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Tributes for Archbishop Desmond Tutu; U.K. Sets Record for New COVID-19 Cases; South African Omicron Cases Decline; Hong Kong Pro- Democracy "Stand News" Shuts Down after Raid; Taliban Ban Women from Solo Road Trips; China Complains about Elon Musk Satellites. Aired 10-10:40a ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 10:00   ET




ELENI GIOKOS, CNN HOST (voice-over): A delicate balance as Omicron fuels a staggering wave of COVID-19 cases in Europe.

More bad news for press freedom in Hong Kong. Police arrest seven in connection to a pro-democracy news outlet.

And paying tribute to a man who was larger than life but wanted a humble ending. Archbishop Desmond Tutu's foundation says he wanted the cheapest

coffin available. His memorial service is in an hour.


GIOKOS: Hello, welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos.

British prime minister Boris Johnson is urging people to get COVID-19 booster shots and enjoy the New Year sensibly and cautiously. He visited a

vaccination center today and said the Omicron variant is milder than Delta but has caused a surge in hospitalizations.

In fact, hospitalizations in England have increased 25 percent in the past week. The U.K. set a daily record Tuesday that breaks a record set just

five days ago. We have Salma Abdelaziz live for us in London to give us an update.

And this is really important. You've got record cases, pretty shocking numbers. But it's important to make the correlation in terms of

hospitalizations but also, how the ICU wards are faring.

Salma, do we have details on the numbers?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you compare the numbers to last year and look at the figures, these absolutely eye-watering, record-

breaking infection rates, they simply do not match. They do not translate into the level of hospitalizations, ICU use or death you would expect when

you look at previous variants like the Delta.

Initial indications are around 60 percent to 70 percent less likely to wind up in hospital with the Omicron variant. So you have a few data points


You have the infection rates, this, again, the French health minister saying it gives you vertigo to look at the numbers. In France, someone was

testing positive for COVID-19, two people were testing positive for COVID- 19 every second in France, truly mind-boggling infection rates.

But look at the hospitalization rates, the ICU rates and death rates, simply not in the same sphere. There is a lag time between positive cases

and hospitalizations but it means governments are treating this wave very differently. They're using less restrictions it appears so far and instead

focusing on boosters, boosters, boosters.

That's why prime minister Boris Johnson was at a vaccination center today, pushing the booster program. Take a listen to what he said.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems. You're seeing cases rising in hospitals. But it is obviously

milder than the Delta variant and we're able to proceed in the way that we are.

But that's one reason, one reason only, why we're able to do that and that's because there is a huge proportion of the British public have come

forward to get vaccinated and particularly to get boosted.


ABDELAZIZ: Now prime minister Boris Johnson went on in that statement to say up to 90 percent of those who were in hospital with COVID-19 had yet to

receive their booster. And of course, this image is replicated across hospitals around the world.

Overwhelmingly those showing up sick with COVID-19 needing hospitalization are those who are unvaccinated.

So at a time when governments are really switching strategies, rethinking how to deal with yet another surge, because the challenge presented is one

of keeping basic functioning processes going in any city.

Think about this overwhelming positive case number, how many people are calling out sick, how essential services like hospitals, essential stores,


How does that keep functioning when you have so many people having to isolate?

GIOKOS: Yes, you're looking at what is happening with airlines as well and get a sense what this means when there is a shortage of crews.

Salma, I'm curious. I want to bring our minds back to the beginning of summer, when Boris Johnson relaxed rules so dramatically there was a fear

in the winter season they wouldn't be able to deal with the rise in cases. And now he says you've got to celebrate New Year's very cautiously and



GIOKOS: What kind of messaging are we seeing with mask wearing and what adherence are you seeing on the ground in London?

ABDELAZIZ: Because of plan B going into place before Christmas, this set of plans that we call plan B, mask mandates are required in most indoor


You're also required to show a negative test or proof of vaccination to enter large scale venues like night clubs or sports stadiums, events like

that. But by no means are they the measures you're seeing across western Europe, being seen in countries like Germany and Austria.

And yes, of course, that does mean the prime minister had to roll some of those back because, in the summertime, the prime minister was hailing the

Freedom Day, the day we would be released from restrictions.

But you know, the British government is not alone in this. Many people feel across the world, really, they were promised, once vaccines came out and

they got their shot, the pandemic would be over. And what we're realizing now is it's not that simple. You have to have this mix of social

restrictions and vaccinations to deal with the surges.

GIOKOS: Such a good point, Salma. Thank you for the update.

New cases in Portugal are also surging but far fewer people are hospitalized than last year. The number of cases this week are up a

whopping 235 percent from one year ago. But hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and deaths are all down 70 percent or more from 2020.

The difference, about 88 percent of people in Portugal are vaccinated. But that's not the case in many other European countries. As I said, records

for new cases, Melissa Bell has the latest from France, where cases are doubling every two to three days.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Record COVID cases across the European continent, several countries noting their highest rise since the pandemic

began. Here in France, for instance, more than 179,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period, a record that smashes the one achieved on Saturday,

when more than 100,000 cases were noted.

Here at this vaccination center in central Paris they are expecting, as the day progresses, greater numbers of people to come. This after French

authorities announced fresh measures to bring that new surge back under control, including shortening the amount of time between the second dose

and the booster.

And that's why vaccination centers here in Paris are preparing for more and more people to get out and get vaccinated over the coming days. Across

Europe, it's a similar tale; growing pressure on health care systems, the WHO warning that, given those large rises, European health care systems

could once again risk being overwhelmed -- Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


GIOKOS: Officials in China say a COVID outbreak in the city of Xi'an accounts for almost all locally transmitted cases in the country; 152

infections were reported Wednesday, with only one found outside of Xi'an. The city has been under a strict lockdown for nearly a week now. Steven

Jiang reports.


STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: The situation in Xi'an is starting to feel like a deja vu of what we saw in Wuhan two years ago,

with a growing amount of frustration or anger being vented online by people in Xi'an, who have difficulties accessing to food items.

That is in sharp contrast to officials and state media portrayal of orderly deliveries of daily necessity items by the government to households

throughout the city.

Now things have been made worse by tightened regulations because, last week, each household was still allowed to send out one representative every

other day to do grocery shopping. That quote-unquote "privilege" is suspended, starting this week, as the government there tries to further

restrict the movements of people to cut the spread of the virus with the zero COVID policy ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That's also why authorities in Xi'an are doubling down their strategy of mass testing, mass quarantining and harsher lockdown measures. The numbers

recorded in the city grim by China's standard: 151 new local cases recorded on Tuesday.

But the government there says this is only to be expected as they keep testing the entire population of 13 million residents. They just started

the sixth round of citywide testing Wednesday but they say, with a strict lockdown firmly in place, these numbers will stabilize soon and start

decreasing, with the hope the outbreak may end in a month or so.

But that is cold comfort for millions of residents, trying to survive now under increasingly harsh conditions -- Steven Jiang, CNN, Beijing.


GIOKOS: While COVID cases are surging across Europe and parts of Asia, South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, is seeing new

infections fall.


GIOKOS: And there is good reason to believe the worst may have passed. CNN David McKenzie brings us insight from South African medical workers, who

have been on the front lines of each of those new waves of the pandemic. Let's take a look.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dispatched south of Johannesburg, paramedic Mohammed Rasool says omicron is nothing like delta.


Will you be able to walk sir?

MCKENZIE: We were with them during the chaos, when the delta wave of COVID-19 ripped through South Africa.

Severe patients crashed quickly. Rasool's team spent hours looking for hospital beds. Charities like Gift of the Givers rushed to set up field

clinics, scrambled to distribute oxygen concentrators to save lives. With omicron, they say they haven't sent out a single one.

RASOOL: A patient that's complaining of tightness in chest.

MCKENZIE: Rasool says their call-outs now are for less severe patients, like this 46-year-old who tested negative but is still suspected of having


RASOOL: -- test after five minutes, check the chest.

MCKENZIE (on camera): So there's been a surge of cases of COVID-19 with omicron but there hasn't been a surge in severity of hospitalization. This

kind of callout is pretty typical.

What advice do you have for other countries that are facing an omicron wave?

NICHOLAS CRISP, ACTING DIRECTOR-GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Don't panic. This is -- you will ride the wave, far less use of oxygen, far fewer

people being admitted despite the high numbers of cases. Very high transmission of people getting mild illness, not even getting diagnosed at


MCKENZIE (voice-over): It's still unclear why it's seemingly milder or whether that will translate globally. Scientists here believe up to 80

percent of the population in South Africa may have had COVID-19 before, likely providing a shield of immunity against severe infection. Vaccine

coverage also plays a major part.

CRISP: This would have been an absolute nightmare if it was delta. So I think we can just be very grateful that it has not been as devastating as

it could have been.

MCKENZIE (on camera): but there's still reason to be cautious, it seems?

CRISP: Yes. Well, we've learned with COVID generally, you never let your guard down.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): for a brief moment, though, Rasool dares to hope.

RASOOL: Severity of the illness was a lot better than it was. So I'm actually quite optimistic about it.

MCKENZIE: David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


GIOKOS: One of the remaining pro-democracy voices left in Hong Kong has been silenced. Police raided the headquarters of "Stand News" on Wednesday

and arrested seven people for publishing what they call "seditious" news articles.

"Stand News" said they would shut down and delete all its social media accounts. Among those arrested, pop star Denise Ho, who has been a strong

supporter of "Stand News." Hong Kong authorities have targeted pro- democracy media outlets since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city last year.

We have Ivan Watson, senior international correspondent, joining us live in Hong Kong with more details.

And Ivan, I'm looking at how they are enforcing that sweeping national security law and arresting these people and what that actually is showing


Can you give us more information about the people arrested and accusations?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The arrests were conducted early this morning in this kind of sleepy lull between the

Christmas and New Year holidays.

A raid on the newsroom of "Stand News" and then at least six of its senior staff members, including, as you mentioned, the Canton pop star, Denise Ho,

who had a big performing career but also an outspoken supporter of the 2014 and 2019 pro-democracy protests that have rocked this city in the past.

And all of these people arrested, charged with seditious publication. And within hours, "Stand News" shuts down completely. That's the pattern we saw

six months ago, when the popular tabloid newspaper, "Apple Daily" was raided, the publisher and top editors arrested, behind bars and assets


And the printing presses ground to a complete halt. So there is definitely a pattern here and that's what the Hong Kong Journalists Association is

saying. Its leader was one of the "Stand News" editors who was detained and then released.

That association saying it's, quote, "deeply concerned that the police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of

news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year."


WATSON: Now the Hong Kong government insists it's not targeting journalists. But listen to the rhetoric coming from the number two official

in the Hong Kong government, when asked about these arrests today.


JOHN LEE, HONG KONG CHIEF SECRETARY: Anybody who attempts to make news of media work as a tool to pursue their political purpose or other interests,

contravenes the law, particularly offenses that endanger national security, they are the evil elements that damage press freedom.


WATSON: He's calling people who haven't been to trial yet "evil," suspect. And this of course, is part of a much broader crackdown we've seen on

freedoms that this city had enjoyed up until a 1.5-2 years ago.

GIOKOS: Ivan, that's fascinating to see how content is interpreted as, they claim, seditious material.

What does this mean for freedom of speech and press freedom as a whole in Hong Kong and the strong message they sent by also arresting that pop star?

WATSON: Right, those freedoms are -- have very clearly diminished within the past two years. The argument coming from the government is, hey, 2019,

there were riots; they are accusing people who are out in the streets of being terrorists and extremists and that this is bringing order back to the


But look at the pattern. You used to have, every year, peaceful street demonstrations; those have been all but banned on health grounds, the

government says, because of the COVID pandemic.

You've had dozens of opposition lawmakers, who are currently behind bars, some activists and politicians who have simply fled Hong Kong into exile.

There were just recently Legislative Council elections but you had to be classified a "patriot" to be able to run.

So many of the former traditional opposition politicians were disqualified. Those weren't in jail were disqualified from running. So the participation

rate in the election dropped to just 30 percent from 2019, where I think it was around 80 percent -- I may be wrong about that.

Then you have news organizations that have been shutting down after being accused of being a national security threat. Put it all together and the

political culture of this city has changed dramatically in just the last two years.

It is interesting that, on December 22nd, Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam traveled and met with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and he

basically patted her on the back and said you've done a great job and brought order back to a city in chaos and she effectively echoed those


GIOKOS: Ivan, thank you very much for those insights.

All right. Just ahead, safeguarding the legacy of archbishop Desmond Tutu. I'll talk to one of the people doing that.

And women's rights in Afghanistan take another step backward. The latest thing women can't do.





GIOKOS: Honoring Archbishop Desmond Tutu: mourners are gathering for a memorial next hour in Cape Town. The funeral for the anti-apartheid icon is

New Year's Day. The archdeacon of the Anglican Church led prayers outside of his former home in Soweto.

Cape Town city hall is also remembering him. It's bathed in purple, the color of Tutu's clerical robes, to honor the man who was the conscience of

a nation.


GIOKOS (voice-over): And the church where Archbishop Tutu preached is ringing bells for 10 minutes every day until his funeral. The archbishop's

daughter says the thing she'll miss the most is her father's hugs.

NONTOMBI NAOMI TUTU, DESMOND TUTU'S DAUGHTER: I will miss just knowing that this is the place to be hugged, the place to -- well, Daddy was a

hugger. He hugged, anybody that knows him will know that he hugged.

And even when we went and we saw him and after he had died, lying in the bed, (INAUDIBLE) we climbed onto the bed to hug him, because that is so

much who he was, the daddy who always hugged, who always kissed us, who was so open with the fact that he loved us.


GIOKOS: And so much love to give, not only to his family but he saw South Africa and average South Africans as his family, too. Desmond Tutu died

Sunday at the 90, one of the most prominent religious leaders in the world and tireless advocate for human rights and justice and winner of the Nobel

Peace Prize in 1984.

I'm happy to welcome Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a South African anti-apartheid leader and also the co-chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Intellectual Property Trust and joins us live from Cape Town, South Africa.

Doctor, condolences to you and your team and the family of the Arch, thank you so much for joining us today. You know, talking about him and his life

and how he epitomized peace and reconciliation and in so many ways helped open the door toward democracy, because he had such a powerful message of

transitioning in a peaceful manner.

What would you say was the most powerful message that not only South Africans should ensure they keep remembering but for the rest of the world,

as well?

DR. MAMPHELA RAMPHELE, CO-CHAIRPERSON, ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU TRUST: Thank you very much for your kind words. We are clearly celebrating one of

the greatest people who have lived in our times.

The greatest impact of Archbishop Tutu was to remind us about what it means to be human. Being a son of Africa, the cradle of humanity and of the first

civilization, he never forgot to remind us that we have been created as a human race, a single human race, interconnected and interdependent.

And each one of us carries within us the sacred. And so as I say, as we greet in South Africa, "Sawa bona," "I see you," you also see me in you.

And that is the kind of love, compassion, faith, spirituality that Desmond Tutu lived.

He didn't talk about it; he lived it.

GIOKOS: When I used to listen to him speak in the interactions all South Africans had with him.


GIOKOS: He was able to disarm all of us through his jokes and his laughter but one thing he wasn't afraid of was to talk about politics. But he

scolded the ANC and he warned the ANC that they need to do good by the average South Africans, or people would rise against the liberation party,

the very party he gave us live to ensure that they came into power.

What do you think he would feel about the future of South Africa?

Was he feeling optimistic that the ruling party was on the right page?

And do you think we should listen back to some of the comments he made about the political landscape in South Africa?

RAMPHELE: Desmond Tutu was a prophet. He was not a liberation fighter. He was not fighting for the ANC to come into power. He was a prophet who

wanted to see God's people free, God's people living in dignity and loving one another, as, in his belief system, we are all loved.

And so I can't imagine Desmond Tutu ever contemplating becoming a politician. That's not his calling. His calling was to be a voice of

justice, a voice for the voiceless but also to be fearless, fearless in the face of injustice, fearless in the face of abuse of one human being by

another, regardless of who is doing the abuse.

In the apartheid period, you were against that injustice and, today, because of our failure and the failure of our government to make freedom

real in the lives of people's social justice, he was as outspoken as always.

WALKER: Absolutely. And we'll remember him for that as well.

We know that he wanted a humble sendoff and that he picked his own hymns.

Can you tell me about the memorial we're expecting as well as the funeral service and how he's left his mark, even when we have to say goodbye to


RAMPHELE: Well, the first thing is he was at peace with the fact, as a mortal, he was going to die. And he wanted his funeral to be a celebration

of life and celebrated in only he could do, dancing around.

And so the music, the hymns that we'll be listening to by his favorite choir, Imilonji, that one to wish means the music, the melodies of the

people, either all spirituals of Africans here.

And you often hear African Americans singing to the same tune, which are really about God making himself felt and bringing His kingdom and making it

visible in our lives.

So those are the hymns we'll hear but he being a loyal Anglican, he wanted a proper requiem mass so there will also be Anglican hymns that are part of

that celebration of life and the connection of the spirit to his Maker.

Dr. Ramphele, siyabonga. Thank you so much for joining us today and strength to you and to the Desmond Tutu family.

RAMPHELE: Thank you very much and thank you to your listeners.

GIOKOS: Thank you.

Still ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, how the latest changes in Afghanistan will impact women's lives.

And there was a rare meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Was it a small step in the right direction in the Middle East?

Details coming up.





GIOKOS: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

A new law in Afghanistan strikes another blow to women's rights in the Taliban controlled nation. Women are no longer allowed to travel alone for

long distance road trips.

The Taliban says it's for their own protection. Since the Taliban took control in August women's rights have been eroding, affecting attending

school, working and now traveling. Arwa Damon joins us live.

At those initial press conferences, when questions were posed about women's rights, they made reassurances they would not, you know, hurt women's

freedoms. And since that conference, we've actually seen so much happening. And women are sitting in a tight spot.

But this rule really means a woman can't move around as freely as they could before.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they really can't. And the thing is, as one protester pointed out, attempting to protest in

front of what was the Ministry for Women's Affairs, which, of course, the Taliban then effectively suspended and turned into the Ministry for Vice

and Virtue, as this one female demonstrator said, what is supposed to happen if a woman is pregnant and there isn't a male relative around her to

help her get to the hospital?

All of these moves, the vast majority of them the Taliban have taken, rules they have tried to put into place regarding women, whether it has to do

with limiting their mobility, limiting their ability to access education, limiting their ability to access their jobs, has largely been under the

auspices of trying to keep women and girls safe.

The Taliban keeps saying, you know, wait, be patient, we need to ensure that people, women can go back to work, to school in a safe environment.

Now it's to go on the roads in a safe environment, again, claiming this is for women's safety.

But you can begin to imagine, you know, how difficult it is for women and girls in Afghanistan to begin to have to handle this increasingly harsh

constrictive reality they are facing.

And talk just about anyone in Afghanistan but especially when it comes to the country's female population. And they will tell you, since the Taliban

came to power, their happiness has been stolen from them. Their freedom has been stolen from them. Their future, their hopes, their dreams -- their

everything has just been so ripped out from underneath them that, even now, months on, many of them are still struggling, understandably, to try to

come to terms with this.

As for the international community, look, all we here now is rhetoric from them.

But who is willing, which country is actually willing to make a move forward in terms of trying to pressure the Taliban to actually change its



DAMON: There is no one coming to save Afghanistan right now. And there most certainly isn't anyone or anything coming forward to try to save

Afghanistan's women and young girls.

GIOKOS: Arwa, thank you so much. As you said, it's really important to not forget what is happening in terms of women's rights in Afghanistan. Thank


Creating a political horizon: that was the goal of a rare meeting of Israeli and Palestinian senior officials. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the

Palestinian Authority, traveled to Israeli territory to meet with defense minister Benny Gantz.

The two discussed building measures for the occupied West Bank. It was Abbas' first official visit to Israel in 12 years. For more, let's bring in

journalist Elliott Gotkine, live in Jerusalem.

We have seen meetings over decades between the two sides and it always comes down to harsh compromises that sides need to take. And that's when

things fall apart.

But is this a chance for hope, to start on a new page, would you say?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there is two ways of looking at this meeting.

It wasn't anything to do with peace talks. This wasn't a precursor to revitalizing the peace process between Israel and Palestinians. That's

moribund for years, not least because of the right wing members of the governing coalition, including the prime minister's party.

It was a meeting outside of Tel Aviv, as you say, discussing, among other things, confidence building measures. But I think there were a couple

reasons for this meeting to take place.

One was to bolster the position of Mahmoud Abbas effectively as the only person that Israel and the United States for that matter can do business

with when it comes to the Palestinians.

And perhaps they were trying to deescalate some of the tensions in the West Bank. And, of course, we've seen concessions coming out of the meetings,

Israel advancing 100 million shekels, that's about $32 million, to the Palestinians in lieu of taxes that Israel collected on the Palestinians'

behalf and been holding onto, tax revenues, because it says the money is used in part to pay money to families of people that have carried out

attacks against Israel.

Also, talk about making it easier for thousands more Palestinians to get into Israel. So the hope is -- in this region, I guess, any conversations

can count as progress, even if they aren't perhaps what we would hope in terms of progress in the peace process.

GIOKOS: Absolutely, talking is the first step. Thank you very much. Elliott, for that update.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, no show in Sydney. The world tennis number 1 is skipping Australia's top competition. More details in the


And the world's richest man is in some hot water with China. Find out why after the break.





GIOKOS: Welcome back.

Elon Musk might be flying too close to the sun. The world's richest man is taking heat from China over two of the tech billionaire's SpaceX

satellites. Beijing claims they zoomed to China's space station earlier this year.

In a report sent to the United Nations' Office for Outer Space Affairs, the country completed the satellite, quote, "constituted dangers to the life or

health of astronauts aboard the China Space Station."

There are already 2,000 SpaceX Starlink satellites floating above us, with many more in the pipeline. And the company, Starlink Venture, promises to

provide high-speed internet access for the entire world.

But increased government and commercial activity in space is raising questions about essentially how we manage traffic in our orbits. A

collision could be catastrophic.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We're talking about lower Earth orbit on the order of 300 kilometers in altitude above us. Things in low Earth

orbit and not falling down are traveling in excess of 20,000 kilometers per hour.

So you can imagine, if two objects are coming at each other in opposite directions, we're talking in excess of 40,000 close to 50,000 kilometers in

closing delta velocity. So that can cause real problems. So you want to be careful about this.

How close those Starlink satellites came, which are the Elon Musk SpaceX fleet to provide internet access to remote parts of the world, how close

they actually came to the Chinese Space Station is not really laid out very clearly.

We do know this: Musk is very sensitive to this idea. He's already got 1,700 satellites in orbit and wants to put upward of 40,000 eventually so

the whole world can get internet by this means.

And one thing he claims is that the satellites have their own autonomous ability to avoid collisions and, at the end of their life, have the ability

to be steered into the ocean. So it's getting crowded, however, in low Earth orbit. And that concerns a lot of people.


GIOKOS: All right, so SpaceX has not responded to our request from CNN for comment on the complaints from China. And in the wake of this near miss,

China has called on the United States to take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again. What those steps might be remain