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Kazakhstan Power Grab Plays Out After Crackdown On Protests; U.S. Schools Struggle With Staffing Shortages; Novak Djokovic Appeals Decision; U.S.-Russia Talks In Geneva; Europe Protests Over COVID-19 Restrictions; Remembering Harry Reid; Thirty-Plus Million Under U.S. Weather Advisories; Canary Island Residents Return Home After Months Of Volcanic Eruption. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 05:00   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.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, child hospitalizations are hitting record numbers across the U.S., all while states wrestle with the benefits and risks of in-person learning.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's our rule, it's our rule. That's it.

STOUT (voice-over): Many Australians showing little sympathy for Novak Djokovic, as the tennis star waits to see if he'll be allowed to defend his grand slam title. A live report from Sydney with the latest.


STOUT (voice-over): And we're live at the CNN Weather Center, where millions across the U.S. are under another winter weather advisory.


STOUT: We begin in the U.S., where the rampant spread of the Omicron variant is hurting health care and education. A record number of young children 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 who are hospitalized. And with medical workers scrambling to deal with new admissions of all ages, the Omicron variant is disrupting the delivery of routine health care.

Meanwhile, while the surge in U.S. COVID cases has left school officials facing staffing shortages and dealing with concerns about whether in-person learning is safe. CNN's Nadia Romero looks at how cities and states are reacting from coast to coast.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in the state of Georgia, the governor releasing new guidelines, slashing restrictions for teachers who test positive for COVID-19 even if they're infected with the virus, as long as they're asymptomatic. They can go back to the classroom to teach as long as they wear a mask.

Now the governor, though, is leaving those guidelines up to each school district to decide what they think is best.

So I'm outside of Midtown High School here in the Atlanta Public School District and they have decided to go back to mandatory testing at least twice a week for teachers and voluntary testing for students, as long as they have their parents consent.

But in states like -- in other states like New York, New York City, for instance, there are some 30 lawmakers and teachers unions that are urging the city to allow for a remote learning option.

They say it will give them time to have more testing and vaccinations so they can try to curb the spread of COVID-19 after seeing cases there going out of control and spiraling, rising in New York City.

But the mayor is adamant he only wants in-person learning. Here's why.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: Strain after strain, we can't continue to stop our children from developing socially and academically in the support that they need. So we have to learn how to live with COVID and live with COVID in a safe way and that's what I'm going to do.

I'm not going to allow the hysteria to prevent the future of my children receiving a quality education and the development that all sociologists have stated they need.


ROMERO: From New York City on the East Coast all the way to the West Coast in the Bay Area, San Francisco, Oakland, we saw teachers there scheduling a sickout. Now they wanted to do the sickout as a protest to their school districts saying they wanted more testing, more masks.

And they want the districts to try to figure out a way to deal with the critical staffing shortages they've been dealing with since the beginning of the pandemic -- Nadia Romero, CNN, Atlanta.


STOUT: In Chicago, it is still unclear if classes will resume on Monday for more than 300,000 public school students. Classes were canceled after the teachers union voted against in-person learning, citing concerns over a surge in COVID cases. Now public school officials and the mayor are pushing to resume

classes as soon as possible. In the meantime, families are in limbo, with their kids stuck at home. Here's one parent's viewpoint.


NATASHA DUNN, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS PARENT: It's been very stressful. I'm not just a parent but I have been always an education advocate and activist. So for me, being that now I'm literally in the position, where my daughter's future is at stake, it makes it a little different.

I think it's completely reckless to close an entire school district.


DUNN: We have over 600 schools and that's too many schools to be just closed all at one time. It's reckless to ignore that this pandemic is not just about physical health, it's about mental health as well.

We know that, in the last remote portion of our learning, which lasted for almost two years, that children suffered, children felt isolated. We had a higher rate of suicide.

We also had, in Chicago, an increase in school-aged children who participated in criminal behavior that we've never seen before. So when we talk about the risks and the rewards of going back to in- person learning, we have to really acknowledge the mental health aspect of keeping children isolated and at home on a laptop all day long.


STOUT: Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the United States.

Meanwhile, officials are struggling to contain COVID-19 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, the French president, Macron said that he wants to, quote, "piss off" the unvaccinated. If that's his plan, it's working. Protesters vented their anger in protest.

In Italy, a mandate for everyone over 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 but the mandates triggered protests as well. We'll go live to Rome for more on that a little bit later in the program.

In less than 24 hours, Novak Djokovic can find out if he'll 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 allegedly not meeting the vaccination requirements for entry. The court documents submitted by Djokovic's attorneys confirm the

men's number one world player is unvaccinated. At issue is whether a medical exemption was allowed.



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

Plus, the Kremlin's troop buildup in the border of another neighbor, Ukraine, looms over high-level talks between the U.S. and Russia. What the White House says it will and will not discuss, coming up.





STOUT: A state TV channel in Kazakhstan says more than 5,000 people were detained for allegedly participating in the recent anti- government protests. The report comes as the nation's president is moving to tighten his grip on power.

On Saturday, officials said that the nation's former intelligence chief was detained on suspicion of treason. The move came days after he was fired from the post.

The intelligence chief was an ally of the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was also removed as the head of the security council this past week. He retained that post after leaving the presidency and still wielded significant political power. His press secretary denied rumors that the former president had left Kazakhstan.

The government is keeping most foreign nationals out of Kazakhstan for now but our Fred Pleitgen is monitoring the situation from just across the border in Kyrgyzstan. He joins us live at the border.

And Fred, the former intelligence chief of Kazakhstan has been detained.

What's the latest on his reaction and the reaction inside Kazakhstan?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently, he's been detained on the grounds that he's suspected of possible treason. So you can certainly see, as you put it very correctly, Kristie, that power struggle playing out there in Kazakhstan.

Of course, all of that in the wake of these protests and in the wake of the violence that ensued as well. But it seems, from our vantage point, from the sources we're speaking to inside Kazakhstan, that that struggle has been decided, with Nursultan Nazarbayev saying through a spokesperson that he backs President Tokayev.

He's urging the people in Kazakhstan to rally around President Tokayev. It seems that Tokayev is consolidating that grip on power and making that grip on power stronger and also moving Kazakhstan further into Moscow's orbit.

Big phone call that the president, Tokayev had, yesterday was with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, where he thanked Vladimir Putin not only for moving Russian forces into Kazakhstan, making them available but also doing it very, very quickly.

And one of the other things, Kazakhstan not letting most foreign nationals in. We can see that from our vantage point here. That's the border crossing right here behind us. We've not only seen people from various places around the world and from European countries trying to get through that border crossing.


PLEITGEN: They're not being allowed to do that, being rejected but also people from Kyrgyzstan. And normally for them, it's pretty easy to enter Kazakhstan but right now it really seems as if the border is very much sealed, Kristie.

STOUT: The border is sealed except for Russian troops.

And after Tokayev invited those Russian troops into his country to help quell the unrest, what's the situation on the ground?

PLEITGEN: I think that it certainly plays a major role and it certainly does not only consolidate Mr. Tokayev's grip on power but moves Kazakhstan not only closer into Russia's orbit but further into the CSTO. That's an alliance that has been there for a long time but hasn't been utilized very much over the past couple of years, decades.

And now we can really see, for the first time, foreign troops have been called in under that security treaty and moved in very quickly. And I think it did make a big difference there on the ground as well and continues to do so.

And from what we can see, from our vantage point here, from the information that we're getting, it appears as though that crackdown that was ordered by President Tokayev, that that really is moving into the next phase now.

There's very few protests that apparently are still going on. It's also a lot quieter in the streets as a result of that. But it certainly seems as though a lot of people are being detained.

As the president has said, he is now going to go after those, he says, are behind those protests, which, of course, the government in Kazakhstan, they believe, have been fueled from outside of the country. So far, though, no evidence has been provided that that has actually been the case, Kristie. STOUT: Fred Pleitgen reporting live from the border. Thank you so


The violent unrest in Kazakhstan is happening as we're just a day away from high-stakes talks between U.S. and Russian officials. The two powers are at odds over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine.

The Biden administration reportedly is open to discussing European missile deployments and military exercises. However, officials say nothing concrete is expected to be reached in these talks. Now CNN's Nina dos Santos joins us now live in London.

Nina, we have veteran U.S. officials, veteran Russian officials, that will soon meet for these talks on Ukraine. Kazakhstan, of course, casting a shadow to these talks. Nothing concrete expected.

So what will these talks achieve?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Well, usually these kind of talks, Kristie, which you pointed out, are being led by really experienced negotiators. To give you an indication of that, on the U.S. side, they'll be led by Wendy Sherman, who is responsible for negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. These are very experienced players.

Usually going into these types of talks, you hear diplomats being extremely vague or tight-lipped about what they might actually put on the table, for fear of giving the game away, if you like.

Remember, this is diplomacy happening essentially under the barrel of a gun from the West's point of view, with Russia having amassed these hundred thousand troops on their side of the border, seemingly poised to invade Ukraine, if NATO doesn't repeal some of its recent, what they view, as encroachment on previous post-Soviet space of sphere and security.

As you pointed out in your introduction, it could be missile deployment. Potentially, maybe not in places like Eastern Europe, where it's extremely sensitive, because, of course, we've had allied presences in places like the Baltics.

That is crucial to maintaining their independence because they are only a couple hundred kilometers away from the Russian border.

But perhaps in places like the Black Sea. There could also be discussions about conventional arms control. There are three sets of meetings that are set to take place over the course of the week, the big one being in Brussels with that Russia-NATO counsel meeting that will take place midweek.

Before that, we've got a Geneva summit with diplomats on both sides, and later on in the week, the OSE, where Ukraine will be alongside the table there. Kristie?

STOUT: And when President Bidens and Putin talked on December the 30th, President Biden, he had that tough tone with Putin. He warned of harsh economic retribution. Will we hear more of that tough talk in this latest round of talks?

DOS SANTOS: We've already seen some indications in the press, the international press and the U.S. press this morning, of what type of tough talk we could be expecting here.

And largely, the focus has been put on economic sanctions yet again, which could -- and technological sanctions, which could curtail the Kremlin's access and consumer's access to Western consumer goods, vital technology and, crucially, the international banking system.

But you've got to remember that the Europeans will be around the table here. And they rely on Russia for a large amount of their gas. Gas shipments throughout the course of winter have been curtailed, somewhat, from Russia and stockpiles are being depleted right across Europe as it gets colder.

And so there's real concerns that Europe could face some sort of retaliatory measures.


DOS SANTOS: Diplomatic energy security measures, in the meantime, should those type of draconian sanctions be put on the table by the United States. But essentially, the problem here is that both sides have to keep talking.

Otherwise, what they can't afford, at least from the West's perspective, is for these talks to end up being a failure and for that being a pretext to Vladimir Putin to take action in a place like Ukraine.

As you said, the backdrop to all of this that has been unexpected in the last couple of weeks is the strife in Kazakhstan. And now there is the specter of Russian military intervention there.

And some of the question marks that will be around the table in the back of diplomats' minds will be, can Vladimir Putin afford to have armies on both sides of Eurasia involved in conflicts at this time? Kristie.

STOUT: They have to keep that channel of communication open, even with that question mark over Kazakhstan. Nina dos Santos reporting live from London. Thank you.

Alexander Baunov is senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor-in-chief of And earlier I asked him what kind of demands will Russia bring to the table with the upcoming talks with the U.S. Take a listen.


ALEXANDER BAUNOV, CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER: 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: That was Alexander Baunov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Across Europe, COVID rules and legislation are fueling more protests. We look at France and Italy, coming up.

Plus, an inside look. The so-called hotel where Novak Djokovic has been confined since Wednesday. He will likely leave it soon but dozens of other people are stuck there indefinitely.





STOUT: And even as COVID rages across Europe, people marched on Saturday against pandemic restrictions.


STOUT (voice-over): Angry protesters took to the streets in Paris, as lawmakers mull a vaccine pass to get into bars and cafes. Marchers are also mad at president Emmanuel Macron and his comments about wanting to, quote, "piss off" the unvaccinated.

Demonstrators also gathered in Turin, Italy. They are furious over a vaccine mandate for people older than 50 and other restrictions. Under the new rules, the unvaccinated won't be able to use public transportation and sit at restaurants.


STOUT: For more, I'm joined by CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau in Rome.

Barbie, Italy now mandating vaccination for anyone over the age of 50 there. Tell us more about the reaction and how it's being rolled out.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's supposed to come into effect around February 1st. That gives people a lot of time to reserve their vaccines. And authorities say there's been a threefold increase in that age group, people over the age of 50, in reserving vaccines. So those new restrictions do work. It will be not only impossible took

to go to a restaurant or go to work, you'll get fined if you're over 50 and don't have a vaccine. It's that strict when it comes into place, Kristie.

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

Can you tell us more about the picture across the continent?

NADEAU: We're seeing a lot of increases in deaths, nothing like we had in those first waves of the pandemic. The people who are diagnosed tend to be people who have compromised immunity and things like that.

Here, we're approaching 140,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. In the U.K., they've topped more than 150,000 deaths. That's a tragic side effect to all of this. Deaths over 100 a day here in Italy on average and elsewhere in Europe.

But every country counts their deaths differently. So a lot of authorities think that the death toll is probably actually a lot higher than the numbers suggest, Kristie.

STOUT: And with Omicron cases and deaths spiking across Europe, are more European countries looking at tighter COVID control measures now?

NADEAU: Well, so much of these restrictions are focused on people who do not have -- have not been vaccinated and focus on people who haven't gotten their booster yet. The real restrictions are against those people. The rest have chosen not to have to do any sort of lockdown.

People are implementing social distancing, people are implementing restrictions in terms of events and capacity and things like that. But I don't think we're going to see the harsh restrictions we saw in the first few waves of the pandemic. But they will be focused against those who haven't got the vaccine yet, Kristie.

STOUT: Got it. Barbie Nadeau reporting live in Rome for us. Thank you.



STOUT: Now there's stormy weather in parts of the U.S. and we'll head to the CNN Weather Center for the latest across the country -- ahead.

But first, the funeral of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid brought a host of political heavyweights to Nevada, including the U.S. president. That's ahead.



[05:40:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He gave you his word, he kept it. You could bank on it. That's how he got so much done for the good of the country for so many decades.


STOUT: U.S. President Joe Biden there, remembering former Senate majority leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas on Saturday. Mr. Biden was among a number of political heavyweights, who spoke at Reid's memorial service, which drew mourners from both sides of the aisle.

Former president Barack Obama gave Reid credit for helping his own political rise and said today's Democrats would do well to remember Reid's pragmatic approach. Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: President Biden and former President Barack Obama and scores of Democrats gathered here in Las Vegas on Saturday to pay tribute to former senator Harry Reid for his lifetime of service in Washington and here in his home state of Nevada.

For more than three decades, he worked in the halls of Congress, passing some of the key legislative efforts of the era. Certainly the Affordable Care Act in the Obama administration, saving Social Security during the Bush administration and so many more examples.

The president hailed him as one of the greatest Senate leaders of all time and he also invoked his name in a fight for democracy.


BIDEN: We have to restore the soul of America. No one knew it better than Harry. Protecting democracy requires vigilance and stewardship. And Harry's life shows it for all of our darkest days. We can find light and find hope.


ZELENY: But it was former president Barack Obama, who flew here to Las Vegas from Hawaii, where he's been spending the holidays, talking specifically about his very deep personal relationship with Harry Reid.

Back in 2006, it was Harry Reid, Senator Reid, who called a young Senator Obama into his office and urged him to consider running for president. The rest, of course, is history.

But Mr. Obama talked about that history repeatedly, giving key anecdotes about their time together, about how he simply would not have been a successful president without the partnership of Harry Reid. But he also had a message for today's Democrats.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never heard Harry speak of politics as if it was some unbending battle between good and evil because he knew what was true for himself was true for everybody, that we're all a bundle of contradictions.

We all have our flaws. We all have our blind spots. But despite all of that, it was possible for us to affirm our collective humanity, because that's what had made America great.


ZELENY: Several moments of levity as well; when former President Obama took issue with something that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said, she said she never heard Senator Reid utter an unkind word about any of his Senate colleagues.

President Obama said, that wasn't exactly the case. He heard Senator Reid do that often.

It brought laughter inside the halls of the Smith Performing Arts Center here. Senator Reid will be going to Washington. His body will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol building next week, certainly paying tribute and honor to this American hero from Nevada -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Las Vegas.



STOUT: Reid died in late December at the age of 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.





STOUT: Welcome back. You're 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 are finally getting a break from the storms and the high water is expected to recede.

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 seeing dangerous weather. Tens of millions of Americans are under winter weather advisories across the Midwest and northeastern U.S.



STOUT: At least 21 people are dead and some freezing to death after more than a thousand cars got stuck on a road during a blizzard on Saturday in northern Pakistan. Pakistan's prime minister described the snowfall as unprecedented and says many people failed to check the weather before traveling. Lynda Kinkade has more.


LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This family, stuck in heavy snow in Pakistan, is one of the lucky ones. Rescuers were able to push their vehicle to safety. But Pakistani officials said on Saturday that there were more than 1,000 other cars stranded in blizzard conditions in a town about 67 kilometers from Islamabad.

Rescue operations were mounted to evacuate people trapped on the impassible roads. Pakistan's interior minister says in addition to the unusually heavy snowfall, a huge influx of tourists created the crisis.

Many visiting the area for a scenic drive through the mountain town to see the winter sights which quickly became a nightmare, as traffic began to back up and more bad weather rolled in.

Cars were buried in the snow and downed trees blocked passageways. Police say that people trapped in vehicles froze to death or succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Children were among the dead.

Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister, tweeted that he was shocked and upset at the deaths of the tourists. An Islamabad police spokesperson said all the roads where the traffic jam occurred are now clear and thousands of people who were stuck have been evacuated.

Shelters have been set up around the town to provide food and blankets for the rescued and the people who left their cars on foot. The Pakistani prime minister says that he has ordered an inquiry into the incident -- Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


STOUT: Displaced residents are finally returning home on Spain's La Palma island, this after massive volcanic eruptions wreaked havoc and disruption for months. CNN's Michael Holmes has more on what will be a long and costly cleanup.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Blue skies, once again, over Spain's La Palma island. Officials say, the rain of fire from the island's volcano, rumbling to life in mid-September and erupted for the next three months, is finally extinguished. Around 1,000 people were allowed to return to their homes this week;

ash is everywhere. Around 3,000 properties and more than 1,000 homes and banana farms, have been destroyed.

Some houses still standing but encased in hardened lava. Others, coated in dusty debris. This man says he feels lucky that his neighborhood was spared the worst of it.

He says, "We have been fortunate enough to return. But others have lost their homes. I really feel for them."

In another part of town, it's a tougher cleanup; emergency workers use bulldozers, trying to dig through the solidified lava clogging the streets. Experts say the damage could exceed $1 billion and it could take several years to remove all of it.

Also, they warn it is still not safe.

One volcanologist says, "The exclusion area is still pretty dangerous." He says the flows of lava may have gotten colder on the surface.


HOLMES (voice-over): But when you take a sample or watch them up close, the flows are still holding so much heat. And there are also gaseous emissions.

Many homeowners face months of backbreaking work before their houses are functional again. Many are without water, because of damaged pipes. Trips around the island to get basic supplies, of course, take much longer because of blocked roads.

This woman says her property looked like a graveyard when she first saw it; everything was black. But she said she is hopeful with each load of ash she removes, that, one day, she will have her house back.

And the once thundering giant in the distance will stay silent -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


STOUT: Now the high-tech James Webb Space Telescope is one step closer to sending us pictures of the universe from billions of light years in the past.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see people clapping, yes.

STOUT (voice-over): Just two weeks after launch, NASA scientists cheered after the telescope reached its final form in orbit by deploying its golden mirror, the largest mirror that NASA has ever built. It is so big, it had to be folded origami style to fit inside the rocket.

But it will take five months of alignment and calibration before the telescope can start transmitting images.


STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. Thank you very much for your company. For our viewers in the United States and Canada, "NEW DAY WEEKEND" is next. And for everyone else, "CONNECTING AFRICA" is next.