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At Least 103 Killed In Indonesia Earthquake, Rescuers Search For Survivors; Iran Team In World Cup 2022 Doesn't Sing Anthem, Signaling Protest Support; CNN Speaks With Reconnaissance Team Targeting Russian Forces; Witnesses: Sexual Violence Used to Crush Protestors in Iran; Names Released of Victims, Heroes in Colorado Club Shooting; China Tightens COVID Restrictions as New Outbreaks Spread. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired November 22, 2022 - 00:00   ET




LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm Laila Harrak.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, more than 100 are dead after a powerful earthquake in Indonesia destroys homes and schools. Officials say the majority of those killed are children.

Plus, a CNN exclusive accusations of sexual violence against people who are in prison for standing up to Iran's government.

And politics on the pitch, more on the silent protest that highlighted day two at the World Cup.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: A frantic search is underway for survivors after a devastating earthquake in West Java, Indonesia. The provinces governor reports at least 103 people have been killed and hundreds injured.

Aftershocks, power outages and the threat of landslides are complicating rescue efforts. The government is putting up tents and building shelters for more than 7,000 people forced from their homes, and Indonesia's location on the so called ring of fire in the Pacific Ocean makes it prone to earthquakes.

This one was a 5.6 magnitude. A 2004 quake off Sumatra killed more than a quarter million people in the region.

CNN's Anna Coren is following developments for you live this hour from Hong Kong. Anna, what's the latest? What more have you learned?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Laila, as you say, this earthquake struck yesterday around 1:20 in the afternoon, many people inside particularly women and children after lunch, children at school hence that death toll. It does stand up more than hundred at the moment, but according to

officials, that number will rise.

The area that we're talking about Cianjur, it's a mountainous area, southeast of Jakarta, about 75 kilometers away from the capital and they could feel the earthquake, that 5.6 magnitude earthquake even in the capital.

But here in this mountainous area, the concrete structures, they just collapse. And we're talking about hundreds of buildings collapsing.

Authorities saying that most of the injuries caused from the rubble just falling on their -- on people's heads.

At the hospital, they're saying it's head trauma, it's fractures that they are treating. And you mentioned the landslides that has also hindered the efforts of rescue crews to get to the area.

The main road was shut off at one stage that has now been cleared. But you know, this is time of heavy rain in Jakarta. So, that is another concern that they're dealing with. Plus, these aftershocks. They are in the dozens that have been reported, more than 160 according to local sources on the ground.

Now, the survivors were taken to the main hospital that was also evacuated, Laila due to concerns that it was also going to collapse. They were power outages there, people were then treated in the car park and on the grounds. The military has now been called in to set up a makeshift hospital because it's just now at over capacity.

But let's have a listen to one mother at the hospital who has a child missing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I have seven children and one of them hasn't been found. The children were downstairs and I was upstairs getting laundry. Everything collapsed beneath me and I was crushed beneath this child. One of my kids is still missing. My house is flattened.

Good God, two of my kids survived. I dug them up and this one, two others I brought here and one is still missing.


COREN: It is just horrific to think what these people are going through at this very moment, Laila. Search and rescue crews are going through these areas where these buildings have collapsed for many hours there. They couldn't get into the area because it was cut off.

You know, residents who'd survived going through the rubble with their hands whatever they could to try and find the missing.

But so far, as we say, the death toll stands at more than a hundred, that is expected to rise, Laila. We know that the Indonesian President Joko Widodo is due to arrive in Tianjin (PH) shortly to meet with survivors and also those search and rescue crews.


HARRAK: Anna Coren with that update from Hong Kong. Thank you so much, Anna.

Well, joining me now from Jakarta, Indonesia is Ama Husein, she is the vice chair of the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center. Ms. Husein, thank you so much for joining us.

I understand your teams have been deployed in the affected area where the earthquake struck. Is the area accessible for your staff? Can they reach the people? What are they telling you?

And unfortunately, we have lost Ms. Husein, we have some technical problems there.

In China, state media report 36 people are dead and two others are missing after a fire broke out at a factory. Well, heavy flames and smoke gutted at this trading company in the city of Anyang, south of Beijing. It took fire crews more than six hours to extinguish the blaze. It's not clear yet how the fire started, but police have taken two suspects into custody according to Chinese media.

At the FIFA World Cup a second day of drama, surprises and excitement. England produced a dominant win over Iran, the U.S. and Wales finished with a draw and the African champions Senegal lost its opener.

But the most memorable highlight game before the games were even played. As the Iranian team took the field. The players declined to sing their national anthem, it was considered a sign of support for an anti-government uprising, which has been gripping Iran for months.

CNN's Don Riddell reports.


DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT CORRESPONDENT (on camera): In the first two games of this World Cup, the two most local teams have played and been outplayed.

On Sunday night, the host Qatar were well beaten by Ecuador and then England thrashed Iran 6-2, it was a dream start for Gareth Southgate's men who went to the semifinals in Russia four years ago, and England assume complete control of the Khalifa International Stadium.

19-year-old Jude Bellingham's first international goal was memorable. And there were redeeming goals for Buckeyes soccer, and Marcus Rashford, who missed penalties in the European Championship final last year, and both were racially abused for it.

But this game will be remembered for other reasons, England's players all took a knee before the game, a gesture to promote inclusivity, the significance of such an act cannot be underestimated in Qatar, where human and civil rights are often denied. And Iran's players also made headlines by not singing the national

anthem that was widely interpreted as supporting the demonstrators who've been protesting against the Iranian government, many of whom have paid for it with their lives.

England's win now sets up a mouthwatering clash against the United States of America in Group B on Friday. That's the day after Thanksgiving.

The USA are back in the World Cup for the first time in eight years playing against a Wales team that hasn't played in the tournament since 1958.

Tim Weah gave the Americans deserve first half lead but they had to settle for a draw as the Wales' megastar Gareth Bale leveled the score with a late penalty. One all is how it finished.

Monday's other games saw the African champions Senegal lose to the Netherlands but the game was also heading for a draw until a couple of late goals from the Dutch, Cody Gakpo and Davey Klassen on target there.

So, we're now looking ahead to an action packed Tuesday where four games will be jammed in from Group C and D. The defending champions France will be playing Australia, whilst Argentina will be taking on Saudi Arabia meaning the legendary Lionel Messi will be taking center stage in what is his fifth and quite possibly final World Cup. Back to you.


HARRAK: Amnesty International is condemning FIFA's last minute decision to ban One Love armbands at the World Cup. The bands are part of an anti-discrimination campaign and feature a multicolor heart that's meant to represent all backgrounds, genders and sexual identities.

European team captains issued a statement on Monday saying FIFA made it clear that players would get yellow cards for wearing the armbands.

Meanwhile, Qatar dismissed the uproar as a matter between FIFA and international teams and insisted everybody is welcome regardless of orientation.


YOURI TIELEMANS, BELGIAN MIDFIELDER: It's a shame that it's not happening because it's just a fight against discrimination all around the world not just here, but in Europe as well and in other countries.

And yes, I just think it's a shame that it's not happening and we just have then move on from it.


GARETH SOUTHGATE, ENGLAND MANAGER: I do understand FIFA's situation in that you can set a precedent and it's very difficult, then where do you draw a line? So, yes, I think in an ideal world, that would have been a much clearer situation earlier, but it's not something that's been a distraction for us.


HARRAK: Well, for more, I'm now joined by Christine Brennan. She's a CNN Sports Analyst and sports columnist for USA Today.

Christine, so good to see you. Controversies continue to overshadow this World Cup. Let's start with the 11 players of Iran's national team refusing to sing the anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an indelible image. What kind of pressure are these athletes under competing at the World Cup while there is an uprising back home?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST (on camera): Laila, this is more than a sporting event. Obviously, this is a real test I think of the character of athletes from their nation and young people representing a country. And it's so much more than that, for the Iranian athletes of the soccer players who didn't sing that national anthem who, who clearly could get in trouble back at home for doing -- for not singing the national anthem. And yet, they went ahead and did it in solidarity with Iranian women in the wake of all of the protests and the tragedy over the last month or so there.

This really is an incredible stage for those athletes. And they're taking advantage of it and at potentially great personal cost. But what a lesson in doing the right thing, and being role models and leaders for their nation.

HARRAK: And speaking of role models and setting the right example, we had that last minute decision that European players are not allowed to wear One Love armband in support of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. What is FIFA afraid of?

BRENNAN: Yes, that's a great question, Laila. You know, one wonders what if those seven nations had basically told FIFA go jump in the lake. We're wearing them. Would they really have issued yellow cards to all those team captains?

It's hard to imagine the fallout from that. If you are literally doing that, you are as an organization, as the International Federation running the sport, you are actually tainting your own event basically, is it's just beginning.

And so, I would have loved to see England and Wales and Germany and the others call the bluff of FIFA. And say right now FIFA, you're just acting as a mouthpiece for Qatar. And you know what, this is wrong. And we know what's right. And we're going to continue to do what we want to do, I would have loved to have seen that. My guess is that FIFA would have backed down.

And it's a shame that those nations didn't really take a page from the Iranians and have the guts and the courage to stand up for what's right. HARRAK: This does raise a lot of questions, though, doesn't it, Christine? Because what impact does the high profile sport event like the World Cup have on elite athletes having to perform, you know, at the highest level on the pitch and also do something symbolic on the pitch to show their solidarity?

BRENNAN: It's a great point. And, you know, these athletes, this is the most important moment probably in their young lives. And maybe the most important moment in the entirety of their lives, you know, when they look back years from now.

So, it's, you know, it's easy for me to sit here or you and I to talk about this and say, well, they should do this or that. But that's where the leadership could come in. And the leadership of the Federations of those European nations when they did cave to FIFA, and to you know, Qatar and basically say, you know, we'll just fall in line here.

But it is understandable. I've covered a lot of Olympics, lots of international sporting events, and it can be too much for some of these athletes to be asked to not only be great athletes and win and represent your country that way, but also by the way, you know, speak up for others.

But the history books have shown when athletes do that Laila, they are remembered forever. And be at the Black Love (PH) protest of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics Muhammad Ali and his protests, a figure skater Ashley Wagner standing up to Putin and his anti-gay propaganda law at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Those stories are remembered forever and those athletes, their legacy is something much more than sports. And I think that's the opportunity here for these athletes and for their Federations to stand up to FIFA and to say no, we're going to continue to do what we believe is right. Even though it can be very difficult for athletes who are also of course their main job is to go and win soccer match.


HARRAK: Christine Brennan, thank you so very much.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Laila.

HARRAK: And CNN sits down with a reconnaissance team in Ukraine for an exclusive interview and insight into the battle for one key southern city.


HARRAK: The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog says there are no immediate safety or security concerns at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine following heavy shelling over the weekend.

That word comes after a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency assess the damage and reported that key equipment remained intact. All six reactors at Europe's largest nuclear power station are also set to be stable.

To the east of the plant, one official says a Russian missile strike on Monday destroyed homes in a village in the Zaporizhzhia region. The attacks come as temperatures drop across the country and Ukrainian power facilities are being forced to impose additional blackouts.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the high level of demand for electricity is more than the country's damaged infrastructure can provide. And that has the World Health Organization warning of a difficult winter ahead for millions of Ukrainians.


HANS KLUGE, WHO REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE: Half of Ukraine's energy infrastructure is either damaged or destroyed. This is already having knock on effects on the health system and other people's health, put simply this winter will be about survival.


HARRAK: By the recently liberated city of Kherson, residents are now being urged to evacuate as authorities warn infrastructure has been too damaged for citizens to survive the winter.

And in a CNN exclusive, we get insight into the fierce battle for Kherson as Sam Kiley speaks with members of a reconnaissance team targeting Russian forces on the frontlines.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Offensive, hypervigilance, these foreign volunteers are reconnaissance soldiers, reliving weeks of fear and final victory in the battle for Kherson.

Many are veterans of the current campaign against ISIS in Syria. Now they work beyond the frontlines, deep into enemy territory for Ukraine.

MACER GIFFORD, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES: We would get so close to the Russians that we could hear them talking. We could hear them cooking their food and chopping the woods to build their shelters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Destroyed their guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like observation textbook where they wrote what's was going on.

KILEY: Andre's (PH) military call sign is sneaky. And that's what the eight recon units under his command must be.


Getting spotted here during the campaign to capture Kherson is nearly fatal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comeback, one by one.

KILEY: But they may cough with a trove of stolen documents in Russian technology, all leading to moments like this, the obliteration of a Russian command center and the surrender of a Russian Senior Sergeant, a paratrooper abandoned by his comrades in retreat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were shooting with artillery he's hit and one more guy a Captain. Russians take the captain but left him.

KILEY: Is that him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, platoon commander.

KILEY: He tells them he's been hiding out for six days, then warns the Ukrainians that Russian aircraft could attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, run out from here because aviation is shooting at this place.

KILEY: They've been bombing here a lot, he says. He's injured but now safe.

Russian airstrikes on their abandoned positions were a constant danger for the recon units during the grinding advance on Kherson over the autumn.

Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are a mixed blessing, missing with one can attract retribution from the air

Recon is about gathering intelligence and hunting targets using drones to fine tune artillery, for months bringing in strikes like this, trying to force the Russians to run and suddenly across the whole front, that's what they did, run.

In chasing the Russians out, crossings like this have often been hit with artillery and are a mortal gamble. Survival the giggling relief, but the rewards they say, worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes, of course when I've seen villagers, you know, they've seen the Ukrainian military for the first time and who knows how long eight months at least? Yes, of course, you get a little teary eyed, they're saying, everybody crying and thanking us for help -- for helping liberate their village and of course, (INAUDIBLE).

Sam Kiley, CNN near Kherson city.


HARRAK: Back to our top story now, a frantic search is underway for survivors after a devastating earthquake in West Java, Indonesia. The provinces' governor reports at least 103 people have been killed and hundreds injured. After shocks, power outages and a threat of landslides are complicating rescue efforts.

Well, joining me now from Jakarta, Indonesia is Ama Husein, she is the vice chair of the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center. Ms. Husein, welcome back. I understand your teams have been deployed

and they are in the affected area where the earthquake struck. Is the area accessible for your staff? Can they reach people? What are they telling you?

AMA HUSEIN, VICE CHAIR, MUHAMMADIYAH DISASTER MANAGEMENT CENTER: Yes, they thank you, Laila for the time to share the things. My team has been to the area, although it's difficult or removed, but it's still accessible. It took us like three hours -- six hours from Jakarta, but like two three hours from Bandung, the big city nearby the affected communities.

HARRAK: Are there still people trapped? What is your staff telling you? Are search and rescue still underway?

HUSEIN: Yes, the operation is still underway. Right now, based on the information, 31 people still trapped and missing under the rubble. So, many volunteer and also rescuer from the government and all non- government together working to clear up the rubble and then evacuate the people as soon as we can.

HARRAK: And have your team has been able to assess the impact of the disaster? What is needed?

HUSEIN: Yes, what they need most right now because Indonesia is during the monsoon. We need a lot on tarp, all the temporary shelter, food of course is still needed and also the blanket that's from my team and also we are preparing for the like the food -- the food for the kids and then for the elderly and also the psychosocial because they are needed because the aftershock is still make people traumatic.


HARRAK: How are hospitals coping with a number of injured coming in?

HUSEIN: These right now is being held with the field hospital and then many teams ambulances including my team, the Muhammadiyah has already sent the two big team, the emergency medical team to the ground. So, we are working with the district and the city -- the city health office to respond and also been backed up by the military as well through the military help team.

So, there are many team but we are still also needing the orthopedic because most of the affected people are injured people related with earthquake is the fracture, so we are at now sending the orthopedic to the ground because we want to help as fast as possible.

HARRAK: Ama Husein, thank you so much for joining us and bringing us up to date with the work that your staff is doing in the affected area. Thank you.

Still ahead, a CNN exclusive as protests raged on in Iran, new disturbing details on the brutality of Iranian security forces are coming to light.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They choose the women who were pretty and suited their appetite then the officer would take one of them from the cell to a smaller private room.



HARRAK: In Iran, the situation continues to be volatile as the government intensifies its crackdown in the Kurdish region.

A human rights group based in Norway tells CNN that at least 13 people have been killed in Kurdish cities in the past 24 hours. Videos like this posted by the agency on social media show people running for cover amid sounds of gunfire.

However, CNN has not been able to independently verify the location and date of the video.

Since the beginning of protests over two months ago, over Mahsa Amini's death, Iran's regime has unleashed a campaign of repression. Eyewitnesses tell CNN sexual violence is being used to suppress, demoralize and in some cases, blackmail protesters.

CNN's Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report. But we need to warn you, this report contains details of sexual violence.



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over these mountains is Iran. A regime that has succeeded in cutting many of its people off from the outside world.

But disturbing stories detailing the authorities' brutal retribution, systematic sexual violence against anti-regime protesters, have begun leaking out.

We've come here to the Kurdish region of Iraq to try and find out more. This is Hannah, not her real name, a Kurdish Iranian woman recently smuggled out of Iran. She fears for her life.

After taking off and burning her head scarf on the streets, she was arrested and detained by Iranian intelligence officers.

HANNAH, IRANIAN REFUGEE (through translator): They choose the women who were pretty and suited their appetites. Then, the officer would take one of them from the cell to a smaller, private room. They would sexually assault them there.

ELBAGIR: Hannah isn't only an eyewitness. She also was violated.

HANNAH (through translator): I feel shy talking about this. You can still see what the policeman did. Look here, on my neck. It's purplish. That is why I'm covering it. He forced himself on me. ELBAGIR: Then, a fight broke out with another protester, drawing away

Hannah's attacker. Hannah and others could hear screams, and they believe a woman was raped in an interrogation room.

Hannah sketched out the police station as she remembers it. She estimates 70 to 80 men and women were together in a main hall that accessed four private interrogation rooms.

It was in these interrogation rooms, she says, that she was assaulted and others were raped.

CNN was able to locate the police station through Hannah's description, eyewitness corroboration and geolocation, using key landmarks. It's in the Islamabad neighborhood of Irmir (ph).

Based on this testimony and speaking to a number of sources, a pattern of repression comes into focus.

Police centers used as filtration points, moving protesters from one location to another, often families left not knowing where their loved ones are held.

One Iraq-based Kurdish militant opposition party, PAK, identified over 240 people who they believe are missing within this maze of detention centers. Human rights organizations believe the number is higher, in the thousands.

Some of the victims as young as 14. Many are man, supporting female protesters. Their punishment, as severe as the women's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They brought four men over who had been beaten, screaming intensely in another cell. And one of the men who was tortured was sent to the waiting room where I was. I asked him what all that screaming was about. He said, "They are raping the men."

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Based on witness testimony, CNN traced the location to an Iranian Army intelligence headquarters. Voiced here by a translator, a 17-year-old boy sent CNN a voice note following his imprisonment. We are withholding his name and location for his safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When a security guard heard me discussing the rape of the other inmates, he started torturing me all over again. They tortured, raped me from behind.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Even as authorities visited sexual violence on protesters, regime figures accused female protesters of prostitution, of quote, "wanting to be naked."

Of the incidents of sexual violence against protesters, inside Iranian detention facilities, most occurred in the Kurdish majority areas to the West of Iran, home to a historically oppressed minority.

Disturbingly, in some cases, the rapes were filmed and used to blackmail protestors into silence.

There has been a real escalation, where female protesters are, as you can see here, being openly assaulted, often sexually.

But the violence against women, like the protests, are not confined to the Kurdish areas. They're often focused on locations where the protests are most intense, like here in the capital, Tehran.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): One of these stories is Armita Abbasi's. A typical 20-year-old on social media, sharing our love of animals.

In social media posts appearing under her name, Abbasi, like many young women in Iran, criticized the regime openly after the protests began. Unlike most, she did it without anonymity.

It didn't take long for security forces to find and arrest her. Abbasi disappeared.

Soon after whistleblowers began to post on various social media platforms. Medics, sharing eyewitness accounts of what had been done to Abbasi.


"First of all," they say, "there were a few plain clothes man with her, and they did not let her out of their sight. Even during a private medical examination, they were there."

"She was my patient. I went to her bedside. They had shaved her hair. She was scared and was trembling."

"When she first came, they said it was rectal bleeding due to repeated rape. The plainclothesmen instant that the doctor write that the rape was from prior to her arrest. And then after this issue was becoming obvious to all, they changed the entire scenario altogether."

The details of these leaks were confirmed to CNN by an insider at Imam Ali (ph) Hospital, where Abbasi was brought to be examined. In a statement the government said Abbasi "was treated for digestive problems."

The medics who treated her said that was not true.

The Iranian regime denies the rape, accusing her of leading protests, an allegation which could see her face the death penalty.

At this usually busy border crossing between Iraq and Iran, it is deceptively quiet. Those who can cross tell us the noose is tightening on protesters.

Authorities have for decades used sexual torture against Iranians. And it appears once more a familiar pattern: sexual violence deployed to enforce an assertion of moral guardianship.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Iraqi Kurdistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRAK: And CNN has reached out to the Iranian government for comment, but we have not heard back yet.t

Still to come, despite pushback from the Chinese peoples, Beijing is tightening COVID restrictions yet again, as new outbreaks continue to grow.


HARRAK: Police have now identified the five people killed in Saturday's shooting rampage at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado.

They include two of the club's employees, Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston, as well as patrons Kelly Loving, Ashley Paul, and Raymond Green Vance.

Police have also named two heroes credited with taking down the gunman, and saving many lives. One of them is Richard Fierro, a retired Army major who says he went into combat mode as bullets were flying.


RICHARD FIERRO, FOUGHT GUNMAN: And then I proceeded to take his other weapon, a pistol, and then just start hitting him where I could. But the arm was in the way. And I just started -- I found a crease in his -- between his armor and his head, and I just heard wailing away with his gun.

And then I told the kid in front of me, kick him, keep kicking him. And we were -- I was guided them. I was telling people, "Call 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1."

I brought him down. I -- I was in mode. I was -- I was doing what I did, I do down-range, you know? I trained for this.


I don't want to ever do this. I -- I didn't even retire, because I was just -- I was done doing this stuff. It was too much. And I -- you know, it came in handy.

And I got to protect my kid. I lost my kid's boyfriend. I tried. I tried with everybody in there. I just -- there's five people that didn't go home. And this (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This guy, I told him while I was hitting him, I said, "I'm going to kill you, man, because you tried to kill my friends. My family was in there."


HARRAK: Well, the suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, faces multiple charges, including five counts of first-degree murder.

Almost three years after the world's first case of COVID, Beijing says it's now facing its most complicated and severe phase of the pandemic. And that means China is tightening restrictions even more than it already has.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: There is a surge in COVID-19 infection across China, with outbreaks in multiple Chinese cities, from the Chinese capital in Shijiazhuang in the North, to the economic engine of Guangzhou in the South, and the mega city Chongqing in the country's Southwest.

On Monday, China reported 26,824 new local cases of the virus. That is the highest daily COVID cases reported since mid-April.

And although these cases numbers are very low compared to global standards, China has been holding tight to its zero-COVID policy. This policy of mass testing, snap lockdowns, and border controls, which has disrupted both lives and livelihoods. And that policy is testing residents across the country.

In Beijing's most populous district, Chaoyang, which is home to nearly three and a half million people, officials have urged residents there, including students and workers, to stay home.

According to the deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, quote, "The number of cases discovered outside quarantine is increasing rapidly at present. And there are hidden transmission risks from multiple places. The pressure on Beijing has further increased."

Also in the North, Shijiazhuang is undergoing five days of mass testing as the city urges its residents not to leave unless necessary. All shopping centers, entertainment venues are closed, dine-in services and in-class learning suspended.

And the tough measures there come just days after the city relaxed COVID restrictions, according to state media.

In Guangzhou, the Baiyun district is under lockdown until Friday. The district is home to the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.

And on WeChat, local health authorities said this. Quote, "The risk of social transmission of the epidemic in Baiyun district has continued to increase, and the prevention and control situation is grim."

Last week, scores of angry residents in another Guangzhou district took to the streets to protest China's tough anti-pandemic policy.

Chongqing, China's biggest city, with a population of over 30 million, is also battling an outbreak. Last week, the city government announced that residents are not allowed to leave the city unless necessary.

As winter is coming, COVID-19 cases across China are set to rise. The state-run "People's Daily" warns that the pandemic may worsen, writing in an editorial this. Quote, "The situation of pandemic control is severe. We must maintain confidence that we will win, resolutely overcome issues such as insufficient understanding and insufficient preparation," unquote.

Now, earlier this month, Chinese authorities eased parts of its pandemic policy. And Goldman Sachs is trying to -- could start to reopen the April-June quarter of next year.

But experts are warning that a full reopening requires higher vaccination rates, a change in messaging, and broader access to medical care.

And given the rise in cases nationwide, it will be even harder for China to unwind its nearly three-year-long zero-COVID policy.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


HARRAK: I'm Laila Harrak. WORLD SPORT starts after this break.