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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

COVID Resurgence Again Upends Daily Life as Holidays Approach; Biden: "Build Back Better" Will Miss Christmas Deadline; Bill Targeting China's Xinjiang Region Heads to Biden. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 17, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Friday, December 17th. Happy Friday, everybody. Five a.m. exactly here in New York.

Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

We begin this morning with pandemic whiplash here in the U.S. with just one week until Christmas Eve. Now, so far here's what we know: the omicron variant appears highly contagious, but less deadly than the delta strain. Still, COVID is once again dominating our daily lives. Schools, sports, work, all face this uncertain future.

ROMANS: Colleges are sending students home. More and more companies are delaying the return to the office. The NBA and NFL rolling out new safety measures and cancelling games.

Even Secretary of State Anthony Blinken cut his trip to southeast Asia short after a journalist on the trip tested positive for COVID.

Five months ago, President Biden said the virus no longer controls our lives. Now people everywhere are lining up to be tested before joining family for the holidays.

JARRETT: And to be clear, that's a good thing. New projections show winter holiday travel is about to roar back, so people should get tested. AAA estimates that more than 109 million Americans will travel during the week between Christmas and New Year's. A number approaching the pre-pandemic record.

And after sacrificing so much for so long, people want to be together again. It's understandable, but the reality is part of the reason we are seeing so many new cases right now is all of those holiday gatherings around Thanksgiving.


DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROF. OF PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE, VANDERBILT UNIV. SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: If we're all going to get together, we should all be vaccinated and preferentially boosted. We should wear our masks if we're uncertain. And another thing we can do is we could all get tested the morning of our getting together.


ROMANS: Right now, cases are skyrocketing, but more critically hospitalizations have spiked 30 percent in three weeks overwhelming ICUs again.


DR. SHIRLEE XIE, HOSPITALIST, HENNEPIN HEALTHCARE, MINNEAPOLIS: Hospitals are already completely full. I mean, there are some ICUs in the Twin Cities where 100 percent of the beds are unvaccinated COVID patients on ventilators. And so, to think about what it means for another surge or a burst of patients is -- I mean, I can't even grasp what that means for us.


JARRETT: Remember, about 25 percent of eligible Americans have yet to receive even one dose of a vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci blames misinformation.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The only way we can think of, of countering misinformation and disinformation is by literally flooding the system with correct information.


ROMANS: New York City, wow, finds itself back on the front line in the battle against COVID. The audience at Broadway's "Moulin Rouge" had already been seated when the show is cancelled because someone backstage is tested positive. The shows including "Hamilton" are already dark.

JARRETT: New York's Metropolitan Opera will require booster shots for staff and audiences starting January 17. Clearly, why not start right now? New York City officials are now considering whether New Year's Eve at Times Square should go ahead as planned.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Laura, in New York City, they are handing out a million dollars worth of masks, and a half million at-home COVID tests, putting up new testing sites around the city. Why? Because in the space of just four days, the positivity rate on PCR tests in New York City doubled. An adviser to the mayor said, we have never seen that before in NYC.

Delta, the variant, still around the country and the omicron variant on the rise. A dire warning from President Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: New steps we've taken, omicron has not spread as fast as it otherwise would have done. And that's happening in Europe. But it's here now, and it's spreading, and it's going to increase. For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for unvaccinated. For themselves, their families, and the hospitals, they will soon overwhelm.

WATT: Dr. Fauci says that the Omicron variant will pretty soon become the dominant variant here in the United States. The vaccines do still provide protection against severe disease and death, especially with a booster.

Now, more vaccines news, the CDC's vaccine advisers voted to put this recommendation to the CDC.


They want the mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna, to be, quote, preferred to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Why? Well, because of those very, very rare, but sometimes fatal blood clots associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Christine and Laura, back to you.


ROMANS: Nick, thank you so much for that.

Health officials fear a double whammy of COVID and flu outbreaks this winter. They now have another reason for concern. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that flu shot you got this year may offer less protection because one of the main influenza viruses in circulation has mutations that make it a poor match for this season's vaccine. The report which has not yet been peer-reviewed says while the current vaccine may not prevent infection, it is still likely to ward off severe illness.

JARRETT: To Washington now, President Biden acknowledging that his huge Build Back Better plan will miss his Christmas deadline for passage in the U.S. Senate, but he says he's determined to see it on the chamber floor as early as possible.

CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us in Washington this morning.

The president made a point of noting where he and the key swing vote here, of course Democratic senator Joe Manchin agree, but there are plenty of points where they don't agree, and we're in the midterms next year.


Look, those differences, the points where they don't agree are clearly large enough that they had the impact of punting this bill into next year. Really kind of a setback for the Biden administration for this key hallmark bill here, something they wanted to pass in just a few day's time.

Kind of the writing was on the walls here, Laura. Senator Joe Manchin has not been shy about voicing his concerns, his deep concerns about the things from the size and scope of this $1.75 trillion bill, two things inside of it from energy producers and the child tax credit, something that Democrats have really credited themselves with cutting childhood poverty in place since it's been in place.

Well, Senator Manchin talked about his concerns with how the bill is paid for. He has called them gimmicks. For the child tax credit, officials have told CNN he wants to zero it out, telling President Biden himself that the way it's paid for, funded for just one year is hiding the true cost of the bill. Now, of course, senators disagree with that. Democratic senators disagree with that, but President Biden also disagrees with that.

But Joe Manchin, he doesn't seem like he is going to be pressured any type of way. Take a listen to this exchange with Manu Raju and Manchin from yesterday.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're pressuring you to change your position on the child tax credit.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): No one pressures me. I'm from West Virginia.

RAJU: Are you going to change your position on that?

MANCHIN: I've always been for the child tax credit.

RAJU: Yeah, but the way it's in the bill, one year extension?

MANCHIN: I've always been for child tax credit, always will be!


WRIGHT: So, Laura, I'm not sure how many Democratic senators would agree with that statement from Senator Manchin, but clearly there are some real differences here. And they have moved the bill beyond what they wanted to see. President Biden in the statement released yesterday said that they will continue their discussions into next week, making sure that this is not the end. But he did not put a really deadline on it, something that Democrats had been putting on this bill and the buy part a san infrastructure bill before it passed. Really time and time again. As they really try to advance this larger bill, one house official told me this is not a pause. These talks will continue into next week and beyond as they try to really advance this bill -- Laura.

JARRETT: Well, what it shows you is he knows the child tax credit is popular and it is unpopular for him to be against it.

Jasmine, thank you. ROMANS: All right, 93 percent of West Virginia children benefit from

the child tax credit, 93 percent of the children in West Virginia have that extra benefit. Taking it away means essentially raising their taxes.


ROMANS: All right. Extra security at schools across the country after a revolting social media challenge promising a wave of school shootings.



ROMANS: An unforced error for airline executives, public disagreement now over masks on planes. It began with the southwest CEO Gary Kelly.


GARY KELLY, CEO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: Yeah, I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It's very safe and very high-quality compared to any other indoor setting.


ROMANS: That got immediate pushback including from Delta CEO Ed Bastian.


ED BASTIAN, CEO, DELTA AIR LINES: I don't know that I agree with Gary's remarks. I think particularly as we see Omicron continuing to, to enter into our country, masks are going to be important as a safeguard for awhile yet.


ROMANS: And even more pushback from doctors.


DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The data supports use of the mask, but use of masks -- but also why say this now when we have the most transmissible variant of all accelerating? I don't know. Some of these CEOs, they have the emotional intelligence of a doorknob. I don't know why they would say that kind of thing.


ROMANS: Also frustrated are flight attendants who are already dealing with passengers who are fighting any mask rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: The biggest problem for flight attendants is that when there is inconsistency in communication, that puts us in harms way because we are charged with enforcing that mask mandate.


ROMANS: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker who appeared to agree with no need for masks at that hearing, now walking it back.


He says he should have been clearer and was only agreeing that being on board a plane has proven to be a safe and healthy indoor environment.

The TSA mask mandate on planes expires March 18th. It really kicked up a kerfuffle because so many people are working so hard to make sure people are wearing masks on airplanes. To hear a CEO say, no, I don't think we might need them really stirred the pot.

JARRETT: Yeah, I think it's the timing of it, just odd.

Well, a federal judge has overturned a $4 billion opioid lawsuit settlement with Purdue Pharma. The settlement had shielded the Sackler family who owned the company from future lawsuits. The federal judge in Manhattan ruled that bankruptcy court didn't have the authority to give the Sackler those protections.

Purdue Pharma plans to appeal. The CDC says opioids were behind overdoses in the U.S. between 2020 and 2021 when the toll topped 100,000 for the first time.

ROMANS: A new front opening in the battle of abortion, the FDA is dropping the requirement that pills used to induce abortion be picked up in-person. Meaning they can now be prescribed by a telehealth doctor and sent in mail where permitted by law.

And that's the main catch. Abortion pills by telehealth are already banned in 19 states and abortion rights opponents are working to add more states to that list. This move by the Biden administration comes as a Supreme Court is considering a major challenge to Roe versus Wade and adds one more wrinkle to the possible fallout from that decision.

JARRETT: So in other words, it doesn't help women in red states where they already can't get it.

ROMANS: Exactly.

JARRETT: All right. A little weekend programming note here. Some families that have kids with autism are finding hope in cannabis. For some, though, that hope comes at great risk. Join Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a new CNN special report "Weed 6: Marijuana and Autism", Sunday at 8:00 p.m., only on CNN.


ROMANS: All right. New friction between Beijing and Washington, President Biden plans to sign a bill passed by the Senate Thursday banning imports from China's Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor.

CNN's Steven Jiang is live in Beijing for us.

Steven, this is part of a broader series of push back by Washington toward China, isn't it?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right, Christine, especially over the Xinjiang issue. Just in the past few days and weeks, we've seen the U.S. government announcing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics next year because of China's human rights record and especially Xinjiang.

And just in the past few days, we've seen new and strengthened sanction targeting Chinese companies that help conduct surveillance against the Muslim population. That list includes some prominent Chinese companies, DJI, the world's biggest commercial drone maker and SMIC, the country's biggest computer chipmaker.

So, you know, if and when all those measures including this new law are fully implemented, they will have some teeth because Xinjiang does play an important role in the national and even global supply chain. So, this is going to affect industries such as the manufacturing of solar panel making, for example.

I think that's why Beijing has been increasingly furious over those actions. The latest response from the foreign ministry here is calling the latest passage of this law in the U.S. showing how the U.S. has become hysterical towards China, and vowing, again, to retaliate.

But all of this is really going to reinforce the notion here in Beijing that decoupling between the two countries, at least in certain industries and sectors, is happening no matter what the two leaders said during their virtual summit. So, that's why Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, keeps reminding officials of the need to become technologically self-reliant.

So, that's the new keyword here, Christine, self-reliance as Xi Jinping keeps saying China needs to free itself from the U.S. chokehold in key technologies -- Christine.

ROMANS: Self-reliance.

All right. Thanks so much for that, Steven Jiang in Beijing.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead for you, a shocker in the UK. The prime minister's party loses a seat they held for 200 years. Warning signs for Boris Johnson. We are live from London, next.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

An election shocker this morning in the UK. The conservative party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost a seat it has held for almost 200 years.


HELEN MORGAN, MINISTER-ELECT, NORTH SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND: Tonight, the people have spoken on behalf of the British people. They said loudly and clearly, Boris Johnson, the party is over.


JARRETT: CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live for us in London.

Salma, this was just one election to be fair. But it is clearly another blow to Johnson in this series of crises he's facing.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Never did I think we'd be talking to our American audience about the small rural community of North Shropshire, but I am, because this is really important, Laura. This is yet another hit to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, yet another indication that his power, his political status is weakening just a bit more, that his authority is under question, because this seat, this MP seat was a guarantee. It should have been won by a conservative.

For 200 years, they've held that parliament seat. In the last election they won by over 20,000 votes. So this is a huge upset, a massive defeat, and all conservative lawmakers this morning are on the airwaves, on the radio stations talking about it and they're pointing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the culprit. And specifically the multiple scandals he's been plagued with over the last couple of weeks.

You will remember the allegation is that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own senior staff were holding Christmas parties at Downing Street during lockdown last year. One conservative lawmaker saying, one more strike, and you're out, Boris, because this is the second strike, Laura.

Earlier this week, we saw over 100 or nearly 100, rather, conservative MPs vote against the prime minister, vote against Boris Johnson in parliament for COVID restrictions. Now this is the second strike, a conservative seat being lost to a Lib Dem candidate.

Look, every single conservative lawmaker now is looking at their parliament.