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Australia Cancels Djokovic's Visa Over Vaccine Rules; Report: Djokovic To Challenge Deportation From Australia; Xi'An Residents Struggle To Get Basics During Lockdown. Kazakhstan's Government Resigns As Fuel Protests Rage. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired January 06, 2022 - 02:00:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Anna Coren, live from Hong Kong.

COREN (voice-over): Well, just ahead, Novak Djokovic went to Australia to play tennis. But instead of competing for a Grand Slam, the country slammed the door on the outspoken anti-vaxxer.

Plus, chaos in Kazakhstan, as 1000s of angry protesters storm buildings and clashed with police. We'll explain what's behind the unrest.

And it was the ugliest stain on American democracy this century. Now, one year later, investigation lingers on and the country is more divided than ever.

COREN (on camera): Well, the fate of Novak Djokovic says participation in the Australian Open is in the hands of the Australian government.

COREN (voice-over): Well, right now an appeal hearing is underway to decide whether the number one men's tennis player in the world can stay in the country and compete.

Djokovic's attorneys are challenging the decision to cancel his visa. Well, that's according to a report from CNN affiliate Seven News. Djokovic came under fire after receiving a medical exemption for COVID vaccinations.

But Australia's prime minister says the country's vaccination rules apply to everyone.


SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: If you're not double vaccinated, and you're not an Australian resident, or citizen, well, you can't come.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COREN: CNN is following the latest developments on the situation. For more, I'm joined by a CNN's "WORLD SPORT" Patrick Snell in Atlanta. But first, let's go live to Sydney where Angus Watson is standing by.

Angus Djokovic is making a last ditch bid to stay in Australia. Any word from the court or is he flying back to Belgrade tonight.

ANGUS WATSON, CNN NEWSDESK PRODUCER (on camera): Anna, we're expecting to hear from his lawyers very soon. So, we'll hear hopefully, whether he is having to go back or whether he is able to stay and contest. What could be his 10th Australian Open Grand Slam crown will hope to bring that information to you in the audience very shortly.

But I'm not sure that very many people in Australia do want him to stay. There was serious backlash here. When it seemed like the government was even considering allowing Novak Djokovic, the wonderful tennis player that he is to come here unvaccinated.

We have to assume now that he hasn't been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. He's never made that clear whether it's had the vaccine or not, but he has come out with, as you mentioned there some really kind of anti-vaxxer statements about people's liberty to choose and have not have a vaccine foisted upon them, Anna.

And the context, well, this is a rapid surge of the Omicron variant here in Sydney and down in Melbourne, which is set to host the Australian tournament -- The Australian Open tournament in just a couple of weeks' time.

Here, hospitals are overflowing, the system is hearing from its staff, from doctors and nurses who are burned out, who are operating in skeleton crews trying to keep people healthy, and the people that are turning up in hospital at mostly, Anna, are those people who are unvaccinated.

So, Australians here have felt like they've gone out and done their bit gotten vaccinated when they're asked to, told that to be a good citizen, and to protect each other, their families and the communities, they had to be double vaccinated.

People have gone out and done that in Sydney and Melbourne. We've got these vaccination rates of over 90 percent of adults. People want to see people like Novak Djokovic held to the same standard, Anna.

COREN: Yes, Australian certainly were livid earlier this week, weren't they, Angus, when they learnt that he had been given an exemption. That clearly is no longer the case.

Angus Watson joining us from Sydney. Great to see you.

Well, Patrick Snell, the number one ranked tennis star in the world looks like he will be deported from Australia. How is this being viewed by other players and the International Tennis community?

PATRICK SNELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, reaction has been coming in very swiftly, really right through this day, and of course, yesterday.

This is really getting the tennis world and began talking. People's opinions are coming through thick and fast, no question. Some big names really weighing in on this situation.


SNELL: I'm thinking of Australian tennis legend Rod Laver as well calling for greater transparency from the man himself and some really interesting insights as well. And I have to say from Djokovic's former coach, a six time Grand Slam champion from Germany himself, Boris Becker.

Take a listen to what Becker had to say.


BORIS BECKER, FORMER TENNIS WORLD NUMBER ONE: Novak is very outspoken. He was never asked about his vaccinations. So, yet he talked about the pros and the cons.

I didn't hear Roger talking about it. No, I didn't hear Rafa talking about it. They keep it sort of under the radar a little bit. He's outspoken, he trains differently, he eats differently, he lives his life differently. But something must be pretty good for him, otherwise he wouldn't be a 20 major winner.

But having said that, he sees everything a little bit different.


Well, Becker, Anna, referencing Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. And speaking of Nadal, I do want to get to a statement from his uncle and former coach Toni Nadal in his newspaper column in Spain, El Pais, Toni Nadal quoted is saying, "There are almost 6 million people who have lost their lives due to this virus and many other millions who have received the vaccine. I want to think that Novak is no stranger to all this and that he will clear up the doubts as a sign of human sensitivity and understanding."

So, as I said, some really big names weighing on this very much a developing story, Anna.

COREN: Patrick Snell, we will stay tuned. Joining us from Atlanta, many thanks. Angus Watson in Sydney, good to see you both. Thank you.

Well, joining me now is Sam Phillips, a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald. Sam, great to have you with us. Who is at fault here? Is it Novak Djokovic, Tennis Australia, the Victorian State Government, or the Australian federal government or perhaps, all of the above?

SAM PHILLIPS, SPORTS REPORTER, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Oh, I think it's certainly all of the above. If there were clear direct communication lines between those parties that you just mentioned, we would not be in a situation where Novak is flying to Australia from Europe, and is now in a hotel with other refugees and fighting for his right to stay here or what he believes is his right to stay here in legal court.

That stories today that Tennis Australia were notified twice in letters by federal health authorities that Novak having COVID in the last six months, which isn't confirmed, but was assumed to be the reason that he's applied for an exemption. It turns Australia were aware that, that would not cut it when he got to the Australian border, but still approved him and gave him medical exemption. And the Victorian Government are there in the same boat. And it's just a farcical situation that we're in now because of the lack of communication between Tennis Australia, Victorian Health Department and the federal government.

COREN: Yes, it certainly is farcical. I don't know how else you can wrap it up. But I guess my question to you, why did those health panels set up by Tennis Australia and Victorian government grant him an exemption, or to you say the federal government made it explicitly clear that unvaccinated players or those who'd had COVID in the past six months would not be granted at quarantine free travel.

PHILLIPS: It seems as simple as they -- that the rules that they -- the federal government were not consulted on these rules that turns Australia and the Victorian Health Department set for themselves that would allow exemptions for a handful of -- a handful of players and staff.

It is clear as -- it's really as clear as mud, why they -- why they kept going with that process, and did not listen to the federal health and Australian Border Force advice, because it really didn't -- it seemed clear in November, looking at the correspondence today that he would not be allowed into the country.

COREN: End of the day. I mean, this is a poor reflection on Australia. It should never have been allowed to get to this point. Are people viewing this as a national embarrassment?

PHILLIPS: Yes, I think it's certainly one of two ways. I think people start -- a lot of people are embarrassed. We're already seeing some columns and opinion, people on television say that it is a disgrace that Novak isn't allowed to play, and I can kind of understand that viewpoint.

I also know there's a lot of people given the outrage when Novak was announced is coming to Australia, that are happy that he's not coming and that Melbournians, in particular, feel like they've gone through more lockdown than any other major city in the world, and that they did that so people like Novak weren't going to be allowed to come into the country.

So, yes, the sum I think it's the reason it's such a big news story is because it's so device even. There are people -- there are certainly people sitting on both sides of the fence at this point.

COREN: Sam, what would have happened if Djokovic had been allowed to play and had taken to the court, considering that the Australian public has never really been enamored with him?


PHILLIPS: Yes, I think -- I'm not I'm not exaggerating here. I genuinely think he would have been booed in between every point. And he would have been the -- and it would not have been favored in any single match.

I would have liked it. He wouldn't have been able to go out in the streets. So, I think like for a fear, the vitriol he was going to (INAUDIBLE). He really, as you say, has never been a fan favorite. You look at Roger and you look at Rafael and they've always been Australia's two guys. That Australian just love those, those two guys, and they love ash body as well obviously.

But, Novak, despite winning on Australian Opens has never been a crowd favorite for people in Australia and this would not have helped. It would have been -- when he -- when he was announces coming, I could genuinely was picturing him lifting his tent to shine Open title, tend to straight up and trophy, and being booed.

It was genuinely that bad the level of outrage that was sort of headed his direction.

COREN: Yes, Sam, perhaps, explained to us and our audience the level of revulsion and the backlash from the public when they found out earlier this week that he had, in fact, been granted a visa and given an exemption.

PHILLIPS: Yes, I've never quite seen anything like it. I was at the tennis in Sydney and yes, the story. The Novak social posts popped up on my phone and I made the open Twitter. It's rare -- it's rare that on -- that Twitter is, you know, I did on something and it was -- it was just Australians, piling into the state government piling into the federal government, asking questions, how on earth has this man been allowed into the country.

When multiple times, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stood up and said he -- tennis players who weren't vaccinated wouldn't be allowed in. That Novak did not have a genuine reason for a medical exemption.

People were just asking, why now? And now are furious. People haven't been allowed to leave the country or have family and friends that live in London or live in -- yes, the states come and see them back here in Australia.

And for someone like Novak who was obviously a very wealthy athlete, a very successful athlete, Australians don't like it when people have privilege traded differently to the general public. And that's another case of what we saw when it was announced he was coming.

COREN: Sam, we know that Djokovic's lawyers are currently in the court right now, trying to stop the deportation, if you like, of the world's number one ranked tennis player.

Do you think he stands a chance of staying in Australia or will he be on a plane back to Belgrade tonight? PHILLIPS: I think he will be on a plane. I don't know whether it will be tonight. I know that, right now, as we speak, they're deciding whether he may be able to stay in his hotel until 10:00 a.m. on Monday, where further final decision will be made.

I don't -- if I was a betting man, I'd say, it's very likely that he'll be back in Europe in the next 72 hours. But you never know. I couldn't have foreseen when I woke up this morning that this was going to happen. And I couldn't have foreseen in the first place that he was going to get into the country.

So, yes, you do not know this story, and that's what's made it such an amazing past few days.

COREN: Yes, it's certainly dominating international headlines. There is no doubt about it. Sam Phillips from the Sydney Morning Herald, great to speak with you. Thanks so much.


COREN: We're turning now to COVID-19 and the rapid spread of infections as the Omicron variant rages in countries around the world.

Turkey reported its highest number of daily infections since the pandemic began on Wednesday. And France once again crushed its record for new cases, reporting more than 330,000.

And despite a surge of infections in the U.K., beginning Friday, travelers to England will no longer have to show a negative PCR COVID test when they arrive.

Well, meanwhile, China is sticking with its zero COVID strategy is life in Xi'an becomes more desperate for millions of people still under strict lockdown. And Hong Kong is tightening its COVID restrictions over its first untraceable Omicron case. The city will ban all in-person dining starting Friday evening.

Well, Ivan Watson is joining me now live here in Hong Kong. And Ivan, we are learning of another outbreak in China as the country continues to impose its strict draconian measures two years into its war against COVID.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, and to a large degree, it is worked, Anna. I mean, we're talking about countries like France with a couple of 100,000 new cases in a single day.

Where is China, the world's -- with the world's largest population has had 132 official locally transmitted cases in a 24 hour period. I mean, that's remarkable and sign of the success of its draconian policies. But now, let's look at the cost. And again, another success.


WATSON: Unlike my home country, the U.S. where more than 800,000 people have died from COVID. In China, that number is in the 1000s, a bit more than 4,000 people according to official Chinese government statistics.

But now, let's look at the cost of this. Xi'an, a city of 13 million people, where the entire population has been restricted to their homes since December 23rd. It's hard to get independent voices out of any place in China these days due to the strict censorship, the authoritarian punishment of citizen journalists.

We have spoken to one expatriate resident of Xi'an, who sent us this photo of the gates to their compound, which we can show you. One of the entrances is still open, no residents aren't allowed to leave. The other one has been closed since December 23rd with razor wire placed over the gate as well, as one of the measures for lockdown.

And this sign that says, "The exit is temporarily sealed off due to pandemic containment measures. We will inform you in due course when the exit will reopen. Sorry for the inconvenience."

The resident who wants to remain anonymous says that they were promised fresh deliveries of groceries by the municipal government. They've gotten one delivery in two weeks of fresh vegetables that residents had been getting around that by getting bulk deliveries of groceries, but there's been a crackdown on the delivery people in recent days that the residents are forced to get be tested for COVID on a daily basis.

And the resident has reached out to their embassy for some way out of Xi'an and is still waiting for an answer.

Now in the most extreme case, which has broken through the levels of censorship on Chinese social media, and is now being reported in Chinese state media. You have the case of a woman at the beginning of this month, who was eight months pregnant in Xi'an, who suffered abdominal pains, went to a hospital, but was denied entry because it hadn't been too long since her past successful COVID test.

And video shot by her family shows her bleeding on the pavement outside the hospital and she subsequently miscarried after carrying her child for eight months to pregnancy.

This has been disciplined by the city government, where the heads of the hospital have been suspended or reprimanded, and an order has gone out to other hospitals not to deny treatment to patients if they are not meeting COVID restrictions.

And there is acknowledgement in Chinese state media that the measures in Xi'an have created hardships for the people the likes of which have not been seen since the strict lockdown went on for months in the Chinese city of Wuhan after COVID was first detected there in December of 2019, and then, spread around the world. Anna.

COREN: That is a shocking case. Indeed. Ivan Watson, joining us from Hong Kong. Good to see you. Thank you for the update.

Well, Keith Neil is an emeritus epidemiology professor at the University of Nottingham. He joins us now from Derby, England. Great to have you with us. Omicron is spreading rapidly in the U.K., as you well know. They experienced more than 200,000 daily cases on Tuesday. Are you concerned by these numbers?

KEITH NEIL, EMERITUS EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM: Yes, I think the big problem with Omicron is that it's spreading very quickly, which means that is potential for health services to be overloaded. Although, currently, with so many cases, we've now got large numbers of health and social care staff who are either directly infected very mildly, because they've been vaccinated three times. Or contacts and having to isolate until they get a negative test and come back to work. And that's probably just a bigger problem.

I know of one ITU in Britain, where there are 20 patients with COVID In it, 19 of them are due to Delta. And the other person in ITU with Omicron is actually there for other reasons and not COVID.

COREN: So, what does that tell you, then, about this variant?

NEIL: I think this -- the U.K. public health authority published something a week ago suggesting its own -- it's three times less likely to put you seriously ill than the Delta variant.

We also know that three doses of vaccine of Omicron -- for every dose, of the vaccine is pretty good at stopping you getting seriously ill with the virus. At the moment, Omicron is looking like it's sweeping through the population and everywhere it turns up very quickly.

And there will come a time when this has to peak because it will run out of people to infect. The trick is to get it past that stage and maintain the health services, as much with healthcare staff not being able to come into work.


COREN: So, the fact that symptoms from Omicron are less severe, do you find that encouraging?

NEIL: I think -- yes, in a way, because the ideal thing for a virus, and for us is for it to spread very quickly, but to not make us very ill, or kill us. Any, so really, if you catch Omicron or any other COVID virus, you're very well, it's just like a cold, you carry on going to work down the pub, meeting people.

The virus spreads between people, is like any other common cold virus, and there's always been a tendency for viruses to do this.

COREN: So, the fact that it is spreading around the world as quickly as what it is, is it a case that we all just have to catch it -- catch it and get on with life?

NEIL: I think we're getting close to that. But we do know that you -- the people over 50 off of those with underlying conditions still need to be vaccinated. And the more people who are vaccinated, the better. Because although we have no evidence of whether vaccination stops you spreading it, it will seem highly unlikely that it doesn't have some effect.

COREN: Professor Neil, the U.K.'s government's decision not to require travelers to show a negative PCR test upon entry. What do you -- do make of that? And what is their rationale, when we are seeing the surge that we are seeing?

NEIL: The chances -- the chances of anybody having the virus, you're just as likely to catch in this country as you are lying on a beach or going skiing. So, really, the main aim of putting on the restrictions was before we knew what was going on, and before we knew, particularly how widespread Omicron was in the world.

Because at the start of this, we targeted the countries in southern Sahara -- Sub-Saharan Africa, which is where we thought Omicron was. Once it's everywhere in the world, there's no point in putting travel restrictions on.

COREN: OK. Hospital admissions are certainly rising. Where you are in the U.K., our staff are struggling to cope. I know you mentioned that plenty of staff are getting sick and they're having to isolate. But the system itself, is it coping thus far?

NEIL: Yeah, it is currently coping, but we're running into a number of difficulties. And that is we've got large numbers of people in hospital fit for discharge, but we're having trouble getting them out. We've got -- and that's partly because of the social cares staff aren't fully working.

So, we're getting a lot of things all coming together to put severe pressures on the system. If people meet slightly less often, we will end up with -- we can smooth out this peak.

COREN: OK, let's hope so. Professor Neil, finally, in the U.S., the CDC is recommending that 12 to 15 year olds get their booster shot. Is this something that you would encourage? Is this something that you would like to see happening in the U.K. and elsewhere around the world?

NEIL: We already have, as far as I know, I think we've gone to that stage in the U.K., but we just haven't started vaccinating the younger children quite as early because we concentrated on the old age groups.

I think if you've -- once you started being vaccinated, and whatever age we go down to is, can be debated. I think you (INAUDIBLE) will have three doses because that's what really seems to protect you.

COREN: I guess the aim of the game is to get kids back and staying at school. Professor Keith Neil, lovely to see you. Thank you for your perspective.

NEIL: Thank you.

COREN: Well, anti-government protests rattling Kazakhstan after a steep hike in fuel prices.

COREN (voice-over): What the government is doing to help stabilize the situation in the country? That's next.



COREN: Anger is boiling over on the streets of Kazakhstan following a steep hike in fuel prices. The government stepped down Wednesday after massive protests swept the nation. The country is now under a state of emergency.

Russia says it's stepping up security at its spaceport in Kazakhstan because of the protests. And a cybersecurity watchdog group says Internet service was out across Kazakhstan Thursday morning.

But now, Kazakhstan is expected to get help from the outside to get the country under control. The Armenian prime minister says a Russian- led military alliance will send peacekeepers to Kazakhstan.

The move came after Kazakhstan's president called for assistance from the group CNN's Nic Robertson has the details.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Earlier protesters clashing with security forces outside or matches principal government building. Angered by rapidly rising fuel prices, smoke billowing from stun grenades, as the country's largest city reals, amidst the oil rich nations biggest protests in decades.

One unconfirmed video clip posted to social media appears to show a soldier down being dragged away from the protests by colleagues. The soldier's current condition also unknown.

Another unconfirmed clip appears to show soldiers with protesters on the run. One person in black clearly beaten with batons by those in uniform. In the running battles, protesters often seeming to have the upper hand.

The truth of the larger situation difficult to obtain as parts of Almaty in darkness. Electricity supplies cut so to the Internet.

Early Wednesday, officials saying more than 200 protesters have been detained, 95 security officers injured, and 37 of their vehicles damaged. By late Wednesday, the President had taken charge of national security and vowing not to be forced out, describing a worsening situation. And without offering evidence, blaming outside forces.


KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, PRESIDENT OF KAZAKHSTAN (through translator): This terrorists gangs who essentially international. They even begun serious training abroad. Their attack on Kazakhstan can and should be considered as an act of aggression.

ROBERTSON: In the swiftly developing situation, the prime minister replaced, the government offered its resignation, fuel price hikes rescinded, and the country put under a state of emergency.

In Moscow, the nation's closest ally concern and calls for calm.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Russia's foreign ministry saying they hope for a peaceful solution and a quick return to normal. The Kremlin spokesman to say it's important there's no outside interference, a hint of Western interference, saying Russia believes Kazakhstan can solve this alone.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): By nightfall, chaos in several of Kazakhstan's principal cities, the government calling for help from regional allies, including Russia. Unclear if the government's moves will be enough to placate the protesters whose anger appears to transcend the rising fuel prices.


ROBERTSON (on camera): The Kazakh government now promising a very tough security crackdown, indications overnight a possible gunfire on the streets of some Kazakh cities. And with Russia, another peacekeepers on their way into the country, the Kazakh government is going to have strong help to quell this protests.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Moscow.


COREN: Well, North Korea has carried put its first weapon test of the New Year. According to state media, Pyongyang test-fired a hypersonic missile for the 2nd time since September and claims it hit its target. Japan's coastguards says whatever the North fired on Wednesday fell into the sea first -- East, I should say, of the Korea Peninsula. South Korea expresses concern over the launch and called the talks to be resumed.

Well, still to come, the U.S. prepares to mark one year since the attack on the U.S. Capital. I'll speak with a CNN political analyst about the future of American democracy. That is next.


Welcome back. The violence and chaos that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol, exactly one year ago, caught there on a police officer's body camera. Well, the steps and then the Capital itself were flooded with hundreds of Trump supporters on January 6th. A day lawmakers say has left a stain on U.S. democracy.

Authorities have beefed up security in Washington on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot. As officials see an uptake in violent rhetoric but specific threat.

Well, a house select committee is ramping up its investigation into January 6th. While the justice department carries out its own probe into the events of that day. The U.S. Attorney General has faced criticism for not taking more aggressive action against those responsible. Well, here's how he is responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The justice department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators at any level accountable under law. Whether they are present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.


COREN: Ron Brownstein, is a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for the Atlantic. He joins me now from Los Angeles. Ron, great to have you with us.


COREN: The Attorney General, Merrick Garland has said, the actions we have taken thus far will not be our last. And the justice department would be pursuing wrongdoing at any level. Do you believe they will go after Trump and criminally prosecute him?

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, that is the critical question. And there have been many voices among body right advocates, among students of democracy, and in the democratic party more broadly who have been extremely frustrated that there really is no evidence at all so far that they, justice department, is looking beyond those who immediately invaded the capital.


I mean, there has been no indication of a broader investigation. Merrick Garland today, I think was kind of going out there and kind of holding action, you know. Saying, don't write us off yet, don't put the final verdict on what we're doing. But I think there is a lot of concern.

I -- for example, I spoke with the Secretary of State in Michigan, yesterday, Jocelyn Benson. Who said, look, if there is not accountability, all up and down the line for what we saw in the period after the election culminating on January 6th, we're just going to get more of it. And I think that is a spreading view, in the Democratic Party.

COREN: Would you say that the forces threatening democracy or the forces trying to defend democracy have gained more ground since the attack on the Capital one-year ago?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I think there's no question that at this point, the forces threatening democracy. The revolving around Donald Trump have been on the offense. We've had 19 States passed laws, making it harder to vote. We've had half a dozen States conducting kind of sham audits of the results.

We see Trump consolidating his control over the Republican Party. Three quarters of Republican voters say that the -- Joe Biden was illegitimately elected. We're now up to basically half of Republican voters saying January 6th was an act of patriotism or an attempt to defend freedom. So, in a lot of different -- and critics of Trump, those who resisted his false claims have been put on the defense. We -- they're going to be -- he's -- Trump is promoting primary challenges against (INAUDIBLE). All of those ways, the forces that are threatening American democracy in a really unprecedented having gaining ground.

We're about to see though, whether there is going to be a response. Because in a couple of weeks, the U.S. Senate is going to face a make- or-break vote on whether the to change the Filibuster Rule to allow the Senate to pass legislation, establishing a nationwide floor of voting right and a nationwide system of protections for impartial election administration. And that would negate many of the deleterious things that have been happening in the State.

So far, Republicans have been able to block this legislation and pass the House. They've been able to block it in the Senate with the Filibuster Rule. And we are about to find out, once and for all, I think, whether senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are going to agree to change the Filibuster to pass this legislation. Whether they're going to let the Republicans block any response to this really historic rollback of voting access that we're watching in the States.

COREN: Ron, the GOP has refused to repudiate Trump since the insurrection. Instead, they have embraced him and the lie of a stolen election. Where does that leave Trump's Republican Party and the future of American democracy?

BROWNSTEIN: On a knife's edge, really. I mean, you know, I've talked to multiple experts, academics who study the erosion of democracy through history and around the world. And most of them, I think, will say that at this point the dominant faction and the Republican Party is more like the kind of party we see in Hungary or Poland or Venezuela.

It is committed to rigging the rules and preserving only, kind of, the patina of democracy while trying to establish permanent control than anything like we have seen in American history. And it has put us in this extraordinarily difficult and precarious position where one party alone, the Democratic Party, is essentially trying to shore up and buttress the basic pillars of American democracy.

That is really hard for one party alone to do. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, it appeared that there would be at least a slice, a stratum of Republicans who are willing to join Democrats in a cross-party alliance, a popular front, a grand alliance to defend democracy. That has not happened. And that maybe the most significant thing that has occurred since the attack.

The Democrats are now in this position of defending democracy alone. While republicans, more and more of them, move toward a position of accepting Trump's turn toward autocracy. And I think it, you know, you can talk to a wide array of scholars and advocates who will say, that this is pointing America toward, really, the biggest challenge toward our democracy. The greatest most fundamental challenge to our democracy since the Civil War. COREN: That is a frightening picture that you are painting. Ron Brownstein, always great to get your perspective. Many thanks for joining us.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

COREN: On the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. CNN has a look at the heroes who protected U.S. democracy. Join Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper for a two-hour special event. Live from the Capital, January 6th, One-Year Later. Begins Thursday, 8:00 p.m. in Washington, that's Friday. 9:00 a.m. in Hong Kong. Right here on CNN.


You're watching CNN Newsroom live from Hong Kong. Still ahead, an out- of-control Russian rocket stage reenters Earth's atmosphere. We'll look at the potential threat.


For a second straight year, COVID-19 is forcing changes to some major U.S. events. The Grammy Awards were schedule for the end of this month in Los Angeles but they'll be pushed back again. Organizers say they'll announce a new date soon.

The Sundance Film Festival was supposed to be a mixed of virtual and in-person screening events. Now, the largest independent film festival in the U.S. will be entirely online later this month.

And the NFL is looking at contingency plans for the upcoming Super Bowl. Lake says, it's standard procedure for any game but they want backup venues in place in case of weather issues or what they call, unforeseen circumstances.

And out-of-control Russian rocket stage has likely re-entered the U.S. atmosphere according to the U.S. Space Command. The agency was tracking its descent at 7.5 kilometers a second believing it re- entered over the Southern Pacific Ocean. It came from a test rocket launched 10 days ago. The four-ton part is unlikely to cause damage here on Earth. But the European Space Agency says, it's a risk that cannot be ignored. The rocket stage wasn't supposed to return to Earth. It was meant to remain in orbit forever. But a malfunction caused the part to tumble out of space.

I'll be right back after this short break. Stay with CNN.



COVID is forcing changes to carnival celebrations in Brazil. Several cities have announced partial or total cancellations. Stefano Pozzebon has details on plans in Rio De Janeiro.

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: The city of Rio De Janeiro has announced it was canceling of some of its world-famous carnival events due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. The mayor, speaking to journalists, explained that while the most iconic events of them all, which is the Samba Parade, will go ahead as planned inside a stadium. Street parades will be canceled instead.

Here is the mayor speaking with CNN, Brazil.


EDUARDO PAES, RIO DE JANEIRO MAYOR (through translator): In street carnivals, you don't get to establish any kind of health control. That's just how they are here in Rio. It's a street carnival that has a lot to do with the territory where the blocks get out. I'm going to make a comparison. It is the Samba Stadium. The same way you have health controls that you can impose in football stadiums. You can also established the same controls at the Samba Stadium.


POZZEBON: The mayor's decision is emblematic of the tight rope that authorities in South America are working as they try to limit the spread of the Omicron variant without imposing new lockdowns that could hurt their economies. On Tuesday, Brazil reported more than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases. And 129 in new deaths attributable to the virus.

Other countries such as Columbia and Argentina are also experiencing new spikes in COVID-19 cases. With Argentina's situation, the one causing the most concern. But just like in many other parts of the world, a rise in new COVID-19 cases is not immediately translating into a rise in deaths or hospitalizations.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon. Bogota.

COREN: As millions of children return to school after the holidays, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has now signed off on Pfizer booster shots for kids aged 12 to 15. But with the alarming rise in COVID hospitalizations among young children, parents must now weigh the benefits and risks of sending their children back to school.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen, has that story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Like other families, the Kitley's in Chicago were thrilled when last fall their four children could finally go back to school. But halfway through the school year, there have been bumps in the road leaving home, going back to school.

KELLY KITLEY, CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKRE, SERENDIPITOUS PSYCHOTHERAPY: That transition back to school has been difficult. Mostly for my youngest child who felt this sense of safety and security from at the age of seven until the eight-and-a-half. And then needing to go back to school.

COHEN (on camera): So, it sounds like your daughter got used to having the comfort, of having mom and dad around all the time.

KITLEY: Absolutely. And then the -- is expected to just go back to school from zero to 100, there wasn't a gradual transition.

COHEN (voiceover): Kitley, a therapist herself, sees the tension in her patience.

KITLEY: They are feeling increased anxiety around just how to be and communicate with people, and build friendships, and being able to feel comfortable in their environment.

COHEN (on camera): Have you seen children hit crisis points?

KITLEY: Low self esteem and low confidence and feeling depressed. And as a coping mechanism, turning to eating disorder behavior or cutting behavior and really not being able to manage the intensity of being back in a school environment.

COHEN (voiceover): Last month the U.S. Surgeon General issued this 53-paged advisory outlining how the pandemic has had an unprecedented negative impact on the mental health of children. One global study finding symptoms of youth depression and anxiety doubled.

DR. VIVEN MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I am so concerned about our children, because there is an epidemic, if you will, a mental health challenges that they have been facing.

COHEN (voiceover): Kitley says an empowerment group for girls that she started has helped.

Teshia Stovall Dula, 7TH GRADE COUNSELOR, HULL MIDDLE SCHOOL: See you later.

COHEN (voiceover): Atlanta area counselor, Teshia Stovall Dula, says when children feel overwhelmed by the transition back to school, she offers them a safe place.

DULA: They often come to my office just to get a break from the noise. And I was very surprised about that that they needed to come and get a break from the noise.

COHEN (voiceover): Her advice to parents, remember that if your children seem immature for their age, there's a reason. They missed out on more than a year of development with their peers.

DULA: I mean, my 12-year-old, they still act so young. They're more like elementary school kids.

COHEN (on camera): Missing a year to a year-and-a-half of social interaction, for middle school students, that's a lot.

DULA: It was a lot.

COHEN (voiceover): And be patient with your child as they transition from one way of life to another. DULA: Their world was turned upside down. As adult, we are able to bounce back quicker, usually faster. But for them, you know, it's going to take a little bit more time.

COHEN (voiceover): Elizabeth COHEN, CNN, reporting.


COREN: So is CNN. I'll be back after this short break.


Welcome back. Well, there's no letup in the explosion of COVID cases fueled by the ultra contagious Omicron variant. Turkey reported its highest number of daily infection since the start of the pandemic. And France, once again, smashed its record for new cases recording more than 330, 000 on Wednesday, by far, the most ever in a single day.

An uproar is brewing there over a recent remarks from French President, Emmanuel Macron, who said, he wanted to, "Piss off" the unvaccinated. Well, he's hoping to push through a bill that would put major limits on their lifestyle. Opposition lawmakers were quick to condemn his comments. But the French Prime Minister said, the unvaccinated fracture the nation.

And starting this Friday, England is scrapping a key COVID travel requirement. People arriving there will no longer need to present a negative COVID result from a pre-departure PCR test.

Well, CNN's Scott McLean has details on why this regulation is being loosened with cases on the rise.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The peak of Omicron infections in the UK cannot come soon enough. New government estimates show that in the last week of December alone, one in every 15 people in England was infected with COVID-19. With one in 10 infected in London, the Omicron epicenter.

Despite that scary data, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is not tightening restrictions. He's actually loosening some. Pre-departure test will soon no longer be required on flights into England. And cheaper lateral flow test can be taken on arrival instead of PCR test eliminating the need to quarantine while waiting for a result. The Prime Minister insists that despite rising hospital admissions. Because Omicron is less severe and the booster shot has already reached 60 percent of the eligible population, the UK can ride out this wave without shutting down the economy.

Johnson faced plenty of questions in the House of Commons about his approach, but none from the opposition leader who tested positive of COVID for the second time in just the past few months. Few opposition lawmakers pushed in for tighter restrictions, but many questioned why tests are so tough to find and how hospitals can possibly cope given the number of staff out sick with the virus.

Scott McLean, CNN, London. CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Less than 100 days before the presidential election here in France, and in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases, battle lines are drawn after the President said in an interview that he wanted to, "Really piss off the unvaccinated."


Emmanuel Macron has had strong words in the past against the unvaccinated minority in this country but the timing of this is peculiar. The anger had provoked within the opposition provoked an interruption of the parliamentary debate about the vaccine pass.

Now, that is one of the governments major proposed tools to fight COVID. If the bill is passed into law, the vaccine pass would effectively do what Mr. Macron said in colorful language. It would exclude the unvaccinated for many aspects of public life, including hospitality and entertainment venues.

Now, the Prime Minister did have to do some damage control on Wednesday, and before lawmakers, he mounted a robust defense of the President's remarks.


JEAN CASTEX, PRIME MINISTER OF FRANCE (through translator): What the President of the Republic said, I hear it everywhere. Yes, of course. Yes. Our fellow citizens are exasperated.


VANIER: Despite the controversy, the bill is still expected to pass and it will put the squeeze on the unvaccinated, who currently represent a majority of patients in intensive care units. The vaccine pass, along with the booster campaign, are the main pillars of the government strategy against the wave of COVID with every day bringing a new record number of infections.

Cyril Vanier, CNN, Paris.

COREN: Well, remember how Lassie was also saving Timmy in the classic TV show? We've got the story of someone who owes his life to his dog in real life.

Tinsley is getting extra treats today, and certainly deserves them, after leading police in New Hampshire to his owner who was injured in a crash. Police originally thought the dog was lost on the highway but she pointed them in the direction of a pickup truck that had rolled over. Police say the dog's owner and another man had been thrown from the vehicle and would not have survived the night, given how cold it was, if it were not for Tinsley. What a clever puppy.

Well, thanks so much for watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Anna Coren. I'll be right back after this short break with much more news. Please stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) Hello. And welcome to our viewers joining us form all around the world. I'm Anna Coren live from Hong Kong.

Just ahead on CNN Newsroom. Australia cancels Novak Djokovic's visa to enter the country moments after he had already arrived.