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Portugal Bans Employers From Contacting Staff After Work; W.H.O. Warns Europe Could Surpass 2 Million COVID Deaths by March; Top U.S. and Russian Generals Discuss Ukraine Concerns. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 04:30   ET



SOARES: Discuss a new antiviral pill to treat early stage COVID cases. The pharmaceutical company Merck says early data shows its pill reduced hospitalizations, and death by almost 50 percent in clinical trials. Some doctors say the results are impressive but others are raising red flags. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen breaks down the numbers for you.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Merck did a clinical trial was 762 participants, half of them got a placebo over the course of about a month. 45 of those folks were hospitalized with COVID and nine of them died of COVID. Of the half that got the drug, 28 of them are hospitalized, a much smaller number and none of them died. That really is quite impressive. And so those are the results that the FDA advisors will be looking at next week.


SOARES: Elizabeth Cohen now. Well, South Korea has reported another record number of new COVID-19 infections. More than 4100 new cases were reported on Tuesday, prompting the prime minister to suggest things aren't urgent enough to consider new restriction. It was only weeks ago South Korea lifting most COVID measures as part of a living with COVID campaign. Since then, new cases have hit record highs, several times official say ICU beds at hospitals and so (inaudible).

After more than a year and a half of closures. New Zealand says it will begin easing border restriction to fully vaccinated travelers starting in the New Year. New Zealand is coming from Australia will be allowed in starting January 16th. Then residents coming from all other countries may enter in mid-February, and international tourists will be allowed from April 30th. Travelers will have to isolate for seven days and show proof of vaccination.

While the Coronavirus situation in Europe keeps getting worse. Germany just reported its highest single day surge of new infections more than 66,000, its previous record came just days ago. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization warns Europe could reach more than 2 million deaths from the virus by March. The W.H.O. say Europe accounted for two-thirds of all new cases globally in the past week. CNN's Cyril Vanier joins me now live from Paris. Good morning to you, Cyril. I mean the warning from the W.H.O. are pretty alarming. Talk us through what leaders are doing, what measures are being taken to really try to contain these rising COVID cases and critically hospitalizations here, Cyril.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Look, it's good to be with you this morning, Isa. And it is concerning. The deaths in the European region recorded by the World Health Organization have doubled compared to late September and this surge in cases which frankly many European leaders simply hadn't seen coming has forced governments in this part of the world to take measures that they had thought or at least hoped would be a thing of the past. So, you're seeing a lockdown in Austria, went into national lockdown this week, a partial lockdown in the Netherlands, a return to home working at least four days a week, in Belgium.

In Germany starting today. So, Germany is a bit more of a patchwork situation despite their dire COVID situation because decisions they are taking state-by-state. But nationwide starting today, Isa, employees wanting to enter their workplace will have to show proof of vaccination recovery or a negative COVID test. Failing that they will not be allowed to enter their workplace. And their pay can be legally withheld.

Here in France where the government thought up until recently, it had a little bit more wiggle room because the vaccination rate is higher standard 75 percent nationwide. Actually, the government is seeing the infection numbers triple compared to the beginning of the month. And that has prompted them to hold a COVID national defense meeting this morning after which we expect to hear probably more COVID measures here in France as well, Isa.

SOARES: And I'm sure you'll keep us posted what comes out of that meeting for us. Cyril Vanier for us in Paris. Great to see you, my friend. Now with Coronavirus infections rising across much of Europe, many people are still working remotely as Cyril was just mentioning there. But when your home is your office, it can be difficult really to separate work from your personal life.

Now Portugal is trying to create a healthier work life balance and protect workers off the clock hours.


SOARES: The Portuguese parliament here behind me has approved one of the most employee friendly labor laws in an attempt really to preserve the work life balance as people continue to work from home. Now under this new law, bosses are not allowed to contact employees outside of working hours and that basically means no phone calls, no text messages and no emails or else they'll be fined.

The new law says employers must also pay working from home expenses such as increase electricity gas and internet bills. On the streets of Lisbon, many told me this law was essential.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With working from home, there was an extension of our working hours. And unfortunately, some bosses could have had a tendency to abuse that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know what my colleagues and I went through and the lack of regard for working hours, because they're not respected. People nowadays have to be available 24 hours a day, because they have a company cell phone or work computer. People have to have their own lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there should be some sort of regulation in regards to questions working from home. I'm not sure that just because it's been written in law, that it will be effective enough for it to be respected.

SOARES: Portugal's ruling Socialist Party is hoping the new labor law will attract digital nomads to their shores.

ANA MENDES GODINHO, PORTUGUESE MINISTER FOR WORK AND SOCIAL SECURITY: This gives power to workers that can choose the best place to live, and to work to any part of the world. Of course, it also gives a huge opportunity to companies that can have the best talent in the world no matter where the workers live.

SOARES: It is perhaps a bit too soon to tell how exactly this law will be implemented. But it was one of the last measures taken by parliament before it was dissolved ahead of a snap election next year where jobs and the economy unlikely to be the main issues.


SOARES: Now I'm back in London. The magic of television. And we have an exciting new addition to CNN's portfolio. CNN Portugal is now on the air. A 24 hour multi-platform news operation in Portuguese. It is available through TV and digital in every home across the country, giving millions more viewers the opportunity to get CNN's reporting in their own language. Huge congratulations to CNN Portugal, I was there for the launch. I'm incredibly proud as a Portuguese, makes me very proud indeed.

Now, Germany's next government is set to take a big step forward in the coming hour, as a social democrats three party and three democrats are set to present the three way coalition deal later today. The announcement follows nearly two months of negotiation between the three parties, and no single party gained a majority of the vote in September's election. Social Democrat, Olaf Scholz is expected to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel who is stepping down after 16 years at the helm.

And still ahead, right here, this hour. The U.S. and Russia are working to ease tensions in Eastern Europe. Plus, Moscow's reaction to a U.S. plants and weapons to Ukraine and Nic Robertson joins me. And alarm is growing over the war in Ethiopia with the prime minister telling people to take up arms as foreigners evacuate and rebels advanced. We'll explain. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SOARES: Now, top U.S. and Russian generals are staying in touch amid serious concerns about the Russian troop buildup near the border with Ukraine. They spoke by phone on Tuesday. Now, fears are growing that a border standoff could escalate into all-out war. The Kremlin is warning that a U.S. plan to send weapons and military advisors to Ukraine would only aggravate tensions.

Satellite images appear to show as you can see there, Russia gathering close to 100,000 troops along with tanks and military hardware near the border. CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joins me now. And Nick. for weeks U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been really expressing concern about the Russian - Moscow's military activity near the border with Ukraine. Put into perspective for us, what does this mean for Putin? What could be his intentions here? And how much military hardware are we looking, I mean, we looked a bit of a satellite image. Do we know how much is already near the border?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Pentagon certainly probably has very detailed view on it, T-80 tanks, for example, which will be very good for ground incursion force and other military hardware. Putin had troops built up on that same border earlier on this year under international pressure. He pulled them out. What is his intention? It's very hard to gauge here. He certainly believes that Ukraine is historically part of Russia's domain. He doesn't want to see NATO encroaching when you see - when he see, the U.S. saying very clearly and publicly. So, I think a lot of this is public diplomacy.

They're saying through sources that we might provide Stinger missiles, which will bring down aircraft. We might provide missiles that will be very effective against those T-80 tanks. We might provide military helicopters to the Ukrainian forces giving them some important assets there. The Kremlin's view on that is well, look, NATO has already been helping train and advice and moderately equip the Ukrainian military, this has been a gradual thing.

There's a sort of a red line in Putin's mind, clearly, and that is that Ukraine does not become part of NATO. So, he has to assess what he sees happening and hear this rhetoric and see what the British government is planning to help with the Ukrainian Navy. And he has to interpret that, does he interpret that as really, NATO creeping over the line and de facto giving Ukraine pulling it into its sphere of influence, which is what he stands against. So, the rhetoric at the moment is to warn Putin, this could be the cost, and there's political capital for him.

SOARES: But you know, see, when you get past perhaps a lot of posturing here, but there is a fear that both sides, you push on one side, you push another that that can lead to something that is a concern.

ROBERTSON: Putin has form on this. The kind of soft invasion of Ukraine before in 2014, where he annexed Crimea, right under everyone's noses, there were these sorts of these green men, the Russians denied initially that they were part of their military, they were just, special forces, with their badges removed.

So, Putin has got form on that. But he also has political capital in this. Putin is very interested in Putin and his longevity, we know that he's pushed his presidency to 2036, pretty remarkable for any leader to be able to do that. But he doesn't want to be bogged down by making a miscalculation and costing Russian lives in a battle in Ukraine that doesn't deliver what he wants. So, part of the West narrative at the moment is to show him that yes, there would be costs, and we are serious about our intent.

So, there's, - then there's the gas pipeline. And Putin does not want a Ukrainian political leadership that is anti-Russian. He wants one that's soft and friendly, that benefits his interests.

SOARES: Nic, I know you will keep on top of this. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson there. Well, if Ethiopia's Prime Minister is promising to personally lead his troops on the frontlines of the country's civil war. Abiy Ahmed is calling on everyday people to join government forces in battle saying this is a final fight to save Ethiopia from eternal, internal as well as external enemies meaning to Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been advancing on the Capitol.


The UN meanwhile is urging the families of staff members to evacuate as the situation - security situation deteriorates in the country. CNN's Larry Madowo is covering this live from Nairobi. And Larry, I know that you have recently come back from Ethiopia, I want to get your take of what's unfolding here. Are we looking at an escalating war as the rebels claim to be edging closer to the Capitol? What's your assessment?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Isa, that's a possibility. Because in the time spent in Ethiopia, what's quite clear is how strongly held the positions here are. And both sides of this conflict feel like they're on the verge of victory, the government side and the Tigray People's Liberation Front and this coalition, the coalition that they have assembled. And this war started in Tigray in the North last November is now spreading too Afar and Amhara and threatening to go right into Addis Ababa. And that's something that the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, also talked about when he briefed reporters yesterday, he said that they agree that there's a need to talk here, both sides, but that will to actually sit down and figure out some kind of ceasefire and negotiated ceasefire is what's lacking.

The US is trying to get them there, the African Union is trying to get them there. The UN is trying to get them there. But it's just not quite there yet. And that is truly the problem. What I also figured out spending some time in Ethiopia is that the government is trying to build up this anti-Western sentiment, this nationalist sentiment that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed specifically has been kind of drumming on again and again and again. And that might be the reason why he says he's going to the frontlines, he's made a call to arms before, Isa, but this is the first time he's saying he himself will be leading the battle against the Tigray People's Liberation Front, because as he told Jeffrey Feltman when they met on Sunday, he feels that his big priority is to push back the Tigray People's Liberation Front to the back to the north in Tigray.

But one quick historical note here is that the last time an African leader went to the battlefront that was back in April, the President of Chad, Idriss Deby and he died in battle. So, I'm not sure how committed the prime minister of Ethiopia is to this plan.

SOARES: He's personally said he will lead his troops in the frontlines, but I suppose we haven't seen anything to suggest that right, Larry, as of this hour. N

MADOWO: None at this point. No, we haven't seen him the state media that report everything he does have so far not shed any video or images of him on the frontlines.

SOARES: Larry Madowo, thanks very much. Great to see you, Larry. Now you are watching CNN Newsroom live from London. NASA has launched a spacecraft that it hopes will crash. Details on the groundbreaking mission just ahead. We'll explain.



SOARES: Now this just into CNN. The European Union is the latest to call on the Chinese government to provide independent as well as verifiable proof of the well-being and whereabout of tennis player Peng Shuai. Concerns about Peng began early this month if you remember when she disappeared from public view after accusing a former Chinese official of sexual assault.

The International Olympic Committee has said she is safe and well after checking up on her Sunday, but many remain skeptical. Beijing meantime has repeatedly said the tennis star situation is not a diplomatic issue. And we'll stay of course on top of that story.

NASA has launched a spacecraft that will deliberately crashed into a near Earth asteroid about 10 months from now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two, one and liftoff of the Falcon 9.


SOARES: It's called DART, which stands for Double Asteroids Redirection Test, they love acronyms. The target does not pose a threat to Earth. But NASA wants to test the technology to see if it can change the asteroids directions. CNN's Michael Holmes has more on the groundbreaking mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a space story seen several times in the movies like in the 1998 sci-fi film Armageddon.


And asteroids 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.

SHANE KIMBROUGH, NASA ASTRONAUT: DART is NASA's first planetary defense test. So, we're going to try to do something we've never done before with the spacecraft. DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Tests. A nice acronym, NASA does like acronyms. DART is another one. Now the purpose of this spacecraft and this mission, it has one purpose that's to crash itself into an asteroid and try to redirect it or try to move it into a different orbit.

NANCY CHABOT, DART COORDINATION LEAD: These asteroids are not a threat to the earth, they are not a danger to the earth. They're not on a path to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future that makes them appropriate target for a first test.

HOLMES: Traveling at a speed of 6.6 kilometers a second, DART will then deliberately crash into the moonlit 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 moonlit changes course.

ANDY CHENG, DART INVESTIGATION TEAM LEAD: If one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth, then you have an idea of how big the asteroid is and how fast is coming and when it will hit that kind of information. Then we will have an idea of how much momentum we need to make that asteroid miss the earth.

HOLMES: The targeted moonlit 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 cause major regional damage if they ever hit the Earth although none of them are tracking this way.


DART's kamikaze mission could provide lifesaving data, if anything ever does get too close. Michael Holmes, CNN.


SOARES: While back here on Earth, a rare treasure from a famous scientist just sold for more than $13 million. A 54 page manuscript detailing a key stage and development of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity was sold at auction at Christie's in Paris. Christie Calls the Theory, one of the most on the single most important ideas in modern science.

And the nominations are out for the 64th Grammy Awards and my producers are very excited. R&B jazz musician Jon Batiste leads all artists with 11 nominations across the seven categories. Most of those nods are for his work on his latest album, We Are. Batiste couldn't believe the news himself taking to Twitter to celebrate as evidenced by his many exclamation points. Other artists up for multiple trophies include Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and H.E.R., each nominated for eight awards and Billie Eilish and newcomer Olivia Rodrigo have seven nominations each.

The Grammys will air on January 31st. And that does it for me for today. Thanks very much for joining. I am Isa Soares. Early Start with Christine Romans and Paula Reid is up next. They'll have much more on really a busy Thanksgiving travel day with high gas prices and a spike unfortunately in U.S. COVID cases. Do stay right here with CNN. Have a wonderful day. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye-bye.