in "The Atlantic," that you now cringe when a colleague approaches you at the end of a shift because you are worried they are about to say they are quitting.

How often have you seen that?

CHOO: There are stretches -- and they aren't always during surges. We've had so many surges now. We've really felt it. But even in between, people just have terminal fatigue, because it always seems like it's one thing or the other.

Either we're in a COVID surge or we are trying to do catch-up care between surges. And so it was -- it's hard to even -- I lost count. It has become -- it happened the other day, when I was at work. Another colleague came up to me and that had that same look on her face, "I have to tell you something."

And I just know how the conversation is going to go.

HOLMES: My goodness. In some ways, I guess it is understandable, that people can -- you know, you could only take so much of the death and the stress.

But speak to what these losses mean for health care, the ability to, literally, be able to give good treatment to patients. That is a real loss of knowledge and experience, isn't it?

CHOO: It is. We see people who leave health care through many different routes. Many people were not quite at retirement but they're taking early retirement. Other people are just leaving the parts of health care that seem the most unbearable. And unfortunately that's I places like where I work, in the emergency department or in the intensive care unit, where we so badly need good, skilled, workers.

And they are moving to other jobs, within health care and then people leave health care, entirely. And so we lose so much of that experience, that education and, of course, everytime somebody leaves, it just becomes tougher on those who stay behind.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, exactly.

I'm curious, how much of a factor is how employers treat their workers? [00:15:00]

HOLMES: I mean, in terms of conditions, salary, empathy and so on, and I have to say, especially in the U.S., as opposed to other nations, health care is a for-profit business and I'm sure that makes a difference.

CHOO: I think that makes all the difference. I mean, I think the mentality when it comes to structuring a team for a ward, for an emergency department, I think hospitals in the United States are really oriented to how can we squeeze the most out of the fewest people so that we can make the most profit for every health care visit.

That orientation is fundamentally not going to create good situations for our workers. What the workers need is for there to be decent patient to care provider ratios, to feel that you get a humane break during worktimes, that your work is sustainable over many, many years, that you are well supported, that you are compensated well in a way that seems to match the skills and the education and the knowledge that you bring.

And when those conditions aren't met, then why should we go above and beyond for so long?

HOLMES: I was curious about one aspect in the article, it quotes workers saying that often now patients are resistant or perhaps demanding fringe treatments and so on.

Is there a difference with the attitudes of COVID patients now that most of them are unvaccinated?

Do they react differently?

CHOO: That is interesting. I think we try not to think of patients differently, differentiate care between those who are vaccinated and those who are not vaccinated.

I will say that we are not feeling that you are all heroes feeling anymore. I think people are feeling very frustrated with their interactions with health care and much of that frustration is deserved because you have to wait longer now for an appointment.

Your time with health care providers is cut short because we are so slammed. You come in to the emergency department, waits have become longer. It's harder to get a bed. So I think all of those factors make that interface between patients and health care providers not very good and certainly full of stress right now.

HOLMES: Yes, well put.

So what then is the answer in terms of keeping, staff and I guess, equally importantly, encouraging people to enter the profession, what needs to change?

CHOO: Yes, I think we really need to examine workforce conditions and start taking steps to say, here are simply the standards for every care organization. I don't think any individual employers can do, it. I don't think any individual employees have the power to do it.

I think we really need to say, across the entire profession, here is what is a decent workplace expectation, including things like leave to attend to family, decent maternity and paternity leave, support for child care, really understanding that people have lives outside of health care and need to be well supported.

And then of course, decent compensation, time away from work, decent patient to provider ratios so that, when we walk in, we feel like we can really bring our best selves to every single patient and get them what they need.

Like in that article, it's not that we can't handle our jobs. We simply can't handle not being able to do our jobs. And that is what is demoralizing right now.

HOLMES: That is such a great point.

Just real quick before we go, given what they have gone through and given that the overwhelming majority of hospitalizations and deaths are unvaccinated people, does it surprise you that so many health care workers are unvaccinated?

The CDC did a survey in September; it was released this past week, showing 30 percent of health care workers in 2,000 hospitals, I think they looked at, remained unvaccinated. Mandates are in now.

But does that fact surprise you?

CHOO: You know, it did at first and then the more I thought about it and the more that I worked in efforts to vaccinate our own workforce as well as the public, I understood it because people's full lives are actually outside the hospital.

So you may wear a hat of a health care worker but you also live in communities. And many communities simply don't have trust with the health care establishment, with the government, with pharmaceutical companies, to say this vaccine is something that I feel good about, that I trust, that I can put my life into the hands of.

So those trust issues, those communication issues are still there, even among the people who happen to work within health care. So like you say, hopefully, I know the CDC data was from September; I think in October a lot of the mandate deadlines passed so I think that did change for many major health systems.

HOLMES: You are a terrific advocate for the change that needs to happen, Dr. Esther Choo, thank you so much.

CHOO: Thank you for having me on, Michael.


HOLMES: Let's take a quick break here on the program. [00:20:00]

HOLMES: When we come back, panic erupts at the Atlanta airport as gunfire sends travelers scrambling for safety during one of the busiest travel times of the year. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

Chile is deeply divided ahead of a presidential election that many voters hope will bring stability after years of turmoil. Polls open about six hours from now. If none of the seven candidates wins a majority, the top two finishers will go into a runoff next month.

Many observers expect that will be a young leftist and a staunch conservative, sometimes compared with the Donald Trump. The vote comes two years after violent protests and as Chile continues to rewrite its constitution. Rafael Romo now looks at whether the election can unite a polarized nation.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): October 2019, Santiago, Chile; a democratic country long known as one of the most stable democracies in Latin America erupts into chaos.


ROMO (voice-over): The government of Sebastian Pinera declares a state of emergency in a desperate attempt to contain violent clashes between security forces and protesters as well as widespread acts of vandalism.

PINERA: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): It was not until President Pinera asked for forgiveness for his country's inequality and promised to hold a convention to write a new constitution that protests calm down. But by then, there had been tens of deaths.

The byproduct of these protests was a profound polarization and a sense of turmoil that set the current stage as Chileans go to the polls Sunday.

ROBERT FUNK, UNIVERSITY OF CHILE: What is at stake is how all these things will sort themselves out in the context of a new government, a new president and, of course, the main candidates tend to be people who really are quite different from what we have been used to in Chile, in politics up to now.

ROMO (voice-over): Out of seven presidential hopefuls, two polar opposites stand out; unless one wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, the two will advance to the second round to be held on December 19th.

Gabriel Boric is a candidate of the hard left, who describes himself as a democrat. He supports abortion rights, champions a welfare state model and leads a coalition that includes Chile's Communist Party.

FUNK: The Communist Party has been part of a governmental coalition before. It was in a governmental coalition between 2014 and 2018. But it was much more of a junior partner and, in this coalition, it plays a much more important role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): In a campaign video, he says his platform is based on issues like decentralization, feminism, the climate crisis and dignified jobs for everyone.


ROMO (voice-over): Jose Antonio Kast is a candidate of the hard right, who has proposed to build a ditch or moat on Chile's border to stop the flow of migrants from other countries.


ROMO (voice-over): He promises to be tough on immigration. Those who are in the country illegally, he says, "will be invited to return to where they came from or we will provide transportation to do so."

FUNK: He comes from the UDI party, which is the party that basically are the intellectual or -- and political heirs of the Pinochet dictatorship. And he left that party several years ago, about 3-4 years ago, he left that party and founded his own party, the Republican Party.

ROMO: And even though there may be a surprise, Funk says that out of those two extremes, the voters are trying to find an answer to the original demands of the 2019 protests.

Then as now, they are seeking political change, better social services, a stronger government that will deliver better pensions, education and health care in addition to a fill the bumps out attitude, a desire to get rid of the traditional parties the same way it has happened in other countries in recent years -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


HOLMES: The sound of gunfire sparked panic inside America's busiest airport on Saturday.


HOLMES (voice-over): Have a look at the scene after a passenger's gun accidentally went off in a security screening area at Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport here in Atlanta, second busiest airport in the world.

Officials say no one was shot but at least three people were hurt as travelers rushed away from the terminal. The situation also forced the airport to temporarily halt flights during this busy period, when Americans often begin to travel ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday next Thursday. CNN's Nadia Romero walks us through what happened.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting back to a sense of normalcy here in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after the security incident that happened at about 1:30 on Saturday.

So we know that there was a passenger, who had a gun that was in his bags. And at some point during the security checkpoint with TSA, it was an accidental discharge. We're still trying to figure out the details as it remains under investigation. But we do know that that passenger, during the confusion, the chaos that ensued thereafter, fled the airport. Investigators are trying to track him down to investigate and speak with him.

Now that created a domino effect of confusion and, at some points, chaos in the airport, as people learned that there was an active shooter. And later they found out it was an accidental discharge but that rumor spread very quickly throughout the airport and on social media. And it stopped everything in its tracks.

There was a temporary ground stop here at the airport. And now that caused some flights to be delayed and it impacted travel, which is why Delta Airlines is offering a waiver to passengers whose flight plans were interrupted.

This is already going to be, was supposed to be a busy travel weekend ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Now you add in this accidental discharge that really disrupted what was supposed to be happening throughout this weekend.

Now the TSA has already reported that they're seeing an alarming rate of guns trying to go through different checkpoints. In the first 10 months of this year, some 4,650 firearms were spotted at checkpoints by TSA.

And in the first 10 months of the year, we've already surpassed the record number of more than 4,400 back in 2019. That's a concern not here just in Atlanta but all across the country. But again, things seem to be getting back to normal, as the investigation continues as to how this happened on Saturday afternoon -- Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


HOLMES: The busy Thanksgiving travel period only added to the chaos at Atlanta's airport, as you heard there. The TSA expects more than 20 million people to pass through U.S. airports during the holiday travel rush.

The agency says Friday alone broke pandemic air travel records in the U.S. More than 2.2 million people went through security screenings.

The Thanksgiving period usually marks the start of the big holiday gift buying season before Christmas, which is so crucial to retailers' bottom lines. But supply chain disruptions this year have left many companies and shoppers scrambling, as CNN's Tom Foreman reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, would you like to come meet Santa?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over 2 billion times, that's how often the words "out of stock" came up as researchers tracked just 18 different product categories online in October.

That's worse than last year and much worse than two years ago.

Among the hardest hit items, according to Adobe Analytics, electronics, jewelry, clothing, home wares and pet supplies. The trend has been driven in large part by months of people sitting at home, shopping online in the pandemic. And the holidays are amping it up.


JONATHAN GOLD, VP, SUPPLY CHAIN AND CUSTOMS POLICY, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: The demand for the products as well as the materials to make those products is just far outpacing the available supply of those products and materials and what's needed to move those products through the supply chain to the consumer.

FOREMAN: Imported goods are especially vulnerable. Not only are manufacturers and shippers navigating a maze of periodic shutdowns but even when their cargo arrives, they are piling up in ports waiting to unload.

Rosemary Coates is a supply chain expert.

ROSEMARY COATES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RESHORING INSTITUTE: There's a shortage of truck drivers. There's a shortage of warehouse space and workers all along that supply chain. So this is not, you know, a snap your fingers and organize a solution.

FOREMAN: That means for consumers, the day after Thanksgiving could be more like bleak Friday with some products hard to find and prices rising.

Best tips?

Shop early. If you see what you want --

GOLD: Buy it now.

COATES: Buy it. Definitely. Buy it now.

FOREMAN: And have faith, just like many retailers, that the holidays will wind up happy anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are you ready to fly to Grandma's?


FOREMAN: Retailers met at the White House recently, trying to corral the Grinchiness of this supply chain problem. But experts say it is unlikely we will see anything like normal until after the holidays, maybe in time for Christmas 2022 -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: A quick break. When we come back, the high price of misinformation.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.


HOLMES (voice-over): Just ahead, morgues filled beyond capacity, as conspiracy theories and blatant lies about vaccines spread. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Vaccine misinformation is taking a tragic toll in much of Eastern Europe. It's especially acute in Romania, which has the second lowest vaccination rate in the European Union and one of the highest mortality rates in the world, something sadly evident in the hospitals and morgues across the country. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): There's a jarring finality about death from COVID-19 at the Bucharest University Hospital.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): 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.

WEDEMAN: 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.

WEDEMAN (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.


HOLMES: Call it fate, a miracle or fortuitous coincidence but this COVID patient in the U.S., woke up from a coma on the day she was supposed to be taken off life support; 69-year-old Bettina Lerman was on a ventilator for weeks at a hospital, in Portland, Maine.

Her family was told she wasn't going to make it. So they started planning her funeral. They even picked out a casket and a headstone. But then, on the day they expected her to die, they got a call from the doctor.


ANDREW LERMAN, BETTINA LERMAN'S SON: He goes, "Well, I need you to come up to the hospital right away."

I'm like, "What? Is something wrong?"

And he goes, "Well, your mother just woke up."

I literally dropped the phone.

I was like, what? I mean, because we were supposed to be terminating life support that day.



HOLMES: Absolutely incredible. Lerman says his mother is not out of the woods yet but she is making a slow recovery.

Zhang Zhan is a Chinese citizen journalist who documented overcrowded hospitals in Wuhan, China, during the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. Now her work landed her in a Chinese prison, where she has been on a months-long hunger strike. And, as David Culver now reports, her family hopes that they can save her before it's too late.


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 journalists 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 (voice-over): A desperate call for attention on China's growing intolerance for unfiltered information.

CULVER: 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.


HOLMES: A new list is out, ranking the world's most polluted cities. When we come back, who tops the list and how the government plans to fix it. We will be right back.





HOLMES: Lahore, Pakistan, just topped the list as the most polluted city in the world, as the thick acrid air continues to deteriorate living conditions. Kim Brunhuber looks at the government's new effort to try to combat the problem.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Smog so dense you can only see a silhouette of this building that's just a few yards away. On the streets, people are waving through the thick smog. One resident says it's so bad people are covering their eyes and walking right into traffic.

This is Lahore, Pakistan, which regularly ranks among the most polluted cities in the world.

NORMAN SAHIR, LAHORE RESIDENT (through translator): Now this city, which we call the City of Flowers, the City of Gardens, is gripped by smog. It is engulfed in smog.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): On Saturday Lahore topped IQAir's daily ranking of the world's most polluted cities again, a rank often challenged by New Delhi. Residents cough; everything smells of smoke. According to a paramedic at a local hospital, patients are coming in with sore throats because of the smog, not COVID.

As the haze grips the city in a chokehold, residents are getting desperate.

TAHA KHALIK, LAHORE RESIDENT (through translator): When we leave the house in the morning, the pollution causes irritation to the eyes. It's hard to breathe. The government should find a solution to the smog.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): A local report says anti-smog squads have been deployed across Lahore. they are identifying and sealing factories that aren't meeting the city's standards.

In neighboring New Delhi, smog towers in some areas are sucking pollutants from the air. Residents are now asking the government to install more, as the smog continues to affect people's health and livelihoods, like this rickshaw driver's.

BHAJAN LAL, AUTO-RICKSHAW DRIVER (through translator): The whole day I drive around without any passengers. There are passengers; they prefer cabs. Ask them, "Where are you going?"

They say "No, there's too much pollution, we will take a cab."

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Despite some measures to fight smog, the increasing pollution makes the sight of a clear sky still a distant dream -- Kim Brunhuber, CNN.



HOLMES: All right, the U.S. space agency, NASA, has a lot planned for the next few weeks. After the break, we will tell you about new anti- asteroid defense technology. It embarks on its first test run this week. We will tell you all about it.




HOLMES: Now weather permitting, NASA will send a craft into space on Wednesday, with an unusual goal, to crash it directly into a near Earth asteroid. It will be the first test for a system scientists hope will protect the planet from the kind of disaster that killed the dinosaurs and is still the stuff of movie blockbusters.


HOLMES (voice-over): It's a space story seen several times in the movies, like in the 1998 sci-fi film, "Armageddon."

(VIDEO CLIP, "ARMAGEDDON") HOLMES (voice-over): An asteroid threatens Earth; the military,

astronauts, even oil rig drillers try to save mankind. Some cities don't make it but, in the end, the planet survives.

A Hollywood ending, which NASA is hoping to make a reality with its first planetary defense test mission. Scientists say they have identified the kilometer-wide asteroids, like those shown in the blockbusters, and there are no dangers of them hitting Earth in the coming centuries.

But NASA says it wants to study what could be done if an Earth- threatening asteroid is discovered.

On Wednesday, it will launch a mission called DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. It will send an unmanned spacecraft into space and, if successful, it won't return home. DART is set to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will travel through space for the next nine months. Its destination, a near Earth asteroid named Didymus and its moonlet.

NANCY CHABOT, DART COORDINATION LEAD, APL: These asteroids are not a threat to the Earth. There are not a danger to the Earth, they are not on a path to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future. That makes them an appropriate target for a first test.

HOLMES (voice-over): Traveling at a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second, DART will then deliberately crash into the moonlet to try to jolt it from its regular orbit. Scientists back on Earth will monitor the collision using satellite imagery and ground-based telescopes, to see how much the moonlet changes the course.

ANDY CHENG, ,DART INVESTIGATION TEAM LEAD, APL: If one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth, we have an idea of how big that asteroid is and how fast it's coming and when it will hit, that kind of information.

Then we will have an idea how much momentum we need to make that asteroid miss the Earth.

HOLMES (voice-over): The targeted moonlet is a little larger than one of the pyramids in Egypt. NASA says there are 10,000 known asteroids that are just as big or bigger that could, potentially, caused major regional damage if they ever hit the Earth although none of them are tracking this way.


HOLMES (voice-over): DART's mission could provide lifesaving data, if anything ever does get too close.


HOLMES: NASA is pretty busy these days. The agency, also, set to launch a new telescope late next month. Scientists hope, it will answer questions about the existence of life on other planets. Our Kristin Fisher, with that. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Hubble space telescope has been beaming back images, transforming our understanding of the universe, for more than 30 years.

Now its successor, a telescope 100 times more powerful, is just weeks away from launch. The James Webb Space Telescope is designed to answer humanity's most existential questions.

Are we alone in the universe?

And where did that first light in the cosmos come from?

PAUL GEITHNER, WEBB DEPUTY PROJECT MANAGER: I think its greatest discoveries are going to be answers to questions that we have yet to ask or imagine.

FISHER (voice-over): Webb's deputy project manager, Paul Geithner, was hired by NASA 30 years ago to help fix Hubble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the mechanical version of eye surgery, Endeavour's 11-day fixit mission in space was to install corrective mirrors so the nearsighted and nearly $2 billion Hubble space telescope can do what it is supposed to do: see.

FISHER (voice-over): But once in space, Webb can't be repaired by astronauts. It will be too far away, orbiting the sun at a distance four times further away from Earth than the moon.

The telescope is also so big, about the size of a tennis court, that it cannot fit on top of a rocket fully intact.

GEITHNER: We had to design so it could be folded up and then unfold in space. So it is the origami observatory.

FISHER (voice-over): With more than 300 single points of failure -- and each one could prove to be fatal to the mission's success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We wouldn't have built a telescope this big unless we needed to and we need to build a telescope this big if we want to welcome the very dammest (ph), most earliest (sic) galaxies in the universe.

FISHER (voice-over): Webb will be launching on a European rocket from French Guiana, a nod to the telescope's international partners, Europe and Canada. But just getting to this launch pad has cost nearly $9 billion more than initially projected and it's about a decade overdue.

FISHER: Was there ever a moment where you thought, man, I just don't know if this is going to happen?

GEITHNER: There were numerous existential crises, both technical and programmatic, through the life of the mission. But I guess we are all eternal optimists. And we persevered and made it happen.

FISHER (voice-over): Kristin Fisher, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: Thanks for spending part of your day with me, I'm Michael Holmes, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @HolmesCNN. "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER," is next. Paula Newton will have more news in an hour.