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Skyrocketing COVID-19 Cases Worldwide; U.S. COVID-19 Surge Disrupting Daily Life For Americans; U.S. And Ukrainian Presidents To Speak Soon; Funeral For Desmond Tutu; Top International News Stories Of 2021. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired January 02, 2022 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, new year, same problem. COVID cases surging around the world, with some countries seeing hundreds of thousands of new infections.

And in just a few hours, a meeting between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents. The hot topic: Russia's military buildup on the Ukrainian border.


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

HOLMES: Welcome, everyone. Thanks for your company.

We begin the 2022 chapter of the COVID pandemic much as we did a year ago, case numbers skyrocketing across the globe; this time, largely due, of course, to the Omicron variant.

France has marked its 10 millionth COVID case and, on Saturday, more than 200,000 new infections were reported for the fourth day in a row.

Across the channel, England began the new year with another daily case record. More than 162,000 cases reported Saturday. But the health secretary saying introducing new restrictions would be a last resort.

And the UAE introducing a new measure to try to control Omicron. Starting January 10th, unvaccinated citizens will be banned from traveling abroad. Those who are fully vaccinated must get a booster shot in order to travel.

Now it is not the new year that much of Europe was hoping for, as cases caused by the Omicron variant continue to soar. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz with more.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Europe started a new year, many governments worried about unprecedented infection rates driven by the Omicron variant. Italy, Greece, France, the U.K. have all seen, in recent days, unprecedented, record-breaking case counts of COVID-19.

The French health minister said he got vertigo looking at the data at one point. Nearly two French people were testing positive nearly every single second.

Here in the U.K. as well, several records broken in recent days, again, driven by the Omicron variant. That's why, in both countries, leaders used their end-of-year message to urge people to get vaccinated.

Prime minister Boris Johnson calling on people to get their booster jab in that video message. French president Emmanuel Macron as well directly addressing the unvaccinated in his country, telling them to come forward.

There is one bit of good news here: the rate of hospitalization and deaths, so far seen with this new surge, is nowhere near as high as it has been with previous waves. There's a growing body of evidence that shows that the Omicron variant is milder.

Still, health officials are worried, setting up plans in place. But one of the bigger concerns with the Omicron variant is how many people are calling out sick.

How you keep your workforce staffed when tens of thousands are being forced into isolation every single day?

That's why some countries are looking at cutting down the isolation period so they can keep essential services running. Portugal has done this in recent days; so has Spain and Greece has followed suit -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


HOLMES: COVID numbers are also shattering records in the U.S., the country averaging more than 394,000 new COVID cases a day. And it is the fifth day in a row that a new high was set. More people also ending up in the hospital.

The number of COVID patients rose about 20 percent last week and pediatric hospitalizations also hit a record high. The state of Georgia averaging nearly 1,700 cases a day among people under 18. That's 1,700.

Compare that to just over 100 a day in late November. It is raising concerns about whether schools can reopen safely in Georgia and elsewhere.


HOLMES: Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. He is with us from California this hour.

Good to see you as always, Doctor. One aspect of Omicron, of course, is while people are less sick, many are still sick enough to be off work and isolating. And it is having a massive impact on a raft of critical workplaces, which really speaks to the havoc that even a milder but more contagious variant can have.

DR. ERIC TOPOL, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Right. Michael, good to be with you. Happy new year.

The Omicron problem, as you say, even though it is 50 percent to 70 percent less severe disease, the infection rates are unprecedented.


TOPOL: The whole world has seen more than a doubling of COVID because of Omicron in just the last couple of weeks. So, yes, the absences; there have been more than 5 percent of the health care workforce in the U.K. out last week. That's going to be the problem we see in many countries throughout the world now.

HOLMES: And when it comes to hospitalizations, I guess, even if there are fewer severe cases percentage wise, it is still a big number for hospitals. A smaller percentage of a huge number is a lot of people.

TOPOL: That's right. Because we have the problem of this massive total of infections, even with that reduction -- let's say it is 50 percent or 70 percent, which is what it looks like throughout many countries -- that's still -- the counterbalancing here is that there's a lot of people who are going to wind up in the hospital.

They're mainly the unvaccinated people or those who haven't had a booster, because new data from the U.K. shows that, if a booster is given, there's a protection from hospitalization of almost 90 percent, which is really quite striking.

HOLMES: When it comes to hospitalizations we are seeing more and more kids falling ill. Most of them not vaccinated, of course.

How frustrated are you at the continuing low rate of vaccination in the U.S.?

Still the low 60s; and elsewhere around the world, along with the continuing lack of, of course, vaccine equity globally.

TOPOL: That's a serious problem. We are at 62 percent, Michael, and many of the countries that have been hard hit, like Denmark, Ireland, the U.K. and many of the Western European countries, they're so much higher. They are 15 percent, even 20 percent higher in fully vaccinated.

So we have a real liability. We are watching New York very carefully because they've had an untold number of cases. Their hospitalizations are going up. It is mainly the unvaccinated. And that's a precursor or bellwether for what we will be seeing in many other states in the U.S. that have a lower vaccination rate.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, good point. I mean it is interesting; you mentioned booster shots -- and, of course, there is evidence of waning vaccine protection over time. I wonder, I mean I had my booster back in September.

Can you see fourth shots, second boosters in the not-too-distant future?

TOPOL: Right. Well, you know, the third shot really has -- not just a very high levels of antibodies but the breadth of antibodies. And then you have got that final layer of defense with T cells, that are well covered for Omicron.

Whether there will be a need for a fourth shot is really unclear. The hope is that Omicron is going to go through, as it has, the quick ascent, quick descent and we won't have to be worried about getting extra boosters after that third shot.

HOLMES: Yes, the president, of course, warned of -- I think he called it a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated. It is just January here in the U.S. It is not even very cold, certainly in the South of the country.

Are you worried that's still to come?

TOPOL: Yes, I am, because you've got these groups of unvaccinated, which includes children. And then you have the vaccinated and waned that are past six months or even four months that are still vulnerable.

So these are groups that are really -- you know, it is very dicey what is going to happen with Omicron with them. We also, Michael, don't know about the long-term effects with the Omicron infections.

With these massive numbers, are there going to be people that suffer disability on a long-term basis?

That's a concern that's unsettled as well.

HOLMES: Yes, a massive issue, long COVID. And you don't have to get really ill to have long COVID. We will discuss that next time. Dr. Eric Topol in San Diego, thanks very much.

TOPOL: Thank you.


HOLMES: Well, the leaders of the U.S. and Ukraine are set to speak, to discuss upcoming talks aimed at easing military tensions with Russia. The latest from Moscow just ahead.




(MUSIC PLAYING) HOLMES: The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will speak in the

coming hours with U.S. President Joe Biden about next week's crucial talks with Russia. As many as 100,000 Russian troops are still camped out at Ukraine's border and the possibility of invasion remains real for many Ukrainians.

U.S., NATO and European officials will meet with Russia next week in an effort to defuse the crisis next week. Nic Robertson is in Moscow with the latest.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: President Biden is expected to tell the Ukrainian president that, if Ukraine is attacked by Russia, then the United States will support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He will very likely update him on the phone call that he had with President Putin just before New Year's Eve. The Ukrainian president is also very likely to press President Biden for more military hardware.

There will be a message, very likely from President Biden, calling on Ukraine to refrain from any type of action that could be misinterpreted by Russia and could lead to an escalation in tensions.

But he will also say as well that the United States will not discuss anything about Ukraine without Ukraine being present; nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. That's the rhetoric that's being used.

President Biden has toughened his public language, at least with President Putin, saying not only would there be very tough economic sanctions on Russia, if Russia does invade Ukraine, but there would, in effect, as well, be a military repercussion that the United States and its NATO allies would put more NATO troops closer to what Russia sees as its western border, the eastern flank of Europe.

And that is exactly the opposite of what President Putin is trying to achieve at the moment -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Moscow.


HOLMES: North Korea's leader is once again admitting his country is having problems feeding its own people. Kim Jong-un spoke at a meeting of his Korean Workers Party. He didn't detail how serious the food scarcity is.

But international agencies warned of severe shortages in 2021, including a shortfall of rice due to flooding. In the past, Kim has used the speech to announce diplomatic initiatives toward the U.S. and South Korea.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was remembered at a state funeral for his role in ending South Africa's apartheid regime of racial oppression and as being a crusader in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality and peace all around the world.

CNN's David McKenzie with a look back now at the service of the man known to many as simply the Arch.



DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a simple pine casket of his choosing, a final goodbye to a man who helped define this country, its miracle of democracy, a man who cherished this cathedral and songs of praise.

REV. NAOMI TUTU, DAUGHTER OF DESMOND TUTU: Many of the messages we received have said thank you for sharing him with the world.

Well, it actually is a two-way street. Because we shared him with the world, you shared part of the love you held for him with us. And, so, we are thankful and we are thankful that all of you have gathered in your many places in person, all via the wonders of technology, to be a part of celebrating Daddy's life throughout this week.

And lastly to him, who have gathered us here with Daddy, with Dada, we say thank you, Daddy, for the many ways you showed us love, for the many times you challenged us, for the many times you comforted us. (Speaking foreign language).


MCKENZIE (voice-over): His parents christened him Mpilo, which means life. And he had so much life and love to give. Desmond Tutu, a man of faith who took on apartheid's racism with the bravery of a lion. He was never afraid to speak out, speak up against the injustices of the world, a global celebrity with a common touch.

MCKENZIE: Many people I've spoken to, even myself included, had a personal moment with the Arch.

What was it about him that allowed him to reach out and touch people like that?

NICLAS KJELLSTROM-MATSEKE, CHAIR, TUTU LEGACY FOUNDATION: Well, you see, Desmond Tutu could connect with anyone, with anyone. It could be a king or a president or with children, someone on the street that just bumps into him.

And that happened again and again and again. He got energy from it and he gave energy. The ability to connect with other human beings was probably one of the most profound great things with him. And because of that, I think the entire world feels that it's my archbishop. It's my Desmond Tutu.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: He embraced all who had ever felt the cold wind of exclusion and they, in turn, also embraced him. If Archbishop Desmond Tutu were here, he would have said, hey, hey, why are you looking so glum, so unhappy?

He would have wanted to elicit a smile, a laughter from amongst all of us. (MUSIC PLAYING)

MCKENZIE (voice-over): His hearty laughter is now silent but Tutu would have prayed that his lessons of forgiveness and hope will grow louder still -- David McKenzie, CNN, Cape Town.


HOLMES: 2021 was a tumultuous year, to be sure. I don't need to tell you that. From a presidential assassination to a military coup, CNN covered it all. We'll look back at the biggest stories of the year next.




HOLMES: 2021 was a year for the history books, from the global COVID- 19 vaccine rollout to the political upheaval in Afghanistan. There were plenty of events that won't soon be forgotten. CNN's Clarissa Ward has a look back now at the top 10 international stories of the year.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As 2021 comes to a close, so does another tumultuous year.

At number 10, the bombshell interview that put the British royal family in an unwelcome spotlight.

MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: Concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born.


WARD (voice-over): Prince Harry and his wife, Duchess of Sussex, opened up to Oprah in a two hour TV special, speaking freely for the first time since walking away from a life as working royals.

MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meghan, Duchess of Sussex opening up to Oprah Winfrey about being singled out. She believes forced out of the royal family.


WARD (voice-over): A month later, Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, died at the age of 99.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, a shocked and saddened nation remembers the legacy of an irreplaceable figurehead.

WARD (voice-over): Number 9: MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hours after Haiti's

president was assassinated, gunfire still crackled through Port-au- Prince.

WARD (voice-over): The assassination of Jovenel Moise took place against a background of extreme violence in the capital.

RIVERS: There are at least 17 people detained at this point.

WARD: Number 8, the conflict in the Middle East came ahead once again this spring and turned into one of the worst rounds of violence between the two sides in years.

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a pattern that should not be familiar yet already is, Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets streaking across the sky from Gaza.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Airstrikes and rocket barrages, artillery and mortar fire, hundreds of people dead and more than 2,000 wounded.

WARD: The conflict lasted 11 days before Israel and the Palestinian group, Hamas, agreed to a cease-fire. Israeli airstrikes killed more than 250 Palestinians, including dozens of children. The Palestinian militant fire from Gaza killed 13 Israelis, including children.

Number 7, Myanmar's military junta seized power in a coup, ousting de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Clarissa Ward and her team were the first Western TV journalists allowed into the country since the coup.

WARD (voice-over): After days of pushing, we are allowed to visit a public space, an open market. As word of our presence spreads, we hear an unmistakable sound. Banging pots and pans has become the signature sound of resistance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want democracy. We don't want military coup.

WARD (voice-over): Since the February coup, the military has killed more than 1,300 people and arrested more than 10,000, according to an advocacy group.

WARD: Number 6, a powerful CNN's investigation sheds light on a raging civil war.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ethiopian government has waged war against Tigray's ousted regional leaders for the last five months with the help of neighboring Eritrea.

WARD: CNN was one of the only western media outlets to travel to the country --

ELBAGIR: Three bodies were found down at the river front.

WARD: -- to investigate reports of mass killings.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): One by one, they enter the church, carrying in sacks all that's left of loved ones, executed by Ethiopian soldiers.

This is fresh evidence of a January massacre.

WARD (voice-over): In late April, a CNN team traveling through Tigray witnessed Eritrean soldiers, some of them disguising themselves in old Ethiopian military uniforms, cutting off critical aid routes to starving communities.

ELBAGIR: CNN, CNN. We're CNN, journalists.

WARD (voice-over): Eritrea's government has denied any involvement in atrocities and Ethiopia's government has pledged investigates into any wrongdoing. But the bloody conflict rages on, spilling into other parts of the country, raising fears of an all-out war.

Number five, turmoil at European borders, shocking images of thousands of migrants, stranded on the Belarus-Poland border in freezing conditions, desperate to make it into the European Union.

The situation at times surging out of control.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because Poland has sealed the border and now has 15,000 troops here to make sure that no one can pass -- Jake.

WARD (voice-over): The European leaders have accused Belarus of manufacturing the crisis as retribution for sanctions over human rights abuses, a claim Belarus denies.

The year ends with tensions between Ukraine and Russia at their highest in years, with a massive build up of Russian forces along the Ukraine's border, fueling fears over Moscow's intentions.

Number four, Chinese leader Xi Jinping's steel grips on power tightened.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: David, how has president Xi been able to cement his hold on power for so long?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really sets him up as the undisputed supreme ruler for years to come.

WARD: And with this, an ever more assertive China. 2021 saw sophisticated propaganda campaigns to deflect criticism over allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the arrest of pro- democracy activists and former lawmakers in Hong Kong as well as aggressive military maneuvers aimed at Taiwan.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This island is a potential flashpoint for what their president calls a fight between authoritarian China and democratic Taiwan, allied with the United States.

WARD: Number three. [00:25:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Protest rallies across Russia today in support of detained Kremlin opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

WARD (voice-over): Russia's best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, sent to a penal colony. He dared to return home five months after a near-fatal nerve agent attack.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Shortly before his detention, Navalny saying he's not scared.


WARD (voice-over): Number two: the new year brought with it great hopes for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, ushering in widespread vaccinations.

But the virus continued to mutate, killing millions of people around the world.

The uneven vaccine rollout has not kept up with the speed of the spreading virus, especially in poorer countries.

In Delhi now, you are never far from heartbreak. Almost everyone in the city has been visited by grief.

Despite high vaccination rates, Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic once again this winter, the fourth wave of COVID-19 is now sweeping across the continent, with lockdowns reinstated in some countries.

Across Europe, protests against mandates and health passes have drawn tens of thousands of people.

In November, South African scientists discovered the new Omicron variant. It has since spread around the globe.

Number one, the last U.S. military planes left Afghanistan, marking the end of its longest war.

They took the city of 6 million people in a matter of hours, barely firing a shot.

WARD: This is a sight I honestly thought I would never see, scores of Taliban fighters and, just behind us, the U.S. embassy compound.

WARD (voice-over): Thousands scrambling to leave before the U.S. military exit.

WARD: They're saying they all worked at American camps as translators for the Americans and they can't get into that airport.

WARD (voice-over): A terror attack at the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans during the evacuation.

And there is no question, everybody here is doing their best but it's not clear if it's fast enough.

The collapse of Afghanistan's U.S. backed government was perhaps the most damaging setback.

WARD (voice-over): It was a blow to U.S. credibility and to democratic advances, especially on women's rights and media freedoms, which were stifled overnight.


HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I will be back in about 30 minutes with more CNN NEWSROOM. Meanwhile, more "INSIDE AFRICA" up next.