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Fire At South African Parliament In Cape Town; Skyrocketing COVID-19 Cases Worldwide; U.S. COVID-19 Surge Disrupting Daily Life For Americans; Biden White House Coping With COVID-19; World's "Forgotten Crises" Got Worse In 2021; Funeral For Desmond Tutu. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 02, 2022 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello. I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company.

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, surging COVID cases all around the world, some countries seeing hundreds of thousands of new infections and now new restrictions.

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.


HOLMES (voice-over): And you're looking there at live pictures of a fire at South Africa's national parliament building. Fire crews on the scene right now, trying to control the spread.



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

HOLMES: As we turn the calendar to 2022, it looks a lot like a repeat of a year ago, with coronavirus case numbers skyrocketing across the globe; only, this time, largely due to the Omicron variant.

Now France has marked its 10 millionth case -- 10 million, think about that. On Saturday, nearly 220,000 new infections were reported, the fourth consecutive day topping 200,000 new cases.

England started off the new year setting another daily case record, too, with more than 162,000 reported on Saturday. Despite that, the health secretary says new restrictions would only be a last resort.

But the UAE is introducing a new measure to control Omicron. Starting January 10, unvaccinated citizens will be banned from traveling abroad. Those who are fully vaccinated will also need a booster shot to travel.

Now this is not the new year Europe was hoping for. For more on all of that, I'm joined by Barbie Nadeau in Rome for us.

Good to see you, Barbie.

Are there concerns about a new surge after all the gatherings and what are governments bracing for?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a big concern the party is definitely over. And one of the focuses is, of course, right now is to make sure kids go back to school in classroom.

And we know these infections don't happen in a vacuum, so we're going to see a rise in hospitalizations and eventually, as has been the case, probably a rise in deaths. But it's nothing like it was a year ago.

Even though the case numbers are higher, we're just not seeing this inundation of intensive care units, people on respirators. It's a different kind of wave. But governments are very concerned that these high numbers are going to lead to just more and more infections and they need to get a grasp on it.

And we're going to wait and see what kind of restrictions come in the new year so far.

HOLMES: It's interesting because the thing with Omicron is people are less sick. But they get sick and then they don't go to work.

Is that having an effect on businesses and just how the places are operating?

NADEAU: Yes, it's a huge -- it has a huge impact on businesses. And that's one of the reasons many governments around Europe are looking at shortening the time people have to self-isolate when they come into contact with someone who's a positive case or mask mandates if people might be infected.

There's a mask mandate here for the outdoors in Italy, other places around Europe.

The concern right now is, what's going to happen after the holidays?

Is everyone going to be making changes?

And a lot of people go back to work on Monday and in Europe there's another week of holiday because they celebrate the Epiphany. But it's going to be really touch and go. It's not going to be a January that a lot of people are going to enjoy.

HOLMES: Yes, it seems that way. Barbie, thanks so much. Barbie Nadeau in Rome.

COVID numbers are also shattering records in the U.S. The country is averaging more than 394,000 new COVID cases a day, 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 is averaging nearly 1,700 cases a day among people under 18, 1,700.

But compare that to just over 100 a day in late November. All of that is raising concerns about whether schools can reopen safely in Georgia -- and for that matter, elsewhere in the country.



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.

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: And now to a developing story we're following out of South Africa, a fire breaking out at the parliament building in Cape Town. The city's fire and rescue spokesman tells CNN that more than 40 firefighters are on the scene.

According to one official, the fire is now burning in the national assembly chamber and crews are trying to prevent it spreading further. She also said the situation is under control, no injuries reported.


HOLMES: The blaze reportedly spreading from an office space on the third floor. The cause under investigation. Once again, a fire at the South African parliament building in Cape Town, as you can see there. We'll keep you updated on all the latest information as it becomes available.

We'll be right back.




HOLMES: North Korea's leader has repeated an admission that he has made several times in the past year, that his nation is having trouble feeding its own people. Kim Jong-un was speaking at a special 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: America'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, 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.


ROGIN: 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.

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.


Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, Lebanon has endured crisis after crisis over the years but in 2021 things went from bad to worse. We'll take a look at the country on the brink of collapse after the break.




HOLMES: Welcome back. A short time ago the ashes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu were interred during a private family service. The remains laid to rest under a memorial stone in front of the high altar at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.


HOLMES: That's, of course, where his funeral was held on Saturday. The archbishop leading the service called on South Africans to commit to the revolutionary change that Archbishop Tutu advocated during his lifetime.

Lebanon's people had a particularly difficult time last year, from a crumbling economy to shortages of basic necessities, to still unanswered questions on 2020's deadly port explosion. CNN's Ben Wedeman breaks down the country's struggles in 2021.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what a collapsing state looks like: perennial disorder, sporadic violence, basic services barely functioning, basic goods in short supply, a national currency and economy in freefall and a squabbling political class, incapable or unwilling or uninterested in putting aside their differences to save this country, once described as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

When 2021 began, it seemed things couldn't get worse. Beirut was still reeling from the August 2020 port blast. COVID was ravaging a population already battered by a deep economic crisis. The politicians couldn't agree on the formation of a new government and, as 2021 ends, events have proven things could get even worse.

The cabinet of prime minister Najib Makati hasn't met since October, divided between those who want Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating the Beirut port blast, to resign and those who want him to stay.

The Lebanese currency, already a fraction of its pre-crisis value, has plummeted from a historic low to a historic low.

The economy continues to shrink. 2021 ended up being the year that never was the year when the families of the victims of the port blast demanded justice which never happened, the year when once again Lebanon's leaders failed to serve the people almost 80 percent now live below the poverty line, the United Nations reports.

Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the ruins of Beirut's port; tweeting afterwards, "The Lebanese people deserve the truth."

He's the latest in a long list of world leaders to call on Lebanon's politicians to do their duty and save the country from falling into the abyss, those calls still falling on deaf ears -- Ben Wedeman, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. Paula Newton will be here in about 30 minutes with more CNN NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next.