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Prince Andrew Stripped of Military Titles and Charities; Australian PM: Immigration Minister to Rule on Djokovic; OSCE Chairman: Risk of War is Greatest in 30 Years; Former Syrian Colonel Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity; Shanghai Reports More Cases Linked to Traveler from U.S.; U.K. Travelers to France No Longer Required to Quarantine. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 00:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.


Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, no longer His Royal Highness. Prince Andrew stripped of his military titles and will have to fight his sex abuse lawsuit as a private citizen.

A life sentence for a former Syrian colonel in the first ever torture trial against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

And now, three days from the start of the Australian Open and the fate of its top men's seed. Novak Djokovic still very much in the air.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: And we begin with a further fall from grace for Britain's Prince Andrew as the sexual abuse case against the U.S. is allowed to proceed. The queen's second son is being stripped of all military titles and royal charity roles. The royal source says he will also lose the use of his title, His Royal Highness.

The Duke of York held eight military titles, most notably Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, which came with a big role in the annual trooping of the palace ceremony.

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster with more.


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, will no longer be called "His Royal Highness," according to a royal source. And all his military titles and royal patronages have been returned to the queen. And he won't get them back, the source says.

He's still part of the family, but he's out of The Firm. He will focus instead on defending himself as a private citizen in a U.S. lawsuit. The decision followed a U.S. judge's ruling this week that the civil sex abuse case against Prince Andrew can proceed.

Virginia Giuffre says she was only 17 when she was trafficked by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to the royal, who she alleges sexually abused her in three different locations.

Prince Andrew denies her allegations and says he never even met her. Giuffre's lawyer told the BBC he didn't think his client was interested in a purely financial settlement.

A source close to Andrew says, quote, "This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the duke will continue to defend himself against these claims."

GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY FOR VIRGINIA GIUFFRE: Not comfortable, to have to sit there and answer questions in this lawsuit he's not going to be able to evade and dodge. He's going to have to step up now and answer.

FOSTER: Andrew has been under scrutiny for years for his relationship with the late Epstein and his associate, Ghislaine Maxwell. Though the relationships have damaged his reputation, the prince hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

Maxwell was also found guilty last month on five federal judges, including sex trafficking of a minor.

PRINCE ANDREW, UNITED KINGDOM: It's a news night (ph) for about six months.

FOSTER: After a disastrous U.K. TV appearance in 2019, where he tried and failed to clear his name, the duke temporarily stepped back from public duties.

PRINCE ANDREW: I can absolutely, categorically, tell you it never happened.

FOSTER: The lawsuit is another blow to the 95-year-old queen who, in the past year, has endured the death of her husband, Prince Philip; and being leveled with allegations of institutional racism against the palace by her grandson, Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and wife Meghan, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

At the time, the palace described the claims as concerning and said they'll be dealt with privately. Who knows how she feels as a mother and grandmother about the family's trials and tribulations.

But as a monarch, she's known to put duty first. And casting Andrew out was the only way she could protect the family Firm from further reputational harm.

Max Foster, CNN, Hampshire, England.


HOLMES: Joining me now from Los Angeles is Sandro Monetti. He's a trustee of the Royal Society of St. George. And a royal watcher for us. Good to see you, my friend. So Prince Andrew effectively stripped of

royal patronages, military commissions, won't carry out public appearances, no "His Royal Highness." Effectively a private citizen now, isn't he? How much of a fall has this been for the queen's second eldest?

SANDRO MONETTI, ROYAL EXPERT: The duke is in disgrace. You know, 2022 was supposed to be a good year for the royal family. Coming up is the 70th anniversary of the queen on the throne.

Instead, this year is overshadowed by the Prince Andrew scandal. And looking at that statement, it's so cold and stark.

Imagine if this had been handled differently. The royal family could have said, "We love you, Andrew. We'll fight this as a family."

They could have waited to let the system play out and see what was the outcome of the sex assault lawsuit. Instead, they've acted swiftly, decisively, and decided that Andrew was so toxic he needs to be thrown out in the garbage.

HOLMES: Yes, and I guess the case against him, we must say, it's far from resolved one area or the other. He denies the allegations, but it really does show how embarrassed the family is, The Firm, by the revelations and accusations, even unproven.

MONETTI: Absolutely, they want to distance themselves from this as much as possible. So talks went on at the highest level. I'm talking the big three -- the queen, Charles, and William. Clearly, all in agreement, putting out that statement today on behalf of the royal family that Andrew has to fight this case as a private citizen.

And yes, Prince Andrew has continued to deny the sexual assault claims. But the royal family has taken this decision today.

And it's a devastating one. There's no way back for him. I think losing the military titles will really make him reflect with sadness, especially because this year is the 40th anniversary of the Falklands war in which Prince Andrew served as a helicopter pilot, and he won't be able to take part in any of the anniversaries for that or any more military functions ever again.

The royals have acted decisively and swiftly.

HOLMES: Yes, yes. And it doesn't sort of overshadowed the queen's platinum jubilee year, because that is a huge deal. I want to ask you this, too, because it's interesting.

How might he fund his defense, or if there's a settlement, how might he pay for that if that option arises? I mean, who pays the bill? His life is largely funded, not completely, but largely by his mother.

MONETTI: Well, absolutely. You know, he has a pension from his services career. He gets, I think, 323,000 a year in salary. But these legal bills are going to go, I expect, much higher than that. So yes, he depends on his mother. So, you know, will the queen pay the -- pay the bills? Will Prince Andrew decide to go all the way and take this to court and seek to clear his name?

I know you say hopefully it won't overshadow the jubilee. It will. This is going to be the main story of the year. We'll see how this plays out in royal watchers.

HOLMES: Good point. I mean, I guess -- when you think about, you know, Prince Andrew, what does all of this say about his judgment about his friends, Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, and so on. Pretty poor judgment.

MONETTI: Another example of poor judgment was when he gave his TV interview with the BBC to defend himself. One of the most inept P.R. exercises of all time. And that only served to incriminate him in the court of public opinion.

Public opinion turned against Prince Andrew at the time.

And so, yes, he hasn't done much to help himself. And the royal family have clearly said, OK, we've had it with you. You're out on your own. Don't -- don't get us involved in this scandal. He's repeatedly made bad judgments. You know, so, if he's -- whatever he's guilty of, he's definitely 100 percent guilty of bad judgment, bad choices, and terrible P.R.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Even if nothing huge comes from these allegations, he's -- do you think there's any way back for him in terms of a royal role?

MONETTI: Zero. He's finished. We'll never see him again on the balcony with the queen. There's -- there's no way back, personally, that I can see. And it would be very difficult to -- to imagine the royal family welcoming him back. Anything is possible, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.


HOLMES: Yes. Yes, exactly. Sandro, good to see you. Sandro Monetti there for us.

MONETTI: God save the queen.

HOLMES: Well, Britain's domestic spy agency is warning lawmakers that an agent of the Chinese government has been actively working to obstruct U.K. politics.

MI5 issued an alert on Thursday, stating that a woman named Christine Le has been, quote, "involved in political interference activities' on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

It's alleged she's doing this by covertly establishing links with current and aspiring members of Parliament. Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith voiced his concerns to fellow lawmakers.


IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, FORMER LEADER, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE PARTY: The key issue here is, I understand that Mister Speaker has been contacted by MI5 and is now warning members of Parliament that there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in Parliament working with another -- a member of Parliament, obviously to subvert the processes here. I say, as a member of Parliament who sanctioned by the Chinese government, that this is a matter of grave concern.


HOLMES: Duncan Smith was sanctioned by China last year for his comments on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

CNN reached out to Christine Le for comment but has not received a reply.

Well, the tennis world is waiting and wondering whether Australia will decide to revoke the visa of unvaccinated No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic.

The prime minister, when asked about it on Thursday, said it's not his call. Djokovic is hoping to compete for an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam title when the tournament starts on Monday.

Phil Black explains why this is such a complex decision.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Novak Djokovic is training every day at center court, defiantly implying he'll still be here when the Australian Open begins. For now, the tournament's organizers have to assume he will be, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We start with our No. 1 seed of the tournament, Novak Djokovic, online No. 1.

BLACK: The competition draw has lined up Djokovic to play a fellow serve in the opening round. But will it happen? The Australian prime minister's position, Don't ask me.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: These are personal ministerial powers I believe will be exercised by Minister Hawke, and I don't propose to make any further comment at this time.

BLACK: Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says he's considering using his personal power to cancel Djokovic's visa. He's been considering it all week. Ever since a judge freed Djokovic from immigration detention and restored his visa, ruling the unvaccinated player was treated unfairly by border officials.

BARNABY JOYCE, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It was about process. The court went down the path of process. But the facts remain the same. So, he still has -- the minister still has the discretion to ask him to leave, and I'll leave it up to the minister as to whether he does that or not. BLACK: Government leaders are ducking questions on this, because the

political stakes are high. A decision to cancel the visa once more must stand up under immigration law. Get it wrong, and Djokovic could successfully appeal again, humiliating the government in the courtroom and every time he appears on center court.

ALEX CULLEN, SPORTS PRESENTER, "TODAY SHOW": For a government that prides itself on border security, this is not a good look, is it, especially with an election coming up.

JOYCE: Oh, gosh. If this is what the election is for, I mean, Australians have missed a whole range of other issues.

BLACK: The government knows that there's little public sympathy for Novak Djokovic, but the clock is ticking. Failing to act before the Australian Open begins could escalate this saga and inflict a significant political cost.

Phil Black, CNN, Melbourne, Australia.


HOLMES: Now, I want to bring in tennis expert and senior editor of "Racquet" magazine, Ben Rothenberg, who is here with me from Melbourne. Good to see you again, Ben.

So the prime minister, Scott Morrison, reiterating that, for individuals to enter Australia, they must show that they are double vaccinated or provide, quote, "acceptable proof" that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Novak Djokovic doesn't qualify for either of those criteria. So does that put pressure on the immigration minister to actually act? What's the feeling?

BEN ROTHENBERG, SENIOR EDITOR, "RACQUET" MAGAZINE: You hit it just right on the head. That is the underlying fact that's still making this case, something that the government is reviewing.

Even though Djokovic won his initial round of appeals on Monday, he got it overturned on procedural grounds that he wasn't given enough time and access to the airport to sort of get to call people and have resources. And that's why he wanted to appeal just on that fairness ground.

The underlying facts of his visa application would still not be deemed sufficient by the federal government regulations. That's why they are reviewing it.

All sorts of other things in the wider scope, as well. But that's right. That's why we're still talking about this. Djokovic still doesn't meet the criteria, even if he has scored a legal victory.


HOLMES: Yes. You'd think if he's going to act, he'd do it before the tournament starts. Pulling him out after it started would be quite something.

What about going forward for Novak Djokovic? I mean, the French Open says he can play there, but in March, the ATP tour, as you all know, moves to advance in the U.S., which is requiring visitors to be fully vaccinated unless the U.S. citizens' lawful permanent residents, or traveling under a U.S. immigrant visa.

What happens then for Novak Djokovic?

ROTHENBERG: You know, if you choose to say unvaccinated, Novak has a very challenging road ahead of him as he tries to stay in a globe- trotting sport. They will be doing to be lots of different countries, lots of different borders, lots of different rules that are ever evolving.

And even at the French Open, even though the government minister from France says at the moment that the rules would allow Djokovic to play, we all know that the pandemic is very fluid in these sorts of things. And rules can tighten at any time.

Still several months away, four or five months away till the French Open. Those are the rules now, might not be the case then. And Djokovic should realize, and I'm sure he had lots of time to think about it while being held, you know, at that immigration detention center he was at for several days.

He's made life much harder for himself. And this can really affect the viability of his career, if it's a hill that he chooses to really stake ground on, staying unvaccinated while still trying to be a globe-trotting tennis player again.

HOLMES: He's going to miss a few tournaments, that's for sure, if that's the case.

Then the Australian tennis legend, Todd Woodridge, one half of the Woodies, told -- told local media, and I'll just quote here, "It is very, very visible that the whole saga is taking a toll on him."

What is your read on what the impact might be in terms of, you know, distraction, preparation interruption. Just energy spent on getting on board?

ROTHENBERG: Suffice it to say, it's an understatement to say it's not been ideal preparation for Djokovic to try to win a record 21st Grand Slam. He's so meticulous about his preparations, about his housing arrangement, usually traveling with a private chef.

And so for him, especially in those days when he was at the detention center, eating the food they provided for him, he really was having a hard time. And I've heard from people who have seen him up closer at the tennis, saying that he seems thinner than usual. He just doesn't look healthy as much as he probably would.

And the stress of this has to have been massive. Again, a lot of this is self-inflicted, but there was a lot of clear duress that he went through during this time. And from a tennis perspective, that certainly doesn't hurt -- help his chances, and on a human level, obviously, it has to be damaging, as well, you'd think.

HOLMES: Yes. Pretty hard to focus, you'd think. Ben Rothenberg, always good to see you. Ben, thanks for it.

Still to come here on the program, diplomacy gives way to the drumbeat of war. We'll have stark assessment from three days of failed talks to ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Also, an historic verdict handed down to a former Syrian regime official charged with crimes against humanity. We'll have all that and more, when we come back.



HOLMES: Welcome back. Three days of talks meant to ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine have hit a dead end, according to Russia's deputy foreign minister. And a U.S. diplomat says, with Russian troops massed along Ukraine's border, the drumbeat of war is sounding louder.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in France are expected to access the situation in the coming hours. CNN's Nic Robertson with a preview.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Deadlocked again. A third day of diplomacy this week. And concern about the impasse with Russia growing.

ZBIGNIEW RAU, OSCE CHAIRMAN, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: The risk of war, we always see carrying on is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.

ROBERTSON: The 57-nation globe-straddling OSCE, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, where both Ukraine and Russia are members, berated by Russia for denying their demands NATO curb its core principles.

Their ambassador saying the Russian idea, "As we discussed in Geneva, Brussels, and here in Vienna, are a moment of truth. If our principles are violated, there could be catastrophic consequences."

Russia's frustrations flowing all week, first following talks with U.S. officials in Geneva Monday.

SERGEY RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances. Not safeguards. Guarantees.

ROBERTSON: Next, at talks with NATO in Brussels Wednesday, again, insisting NATO roll back to pre-1997 lines, and deny Ukraine and others membership, while refusing to engage in NATO's offer of compromise. JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: NATO have today made it

clear on which issues we are ready to sit down and discuss a compromise, talk towards Russian and on arms control and other areas.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Right now the ball is firmly in the Kremlin's court now.

STOLTENBERG: Yes, we are waiting for the answer to our proposal to commence a meeting addressing a wide range of important issues for European security.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The answer, not coming. In Brussels.

(on camera): The U.N. secretary general today said that the ball is now in the Kremlin's court. Your turn to answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the ball is in NATO court.

ROBERTSON: What is clear, is these talks are far from over. This is quite the thickest diplomatic difficulty that NATO and Russia, and the United States have faced in many years.

(voice-over): So bad, that by talks in Vienna, diplomats turning to language rarely used in Europe.

MICHAEL CARPENTER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE OSCE (via phone): We're facing a crisis in European security. The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill.

ROBERTSON: What next: little doubt here. War or peace, or just plain diplomacy, is in the hands of Russia's president.

WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I think there's only one person who knows what Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia wants to do, and that's the president of Russia.

ROBERTSON: The clock is ticking. Putin's battle-ready army, forward deployed near Ukraine's border will eventually need to go back to base.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Brussels, Belgium.


HOLMES: A German court has convicted a former Syrian colonel for crimes against humanity in the first ever torture trial against the Assad regime.

Anwar Raslan was sentenced to life behind bars for his role in unspeakable crimes carried out at a notorious detention center in Damascus.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh reports, but a warning there are images that viewers may find disturbing.


in this small, idyllic German city where Syria's long road to justice begins, with an end to a decade of impunity for some of the worst atrocities of our time.

This court in Koblenz is the first in the world to convict a former senior member of the Assad regime of crimes against humanity. A year ago, it sentenced a junior codefendant to four and a half years in prison for his role in the case.

For nearly two years, the court heard of horrors that unfolded thousands of miles away at a Damascus detention facility, where former Colonel Anwar Raslan allegedly oversaw the torture of as many as 4,000 detainees, sexual assaults, and the death of dozens, during the early days of the uprising.

Raslan defected in 2012 and later fled to Germany, where his past caught up with him. Some of his victims were among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who also made it to Germany.


WASSIM MUKDAD, SYRIAN WITNESS AND JOINT PLAINTIFF: He ordered directly to a man next to me, Make him lay on his belly, and raise his feet in the air like a stress situation. And once the answers didn't suit him, the other man, uncle (ph) man, starts to hit until he says stop. It's like hell.

KARADSHEH: Musician Wassim Mukdad was tortured 10 years ago. He says he's been tormented by the trauma ever since. Reliving that trauma and confronting his jailer, he says, was a duty to those who never made it out to tell their own stories.

MUKDAD: I give my testimony on the 19th of August, 2020. I felt relief. A huge burden from my shoulders. This memory that I kept, willingly, because I didn't want it to be just lost and the suffering will be in vain.

KARADSHEH: Activists have been collecting evidence of the regime's rampant and systematic torture long before this trial.

In 2014, some of the most damning visual evidence of state-sponsored torture emerged after horrific photographs of thousands of detainees tortured to death in Assad's jails were smuggled out of Syria by a military defector, code name Caesar.

But up until this trial, no one had ever been held accountable. The path to international accountability has been blocked by regime allies Russia and China.

(on camera): But that is starting to change now. Here in Germany and other European countries, victims have found a new path to justice under universal jurisdiction, a legal principle that allows national courts like this one to prosecute great crimes against international law, no matter where in the world they were committed. (voice-over): It is the breakthrough on what Anwar Al-Bunni has

dedicated his life to. The human rights lawyer was a driving force behind this trial and other cases in Europe.

ANWAR AL-BUNNI, SYRIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: Crimes against humanity, it's not crimes committed by one person. It's committed by a regime. By state. When the charge would be crimes against humanity, that means holds the system, holds the regime and all the persons, charged now.

KARADSHEH: Bunni believes this trial sends a message of hope at a time when Assad appears to have won the war, and many in the international community seem keen to turn the page.

AL-BUNNI: We want to send a message to the criminals who still in Syria, or they escaped to here and think they are safe now. And OK, let -- There is no safe place that can hide you. No safe place to you in whole, the world.

KARADSHEH: Victims say their battle for justice is only just beginning.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Koblenz, Germany.


HOLMES: Now, a traveler from the United States apparently broke quarantine rules and brought COVID to Shanghai. Now China's largest city is moving to contain a growing number of new cases. We'll have that story in a live report with David Culver, after the break.



HOLMES: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company.

Now Shanghai reporting more COVID cases linked to a traveler from the U.S. who apparently broke quarantine rules. The announcement comes as multiple Chinese cities scramble to contain growing COVID outbreaks.

CNN's David Culver is in Beijing, joins me now with more.

David, these cases reported in Shanghai, what do you know and how are authorities reacting?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Shanghai's been one of those cities, Michael, that has been relatively lax when it comes to some of the heavy COVID restrictions that we've seen elsewhere in China.

Now, I flew in from Shanghai earlier this week, and just to make sure that you could get into Beijing, and to be safe, you have to have at least one COVID test. I came in with eight, because you want to make sure that they can date it back several weeks, if they have to, to make sure that you did not come in contact with a confirmed case. This one case, though, was interesting. Because as you point out, it

came in from the U.S., this traveler; did 14 days of centralized quarantine, and then, in Shanghai, you're allowed to do a seven-day quarantine either at home, if you live there, or seven days in a hotel.

Now, you're expected to mostly stay in that location and not go about, but people would be roaming freely, of course, getting tested throughout.

With the case that they're pointing out, the individual during that seven day of hotel quarantine, so not necessarily the full isolation, that individual was out and about and went to a bubble tea shop. That's where that person, apparently, transmitted the virus to at least four other people.

And so now you have five cases, and you have what's considered to be an elevated risk area in Shanghai. Now, when you have an elevated risk area, for example, in a city like Beijing, if this were to have an outbreak here, you'd have several blocks that would be blocked off, and it would be part of this elevated risk. Medium or high.

Interestingly enough, in Shanghai, it's just that one bubble tea shop that they're labeling as such.

Nonetheless, you're starting to see these stepped-up measures around China, particularly if you're trying to travel into Beijing. This is where, Michael, we have seen the really heavy restrictions in place for anybody trying to enter.

And the obvious reason why is because what you have three weeks from today, the start of the Winter Olympics. This has been a fortress of sorts, and they're trying to maintain it that way.

So one of the real concerns is that any virus would potentially come in, any person contracting the COVID-19, any variants of that, would bring it here and then spread it as they're trying to, of course, show the world that they have controlled COVID as best they can and perhaps, as China would like to say, better than the West -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And tell us about this being further tightening of restrictions in Tianjin, right?

CULVER: That's right, yes. I mean, to give you kind of the geography, that's a commuter city, really, outside of Beijing. So you're in Atlanta there. It's about 70 miles, 80 miles away. So it's like where Athens is.

Of course, it's a massive city. It's 14 million people. And you have people who would come back forth every day on the high-speed train. That has basically come to a stop. You have targeted lockdowns within that city. You have, of course, people who are in those lockdowns that are sealed inside their homes and government having to break food to them.

And to go back and forth between these two cities, Beijing and Tianjin, it's not going to be that easy. You have to have real special exemption to come in. And it's to maintain that wall against any sort of dilution, not only of the health but of the prestige of Beijing as they're once again portraying to the rest of the world that COVID controls, no matter how extreme, have been effective.

And all of this, of course, timing around the lunar new year. We've got the midst of that travel starting, too. And you now that, Michael, to be the largest migration of humanity. You have hundreds of millions of people in China alone normally traveling around this time.

The government has encouraged, in some case employers have ordered their folks, to stay in place. Don't travel home. And that, of course, weighs heavily on many of the people who really only get this time of year to go back to their home provinces, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, yes. And as you say, the Olympics not far away now. David Culver there in Beijing, appreciate it. Good to see you, though.


All right. Now, more protests against a proposed vaccine pass are set for Saturday in France. This after tens of thousands came out Thursday to protest insufficient COVID protocols in schools. And as France relaxes entry requirements for travelers from the U.K.

CNN's Melissa Bell with the details from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The changes that come into effect on Friday will make it easier for travelers from the United Kingdom to come to France, at least for those who have been vaccinated. They will still need a PCR negative test before they travel, but they will no longer be required to quarantine.

Just some of those changes that are being brought in by the French government but others, as well, throughout Europe to try and make it possible to deal with an Omicron variant-driven wave that is simply much, much stronger in terms of the numbers of people it has infecting, than those we'd seen in the past, given the contagion of this particular variant.

Here in France, extraordinary figures once again this week. A record set on Tuesday, nearly 307,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period. By Thursday, that was down to 305,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period. And yet, authorities say that the peak is still likely ahead. Certainly, in terms of hospitalizations and entries into ICUs.

Other changes that have been made here in France have been drawing anger from school teachers. More than 77,000 people took to the streets of France on Thursday, school teachers protesting changes that were brought in on Monday that will make it easier for kids to stay in school even when they've been in contact with someone who turned out to be positive.

That anger likely to be repeated, as well, on Saturday. Another protest is planned against the government's measures. It is trying to make the COVID pass which allows you to enter restaurants, bars, theaters, for instance, and where you can now use a PCR negative test rather than a vaccine.

The aim with what's going through Parliament here in France now is to make that purely a vaccine pass. We saw large numbers of people out on the streets of France last weekend against the measures, and more protests are planned for this coming Saturday.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


HOLMES: UNICEF says some poor nations are turning away COVID vaccines with a short shelf life. Last month alone, they rejected more than 100 million doses distributed through the international COVAX program.

The main reason, the agency says, many vaccines were close to expiring.

Some poor nations were also forced to delay their supplies, because they lack the capacity to store vaccines at the cold temperatures that some require. But vaccine hesitancy is also a problem. The international charity care says more than 30 countries have so far used fewer than half of the vaccines they have received.

Tennis player Novak Djokovic still under scrutiny after a COVID scandal, but why do tennis fans think in his home country of Serbia? We'll hear what they have to say when we come back.



HOLMES: Now, as Novak Djokovic waits to hear the status of his visa ahead of the Australian Open, he's come under a lot of criticism. So, CNN's Scott McLean spoke to some of the tennis star's fans in his home country of Serbia. Here's what they had to say.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The streets of Belgrade are filled with tributes and memorials, to prime ministers, royalty, and homegrown heroes.

But these days, no one is revered quite like Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 tennis player, now struggling to stay in Australia, in large part because he's unvaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we are Serbs. We are on his side. So everything he says is right.

It's a private thing. So I am vaccinated. But if you don't want to do that, you know, you -- it's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's his personal choice, and it's an individual thing. That's how we -- most people see it that way here.

MCLEAN (on camera): Serbs are watching this drama Down Under just as new COVID infections here are hitting record highs, and the Serbian government continues to struggle to convince people to actually take the vaccine.

Even today, less than 60 percent of the adult population has been vaccinated.

Do you think that he should have taken the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the vaccine is the poison, so I think that he don't need it to his body.

MCLEAN (voice-over): In Serbia, there's an indoor mask mandate and a mandatory quarantine period after a positive test. But Djokovic admits he didn't immediately isolate so that he could do an interview with a French newspaper. Drawing subtle criticism even from his most powerful defender, the Serbian president.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If you know you're infected, you should not go out and infect others.

MCLEAN: But in Belgrade, outrage is tough to come by.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't comment, honestly. He's our -- he's our Novak, after all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was an error of judgment. No?

MCLEAN (on camera): You're not too upset about it, though?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, but he said he had a mask. He was on a distance, and so on.

MCLEAN: Court documents show that Djokovic tested positive on December 16th and then negative on December 22nd. Djokovic's positive result came after 8 p.m. on the 16th, but he claims he wasn't notified until the next day, after he attended an event, unmasked, with children.

We wanted to see how the testing system works. So we had producer Nada Bashir take the same PCR test in Belgrade. Her result was emailed just two minutes after the result time stamp on the certificate, though others who were tested said the time for results to be emailed can vary widely.

The Serbian Public Health Institute did not reply to CNN's attempt to seek clarification. The health ministry directed us to comments from the government earlier this week.

ANA BRNABIC, SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I don't know when he got the test results, when he actually saw them, and at what point in time he become aware of testing positive. I only know that the date is December 16th.

As for when he got them, when he actually looked at them, I really don't know. It's something that Novak's team should say.

MCLEAN: Scott McLean, CNN, Belgrade, Serbia.


HOLMES: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. WORLD SPORT with Patrick Snell after the break.