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U.S. COVID-19 Surge Disrupting Daily Life For Americans; Skyrocketing COVID-19 Cases Worldwide; World's "Forgotten Crises" Got Worse In 2021; North Korean Leader Admits To Nation's "Food Problem"; Opponents Hope For Bolsonaro's Reckoning In 2022; UAE'S Prospects As Mediator In Volatile Region. Aired 1-1:30a ET

Aired January 02, 2022 - 01:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome, live from CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, new year, same problem: COVID cases surging around the world, with some countries seeing hundreds of thousands of new infections.

Plus, a public admission from Kim Jong-un. The supreme leader says North Korea has a food problem, confirming reports of shortages in his country.


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

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

France just marking 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 reported on Saturday. But the health secretary is saying introducing new restrictions would be a last resort.

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

It is not the new year that much of Europe was hoping for, either, as cases caused by the Omicron variant continue to climb all across the continent. 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 in the country, for that matter.

The country's deepening COVID crisis creating an even bigger challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden, as his administration confronts overworked health care and testing systems. CNN's Kevin Liptak now with a look ahead at Mr. Biden's week.


KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden had hoped to enter 2022 under far more normal circumstances. Instead, the surge in coronavirus cases is really testing his ability to contain the pandemic and to reassure Americans that there may be an end somewhere in sight.

Now right now, his strategy is focused on surging resources to states, where hospitals have felt the strain.


LIPTAK: And also to bolster testing resources, to try to ease those long lines at testing sites and delays in the results that Americans are seeing around the country.

So it was 10 days ago the president promised that there would be 500 million at-home antigen tests that would be available for Americans to order online. Still, a lot of questions about the tests; we do expect to learn more about that at the end of this week.

The federal government is also opening a testing site in New Jersey. That opened on Saturday. They're going to open testing sites in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia as well.

Now the other thing to watch this week is the Supreme Court. The justices will hear oral arguments about the president's vaccine mandates on public health workers and on large businesses.

Those mandates had actually formed a major part of the president's effort to contain the pandemic. So the fate of those will be before the court at the end of this week.

Of course, COVID is not the only issue on the president's plate when he returns to Washington. He's also trying to defuse that crisis on the Ukrainian border. He spoke to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, last week. He's expected to speak to the Ukrainian president on Sunday night.

That is all leading up to these talks that are set to take place in Europe in the beginning of January.

The president is also focused on his domestic agenda. That is somewhat stalled in Congress right now. He is still looking for a path forward, really, just among Democrats to come to agreement on a final bill there.

And the president is also focused on January 6th. The anniversary of January 6th is coming up this week on Thursday. We do expect to hear from the president then.

So there's a whole slate of issues on the president's agenda as he enters this new year. Remember, it is not just 2022; we are also entering a midterm election cycle. Democrats' control over both houses of Congress will be up on the line in November -- Kevin Liptak, CNN, Wilmington, Delaware.


HOLMES: "The Washington Post" columnist and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin joins me now. He recently wrote about how some of the world's crises were pushed to the background and neglected in 2021, due to the pandemic and other global distractions.

Josh, always good to see you and a timely piece in "The Post."

What do you see as the most critical issues which have, in many ways, been left by the wayside?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, while Western countries turned inward in 2021 due to the pandemic, the crises in the developing world only got worse. All of them got worse, actually.

You know, and I think the main drivers are the, first of all, hunger and, second of all, climate change and, third of all, the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Of course, all three of those feed into the conflict.

And as the conflict rises, it exacerbates the problem in all of the countries that are suffering. What we've seen in 2021 is 41 million people in 43 countries living on the brink of famine; 80 million people now displaced from their countries of origin; 47 percent of women unable to earn a living in the way they were before in the developing world.

And the international aid community simply hasn't been able to respond. And international assistance simply hasn't gone to these countries and they don't have vaccines and therefore they can't get over the pandemic.


HOLMES: That's a whole other issue, yes. And I guess the point is ignoring, you know, festering international issues doesn't just impact those countries with the issues, does it?

Crises rarely stay within the borders of the country in crisis. They're at flow-on effects.

ROGIN: That's exactly right. We see that, first of all, in the refugees that show up on the borders of Europe and other places; second of all, in the conflicts disrupting the supply lines that fuel the world economy and third of all, of course, in the virus.

If we can't get vaccines to these countries, if they can't be inoculated, new variants will emerge. And, of course, that's what is happening with Omicron right now. So we think that these crises can stay contained. But the more we let them fester, the more we ensure that they will eventually come to our shores, sooner or later.

HOLMES: Yes, and the other long-term potential problem, too, is part of the fallout is going to be the freedom dictators and despots are then given, when their actions are ignored or at least not addressed or challenged.

ROGIN: That's exactly right. We see that especially in places like Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Myanmar; these are countries that had been teetering for sure on the edge between countries that had functioning governments and civil society.

And now they've all turned in the worst direction imaginable. If you think about it, it is not just about these countries themselves, because we have a system that was meant to support the spread of institutions and democracy and freedom. And that system itself is breaking down.


ROGIN: According to the International Rescue Committee, what we're seeing is a systems failure. So it is not just about losing all of these countries for another generation of suffering. It is about losing all of the progress that we've made an as international community, to even address these problems at their core.

And we just can't afford another year of neglect. We can't afford to let this get even worse in 2022.

HOLMES: Absolutely. You touched on this and it is worth revisiting. One of the big issues that major countries are accused of not doing enough about or helping other countries with is climate change.

I mean what other -- we know the weather risks.

What are the geopolitical risks of that?

Because climate change has the potential for widespread unrest, things like population displacement, food insecurity and so on, right?

ROGIN: Right. Well, you know, the statistics show clearly that climate change disproportionately affects the poor and developing world, for a lot of obvious reasons. They depend more on agriculture. They have less ability to adapt. They have less money to build the resilience, the new technology that's needed to combat climate change.

So for all of these reasons, letting these countries deal with climate change on their own is eventually going to undermine our ability to deal with it ourselves. You know, also, if you are on the edge of poverty in a country, once the hurricanes or the tornadoes or the earthquakes that you never saw before and the floods come, that just tips you over.

That's a tragedy waiting to happen.

HOLMES: And that is so true. We are almost out of time but I want to squeeze one more in real quick.

Where we will be in 2023, if international crises aren't effectively addressed in 2022?

ROGIN: I think what we're going to see is a complete -- in 2023, if we don't change course right now and devote more time, energy, money and resources to, first, alleviating human suffering and then redevoting ourselves to conflict resolution in the developing world, what we're going to see is a system that's spun dangerously out of control.

We're going to see a system where might makes right, where poverty and famine reign and the international organizations meant to help all of suffering people all over the world are simply unable to do their jobs for the first time in decades. That's damage we can't afford and damage that would take another generation to dig out from.

HOLMES: Yes, it always seems that the powerful countries that ignore these issues don't realize it is going to come back and impact them as well. Josh Rogin, have to leave it there. Really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

ROGIN: Any time.

HOLMES: The new year is here and bringing hope for many, especially critics of Brazilian president Bolsonaro. 2022 could see a political reckoning for the far-right leader. We will have that and more right after the break.

And North Korea's leader has repeated a stunning admission that he made several times in the past year, that his nation is having trouble feeding its own people.


HOLMES: Kim Jong-un was speaking at a party meeting on Friday. Paula Hancocks with the details.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korea welcomed the new year with a fireworks show in Pyongyang. Performers, bundled up for the subzero temperatures, sang and danced to an audience of thousands, all wearing masks.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): A festive event to close out what leader Kim Jong-un called a year of unfavorable conditions. At a ruling party meeting this weekend, Kim barely mentioned the United States or South Korea, according to state-run media.

Instead, looking inwards, focusing mainly on domestic issues. His new year resolution, to provide more food for his people, saying the country faces a, quote, "great life-and-death struggle."

Kim has made public admissions of food shortages over the past 12 months, a perennial problem since he took power 10 years ago. COVID-19 and bad weather destroying crops have made a challenging situation even worse.

Kim is now pledging to increase agricultural production to solve the food crisis. Preventing COVID-19 infections is also stated as a priority for the year. Last month, state-run media KCNA said prevention measures were increased, including mask requirements and temperature checks.

Pyongyang has yet to acknowledge any confirmed cases in the country. The pandemic and Pyongyang's decision to shut its borders in January 2020 have exacerbated the food shortage, cutting off much-needed imports from main trading ally, China.

In July, the United States State Department of Agriculture estimated 63 percent of the population was considered food insecure. North Korea's economy is believe to have shrunk 4.5 percent in 2020.

But with NGOs having pulled out international staff due to the pandemic, an accurate, real-time assessment of how bad the crisis actually is has become almost impossible. Aid agencies estimate North Korea had a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of tons of rice last year and predict more shortages ahead, making any efforts by Pyongyang to ease this long-running domestic crisis all the more urgent -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


HOLMES: The pope used his New Year's Day message at St. Peter's Basilica to condemn violence against women as a, quote, "insult to God." The pontiff focusing his remarks on Saturday on Mary, the mother of Jesus, to call for greater efforts to promote mothers and protect women.

The pope was marking what the Vatican calls World Peace Day, celebrated by the Catholic Church on January the 1st since 1968.

Now for many in Brazil, 2021 was a heartbreaking year, the pandemic devastating families, leaving more than 600,000 dead, the second highest death toll in the world. Thousands of fires accelerated the destruction of the Amazon, oftentimes ignited by humans, clearing land for industry.

Many in Brazil blame president Jair Bolsonaro for both catastrophes. As Isa Soares reports, opponents and even some former Bolsonaro supporters are hoping 2022 will be the year of reckoning for the president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (from captions): Who's mommy's little girl?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little Sara (ph) Gois was born this January in Brazil, in the midst of a ravaging pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Portuguese).

SOARES (voice-over): But even an abundance of love wasn't enough to stop her daughter from contracting COVID-19. And despite all her pleas, little Sara (ph) died. She was only 5 months old.

SAMEQUE GOIS, SARA'S (PH) MOTHER (through translator): When she died, when they give us the news, I was able to hold her. I was able to feel her one last time.

SOARES (voice-over): Loss and grief like the one experienced by Sameque Gois became an all-too common sight this year across Brazil, more so than many other countries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People have been dying more in Brazil since the original variant was here.

SOARES (voice-over): One research group says misconceptions about COVID's impact on children, as well as inequality in access to health care, make Brazil a COVID hot spot for the young.

But other age groups suffered as well. Almost two years since Matthew (ph) lost a son to the virus, the pain continues to bring him to his knees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SOARES (voice-over): His 25-year-old son, Ul (ph), one in a sea of more than 600,000 lives lost in Brazil. His indignation and anger became harrowing testimony, one of many witnesses in forming a parliamentary report, on how the Brazilian government handled the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).


SOARES (voice-over): The parliamentary committee blamed president Jair Bolsonaro directly for Brazil's massive death toll and recommended he be charged with crimes against humanity, as well as other charges for reckless leadership.

Bolsonaro dismissed the parliamentary report as politically motivated and having no credibility.

JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT: (Speaking foreign language).

Throughout the pandemic, the Brazilian president continued to promote alternative treatments, refusing the vaccine and forging ahead.

BOLSONARO: (Speaking foreign language).

SOARES (voice-over): Bolsonaro was also criticized for his alleged attacks on the Amazon rain forest. CNN flew over some of this year's hardest hit areas to see the devastation for ourselves.

From above, our cameras captured the damage of these increasing fires, the demarcated lines a sign of human destruction at work as the forest is cleared for agriculture or mining.

There have been nearly 30,000 (ph) fires in this same area, roughly a 50 percent increase from 2020 to 2021.

Now compare these images with these, over a five-year period.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SOARES (voice-over): Homul Batista (ph) is a spokesman for Greenpeace Brazil. He and other activists say the blame falls squarely on Bolsonaro.

Back in Brasilia, the president's policy also saw him lose of some of the key popular support that got him elected. Alecravi Raph (ph) thought the right wing leader would be Brazil's savior. But 2.5 years after Bolsonaro swept to power, this former fan is full of regret.

ALECRAVI RAPH (PH), BOLSONARO FAN (through translator): It was a mistake. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

SOARES (voice-over): Raph (ph) is one of many to lose faith in the country's leader, putting pressure on Bolsonaro ahead of presidential elections in 2022.

With less than a year into the presidential election, Bolsonaro, who's been called the Trump of the tropics, got a reelection boot from the man himself. In a recent statement, former U.S. president Donald Trump calls him "a great president, who will never let the people of his great country down."

And taking a cue from the Trump playbook --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bolsonaro will win unless it's stolen by, guess what, the machines.


SOARES (voice-over): Bolsonaro has been sowing doubt on the integrity of Brazil's entire electronic voting system, calling for printed ballots to supplement electronically cast votes. And in doing so, he has eyes fully on the presidential prize.

BOLSONARO (through translator): I have three alternatives for my future, being arrested, killed or victory.

SOARES (voice-over): A fight for political survival that may indeed continue into the new year -- Isa Soares, CNN.


HOLMES: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. We will be right back.




HOLMES: The UAE says it wants to increase its influence in the Middle East and so officials are trying a new approach: moving away from firepower to soft power. CNN's Sam Kiley reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a little bit out of date now.


KILEY (voice-over): Then dubbed Little Sparta, the United Arab Emirates took a muscular approach to foreign policy, supporting NATO in Afghanistan, making war in Yemen, backing rebels in Libya.

And it didn't work. Criticized by human rights groups and the U.N., the Emirates is out of Yemen and out of punching its way to recognition. It is a move from war to jaw (ph).

H.E. ANWAR GARGASH, DIPLOMATIC ADVISER TO UAE PRESIDENT: So he said that began in 2018, in our final days of presence in Yemen, that he said that was influenced by the whole COVID ordeal.

And I think from that reset, we realized that the challenges of the next decade are not necessarily the same challenges of the past decade. Now the past decade was unusually problematic and unusually polarized.

KILEY (voice-over): The Emirates' shift is from taking sides to bringing opposing sides together.

GARGASH: We are going to be an influencer in the region. But our influence is going to be through different tools, through this sort of diplomatic navigation, through keeping this balance between all of these different relationships that we have.

KILEY (voice-over): That has already meant snubbing U.S. appeals for more sanctions on Iran, controversial outreach to Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad and warming relations with Turkey. The Emirates has met an American request to halt construction of what the U.S. says was a secret Chinese military intelligence facility inside a seaport.

But it ignored U.S. appeals to cancel Chinese tech giant Huawei's installation of 5G networks.

The U.S. is still the Emirates' most important ally but it is seen as an unreliable friend after the sudden evacuation from Kabul and years of chaos in Iraq.

And now the Emirates have suspended talks over buying $23 billion worth of F-35 stealth fighters from the U.S., citing technical issues and concerns that American restrictions on future use eat into Emirati sovereignty.

The loss of the aircraft sales is a blow to U.S. arms exports. But not to the Emirates air force, which has done a $19 billion deal for 80 French Rafale fighters. And now that the Emiratis are opening their arms to friend and foe, they may not need America's stealth fighters anyway -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Abu Dhabi.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. "AFRICAN VOICES: CHANGEMAKERS" is next. I will see you a bit later.