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Djokovic Wins Visa Appeal, Can Remain in Australia; Critical Talks Between U.S. and Moscow Underway in Geneva; Tianjin, China in Partial Lockdown Due to 18 New Cases; Omicron Variant Drives Case Surges Around the World; Sever Storms, Tornadoes Hit Southeast. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 04:30   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm sure -- and you can correct me here Tracey -- I'm that for Prime Minister Morrison, this case is perhaps is an embarrassment given what we've been hearing from him several weeks now, given as well the fact we've got elections around the corner. Politically, how is this being read?

HOLMES: It's a very good question, and it's something that has two different answers. So, if you are inside Australia and you're speaking to a domestic voting cohort with an election only months away, then this actually is the hard line that he is going to want to take.

He would probably be speaking to his Immigration Minister right now deciding whether they do exercise that right to cancel Novak Djokovic's visa again and have him deported from the country. Because there is such overwhelming emotion, particularly in Melbourne and Victoria that had the worst of COVID in the two years that we've already had. Now going into a third year and the numbers inside Australia are escalating as you know. So, this kind of fits with that agenda.

The fact that whenever border issues are raised such as this on the eve of election, they play well into the hands of the government. But internationally of course it's a very different thing and it's been seen as a very heavy-handed approach. The sort of approach where the punishment does not necessarily fit the crime. The crime, of course, being that it's not a criminal act. Novak Djokovic came in here on a visa that had been approved by the very department that then canceled it once he arrived.

SOARES: It is -- you know, it's rather messy, that's for sure, Tracey. I mean, let's talk about all the emotions there. Because if the government -- Australian government does pursue this further, do you think Melbournians -- who, by the we, we have been reporting on the show for a very long time, the kind of restrictions that Melbournians have faced and the fact they can't see loved ones for such a long time, will they back the Prime Minister here?

HOLMES: Yes, most likely. A majority of them will because from the beginning public opinion doesn't necessarily always stem from the facts of any particular instance. And in this regard a lot of people have the feeling, the emotion that there was somebody being given special treatment, that Novak Djokovic was allowed to come into Australia despite not being vaccinated. And he's very publicly claimed that he has not been vaccinated. But the reason he was able to come in under the very strict guidelines that they have here is that there are exemptions for those who have tested positive recently.

Because even medical guidelines in Australia say that if you have tested positive, you have about a six-month window where you have some natural immunity because of the positive nature of your test and that vaccination is not needed within that time. But that's not something that sat very well with the general population and they just think there should not be any exceptions. If you don't have a COVID vaccination, you should not be allowed into the country. So, that's irrespective of the rules, the regulations, laws, that's just the emotion.

SOARES: That's just the emotion. So many people have made so many sacrifices. We shall see where the Australian government takes this. Tracey Holmes, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you very much.

HOLMES: Thank you, Isa.

SOARES: Now, senior U.S. and Russian diplomats are meeting this hour with Ukraine. High on the agenda, now, the high stakes talks began 90 minutes or so ago in Switzerland. The Americans want Russia to end its troop buildup near the Ukrainian border and the Kremlin wants guarantees Ukraine won't join NATO. The two sides already met on Sunday at a working dinner. Russian state media, quote, a leading Kremlin diplomat think things for these talks were difficult but business like. For his part, the U.S. Secretary of State had downplayed expectations. Antony Blinken speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper. Have a listen.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN, STATE OF THE UNION: What about moving -- having U.S. weaponry out of Poland, moving a further west. And what about moving missiles. What about limiting the scope of U.S. military exercise are any of those on the table?

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, first, Jake, I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week. We're going to be able to put things on the table. The Russians will do the same. Both directly with us at NATO, at the OSE, and we'll see if they're grounds for moving forward.


SOARES: And for the latest, CNN's Sam Kiley is live for us in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. And Nic Robertson is in Geneva, Switzerland. Nic, let me begin with you. How much progress should we expect to come out of this meeting, given that Russia doesn't see any movements on the Ukrainian border as hostile to start up with?

[04:35:00] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, and the United States sees this as a meeting about bilateral issues between the two states rather than including things about Ukraine and including things about NATO. That's not how Russia perceives it. Russia perceives the United States as being the prime mover at NATO. And if they can convince the United States to change its position, on what NATO -- it's already said it will do -- but that is to deny Ukraine the right to join NATO, to roll back NATO's military expansion -- is the word Russia uses. NATO will see it as its deployment toward eastern Europe. Again, that appears to be pretty much a non-starter.

So, the positions are very, very different. And the approaches are very, very different here. The Deputy U.S. Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, who's leading the U.S. delegation is a very experienced negotiator for the State Department. She was heavily involved at a very senior level in the Iran nuclear talks negotiations a few years ago.

She comes to the table with the position that the United States won't discuss Ukraine or other broader issues that go beyond the United States direct bilateral purview without those other partners being in the room and that's not the position that Russia comes into this at all. She is of the view that the United States is keeping its allies completely on site, that the State Department has been very clear laying out just how much leg work Secretary of State Antony Blinken has put in, the phone calls he's made, the conversations he has had with many partners in Europe, including Ukraine.

And that is to show that they are completely lined up and have a united position that if Russia doesn't de-escalate and if it does move to invade Ukraine, there will be serious economic consequences and the potential for military consequences as well. So, it's a what the positions, I think, are very different here and, therefore, what to expect at the end of today, frustration potentially on the Russian side who have already expressed concerns that they're not going to get what they want at this round of talks.

SOARES: Let's go to Sam. And, Sam, you know, we heard at the top of the show, we were talking about that, Russia wants a guarantee that NATO won't expand to include Ukraine. Stoltenberg, Jens Stoltenberg has already poured cold water on this. But if there is in curtain by Russia, Sam, what does Ukraine want to see from NATO here?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, as you observed there.


KILEY: And it would like to be because it would like to be like the Baltic States, under the NATO security blanket that would have meant that if any territory was invaded by any country, there would be an automatic collective defense of that country. That's exactly what Ukraine is looking for.

The Ukrainians are meeting today. The deputy Prime Minister is meeting with Stoltenberg today. They will also alongside the Georgians -- who've also got some of their territory occupied by Russia -- will be meeting at senior military levels on Thursday. So, the signaling coming from NATO is not quite membership at all, but they are putting a kind of reassuring arm around these two countries. Particularly Ukraine which is the one suffering the perception of an immediate threat from Russia.

There have been signals coming from the United States and Britain and others that they will be stepping up military aid in the form of weaponry coming into Ukraine. There's even been reporting in "The New York Times" over the weekend of a communication between the Russians -- rather, from the Americans to the Russians saying if you do try and take any more territory, we'll be sponsoring a kind of guerrilla insurgency there trying to raise the specter of the failed Russian invasion of Afghanistan which was defeated just as the United States that Afghan adventure there by insurgencies.

But these are very much in the background. In the foreground from the Ukrainian perspective, they want to continue to pursue their right as a sovereign nation, as they're saying. The foreign minister tweeting today saying let's call a spade a spade. What we want is sovereignty and what the Russians are demanding, particularly at these talks in Geneva, is some kind of American acquiescence to roll the clock back to 1997 to effectively evacuate a lot of NATO from Eastern Europe -- Isa.

SOARES: These are going to be long diplomatic talks. Nic Robertson and Sam Kiley there, thank you very much.

Now Kazakhstan's president is calling the recent violent protests in the country an attempted coup. But since a constitutional order has been restored. He made the remarks during a virtual summit with the leaders of Russian led military alliance that he called in to help restore calm. At least 164 people are dead and nearly 8,000 others are being detained after the crackdown on protests. The demonstrations began over a spike in fuel prices but expanded to anger over government corruption, poverty, as well as unemployment.


Now, a court in Myanmar has sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison on several charges including smuggling walkie-talkies. Suu Kyi is on trial for a number of cases with possible combine sentences of more than 100 years. In December she was sentenced to four years on charges of incitement and breaking COVID-19 rules. That sentence was later reduced to two years. She has denied all charges.

Now an ambitious goal for Chinese authorities as they work to test the entire population of a large city for coronavirus. We've got the latest in a live report straight ahead.


SOARES: Now the Omicron variant is pushing COVID case numbers to new records in a number of countries and prompting some governments to take strict measures to stop the spread. The entire city of Tianjin in China with a population of nearly 14 million is under partial lockdown. Authorities are testing everyone for COVID after multiple new infections were reported including Omicron cases.

And starting today, Italy will require a super green pass to access most businesses as well as public areas. It is only available to those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID, and no option for a negative test. Of course, we've got reporters covering both of those stories. CNN's Steven Jiang is in Beijing and Nina Dos santos joins me here with more. Nina, let me start with you in Italy. Talk to us about this green pass and how it's being received there.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the super green pass is adding on an extra layer of security from the previous green pass before. Basically, if you go to Italy, -- and I was there recently -- it is very strictly enforced. You have to show a bar code that includes details of your immunity status to COVID-19 or otherwise in previous situations of this green pass up until today.


You could also if you didn't want to be vaccinated or couldn't be vaccinated for some reason, you could show evidence of a negative test in the last 48 hours.

Now, it's that last bit that crucially has been removed here. Essentially meaning that people do have to get vaccinated. Narrowing the window of opportunity for those who are stringently against vaccination, of which there is a vocal minority in northeastern Italy which, by the way, I should point out has often been vocal about vaccinations even predating the pandemic. It's a legacy issue Italy is having to deal with in some parts of the country. And for this reason, regional presidents have been piling on the pressure on Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Italy, to try and make sure that more and more Italians can get vaccinated closing all of those loopholes.

So, if you want to go into a work space and even if you're 50 years old now, you have to be vaccinated and show some evidence of your immunity status. You can't just say that you're 48 hours plus negative in terms of a test. If you want to go to a ski resort, a restaurant, and so on and so forth, that also applies.

Italy has a vaccination take up rate now of around about 85 percent with these recent measures and measures to push the over 50s who are of working age population as well to get vaccinated, Isa. That has led to a threefold increase just recently in the number of 50s that have taken up the vaccine in Italy. So, there is evidence that these measures are working. But of course, as you can imagine, they're rather divisive among Italy and beyond, and also been getting quite a mixed reaction -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, as we've seen throughout Europe as well. Nina do stay with us. Let me go to Steven. Steven Jiang, in Xi'an -- it's not Xi'an, pardon me -- in Tianjin, I should say. We have seen really them stepping up testing everyone. But given China's zero COVID policy, how worried you think, Steven, are authorities there?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Isa, this is really their worst nightmare because how highly transmissible this variant has been around the world and also given Tianjin's proximity to Beijing. Obviously, that's where the Winter Olympics are going to open in 3 1/2 weeks.

That's why this is a double whammy for the authorities. And already you see them largely shut down travel between the two neighboring cities. Where there usually is a large amount of commuting traffic with high-speed trains running back and forth almost every 30 minutes throughout a day. Those services have now been suspended. With Beijing authorities telling commuters from Tianjin, to stay at home, to work from home until further notice.

And in Tianjin, of course, they are now adopting by now familiar measures we have seen authorities implemented around China whenever a local outbreak emerges, that is mass testing, snap lockdowns, as well as extensive contact tracing.

But one other thing they've been doing is to reassure the public of the supply and deliveries of daily necessities, including groceries and medicines because they tried to avoid the fiasco that we saw in Xi'an as you mentioned a few weeks ago when that city went into a strict shutdown because of a local outbreak.

Now this cluster in Tianjin was detected first among school children. So, there are young patients they're dealing with. And also, it's already two more Omicron cases found in central Chinese province of Hunan. So, domestic transmission of this variant already happening. Really confirming the authorities' worst fear. And as you know, there is a growing sense of urgency and concerns because we are also heading very close into the peak travel season ahead of the Lunar Chinese New Year -- Isa.

SOARES: We shall see what happens around the Lunar New Year. Steven Jiang for us in Beijing. Nina dos Santos in London, thank you to you both.

Now, parts of the U.S. are facing some bitter cold weather. We'll go to the CNN Weather Center for the forecast. That's just ahead.



SOARES: We are seeing the aftermath of severe weather across parts of the southern United States. Dozens of homes were damaged in Louisiana, as well as Texas. Experts say several tornadoes touched down in those states as well, as Alabama on Sunday.

Meanwhile, frigid arctic air is in store for much of the upper Midwest, as well as Northeast. Around 30 million people are facing wind chill threats. The latest for CNN's Pedram Javaheri. Good morning, Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Isa. This is going to be an incredibly cold event setting up across portions of not only just the Midwest but even on into the northeast where temps running, get this, as cold as 40 degrees below average. And of course, this is one of the coldest times of the year across North America.

But you'll notice wind chills down to 45 below zero. That is what you're going to feel when you step outside at the morning hours of Monday in northern Minnesota. Even Minneapolis could get down to around 30 to 35 below zero wind chill. And cold enough in some of these areas that reach the threshold of calling off school. In fact, there is a policy here where if wind chills are at 35 below or lower at 6 a.m. on a school day, school is typically called off. Of course, it's the digital age, school closures takes a lot more to maybe cause closures nowadays. But you kind of see the perspective of just how cold the air is in place here.

Chicago, low temperatures on Tuesday morning, only 2 -- 19 what is considered normal. In Minneapolis -4, that's without the wind, 9, what is considered normal. So, an incredible run of cold air that eventually sets up shop across portions of the northeast. Fortunately, it's relatively short lived. But still can get as cold as 35 below across interior portions of New York over the coming several days.

Now again, late January, early February, that's when you expect the coldest air in North America. So, maybe we're a couple of weeks ahead of time. But look at these observations and these forecasts for the high temperatures. In Boston, only 13 on Tuesday afternoon. This is the LaGuardia forecast in New York at around 20 degrees come Tuesday afternoon as well. But the National Weather Service has Central Park right around 15 for an afternoon high. Last time it was this cold in the afternoon, back in 2019. You have to go back about three years. In fact, since 1986. Temps in the afternoon in Central Park of this value have only occurred on 10 instances. Again, speaks to the incredible nature of how cold the air is going to be here across parts of the U.S. over the next couple of days -- Isa.


SOARES: Thank you very much Pedram. It does look beautiful though.

Now, the playoffs are now set for the National Football League after a dramatic Sunday. The regular-season finale between the LA Chargers in Las Vegas Raider went to overtime with LA things up to 29 and all right to the end regulations. Both teams would have advanced to the playoffs if they tied. But the Raiders had other plans kicking a game- winning field goal as time expired. And that means the Chargers are eliminated from the postseason. In the Raiders are on to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. You can see how excited they are there.

Meanwhile, it was an emotional night in the National Basketball Association as Clay Thompson made his long-awaited return from injury. The five-time All-Star was sidelined for more than two years after injuring his knee and his Achilles tendon. Fans and his teammates were on their feet cheering his comeback as he scored 17 points in 20 minutes. Thompson's Golden State Warriors held off visiting Cleveland beating The Cavaliers 96-82.

And the Golden Globes was a private event this year with no televised ceremony, no audience and no live stream. Organizers said the scaled down event was due, of course, to surging COVID-19. NBC announce last year would not broadcast this year's awards following a controversy over, if you remember, the lack of diversity. Now among the winners announced online Sunday where Jason Sudeikis for "Ted Lasso" -- which I love. Jean Smart for "Hacks," Will Smith for "King Richard," and Oh Yeong-su for "Squid Game." The first Golden Globes win ever for a South Korean actor.

And that does it for me here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares in London. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett is up next. Do keep in touch with me. There is all the information on your screen. I shall see you tomorrow. Do stay right here with CNN. Have a wonderful Monday. Take care. Bye-bye.