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Hala Gorani Tonight

E.U. Health Officials: Omicron's Rapid Spread Poses A Big Threat; Boris Johnson's Problems Deepen As Members Of His Own Party Revolt During Parliament Vote On COVID Rules; German Police Thwart Plot To Assassinate Saxony Governor; The Fed To Speed Up Rollback Of Pandemic Stimulus Program; Inflation Surge Puts Bank Of England On The Spot; International Rescue Committee Warns Of Global System Failure; Putin-Xi Talks; Biden Tours Tornado-Ravaged Towns. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 14:00   ET



HALA GORANI, CNN ITNERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in London on this Wednesday, I'm HALA GORANI TONIGHT. The highest ever daily

COVID case-count in the United Kingdom, but global deaths are down. I'll ask a top World Health Organization doctor how worried should we be about


Then, a murder plot and mailed threats. Members of Germany's anti-vaxxer movement turned violent. And taming inflation. The Federal Reserve lays out

its road map this hour, CNN's Richard Quest will break down how it could impact your wallet going forward. Today, there are serious ill tidings from

Europe about the Omicron variant. The British health chief says it's probably the most significant threat since the pandemic started almost two

years ago.

The U.K. just reported its highest ever number of new daily infections, more than 78,000. That's 10,000 more than the previous record, which was

set in January. The prime minister explained why?


BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: The doubling rate of Omicron in some regions is now down to less than two days, and I'm afraid we're

also seeing the inevitable increase in hospitalizations, up by 10 percent nationally week on week.


GORANI: This is how contagious this strain is. Omicron is now the dominant strain in London. The European Commission President says the EU is not far



URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION (through translator): 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 in 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 variant in Europe.


GORANI: The EU's health agency says vaccinations alone will not keep Omicron from spreading and overburdening health care systems. Countries are

preparing for more of those cases and for the persistent threat of Delta as well. Let's not forget that variant. French health authorities say they

expect to see 4,000 COVID patients in intensive care around Christmas. Italy is extending its state of emergency until the end of March at least.

Our Ben Wedeman is in Rome.

Nina dos Santos is here in London. Nina, I'll get to you in a moment, but Ben, first off, how is Europe bracing for this inevitable Omicron wave that

is coming its way?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing a variety of measures. For instance, Italy is now requiring that unvaccinated

travelers be quarantined for five days. It's also requiring, for instance, that people who travel to Italy must have a negative COVID test. In other

countries, for instance, we see Norway is barring the -- banning the serving of alcohol in bars and restaurants.

Germany is banning the unvaccinated from many public venues. And at the same time, there is added impetus to vaccination campaigns for younger age

groups. This week we're seeing, for instance, among others, Italy, Greece, Spain and Hungary beginning their vaccination campaigns for children 5 and

above. Now, they won't be getting the full dose. They'll be getting sort of a third of the adult dose of the vaccines.

But clearly, there is added impetus to really do what can be done in terms of imposing new restrictions and getting as many people vaccinated as

possible even though it's not at all clear at this point how effective the vaccines out there are against this new variant. Hala --

GORANI: Well, we'll be asking the World Health Organization just that question in a few minutes. But, Nina, to you now. The highest daily case

numbers since the pandemic began, and we're almost two years into this.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, and it's also, as you said before, 10,000 more than back in January. January the 8th, in

fact, when it was about 68,000. And at the start of this week, there are only 40 odd thousand cases, so you can really see where the spike is coming


And looking at the end of that chart there, that's the type of chart that Dr. Chris Whitty, who is the U.K.'s chief medical adviser pointed out in a

press conference earlier today, it was the end, he said it's that spike that really is concerning me, effectively, the U.K. is facing, he said, two

epidemics at once, the Delta variant still lingering and that the Omicron variant also now on the scene and getting a bigger foothold.


And he said, it's likely that there are going to be many more records struck from here -- that's what's really worrying. In the meantime,

authorities desperately encouraging everybody to get their third COVID vaccination or booster, if you like. These are lines that we filmed in

north London earlier today, and it appears as though despite the fact that Boris Johnson has had a bit of difficulty getting some of his public health

messaging through votes in parliament earlier this week, when it comes to the broader populace, the public is buying it. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here to get the 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.

We've got -- a lot of people have come out to try and you know, get their 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 it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's probably just be better to be safe than sorry in the end to be honest.


DOS SANTOS: And it's that concept of passing it over to somebody over the holiday season that really is also something that was at the backdrop of

this press conference with the government scientists. They were showing charts, and you could really see the line of spiking infections in London.

They were saying this is why, especially if you're in the capital, get vaccinated as soon as possible. That immunity will start to kick in within

about a week when people head back to their families across the country and abroad for the Christmas holidays, Hala.

GORANI: Yes, and so many traveling within Europe and to Europe as well. Ben Wedeman in Rome, Nina dos Santos in London. Thanks to both of you. The

World Health Organization says Omicron is spreading faster than any other coronavirus variants, but it also says that global COVID cases and deaths

declined over the past week.

So how dangerous is Omicron to you, to your family? Let's get some clarity from Dr. Richard Pebody; he is the leader of W.H.O. Europe's high threat

pathogens team and has obviously a very solid grasp on all the data. Thanks, doctor, for being with us.

Let's talk about these -- the decline in global COVID cases and deaths. What does that do to -- because in a country like Britain, for instance,

we're seeing record numbers being set.

RICHARD PEBODY, HIGH-THREAT PATHOGEN TEAM LEAD, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION EUROPE: Yes -- no, thanks very much for the chance to speak to your

listeners. So -- and I think it's important to bear in mind that we're still really in the midst of the pandemic here, and at the global level, we

are still in the midst of the current -- the current wave. If we look at the European region, we still have actually very intense transmission

across many countries in the European region.

It's being dominated at the moment by the Delta variant, but we're seeing, as you've highlighted earlier, seeding and outbreaks and increasing

transmission from this new variant, the Omicron variant.

GORANI: So, how worried should people be? Assuming somebody's had two jabs, maybe waiting for their booster, because it's so much more contagious. What

about symptoms?

PEBODY: So, this is obviously -- it's a new variant, it's only been identified about three weeks ago by the authorities in South Africa. So,

we're still learning very much, but we know we're already learning a lot. We know that this really is much more transmissible. It has a real growth

advantage compared to the Delta variant. So it is spreading very quickly. The case numbers that we're seeing now in places such as the U.K. and some

other countries are doubling every three or so days.


PEBODY: But we also know that there's evidence that in people who have had prior infection or vaccination, that also there's some immune escape, which

is also a phenomenon which has been seen with some of the earlier variants, too.

GORANI: What does that tell you? What does that mean exactly, immune escape? Does that mean that they're more immune to this variant, that they

have less severe symptoms?

PEBODY: No, so, this really means that in people that have already had prior infection or prior vaccination, that that's not been working as well


GORANI: Right --

PEBODY: As it has been against the other -- the viruses that circulated previously. And that's why Omicron is really spreading very quickly in

populations in Europe, for example, which are pretty highly vaccinated. So, that's why it's really a call to action really about what we all need to do

now, and that's really around if you are eligible for vaccine, get yourself vaccinated.


If you've not had your primary vaccine course, if you are eligible for a booster dose, do get the vaccine course, but it's not all about the

vaccine. There are other things that we can do as well to reduce the ability of the virus to spread, which, of course --

GORANI: So talk to us -- talk to us about what more we can do. Ordinary people listening to you tonight, what would you tell them?

PEBODY: So, these are really important messages actually. So, this is all around the messages around avoiding crowded spaces, poorly-ventilated

spaces, physical distancing, just making sure that you keep your hands clean, that you're wearing a mask, especially when you're getting close to

people, when you're indoors. Good respiratory hygiene, all these things will help to reduce the ability of the virus to spread. So, it's just a

really important take on messages for people.

GORANI: So, those are some of the same -- that's some of the same advice that we got at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout. Let me ask you

about the South African study that seems to indicate, and I spoke to a doctor on the frontlines in South Africa yesterday as well, that seems to

indicate that symptoms are perhaps less severe than with the Delta variant. Is that a conclusion that the World Health Organization supports?

PEBODY: So, I think we have to be very cautious with these -- this early data that's coming through because it is very early days. And Important to

bear in mind that in South Africa, they've seen a very rapid increase in case numbers and now seeing increases in hospitalizations.

Now, they are seeing that amongst those hospitalizations that the risk of severe disease in this current wave may be lower than in earlier waves, but

that's in a population in South Africa that has recently been through a very sort of intense wave of transmission. And it doesn't disentangle

groups who have had prior infections versus those who haven't.

GORANI: Sure --

PEBODY: So, we need to sort of think about what will happen in different populations. So when the virus arrives, for example, in Europe, which is

doing at the moment, in the U.K., in Denmark, in other countries, it -- we are already seeing here sharp rises in cases in places like London. We're

already starting to see hospitalizations. So, I think we need to be prepared that with this -- particularly this big transmission advantage,

that it's likely to then lead to increases in hospitalizations --

GORANI: Sure --

PEBODY: Pressure on health care system.

GORANI: Let me --

PEBODY: So, again, it comes back to messages around what we need to do to reduce the ability of the virus to spread.

GORANI: Sure, it's very much a wait-and-see at this point. Now, one of the -- so, the NIH in the United States through Dr. Fauci released a study that

the booster, the Moderna booster in particular, increases antibody levels against Omicron 25 fold. And this goes back to what you were saying, that

it's important now to get as many people vaccinated and boosted as possible. That would be what the World Health Organization recommends in

addition to these other methods, the hand washing, social distancing and masking, correct?

PEBODY: So, on the vaccine front, the first key message is if you're not vaccinated, if you are in a priority group, really get your vaccine. And

the vaccines, what we know is that the main thing, the main objective of vaccination is to protect yourself against severe disease, to protect

yourself against hospitalization, to protect yourself against the more severe consequences. And early data is suggesting that also for Omicron

that these vaccines will still provide protection against severe disease.

There's then the issue then of if you've already had your primary course of vaccination, there is early data, both from clinical data and laboratory

data suggesting that there is some reduction in effectiveness against infection.

GORANI: Right.

PEBODY: So, that's why -- and there are recommendations again for -- depending on the country, certain groups to get booster doses. And that

will --


PEBODY: Coming up saying that, that will provide protection against infection.

GORANI: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Richard Pebody of the World Health Organization. We really appreciate having you on the program this evening

to clarify some of those points. Even as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to mobilize his country against this variant, his political

problems are eroding his credibility. The newly surfaced photo, this is a newly surfaced photo that shows a Christmas party last December at

conservative party headquarters.

It's one of several holiday parties that allegedly took place, including some at Downing Street despite COVID lockdown rules.


CNN's Salma Abdelaziz shows us what a spot Johnson is in right now.



SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: It's the biggest Tory rebellion against Boris Johnson since he took office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nos to the left, 126.

ABDELAZIZ: And yet, another blow to the prime minister's credibility after weeks of scandal. Nearly 100 conservative MPs, members of Johnson's own

party, voted against plan B coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday. The measures include extending mask mandates in most public indoor settings,

mandatory vaccines for NHS workers, and most contentious, requiring COVID health passes to enter large public venues like night clubs. The U.K.

health secretary said the measures are necessary to stem the tide of Omicron.

SAJID JAVID, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, UNITED KINGDOM: We're likely to see a substantial rise in hospitalizations before any measure is starting to have

an impact. So there really is no time to lose.

ABDELAZIZ: But some Tories accuse the government of overstepping curbing civil liberties.

ANDREA LEADSOM, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: So, Mr. deputy speaker, this is a slippery slope down which I do not want to slip. So, I'm

afraid I'm not going to be supporting these measures.

ABDELAZIZ: Despite the rebellion, the restrictions passed, but some warned they did not go far enough.

CAROLINE LUCAS, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: The government's mixed messaging has been incredibly unhelpful. Telling people

that a tsunami of Omicron is on the way, but at the same time we can go on partying, absolutely undermines that message.

ABDELAZIZ: To slow the surge of cases, Johnson expanded the nation's ambitious booster program.

JOHNSON: Everyone eligible, aged 18 and over in England, will have the chance to get their booster before the new year.

ABDELAZIZ: A rush for bookings crashed the government sign-up website Monday, and hundreds were seen waiting in long lines outside vaccination

centers. In total, about half a million people across the U.K. received their booster jabs in the 24 hours after the announcement. But the prime

minister's authority is still being tested after accusations that multiple Christmas parties were held in Downing Street during lockdown last year.

Johnson has denied the allegations that COVID rules were broken, but launched an internal investigation. Johnson now fighting what U.K.

officials say is a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 with little support from his own party.


GORANI: And Salma joins me now live from London. And that picture, I mean, it wasn't one of the alleged Downing Street parties, but it still allegedly

occurred at conservative party headquarters with former mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey. What do -- what more do we know about this event, this --

what might or might not have taken place on that evening?

ABDELAZIZ: Well, this is, as you said, a separate incident. So, this is apparently at conservative party headquarters. This mayoral candidate Shaun

Bailey allegedly the allegation there is that he was celebrating with over 20 staff members. Some key faces there including a very important Tory

donor that is among that crowd.

Now, Bailey has since resigned. Downing Street have distanced themselves from this specific party, but it just continues to turn up that pressure on

the conservative party, Hala, that sense across the country that the rules apply to everyone else except those who actually make the rules.

And at a time when the prime minister should be focused on Omicron, it seems that these hits, these scandals keep on coming one after another. The

prime minister was, of course, today, in parliament for PMQs, prime minister's questions. And he again had to defend himself. The opposition

Labor leader Keir Starmer asking, are you going to consider resigning? The prime minister of course, saying, no, absolutely not, I'm going to get on

the business of doing government, of fighting this Omicron variant.

But it just adds more doubt, more speculation, especially after you saw that huge Tory rebellion yesterday, nearly 100 MPs voting against their

prime minister. The question is how strong is his leadership now because we're starting to see real cracks in the system, Hala.

GORANI: Absolutely, and that picture is -- I'm sure the last thing the prime minister needed to be splashed on the front pages of papers in this

country. Thanks so much, Salma. As Europe takes on more lockdowns, Australia is going in the opposite direction. The country has had some of

the toughest restrictions in the pandemic so far, but now local governments are relaxing the restrictions, making it easier for citizens to travel

between states, for example. Australia is also opening international borders to fully vaccinated travelers from South Korea and Japan.

But New South Wales just recorded its highest number of new infections in three months, and officials say it's because of, you guessed it, Omicron.

And still to come tonight, police in Germany say they have thwarted a plot to murder a regional president over COVID vaccines. We'll be right back.



GORANI: Police in Germany say they've thwarted a plot to murder the governor of Saxony. They say anti-vaccine activists were planning to kill

him in connection with local coronavirus measures. Saxony has the second highest infection rate in the country and the lowest vaccination rate. Fred

Pleitgen joins me now live from Berlin. So, how close were these suspects to, according to police to executing this plot to kill the governor of


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it looks like, Hala, this was still in the very early stages of all of this.

Apparently, this group was on a telegram chat group and was talking to each other. And within that, apparently, the plot was uttered to essentially

kill the governor of Saxony and then also other -- as the police puts it, other members of the state government of Saxony as well.

Now, all this actually already was uncovered by an investigative TV magazine here from German public TV, but that then brought the police on to

all of this, and they then further investigated and found out that these people were not only talking about killing the governor of Saxony, but also

we're talking about being armed as well. And that led to the searches that took place in some of these places near Dresden. And there, the police say

that they uncovered crossbows and other weapons as well.

Now, they do say that all of this is ongoing, but as you can imagine, this causing a big stir here in Germany. In fact, the new German Chancellor Olaf

Scholz, he talked about this in the first government address that he made earlier today in the German parliament, and he was ripping into anti-

vaxxers and other conspiracy groups and saying that they were trying to sow disunity here in Germany. Here is what he had to say.


OLAF SCHOLZ, CHANCELLOR, GERMANY (through translator): What exists today in Germany is denial, absurd conspiracy theories, deliberate misinformation

and violent extremism. Let's be clear, a small extremist minority in our country has thrown away from our society, our democracy, our community and

our state, and not only from science, rationality and reason.


PLEITGEN: So, you can hear some pretty choice words there coming from the German chancellor. Obviously, a lot of Germans losing patience with people

who are still refusing to get vaccinated, as this country is, of course, in a major booster campaign as well, Hala.

GORANI: So, some of the reports I've read is that the group had 130 members, those who were discussing this plot over telegram with --

comprised of alt-right anti-vax types.


I wonder, the governor of Saxony, have we -- has he reacted to this alleged reported plot to murder him? Fred, do you hear me? I think, I've lost Fred

or we've lost our audio connection I should say. Trying again, all right, can you hear me, Fred? I think we lost you for a second there. All right,

we've lost our audio connection. We will be hearing more from Fred in the coming hours about this pretty shocking story. Police uncovering a plot to

murder the governor of Saxony over his COVID rules, COVID restrictions.

Now, new support for jailed British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari- Ratcliffe has come in an unusual form. A charity Christmas single from the pop band, The Christians. "Naz Don't Cry" is a remake of their 1990 song,

"Man Don't Cry", it features backing vocals from Nazanin's daughter, Gabriella, and her husband Richard, and all proceeds will go to the human

rights organization Redress, which is working to free Nazanin. Here is a bit of the single.




GORANI: Oh, he's really been working tirelessly, her husband Richard Ratcliffe to free his wife still in Iran. After the break, investors want

U.S. policy makers to get serious about inflation. We'll break down the new decision from the Fed and Chairman Jerome Powell, ahead. And still to come

tonight, the International Rescue Committee puts Afghanistan top of the list of countries most at risk of humanitarian deterioration next year.

I'll speak to the group's CEO, David Miliband after this. Stay with us.




GORANI: The Federal Reserve has just made its biggest announcement of the year. It is winding down its pandemic stimulus program faster than planned.

Here is the problem in the U.S. and in so many other countries around the world. Inflation is an issue. And it is lasting longer than expected. On

the other hand, COVID infections are back on the rise.

Investors also want to hear from the Bank of England because of an inflation surge in Britain. Consumer prices there have jumped to a 10-year

high. Let's take a look at the Fed's decision with "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" anchor Richard Quest.

So the Fed is signaling rate rises for next year and the dollar is actually up on that news.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, because U.S. assets will become -- or dollar-denominated assets will become more valuable.

Passing out this -- today's announcement from the Fed, the headline, of course, is that -- no change in rates, they continue to give priority to

job creation. It says here, the committee expects it will appropriate until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with maximum


So jobs, jobs, jobs is still the message of the meeting. However, in recognition of the higher inflation that now exists -- no longer transitory

by the way. They've dropped that word. So they're going to end their printing of money faster.

And Hala, this is what everybody is looking at. It is called the dot plot. It basically is a lot of little dots, showing where the committee thinks

inflation and how many interest rate rises there will have to be. The consensus is three interest rate rises over the next 12 months. That's much

higher than we thought.

GORANI: Because we've gotten used to, over the last few years, zero interest rates. That's just not normal.


GORANI: I mean historically speaking you don't spend years and years and years being able to borrow money for free, essentially. So we might go back

to something that looks a little bit more in line historically with where the Fed would place rates for an economy as robust as the U.S. economy.


QUEST: No. No, I'll venture to go a different view on that, Hala -- with respect, of course.

GORANI: Of course.

QUEST: The increases we're talking about, even if there are three of them next year, that still only takes Fed funds rates, the policy rate as it is

known as, to 0.75. Now you know, even, even, even if the worst case scenario, back in 2024, you are still only talking about rates heading to 2

percent. This is historically low.

Look, I was looking back. When I bought my first apartment in New York back in 1991, the rate was in double digits.


QUEST: So that sort of gives you some idea of how, even when they raise rates, we are a long way off.

GORANI: Here is --

QUEST: Go on.

GORANI: Here is the thing. If inflation -- and we know why prices are up.


GORANI: They're up because there's pent-up demand and this is an expected recovery price jump, consumer prices were expected to go up. The problem is

it is lasting longer.

If it really does last much longer than expected into next year, then could you see more rate rises than what we're expecting even today?

QUEST: Yes, because the Fed and the Bank of England and the ECB look at inflationary expectations. The worry is, if people expect inflation, then

what it does to consumer demand, they either buy, they push prices even higher.

And worse still, Hala, wage claims, salaries; people want more money obviously because of higher prices. So to stop that cycle -- and to be

blunt the Fed is behind the curve on this. I mean all central banks are behind the inflationary curve, which is exactly where they don't want to

be, even with these unique circumstances.


GORANI: So why not raise them now?

Why not raise rates now?

If they're waiting for a full employment picture in the U.S., when really unemployment is not a massive problem in that country right now, nor is it

a massive problem in the U.K., either.

QUEST: Because of what you just said. There is inflation that they believe is -- well, not -- temporary in the sense of it will work its way through

the system because of supply, pent-up demand, supply chains' issues.


QUEST: So they don't want to go too fast. However, you're right. They would move faster because it is if, if, if, if, if, if.

GORANI: All right. Well, we'll see. We'll see which "if" wins the day.


GORANI: Thank you, Richard. We will see you at the top of the hour on QUEST MEANS BUSINESS from London today.

QUEST: Thank you.

GORANI: Now Afghanistan is one of three countries most at risk of humanitarian deterioration in 2022. That is the latest stark warning from

the International Rescue Committee.

The group says a global system failure is directly fueling crises around the world. Afghanistan tops the organization's new emergency watch list,

which sounds the alarm on countries most in need.

What is leading to this total failure and what do we need to do?

David Miliband is the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and he joins me now live.

Thanks for being with us. Talk to us a little bit about your concerns for Afghanistan, now that the Taliban are in charge there.

DAVID MILIBAND, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Hala. The IRC emergency watch list we published today covers 20 countries facing a

humanitarian catastrophe in 2022. The total population of those countries is 800 million. And the number, depending on humanitarian assistance, is

244 million, a third of them.

Afghanistan is an avatar for what is going wrong in the global system. The population is 38 million; 9 million people are on the brink of famine.

They're classified as being at the highest level of food insecurity before you get to famine.

The reasons for system failure are obviously political, not just humanitarian. And our call is for much more effective action on the

political side, not just on the humanitarian side.

GORANI: So how do you do that?

Because there is concern after -- let's take Afghanistan as an example -- after the Taliban takeover that, any money that goes there might be then

used by the Taliban in their management of the country.

How do you bypass that?

And how do you convince donors that the money can be used responsibly and go to those who need it?

MILIBAND: Yes, that is the concern but it is not a well-founded concern. When you pay a nurse in Mazar-i-Sharif, you are not paying the Taliban.

When you pay a teacher in Kandahar, you are not paying the Taliban.

When you ensure that a banking system has liquidity so that people can get cash out to buy food, you are not funding the Taliban. What is happening

today is the punishment of the people of Afghanistan for their government.

And it is punishment that is being meted out in a way that will not drain popularity from the Taliban nor ensure the success of a government is

better. If people starve in Afghanistan this winter, the blame will come on the economically wealthy countries, include Western countries, who've been

the architect of this policy.

And we warned in August the military withdrawal should not be followed by humanitarian, economic and political withdrawal. That is happening and the

consequences are utter misery and worse for the people of Afghanistan. It makes no sense morally. But it also makes no sense --


GORANI: -- I guess strategically. But what needs to be done now?

I mean I know that more money needs to flow back in and the banking system needs to become -- needs to function again. It just doesn't function

anymore in Afghanistan and people don't have access to very basic things and don't have access to liquidity.

How do you fix this now?

MILIBAND: Well, we do have experience in the global system of fixing this. You can unfreeze assets for specific purposes, be they the purchase of fuel

or the purchase of medicines.

We do know also that subventions (ph) that going in government budgets directed toward the salaries of nurses, doctors and teachers go into

people's bank accounts. We also know that when you end the war economy, which is what happened in August, you have to replace it with something

else; otherwise, there's economic implosion.

So you need to ensure that at local level there remain the economic and social supports that keep a society together.

You also obviously have to make sure that the sanctions regime doesn't penalize humanitarians who are doing work. And there's still debate to be

done in the U.N., though, thankfully, the U.S. has made sure there's a proper carveout for humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

This is a true political emergency. As always, a humanitarian emergency at root is a political emergency. And it needs a political solution.


GORANI: Are you being --

MILIBAND: At the moment the pressure of --

GORANI: Are you being heard now?

I mean clearly you are sending this message out and you have been since August.

Are you being heard by governments and donors around the world?

MILIBAND: I think that the pictures that are coming out from Afghanistan, some of them covered by CNN, others by other media organizations, it is

beginning to percolate that this is a manmade disaster.

This just can't be blamed that 80 percent of the country is covered in drought. The economic collapse is a manmade product. And we have got to

ensure that we are better heard.


MILIBAND: Because the cries that are coming from Afghanistan are from people who are literally desperate about where their next meal is coming

from, literally desperate about whether they will be able to buy medicines.

It needs to be addressed and addressed with much greater urgency. Our watchlist shows that Afghanistan is part of a bigger problem, which is that

the world is on fire around the world and those fires are not being put out.

GORANI: David Miliband, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate your time this evening.

MILIBAND: Thank you.

GORANI: Hundreds of people have been evacuated from one of Hong Kong's busiest districts after the city's World Trade Center caught on fire.

Thankfully, no deaths but 13 people were injured. Kristie Lu Stout has more from Hong Kong.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Here in Hong Kong, emergency workers have rescued hundreds of people after a fire broke out at

a high-rise commercial building.

At one point, 350 people were trapped on the roof of Hong Kong's World Trade Center before firefighters put out the blaze; 770 people were

evacuated. At least 13 people are injured.

The World Trade Center is a commercial building in the city's district at Causeway Bay, one of the busiest shopping areas. It is an office tower,

shopping mall with a number of restaurants inside. According to a government report, the fire broke out around lunchtime, 12:37 pm today and

it spread from a switchboard on the first floor.

A CNN team outside the building spoke to eyewitnesses and people evacuated, including Hong Kong resident, Winnie Yun (ph).


QUESTION: How do you feel after getting out of the fires?

WINNIE YUN (PH), FIRE SURVIVOR (from captions): I took the lift in time but no more, no more people tell me about the fire. But now I so thank you very

much and I'm safe.


STOUT: She is one of the over 700 people evacuated from the building but the cause of the fire is under investigation -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong



GORANI: Still to come, strengthening their partnership in the face of Western pressure. We will tell you about a virtual summit today between

these two men, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. We will be right back.




GORANI: The Kremlin says relations with China are at an unprecedented high after a virtual summit today between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. The

leaders agreed to defend each other's security interests against what they see as Western interference in their affairs.


GORANI: China is under pressure over human rights and Russia is under fire for its military buildup near Ukraine. But they're finding lots of things

to talk about and lots of points they have in common. CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Moscow with more. Melissa.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hala, this was very much about, first of all, seeking to further that cooperation that goes back now for several

years that the two leaders have really sought to strengthen more and more.

But also given the timing of the call very much, as you suggest, a show of unity faced with -- in the face of what both see as Western pressure that's

been building both on Russia and on China.

What we saw during the call, according to what the Kremlin readout said of it afterwards, was that both leaders were very much speaking to the other's

grievances, really seeking to give support where each other might seem diplomatically isolated.

That was the point in all of this, Hala, was, faced with increasingly obvious diplomatic isolation from the West, both Xi Jinping and Vladimir

Putin showing they still had a friend in each other.

Their relationship is a particular one; there's no formal alliance between the two countries but we have seen a strengthening of economic ties,

military ties and geopolitical ties.

And that was at the forefront of the discussion today. More specifically, Hala, Vladimir Putin, speaking to Xi Jinping's criticism of Western

interference, as he sees it in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese president's backing Vladimir Putin's call for security guarantees in terms

of Russia and its border with Ukraine.

And the idea that Moscow is hoping to see some kind of legal guarantee that will ensure there will be no further eastward expansion of NATO. It was

also at the heart of another set of crucial discussions that took place here in Moscow today, with the U.S. envoy for Europe.

She was here speaking with Kremlin officials and foreign affairs ministry officials. They have now handed her their proposals for what they hope will

be legal guarantees about Russia's security. She is to take them to Brussels to discuss them further with the United States' allies in Europe,


GORANI: A quick question.

When they say, these two leaders, they agreed to defend each other's security interests, what does that mean exactly?

BELL: Well, it is an excellent question because theirs is an informal friendship, a tie that is, according to one Kremlin spokesman who spoke

about the call afterwards to journalists, that is stronger, he said, than would be an official alliance.

It is more effective, it is closer. Essentially what has happened is, since 2014 and the growing isolation of Vladimir Putin diplomatically, the two

have strengthened ties, of course, economically and militarily more and more, without entering into a formal agreement.

What Vladimir Putin said on the call was that the point of this was to show that what they respected was -- what they respected was the idea neither

would get involved in criticism of their internal politics but they would both seek to defend or respect the defense of their interests outside of

their countries.

So it is in that spirit that each spoke to the other's grievances, that each backed the other in the face of the West but without any formal

agreement linking the two.

So there's no suggestion that one will support the other. And there are limits to this friendship that goes back for a few years now. For instance,

China has never officially recognized the annexation of Crimea. Russia, for its part, never backed the expansionist policies of China.

But there's that strong, all the more strong, all the more unified since last week's summit for democracy held by Joe Biden with 100 other leaders

or so, specifically targeted against what Washington views as growingly authoritarian regimes in Beijing and Moscow.

Here were Beijing and Moscow, saying, look, you may not like the way we do things but we have friends in each other. Perhaps most concretely and

interestingly, Hala, they discussed the possibility of an independent financial structure that would allow them infrastructure, that would allow

them to withdraw their dependence from Western banks and ultimately therefore their vulnerabilities to sanctions, Hala.

GORANI: All right, thanks so much. Melissa Bell is in Moscow.

The French foreign minister is warning Russia will face massive strategic consequences if it attacks Ukraine. It was the focus of talks between

Ukraine, France and Germany today. Emmanuel Macron, Volodymyr Zelensky and Olaf Scholz met on the sidelines of an E.U. summit in Brussels.

They reaffirmed their commitment to try to restart negotiations with Russia to de-escalate the situation and preserve Ukraine's sovereignty.

So that discussion took place on the same day as the Xi Jinping-Putin video call.

Still to come, today, U.S. President Joe Biden has been viewing scenes of devastation, utter devastation after visiting a Kentucky town hall, leveled

by tornadoes.


GORANI: We will go there live in just a moment.




GORANI: We're now learning more about the victims of the worst accident ever in the English Channel that involved migrants seeking a better life.

French authorities say they've identified 26 of the 27 men, women and children who drowned in bitterly cold waters last month. They were heading

for Britain when their inflatable boat capsized.

Most of the victims were Iraqi Kurds. The others came from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran and Egypt. Several suspected traffickers have been


Surrounded by decimated communities and traumatized victims, the American president, Joe Biden, is getting a firsthand look at the massive damage in

tornado-ravaged Kentucky.

The president just visited the town of Mayfield, where, you will remember that candle factory with more than 100 workers inside was severely damaged.

He's heading on to Dawson Springs, which was all but leveled, after this. CNN's Brynn Gingras is with the president.

Talk to us about what the president was able to witness firsthand during his visit.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, he was just in Mayfield for about 20 to 30 minutes here on the ground, really about a

block from where we are standing in the downtown area of this town.

Essentially, he just took the time to walk through the business district and talk to some of the people who, honestly, put down all of their

machinery, took a minute to welcome him and explain what they've been through the last few days.

He said a prayer with some of the local leaders here and really just walked alongside the mayor, who is a beloved former school teacher here in


And then as he left, his motorcade left this town -- excuse me, the wind is very strong -- I can tell you everyone started getting back to work.

A big thing here, in addition to getting the lights and power back on, if possible, is getting debris removed. Actually had a briefing with the

president. And the governor of Kentucky said let's just get this death and destruction and depression out of here. That's a major focus right now,


GORANI: It really looks like the aftermath -- I have covered a few earthquakes -- like the aftermath of an earthquake, where really you have

to, as you said, remove all of the debris but then the reconstruction begins.

Where will the funds for that come from?


GORANI: And where are the now homeless people who are victims of these tornadoes, where are they living?

GINGRAS: You know, a lot of people we've been talking to here on the ground luckily have family members in neighboring towns. This tornado really took

a path that was wide but it didn't hit every town.

So fortunately a lot of people have family nearby. But there are also shelters all across the state that are opened up. The governor opened up

state parks as well, telling them they can't turn anybody away.

That is -- of course, we have the Red Cross on the ground and FEMA as well. So there are a lot of agencies here that are helping out here on the


But yes, you are right. The next step is going to be getting this out of here and then figuring out a way to rebuild. I can tell you where the

president walked here in Mayfield is a building that, I've been told by many residents, the courthouse, it is an iconic part of this town. It is

important to them. Surely that's going to be one of the first things that they fix back up.

But one other thing I wanted to mention to you, Hala, you know, you talked about the candle factory. There were so many workers that worked there,

more than 100 that night. We talked to one who is recovering still in the hospital, because he was crushed when that building fell.

And he said, once he feels better, once he can get out of the hospital, he wants to go right back to work. That's what kind of people these people

are. They are hardworking. They are ready to rebuild. They are ready to recover and move on from this devastation.

GORANI: All right. Brynn Gingras, thanks very much, reporting live from Kentucky today. Thank very much.

Well, for something completely different, UNESCO has granted heritage status not to a building but to a 500-year-old Thai art form.

This is nora, an acrobatic form of dance theater with improvised storytelling, rhythmic music and expressive movements. The performance

tells the story of a local prince, who tries to rescue a half human-half bird princess named Manora. The dance form is more than 500 years old.

It is performed in temple fairs and community cultural events and it is part of the country's culture of all religious groups, which is a great

thing. Well done to them.

I'm Hala Gorani. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is in London and that's coming up next.