Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

COVID Cases Skyrocket Worldwide Fueled by Omicron; China Reports Drop in Cases in Locked Down Xi'an; India to Start Vaccinating Teens Ages 15 to 18; Biden: U.S. to 'Respond Decisively' if Russia Invades; How COVID-19 Has Changed the Way We Work. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 00:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.


New records, new rules and just a big mess. Surging Omicron numbers are impacting everyone around the world.

The pandemic will certainly end one day, but it's already left an indelible mark on how workplaces operate.

And Sudan's prime minister steps down, just weeks after being reinstated.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: Welcome, everyone. With the holidays over and people worldwide heading back to work and school, health experts fear COVID cases, fueled by the Omicron variant, could explode even more than what we're already seeing.

Let's have a look at this map and see the dark red there, places where new infections have skyrocketed in recent days. Some countries are now seeing their highest daily case counts of the entire pandemic, all because of Omicron.

But governments are all handling the surge in different ways. France, for example, is actually easing the rules for the fully vaccinated, shortening the isolation period from 10 to seven days for those who test positive and their contacts.

And the recent nightmare travel scenes from the holidays are far from over. According to Flight Aware, U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,600 flights on Sunday, the seventh straight day of at least 1,000 cancellations.

Now, as new infections skyrocket, protests in the Netherlands against tough new restrictions led to clashes between police and demonstrators. Here's a look at that and some of the other COVID stories making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES (voice-over): Breaking the rules. Thousands of people filling the streets of Amsterdam on Sunday, defying the Netherlands' strict COVID-19 restrictions, which ban large public gatherings.

Riot police at times using batons and shields to break up the crowd of people, who ignored parts of a government lockdown imposed in mid- December that closed all non-essential shops. The measures also say no more than two people aged 13 and up can gather outdoors.

ANTAL BUISMAN, PROTESTOR: I had COVID, and I had -- there wasn't not much problems for me, you know? A little bit cold and a little bit runny nose, little bit headache, and that's it, you know? So for me, I -- I'm not scared, you know, for this new virus, Omicron.

HOLMES: But as cases of the fast-spreading variant rise around the world, health experts warn people not to be complacent about what they think they know about the virus.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: So it's kind of like a very interesting, somewhat complicated issue, where you have a virus that might actually be less severe in its pathogenicity, but so many people are getting infected that the net amount, the total amount of people that require hospitalization might be up.

HOLMES: Testing facilities at hospitals have been inundated with Omicron patients. In New York, emergency medical services were instructed not to transport stable patients experiencing flu-like symptoms to hospitals, to help ease the burden on emergency rooms.

Ireland's health department recorded a staggering number of new COVID- 19 infections, with more new confirmed cases reported over the holiday period than in all of 2020.

And as people return to school and work after the holiday break, more coronavirus measures could be on the table. In England, secondary students told to wear masks in schools so they can continue in-person learning.

French schools also beefing up their eating procedures to try to keep the doors open there, as French lawmakers consider a bill that would limit unvaccinated people from getting into restaurants, bars and other public venues.

Traffic snarls continue across the globe. Bad weather and staffing shortages due to COVID-19 sick-outs canceling thousands of flights in the U.S. alone. The backups causing long lines in airports, a perfect storm of sickness and crowds that could give Omicron even more opportunity to spread.


HOLMES: Israel will be offering a fourth Pfizer COVID shot to people over 60 and medical workers. The move coming amid skyrocketing cases of Omicron in that country. New infections have more than quadrupled over the last 10 days. [00:05:12]

But officials believe the country may reach some form of herd immunity quicker, given the high case count. Next hour, I'll be speaking with a health expert and advisor to the Israeli government on how the country could reach as many as two million active cases in the coming weeks.

China reporting a drop in the number of COVID cases in Xi'an. The city of 13 million people has been on strict lockdown measures for almost two weeks as Chinese authorities pursue a zero-COVID strategy.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins me now live from Hong Kong to discuss. And Kristie, desperate scenes in Xi'an, as the city enters its twelfth day of lockdown.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the city's outbreak is the worst that China has seen in months. On Monday, China reported 101 new locally-transmitted cases of the virus. That is down from 131 the previous day.

But still, the majority of those locally-transmitted cases are inside the northern Chinese city of Xi'an. Known for its terracotta warriors, it is a thriving high-tech hub and industrial center and home to 13 million people. And with the Beijing Winter Games quickly approaching, Chinese government officials are going all-out to end the Xi'an outbreak.

Since December the 23rd -- that's 12 days ago -- all the residents of this major metropolis, again, 13 million residents, they've been under lockdown. Residents are not allowed to leave except for COVID tests. They cannot leave their residential compounds for food or other basic supplies.

There have also been public shamings of individuals found to be in breach of COVID-19 pandemic protocols.

Here in the CNN Hong Kong newsroom, we have been monitoring social media inside China, just to get a picture of what life is like under this prolonged lockdown in this metropolis. And it paints a picture of control and desperation.

In one video that we are still working to verify, we see a man allegedly being attacked by black-clad anti-pandemic workers for leaving lockdown to go to source food. And this video, it's gone viral in social media in China. You see the man being attacked by these anti-pandemic workers and, in this bag that this individual is carrying, of white steamed buns, spilled open and falling onto the floor.

Now on Friday, Chinese state-run media, they reported that the deputy mayor of Xi'an has said that they will plan to loosen and relax restrictions for neighborhoods with zero cases of the virus or no context to confirm cases of the virus.

Chinese government officials have pledged to give three to five days' worth of food for those still stuck at home -- Michael. HOLMES: And the fallout from the infections globally has been thousands of canceled flights. What has been the impact there in Hong Kong, because it's been significant, hasn't it?

STOUT: Very significant. We're definitely feeling the impact here in Hong Kong. Look, with our fate closely linked to that of China, it is a dynamic zero-COVID policy in place here, as well.

On Sunday, the territory reported 26 new cases of the virus, 25 imported, one import-related. And we have heard from the Hong Kong government over the weekend announcements of further flight bans.

We have learned that Cathay Pacific has been banned from operating flights from San Francisco. This ban in place from December 31 until January 13. Cathay also banned from operating flights from Manchester. This ban in place until January 15.

KLM banned from operating flights from Amsterdam. This ban in place until January 15. The list goes on.

And Cathay Pacific has warned that there will be major supply-chain disruptions as a result of this -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes, because of all the cargo planes. Yes, thanks so much, Kristie. Appreciate it.

Kristie Lu Stout, there in Hong Kong.

Now in India, teens aged 15 to 18 are now eligible to get the COVID vaccine, but officials say they can only get the Covaxin shot. This coming as the country sees a spike in infections. Nearly 23,000 cases reported on Saturday alone.

Joining me now from New Delhi, CNN's Vedika Sud.

Vedika, after weeks of cases being relatively low in India, the country seeing this sudden surge. What's going on?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Michael. Let me just begin by saying from the figures I'm just about to share with you, it seems that India is on the precipice of a third wave. We've already seen a brutal and deadly second wave earlier last year in the months of April and May.

Now today, the health ministry shared the numbers of the daily cases in the last 24 hours. It stands at 23,750, which is a four-fold rise from just a week ago. Last Monday, India had reported just over 7,000 new daily cases of COVID-19.

Let's just talk about two big cities, as well, Delhi and Mumbai. Both these cities have seen a four-fold increase in COVID-19 cases in the last seven days.

The silver lining: I'm standing outside a hospital where vaccination's underway for the age group that you just mentioned, 15 to 18 years, for children. Till now, they've been completely unvaccinated. This is the first dose for those between the age of 15 and 18.


With the Omicron cases being at 1,700 officially this morning, it is mandatory and very important for these children to get their doses, because they remain vulnerable.

Also, this comes at a time, Michael, when only 17 percent of India's COVID relief package emergency fund has been used to date, according to India's health minister. This fund is for states to use. Only 17 percent after that deadly second wave has been utilized till now.

This remains a concern. India's health minister has reached out to states, asking them to use these funds.

But the biggest concern and worry remains these public gatherings and more than public gatherings, Michael, the political gatherings that continue, because there are free elections coming up later this year, perhaps from March.

And from the prime minister to opposition leaders, you have all of them on the roads of the cities of states that are going to cause (ph). A lot of people at these gatherings remain unmasked.

The holiday season, like you mentioned, has just come to an end, and these numbers are set to rise, as well, health officials have been telling CNN -- Michael.

HOLMES: You've got to wonder about politicians holding mass political rallies and whether that's a good example.

Vedika, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Vedika Sud there in New Delhi.

And joining me now from Los Angeles is Dr. Jorge Rodriguez. He's a board-certified internal medicine specialist and viral researcher.

Good to see you again, Doctor.

There was one example that stood out to me. Ireland on Sunday said it registered more COVID cases during the holiday week period than for the whole of 2020.

Even with apparently less severe illness, how concerning is this rampant spread of Omicron?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST: Well, Michael, it's very concerning. I mean, if you would -- not you, but if people stop and just look at the graphs of any place in the world, the new infections, the percentage of new infections, those graphs are going absolutely vertical. They're going straight up.

This is something that was predicted. This is something that is coming. But people can still make a difference by not joining in big groups, still wearing masks, and without a doubt, if possible, getting vaccinated and boosted. HOLMES: Yes. Couple of -- couple of huge gatherings here just outside CNN. Big concerts tonight, 50,000 people at a religious gathering. Extraordinary.

Less severe illness isn't no illness. And you've got millions of people calling out sick. Even if they're not going to go to the hospital, how worried are you that emergency service workers, healthcare workers and so on, they've tested positive? They're out? And the pressure that puts that -- the pressure that puts on those who help the sick.

RODRIGUEZ: Well, extremely concerned. It's estimated now that in the United States, approximately 20 percent of healthcare workers are out sick, and what one of the big fallacies -- not fallacies but misconceptions that's going out there is that Omicron is less serious.

And yes, even though less people die, there's a much greater number of people getting sick, and therefore, a smaller percentage of that hugely bigger number are going to the hospital.

So overall, more people are going to the hospital. More people are getting sick. More people are not able to go to their jobs. It's very serious.

HOLMES: We've seen over the course of the pandemic the effects of so- called long COVID, the lingering and often significant issues for those who've supposedly recovered from even mild infection.

You know, how worried are you that, even if Omicron is, by and large, less severe, long COVID could become even more widespread?

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. We don't know enough about the effects of this variant to take it as likely [SIC] as some people -- as lightly as some people are taking it.

You're very right, Michael, in the fact that months from now, a year from now, people may have unknown complications that we don't know today that may surface at that time.

So this infection, even though it does not kill as many people, because people are getting vaccinated, should in no way be taken lightly.

HOLMES: What do the numbers of hospitalizations among children tell you?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, that tells me that the -- that the virus is going to go to the people that are unvaccinated. And at this time, it is children. In the United States, approximately only, I think, 30 percent of children that are eligible to be vaccinated have gone ahead and gotten vaccinated. That is woefully low.

Also, there are children under the age of 5 that are not eligible yet to get vaccinated. So in my eyes, those are absolutely the most vulnerable, as the increase in hospitalizations of children definitely shows. [00:15:04]

HOLMES: Yes. The other thing that occurred to me, with so much, because I've been home testing myself, with so much home testing, isn't it likely the case numbers, which are you know, in the stratosphere, that they're, in fact, much higher? People testing at home and are positive, they self-isolate. They're not even going to show up in the official figures.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Absolutely. Those numbers are underestimates, without a doubt. Which is why we're seeing so many people sick, not showing up. Those are the people that are being counted that are going to public places to get tested. The people that are at home, like yourself and I, that get tested, God forbid we turn positive, but if we do, nobody knows that.

So the numbers that we see are lower than the actual number of people that are infected.

HOLMES: And real quick, before we let you go, even talking about fourth shots in some countries. You and I have talked about this before. It seems insanely unfair to the dozens of nations where even first shots have been hard to find.

How big an issue is vaccine equality globally, still?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, that's a big issue, Michael. And lately, I've been thinking about this more than ever. And for some people, say that it seems impossible. You know, we had this frame of mind, we'd have never gotten to the moon.

There needs to be a world incentive. Seriously, not just what the World Health Organization is saying, but a world incentive where, over a period of time, two to three months, every country in this world, you know, with the help of every other country, has to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Not some people here, some people there, month after month. Because we know the virus escapes that.

It has to be a concerted effort to get as many people vaccinated in the world over a set period of time.

HOLMES: Yes, because the next variant might not be mild illness, or less severe illness. Yes.

Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Michael. Happy New Year, I hope.

HOLMES: You, too.

Now in the world of sports, Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi and three of his teammates have tested positive for COVID-19. He French football club says the four players are in isolation and subject to the, quote, "appropriate health protocol."

Paris Saint-Germain is set to play Monday in the French Cup's round of 32.

Coming up after the break, Sudan's political crisis deepens, with the prime minister's resignation amid ongoing mass protests. We'll be right back.



HOLMES: Sudan's prime minister has resigned six weeks after he returned to his post.


ABDALLA HAMDOK, RESIGNING AS SUDANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I decided to give back the responsibility and announce my resignation as prime minister to give a chance to another man or woman of this noble country to continue leading our dear nation and help it pass through what's left of the transitional period to a civilian democratic country.


HOLMES: The military ousted Abdalla Hamdok in October and briefly detained him. He was reinstated in a deal with the coup leaders, but his supporters denounced the agreement.

Hamdok's resignation came after the Sudanese Central Doctors Committee said security forces killed three protestors during anti-coup demonstrations on Sunday. The group says at least 57 people have been killed since the coup.

A man under arrest in connection with a fire at the South African Parliament. It caused extensive damage on the first and second floors of the Old Assembly Building, and the third-floor roof collapsed.

A government official said the suspect was arrested inside Parliament. Authorities believe someone also tampered with the sprinkler system.

President Cyril Ramaphosa praised the firefighters' quick response.


CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Had they not responded in the six minutes that they tell me they -- they responded with, I think we would be talking about the National Assembly and the Council of -- House of Provinces being in ashes. Complete ashes.


HOLMES: Now, this was the second fire in the country's Parliament in less than a year. Another one last March was caused by an electrical issue.

The U.S. president, Joe Biden, is vowing the U.S. and its allies will, quote, "respond decisively" if Russia further invades Ukraine. This as tens of thousands of Russian troops remain amassed near Ukraine's borders.

That statement from Mr. Biden coming during his call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on Sunday. And comes ahead, too, of diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia.

CNN's Nic Robertson with more for us from Moscow.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. That's the promise President Biden has given President Zelensky of Ukraine several times in the past, that Ukraine will not be the subject of conversations between the United States and Russia without Ukraine being present, at the table, in the room, at the time.

The gap between the United States and Russia just a week away from those talks in Geneva is as big as it ever was.

President Biden has made clear to President Putin not only would there be heavy economic sanctions on Russia if it was to invade Ukraine, but there would be a military price to pay, as well, that NATO would increase its troop presence along Europe's eastern border, Russia's western flank.

And that is exactly what President Putin is trying to avoid. He wants those watertight legal guarantees that Ukraine cannot be allowed to join NATO, that NATO cannot base its forces and personnel inside of Ukraine, and that NATO rolls back its presence in Eastern Europe.

So at the moment, those red lines are very clear. No real apparent movement towards the -- the commonality between those two positions at the moment. And the clock ticking down to those talks in Geneva, just a week away.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Moscow.


HOLMES: Many businesses are again hitting pause on having workers return to the office as the Omicron variant spreads.


Just ahead, I speak with an expert on how the relationship between employer and employee has evolved in this pandemic. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Global COVID cases are surging due to the Omicron variant and the busy holiday travel season. Ireland recording more cases during the holidays than all of 2020. And on Saturday, the country saw its highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, secondary school students in England will be asked to wear masks to help tackle the spread of the Omicron variant. The government will also be providing 7,000 air filtration units to schools and colleges before students head back to class from winter break.

Meanwhile, businesses and governments are planning for the worst as some pump the brakes on employees returning to the office. The British government wants to ensure new COVID cases don't interrupt public services. It's asking public sector managers to plan for absent employees who might become infected, accounting for staff shortages as high as 25 percent.

In the United States, Goldman Sachs is the latest Wall Street firm telling employees stay home. The company sent a memo to staff on Sunday, urging those who can work from home to do so until January 18.

JPMorganChase has employees staying home for the next two weeks, while Citigroup has told staff to stay home if their job allows.


Shannon Liss-Riordan is a labor attorney and co-founder of Lichten and Liss-Riordan, P.C. She joins me now.

Thanks for discussing this important issue. In the big picture, how has the pandemic changed he relationship people have with works and their employers, for that matter?

SHANNON LISS-RIORDAN, LABOR ATTORNEY: Well, there have been so many changes throughout the pandemic, and it's affected different people differently, of course. There are a lot of people around the world who have been able to work now far more flexibly than ever before. Wherever they want, whenever they want.

And at the same time, there have been a whole lot of people, particularly low-wage workers and essential workers, who have -- who have not had that possibility to work wherever they want. They've still been needed to be there, interacting with people, often putting themselves in harm's way, and taking risks, themselves and their families.

So it's affected people differently.

HOLMES: And to that point, it really has shown the pandemic how important certain people are. I mean, be it in hospitals or grocery stores. But how might that realization change how things are done or how workers are treated, particularly frontline people.

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, I think there's been a growing recognition of the essential nature of the work that so many service employees are providing.

A lot of these workers who have been really hidden workers before from so many of us, have now been front and center to keeping our -- our lives moving and our society working. People who have delivered food to our doors and have brought us packages, because they -- people haven't wanted to go out shopping at stores.

I think that there is much greater leverage that these workers have now, more than ever before, because people have recognized their value and their importance. And because it's perceived that there's a labor shortage right now.

Workers have more ability to negotiate for better terms and positions and wages than -- than they have in a long time.

HOLMES: Absolutely. I mean, there's a whole great resignation aspect, as well, people realizing their value and saying, you know, I won't work for $7.50 an hour. There's more money on offer elsewhere, and you know, I'm worth it. And others, too, who've taken the opportunity to leave and take up other positions.

How interesting has that been, too, the whole great resignation?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, I think it's very interesting, because a lot of people have stepped back as the world has changed over the last couple of years and made some decisions that I'm not going to work for slave wages any more; I'm not going to work in certain working environments. And so they have had a lot more opportunity to demand better conditions.

But also keep in mind, a lot of people who have left the work force, it hasn't always been voluntary. We've seen far more women leaving the work force than we have in a long, long time, because of needs of caretaking. Caring for children, caring for older relatives.

And so we've seen a lot more women leaving the work place, not necessarily voluntarily. Going to take us a while to recover from that.

HOLMES: Yes, good point. I mean, one thing the pandemic has shown, and you touched on this, it's shown both workers and employers how possible it is to work from home. Many of the people working on this program right now are at home, working remotely.

How much of that shift during the pandemic might last, once it's controlled?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, I think these changes, a lot of these changes really are here to stay. You've heard about a lot of employers who've gradually tried to bring their work forces back in person.

And they got a lot of pushback, not only because of the continued risks that we've been facing through new surges of the virus. But when employers have tried to bring their workers back, a lot of them said, you know what? I don't want to. I don't think I need to. And I'm going to go find an employer who lets me work from home.

So that's another way that these workers have had a lot more leverage during this climate. HOLMES: We've virtually got a minute left, but I'll try to squeeze this in. What types of companies are best-positioned to win in the struggle to attract and retain workers? And how nimble do they have to be to do that?

LISS-RIORDAN: Well, employers certainly need to be nimble right now, because things are changing every day. Those who think that they can plan in advance, a lot of their plans have really blown to the wind, because there have been so many changes that they need to be able to make.

And they need to be very sensitive to the needs of their employees, who are demanding more than a lot of employers are used to seeing. And they're getting a lot of what they're asking for.

HOLMES: Yes. A fascinating and important discussion. Shannon Liss- Riordan, thank you so much.


LISS-RIORDAN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Still to come, another major independent news outlet in Hong Kong is shutting down. We'll have the details.

Also, a hockey fan hailed as a hero after her warning saved the life of a Vancouver Canucks staff member. Details on their heartfelt reunion coming up.


HOLMES: The largest remaining independent news outlet in Hong Kong is shutting down. Citizen News says the decision was made to protect everyone's safety, citing major changes in their society and the deteriorating media environment.

This comes less than a week after pro-democracy news outlet Stand News was shut down. National security police had raided its office and arrested seven people associated with the publication.

Now the National Hockey League is celebrating a hockey fan whose quick thinking probably saved a life. That fan, Nadia Popovici, was reunited on Saturday with Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton.

Now, Popovici supports the rival Seattle Kraken, but back in October, behind the Plexiglas, she noticed a dangerous mole on Hamilton's neck. She banged on the glass to get his attention and held up her phone with a message on it, saying the mole might be cancer.

After checking with doctors, Hamilton learned Popovici was right. He did, indeed, have a melanoma, a highly-dangerous form of skin cancer.

He had it treated, and thanks to social media, Hamilton tracked down his guardian angel. She was wearing this great octopus cap when she was honored at Saturday's game between the Kraken and the Canucks. [00:40:02]

Now, here's Hamilton praising Popovici's decisive play-off that ice (ph).


BRIAN "RED" HAMILTON, VANCOUVER CANUCKS ASSISTANT EQUIPMENT MANAGER: She needs to know, she's the story. She's the person that -- that did this. She saved the life. She -- she doesn't know. Like, does she -- she needs to know her efforts were valid and bang-on. And I'm happy that story's there, but not for me but for her. Because the world needs to know that -- that she's a -- like, this woman exists. She's a hero. And, you know, we need to celebrate her and people like her that take the time to do things like this and save lives.


HOLMES: And Popovici's ad hoc diagnosis was no fluke. Her mother says the 22-year-old has been accepted at multiple medical schools.

Now, both of those hockey teams pulled together to give her a $10,000 scholarship to help her along.

What a great story that is.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. Stay tuned for WORLD SPORT.