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New COVID Variant Emerges in South Africa; Dow Futures Tumbling on Fears Over New COVID Variant; Stores on Alert as 'Smash & Grab' Criminal Attacks on Rise; 5 U.S. Lawmakers Defy China, Meet with Officials in Taiwan; Lauren Boebert Makes Anti-Muslim Remarks Against Ilhan Omar; Woman from Famous 'Afghan Girl' Cover Now Refugee in Italy. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 26, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Brianna Keilar with Kaitlan Collins, because John Berman is off today.


It is so wonderful to be with you on this Black Friday.

And we're beginning with breaking news. It's a new and alarming coronavirus variant that has been detected in South Africa. And right now, officials there are preparing to brief the World Health Organization. Scientists are concerned about this variant, because it spreads rapidly; but also, it shows an ability to evade immunity.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: There's been an explosive spike in cases over the last several days in South Africa. And the fast-spreading variant -- it's currently known as B.1.1.529 has already been detected in other places, like Israel and Hong Kong.

Overnight, the United Kingdom banned flights from six African nations starting today. And the E.U. is confirming it also plans to halt all air travel from southern Africa.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with more on this top story.

Elizabeth, we know the World Health Organization is planning to meet today to discuss whether or not they should label this a variant of concern. So what are you expecting right now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I am expecting that they likely will label it a variant of concern. But I want to make something clear.

Variants and mutations happen often, all the time, actually. And most of them kind of come and go, and we don't take note of them. The reason why we're taking note of this one is that the researchers in South Africa, who have really done an amazing job at spotting variants during this pandemic, they say they're seeing more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

That spike protein is so important. It's what allows the virus to get into our cells and do its job. And that's what the vaccine is built to work against, that spike protein. So seeing 30 mutations, or more than that, in that spike protein is certainly worrisome.

Does it mean that this is going to be the next Delta variant? Absolutely not. I remember back in January of this year, we reported on variants -- a variant that was coming out of South Africa that looked terrible. And it was terrible. But it was terrible mostly in South Africa and sort of a smattering of other countries. It never took off the way that the Delta variant took off, thank goodness.

So we don't know. Is this going to be a variant that sort of, you know, smolders and kind of disappears after a while? Or will it take over the planet, like the Delta variant did? We just don't know. That's why the World Health Organization is meeting with South African researchers to try to figure this out and to see how much of a threat this variant really is -- Brianna, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Thank you, Elizabeth. We'll be waiting to see what comes out of that meeting today.

KEILAR: So word of this new COVID variant has spooked the financial markets, with Dow futures tumbling nearly 700 points overnight.

CNN Chief business correspondent and "EARLY START" anchor Christine Romans is with us now.

This is the thing. COVID is so tied to the economy, and we're seeing it in the markets.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Absolutely. You know, there's this old adage that markets hate uncertainty. And we have a lot of uncertainty here.

We don't know if this can evade immunity. We don't know if it can evade vaccines. We don't know if it if it will smolder and die out, as Elizabeth just said, or spread around the world.

We do know it has been found in other countries already. And we know that markets are concerned that what looks like a strong finish of the year, at least in the U.S. economy, could be challenged by this.

I mean, you look at markets around the world, you saw Asian shares tumble here. That was the worst day for Tokyo in months. You know, travel stocks and airlines, hotel stocks all tumbling sharply here.

And Europe has opened sharply lower, as well. I mean, 3 percent loss, a 4 percent loss in Paris, that is a big, big one-day move. Stock index futures looking like it's going to be a tough year to go for investors in the U.S.

And we have a shortened trading day today because of it is the Friday after Thanksgiving. So are markets overreacting? Maybe. We have had a really good run for

this year. So it could be people are looking at this and saying, I want to get out of risky assets, and I want to go to safe havens.

Another thing to point out here, Brianna. I think it's important. Oil prices are down 6 percent. Oil futures down 6 percent. That is a big, big move for oil prices. And that is on the fear that this variant will slow economic growth and slow demand for oil and gas so you could see gas prices continue to cool off here in the days ahead because of this.

KEILAR: This is really what markets fear, it seems, right? The restarting of another vaccine process?

ROMANS: Absolutely. And this is why vaccine uptick has been so important for the financial picture here. Right? Every person who is unvaccinated is a potential breeding ground for mutations and these variants. Right?

So when you have slow uptick of vaccines in certain parts of the world, that is a challenge for financial markets. Financial markets really want to see a vaccinated global population, right? Where we can start to get back to normal and have some certainty about doing business, keeping factories open, being able to travel, keeping people safe, being able to go to school. All of this depends on getting this virus under control.

KEILAR: So I wanted to ask you separately about these smash-and-grab thefts that we've been seeing of groups of people going into stores. Of course, today is a big shopping day, right?


KEILAR: So are we expecting this to impact the day out there today?


ROMANS: You know, I think the biggest impact has been on the workers in these stores, who are frankly exhausted by COVID.


ROMANS: They have been mocked and taunted for mask-wearing rules. Right? And now you have this fear of these organized retail gangs coming in and smashing and grabbing products.

We've seen this at drug stores. We've seen it, also, at very high-end luxury retailers.

For today, I don't think if you're shopping at your -- your local store you don't have to worry about this, really. Although the Best Buy CEO has said this is a real problem for their -- for their workers, their workers who are exhausted by this.

It is a really interesting COVID trend. We've always seen retail theft. But this isn't your normal kind of shoplifting, petty theft, slippage that companies always plan for. These are very coordinated attacks on stores, and they're really scrambling, frankly, to figure out how to combat that.

So I don't know if you're going to see a rash of this today. I mean, you know, this will be, honestly, a Black Friday like no other. I mean, stores closed yesterday. Some stores are opening later today. So I don't think you're going to see the big, you know, Black Friday frenzies that you're used to.

Hopefully, law enforcement has a handle on this. and you won't see this today either.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be keeping our eyes peeled. Christine, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: For more, let's bring in CNN's senior law enforcement analyst and former Philadelphia police commissioner, Charles Ramsey.

Charles, you just heard Christine's report there. These attacks are so brazen. And of course, today is a big shopping day. What is law enforcement supposed to do about this? Because we haven't really seen a lot of arrests being made after these attacks are happening. So what are they supposed to do in response?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all, this is very hard to guard against. It happened so quickly. A few years ago in Philadelphia, we had something very similar taking place, where we had people, mostly teenagers, younger adults, participate in things like this. They would come in groups in 15, 20.

In this case it was Macy's and stores like Macy's that they would rush into. They would steal as much as possible and run out. And it took place in less than a couple minutes. So it was really, really difficult to get a handle on it.

And what we found was that, one, it was being organized through social media. So one of the things we started doing is paying close attention to social media.

The second thing is that many of the young people we arrested had no previous criminal records. And why they were getting involved in something like this I have no idea.

But we reached out and made it very clear to parents that they needed to pay attention to what their kids are doing. And we actually got a few phone calls from parents warning us that something was really about to take place, and we were able to prevent it from -- from happening.

So I don't know what's driving all this. But it is of concern, and it will continue. It's not going to stop any time soon.

The punishment for this kind of crime is very, very minimal. In most -- in most cases, it's a misdemeanor. There are some D.A.'s that have flat-out said they're no longer going to prosecute shoplifting. And this is not shoplifting. This is something far worse than shoplifting.

So there's a lot that has to be done if we want to get a handle on it.

KEILAR: So, you know, we heard from Christine. She's talking to retailers who say the hard part here is on employees who are dealing with this. So if you're a retail security guard, what do you do when you're overpowered like that?

RAMSEY: Well, they're going to overrun a security guard. One or two people cannot stop a mob of 15 or 20 people rushing all at once and grabbing items. You may -- you may be able to grab one or two of the individuals, but you're not going to stop it.

But again, a lot of these are happening in stores that are, like, in open air, not necessarily in malls. They drive up. They jump out, you know, steal, get back in the car.

But again, you know, if you identify the people, you identify the vehicle, you know, I would tow the car, seize the vehicle. It's being used in commission of a crime. I mean, you've got to crack down hard on this to really create a distance set up to engage in this.

But this is something now that I really unfortunately think is going to spread. Right now it's in California. But it's going to spread. There's no question about that.

COLLINS: And of course, one issue is that a lot of these people are wearing masks, so it's hard to identify them for law enforcement.

Charles, I do want to ask you one other thing, though, because you are the former police commissioner of Philadelphia. A very grim report came out this week talking about how they have hit their 500th homicide, hitting a record high -- 500th homicide in 2021, hitting a high that they last hit in 1990.

And so you -- I'm assuming you're still in touch with people in the city. What are you hearing from law enforcement there about how they plan to combat this? Because I know there are efforts to get guns off of the street, but what else can they really do about just how brazen this violence is?

RAMSEY: Well, I still live in Philly. I do stay abreast of what's going on here. It's very unfortunate: 500 homicides, and we haven't even finished the year yet. They will blow past that number with the rest of November and all of December. It's just -- it's going to be very difficult.

Right now what I see -- and again, I don't get too deeply involved in these things. I think ex-police chiefs should be just that and kind of stay out of the way.


But there are some things that I'm seeing that are disturbing, and that is finger pointing. I mean, you know, mayor just recently was pointing fingers at the state legislature. The D.A. point -- points fingers at the police department and so forth.

They've got to all come together if they want to do something about this.

But there's one thing that's missing. And that is you have to take strong action against people who are illegally carrying guns. The department has seized about 6,000 guns so far this year. That's another record that has been set here.

And you know, there has to be serious punishment for people who are caught carrying guns. You've got felons that should not be in possession of a handgun carrying guns. They need to be locked up. I'm sorry. I know that's not a popular thing to say. But people who are out here shooting and -- and creating all this violence and mayhem on these streets, when they are arrested, they need to have high bonds. And they need to be in jail, period. Because they are a threat to the safety of everyone else.

And I know there are a lot of people that, you know, low bonds and let people out and so forth. And I'm all that with some categories of crime, but not violent crime like this. You've got to get these people off the street that are out here doing this. They are not going to stop on their own, and having press conferences pleading, you know, Please stop the violence, that is not going to work.

KEILAR: You may not be the police commissioner any more, but you are a resident of Philadelphia. And I just think it's really hard for many of us living in cities as we're watching this crime. It's really difficult to watch it happening in your community.

RAMSEY: It is.

KEILAR: Charles, thanks for being with us.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar ripping her colleague, calling her a buffoon. The story that Lauren Boebert told that is colored with anti-Muslim bigotry.

And give U.S. lawmakers defying China. What happened when they arrived in Taiwan to meet officials there.

COLLINS: Plus, social media abuse. Discrimination, racism all during the 2022 [SIC] -- or 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. We have the shocking and disturbing details ahead.



KEILAR: Defying China for the second time this month, a U.S. congressional delegation has made a visit to Taiwan. This group of five lawmakers arrived there on Thursday to meet with government officials, ignoring Beijing's demand to stay away from the contested democratic island. CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us live from Nantucket, where President

Biden is spending the Thanksgiving holiday.

Tell us the latest on this and also just, you know, how this affects U.S. relations with China at a pretty delicate time.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the issue of Taiwan is such a diplomatically sensitive issue for the White House. And according to one of these lawmakers on that trip.

This visit set off some alarm bells within China. Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, said that shortly after landing she got a message from the Chinese embassies, telling them to call off the trip.

Now, the lawmakers, which include five lawmakers, four Democrats and one Republican. The trip still went forward. Of course, Taiwan is a producer of semiconductors, which is an interest to Slotkin, who is from Michigan, a state with a strong automobile industry there.

But this all comes at just such a sensitive time for the Biden administration when it comes to Taiwan. It's really one of those fraught issues between the U.S. and China.

And it also, the visit, comes just a few days after President Biden invited Taiwan to a summit of democracies, a move that China called a mistake.

Now, the president, during his call with President Xi of China. Earlier this month, they talked about this issue of Taiwan. Of course, the U.S. is always trying to strike a very, very sensitive balance when it comes to Taiwan. They don't want to use the word "independence." The president is saying that that is ultimately up to Taiwan to decide.

But it really comes at this point of tension between the U.S. and China, as China has also really ramped up some of their military activity that has been of concern to the United States. But this trip by the lawmakers, they still went forward with it, even if China is expressing concern with their presence there.

KEILAR: All right. Arlette, thank you for the very latest from Nantucket.

COLLINS: Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert has drawn laughs from an audience after she said this about her fellow congresswoman, Ilhan Omar.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers. And he and I were leaving the Capitol. We're going back to my office. And we get in the elevator. And I see a Capitol police officer running, hurriedly, to the elevator. I see threat all over his face.

I looked to my left, and there she is, Ilhan Omar. And I said, Well, she doesn't have a backpack. We should be fine.


BOEBERT: So we only had one floor to go. And it was like (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I said, Look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.


COLLINS: Omar responded to those anti-Muslim remarks with this, saying, "Fact: This buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol. This whole story is made up. Sad that she thinks bigotry gets her clout."

Joining us now is CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The New York Times," Zolan Kanno-Youngs.

Zolan, I don't think any of this is really -- about this exchange is that surprising. Ilhan Omar, we should note, is saying it didn't happen, simply. But what is your reaction after seeing how this has played out, given Lauren Boebert is someone we just saw defend Paul Gosar after, of course, he was censured for what he had tweeted out, that video about violence against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And so what did you make of this?


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, Kaitlan. When you talk to political strategists, really, this type of hateful fearmongering language really presents a choice for the leadership of the Republican Party and specifically, the House GOP. Right?

It basically puts people like -- or really presents a choice for someone like speaker -- for like Kevin McCarthy, where are you going to tolerate or condone this type of messaging, or are you going to condemn it? Are you going to call it out?

And what this kind of shows and also a situation like, as you mentioned, with Gosar and that situation and how there was a lack of condemnation, also shows just how much they are willing to tolerate it, looking ahead to the midterms next year. It shows how some of these folks on the far right, especially in the House GOP and a lot of language and beliefs are starting to fall into the mainstream, particularly in the House GOP.

And when it comes to someone like Kevin McCarthy, how he is aware of how he may need their support, as well as moderate Republicans, going forward.

The lack of condemnation from the leadership in -- in the Republican Party when it comes to statements like this shows just how aware they are of how the influence of folks like Gosar, as well as Boebert, are becoming, specifically in the House GOP and how their voices may be quite valuable to them, looking ahead to something like the midterms when many would expect, when you talk to political strategists, as well as people on the Hill, that the Republicans have a high chance of over -- of taking back the majority.

But without a doubt, when you talk to political strategists, they say, look, this is not a one off.


KANNO-YOUNGS: This kind of hateful rhetoric, as well as fearmongering rhetoric, really is going to continue to present a decision for the leadership of the Republican Party. Thus far, we have seen that there has not been a consistent effort to condemn it.

KEILAR: I know. Look, I know you guys. We get a little used to the crazy, right? So it's sort of like this has happened so much.

But let's just be clear, Zolan. This is a member of Congress calling her colleague a suicide bomber.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes, no. And, look, I mean, it's also -- I mean, you have to look at, you know, reports that have come out from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the FBI, that have warned that this kind of rhetoric, this kind of hateful speech that comes from our political leaders, not only is it just speech from them and does it surprise all of us when we hear it and we say -- or I mean, this is clearly fearmongering, even xenophobic and hateful speech.

But it also influences people across the country. It has a ripple effect.


KANNO-YOUNGS: it was just a couple of months ago that the Department of Homeland Security put out a bulletin that said, Look, when you look at some of the speech coming from some of our top political figures that continue to amplify rhetoric you see from fringe groups about, say, the false claims about the election, it does have a ripple effect and continues to galvanizes certain militia groups and extremist groups, as well.

So not only is it surprising for, I'm sure, many of the public, or striking, but also, there's going to be a ripple effect, as well, around the -- around the country. That has already been said by our federal law enforcement, as well.

COLLINS: Yes, and it's one of those things that -- excuse me-- if you said it anywhere else, you'd be fired.

KEILAR: That's right. If you said something like that about me, or vice versa, or Zolan, in your place of work, if you did that, we would be canned. Like, let's just be clear. It's so unusual that this just kind of is going on on Capitol Hill or really anywhere.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs, I want to thank you so much for being with us this morning.

COLLINS: Up next --

KANNO-YOUNGS: I appreciate you. Happy Thanksgiving.

COLLINS: Thank you, Zolan.

Up next, a twist in the life story of the green-eyed Afghan girl from the famous 1980s "National Geographic" cover. Hear what happened now that the Taliban is taking over Afghanistan.

KEILAR: All right. We're getting you water. We're getting you water here on the break.

And Kevin Strickland, the man who was freed after serving 43 years for a crime that he didn't commit, has a million reasons to be thankful. A million dollars. What thousands of people around the world just did that Missouri could not.



KEILAR: It's one of the most iconic "National Geographic" photos of all time. You probably know it. And now the green-eyed Afghan girl who made international waves in a 1985 photos is making waves again.

Refugee Sharbat Gula, the girl in that photo, has arrived in Italy at the age of 40, part of the exodus of Afghans as the Taliban takes over the country.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau has more.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're here in Italy. The 12-year-old Afghan girl who became famous in 1985 after appearing on the cover of "National Geographic" has been given refugee status by the Italian government.

Photographer Steve McCurry shot the famous photo of a Pashtun orphan, Sharbat Gula, in a refugee camp on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But no one even knew her name for decades.

She was tracked down years later, living in Pakistan, and returned to Afghanistan in 2016 after being deported from Pakistan.

Gula, who's now in her 40s, petitioned the international community to leave the region after the events in Afghanistan in August. Italy's prime minister personally heeded the call and arranged for her to come to Italy to apply for political asylum.

She arrived in Rome on Thanksgiving Day.


COLLINS: The coronavirus pandemic has triggered the great resignation, with Americans voluntarily quitting their jobs.