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Omicron Variant Infect More Children Now; Travel Disrupted by Duo Problem; Lockdown for Xi'an City Not Ending Soon; Hong Kong Aims to Vaccinate 90 Percent of Its Population; Sudan is Leaderless Amid Chaos; U.S. Remembers January 6th Insurrection. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 03:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, and welcome to our viewers United States and all around the world. I'm Anna Coren live from Hong Kong.

Ahead on CNN Newsroom.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There have been 90,000 people that are in the hospital right now and 1,200 deaths per day. That is not a trivial situation.


COREN (on camera): As COVID cases surge across the U.S., flight delays and cancellations are happening at an unprecedented rate. We'll have a report from one of the busiest airports in the world.

Plus, I'll discuss with my guests how Hong Kong is handling their zero COVID strategy.

And Sudan's political crisis grows, as the prime minister resigns amid deadly protest. We're live in the region with the latest.

A post-holiday surge in COVID infections is gripping the U.S. right now. The U.S. is now averaging about 400,000 new cases a day and experts warn it's likely to get worse in the days ahead. Well, that surge fueled mostly by the Omicron variant is also crushing hospitals which are overwhelmed mostly by unvaccinated Americans.

Also, today, at least five Metro Atlanta school districts have joined others nationwide in moving to remote learning after the holiday break. One of the largest teachers unions in New York is urging the mayor to let public schools move online. This as the former head of the FDA warns the new Omicron variant could possibly be more dangerous for young kids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: It does appear now based on a lot of experimental evidence that we've gotten just in the last two weeks that this is a milder form of the coronavirus. It appears to be a more of an upper airway disease and a lower airway disease.

That's good for most Americans. The one group that may be a problem for is very young kids, very young children, toddlers who have trouble with upper airway infections. And you're in fact seeing more croup like infections and bronchiolitis in New York City among children. So that could be a challenge for young kids. And we are seeing rising hospitalizations among that pediatric segment.


COREN (on camera): And with school winter breaks winding down I asked Dr. Darragh O'Carroll, an emergency physician in Honolulu on how to keep children safe as they return to the classroom.


DARRAGH O'CARROLL, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Getting home tests into the hands of every student and the so to speak test to stay in school. That's a very good strategy. Or, you know, if parents aren't comfortable, I think there should be a good option for virtual learning for at least most of January. I don't think it would extend all the way into February or March, just a temporary virtual option.

So, testing, virtual and then also high-quality masks are going to be really important. This Omicron variant is more transmissible and doesn't need as much virus in the air to infect anybody else.

COREN: The FDA is expected to authorize Pfizer booster shots for kids over the age of 12. How do you feel about this as a physician?

O'CARROLL: I think it's massively important. The people that we are seeing admitted mostly are unvaxxed or people are getting sick enough to end up in the emergency department are those who are not -- are fully vaxxed but not boosted.

So, I think it's definitely going to go a long way to getting kids safe on a whole and it's going to contribute to schools being safe, but we can't -- unfortunately schools are going back tomorrow, many of them. Many of them are going back the week after and it's hard to get somebody -- a group like that that's large vaccinated so quickly.


COREN: Well thanks to Dr. Darragh O'Carroll for his time and insight.

Well, the surge in COVID-19 cases and winter storm conditions are making holiday travel a nightmare. About 4,000 flights were canceled around the world Sunday. More than half of them were in the U.S. Airlines have been struggling with staffing issues as employees test positive. Add to that the ice and heavy snow sweeping across parts of the country leading to more cancellations. Well, CNN's Ryan Young spoke with some stranded travelers.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: yes, we're here at Hartsville Jackson International Airport, and of course this is one of the busiest airports in the country. And when you think of all the flights that we've seen canceled today, there have been long lines of people who have been trying to rebook their flights just to get out of town.


We've met several families here who have been impacted greatly by the canceled flights across the country. When you add in the weather mix you can understand the frustration that is building across this country when it comes to flights.

Now on Sunday more than 2,500 flights were canceled and on Saturday more than 2,500 flights were canceled. So, you understand that people are desperate to try to get back home, especially during this holiday time and try to get back to work on Monday. We talked to this one couple who was having a difficult time getting to the West Coast.


UNKNOWN: I tried to leave on Thursday and then they canceled it. We tried to reschedule for Saturday night and they rescheduled it again and canceled it. And then today they canceled it on the way to the airport. And then now we're rescheduled for tonight.

YOUNG: You guys, any kind of lodging or anything at all?

UNKNOWN: No, not yet. So, yes.

YOUNG: That's got to being frustrating.

UNKNOWN: It is but as long as we can get back west, we'll be good.


YOUNG (on camera): So, you really have thousands of flights canceled and when you put this altogether, the holidays are already a tough time to travel as well. But when you put COVID impacting airlines, when you put the fact there is weather that's impacting parts of this country, it's really hard for some of these families to get back to where they're going before Monday morning. Hopefully as we see the boards start to clear and some of this weather start to lift, people will get a chance to make it home. Back to you.

COREN: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positive for COVID-19. Austin made the announcement saying he developed mild symptoms at home on leave. His immediate staff have started contact tracing.

Austin also informed President Biden whom he last met with before Christmas after testing negative. The defense chief says he is fully vaccinated and has received a COVID booster. He also says he was last at the Pentagon on Thursday. He followed all COVID precautions the short time that he was there.

Well CNN is covering the pandemic from around the world. Nada Bashir is in London where secondary school students in England are advised to wear masks in school. Barbie Nadeau is in Rome covering Europe as France announces the easing of its quarantine period and changes to booster shot rules. Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem as Israel rolls out fourth vaccine doses to those over 60.

We'll hear from Nada, Barbie and Elliott later this hour. But first to out Kristie Lu Stout here in Hong Kong monitoring China's efforts to contain one of its largest outbreaks yet. Kristie, what's the latest?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anna, you know, cases are falling but desperation is growing in the Chinese city of Xi'an as it enters its 12th day of lockdown. Earlier today, China reported 101 new cases of COVID-19 infection. That's down from 131 new cases the previous day. The vast majority of those cases in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an. Home of the Terracotta Warriors. It's a major industrial center. It's a high-tech hub and it's home to 13 million people.

And with the Beijing Winter Olympic Games now just over one month away, China is going all out throwing its entire pandemic playbook to end the outbreak in Xi'an. Since December the 23rd, this is 12 days ago, millions of people in Xi'an have been under lockdown. They are not allowed to leave their residential compounds not only to get tested for COVID. They cannot leave to get food. They cannot leave to get other essential supplies there.

There have also been this public shaming of individuals deemed to be in breach of strict COVID-19 protocols in Xi'an. And on Sunday we learned that Xi'an has removed two top communist party officials from their post because of their handling of the pandemic.

Now here in the CNN Hong Kong Newsroom we've been closely watching and monitoring Chinese social media to get a sense of what life is like during this prolonged, strict lockdown in Xi'an, this major metropolis of again, 13 million people.

And I want to share this clip with you. In this clip a man is being beaten by anti-pandemic workers in Xi'an in the clip and this is video footage that first emerged on social media in China since it's gone viral since Friday. We see a man trying to enter a residential compound in Xi'an with a bag of steamed buns.

There is an altercation between him and anti-pandemic workers. He stumbled and all the buns, the food that he's been holding they scatter all over the ground. Local police, they responded to this video after it went viral in a statement that they said they acknowledged, yes, there was an altercation. There was a dispute.

Afterwards they said that the two staff members involved have apologized, they been fined and they have detained for seven days. Now the Chinese government has vowed, meanwhile, that there will be three to five days' worth of groceries for people across Xi'an still stuck in their homes. Anna. [03:10:02]

COREN: Kristie Lu Stout, many thanks.

Well, meantime, here in Hong Kong, officials warn the region faces a new wave of the coronavirus as cases rise. Well nowhere near the amount of infections seen in other parts of the world. Cases are slowly ticking up. Held at bay by some of the most restrictive measures in the world. Most recently Hong Kong's government ruled all cargo flight crews who stayed overseas would have to quarantine for seven days up from a three-day requirement. Well, here's the moment it was announced.


MABLE CHAN, HONG KONG PERMANENT SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORT AND HOUSING: The increasing imported Omicron cases the government decided today to further tighten the quarantine arrangements for locally based air crew. With effect from zero-zero hours on January 1st 2022, all locally based air cargo crew who have laid over at overseas places or Taiwan will be required to stay in designated quarantine hotels for seven days until obtaining negative tests.


COREN (on camera): Airline Cathay Pacific warns the new measure will lead to dramatic disruptions in service. The company has already scrapped an unknown number of passenger flights to fall in line with new rules. Airlines that violate COVID measures face a ban from operating passenger flights.

Well joining me now is Dr. Ivan Hung, a clinical professor and chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Hong Kong. Professor, great to have you with us.


COREN: Hong Kong's health minister has said that the city is at a tipping point as it faces a potential fifth wave with the spread of Omicron. Do you share her concerns?

HUNG: Yes. I think recently we have several imported cases of Omicron and of course these are unfortunately cases have been, you know, getting into the community and we have crossed a few more cases that are being spread by these individuals. So, right now, we are waiting for more results to come through and hopefully there won't be more cases apart from the few that are in close contact with these individuals.

COREN: Less than 70 percent of Hong Kong's population is vaccinated. I know that you are calling for a far more aggressive strategy to boost the vaccination rate. Tell us what you are suggesting.

HUNG: Well, basically adopting a currently a temporary zero tolerance or zero cases policy. And that of course allow us to buy time to get more people vaccinated. And hopefully we will be able to get over 90 percent of our population to have at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And hopefully by May we will have more than 70 percent of our population have at least received three doses of booster vaccination. So, by then, we will be in a better position to open up and basically, hopefully by that time we will be able to connect both with globally and also with mainland China without probably hopefully not have further quarantine.

COREN: Professor, don't you think that's a little ambitious considering we know the elderly are refusing to get vaccinated? Only 20 percent of the folks over the age of 80 are vaccinated. This is a program that has been going on now for 10 months, and yet there are now calls to mandate vaccination in schools and workplaces. Is that fair?

HUNG: Well, basically what we are doing now, the government is now adopting a so-called vaccination bubble. So, what we are doing right now is that we -- subjects who have not been vaccinated will be -- will not be allowed in restaurants and cinemas and libraries and other public places.

And this, of course, is now able to have an incentive to encourage people who have not been vaccinated to get vaccinated, especially for the elderly people who would like to, of course, like taking dim sum and drinking tea in these restaurants.

And already within a few days we are seeing a record rise of more than 50 percent of the daily vaccination rate. So hopefully we will be able to, you know, catch up and reach the so-called 90 percent by April.

COREN: This proposal to have this vaccine mandate in schools, are they talking about students, that students have to be vaccinated?

HUNG: Well, we're mainly talking about for adults and for elderly subject specially who have a low vaccination rate. For schools, then of course we are talking about secondary schools, age between basically students age between 12 to 17.


Hopefully with the availability of the Biotech vaccine for children, then we will be able to move down the age group to 5 to 11 with the parents having a choice of Biotech or Sinovac vaccine.

COREN: Professor Hung, Hong Kong has some of the most draconian quarantine measures in the world, which some would argue it's actually destroying the city. It's certainly affecting Hong Kong's status as an international business hub. Do you envision the government changing these rules any time soon considering that the rest of the world is learning to live with COVID?

HUNG: Yes. I think as I've said earlier on, we are now buying time for the next few months to increase our vaccination rate, especially with the Omicron being very contagious and yet, of course, it's a milder disease with far fewer, you know, severe cases requiring hospitalization. So, hopefully, within the next few months once we have, you know,

increased the vaccination rate we will be able to relax and of course step down from these very stringent infection control measures. Then hopefully by that time we will be able to open up. And of course, we're expecting cases to come in.

Nevertheless, it won't post too much stress on our health care system and also that -- knowing that the coronavirus actually behaved less active in warmer weather so we will be in a much better position to open up. Right now, --


COREN: So, you think --

HUNG: -- there are very few cases and then of course our health system is not under stress at all.

COREN: Professor Hung, so you think Hong Kong could be reopening up to the world, not just China but the world in the middle of the year?

HUNG: Absolutely. I think with the increasing vaccination rate, if we can get up to 90 percent, then we will definitely be able to open up not only to mainland China but also to the rest of the world.

COREN: Let's hope you're right. Professor Ivan Hung, I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for joining us.

HUNG: Thank you. Pleasure.

COREN: Well, there's more political uncertainty in Sudan where the prime minister has resigned amid mass protests. Those details ahead.

And later, the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol is revealing new details just days ahead of the January 6th anniversary.



COREN (on camera): Sudan is in deeper political turmoil with the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The move came as video showed anti-coup demonstrators running through smoke and tear gas as what sounds like gunfire ringing out in the air. A doctor's group says security forces killed three protesters on Sunday.

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

Well, Larry Madowo joins us now from Uganda with the details. And Larry, upon his resignation, Prime Minister Hamdok said our country is going through a dangerous turning point that may threaten its entire survival if it's not remedied soon. What is going to bring the people of Sudan together? LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear at this time, Anna.

That's the short answer. The more complicated answer is that Prime Minister Hamdok, former prime minister now, is essentially admitting he was unable to bring the different divided factions in Sudan together. And he said the reason he took this job back in August of 2019 is because it was based on political consensus. He touted this as a unique Sudanese model, trying to get the military and civilian wings together.

And he's failed because it says it didn't have the same level of commitment and harmony like when it started. And the signs of really not all is well was during that October 25 coup when Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister was obtained under house arrest. And for weeks it was not clear where he was. And then six weeks ago, he was reinstated. And that gave the military rulers some small drop of legitimacy. All of that is now gone. And this is how he explained it when he addresses the nation of Sudan last night in his resignation.


ABDALLA HAMDOK, SUDANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Even after the October 25th coup we signed a framework with the military in an attempt to get back on track with the Democratic transition, to put an end to the bloodshed for the release of prisoners and to safeguard what had been achieved in the past two years and to adhere to the constitutional declaration that governed the transition.


MADOWO (on camera): There's a great deal of concern within Sudan and externally about what this means now. The U.S. is saying the leaders should set aside their differences and come together. Because they have a plan here. There is supposed to be this Democratic transition leading to elections in 2023. Whether that will happen now is a big question mark. Who becomes the next prime minister is a big question mark. So, right now, this is a big fork in the rod in Sudan's march towards a full civilian rule again.

COREN: Larry, I wanted to ask you who are the front-runners or is the military now certainly back in charge?

MADOWO: Yes, the military is firmly back in charge. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the military ruler of Sudan, needed the legitimacy of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok but Abdalla Hamdok has now left the building.

And whether or not he appoints somebody else, it will not make the demonstrators go back, go away from the streets because even Abdalla Hamdok whom they supported initially, they refuse to accept his reinstatement.

And so, whoever else will get appointed, what sort of government will get appointed in Sudan will lack that key legitimacy that the protesters, the people on the streets need but especially internationally the U.S., the European Union, the African union, the Arab league, all of them have to figure out how to deal with whoever is now in charge, the de facto military dictatorship in Sudan.

COREN: We know that at least 57 people have died in the last few months as a result of the clashes and these protests as you say, they're not going anywhere.


Larry Madowo joining us from Uganda. Thank you so much.

Well, a suspect is under arrest and charged 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. The suspect is due to make a court appearance Tuesday. Authorities say the person was caught with suspected stolen property after entering the parliament building. Authorities believe someone also tampered with the sprinkling -- sprinkler system.

The White House says President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks on Thursday marking the one year anniversary of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. And as that date approaches, the leaders of the House select committee are revealing disturbing facts about that day. Well, here's vice chair Liz Cheney.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The committee has firsthand testimony that President Trump was sitting in the dining room next to the Oval Office watching on television as the capitol was assaulted, as the violence occurred. We know that that is clearly a supreme dereliction of duty.

One of the things that the committee is looking at from the perspective of our legislative purpose is whether we need enhanced penalties for that kind of dereliction of duty. but we've certainly never seen anything like that as a nation before.


COREN (on camera): Well, Cheney also says the committee has heard firsthand testimony that Ivanka Trump during the capitol attack asked her father at least twice to put a stop to the violence.

Well, millions are bracing for a winter blast across the U.S. The latest forecast coming up.

Plus, Israel is rolling out a fourth COVID shot. We'll have a live report from Jerusalem to find out who is eligible. Please stay with us.



ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Anna Coren live from Hong Kong. You are watching "CNN Newsroom." At least 14 million people from Texas to the U.S. East Coast are currently under a winter storm warning. Snow is possible in Northern Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Federal government offices and schools are closed in Washington, D.C. and there are winter weather alerts throughout New England.

CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with more. And Pedram, what can folks expect?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Anna, this had gone at a very dramatic change in pattern in the past 24 or so hours. You know, portions of the Southern United States were dealing with record temperatures and we see this very potent storm system push through and already transitioning from temps in the upper 70s and lower 80s from Memphis to Atlanta, that just on Saturday afternoon, to 44. That is the afternoon forecast high in Atlanta by the time we get to Monday afternoon.

And you'll notice, even in New York City, from 60, cut it into half, get down to the lower 30s. That is what we have in store here as a dramatic shift in temperatures. Houston, one of the more impressive ones, at 85 degrees in the month of January, to 30 as we transition quickly.

But notice, as the system passes through, gusty winds already being felt across much of the region. The system will push in towards portions of the mid-Atlantic, about 10 states, parts of at least 10 states, underneath these winter weather alerts.

And parts of Northern Mississippi, Northern Alabama have already picked up a little bit of snow showers, generally one to two inches, could see this lingering into areas of northern and northwestern Georgia and certainly into the Appalachian Mountains, eastern areas of Tennessee.

And really where it interesting, the highest totals right there around parts of the Delmarva, including the nation's capital, which has been very quiet when it comes to wintry weather, it has not snow here in about a year. No measurable snowfall to be had.

And then you take a look at what things really done here. Of course, you take the virus into consideration, the disruptions that have been in place. In addition to wintry weather again, some 1,500 flights already preemptively canceled into early Monday morning, and notice nearly half of those flights are centered across these northeastern airports.

So, a lot of disruptions expected around this region with quite a bit of snowfall again around parts of the mid-Atlantic as we go into later on this morning, Anna.

COREN: Pedram, good to see you. Appreciate the update. Thank you.

Authorities in Colorado are still searching for a man and a woman after the devastating wildfire that tore through Boulder County on Thursday. The Marshall fire charred more than 6,000 acres, destroying nearly a thousand homes. No deaths have been reported.

Investigators are still trying to learn how the fire started. The Boulder County sheriff said a search warrant was executed at a private property but gave no further details.

With holidays over and people returning to work and school, health experts fear COVID cases fueled by the Omicron variant could explode past what we're already seeing.

Just take a look at the seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. Experts warn it is likely to get worse in the days ahead. A vast majority of the country seen here in dark red struggled with at least 50 percent more new cases in the past week compared to the week before. But so far, hospitalization rates are below the previous peaks.

Escalating COVID cases numbers driven by the Omicron variant are forcing governments worldwide to consider new measures. India is set to begin vaccinating children from 15 to 18 years old today. This comes as the country reported nearly 23,000 new cases on Sunday.

France announced on Sunday that it released quarantine rules for the fully vaccinated and shortened the time between booster shots from seven months to four.

Ireland reported more cases over the holiday than in the whole of 2020. More than 120,000 people tested positive between Christmas and New Year.

England's secondary school children will wear masks when they return from holiday. The U.K.'s education secretary said they want to keep as many kids in school as they can.

Israel says it will offer a fourth shot to people over 60 and to medial staff. Israel approved the Pfizer/BioNTech booster last week.

Well, CNN has reporters all around the world covering the latest coronavirus headlines. Nada Bashir is in London. Barbie Nadeau has the latest from Rome. But first, let's turn to Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. And Elliott, experts say this fourth dose will help protect Israel as cases are expected to surge in the coming weeks. What more can you tell us?


ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: That is right, Anna. So, the expectation is that this additional booster shot or the fourth dose of the COVID vaccine, which was approved for those with suppressed immune system on New Year's Eve and as of last night was approved for over 60s healthcare workers, will offer an additional level of protection in the face of the Omicron variant and Israel's fifth wave, which is getting higher all the time.

We just got the latest figures in the last hour. We got the figures for Sunday. Six and a half thousand new cases were recorded on Sunday. This is the highest level since September. The reproduction rate, the R coefficient, the number of people each infected person is infecting, that is creeping up towards two. It is at 1.88, highest level since June.

We heard from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, announcing the additional rollout of the fourth shots of the vaccine to those over 60s and healthcare workers last night, talking about 20,000 daily cases perhaps by the end of the week, topping out at 50,000 perhaps.

And also, Professor Aaron Siegel at the Weizmann Institute, he is one of the government's COVID advisers, he is talking about the potential for two million Israelis, outside (ph) of the population of nine and a half million, ultimately being infected with the Omicron variant.

But the positive of that is that it could result in some kind of herd immunity, he says, which could ultimately help Israel get over this fifth wave and that this one, too, will pass. Anna?

COREN: Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem, many thanks. So, let's now go to Rome and CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau. Barbie, how are the hospital systems across Europe coping?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, we are seeing more reports of people at hospitals but nothing like those previous waves despite the surge in numbers.

You know, one of the big concerns more than the patients in the hospitals, of course, are the health workers. So many of them are in contact with positive cases and have to quarantine. We are looking at, you know, shortening the length of quarantine and many countries are discussing that as well.

But the focus here is certainly in Italy and in France and all over Europe is schools, getting these kids tested. We are at a testing site here in Rome and people are getting tested so they can go back to work. The teachers have to get tested before they can go to the classrooms and things like that. The focus is to get kids back in and to allow them to stay in school despite this surge in cases, Anna.

COREN: Barbie, obviously, Italy went through a really tough lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. How are people feeling now?

NADEAU: You know, people in Italy are very compliant. You know, they got very high vaccination rate. You know, people are getting their booster shots. People are getting tested. We saw over the holidays people were getting tested so that they could go to other people's houses for New Year's Eve celebration and Christmas celebration.

So many people are very hyper-conscientious about it here because of the difficulty of those first waves two years ago. It was the first epicenter outside of China. The number of deaths was devastating and nobody here has forgotten that. And that is why, I think, we are seeing such a level of compliance here in Italy when it comes to regulations and rules.

We have a mask mandate. It is against the law not to have a mask on outside across the country. And you see people adhering to those policies as well. We are not seeing the kinds of protests here that we see elsewhere across Europe against restrictions, Anna.

COREN: Barbie Nadeau in Rome, many thanks.

Well, now to London and CNN's Nada Bashir. And Nada, what is the situation in the U.K.? Obviously, we are hearing about secondary students needing to wear masks.

NADA BASHIR, CNN JOURNALIST AND PRODUCER: Well, Anna, it is much like Europe and much like what Barbie mentioned. The focus really is on getting kids back into school and minimizing the disruption to education. As you mentioned, face mask wearing will now be compulsory in schools for students in secondary schools. That is students between ages of 11 and 19. There will be new filtration systems being introduced to some schools as well.

The government is also urging students and teachers to take a lateral flow test before returning to school after the Christmas holiday period. Many of them returning tomorrow and on Wednesday. So, there is a focus and an emphasis on testing now.

There are also considerations for bringing back into force the twice- weekly testing for students and teachers. And really, the focus is on limiting disruption to schools, to have, of course, significant staff shortages.

(INAUDIBLE) schools (INAUDIBLE) a variety of sexists (ph) and that is a real cause for concern. We've seen the government shortened the isolation period to try and ease the disruption from 10 to five days now. We know now that the government is working on contingency plans to see how the staff shortages will impact various industries, and what they can do to mitigate these impacts.

So, we've seen them look at potentially offering retired teachers to return to the workforce to fulfill need in certain schools and even making it easier for hospital workers to move between different hospitals to fulfill the need there, even allowing to shorten the process for overseas nurses to register to work in the U.K.


BASHIR: So, there is a real focus on mitigating the risks posed by the spread of the Omicron variant in terms of staff shortages and workforce shortages there.

We've also seen a real focus once again on the vaccines. Now, we've heard from the prime minister saying that they're not looking at adding further restrictions to state. The cabinet minister is saying over the weekend that the data just doesn't support the introduction of tougher measures, but, of course, this could all be temporary.

We're still looking at the data, still waiting to see how the easing of those measures over the Christmas period, gathering during Christmas day and, of course, over New Year will impact the numbers. We know, of course, from health secretary that the ICU rate, the admission rate at this stage is looking stable in comparison to the peak of last January. But, of course, the data remains to be seen as to how the Christmas holidays have impacted that. Anna?

COREN: Nada Bashir joining us from London. Appreciate it. Thank you.

In the world of sports, Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi and three of his teammates have tested positive for COVID-19. The 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.

Well, just days after his call with Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Joe Biden tells Ukraine the U.S. will act decisively if Russia invades. More on that shortly.

Plus, Prince Andrew is facing a lot of legal trouble this week as he tries to have a sexual assault lawsuit against him dismissed.


COREN: Welcome back. Well, 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 remained amassed in the Ukraine's borders.

Well, that statement from Mr. Biden coming during his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday and ahead of next week's diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva.


COREN: Well, last week, Mr. Biden spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to ease tensions and warned of a -- quote -- "heavy price to pay if Russia invades Ukraine."

Well, CNN's Nic Robertson is following the developments and joins us now live from Moscow. Nic, what more are we learning about the call between presidents Biden and Zelensky?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Ukrainian president welcomed the call, said it was a clear indication of the strength of connection and bond between the United States and Ukraine. He thanked Biden for the support. Biden promised him, you know, to back Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity.

You know, one -- the sort of -- there was a couple of key takeaways from both sides here, and I think from the Ukrainian side, the message that came clearly from them was the importance for them and others to de-escalate the tension.

Ukrainians talk about this in terms of sort of deescalating tensions to keep the peace in Europe along with the United States and partners in Europe.

That clear sense of a bond between Ukraine, United States and European partners and the sense that what the deescalating tensions in Ukraine keeps the peace in Europe.

But I think from the United States side, we began to see an area where I think we will hear a lot more of the conversation directed towards once those talks get going in January.

And that was the need for what the United States described as confidence building measures to reduce tensions with active diplomacy but focused around the Minsk-2 agreement, 2015 agreement, designed to deescalate tensions in the east of Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have had their own elections over the past few years.

Ukraine will likely interpret discussions around that topic as an effort by Russia to consolidate its influence in that eastern region of Ukraine.

But the fact that the United States is sort of focusing part of their readout here on this phone call around the Minsk agreement, around confidence building measures there, it seems to tell you that is the direction that some of the conversations in those talks a week today in Geneva between the U.S. and Russian officials will focus on.

COREN: And Nic, the high-ranking U.S. and Russian officials, which is due to sit down in Geneva starting on the 9th of January, is that a hopeful sign that perhaps the Russians are considering easing tensions? Can we read into it that way or is that just wishful thinking?

ROBERTSON: You know, Russia is coming into this with a very clear set of requirements. It made those public, which put pressure on the United States to get into the talks, which is a very clear line on Ukraine not being allowed to join NATO, for NATO to roll back what Russia sees as eastward expansion.

You know, for NATO to say Ukraine can join is something, I think, is very unlikely to hear NATO say. So, in many ways, the positions on the redlines of both sides are far, far, far apart.

The fact that there is a dialogue would seem to support what Russia said, that it has no intention of invading Ukraine, but the mere presence of its troops and other things that have happened over recent months give a great deal of alarm to the United States and NATO partners that Russia that annexed Crimea in 2014 and invaded Georgia in 2008 is a partner whose word cannot be held at face value, that it needs to be tested and there needs to be negotiations.

COREN: Nick Robertson joining us from Moscow, many thanks.

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 the society and the deteriorating media environment here in Hong Kong.

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. The woman accusing Prince Andrew of sexual assault is making an unusual demand. Ahead on CNN, what her lawyers want the prince to show proof of in court.



COREN: In the coming hours, Prince Andrew's legal battle to block his 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. Well, that deal is expected to be unsealed later today in a New York courtroom.

CNN's Max Foster joins us now from London. Max, a lot at stake. What can we expect?

MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first moment really today is this document being unsealed. So, Prince Andrew's lawyers had previously suggested that there is an agreement between Giuffre and Epstein that declares that she wouldn't follow up cases like this one that is currently taking against Prince Andrew.

So, Prince Andrew's team are hoping they can dismiss this case altogether or at least the judge will dismiss this case, and the judge will be considering this tomorrow, on Tuesday. So, Prince Andrew's team really focusing on finding ways to get their case out of court. The most recent attempt failed.


FOSTER: That was to say that they had -- the New York court did not have jurisdiction in this case because Giuffre is living in Australia. But all these attempts have failed so far.

If the case continues after tomorrow, it does look as though we are going to get depositions from people like Prince Andrew, possibly his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson. Even the Duchess of Sussex has been suggested as a potential person that could be speaking into this case. So, it could really heat up after tomorrow, Anna.

COREN: Max, Giuffre's legal team is asking Prince Andrew's team to give proof evidence of his condition, where he was incapable of sweating. What more can you tell us about this?

FOSTER: It's quite fundamental to the case because on one of the nights where Giuffre said she had sex with Prince Andrew, she said it happened at Ghislaine Maxwell's house and they had been to a nightclub earlier in the evening, and at that nightclub, Prince Andrew was sweating profusely on the dance floor, according to Giuffre.

Prince Andrew claims he never went to that nightclub. He says he was at a restaurant elsewhere in London. He also said he had a medical condition that meant he couldn't sweat at that time. So, Giuffre's lawyers are basically saying, we want to see some documentary evidence that he has this condition. Prince Andrew's team say it doesn't exist, it's immaterial to the case, and it's a private matter.

To say it's a private matter when he went on to BBC television to talk about his sweating condition is confusing to many people. But Prince Andrew generally denies all of these charges against him. We'll wait to see what the judge has to say on Tuesday, Anna.

COREN: Max, just quickly, any word from the royal family on all of this going on?

FOSTER: No. I mean, it is very difficult for the royal family because the longer it goes on, the more it damages the brand. But they can't be seen to be getting involved in this, interfering in the legal case. So, they're referring everything to Andrew's lawyers.

COREN: Max Foster joining us from London, great to see you. Thank you. And thank you for spending part of your day with me. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. "CNN Newsroom" continues with our very own Max Foster in London next.