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U.S. Schools Struggle With Staffing Shortages; Biden Administration Signing Contracts For COVID-19 Test Kits; Calls For Tougher Measures As U.K.'s NHS Struggles; Novak Djokovic Appeals Decision; U.S.-Russia Talks In Geneva; Thirty-Plus Million Under U.S. Weather Advisories; James Webb Telescope Mirror Unfolds In Deep Space. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 04:00   ET




KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, anger in Europe as governments impose new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. We are live in Rome with more.

Plus, new details about Novak Djokovic's health before his trip to Australia, as he waits to learn whether he can defend his grand slam title. Details in a live report from Sydney.

And Russia helps the president of Kazakhstan restore order amid signs he is making a power grab following deadly anti-government protests.


STOUT: And we begin in the United States, where the rampant spread of the Omicron variant is hurting health care and education. In Chicago, a standoff after the teachers' union voted to teach remotely while the city wants in-person learning.

On Saturday, the mayor of Chicago rejected a new proposal from the teachers' union. But as they battle it out, classes have been canceled, meaning many kids are now stuck at home.

Meanwhile, a record number of children under age 5 are in hospitals, infected with the coronavirus. And the numbers you see there represent the number of kids under the age of 5 per 100,000 in the population who are hospitalized.

And with the facilities scrambling to deal with the new admissions of all ages, the Omicron variant is disrupting the delivery of routine health care in places like New York. CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This weekend the State of New York's health department issuing a temporary order, putting a stop to all non-urgent, non-essential elective procedures throughout multiple facilities, about 40 located mainly in the central-northern parts of the state.

The goal here, according to health officials, to help alleviate what they're describing as limited bed capacity amid this ongoing Omicron surge throughout the country here, as New York just the latest to -- in a race to try to help their health care facilities with staff and supply shortages, including at the University of Kansas Health Care System, where the chief medical officer told CNN over the weekend, that they are nearing a breaking point.


DR. STEVEN STITES, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM: Go from normal operations to contingency. And contingency planning means I'm going to have to put patients in unusual situations. I have to cancel surgeries. But at some point, you say, we're too overwhelmed to do any of our normal daily work.

We can't meet all of our patients' demands and, at that point, we have to turn on a switch that says we've got to triage to the people we can help the most. And that means we have to let some people die who we might have been able to help.


SANDOVAL: When it comes to that temporary order issued by the New York Health Department, we should mention those patients clinically high risk if their procedures are not carried out, they're not actually exempt. And this is just temporary right now and expected to last two weeks -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


STOUT: And while the U.S. faces a surge of new coronavirus cases, the Biden administration is now in the process of signing contracts to purchase more COVID-19 tests for Americans. CNN's Arlette Saenz reports from the White House.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration is taking the first steps in its mission to deliver half a billion COVID-19 tests directly to Americans' home as a COVID-19 surge continues across the country.

The Biden administration announced they have signed two contracts with companies to procure these tests. One of those contracts is worth $51 million, going to a Virginia-based company called Gold Belt Security, to purchase existing tests like the company has. It's unclear how many tests that entails.

A second contract is being given to Revival Health, a California-based company, that would procure 13.3 million tests, though it's unclear how much that one would cost.

Now the Biden administration has said that they will issue more contracts in the weeks to come. But they really have provided only a few details about what this rollout would look like when it comes to actually delivering the tests. The White House has said that they will put up a website at some point in the next month.


SAENZ: Americans can directly go order tests that will then be shipped to their homes. But it's unclear when those deliveries might start.

President Biden has acknowledged some of the frustrations with the shortage of tests and also the lack of access to testing, as this surge has continued over the course of the past few weeks. But the president also offered this assessment about whether COVID is here to stay.


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.


SAENZ: Battling this pandemic remains the key challenge for President Biden, as his success as president really hinges on whether he can get this virus under control -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


STOUT: As you just heard in Arlette's report, President Joe Biden says COVID-19, as we're dealing with it now, isn't here to stay and that there are, quote, "many more tools being developed to contain the virus."

But some medical experts are taking a different approach. They warn that the virus may never go away and the public needs to accept this possibility. Here's CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: But the country should understand that the virus is not going to go away, the pandemic is going to go away.

And going forward, we're going to have to start to think about having low level of COVID the same way we have low levels of influenza -- well, we have high levels of influenza every year but we're going to have to face you know, this notion that this is going to be a background in our society and we're going to have to learn how to live with it. We will have probably yearly updates on vaccines. We will have different ways to test for it, better therapeutics. So we are going to live with this virus indefinitely but the pandemic itself, the health emergency that we're in now, is going to eventually go away, hopefully, in the next several weeks.


STOUT: And Dr. Reiner adds that he wants to hear American leaders from the local level, all the way up to national, tell the public the truth, that this is going to be a very difficult several weeks.

Now officials are struggling to contain COVID-19 in Europe as well. In Europe, the U.K. has joined only a handful of countries reporting more than 150,000 total deaths from the pandemic.

And across the Channel, French president Emmanuel Macron has said that he wants to, quote, "piss off" the unvaccinated. If that's his plan, it's working. Protesters vented their anger in Paris, as lawmakers there consider a stricter vaccine pass to get into bars and cafes.

While in Italy, a mandate for everyone over the age of 50 to be vaccinated appears to be a success. In fact, since announcing the requirement, Italy has seen a threefold increase in vaccines administered to people in that age range. Now for more on that, I'm joined by CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau in Rome.

Barbie, thanks for joining us. Italy again is now mandating vaccination for everyone over the age of 50.

What has been the reaction and how is it being rolled out?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned, people are reserving their vaccines now. We've seen a threefold increase. And that's good news for the government. That's what they were hoping people would do.

Those last holdouts, they want them to get vaccinated. They're not -- they can't do anything. If you're over 50, they'll get fined. That's expected to come into effect around February 1st, which will allow people to reserve their vaccines and get vaccinated. But for the most part, there has been compliance here, Kristie.

STOUT: Elsewhere in Europe, Barbie, COVID cases and deaths are spiking.

What's the overall picture across the continent?

NADEAU: Yes, the deaths, you know, every country counts their COVID deaths a little bit differently. A lot of people believe that the deaths are far higher than what has been reported.

Italy is approaching 140,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. We've seen so many, so many people have lost their lives. So many people are affected by this. You know, the loss of income to the families and all of these sorts of things, it's not just someone dying from COVID.

But you know, one of the things we're seeing less of, though, in this wave of the pandemic, is a spike in deaths. We saw many, many more deaths in the earlier waves of the pandemic.

And that means -- a lot of that is because people are vaccinated now and they aren't getting as sick as they were earlier and they're not dying at the rate they were earlier in the pandemic, Kristie.

STOUT: But this new variant, Omicron, continues to spread rapidly across Europe.

So are more European countries looking at tighter COVID control measures now?

NADEAU: Absolutely. But it does come back down to those restrictions. They're mostly against the unvaccinated. Here in Italy, you know, you have to be vaccinated to go into a restaurant, to dine in a restaurant, to go to work in some places. It's not enough to have a negative COVID test, which has been in place for quite some time.

That's what they're looking at in France, too. That negative COVID test isn't enough.


NADEAU: You have to be vaccinated. So the restrictions do tend to focus on those people that haven't been vaccinated yet. But January will be a tough month, as these numbers are expected to -- they haven't peaked yet and they're expected to continue to rise. And new measures may well be put into place all across Europe.

STOUT: Barbie Nadeau, reporting live in Rome, thank you.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Up next, a grand slam tennis title is on the line for Novak Djokovic. And we have a live report from Sydney, as the world's most famous unvaccinated tennis player fights to stay in the country to defend his title.

Plus, we'll get some expert analysis on the details of Djokovic's case ahead of Monday's crucial court hearing.




STOUT: In less than 24 hours, Novak Djokovic could find out if he will be allowed to defend his title at the Australian Open or be sent home. An Australian court will consider whether to reinstate his visa, which was canceled on his arrival in Melbourne for reportedly not meeting the vaccination requirements for entry.

A court document confirmed that the world's number one's men's player is unvaccinated. [04:15:00]






STOUT: A power struggle seems to play out behind the scenes after a violent crackdown on protesters. Up next, the president of Kazakhstan moves against others in the regime as Russian-led forces flood into the country.

Plus, the Kremlin troop's buildup on the border of another neighbor, Ukraine, looms over a high-stakes meeting between the U.S. and Russia. What to expect -- coming up.





STOUT: The U.S. and Russia begin high-stakes talks on Monday as the Kremlin flexes its military muscle with regard to two other former Soviet republics.

In Kazakhstan, Russian troops are now helping to restore order after massive anti-government protests there. And they were invited by Kazakhstan's president on the heels of his brutal crackdowns on those rallies. He's now moving to consolidate power, going after other political figures in the country.

And there's also the Russian military buildup near Ukraine, which is raising fears that Moscow could invade again. If that happens, White House officials say the U.S. already has a list of harsh economic sanctions ready. For more, Fred Pleitgen is standing by on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, while Nina dos Santos is joining us from London.

Fred, we'll start with you. The former intelligence chief of Kazakhstan has been detained.

What has been the reaction inside Kazakhstan to that?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it goes back to one of the things that you were saying earlier, Kristie, is there appears to have been somewhat of a power struggle inside Kazakhstan, in the wake of that unrest that happened there. But it seems pretty clear right now that that power struggle has

essentially been decided in favor of the current president. And essentially what we have this morning, what we had late last night, were those rumors that Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was the president of that country for decades, that he had fled that country.

Those rumors were put to rest, a spokesperson saying that he was still inside the country. But apparently he was urging people to remain calm and also to rally around the president, to rally around Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. And that seems to be indicating who holds the reins there right now and who is consolidating the power.

That, of course, is Mr. Tokayev, the current president. You can see that play out on the ground as well. The situation seems to be calming down, given the fact there was that massive crackdown that happened.

And the latest numbers I got a couple of minutes ago, from our folks that are working on this, right now, apparently 5,135 people have been detained for alleged participation in those protests.

So you can really see how the security forces are cracking down and the security forces themselves are saying that that is now moving into the next phase, where certainly more people will most probably be detained as well, Kristie.

STOUT: Fred, thank you. Stand by. Let's go to Nina dos Santos, joining us live from London.

We know veteran U.S. and Russian officials will meet very soon for talks on Ukraine and also Kazakhstan is casting a shadow here.

What will these talks achieve?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Well, you can bet that the issue of Kazakhstan will be looming across those three sets of crucial meetings that will be taking place in the next week or so, Kristie, starting out with a gathering of high-level diplomats between the West and Russia in Geneva.

We've got the Russia-NATO council summit that will be meeting in Brussels later in the week and an organization of which Russia is part, the OSCE, that will be having talks in Vienna, as well.

So time and time again, you can imagine from the West's point of view, they'll be asking themselves, does Russia really have the appetite to have intervention, military intervention on both sides of Eurasia?

With, of course, there's unexpected development in Kazakhstan and Russian troops now having been sent there. But the biggest deployment since post-war history, amassing on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, with more than 100,000 troops that Vladimir Putin has been building up as part of this ongoing diplomatic leverage, Kristie.

He's being trying to essentially get NATO to push back on its boundaries, to get NATO to shrink back in some way toward the post- Soviet time because, of course, NATO has expanded quite significantly since that time, taking in a lot of Eastern European countries.

And that is essentially what Vladimir Putin is going into these talks with. From the U.S. and NATO's point of view, well, they're saying that there's an opportunity, according to Antony Blinken, for de- escalation via diplomacy.

But if they're not able to do that, the issue of economic sanctions could be something that they could apply to the inner circle around the Kremlin, to try to stymie their access to dollar assets and capital and technology for Russia.

Either way, essentially, what this comes down to is the fact that the West still has to keep talking with Russia, because they're concerned that it could eventually invade Ukraine.


DOS SANTOS: And further, they have a signal to other revisionist countries like China that they do have limits and are willing to act on this. So this is why next week really matters, Kristie.

STOUT: To keep on talking, to keep on finding those pressure points. Fred Pleitgen and Nina dos Santos, a big thank you to you both.


STOUT: And joining me from Moscow is Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of

Sir, thank you so much for joining us. We know that veteran U.S. and Russian officials will soon meet in Geneva.

What's going to come out of these talks that couldn't have been settled earlier?

ALEXANDER BAUNOV, CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER: Everything started with the imminent threat to Ukraine that Vladimir Putin posed with the military drill and the military escalation near Russian-Ukrainian border.

But it looks like it's about more than just Ukraine. He's been seeking a final formal consideration of a post-Soviet space before he's shaping his legacy.

This is more than just about Ukraine. It's also about NATO. Russia wants security guarantees.

Do you think there's room for compromise on NATO?

Or will Moscow make just a series of unworkable demands?

BAUNOV: Well, some demands, of course, looks exaggerated. But from the local perspective, what Vladimir Putin wants is to -- is to change the state of score he's not satisfied with.

Look, he, many times, said that enlargement of NATO was the worst thing for the Russian security. But when it happened, it happened, especially the second wave of the enlargement during his presidency.

So his legacy would be the president under which the NATO expanded toward the former Soviet republics, Baltic states. And the question about Ukraine joining NATO and Georgia joining NATO is open. So basically, he wants to, as much as he can, to try to close these questions and to try to shape his legacy in a different way.

STOUT: Interesting to hear that Putin is trying to shape his legacy through these talks. It will be his veteran diplomats who will be speaking on his behalf when these U.S.-Russia talks kick off.

As these talks go on, how is it being received domestically inside Russia?

Is it burnishing Putin's image as a strongman on the world stage?

BAUNOV: Now with Kazakhstan, I don't think that too much attention will be paid. Well, of course, it depends on the result. But, generally, he has sort of popular support for the idea that modern Russia is not the country that lost the Cold War. There was a Soviet Union, with the Soviet ideology, the Soviet Communist Party, as a ruler, that lost the Cold War.

But not the modern Russia. So the modern Russia has not lost anything, at least until now, and has the right to ask for guarantees for its security or has the right to -- what here is seen as a sort of legitimate sphere of influence or sphere of security. We can talk in these terms.

STOUT: Russia and Putin, they want to position in a tough way. We also know that the last time President Bidens and Putin talked on December the 30th, President Biden, he had a tough posture with Putin. He warned of harsh economic retribution.

Are we going to hear more of that tone in this latest round of talks?

And is it enough to avoid another Russian invasion of Ukraine?

BAUNOV: The preparation for the invasion is, at least for now, a diplomatic tool -- a very harsh one -- but nevertheless, they're just shaping the stage for these talks.

But the stakes of the talks are very high. And if you show -- I mean, the Kremlin shows their readiness to implement force and do nothing and receives nothing, it's a very ambiguous situation for Vladimir Putin.

So he has to receive something substantial on these talks -- or at least the start of talks on very substantial issues or to do something with this military buildup, to do something with the force, because you cannot just threaten with force and then not to use it many times.


BAUNOV: It's one time or two times instrument.

STOUT: Alexander Baunov, thank you so much for joining us.

BAUNOV: Thank you.


STOUT: Now stormy weather is gripping parts of the U.S. and we'll be heading to the CNN Weather Center for the latest. That just ahead.

And a day at the lake in Brazil turned into a disaster. A huge section of a cliff face sheared off and collapsed onto tour boats. Next, the latest on the search and rescue.





STOUT (voice-over): All right. You are looking at miles of flooded roads in Washington. The U.S. state has been dealing with weeks of record-breaking rain and snow. But officials say that they're finally getting a break from the storms and high water that you see here. It is expected to recede.

Now the state's Department of Transportation also started clearing roadways just outside of Seattle, after 38 avalanches came down onto a major highway.


STOUT: And Washington isn't the only area in America seeing some dangerous weather. Tens of millions are under winter weather advisories across the Midwest and northeastern United States.



STOUT: Dozens of people are back on solid ground in the U.S. state of Wisconsin after being stuck offshore on this drifting sheet of ice.


STOUT (voice-over): The Brown County sheriff's office says a large chunk of floating ice broke off near Green Bay mid-morning on Saturday, leaving multiple people stranded. Local media say that they were ice fishing.

Rescue teams had to move quickly, as the open water further moved and cracked the ice during the operation. Within two hours, they had drifted about a mile from shore before authorities were able to rescue all 34 people -- amazingly, with no injuries.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STOUT: Now search and rescue efforts are set to resume in the coming hours in Brazil, where an enormous cliff wall broke off and collapsed. It smashed onto several tour boats on Saturday, killing at least seven people. The disaster happened at a lake popular with sightseers in southeastern Brazil. Rafael Romo has the latest.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Divers in charge of a search and rescue operation stopped the search at dusk due to security reasons. That's according to Colonel Edgard Estevo from the Minas Gerais fire department, who confirmed at least seven people died after a canyon wall fell onto boats below, injuring about 30 others.

Earlier, local media reported there were as many as 20 missing but it still said that the number of unaccounted for now stands at three. It happened at Capitolio Canyon, a tourist attraction located in Furnas Lake, a hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian central state of Minas Gerais.

As people watched the canyon walls from tourist boats a short distance away, a massive rock formation collapsed, falling on top of at least four boats carrying tourists. Before we show you the video, we must warn you that it may be disturbing for some people.


ROMO (voice-over): Video posted on social media showed tourists on other boats in Furnas Lake, shouting, "Get out of there."

That was right before the canyon wall fell onto the lake. Minas Gerais governor Romeu Zema blamed torrential rains that have hit the region for the canyon wall collapse.


ROMO (voice-over): "Today we are suffering the pain of a tragedy in our state, due to heavy rains, which caused the detachment of a wall of stones in Lake Furnas in Capitolio."

He added that search and rescue teams from the Minas Gerais civil defense and fire department have been at the site since the first moments of the collapse to help those affected.

Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, who also retweeted the video of the collapse, said that the navy deployed a relief team to join the search and rescue efforts.

Authorities are now urging the public to avoid places in the area with high risk of land and rockslides as well as flooding due to the recent rains -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


STOUT: You're watching CNN. Still to come, the funeral of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. How he was remembered by political heavyweights, past and present.





STOUT: Now imagine trying to unfold an origami puzzle the size of a tennis court. Now imagine doing it remotely, in space.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see people clapping?

STOUT (voice-over): No wonder there were cheers at NASA as the James Webb Space Telescope completed dozens of intricate deployments, just 14 days after it was launched into deep space. The last piece of the puzzle was unfolding its giant golden mirror. Scientists say it will help in observing other planets in the search for signs of life.



JANE RIGBY, WEBB OPERATIONS PROJECT SCIENTIST, NASA GODDARD: And so those observations include studying planets that are nothing like the Earth, right, that are massive -- Jupiter, Saturn or Neptune-like objects but they also include planets that are more like the Earth, that could be rocky.

In particular, for Webb, Webb can study planets that are in the habitable zone, that is might have liquid water.


RIGBY: They're at the right temperature distance from their sun to have liquid water.


STOUT: We could get a look at the Webb's first photos in June or July. And scientists promise it will forever change the way we see and understand the universe.

U.S. President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama were among the political heavyweights paying tribute in Las Vegas at the funeral of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Reid rose from humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada. He successfully ran for Senate in 1986 and led Democrats in the chamber from 2005 through 2017. At his memorial, friends remembered his soft- spoken style and his ability to take a political punch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You wanted Harry in the foxhole with you. His willingness to fight by my side, to stick with me, even when things weren't going our way -- my poll numbers had gone down and some Democrats thought it might be prudent to maintain a healthy distance from me.

His willingness to be there and fight would last throughout my presidency. It's a debt to him that I could never fully repay.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like every great leader, he led the Democratic caucus, just not by speaking but by listening, by hearing all points of view and finding common ground. Harry cared so much about his fellow Americans and so little about what anybody thought of him. It was all searchlight, no spotlight.

STOUT (voice-over): Reid died late last month at the age of 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.


STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. Thank you for your company. I'll be back in just a moment with more CNN NEWSROOM.