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COVID Cases Skyrocketing Worldwide Fueled by Omicron; Israel to Offer Fourth Vaccine Shot Amid Omicron Surge; China Reports Drop in Cases in Locked Down Xi'an. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 01:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, I appreciate your company.

Coming up here on CNN Newsroom, skyrocketing cases of COVID, many countries urging vaccine boosters, increased testing and new restrictions, all in an effort to slow the spread of Omicron. One of those countries is Israel rolling out a fourth COVID vaccine dose becoming the first to make it widely available. I'll be talking to one of the country's advisors about the science behind it. And another blow to press freedom in Hong Kong. Why its largest remaining independent news outlet says it is shutting its doors for good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN Newsroom with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: Well, 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 the map and you see the dark red there, that's places where new infections have skyrocketed in recent days. Some countries 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 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 surge from the holidays are far from over. According to FlightAware, U.S. Airlines canceled more than 2600 flights on Sunday, the seventh straight day have at least 1000 cancellations.

As new infections skyrocket, Dutch protestors angry over tough new restrictions clashed with police in Amsterdam on Sunday. Here is more on that and other COVID stories making headlines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES (voice-over): Breaking the rules, 1000s 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 battens 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, PROTESTER: I had to go fitch and there wasn't not much problems for me, you know, a little bit cold and a little bit runny nose. There's a bit headache. And that's it, you know. So, for me, I'm not scared, you know, for this new virus, Omicron.

HOLMES: Patters 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, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: 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 will require hospitalization, might be up.

HOLMES: Testing facilities and 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 reported a staggering number of new COVID- 19 infections, with more new confirmed cases reported over the holiday period, then in all of 2020. And as people returned 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 testing 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 snails continue across the globe, bad weather and staffing shortages due to COVID-19 sick outs, canceling 1000s 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.


(On camera) Israel will offer a fourth Pfizer COVID shot to people over 60 and medical workers. The move comes amid skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant, their new infections more than quadrupled over the last 10 days, but officials believe that country may reach some form of herd immunity quicker than given the high case count. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the move puts Israel at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.

NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER: Israel will once again be pioneering the global vaccination effort. Omicron is not Delta, it's a different ballgame altogether. We must keep our eye on the ball, act swiftly and decisively if we want to continue engaging and working with an open country as much as possible throughout this pandemic.


HOLMES: And joining me now is Eran Segal, a Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and an adviser to the Israeli Government on COVID-19. Professor, thanks for being with us. These latest numbers out of Israel suggests the current 5000 cases a day could hit 20,000 a day by the end of the week and keep going from there. How concerned are you about the pressure on the health system there?

ERAN SEGAL, PROF. WEIZMANN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE: Yeah, absolutely, right. So, since the beginning of this spread of Omicron, we're seeing a reproduction rate of 2.7, something unprecedented in Israel and also, worldwide. This means a doubling of cases, every two and a half days, this is now continuing. This week, I believe we're going to break our record cases of about 10,000 a day in the Delta wave and it's going to continue onwards. So, if there is much concern. However, I believe that our projection is that this wave is going to be rather quick. And that within about three weeks, I estimate that at least 2 million people here in Israel, which is about 1/4 of the population is going to be infected. And that may lead to a sort of herd immunity, after which we may see a slowdown. The case numbers might also go beyond that.

But as to the healthcare system, I think here, Israel did quite well in terms of being able to delay with good actions that were taken on the borders delay the arrival of Omicron. And that gave us another two or three-week time to see what's going on in the world. And now we understand that the possibility of creating severe disease is reduced with Omicron by a factor of three or four. And so, combining all of that, we believe that we will see severe cases rising in the hospitals. But we may be able to not reach peaks of hospitalizations compared to previous waves.

HOLMES: And Israel has always been a bit of a barometer for the rest of the world, being sort of ahead of the curve in many ways. So is a real indicator for the rest of the world. I'm curious whether you think the notion of mitigation not just in Israel, but that around the world, trying to prevent the spread. Do you think that's becoming almost impossible now, given how contagious Omicron is?

SEGAL: I think it's impossible to look -- to block the transmissibility of Omicron, at least, with all the measures that are being done right now in Israel, and in other countries. And the evidence to that is that we are seeing that the rate of spread is quite similar across all the countries. If you think about the math for a moment, we have a reproduction rate of 2.7. And that means that, in order to bring it to one, where you start to see a decline in cases, you need to -- you need to limit the number of interactions between people by about 60%. And no measures that Israel or any other country can actually limit the interactions between people by 60%. And now when we're talking about all interaction, so I don't think it's possible with conventional measures to be able to stop the transmissibility. And rather we have to be prepared for when it hits and it's going to, and it's hitting right now and in the coming weeks.

HOLMES: That is a real reality check, I think. Now, Israel, of course, the first country to talk about fourth doses, or a second booster however you want to call it. Do you think we're all going to need that and if so, when? And will the boosters just have to keep on coming?

SEGAL: Yeah, so Israel was the first to do the third boosters, which means that our boosters are the oldest and we are actually seen some waning of the third booster at least with respect to infections. We don't know about waning with respect to hospitalizations, but we have seen in preliminary testing, that fourth booster increases the levels of antibody.


So, there is a hope that it will also further increase protection from severe disease. And therefore, I think it's a very good move by Israel, especially to protect the elderly right now the booster shot, the fourth dose is being given to people above the age of 60, or with the -- of course, the high-risk group. And I think Israel from Israel's experience, the world will learn as it did in the third booster.

And I think it's always the decision to give it or not is always a combination of how stressed you are. And I think right now, there is a lot of uncertainty because despite the fact that Omicron is less likely to cause severe disease, the rapid increase that we're going to see in cases is going to somewhat valent counteract that reduction in severe cases, and how that will play out, we don't know. So, every protection that we can get would be useful a fourth booster is along those lines.

HOLMES: We're almost out of time. But you mentioned this herd immunity aspect, which is interesting, just given the ramp and spread, experience over the last few years has shown that some COVID-19 patients who recovered are then later reinfected, what will get this pandemic under control, or at least to a manageable point where it's like the annual influenza, because you may get herd immunity, but if people keep getting reinfected, it's not really herd immunity.

SEGAL: Right. So at least with respect to Omicron, I think that in a very short period of time, most countries are going to see a rapid rise in cases with an unimaginable number of people being infected. And I think that is going to stop the Omicron wave now, that very large number of people being infected, is probably going to likely give some protection against future variants. So, in that sense, I think that's going to help to lower the future outbreaks of this pandemic. However, of course, we don't know, and it is a possibility that we will see other variants that will be able to break the immunity created by Omicron. Just like Omicron is now breaking to some extent, the immunity created by previous variants.

HOLMES: And the next one might not be less severe illness either. That's always an issue. I wish we had more time, say Israel sort of been ahead of the curve on a lot of this. Professor Eran Segal, thanks so much. SEGAL: Thank you, Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Well, China reporting a drop in the number of COVID cases in Xi'an the city of 13 million people has been under 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 talk about it. And I know you've been seeing some pretty desperate themes in Xi'an.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and we do have some video that we will share with you shortly. Look, Xi'an, this city has been home of the worst outbreak that China has seen in months earlier today. On Monday, China reported 101 new cases of COVID-19 that is down from 131 new cases of the virus from the previous day. But the vast majority of these new cases are still in this northern Chinese city of Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors but also, it's a major high-tech hub and industrial centered home to 13 million people.

And with the Beijing Winter Olympic Games now just one month away, China has been going all out to put an end to the outbreak in Xi'an. Look, since December the 23rd, that's about 12 days ago, Xi'an has been under a city-wide lockdown, again, involving some 13 million residents. Residents are not allowed to leave their homes except for COVID test. They cannot go out for food or for essential supplies.

In addition to that, there have been public shaming of individuals found to be in breach of COVID-19 pandemic protocols. We also learned that on Sunday, Xi'an announced that two senior Communist Party officials were removed from their posts in order to "strengthen pandemic prevention and coordination."

Now, we have also been monitoring social media to just get a picture of what's happening on the ground, especially inside Xi'an and we have this clip to share with you. In this clip, it really paints a picture of desperation and control as the residents of Xi'an goes through this prolonged lockdown. Let's bring it up for you. On this footage. It emerged on Friday, December 31, and it's gone viral on Weibo. You see a man being confronted by anti-pandemic workers at the entrance of a residential compound in Xi'an. There is -- he's trying to enter the building with a bag of steamed buns and there was an altercation. As you see on your screen, he is being beaten by the COVID-19 prevention workers. The man stumbles and the buns that he's holding scatter all over the ground.


Local police have released a statement in response to this video that went viral in social media. In it, they acknowledged that yes, there was a dispute. Yes, there was an altercation a man was beaten by anti- epidemic control workers and the two staff members literal apologize to the man and they were fined detained for seven days. The Chinese government, meanwhile, has vowed to provide three to five days' worth of groceries to individuals who are still stuck at home under this prolonged lockdown in Xi'an China. Back to you, Michel.

HOLMES: All right. Yeah, extraordinary scenes. Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong, thanks so much.

Turning our attention to India and teens aged 15 to 18 are now eligible to get the COVID vaccine but officials say they can only get the Covaxin shot. This comes as the country sees a spike in infections with more than 33,000 new cases reported in just the last 24 hours.

Joining me now live from New Delhi is CNN's Vedika Sud. And Vedika, really been weeks of cases being relatively low in India are now the sudden surge, bring us up to date?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Michael, given that India's population stands at approximately 1.4 billion people, last Monday, India had reported just 7000, over 7000 new daily cases of COVID-19. Cut to today, there are over 33,750 cases that have been reported by India's health ministry and almost four-fold increase in these cases. Even in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, there's been a tenfold increase in COVID-19 cases in just the last seven to eight days.

Now, the last time India witness cases as I as 33,750 was mid- September last year. There's been a rapid surge. Omicron cases in India stands at 1700. These are the official numbers that have been put out this morning.

Now, the silver lining is that we are actually standing at a hospital where vaccination for children between the age of 15 to 18 years is underway. But the response to this vaccination drive has not been overwhelming as we thought it would be on the first day.

As of now, we've been told 880,000 children have registered, but the total number of children is way bigger than that. So, we're waiting to see if this hesitation on part of parents will go away in the coming days. There is reluctance which has been obvious. Parents are just waiting for the first few days of the vaccination drive to come through for their children also to register for this vaccine. Remember, they're the most vulnerable population since they haven't received a single dose to date.

Now, there is a challenge that India is facing. They're very big elections coming up. State elections in India, Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest state is one of them. And public gatherings, political gatherings continue despite this rapid surge that we've seen. As of now, there will be no ban on these political gatherings that are being staged in different states that are going to elections. You've seen the Prime Minister lead some of them and opposition leaders as well. So, this remains the biggest worry as India's cases continue to surge. Omicron cases are up. And the challenge will be how to keep these cases when you have election rallies that are going to start very soon in the states? Michael.

HOLMES: Yeah, yeah, political rallies just seem such a silly thing to be doing. Vedika Sud in New Delhi, I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Now, Paris Saint-Germain says Lionel Messi and three teammates have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not play in the French cups round of 32 on Monday. The Football Club says its players are isolating and subject to what they call the appropriate health protocol. CNN's Matt Rivers now with more on that and case surges across Latin America.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not that we needed much of a reminder of this, but we do have yet another example of the increasingly dire situation as it pertains to COVID-19 across Latin America with the latest example coming from Argentinian Soccer Legend Lionel Messi with his club PSG, announcing that Messi has tested positive for COVID-19. Messi one of four members of that soccer club to have tested positive for this virus.

The country where Messi is from, Argentina, has overall seen a huge spike in the number of cases with a new single day record for the number of cases being recorded in a 24-hour period being set within just the last few days there, but it's not just Argentina. We are seeing an increasing number of infections in places like Brazil, in places like Bolivia, and also here where I am in Mexico at this point.

One hopeful sign though, of course, is that the number of vaccinations, the number of doses that countries have managed to get into their citizens arms, over the past six months in Latin America has really increased when you're looking at the broader picture including in a country like Chile which actually ranks among the top 10 countries globally in terms of the number of people fully vaccinated. And yet even despite that, we heard from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who said that starting in February, certain groups more high-risk individuals will be eligible to receive a fourth dose of this vaccine. So, an additional booster which can only serve to help that country's population and is something that other countries might consider doing, you know, doing similar things in the months to come, as they all deal with this latest wave of COVID-19. Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.



HOLMES: Now, just days after his call with Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Joe Biden tells Ukraine the U.S. will act decisively if Russia invades. We'll have more on that after the break.


HOLMES: Welcome back, U.S. President Joe Biden is vowing the U.S. and its allies will "respond decisive" if Russia further invade Ukraine, says 10s of 1000s of Russian troops remain amassed new Ukraine's borders. That statement from Mr. Biden coming during his call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, and ahead of next week's diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva.


Last week, Mr. Biden spoke by phone with the Russian president urging him to ease tensions and warning of a, "heavy price to pay" if Russia does cross into Ukraine.

Sudan's Prime Minister has resigned six weeks after he returned to his post.


ABDALLA HAMDOK, RESIGNING AS SUDANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translation): 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 outset Abdalla Hamdok in October and briefly detained him. He was reinstated in a deal with coup leaders, but his supporters denounced that agreement. Hamdok's resignation came after the Sudanese central doctors committee said security forces killed street protesters during anti coup demonstrations on Sunday. The group says at least 57 people lives have been killed since the coup.

A man is 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, which didn't help, of course. 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 last remaining independent news outlet in Hong Kong is shutting down. Citizen news sites the deteriorating media environment as one of the reasons for the decision but says safety is a big concern as well. CNN's Anna Coren with more from Hong Kong.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The media landscape in Hong Kong took another blow on Sunday, as independent online outlets citizen news announced it will permanently close down. The crowdfunded pro- democracy website was formed in 2017. It blamed the closure on major changes in Hong Kong society, the deteriorating media environment and the need to protect its staff.

CHRIS YEUNG, CHIEF WRITER, CITIZEN NEWS: Overall, media is facing an increasingly tough environment. And photos are being seen as critical or troublemakers. They are more vulnerable.

COREN: This comes just days after the closure of another independent outlet stand news, which closed down after seven people were arrested in connection to alleged seditious content published by the website. Nearly $8 million worth of assets were also frozen.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the arrests, saying they had nothing to do with journalistic work. The government maintains that freedom of the press still exists in the city.

Last year, the controversial National Security Law was imposed on the city by Beijing, outlawing sedition, secession, and subversion. The law has resulted in sweeping changes in Hong Kong. With pro-democracy lawmakers arrested and activist groups and independent media outlets closed down. The biggest casualty from the new law is Apple Daily, Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy publication, which closed over the summer after the arrest of multiple journalists and the freezing of assets. Founder Jimmy Lai is currently in jail, and last week was handed a new charge for seditious publications on top of existing charges, which could seem spending the rest of his life in prison.

(On camera) As the media landscape narrows even further, journalists in Hong Kong are also expected to face more restrictions, as the government is planning to introduce a fake news law. The rapid eroding of media freedoms in Hong Kong is seen as a drastic turnaround for a city, which for decades was home to a free and vibrant press. Anna Coren, CNN Hong Kong.


HOLMES: Portugal rose to the challenge in 2021, taking on COVID with one of the world's most aggressive vaccination campaigns, but Omicron presents a new threat, how the country is facing the new surge. That's coming up.



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world.

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 in all of 2020. Think about that.

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 omicron. The government will also be providing 7,000 air filtration units to schools and colleges before students head back from class -- to class from winter break.

Portugal will soon shorten the COVID isolation period for asymptomatic patients from 10 to 7 days. Officials say the new guidance will start at the end of the week. The country is seeing a spike in cases with the World Health Organization reporting more than 17,000 in the past 24 hours.

CNN's Vasco Cotovio has more.


VASCO COTOVIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The lines for testing in Lisbon snake beyond the horizon. It's the holiday season and extra care is paramount.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I decide to take the test to be safely with my family.

COTOVIO: Residents like Vittore (ph) gets six free tests per month. The government-sponsored move is designed to keep a close eye on the coronavirus but the extra vigilance didn't stop Portugal from seeing a sudden surge in cases raising fears of another deadly wave.

This was the scene inside Portuguese hospitals not long ago. Christmas in 2020 brought a surge in COVID infections. ICUs were overwhelmed for months and medical staff told us they were on the brink.


DULCE GOMES, LEAD NURSE, CASCAIS HOSPITAL (through translator): I don't even have words to say it. The difficult part is really working too many hours.

COTOVIO: A year later the situation is dramatically different. Cases are up but hospitalizations and fatalities are down. ICUs like the one we visited with beds to spare despite an omicron surge.

Epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes, who advised the government during the worst of the pandemic credits vaccines.

MANUEL CARMO GOMES, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: We are living a life that is much more normal now than it was a year ago. And that was because of vaccinations.

COTOVIO: The campaign led by Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo took the country from worst to first. Now nearly 90 percent of Portugal is fully vaccinated and a quarter of the country has been given a third jab already.

Still while some studies suggest omicron might be milder than other variants Carmo Gomes says some restrictions are necessary to keep the virus under the control.

CARMO GOMES: What we apply is (INAUDIBLE) based to a vast -- to a massive number of cases, we are going to end up with an amount of cases that could flood the hospitals.

There's a real danger --

COTOVIO: For now the government is taking a cautious approach, rejecting lockdowns but keeping most businesses open. A delicate balance between a return to the days of crowded ICUs or simply a return to normal.

Vasco Cotovio, CNN -- Lisbon.


HOLMES: And joining me now from Los Angeles is Dr. Jorge Rodriguez. He's 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, BOARD CERTIFIED INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST: Well Michael, it's very concerning. I mean is you would -- not you, but if people stop and just look at the graph of any place in the world of the new infection, 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: 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 tested positive, they are out, and the pressure that puts that -- or the pressure that puts on those who help the sick.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Well, extremely concerned. That says to me that now, in the United States, approximately 20 percent of healthcare workers are out sick. And one of the big fallacies, not fallacy but misconceptions, that's going out there is that omicron is less serious.

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

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 supposedly recovered from even mild infections. You know, how worried are you that even if omicron is by and large less severe, long COVID could become even more widespread.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely, we don't know enough about the effects of this variant to take it as lightly as some people -- as lightly as some people are taking it. You are very right, Michael and 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?

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Well that tells me that the virus is going to go to the people that are unvaccinated and at this time, it is children. And 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.


HOLMES: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) that occurred was 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 are 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.

DR. 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 four shots in some countries, and 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.

DR. 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, if we had this frame of mind we would never have 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 for 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 server illness.


HOLMES: Yes. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Thank you Michael. Happy New Year.

HOLMES: You too.


HOLMES: You too.

Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM. Why Prince Andrew faces a potentially difficult week in his bid to block a sexual assault lawsuit.

Also we're still saying goodbye to 2021 and looking back at some of the best quirky viral moments. We'll have a nostalgia break after the commercial break.



HOLMES: Now in the coming hours, Prince Andrew's legal battle to block a sex assault case against him faces a major test. His lawyers claim an agreement between Virginia Giuffre and Jeffrey Epstein shields the Prince from her lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. That deal is expected to be unsealed later today in a New York courtroom.

CNN's Max Foster reports.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an incredibly difficult case for the royal family because the longer it goes on, the more it damages the brand. But the monarchy can't be seen to be interfering with the legal process so they're very much leaving to Prince Andrew's legal team.

And what they're trying to do is get the case to be thrown out. They failed in their most recent attempt which was to argue that the U.S. court doesn't have jurisdiction here because Giuffre has been living in Australia. That's been thrown out.

The next attempt to have the case thrown out comes on Monday or comes to focus at least on Monday because Prince Andrew's legal team claims there's an agreement in existence between Giuffre and Epstein that says that she wouldn't pursue cases like this against Prince Andrew and other people involved in all of these things.

Now that document is sealed. It will unsealed on Monday. We wait to see what's in that. Then on Tuesday, the judge will consider whether or not the case should be thrown out. If it's not it continues and we're looking at possible depositions from Prince Andrew, his former wife Sarah Ferguson potentially, even the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle because Giuffre's team thinks she can add something to this case as well.

One of the other key things the judge will need to consider is a claim by Giuffre that she had sex in Ghislaine Maxwell's house in London after going to a night club where Giuffre says Prince Andrew was sweating profusely.

Prince Andrew denies going to the night club. He says he was in a restaurant elsewhere in London at the time. He also says at the time he had a medical condition that meant he couldn't sweat.

Giuffre's team have asked for documents to back up that medical claim. Prince Andrew's team say he hasn't got those documents. He says they are a private matter anyway and that they are immaterial to this case.

Another part of this wide story that the judge needs to consider and weight up and consider whether or not to continue actually with this case and take it to trial.

Max Foster, CNN -- Hampshire, England.


HOLMES: And CNN NEWSROOM continues after a quick break.



HOLMES: We have of course been saying hello to 2022. But not before saying goodbye to some of the funniest, weirdest and most meme-worthy moments of 2021 as only Jeanne Moos can do.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): How time flies. Not to mention seagulls we all (INAUDIBLE) seen again in 2021 but no one more literally than this teenager riding the Slingshot on the Jersey Shore.

Still there was plenty to celebrate and Tom Brady did it by daring not to go deep under water with the Lombardi Super Bowl trophy.

Another guy also known for his hands was Bernie Sanders, whose mittens at the inauguration became one of the first big memes of 2021.

In fashion, Balenciaga combined comfort and torture with $625 high- heeled Crocs.

PHILLIP BLOCH, CELEBRITY STYLIST: Fashion is about a double-take. You want people to look, and look again.

MOOS: A Massachusetts man looked and looked again for his missing air pod after he fell asleep using them, eventually an x-ray located it in his esophagus, and it was extracted.

BRAD GAUTHIER, SLEEPY AIRPOT USER: The audio works perfectly but sadly, the microphone is a bit glitchy. MOOS: At least he didn't glue his eyes shut like this Michigan woman,

who meant to reach for eyedrops but used fingernail glue instead. This contact lens may have saved her vision.

Maybe you think you are seeing double. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson fans were rocked by this Alabama patrol lieutenant who even sounds like The Rock.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rock on Rock is cooking.

MOOS: This Secret Service agent protecting the Bidens went viral just for being hot. A dead ringer for Tom Cruise.

The Pope needed no protection from Spiderman. An Italian guy dresses up to entertain kids in hospitals. Nicole Richie avoided the hospital even though she managed to catch her hair on fire, forget the candles, blowout Nicole.

A Burger King manager and eight staffers blew off steam by quitting very publicly with this sign while Rudy Giuliani wouldn't quit shaving in public at Delta's JFK lounge.

The guy who shot the spectacle said,

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was delighted and horrified.

MOOS: The same could be said of combination food from Fruit Loops pizza to popcorn salad, to candy corn bratwurst.

Of course animals stole the show. (INAUDIBLE) the pug prognosticator predicted good or bad days by his willingness to get up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh there are bones, there are bones today.

MOOS: Decreeing either bones or no bones day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A soft collapse.


MOOS: Doggie makeover of the year goes to this guy found wandering in Kansas City, Missouri. They removed 6.5 pounds of matted fur. He had to relearn to walk and his new owner say all that hair even affected his tail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He basically wags one way.

MOOS: Then there's the tale of the deer in Virginia that leaped on to a school bus landing on a sleeping student. They made an unscheduled stop to drop him off.

2021 saw some unusual Guinness records. The biggest mouth, 5.7 inches. The most M&Ms stacked on each other, a measly 5. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to admit, I did eat them all.

MOOS: The longest dog ears. Lou, the coon hound's ears measure 13.38 inches each. All through our interview, she kept staring off to the side --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's staring at herself.

MOOS: -- in a glass door.

(on camera): Of course, the end of the year is a great time for self reflection. How do others see me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you hear me Dutch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can hear you. I think it's a filter.

MOOS (voice over): A Texas lawyer using his assistant's computer during a hearing heard himself coming out of a feline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here live but it's not -- I'm not a cat.

MOOS: At least the cat didn't get his tongue.

Jeanne Moos, CNN -- New York.


HOLMES: The cat one was my favorite.

Thanks for spending part of you day with me.

I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN. You can see it there.

Do stick around. Another Australian and you can't have too many of those, Anna Coren, is going to pick up coverage from Hong Kong at the top of the hour.