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COVID Cases Surging in U.S. Fueled by Omicron Variant; U.S. Schools Back In Session with COVID Precaution; COVID Cases Skyrocketing Worldwide Fueled by Omicron; COVID and Storms Lead to Thousands of Canceled Flights; At Least 14 Million People Under Winter Storm Warning in U.S.; January 6 Committee Members Reveal New Details of Investigation; Biden: U.S. to Respond Decisively if Russia Invades. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 03, 2022 - 04:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.


DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So much COVID everywhere across the U.S. and so children are getting ill in larger numbers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of these are seeing a backlog in terms of flights that are stacking up and families that are stuck in airports.


FOSTER: Surging number of cases are fueling a pandemic of shortages across the U.S. as parents return to work, or try to, and kids head back to school just days before the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection.

Lawmakers hint at knowing the truth about Donald Trump's coup attempt.

And at least 14 million people are under a winter storm warning stretching from Alabama to New Jersey. We'll have the latest forecast.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster.

FOSTER: Monday, January 3rd. We begin 2022 with cases surging like we haven't seen before in the pandemic. It's causing staffing shortages across businesses and amongst had health care and airline workers. We've just at the start a new day and more than 1,600 flights canceled. But adds to more than 14,000 flights canceled since Christmas Eve. Airlines say it's a combination of workers getting sick with COVID and bad weather. Take a look at the seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. It's higher than ever before. And experts warn it's likely to get worse in the days ahead.


FAUCI: Of course, you tonight want to get people panicking over asymptomatic infections, but asymptomatic infections are part of the process that spreads it around to the community and many members of the community are vulnerable. That's the reason why you have so many people in the hospital. The last count 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.


FOSTER: Dr. Anthony Fauci also says he anticipates further clarification on the CDC's guidelines in cutting down the isolation period. And it may include additional testing. Meanwhile, more health care workers are getting sick and going into quarantine further straining hospitals. Dr. Fauci is urging people to take the Omicron variant seriously.


FAUCI: So, is 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 would require hospitalization are up. So, we can't be complacent in these reports which are likely accurate that it is ultimately in the big picture less severe. We're still going to get a lot of hospitalizations.


FOSTER: We call on reporters around the world covering all angles of this pandemic for you. CNN's Ryan Young is in Atlanta with the latest on flight cancellations in the U.S. We also have live reports from New York, London, Hong Kong, New Delhi coming up this hour for you.

Plus, Omicron may be milder than the Delta variant. The former head of the FDA warns it may be more serious for young children. Here's what he has to say on Sunday.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. 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. But this is a milder form of the coronavirus. It appears to be more of an upper airway disease and a lower airway disease. That's good for most Americans. The one group that 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 in 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOSTER: Well, CDC reports new COVID hospitalizations amongst children in the U.S. nearly doubled during the last two weeks of December. "The New York Times" reports the FDA is expected to authorize doses of Pfizer COVID booster shots for children aged 12 to 15 as soon as today. The U.S. also plans to cut the wait time for boosters from 6 to 5 months for both children and adults. But we still don't know when U.S. children who are 5 and younger can get their COVID vaccines. One medical analyst says it's needed sooner rather than later to protect against the Omicron variant.



WEN: Right now, we're hearing that it's not going to be the first quarter of 2022, that it's most likely going to be the second quarter, hopefully sometime in spring. Now, of course, I also hope for more information. Pfizer is the closest when it comes to vaccines for younger children. I certainly hope that they are doing everything they can to expedite their trials especially in light of how widespread Omicron is right now.


FOSTER: Well meanwhile, schools across the U.S. are wrestling with how to get students and staff back into the hospital safely. For many a return to virtual learning is likely at least for a little while and others can expect some tough new restrictions. CNN's Polo Sandoval reports.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After adapting to this COVID era of teaching schools throughout the United States are preparing to open up again after the holiday break and welcome back students and staff. There are some school systems in the U.S. that are taking a more aggressive approach. For example, several Atlanta area schools have announced that they will begin the semester with remote teaching.

Students and staff in Washington, D.C., will have to have a negative test before they head back to class.

And here's how the nation's largest school system is going to handle this. Of course, we're talking in New York City. Schools will distribute at-home tests to students and staff who have symptoms or been exposed to a positive person. Kids who are asymptomatic and test negative will then be allowed to continue with in person teaching. Kids with symptoms may not attend school until they receive two negative tests that have been taken 24 hours apart. And as for kids and staff who test positive, they will simply have to isolate at home for 10 days until they have that negative test. This is really just a big effort to try to limit disruptions for students as they return back to class.

Over the weekend we heard from the Secretary of Education here in the U.S. who is urging classes in schools to remain open this spring semester.

MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: The message hasn't changed. We need to make sure we're following mitigation strategies. But we're supporting our educators by providing a safe learning environment. We're providing vaccinations for our students as young as 5 so that the whole school community is safe. We have to double down now that Omicron is higher to make sure we're doing that but it works. You know, we went from 47 percent of our schools open in person in January of last year to 99 percent in December.

SANDOVAL: Secretary Cardona also acknowledge that he expects when he described as bumps in the road these next few weeks as already his department has received phone calls from schools that know that at least 5 to 10 percent of their staff will be unavailable as we start the spring semester.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


FOSTER: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positive for COVID-19. Austin made the announcement on Sunday saying he developed mild symptoms at home on leave. He also informed President Biden whom he last met with before Christmas after testing negative. The Defense Chief says he's fully vaccinated and has received the COVID booster. He also says he was last at the Pentagon on Thursday and followed all COVID precautions the short time he was there.

As Omicron cases surge in the U.S., experts warn hospitals are bracing for a slew of new patients who remain unvaccinated. Here's what one doctor says to expect in the coming weeks.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Where I live hospitals are having to start to think about canceling elective procedures taking staff, moving them into places to care for critically ill patients. This is going to spread throughout the United States over the next few weeks. I'm hopeful that the parts that are hit hardest now, are places like New York, and again Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan will crest within the next two weeks.

But we're going to see this wave travel out across the country and down through the South. And it's going to go to places where the vaccination rates are much lower than they are in the Northeast and places like the mid-Atlantic. And for that reason, hospitals are likely to see a lot of sick people because many more people are unvaccinated there. So, it's going to be a very rough four to six weeks across the country now. People need to really prepare for that.


FOSTER: Over the holidays coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant has skyrocketed. And health experts fear it could get far worse as well. Some countries are now seeing the highest daily case counts of the entire pandemic. The British government is urging students to get tested before they return to school. And France is beefing up its in-school testing in hopes of avoiding widespread closures. Israel is offering a fourth shot to people over 60 and to medical staff. They're also lifting quarantine rules for people exposed to Omicron as long as they've tested negative and their vaccinations are up to date. Nada Bashir is in London. But first let's turn to Elliot Gotkine in Jerusalem. So, is going to be interesting how this plays out. The whole world will be watching how much difference a fourth dose can make to a society.


ELLIOT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: That's right, Max. Israel again kind of, I suppose being a seen a test bed for the rest of the world in regards to a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine or a second booster shot. Depending on which way you want to describe it. As you say, we were talking about it, what, a couple of weeks ago when there was a lot of fanfare and excitement. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcoming the recommendation by Israel's coronavirus panel of experts to rollout a fourth shot to those high-risk groups.

But the Director General of the Health Ministry was a little bit more cautious. He waited until New Year's Eve to give the go ahead for those with suppressed immune systems and then yesterday gave approval for the over 60s and health care workers as well. And of course, against this back drop we are seeing caseloads skyrocketing on a daily basis. We had six and have thousand on Sunday. That's the highest level since September. The R-Co efficient, the number of people each infected person is infecting with COVID, that's creeping up to 1.88, a level not seen since June.

And there are some very dire prognoses coming out. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett talking about maybe 20,000 daily cases by the end of the week topping out at 50,000. Speaking on CNN, we heard earlier this morning, Professor Aaron Siegel from the Weizmann Institute. He's one of the government's COVID advisors. He's talking about potentially 2 million Israelis out of a population of just 9.5 million being infected with Omicron. But the only bright spot, I suppose, being that that could lead to some kind of herd immunity which could enable Israel to get through this fifth wave of COVID in a similar way that it's got through previous ones in the past -- Max.

FOSTER: Elliott, thank you. Nada, the U.K. is seeing, you know, many more cases than Israel. But there's some suggestion that the increase is reducing and the government really resisting any more restrictions.

NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, well, Max, before Christmas we heard from the Prime Minister saying that the government would consider further measures ahead of the new year. Now it doesn't seem likely that the government is looking at tightening those restrictions in the new year future, at least not likely in the next week or so. We heard from Cabinet Minister Steven Barclay speaking over the weekend saying the data at this stage just doesn't support the tightening of restrictions.

And while there have been an increase in cases and we are yet to see the impact of course of Christmas and new year's on this hospital admissions. At this stage the Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that ICU admissions remains stable in comparison to what we saw in January of that last year during the height of when we are dealing with the alpha variant.

But of course, as you mentioned earlier, we are seeing some measures being brought into force in the new year particularly now in schools as students prepare to go back to school after the Christmas holidays. Many of them returning tomorrow and on Wednesday. Students in secondary school like ages 11 to 18 will not be required to wear face masks -- at least as the government recommendation -- in classrooms. And the government is urging students and teachers to take a rapid tests before returning to school.

That's all part of an effort to really stem the spread of the Omicron variant. We have seen rising cases in that younger age group. I mean, the government is even considering bringing back tougher testing measures including twice weekly testing for students and for teachers.

Now there is a real focus now on limiting disruption to education. That is the key concern here. As we see many disruptions being experienced by other industries as well, particularly in the health care sector where they are dealing with significant staff shortages and the government has tasked its ministers to come up with contingency plans for these industries and what they'll be dealing with in terms of the staff shortages. Worst case scenario, looking at something like 25 percent of staff shortages and the government has considered asking retired school teachers, for example, to return to the workforce making it easier for NHS workers to try and substitute hospitals to fulfill demand and even speeding up the process for overseas health care workers and nurses to register to work in the U.K.

That's all part of efforts to really mitigate that staff shortage that we could be seeing as the Omicron variant continues to spread. But at this stage it's not looking like any tougher measures will be coming to force in the next few days despite some expectations from health care experts -- Max.

FOSTER: Nada, thank you very much London, very quiet, nevertheless. Elliott, thank you as well.

Still to come, revelations from the House Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. What they say was going on inside the White House on January 6th, just ahead.

Millions are bracing for a powerful winter storm across the Eastern U.S. the latest forecast also coming up.


FOSTER: The surge in COVID-19 cases with winter storm conditions are making holiday travel a nightmare. More than 1,600 U.S. flights have been canceled so far today. Airlines have been struggling with staffing issues as employees test positive. And ice and heavy snow sweeping across parts of the country are causing more cancellations. CNN's Ryan Young spoke with some stranded travelers in Atlanta.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're here at Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport. And of course, this is one of the busiest airports in the country. And when you think about 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 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 have been 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 for work on Monday. We talked this one couple who was having a difficult time getting to the West Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We tried to leave on Thursday, and then they canceled it. And then 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: Have they given you guys any kind of lodging or anything at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not yet. So, yes.

YOUNG: That's got to be frustrating.


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

YOUNG: So, you really have had thousands of flights canceled. And when you put this all together, the holidays are already a tough time as well. But then when you put COVID impacting airlines and 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.


FOSTER: Well, at least 14 million people in the U.S. are currently under a winter storm warning. New Jersey has declared a state of emergency for some areas. Federal government offices in Washington, D.C., will be closed along with schools in the nation's capital and Baltimore. CNN's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with more on this. Tell us what you know -- Pedram. PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Max, it is going to be a

messy build here for the next few hours across not only parts of the Southern United States and into the mid-Atlantic region, the nation's capital. Potentially one of the more impressive snowstorms they've seen in about three years' time. And all of this happening just a couple of days removed, and in some cases just 24 hours removed from record warmth. But notice Memphis, on Saturday there was nearly 80 degrees, on Sunday around 30. In Atlanta, 78, 44, what we expect on Monday afternoon.

And New York went from a 60-degree afternoon and cutting that in half, almost down to 30 or so degrees by the afternoon hours of Monday. But gusty winds are going to accompany this. It's certainly going to make it feel much colder. But if you when you take a look at what's happening outside. As impressive as it gets for the region, again, considering how warm it has been.

And across portions of northern Alabama, have already reported 2 to 4 inches of snowfall. Northern Georgia, Metro Atlanta now reporting a mix of rain and snow across portions of town. And it is a quick-moving system. At best, because the ground is so warm, we don't really think much in the way of accumulations in these areas across the Metro. But just to the north of that say northern Georgia, northern Atlanta, that is where we expect accumulations to stick around. Maybe for a few hours in some areas as much as a two inches.

But work your way towards portions of the higher elevations, were talking about widespread coverage. Maybe up to 3 to 6 inches. And then get it to the areas of Delmarva around Washington, D.C., that's where the most impressive amounts could be seen right in time for the rush hour and that's the biggest concern.

So, the previous story, you noted, we have, of course, COVID cancellations widespread in this region. Factor in the weather element and the preemptive cancellations on this early Monday morning, already exceeding 1,500 around the United States and notice across about half of upwards of almost a half of these flights are out of areas around the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. So, a big-time disruptions all because of an incoming system across this region.

And again, by say 7, 8, 9 a.m. around Washington we could gather as much as may be four to six inches of snowfall. And notice, the last time the city picked up more than two inches of snowfall you have to go back to January of 2019. That was some three years ago, about 1,092 days ago to be precise. And you notice, the last time measurable snowfall came down in D.C. that was also quite a while ago. About 11 months ago. So, big changes in store here over the next few hours, Max. And the temperatures are a far, far cry from what has happened in the last couple of days where it's been very mild in the southern U.S. now near freezing across a large area for this region -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Pedram, thank you very much indeed for that.

The White House in Washington says President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. This comes as the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection attempt reveals troubling new information. CNN's Melanie Zanona reports from Washington.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we approach the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on the Capitol, we are learning of new details about the direction of the January 6 investigation and exactly who is speaking to the select committee. Specifically, investigators have really zeroed in on those 187 minutes that Trump has publicly silent as his supporters stormed the Capitol building.

Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, the chair and vice chair of the select committee went on the Sunday shows and revealed a little bit more about what they've uncovered so far. Take a listen.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We know as he was sitting there in the dining room next to the Oval Office members of his staff were pleading with him to go on television to tell people to stop. We know Leader McCarthy was pleading with him to do that. We know members of his family. We know his daughter. We have firsthand testimony that his daughter, Ivanka, went in at least twice to ask him to please stop this violence.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have significant testimony that leads to us believe the White House had been told to do something.


We want to verify all of it so that when we produce our report and when we have the hearings, the public will have an opportunity to see for themselves.

ZANONA: Now, this is potentially a significant revelation because it suggests that someone very close to Trump is talking to the committee. It's not just someone who had secondhand knowledge. Potentially it's someone who was in the room with Trump as the riots were unfolding. Now what's less clear at this moment is what Trump's mindset and intent was during that critical time period and whether it amounts to a criminal act of some sort.

That is something that investigators are still working to determine. But Bennie Thompson did say to our Dana Bash that if they determine a criminal act was determined, they have no problem making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. And that is something that we could see included in the final report that the select committee plans to release this fall.

Melanie Zanona, CNN, Capitol Hill.


FOSTER: U.S. President Joe Biden 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 through in his call with Ukrainian President Vladimir 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 Russian President with Vladimir Putin. Urging him to ease tensions and warned of a, quote, heavy price to pay if Russia invades Ukraine.

CNN's Nic Robertson is following developments for us from Moscow. Strong language this latest round of language from the White House.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, very strong language in support of Ukraine. And this is what President Biden has promised them that was clearly warmly received, and greatly received by the Ukrainian President who talked about the importance of the first international leadership conversation it had in years. It showed the strength and importance of bilateral relations with the United States. He also spoke about keeping down tensions, about working -- Ukraine with its allies in the United States and partners in Europe to avoid an escalation in Europe.

So that very much, you know, the two leaders very much in lock step on this reducing tensions issue. And Ukraine, obviously, very happy to hear the United States will defend Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity or supported at least. But I think we got an indication from the White House on the direction of travel in terms of those negotiations with Russia a week from today in Geneva.

And that is, you know, the White House is saying that it's calling for what it describes as a confidence building measures to reduce tensions. Confidence building measures to reduce tensions. But here's the real clue. To advance diplomacy around the Minsk -- to implement Minsk II Agreement. The Minsk II Agreement is that cease fire from early 2015 to end the conflict in the east of Ukraine between the Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government. It's been stalled and it's not going anywhere. But from the Ukrainian government giving ground to Russia on this when it doesn't see what it wants implemented out of that agreement is going to seem like conceding to that essential, you know, secession of territory from the east of Ukraine.

So, you know, what President Biden seems to be saying is that the discussion with Russia is going to lead to him putting pressure on Ukraine to make some concessions over the Minsk II Agreement. But, again, that's separate to what President Putin has said that NATO cannot allow Ukraine to become a member. But already this is very tricky and sticky grounds -- Max.

FOSTER: OK, Nic in Moscow watching. Thank you.

China's efforts to eradicate COVID from its border is under new scrutiny after disturbing video emerges on social media. We'll have a live report from Hong Kong in just a moment.

Plus, COVID cases in India are spiking at an alarming rate. What officials are urging state governments to do. That's ahead.