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Italy Extends COVID State of Emergency Until March 31; Russia Hails "Very Positive" Call Between Putin and Xi; UAE Suspending Deal to Buy U.S. F-35 Fighter Jet; Omicron "Most Significant Threat" to UK Since Pandemic Started; Amnesty International Says War Crimes were Committed in Afghanistan; Deadly Tanker Blast Latest Catastrophe in Haiti Fuel Crisis. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 11:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST, CONNECT THE WORLD: Hello, and welcome to "Connect the World". I'm Max Foster in for Becky, now the Omicron Coronavirus variants

spreading at the rate that we've never seen before. The European Commission Chief once it's on its way to become the dominant strain in Europe and

soon, listen.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: It's very important to be aware. But this large increase in the number of infections is due almost

exclusively to the Delta variant. And what I'm concerned about is that we're now seeing a new variant Omicron on the horizon, which is apparently

even more infectious.

If you look at the time it takes for new cases to double the number, it seems to be doubling every two or three days. And that's massive. We're

told that by mid-January, we should expect Omicron to be the new dominant variants in Europe.


FOSTER: EU countries are scrambling to control its spread. Spain is extending its air travel restrictions for southern Africa and adding Malawi

and Zambia to Lidice. Italy is clamping down on international arrivals requiring negative tests from everyone including people coming from EU


Even the wealthiest nations are struggling, last week Germany saw its highest number of daily COVID deaths since February. The health minister

says the country hasn't ordered enough vaccines to keep its keep up its campaign going through to the start of 2022.

Ben Wedeman live from Rome with more on the situation in Italy and across Europe. But first to Larry Madowo live from Johannesburg. First of all,

just your reaction Larry or the country's reaction to the fact the UK has taken South Africa off the travel list.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The South African Government has welcomed that removal from the Red List, the foreign ministry here saying this

unscientific ban was unjustified. And this is what President Cyril Ramaphosa has been calling for and tweet this out in the last few minutes.

It says the unscientific travel ban had a devastating impact on to a business travel and tourism industry and families. And it's on that family

that I know because I know friends were looking at the possibility of being kept apart during Christmas.

And now because the South African government decided - the South Africa is no longer that travel is that rebooking flights, there are people who are

trying to get back to the UK for work or for family who had to go to a third country like Kenya to try and cool off until they were off that

period required to be able to fly back into the UK and cannot fly back into the country. So it's welcome.

And the President of Malawi had called this Afro phobia. It's based on discrimination of people of Black and African descent. And so some major

celebration, but also a realization of many leaders for many southern Africans that this should never been having should never have been in place

Max to start with.

FOSTER: Speaking to, you know one of the main issues really, in Africa coming from the W.H. O's Africa leader saying the continent might not reach

70 percent vaccination until 2024 is a very slow pace, isn't it, but at least it's going that direction.

MADOWO: It's quite slow. Only a handful of countries that would reach that 40 percent target, the World Health Organization said, by the end of the

year, most African countries, the entire continent will only achieve 40 percent vaccination by May 2023.

And to get that 70 percent vaccination required for the entire population, the African continent will only get there in 2024, according to the World

Health Organization.

So you can see how far it needs, the continent will need to try and get the level that you see two thirds of people in most parts of European North

America are already vaccinated.

And that's why some countries are considering vaccine mandates. Now, just here in South Africa and Kenya, in a few other countries on the continent,

they think this is the only way to encourage people to get vaccinated by making sure that you can't access government services that you can get on

public transport.

You can go and congregate with other people, if that is the only way to encourage people to get the shot. That's so necessary, because for

instance, in South Africa, which has a higher vaccination rate than some other African countries, still only about 38 percent of adults are


And yet, there's a huge surge in COVID-19 here, a 35 percent positivity rate, most recently reported.

FOSTER: Ben, we see a higher vaccination rate in Italy where you are. But they're combining that with a state of emergency and they're extending it

until the spring.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the state of emergency which came into effect at the end of January of 2020 is now going

to run until the 31st of March 2022. This basically gives the government the ability to impose restrictions without taking them to Parliament.


WEDEMAN: And to continue to impose for instance, you know, in Italy have the - first you had in the 15th of October introduced the green pass,

whereby to go to work, you had to show that you are either that you'd been vaccinated or had recently proved negative for tested negative for COVID.

Now you have the super green pass that went into effect Monday of last week, whereby unless you're vaccinated, or have recently recovered from

COVID, you cannot go to certain public venues.

So this basically gives the government the power to maintain these restrictions. And they will remain in place, as I said until March.

However, after two years, these restrictions need to be voted upon by both houses of parliament.

But until now, we've seen most Italians ended sort of across the political spectrum, Italian political parties have been in favor of these

restrictions. So it's not necessarily a big issue.

Now one late breaking bit of news is that another victim of the pandemic is the Miss Italy contest. The final evening was supposed to be this coming

Sunday, but it's been canceled after two contestants tested positive. Max?

FOSTER: Much like the world of sport. We've also heard from the EU health agency, they're saying that effectively the vaccination programs can't keep

up with this new variant and restrictions are going to have to come in across Europe. But obviously, it's very inconsistent picture across the


WEDEMAN: Because as we've seen in throughout this pandemic, there's no unified European or not to mention global approach to the pandemic, so it's

piecemeal, each country has to deal with its political complications and idiosyncrasies.

And therefore, yes, given that, for instance, the Omicron variant is highly contagious and the vaccines that exist today don't seem to be as effective

against it as they were, for instance, with the Delta variant. Yes, it seems that we will have to go back perhaps to some of the more draconian

measures that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic to try to keep it under control. Max?

FOSTER: Ben in Rome, Larry in Johannesburg, thank you both very much indeed. More COVID drama here in the UK, where a rampaging Omicron variant

is sparking a new warning from health officials here and there's more trouble for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well.

London like Boris under more pressure, where health experts say the Omicron variants has surpassed delta as the dominant strain of the Coronavirus. The

UK Health Security Agency says Omicron is "the most significant threat since the start of the pandemic".

This comes as British lawmakers got a chance to grill Mr. Johnson about his controversial COVID pass the large venues part of his government's plan B

COVID rules.

They made it through parliament on Tuesday despite the Prime Minister suffering a major rebellion from lawmakers in his own party and that's

raising questions about his authority. Mr. Johnson was asked if he would consider resigning and here's what he had to say.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, I'm going to get on with protecting this country and making sure that we get through this

pandemic together as one United Kingdom.


FOSTER: Boris Johnson planning to leave the COVID news conference at the top of the next hour. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has been following all of this

for us. I mean, it's got to be the worst crisis of his premiership really, when you consider he was saved in that vote last night by the opposition

Labor Party.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: The biggest rebellion since he took office, nearly 100 MPs voting against his measures, voting against their Prime

Minister. And that's despite the fact that Boris Johnson up until the very last minute up until the very last hour before the vote, he was sitting

with these rebellious lawmakers, these defiant lawmakers trying to convince them to vote his way.

And he was clearly unsuccessful with almost 100 of them as we said. What we're seeing here is the prime minister take another hit yes, he survived

another day. He's gotten the restriction through. But he looks just that much weaker.

He had a majority of 79 in Parliament, so, now to look at 99 lawmakers willing to turn against their own Prime Minister. How do you continue to

wield your authority wield your power through your own party if you're losing that many voices?

FOSTER: We spoke to one of those lawmakers. Last hour interesting that he's even doing interviews on the state of the leadership. But they decide don't

know the parliamentarians in the Conservative Party decide about who's going to be the leader.


FOSTER: And what he was saying was that they just aren't being involved in the decisions. This is Downing Street running things. It's chaotic there.

They're really worried about the leadership of the country.

ABDELAZIZ: And that's what's concerning for Prime Minister Boris Johnson is that once he starts to lose the faith of his own party, because Prime

Minister Boris Johnson, love them hate him, doesn't matter. A lot of people see him as a success story, right?

Because he was able to get things done, get Brexit done, get people to vote conservative who never voted conservative before he was seen as someone who

could win you a seat if you were a conservative lawmaker. Is that still the case? That's what lawmakers are going to be asking themselves, can I

continue to hold my position of power if I support Prime Minister Boris Johnson; it's not going to happen overnight.

But if you have a mutiny, that's when the party can turn against him. That's when you could see him would start to fight for his survival.

FOSTER: Can't really tell but what's you're feeling about whether or not this is just a Westminster story? Or do you think the wider public is

losing faith in Boris Johnson because that would be damaging for his pandemic plan?

ABDELAZIZ: If you look at public polling, the answer is yes. The wider public is losing faith in Prime Minister Boris Johnson. There was also a

very small poll done just the day after that video leaked that showed his senior staff laughing and joking about having cheese and wine at a party

inside Downing Street.

After that there was a small poll that showed 54 percent of people wanted the Prime Minister to resign. And this is not his first scandal. Throughout

the pandemic, this prime minister has been plagued with accusations that he is above the law that his administration is elitist that at times they've

ignored the public good for their own political well-being.

So yes, there is this reputation building one scandal is not going to take down a prime minister, but that crescendo building of one issue after

another after another. That could be what brings the end.

FOSTER: Whilst you've been speaking, I know you haven't had time to digest this, but we've just had the latest Coronavirus case numbers, saying the UK

has recorded its highest daily case number, they're saying it's 78,000 cases over a 24 hour period.

Now previously, we were looking at 50,000 as a high, weren't we? So we don't know, you know, can't attribute this necessarily to Omicron. But we

can assume it is. I mean, it's basically going gone up by half to the recent averages.

ABDELAZIZ: And that matches with what experts have told us it's going to double every couple of days, the number of cases that's a concern, it's

rising at that phenomenal rate. Now, they're trying to get those booster shots out as quickly as they can.

But this is the period that the health secretary said we must act in, because you have that window now between when hospitalizations are going to

hit and when Keith numbers are going to start to rise. So we're going to see the result of that in two weeks Max, when we will potentially see more

and more people entering hospital with Omicron.

FOSTER: Let's see what Boris Johnson has to say at the top of the next hour he's going to come up with his plan. And we wonder if he's got the

credibility to put it through but we'll follow that as well, Salma, thank you.

Whilst at odds with the West it was all smiles between the leaders of Russia and China meanwhile, we'll tell you what came out of their meeting

today. Plus delicate diplomacy at play in the Middle East as the UAE suspends a deal to buy U.S. fighter jets what both countries are saying

about that.



FOSTER: Chinese president says he's looking forward to a new chapter in the already positive relationship with Russia. Xi Jinping and Russian President

Vladimir Putin held the video call for an hour and a half earlier, the Kremlin called it very positive.

Their conversation comes at a time when both countries are feeling more pressure from the West, Russia over its troop build-up, new Ukraine and

China over trade and human rights issues. Let's get more on this now from our correspondents CNN's Melissa Bell in Moscow, Selina Wang is in Tokyo.

Melissa is interesting to see such warmth between these two leaders and it says as much about America doesn't it as those two countries.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, this was very much an effort to show just how United they were in the face of what they believe is

increasingly aggressive American strategy towards them that pressure that you mentioned building up on both of them.

Not only in the week, we saw last week of that meeting that summit for democracy held by Joe Biden controversial in terms of who's invited and who

was not. And that was directly seen as a means of showing the united front against of what they regard as authoritarian regimes like Russia, and


So an attempt to really show their unity but as well, more specifically to bring each other support on those questions that are so dividing them from

the rest of the international community, or at least from the west for Russia, of course, the military buildup around Ukraine.

And those proposals that Moscow has now formally presented the U.S. envoy for Europe, who is visiting here today. She received those proposals, which

we understand regard, essentially two things.

The fact that Moscow wants legal guarantees to ensure its security, and that those will be about the scaling down of military helped Ukraine, but

also an engagement and a commitment from NATO not to expand eastward, those proposals will now be taken to Brussels by the U.S. envoy. But Xi Jinping

very much explaining on that call with Vladimir Putin that he backed Moscow's position.

Vladimir Putin in turn explaining that he backed China's position on his critical view of any moves within the Asia Pacific region, and specifically

the orcas deal that is united, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in that part of the world over nuclear powered submarine.

So a show of force, a show of unity, and a show that these two may be isolated by other countries, but at least Max for the time being they have

each other. Now they've met a number of times in the last few years, we've seen the relationship strengthen over the years.

They will meet for real in February around the Beijing Winter Olympics that will be held there so far number of countries that announced that they were

boycotting Vladimir Putin today. During that phone call became the first world leader to say that he would be attending Max.

FOSTER: OK, Selina, that's the political story if you like. There's also an economic story here and economic relationship, which is becoming more and

more important, and no, that's the long term commitment, isn't it?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right Max, really what this meeting also reflected was the deepening economic ties the deepening diplomatic ties,

which is evident across sectors. These two countries are key trading partners. On top of that, they're also collaborating in areas as diverse of


They're building a Lunar Space Station together; they are striking energy deals together. And also critically Max, they're also cooperating more

militarily, just in October, Chinese and Russian warships teamed up together for a patrol to go around circle around Japan.

And on top of that, this, as you say, is about this united front when China is facing that increasing pressure from the west around technology around

trade around human rights, more and more companies being added to blacklists and sanctions.

And really this Russia meeting this deepening tie with Russia is a way to show that China's still has major power allies. Even the relationships with

the West are fast deteriorating.

And the comment from Putin around the Beijing Winter Olympics also stands in stark contrast to the increasing number of countries in the West that

are announcing these diplomatic boycotts. Putin said that he is looking forward to attending the games and meeting Xi Jinping there in person. Take

a listen to what else Putin had to say.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: I would like to note that we support each other on issues of international sports cooperation, including the

rejection of any attempts to politicize sports and the Olympic Movement. I have no doubt that the games will be held at the highest level, as China is

capable of.


WANG: Chinese state media frequently and regularly touts the strong relationship between Russia and China and increasingly so in recent years.

And we've also really saw and display this personal report where Xi Jinping was calling Putin his close his old friend whereas Putin then calls Xi

Jinping his dear friend.


WANG: And Xi Jinping also made an interesting note that this is the 37th time that they've met since 2013. And in regards to the Winter Olympics, Xi

Jinping said he's looking forward to that meeting in person and wants to hold hands with Putin into the future together. So a clear sign symbolic

sign as well from this meeting about those deepening economic diplomatic ties across the board, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Selina in Tokyo. So Melissa in Moscow, thank you both very much indeed. Now a deal suspended. That's the word for the UAE over its

negotiations to buy U.S. F-35 fighter jets.

The Emiratis are frustrated over Washington's expectations for how the F-35 would be utilized. The U.S. Secretary of State says his country still plans

to move ahead with the sale. But Antony Blinken stresses no matter what happens Israel will retain the military edge in the region.

Let's talk more with this with Sam Kiley in Abu Dhabi, also, Oren Liebermann of the Pentagon. Sam, let's start with you. What is the latest

development here? What are you looking at today?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the development Max, is that these negotiations that been going on for a long time that

were in a sense part of the Abraham Accords, the normalization deal that was struck initially, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as the

first stage in this very important movement from Israel's perspective.

The idea that the Emiratis would be able to buy these $23 billion worth of F-35 aircraft was they were encouraged to think that they that it was a

sale to go ahead. And then just recently, the Emiratis turned around and said, you know what, we don't much like this deal.

This may be horse trading in the international arms bizarre, but it also indicates a degree of increasing independence from the Emiratis have also

reset their foreign policy Max towards engagement rather than military adventures overseas.

So perhaps they don't even need these are very expensive weapons. And I think also Blinken didn't really do the American sales pitch a great deal

of help when and we've just played a quote just now, he pointed out that the Israelis might be getting a better plane. This is what he said.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We've, wanted to make sure, for example, that our commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge is

assured. So we wanted to make sure that we could do a full review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region,

including the UAE.


KILEY: Now, there are also concerns on the American side that the Emiratis are opening themselves up to too much Chinese tech, notably 5g from Huawei

and that that could ultimately make spying on these very sophisticated bits of military equipment that much easier for their great rival in the Far

East, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Sam, thank you, Oren. What are the chances then that this deal returning there seems to be an awful lot to work through when you hear what

Sam just say?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon has made it clear that any sale of F-35s, which still run through the State Department

as a foreign military sale.

But obviously the Pentagon is closely involved in this. Have always had stipulations and conditions placed on the receiving country when it comes

to the security of not only the Jets, but also all of the technology that comes with that this is not simply a piece of hardware.

A crucial part of the F-35 is the software that runs on it. And that is what's at stake here. That became very clear a few years ago, when the U.S.

scrapped the sale of F-35 to Turkey, because of Turkeys purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.

And it is a similar concern over the tech on the Jets themselves. That's leading the U.S. to raise some of these questions with the United Arab

Emirates. And this is what Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said at a press gaggle earlier this week.

He said we are always ready to discuss the sale in any potential sale with our Emirati partners, we will always insist as a matter of statutory

requirements and policy on a variety of end user requirements. That's typical.

And these end user requirements and protection of U.S. defense equipment are universal, nonnegotiable, and not specific to the UAE. Now there is a

UAE military delegation visiting today and tomorrow at the Pentagon.

Initially, it wasn't supposed to discuss the conditions around the sale of F-35 to the UAE, but that now will certainly come up over today and

tomorrow, Max.

FOSTER: OK. And Sam, when we look at the UAE strategy here, obviously there's a wider plan, you know, about where it sees itself in the world.

How does that play into all of this?

KILEY: Well, I think the first thing to bear in mind is and the Emirati is very hard over and vocal on this unusually for them, they are resetting

their foreign policy. No longer military operations and interventions in places like Yemen or Libya but trying to become effectively the Switzerland

of the region and that means trying to be a friends to everybody on top of that they have very significant trade with China.


KILEY: And they don't want to get crushed in the middle of some kind of superpower arm wrestle. This is what Anwar Gargash, who's the adviser to

the UAE President said about that.


ANWAR GARGASH, DIPLOMATIC ADVISER TO THE UAE PRESIDENT: We're very concerned, because the United States is our main strategic ally. And as I

said, China, as well as India are our main trade trading partners. And I think, from everything I see that this is going to be the difficult waters

that many countries will have to navigate in the coming period.


KILEY: Now, if the purchase of this $23 billion worth of advanced aircraft doesn't go through, it'll be less skin off the Emiratis knows. And a great

deal more for the U.S. defense industry. And the Emiratis know that they've recently purchased for example, $19 billion worth of hardware, including 80

fighter jets from France, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Sam, thank you, also Oren at the Pentagon. The Omicron Coronavirus variant meanwhile, maybe the biggest test yet for the UK since

the COVID pandemic began. We'll have more on the new warning some health officials also some very frightening new numbers.

And I'll speak to a global infectious disease expert about the threats Omicron poses, and what it could mean in this phase of the pandemic.



FOSTER: The UK Health Chief warning now that Omicron Coronavirus variant is the most significant threat to the UK since the start of the pandemic. It

comes to the UK reports is highest number of new cases in a day more than 78,000 topping the record set in January. England's Chief Medical Officer

is briefing UK lawmakers this hour on the government's response to Omicron, there's much concern, and Omicron is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

It's now the dominant variant in London. Experts fear the number of infections will be staggering and a significant impact on the healthcare

system obviously, Nina is with us, you've been studying the story. You also studied biology. So you're the person to speak to. But when we say 78,000

cases in a day that is a staggering increase whatever way you look at it.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is Max. It's also a record. It's higher than the previous record that was struck on the eighth of January

this year, which was 68,053, the latest figure is 78,610 people tested positive for this for COVID-19.

Just now, over the last day that brings the weekly total to over 400,000. So really, we can see that this is taking hold here in the United Kingdom.

And as you pointed out, its past become the dominant strain. What authorities don't yet know is whether or not it causes severe disease. And

the Prime Minister has said repeatedly over the last few days; don't assume that this is mild.

We know that now as per the latest figures, there's about 165 people in hospital with the Omicron strain that's much higher than the sort of number

of 10 that was cited by the Health Secretary earlier on in this week.

And in the meantime, a lot of people are just desperately queuing up for those booster shots because as we know, according to health authorities, if

you've only had two shots against COVID-19, you should really get a third one to get maximum protection.

So the government has unveiled this massive program that could see them having to vaccinate, perhaps up to a million people every single day. The

health secretary said that about 150,000 people had booked into their booster jab between yesterday evening and 9 a.m. this morning.

So that's the pace. But we've been looking at some of those lines in London and I think you can see some of the footage here. And people are just

desperately taking the government's message to get vaccinated as soon as possible Max.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, here's the booster vaccine for the COVID. And I guess we want the numbers to go down and not to go back into another


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we've all got our part to play to try and bring the numbers down. So it's good to see such a long queue really, that

a lot of people have come out to try and get that booster today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't want to, like pass it to anyone. And you never know, like, what happens if you get it? And I don't I mean, I've had

it and I didn't enjoy it. So I don't really want to again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it does probably just be better to be safe and sorry, in the end to be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To get my booster job so that I can go back for Christmas, my grandma's sick, so I just want to make sure that I'm the best



FOSTER: Well, good news, I guess that they're going out and getting these vaccinations because they're listening to the government and they're not in

the best position at the moment.

We're expecting Boris Johnson to speak next hour. His concern is the pressure on the health service. And we need to remember that whilst it

might be have milder symptoms that could arguably create more pressure on the health service.

SANTOS: Well, what we could see is a nightmarish situation that epidemiologists have been talking about for some time now of the common

flu, and common colds and various other illnesses that people have a butting this wave of Omicron in countries.

And indeed in the United States already health authorities have warned that that's something that they're starting to model for potentially in the

month of January. Something, you'll notice there among the people that we spoke to in the crowds, that they're also wearing masks.

Because remember as of the start of this week, and yesterday when we saw that fractious vote in Parliament, Boris Johnson pushed forward legislation

to make masks mandatory in some indoor setting. So technically, people didn't really need to be wearing masks there because they were outdoors.

But it shows that abundance --

FOSTER: They're thinking about it, yes.

SANTOS: Yes. So people this public health message is very much getting through. Now obviously, members of Boris Johnson's own parliament are

accusing him of scape of scare mongering, aren't they?

And we saw that big backlash in the House of Commons yesterday on the issue of vaccine passports. But the reality is, is what we're likely to hear from

the Prime Minister later on today is an explanation of those record numbers 78,000 plus cases in just the last 24 hours.

And trying to assuage people's concerns about whether or not this booster program is being delivered on target, Max, because that's the best


FOSTER: Nina, thank you. We'll be watching that is coming up at the top of the hour. Let's take a deeper look at the issue. Meanwhile, with infectious

disease and Global Health Expert Dr. Peter Drobac, he joins us from Oxford, in England, just if we could just get your reaction to those latest numbers

of 78,000 cases in the UK over a one day period.

DR. PETER DROBAC, GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD: Well thanks for having me Max. It is a staggering number and one that I think we've

been anticipating in recent days. And unfortunately I think we're just scratching the surface.


DR. DROBAC: As you mentioned, Omicron is now the dominant variant in London and is quickly becoming the case across the country. And what we're seeing

is a doubling in the number of infections every two to three days with this variant. So it really does spread with astonishing speed.

And so I think we really do have to brace ourselves for a coming wave of infections. What we don't know, of course, is what the implications of that

will be, because we still don't know too much about the severity of disease with Omicron yet.

FOSTER: What would be the sensible thing for Boris Johnson to say at the top of the hour when he speaks at his COVID briefing?

DR. DROBAC: Yes, I think he's right to be cautious and to assume, you know, hope for the best but plan for the worst. And what we need to do is do

everything possible to drive down the number of infections.

So I think the measures that have been introduced this week, working from home, et cetera are important. They may not be enough, but they may buy us

enough time for this campaign of booster vaccines to drive up our population level immunity a little bit.

I think in the run up to Christmas, what's really important is clear messaging around this; it's a difficult time because we're all anxious to

be together with our family and loved ones. But this is a time where there's a lot more mixing. And we've already seen with Omicron, it spreads

very, very easily through parties and events where you get lots of people together.

And so I think people do need to be really cautious about how and where they're gathering and take advantage of lateral flow testing where they


FOSTER: We could with this latest wave, see more people less ill than delta, am I right in saying that?

DR. DROBAC: That's correct. Now, we don't know for sure the suggestion that it causes milder disease is not borne out with hard evidence, yet, we hope

to have that sooner. The thing to remember is that even if it turns out to be milder disease, which we very much hope for, say it's half as likely to

cause severe disease as previous variants.

If we end up with double the number of cases, that's just the same number of people ending up in hospital or perhaps dying, and we're seeing doubling

every two to three days.

So even in a scenario where there is milder disease, there's still real risk of putting pressure on the healthcare system. And that's why the

modeling that's been done so far, is just showing a very wide range of possible outcomes. There's uncertainty right now.

FOSTER: What sort of advice you'll see, you know, familiar with all the experts sitting around the Prime Minister, what sort of advice would they

be giving him right now? And is he listening to them?

DR. DROBAC: Well, not inside those discussions. And so of course, I can't say I can't say for sure, you know, he and any other political leader in

this position has incredibly difficult decisions to make.

From a pure public health standpoint, I would have suggested more severe restrictions to drive down transmission earlier on than we're doing right

now. We're already seeing a really aggressive rise in cases that, of course, does need to be balanced with, you know, keeping schools open and

the economy et cetera.

But what we've learned throughout this pandemic is that speed matters that acting swiftly and acting and acting aggressively in the face of an

opponent that grows exponentially is paramount. And I think we're taking steps in the right direction, we may need to ask - excuse me act more


FOSTER: Christmas, very close, ministers still say that they're going to carry on with their Christmas plans. Is that something that you advise them

to say? I mean, what are you going to be doing at Christmas?

DR. DROBAC: I'll be home. With my immediate family, for the most part, we're going to try to find some activities to do outdoors. I mean, we just

have to look back a year ago, when we saw rising cases with what was then the new alpha variant.

And everyone that aggressively tried to, you know, have a normal Christmas and Christmas parties gone on. And some of the restrictions that many of us

were calling for were delayed through that period. And what we saw was a big spike in infections immediately after Christmas.

And by the second week of January, of course, we were in the midst of a second very painful lockdown. I hope history doesn't repeat itself this

time, the landscape has changed quite a bit.

We do, of course, have vaccines, which are still extremely effective, if not as effective against this variant. We have new treatments on the

horizon. There is a lot of reasons to be hopeful.

But what I think we should be careful of is in our desire to enjoy and have Christmas and be together that we're not actually creating problems that

are going to make our lives even more difficult in the months to come.

FOSTER: It's also a very confusing picture, isn't it for people when you have every European government taking a very different view on how to

handle the pandemic? It just shows the sort of confusion out there and you know, people feel unprotected because of that.

DR. DROBAC: Yes, there is a huge range of uncertainty right now because there's so little that we know about this particular variant. And people

are tired of the restrictions absolutely and any political leader is loath to return to lockdowns.


DR. DROBAC: We have seen that happening of course in Austria and some other European countries recently, but it just goes to show that there is

uncertainty that there's not a clear path. But there's a lot that we know that does work. It's just a question of how painful that medicine is going

to be.

FOSTER: OK, Dr. Drobac, I appreciate your time. Thank you. We're going to get you up to speed. Now some other stories that we are following on our

radar right now. Turkey's foreign minister says his country and Armenia will appoint a special envoy to work towards normalizing ties, and will

restart charter flights between Istanbul and the Armenian capital.

Back in 2009, the two nations signed a protocol to normalize relations, but the agreement never materialized. Iran is agreed to allow the International

Atomic Energy Agency to replace surveillance cameras at a centrifuge manufacturing facility.

That's been a sticking point between them since the facility was damaged in a sabotage attack in June. The disputes threatened to complicate ongoing

nuclear talks in Vienna. Reuters reports that Lebanese officials have finally agreed on the scale of losses in the country's financial sector.

They put it between 68 and $69 billion. Disagreements led to a breakdown in negotiations to secure an IMF support program. This comes after the

Lebanese pound hit and historic low on Tuesday trading at 28,150 to the dollar.

Now stories of brutality and suffering emerging from Afghanistan and Amnesty International say they weren't just caused by the Taliban. I'll

talk with an amnesty war crimes investigator next.


FOSTER: We're hearing grisly stories of "relentless bloodshed" from Afghanistan during the lead up to the Taliban takeover. Amnesty

International says repeated war crimes were committed as the Taliban fought for control. It says the Taliban targeted political opponents as well as

ethnic and religious minorities with torture and executions and crimes were committed in schools, hospitals and homes.

Amnesty also says U.S. and Afghan forces are not without blame, carrying out airstrikes and mortar attacks in which civilians are killed. Brian

Castner is the Amnesty International War Crimes Investigator wrote that report. He's with us on Skype from New York. Thank you for joining us.


FOSTER: We'll displace to a lot of people that America may have been guilty of some war crimes. Take us through the accusation there and a typical

example if you would.

CASTNER: Well, we know that the United States has conducted thousands of airstrikes in Afghanistan over the last couple of decades. And you know,

the one that was in Kabul in August, which the whole world saw where 10 members of a family were killed and nobody there was involved in terrorist

activity in any way.


CASTNER: Unfortunately, that kind of airstrike has happened all over the country, in many rural areas they're difficult to reach. And in two, we

have two more cases in this report, one from Nangahar and one from Kunduz where we could not identify a military target.

Families were killed in one case in the middle of the night. And so this is why it's particularly frustrating that the International Criminal Court has

decided they're going to deprioritize investigations into some of the parties to this conflict, and only look at some others. And that's really a

failure of its mandate.

FOSTER: Why is that? Is that an eternal decision? Have they come under pressure?

CASTNER: It was an internal decision to only look at Taliban and Islamic State in the Curzon Province attacks. And of course, those attacks are

grisly and awful. And we document many of them in our report and how the Taliban would go house to house in places like - pull people from their

homes and execute them.

So it's not that there are not crimes to be investigated there. It's just that the International Criminal Court should follow. You know, the evidence

wherever it leads, no matter who the party is, in, for example, in cases with the Afghan National Army. Some of their attacks were so reckless and

negligent, they may constitute war crimes as well.

FOSTER: Yes, take us through that side of things as they were fleeing.

CASTNER: That's right. There's this narrative I think that somehow Afghanistan fell overnight, and was all quick and relatively bloodless. But

that's not the truth. There was a month of heavy fighting in many urban areas, including Kandahar and Kunduz.

And we documented a number of mortar attacks that as the Taliban moved into the civilian neighborhoods, the Afghan National Army would launch these

mortars into people's homes into really densely populated areas. And so would not just to Taliban but had families as well.

FOSTER: We've heard some a lot about the Taliban, war crimes as you describe them at that period of the takeover. Is it your understanding that

those war crimes have ended now? Or do you fear that they continue?

CASTNER: No, we fear that they continue. And the problem is, I think we really know so little of what's going on in most of the country. Human

Rights Watch put out a report a few weeks ago, where they documented a number of targeted killings.

We have our report today; none of those cases are the same. They're all independent. And it makes you wonder how many more are not being reported

because the Taliban have shut down cell phone service in many of these areas. Or it's just impossible to get journalists and human rights

investigators to those areas.

FOSTER: So when you say the ICC is de prioritizing the Afghan military in U.S. violations, and they're investigating the Taliban, how are they even

able to do that?

CASTNER: I mean, it's a good question. And this is one of those. Again, this is why it's frustrating. Because the cases that we document in this

report, it's not like they're ancient history. It's not like these things were happening decades ago or something.

The U.S. attacks, the Afghan National Army attacks, the Taliban attacks. And these are all happening just in the last few months or years. Any

challenges that they would have investigating one side they should have for all? And so again, we would call them just to follow wherever the evidence

leads, and not decide beforehand, that they're only going to investigate one side or the other.

FOSTER: Meanwhile, we've got this humanitarian crisis unfolding, haven't we? Poverty, we're told from another report is now universal. And there's a

lack of aid going into the country because countries don't want to give aid to the Taliban. So next year is looking absolutely horrific, isn't it?

CASTNER: It is, and there's the numbers I've seen are that a million people are threatened with famine. Obviously, winter is starting. It's snowing

today for the first time in Kabul.

And so it really again, this is, you know, this is this old pattern where it's the average people and it's civilians who do the suffering on behalf

of in this case, you know, the international groups don't or international governments don't want to aid the Taliban.

But the people that they're really harming are those, you know, facing famine out in the provinces, or as we document in our report, really just

caught in the middle of the fighting and killed in the crossfire.

FOSTER: Brian Castner, thank you.

CASTNER: Thank you very much.

FOSTER: You are watching "Connect the World". Still ahead the deadly ramifications of Haiti's fuel crisis. Dozens were killed after trying to

collect gas from a broken down tanker which then exploded.



FOSTER: Haitian officials are pleading for blood donations and other aid after Tuesday's fuel tank explosion. The blast in Haiti second largest city

killed at least 62 people. Many of the victims are trying to collect gas directly from the truck when it exploded. CNN's Matt Rivers tells us why

Haitians are so desperate for fuel.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Massive flames illuminating the night sky and Cap-Haitien, the northern port city and Haiti's second

largest, a fuel truck had exploded moments before in the middle of a dense neighborhood.

It's not clear what caused the explosion but the city's mayor said the truck had mechanical problems and had stopped began leaking fuel and people

had crowded around hoping to collect some for themselves.

That crowd is what made the explosion catastrophic. Dozens of people dead and dozens more injured, frontline workers clearing bodies covering them

with white cloths the next morning moving the dead into a waiting truck.

It was a brutal scene in part caused by a critical fuel crisis on the island. Spot protests have gone on for month's people angry over not being

able to get fuel. We don't have a government this man says if we don't demand change, which will.

Tire set on fire and debris thrown into the street are desperate attempts to cause enough chaos that the government tries to fix the problem, but it

won't be easy. Not only is the government so broken off and can't buy enough fuel, but when some arrives, it can't get delivered.

The vast majority of fuel is imported at these two locations. But gangs in Puerto Prince are so powerful. They have near complete control over this

crucial stretch of highway which means they control the flow of fuel into the Capitol. A gas retailer identity hidden due to security concerns told

us what happens if you try and drive a tanker into pickup fuel.

RIVERS (on camera): So I might get kidnapped.


RIVERS (on camera): I might get shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, if you don't stop.

RIVERS (on camera): I might get killed.


RIVERS (on camera): Or at the very least I'm going to have to pay an exorbitant bribe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course.

RIVERS (voice over): Haiti's government and law enforcement are either unwilling or unable to secure a flow of fuel from the ports.

RIVERS (on camera): But not having enough fuel doesn't just mean you can't use your motorbike consider this, here in Port-au-Prince the electricity

grid is not reliable. So let's say you own a small store and you sell cold drinks.

In order to keep that refrigerator running, you need to use a generator. And if the fuel going into that generator is way more expensive than it was

before. That means you need to charge your customers more for those cold drinks.


RIVERS (on camera): Not having enough fuel makes all kinds of things more expensive and that's brutal in a country already dealing with so much


RIVERS (voice over): This the scene from about six weeks ago inside the empty hallways of Hospital Universitaire de la Paix normally packed with

patients just a few were inside when we were there. Ketia Estille's son almost died during an overnight asthma attack. She says the doctor was

using the flashlight on his phone to put my son on oxygen because there is in electricity. It's so bad, I almost lost him.

RIVERS (on camera): Normally all of those cribs would be filled with sick kids. But the hospital is turning away nearly every single patient that

comes here, because right now there are simply not enough doctors, nurses or electricity to take care of them. That means that one of Haiti's largest

hospitals is essentially not functioning.

RIVERS (voice over): The doctors are trying but they cannot do anything. She says they have no help. Only God can help at this point. Her son

survived but other victims of this fuel crisis did not.

So many crowded around the leaking fuel trucks said the mayor in part because they were so desperate for gasoline. What happened in Cap-Haitien a

horrific consequence of a country starving for fuel Matt Rivers, CNN.


FOSTER: Well, thank you for joining us. That was "Connect the World", "One World" with Zain Asher up next.