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Australian Open Begins Without Serbian Tennis Star; French Parliament Approves Controversial Vaccine Pass Bill; Eight Cities in China Reporting Omicron Cases; Prince Harry Seeks Right to Pay for U.K. Police Protection; Boris Johnson Faces Calls to Resign Over Lockdown Parties. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 04:30   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Isa Soares. If you are just joining us, we have our top stories.

As many as 80 million people under winter weather alerts in the United States with a powerful storm slamming the East Coast. Now states in the Appalachian region are seeing heavy snowfall as well as high winds. Parts of North Carolina got as much as a foot of snow. That's roughly about 30 centimeters. And that leaves 25 counties declared a state of emergency. We'll stay on top of that story for you.

Plus, new developments following a Saturday standoff at a Texas synagogue. Counterterrorism police in Greater Manchester, England say two teens were detained in relation to the case and they were held for questioning. We know the hostage taker Malik Faisal Akram was a British citizen. And the U.K.'s in touch with U.S. officials. We'll have more, of course, on both of the stories in the coming hour.

Now the Australian Open tennis tournament is now underway without world number one Novak Djokovic. The Serbian tennis star had hoped to defend his title at this year's grand slam. Instead, he ended up embroiled in a legal battle over his COVID vaccination status. He was ultimately deported on Sunday after an Australian federal court upheld a decision to revoke his visa for a second time. And he arrives -- as you can see there -- at a Dubai airport from a flight from Melbourne earlier on Monday.

For more, let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks who's live for us in Melbourne. Who's been on this story really from day one. And, Paula, it has been a pretty dramatic, and I think it's fair to say messy few days. What has been the reaction in Australia as the Australian Open begins without Djokovic? PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isa, I mean, messy is the

word. This whole visa debacle has been messy from the beginning. But today, Monday is the start of the Australian Open. And people woke up this morning and started to look forward. Started to look forward to a positive event and this is certainly something which the city of Melbourne needs given what it's been through over the past couple of years. It's been one of the most locked down cities in the world and now they have something positive to celebrate.

Now of course there is still some fallout from the Novak Djokovic saga. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was asked about it today. And specifically asked about the three-year ban that automatically is put in place once your visa is revoked and you're deported from Australia. Saying, he didn't want to pre-condition anything in the future. But there is an opportunity for a person to return in the right circumstances and that will be considered at the time. So, potentiating leaving the door open for Djokovic to come back next year at that point. But looking at the tennis self, there has been a mixed reaction. For the most part though, people are just relieved that it's over.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me, so many families have not been able to see family members across Australia and the world just because they've not been able to travel and borders have been closed. So, to let someone in that's not vaccinated when we all have to be seems silly. Yes, kind of happy about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was actually a good decision. We've all done the right thing, you know, in getting vaccinated. We're not allowed to come here unless we're vaccinated. And I think it was a great decision. I'm disappointed for Djokovic because I would have loved to have seen him, you know, compete for his 21st slam event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's sad that we're not going to see the best tennis player in the world play, but rules are rules.


HANCOCKS: And everyone's now just looking forward to a decent tennis tournament -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, now it's time for the tennis. Thanks very much, Paula Hancocks there for us in Melbourne.

Now, Novak Djokovic is receiving a lot of support from his home country of Serbia in the wake, of course, of the Australian saga. Belgrade lit up its tallest building in honor of him on Sunday. Calling him the pride of Serbia -- as you can see there.


Meantime, Serbia's president lashed out at Australia's treatment of Djokovic. He says Australian authorities and the media harassed him and called their actions, quote, a witch hunt against both the tennis star and the country itself. Here's more from the Serbian leader.


ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Do you think they have by this -- this mistreatment of ten days humiliated Djokovic but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high looking everyone in the eye.


SOARES: The Serbian President here. Well, the Serbian Olympic Committee also weighed in, calling Australia's decision against Djokovic scandalous and huge injustice against their champion.

Now the U.S. Surgeon General is warning a national peak in the Omicron COVID surge likely won't happen in the coming days. And says the next few weeks will be tough. He spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday and said testing is still a top priority.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: As the president said we certainly have more we need to do on testing. And that's a message that's very clear from him to the public, to his team, that we need to pull every lever possible. That's why you've seen so many additional spigots open, if you will, when it comes to testing and why that supply will continue to increase in the months ahead.


SOARES: Now globally eight cities in China are now reporting cases of the Omicron variant. This comes less than three weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics, as well as the Lunar New Year holiday. Xi'an is the latest city with a confirmed case and the neighborhood there is on lockdown.

Meanwhile, after weeks of debate and amendments, the French Parliament has approved a controversial vaccine pass bill. The new law requires proof of all vaccinations for many everyday activities, like visiting bars, and restaurants, as well as long-distance public transport. A negative PCR test is no longer enough.

Let's get more on this story. CNN has both of these stories covered. Kristie Lu Stout is in Hong Kong for us. But first let's go to Jim Bittermann in Paris with more on France's vaccine pass. And, Jim, this new law, of course, still needs a final approval but this is pretty much done and dusted, right?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly right. The constitutional court has to take a look at it and see if it's unconstitutional and that may not even happen. Depends how much the opponents of this bill can muster support and get it to the constitutional court.

In any case, I think you can pretty much bank on the fact that this is going to go into place. The government is hoping by the end of this week, perhaps early next week, but in any case, it's going to go into place soon and basically, will inhibit people who haven't been vaccinated from most everyday activities. One thing I should just add in this new law is that there is increased penalties for fraudulent use of the passes. A number of cases of fraud with the predecessor pass -- the health pass. Now this vaccination pass carries penalty up to and including jail time if you are repeatedly using a fraudulent pass -- Isa.

SOARES: Jim, do stay with us. Let me go to Kristie Lu Stout. And Kristie, I want to get your take on what -- how worried really the Chinese government is given we're seeing these eight cities now reporting cases of Omicron.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is worry, especially now that Omicron has breached the Chinese capital and the host of the Beijing Olympic Games. Beijing has just reported its first locally transmitted case of

this highly infectious variant just weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games and in zero COVID China, that means an entire office block in locked down because of that one confirmed case of the O's micron variant.

As for the total number of cases of the variant across China, that number is unclear. But we do know that local cases of Omicron have been detected in at least eight cities across China from the northeast in Dalian, to the south Xi'an.

Now the epicenter of this Omicron outbreak in China, continues to be the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. In fact, on Sunday about 80 new cases of the variant, locally transmitted, were reported there. Any and zero COVID China that means in Tianjin, billions of people are on lockdown. It means schools remain suspended there. It means recently all 14 million residents of Tianjin had to go through had to go through a second round of COVID-19 testing.

But unlike Europe, China does not live with COVID-19. It pursues a very strict zero COVID strategy of pandemic control. That means snap lockdowns. That means mass testing, contact tracing and testing. It means very strict border controls. The experts say despite this policy, and despite the fact that China has a very high vaccination rate, the people in China remain vulnerable to infection because of the limitations of China's homegrown vaccines. In fact, recently there was a study about in Xi'an, they found that among 80 people confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant, 76 had already been fully vaccinated with Chinese made vaccines. Back to you, Isa.

SOARES: Kristie Lu Stout for us there, and Jim Bittermann in Paris, thank you to you both.

Now, Prince Harry wants to visit England with his family but the government won't let him pay for his own police protection.


His legal challenges ahead with Max Foster. Plus, parties at 10 Downing Street during the pandemic have sparked public fury and led to scrutiny over Boris Johnson's leadership. Ahead on CNN, how a top leader in the U.K. is now lashing out at the Prime Minister over this scandal.


SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. Prince Harry is challenging a U.K. government decision that bars him from personally funding police protection when he and his family are in the U.K. Now his lawyers said they initiated the legal challenge in September of last year but made it public now after a leak in a British tabloid. The legal team said the challenge comes after an incident in London last year when his security was compromised as he left a charity event.

Let's get more on the story. Max Foster joins me now. Good morning, Max. So, explain this to our viewers around the world, he wants to pay for his own protection. He's being told he can't so he's taking the government to court.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, essentially, he says he wants to bring his family over to the U.K. but doesn't feel it's safe enough without that police protection. He has offered to pay for it, he said. But the U.K. authorities rather than the Royal Family have refused that. So, he is going for a judicial review. And the home office is, you know, the body responsible for all of this. And what they said is, the U.K. government's protective security system is rigorous and proportionate. But they wouldn't go into any detail about security arrangements, about ongoing legal negotiations as well. So, that's the position they're in.

I have to say behind the scenes there is a wider debate here about, you know, the precedent this might set if you allow any celebrity or high-profile person to have access to -- or to hire police effectively, serving police, then that is quite a dangerous precedent.


So, that's something that they're negotiating behind the scenes.

Harry says, you know, there's a specific threat here. He was chased by photographers he said last year when he came to the U.K. that compromised his security. But also, there are extremist threats and fixated individuals are threatening them. And that all came as a result of them leaving their royal roles. So, that's where we're at. So, we'll wait to see what the review shows -- Isa.

SOARES: Indeed, Max foster there for us. Thanks very much, Max.

Now the head of the U.K.'s opposition Labour Party says Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law by attending parties during a COVID lockdown. Revelations of numerous parties it 10 Downing Street during the pandemic, while the rest of the country -- remember -- faced tough restrictions. Are really prompting questions about how long Mr. Johnson can survive as leader of the Conservative Party. For more on this, let's bring in CNN's Nina dos Santos. She's outside

of 10 Downing Street. And Nina, this really is a kind of a make-or- break week for the Prime Minister. And we've seen those calls growing for him to resign and as we await a report from Sue Gray on the party's scandal.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We don't exactly know when that report by the senior level servant into this whole "Partygate" fiasco is going to come out. But it could be imminent, could be as soon as this week. And for that reason, you've already seen a whole raft of leaks in U.K. newspapers over the course of the weekend to try and reset the agenda, if you'd like.

Talk of how this operation at number 10 Downing Street can be brought back to heal after all of those allegations of lockdown busting parties which in particular over the last few days, we know there have been potentially two lockdown busting parties during the time when the nation was grieving from the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. And just hours before the Queen had to have that funeral for her husband of 74 years on her own.

It seems though people may have been breaking social distance regulations here at Downing Street. So, for that reason we're expecting the operation potentially to be tightened. Members of staff who may have been broken rules, all to have been shed. And also, a whole raft of populist headline grabbing policy moves over the course of the next week or so, designed to try and reset the balance and get voters loyalty back on site.

Will it be enough? Well, there have been members of the Conservative Party who have already called for Johnson to go. Saying that they've been deluged by their constituents. They're so agreed they want a new Prime Minister. But remember, the rules are such that you need to have at least 53 letters expressing no confidence in the Prime Minister for him to have to face a no confident vote. So, these Tory leadership contests can take a long time to get going. There's not a sense, he said, that we're at that stage yet, but definitely the faltering premiership of Boris Johnson is creaking and something needs to be done and done fast to reassure confidence in it -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, another moment. We've got, what, six Tory backbenches who are calling for him to resign. But like you said, we're a long way away from that vote of confidence and from 53 MPs, Nina. But give me a sense of the Sue Gray report. When it comes out, what exactly -- explain to our viewers -- is she looking into here?

DOS SANTOS: Well, she's looking into whether or not lockdown rules were breached. You know, people gathering at a time when you weren't supposed to be gathering for mixed households to have a party, not just work together. Because obviously, you know, it's understandable that staff here at the heart of government will have been working 24/7 at this time during the peak of the pandemic and lockdown to try and make sure that the country, you know, was addressing all the public health needs that were attendant to that crisis.

But the question mark is whether or not they stayed later into the early hours of the morning, ordered liquor and alcohol and had parties. There's been many allegations over the last few weeks that there was a sort of party culture at this point. That's the type of thing she's going to be looking into -- the culture. Who may have broken the rules? Whether or not the rules were broken and if so whether or not heads have to roll. It should be pointed out though that there's big pressure here on the Metropolitan Police to investigate at the moment, Isa. So far, the police have said that they don't see enough evidence to investigate but that also isn't going down well with the British public -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, that is such a good point. Nina dos Santos there outside 10 Downing Street. Thanks very much, Nina.

We'll have much more CNN NEWSROOM after a very short break.



SOARES: You are hearing there the ferocious winds of a tornado that destroyed at least 28 homes in Lee County, Florida. Thousands were left without power after these storms ripped through the Fort Myers area on Sunday. The chaos captured by this resident who was caught in the tornado's path.


EDWARD MURRAY, TORNADO VICTIM: It lifted me off my feet and blew me I thought towards the east wall -- it would have been -- and under the sink. But instead, it was turning the house upside down. I thought I was looking down at the floor and I was actually looking up.


SOARES: Incredibly scary. About 200 people have been displaced. But thankfully only 4 injuries were reported.

And we'll have more, of course, on the winter weather covering much of the eastern U.S. in ice and snow really our top story this hour. The storm caused trees and power lines to fall across the state of Georgia. While the storm has moved out of the state, officials are now worried about freezing temperatures, and really black ice on the roads.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is under a winter storm warning until this afternoon after a night of very heavy snow. Officials have banned some vehicles from the Pennsylvania turnpike and the speed limit will be reduced in some areas because, of course, of those poor conditions.

And North Carolina is bracing for more falling trees and power lines from accumulating snow. Forecasters warned powerful winds could cause more damages and power outages throughout the day.


Of course, CNN will have much more on the winter weather throughout the day and much more, of course, on "EARLY START" in a few minutes.

And a quick update on a story we have been following. A mass funeral was held in New York on Sunday for 15 of the 17 people killed in last week's high rise apartment fire. Now hundreds of mourners in the bitter cold filled the street around the Bronx mosque where the funeral services were held. All of the victims were Muslim immigrants from West Africa. The fire itself was contained to one apartment on the building's third floor. Exactly one week ago today the medical examiner says the victims died from smoke inhalation while trying to flee from stairwells that had flooded with smoke.

Now another attempt to dodge vaccine mandates was spoiled by Italian police after they arrested a nurse in Palermo for faking COVID injections captured on video. You have a look at this. The nurse is seen spilling the vaccine dose into gauze before sticking the needle really in the patient's arms. Police say the people she pretended to inoculate were compliant. And you see her there with a needle. She was allegedly working with another nurse who was arrested in December for the same crime.

And finally, one of the last surviving members of the legendary Tuskegee airmen has died. A family spokesman says retired Brig. Gen. Charles McGee passed away in his sleep Sunday morning at the age of 102. Over the course of his historic 30-year career he successfully completed 409 air combat missions right across three wars. McGee also received numerous accolades including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. McGee is survived by three grandchildren, 10 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.

And that does it here for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares in London. Our coverage continues right here on "EARLY START" with Laura Jarrett. Do stay in contact. I shall see you tomorrow, bye-bye.