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U.S. COVID-19 Cases, Child Hospitalizations At Record Highs; Australian Open 2022; Kazakhstan's President Says Situation "Stabilized" After Deadly Rallies; CDC Director Turns To Media Consultant As Messaging Blunders Mount; COVID-19 Cases In China Rising; Germany Imposes Tougher COVID-19 Restrictions; Ahmaud Arbery's Killers Get Life In Prison; Airlines Cancel Over 1,000 U.S. Flights. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 04:00   ET




IVAN WATSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Ivan Watson.

Ahead, with hospitalizations of kids on the rise in the U.S., the COVID fight moves to the classroom. That has teachers and parents on the opposite sides of the in-person learning debate.

Live images out of Melbourne and the vaccination saga, we're live in Sydney with details of the appeal by Novak Djokovic ahead of the Australian Open.

And all quiet in Kazakhstan after the president issued shoot to kill orders to stop protesters.


WATSON: We begin in the U.S. where COVID-19 infection levels are soaring, averaging 660,000 per day. This map gives you a sense of the dramatic spread with cases surging in nearly every state.

Child hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Some of the largest increases are in children under 5, not old enough to be vaccinated yet. Hospitalizations in that age group up 48 percent from a little more than a month ago. With the public exasperated, Americans want to know when will it end. President Joe Biden was asked if this was going to be the new normal.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay but having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay. But COVID-19 as we are dealing with it now is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be. We have so many more tools we are developing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATSON: Some experts say any normal will mean living with COVID-19 in much the way we live with the flu. A former adviser to President Biden speaking to Anderson Cooper explained what it would take to get past the numbers we are seeing now.


DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER MEMBER, BIDEN'S TRANSITION COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD: Unfortunately, if you vaccinate today the people who are unvaccinated, who account for about 75 percent of the hospitalizations, it is not really going to make a big difference over the next month because they need a second shot and then 14 days after the second shot.

Public health measures that we've mentioned, better air quality, masking, not going into crowded indoor spaces, those are really important measures in order to get past Omicron. You need to plan today for three months from now so we're not caught in the same problem.


WATSON: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has put out new guidelines aimed at keeping kids in classrooms. The prominent health care system said, "With evidence that COVID-19 is becoming a milder infection in most children and at a time when all adults and youth in K-12 settings have been offered vaccination, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and PolicyLab at CHOP support in-person education even in times of significant community transmission and propose new guidance that reduces excessive burden to school staff and families."

WATSON: That new guidance in brief, continue indoor masking, regardless of vaccination status. People with respiratory illness must stay home while sympathetic. Those with mild illness should continue to get tested if there is high risk of severe infection.

Discontinue required weekly testing of people with symptoms. Allow exposed but asymptomatic individuals to continue to come to school under modified quarantine and encourage vaccinations and booster shots.

Here are some health experts on in-person learning.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Our updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine and our and prior publications and continued assessment of test to stay protocols in schools provide the tools necessary to get these schools reopened for in-person learning and to keep them open for the rest of the school year.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF COVID-19 MEDICAL ADVISER: It is safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out.



DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That teacher's union is wrong. And all the teachers unions that are saying that we have to delay kids going back to school are wrong. We know what it takes to keep children safe in schools. We need to get our children back at all costs.


DR. PAUL OFFIT, U.S. FDA VACCINE ADVISER: We need our children to be in school. Most importantly, the socialization, social development, the kids so sorely missed last year.


WATSON: The debate is playing out in Chicago, home to the third largest school district in the U.S. Public school classes there have been canceled since Wednesday when teachers said they didn't have the resources to work safely. Omar Jimenez has the story.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back to school hangs in the balance for the country's third largest school district as negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union remain deadlocked over returning to in-person learning.

MELANIE LOPEZ, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS TEACHER: I'm not happy we're not at work. We want to be at work and we want people to understand the idea was to go remote, not to stop working.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Melanie Lopez, a high school teacher and union member, says the city hasn't provided adequate resources to be in person safely.

JIMENEZ: Did you feel like you had what you needed in the classroom?

LOPEZ: I did because I bought it.


JIMENEZ: With your own money?

LOPEZ: Right. The wipes we were given were not great. We had to buy better quality, PPE equipment, than we were provided. We are running through masks pretty quickly. It sounds in theory good on paper until it is in practice. Then you see where the holes are.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The city has argued, through masking, vaccinations and testing that school is still safer than being at home, even with record numbers of cases of students, staff and across Chicago.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL), CHICAGO: The difference between now and a year ago was we have vaccines for a huge swath of our school-based population. I think the issues on the table, as I understand, we can narrow the divide and get a deal done. Schools are safe. There's been no question about that.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The union disagrees. One of their sticking points in the negotiations is testing. Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office confirming it had been in touch with the White House asking for more tests.

The White House confirmed those conversations as well as those with the mayor. All the while, students have been out of class and parents have been frustrated. Lopez is also a parent to two 7-year-old twins trying to find a balance, especially as she remembers what remote learning was like.

JIMENEZ: You walked that line?

LOPEZ: Right. Trying to juggle them and teach my classes is almost like playing a game of Russian roulette. As a parent, I think we need to get those parent voices in there and get solutions provided that, if this is something that may happen in the future, we already have alternatives in place.

JIMENEZ: A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools said they expect the negotiations to continue through the weekend. Also the mayor said their bargaining negotiations Friday went into the evening but they must end this weekend. Parents, teachers and students will wait to see if that will happen -- Omar Jimenez, CNN, Chicago.


JIMENEZ: A group of seven parents with children in Chicago Public Schools has filed a lawsuit, asking teachers to return to in-person learning immediately and also requested damages to make up for lost income and child care costs.

Let's turn to Australia, where a standoff over COVID is playing out in Melbourne. The head of Tennis Australia issued a video to his staff addressing the controversy around Novak Djokovic Djokovic. His visa was revoked for not having a valid medical exemption for vaccination.

Djokovic made his first public comments on Friday, thanking his fans as he remains confined in an immigration detention facility. Also Czech player Renata Voracova had her visa denied as well. The Czech government says she decided to withdraw from the tournament and leave Australia.



HOLMES: The Kazakhstan president has ordered deadly force to be used against anti-government protesters and said the brutal response is, in his words, "yielding results." That story is coming up next.





HOLMES: Welcome back to the program.

Let's turn now to Kazakhstan. An eerie quiet has fallen after the president gave the order to kill protesters without warning on Friday after days of deadly government protest. He says the situation has stabilized in Almaty.

A journalist tells CNN security forces are in charge of government buildings that were partly burned during the protests. The U.S. has approved a voluntarily departure of non essential staff from its consulate.

Meanwhile, more Russian-led troops are moving in. The group says the number of what it calls peacekeepers will grow to about 3,600. The U.S. is asking why they are needed in the first place.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It would seem to me that the Kazak authorities in government, certainly, have the capacity to deal, appropriately, with protests and to do so in a way that respects the rights of protesters, while maintaining law and order.

So it is unclear why they feel the need for any outside assistance. So we are trying to learn more about it. I think one lesson, in recent history, is that, once Russians are in your house, sometimes it's very difficult to get them to leave.


WATSON: Scott McLean is monitoring the situation.


WATSON: He joins us now from London.

What is the latest you are getting now?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems that the president has succeeded in restoring public order. It is less clear that he's succeeded in quelling the unrest and addressing the specific grievances inside the country.

It is hard to take the temperature of the country or the pulse without the internet, which has been cut for the last few days. The president promised to have it restored piecemeal. And that is happening in some parts of the country but not in Almaty. We heard from a local journalist, who saw bodies in the streets with bullet holes in them. There's government checkpoints where they are firing warning shots at people getting too close. There are also people out and about, trying to buy the essentials.

We're not seeing any kind of protest, though, and it is difficult to blame people because there was obviously violence among those protests that turned into something resembling riots.

So the president took the opportunity to paint all the protesters with the same brush, calling them gangsters and terrorists. So he said you can't negotiate with them; you have to destroy them instead.

We know there have been sounds of heavy gunfire overnight, described as counterterror operation by the government. The opposition surely would describe it differently.

State media reporting some 4,000 people have been detained. There have been deaths from security force and from protesters and you now have this Russian coalition of ex-Soviet states.

It seems they're promising a light touch but the U.S. has concerns about human rights and abuses. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested perhaps the invitation from Kazakhstan was not genuine, which is bizarre considering the president thanked the coalition leaders for coming to his aid and specifically singled out Russian President Putin.

WATSON: Scott McLean in London, Thank you for that update.

We're joined now by Sean Roberts, the director of the international development studies program at George Washington University.

Thank you for joining me.

First, I want to ask, how are your family and friends doing there?

Can you communicate with them?

What are they telling you?

SEAN ROBERTS, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES PROGRAM, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Actually, the only way we can communicate with people there now is through land lines, so we are using Skype to get through. People I know so far are doing OK. They are mostly staying at home.

It is dangerous to be on the street, particularly in Almaty. We've heard there is short supply of food. It is difficult to get money. In general, it is dangerous to be on the street.

WATSON: The speed at which this unraveled is striking.

Did you see this coming?

Did other experts see this coming? ROBERTS: There are two things that have been festering in Kazakhstan for quite some time, that kind of pointed to things becoming unstable. One is the widespread corruption that has been exacerbated over the last couple of years by COVID-19.

In general, the country was on a trajectory where the economic growth had plateaued and that has started to fall. That really hits people in their pocketbook and makes life more difficult. So there's a lot of frustration.

The other issues is the state has not really dealt with how to have a leadership succession from its first president.


ROBERTS: Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019 but retained a lot of his power by putting himself on the national security council. So I think what we are seeing is both widespread citizen frustration and the power struggle happening right now. And both of those are leading to the crisis we are seeing on the streets.

WATSON: Tell me more about that power struggle. We are hearing about senior officials and Nursultan Nazarbayev's allies being arrested and being accused of being traitors by the current president. Was this a popular uprising or a power struggle or a mix of both?

Are factions taking advantage of a moment of popular discontent?

ROBERTS: Yes, so one word of caution is that the internet has been closed down. And no foreigners are being allowed into the country, with the exception of troops. So all the information we have is rather murky and inconclusive.

But there seems to be some indication it's a combination of both, a popular uprising and some inter-elite struggles. For example on Wednesday night, when the protests turned violent, most people have told me that they saw basically the police leave the scene and suddenly other people showing up, who started vandalizing things like burning down buildings and so on.

Whether those were proxies of some sort of elite power struggle is not clear. But there is certainly mystery around it. We know there has long been a lot of jockeying -- hello?


ROBERTS: -- a lot of jockeying between elites. So you do have to say there is a combination of things happening. That is overlaid by the fact of Russian troops and other post-Soviet states now in the country and the president actually called them to Kazakhstan to assist him.

WATSON: How do you think those troops would be received by the public in Kazakhstan?

ROBERTS: I think some people, most people in the country right now have no idea, really, what's happening and probably have less idea than you and I, because they don't have access to the internet to see what other people are saying about the situation.

Some of those people may be fearful and may believe what the president is saying, that there is a terrorist attack underway. They might welcome these troops. Others are going to look at this as the state essentially ceding its sovereignty at a time when Russia is increasingly aggressive in its near abroad.

So I think it will have lingering impact on the country and also geopolitical impact.

WATSON: Sean Roberts, thank you very much.

Now rampant COVID-19 case numbers and mixed messaging are trying the patience of Americans looking for relief. We'll look at the frustration growing over the government's changing guidelines.

And in Europe, soaring cases tax hospitals. A live report from London just ahead.





WATSON: Welcome back.

The Omicron variant is complicating more than health statistics in the U.S. It also led to recent guidance about isolation periods from the Centers for Disease Control that many are calling confusing for lacking clarity about whether or not tests are needed.

The agency director is facing sharp criticism from the White House and experts within the CDC itself. She addressed the issues during a rare solo conference on Friday.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are in an unprecedented time with the speed of Omicron cases rising. And we are working really hard to get information to the American public. This is hard and I am committed to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communicate that with all of you.


WATSON: Meanwhile in China, COVID cases are on the rise, despite their zero-COVID strategy. On Friday the country reports nearly 100 new infection, almost half from Xi'an. We've heard disturbing accounts from people in the locked-down city, including that many don't have access to basic needs, including medical care.

Our Kristie Lu Stout has more.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. As the Chinese city of Xi'an enters a third week of hard lockdown, a second pregnant woman has suffered a miscarriage due to delayed medical aid. This is according to state media.

A Chinese vice premier is telling hospitals not to turn patients away under any excuses. The Xi'an hospital told CNN they initially turned the first pregnant woman away because they were following government COVID rules.

After that incident went viral, local health officials were suspended. The director of the Xi'an municipal health commission bowed and apologized. But for angry citizens, it isn't enough, with one saying, "COVID may not kill you but bureaucrats can."


WATSON: Let's bring in professor Ben Cowling. He's chair of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.


WATSON: He joins us now from England.

Good to see you. First, a number of top government officials are apologizing publicly after they attended a big birthday party in a Spanish tapas restaurant Monday night, just days after the health secretary here told the public to avoid large crowds because the city was on the verge of a fifth wave of infections.

Now lawmakers and top government officials are going into mandatory government quarantine. At least one case from that party, possibly a second.

The question being, is it possible we have a scenario where government officials may be a vector of transmission?

We know COVID-19 doesn't spare anybody. Around the world, a lot of public officials have had COVID in the last two years and maybe this is a chance for some officials to experience the infection.

And also in Hong Kong, the control measures and very strict quarantine for close contacts are a little bit like a holiday camp.

WATSON: The city managed to avoid an outbreak of Delta and now it's struggling with Omicron.

Can it squelch this outbreak?

BEN COWLING, CHAIR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Right now we have Omicron in the community but the government is working very hard to do contact tracing. I'm a little concerned it may be difficult to keep up with Omicron because it spreads so fast.

So I wonder if the government is going to have to consider bringing in more stringent measures. In your report, you mentioned each time there is an outbreak, there is a very stringent set of interventions implemented to get cases back down to zero again.

WATSON: You've had Xi'an averaging dozens of cases and the city of 13 million on strict lockdown for over two weeks. In the last week, dozens of cases in the Hunan (ph) province. China has the famous zero COVID approach, even though it was first detected in China in the first place.

Can it succeed in suffocating the virus?

Or is Omicron simply too contagious?

COWLING: I think there are two modes, keeping the virus out but then the virus does get in one city at a time. And the second mode, is the very stringent measures. With Omicron, it will be tough. I think this year will be much more disruptive in the mainland than it was maybe last year.

WATSON: Professor Ben Cowling, thank you very much.

COWLING: Thank you.

WATSON: Now to the view from Europe. COVID cases fueled by the Omicron variant are running rampant across Europe. France reporting more than 328,000 cases on Friday, just shy of the record set just a few days ago.

Meanwhile Germany is imposing tougher restrictions as the Omicron variant spreads. For more, let's bring in CNN's Nada Bashir in London.

Can you fill me in on how different governments are dealing with outbreaks?

The European context is so different from how the virus is being dealt with in asia.

NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: We are seeing those record breaking figures in Europe. Governments are tightening restrictions. This time they're focusing on the unvaccinated. In France they're making it mandatory to provide proof of vaccination even for interregional travel within the country as opposed to what was previously the requirement.

In Germany, they are really focusing on that booster jab.


BASHIR: Now even if you have been vaccinated, you'll still have to provide proof of a negative test to access places like restaurants and bars.

In Italy, all of those over 50 are being mandated to get the vaccine or they could face a hefty penalty or suspension of pay. We are seeing a stricter response from European leaders to push people to get their vaccines. In contrast, the U.K. government is still taking a softer approach,

sticking to plan B measures. That means wearing face masks and, if you can, working from home, despite calls from numerous health care leaders for easing pressure on the U.K.'s National Health Service.

In the week up to January 2nd, we saw nearly 60 percent increases in staff shortages. The biggest nursing union calling for tougher restrictions, dealing with work force shortages. In London, we are seeing the military being deployed to support health care workers. So a mixed bag of issues coming in there.

WATSON: Really concerning when you've got 60 percent of health staff absent. Nada Bashir in London.

Straight ahead, Ahmaud Arbery's family speaks out at the sentencing hearing for his killers.

Plus hundreds of flights canceled in the U.S. The cause of this chaos -- up ahead.





WATSON: Welcome back.

The three white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery were sentenced to life in prison. The 25-year-old Black man was jogging in a Georgia neighborhood when the three of them gave chase and shot him. More now from CNN's Ryan Young.


JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, CHATHAM COUNTY, GEORGIA: Today, the defendants are being held accountable for their actions.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two of the three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Travis and Gregory McMichael received life without the possibility of parole.

WALMSLEY: After Ahmaud Arbery fell, the McMichaels turned their backs to get a disturbing image and they walked away. This was a killing. It was callous.

YOUNG: William Bryan Jr. sentenced to serve life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

WALMSLEY: He had grave concerns that what had occurred should not have occurred. And I think that does make Mr. Bryan's situation a little bit different. However, Mr. Bryan has been convicted of felony murder.

YOUNG (voice-over): Before reading the sentences, Judge Walmsley paused for one minute.

WALMSLEY: I want to focus (ph) on the concept of time. It's what I'm going to do, is I'm going to sit silently for one minute. And I kept coming back to the terror that must have been in the mind of the young man running through Satilla Shores.

YOUNG (voice-over): And the court heard powerful statements from Ahmaud Arbery's family.

COOPER-JONES: I laid you to rest. I told you I love you and, someday, somehow, I would get you justice.

YOUNG (voice-over): His mother spoke directly to her son and to the men responsible for his death.

COOPER-JONES: These men have chose to lie and attack my son and his surviving family. They each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency. This wasn't a case of mistaken identity or mistaken fact. They chose to target my son when they couldn't sufficiently scare him or intimidate him. They killed him.

YOUNG (voice-over): Taking aim at a defense attorney's comments during the trial...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His long, dirty toenails.

YOUNG (voice-over): -- about her son's toenails.

COOPER-JONES: I wish he would have cut and cleaned his toenails before he went out for that jog that day. I guess he would have if he knew he would be murdered.

YOUNG (voice-over): Arbery's family was clear, they wanted the maximum sentence possible.

MARCUS ARBERY, AHMAUD ARBERY'S FATHER: Me and my family, we got to live with his death the rest of our life. We'll never see Ahmaud again. So I feel they should stay behind them bars the rest of their life because they didn't give him a chance.

JASMINE ARBERY, AHMAUD ARBERY'S SISTER: The loss of Ahmaud has devastated me and my family. So I'm asking that the men that killed him be given the maximum sentence available to the court.

YOUNG (voice-over): Last November the McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of murder after chasing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in their vehicles while he jogged in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, killing him after they say they thought they saw Arbery inside an unfinished home on February 23rd, 2020.

It took 2.5 months before arrests were made, after video Bryan took of the murder was released and went viral.

YOUNG: And these three men face additional federal charges. That case is scheduled to be heard in February. So it's not over for them just yet. A lot of people are paying attention to this, especially because the

prosecutor, who was originally involved in this case, faces her own set of charges that are connected to this case -- Ryan Young, Brunswick, Georgia.


WATSON: Hollywood loses a bright star, a successful career and an actor never afraid to push boundaries. We'll remember the life of actor Sidney Poitier -- ahead.





WATSON: A tough day for travel in the U.S. Airlines canceling more than 1,000 U.S. flights. Many were on the East Coast. Both a snowstorm and Omicron variant impacting the region. It pushed the total of canceled flights by all airlines since Christmas to over 28,000.



WATSON: Now to a profound loss in Hollywood and around the world. The charismatic actor Sidney Poitier was a powerful voice, an advocate for his race. In the films he made and in the struggle for human rights in the U.S. He died Thursday evening. He was 94 years old.

He pushed back against the ingrained racism of his day to effectively become Hollywood's first Black leading man in films such as "The Defiant Ones and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

He was the first Black male to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of an itinerant laborer working with white nuns in "Lilies of the Field."

I'm Ivan Watson. I'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM.