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Hala Gorani Tonight
New Restrictions In Europe As Omicron Cases Surge; Israel Bans Travel To The U.S. And Nine Other Countries; Chinese Tennis Star Now Denies Sexual Assault Claim; May 2020 Image Adds To U.K. P.M's COVID Controversies; Rise In COVID Infections Rattle Global Markets; Closing Arguments Begin In Ghislaine Maxwell's Trial. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 20, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in New York, I am Zain Asher in for Hala Gorani. Tonight, more European nations
are introducing restrictions as Omicron surges across the continent. Global travel is being hit, just as families trying to get together for the
And Boris Johnson is under pressure again. A photo has emerged from May 2020 showing him, his wife and numerous staffers drinking wine in the
Downing Street garden when the U.K. was under tight COVID restrictions. Records breaking and borders closing. We begin this hour with the rapidly
developed threat of the Omicron variant. European countries are scrambling to take action as cases surge.
Germany is severely limiting travel from the U.K., only allowing returning German citizens and residents to enter from Britain. Denmark is closing
cinemas, theaters and museums, and is asking bars and restaurants to shut down early. The Netherlands has begun a strict, new national lockdown,
which puts stringent limits on Christmas celebrations. And as Switzerland postpones the Davos Summit, only people with vaccine passports or proof of
recovery will be now allowed to go into restaurants or indoor event spaces.
From today, Sweden will tighten border restrictions to include other Nordic countries as well which had previously been exempt from vaccine passport
rules, this as the U.K. reports its second highest daily toll of new COVID cases, more than 91,000 infections. The U.K. also is now reporting a total
of more than 45,000 Omicron infections specifically. And after a cabinet meeting, the prime minister has decided to hold off on further restrictions
for now, but says nothing is ruled out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: We agree that we should keep the data from now on under constant review, keep following it hour-by-
hour. And unfortunately, I must say to people, we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect
public health, to protect RNHS. And we won't hesitate to take that action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASHER: All right, covering all sides of the story, we've got Ben Wedeman joining us from Rome, Nada Bashir in London. Ben, let me start with you.
Let's talk about the Netherlands because we're seeing all sorts of non- essential businesses, shops, stores closing until January 14th. What's been the reaction to this? This is some of the strictest lockdown measures or
restrictive measures, rather, across the continent.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And in fact, Zain, don't forget that it was in the Netherlands just a few weeks ago that they
had serious public disturbances, riots against the further sort of shutdown measures. And so, we haven't seen yet any major protests against these
measures, but they're typical of what's going on across Europe. Many countries which had thought that with the introduction of the vaccine that
perhaps some of these strong, draconian shutdown measures that we saw introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, in the Spring of 2020, were a
thing of the past.
And now, we're seeing that in multiple European countries, governments realize that with the Omicron variant spreading so fast, that they have to
take measures that perhaps politically might be difficult. For instance, I'm in the Lazio region where Rome is located, 6 million people live in
this region, and officials here are considering imposing a vaccine mandate, something that just a few weeks ago, they were trying to avoid because they
realize, the government realizes here that there will be significant public resistance.
On the other hand, people are very worried about this variant, and perhaps you might see an uptick in the number of people getting the vaccine. But
certainly, the timing could not be worse.
We're five days from Christmas, and we're seeing that all the festivities - - for instance, in Rome and Paris, that were planned for the holiday season are being cancelled. It's not going to be a Merry Christmas in Europe.
ASHER: Yes, I mean, it couldn't be worse timing. Nada, I want to bring you in to talk about the U.K. because the one piece of good news, I guess
somewhat sort of silver-lining in all of this is that the NHS is reporting that a record number of people are actually taking their booster shots,
proving that, you know, people are heeding to the warnings here. Walk us through that.
NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, absolutely. We are seeing record numbers in the people going out to get that third dose, the booster jab. But we've
seen lines across the capital, around hospitals and vaccination clinics, people really going out there trying to get that third dose, trying to
boost that immunity ahead of Christmas, particularly as many will be gathering with their loved ones, particularly elderly loved ones over the
Christmas period because of course, the restrictions on those gatherings aren't in place as they were last Winter.
And as we've seen, as Ben mentioned, in almost all the neighboring countries and in Europe, so there is a sense now that people are trying to
get ahead of this variant. But the numbers really speak for themselves. Today, as you mentioned, the second highest daily toll, more than 91,000
cases, and among those cases reported in just 24 hours, 8,000 confirmed to be the Omicron variant. So, there's a real sense of urgency now, and a real
sense of pressure on the government and the prime minister to take action.
We've heard those alarm bells being rang by the scientific advisors, but the head of the NHS even saying that the health service is on a war-
footing, and the government scientific advisors warning that if action isn't taken urgently, we could be seeing something like 3,000
hospitalizations a day. So, there's a real sense of urgency there and concern. As you mentioned, the prime minister chairing that cabinet meeting
today in Downing Street to get an update on the COVID figures and to assess the government's response.
And at this stage, it doesn't look like there will be a further action taken in terms of those restrictions. At this stage, people are being
encouraged to work from home, and they're also already now doing that. And, of course, wearing those masks in indoor settings including in public
transport and in shops and in other public areas indoors. So there's those restrictions in place. But at this stage, there is pressure particularly
from the Labor Party, the opposition party coming on the prime minister to implement tougher measures as we saw last Winter to stem the spread of the
Many concerned that the healthcare sector could be put under immense pressure this Winter. And as we saw last Winter, there's a real sense of
concern that there will be huge casualties involved. As you mentioned, we're seeing those cases go up, we have seen over 40 deaths today reported
in the last 24 hours. So there's a real sense of urgency and pressure on the government now. Zain?
ASHER: Yes, the pressure on the NHS is real and intense, but not just in terms of the U.K. health services, but Europe wide as well. Ben Wedeman,
Nada Bashir live for us, thank you so much. All right, let's take a closer look now at a country that is going into full national lockdown to try to
contain the Omicron threat. The Netherlands as our Ben Wedeman was just talking about there, stringent rules will remain in place well into
January. Here is our Barbie Nadeau with more.
BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): A collective sigh in the Netherlands, as some of the strictest new COVID-19 measures went into
effect on Sunday to try to contain a highly contagious Omicron variant. Acknowledging it's not the Christmas many people wanted, Dutch Prime
Minister Mark Rutte urge people to stay at home as much as possible, and said non-essential shops will be closed until January 14th and schools shut
until at least January 9th.
For many, it was a frustrating announcement that dashed many holiday plans just days away from Christmas. This man says we've done everything we
could, we're fully vaccinated, and in the end, it all goes in the wrong direction.
Before the lockdown went into effect, long lines of shoppers rushed to the stores for some last-minute Christmas shopping. The government also
cracking down on how many people can attend holiday gatherings, only two guests will be allowed in private homes with the exception of Christmas
eve, Christmas day, the day after Christmas, new year's eve and new year's day when four are permitted. Previous coronavirus measures have been
unpopular in the country with violent protests erupting in November.
This weekend police clashed with small groups of protesters as thousands of people demonstrated in Brussels, and there were also protests in London,
Paris and in cities in Germany. But despite the public pressure, many European countries are considering re-imposing new COVID-19 restrictions.
The threat of Omicron much greater than the pockets of discontent. Italian media reporting that the government could soon make masks mandatory
outdoors and require negative tests for vaccinated people to enter crowded public venues.
Denmark is set to close cinemas, theaters and museums, and will limit the amount of people in stores and shops. One resident said it's a bleak way to
end the year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing all the countries, America among them, slowly starting to shut down, some of them are even completely shut down. It's --
yes, a little bit depressing.
NADEAU: No country wanting a lockdown before Christmas, but Omicron may make further restrictions unavoidable. Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.
ASHER: We've been covering Omicron's rapid spread across Europe. One of the first countries to detect it there was Norway, and it is now enforcing
a number of restrictions to curb the spread of the variant, including banning the serving of alcohol. Norway's Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol
joins us live now from Oslo. Ingvild, thank you so much for being with us. So the serving of alcohol is banned in all licensed premises. That cannot
have been an easy decision, especially given what time of year it is right now.
INGVILD KJERKOL, MINISTER OF HEALTH & CARE SERVICES, NORWAY: No, it was not an easy decision to make for the government, but we -- it was based on
our health authorities clear advice that when we are together drinking, we tend to forget the measures that keep us safe during the pandemic, to keep
the distance and to respect the social distancing measurement. So it was a knowledge-based decision, but it was in no -- it was not easy for us.
ASHER: Do you have -- I mean, this might be too early to tell, but do you have any idea at this point how long you think that measure is going to be
in place for?
KJERKOL: Well, the measures are in place for four weeks at a time, that there will be a revise in January, the 14th of January, and we are
continually monitoring the spread and the cases of infections day-to-day. But we are keeping them throughout Christmas, and what we hope to achieve,
that people don't go to bars or pubs, but that they go to get vaccinated with the third booster dose.
ASHER: And just in terms of the pressure right now, given the sort of scary numbers we're seeing, Europe-wide, especially in Norway, what sort of
pressure are we seeing on your country's health care system right now?
KJERKOL: Well, that is our main concern, that our healthcare system will be overwhelmed. Both our local health and care services and also our
hospitals. We have not so high a number of the people in hospitals that need intensive care, but they are also stretched to the limits. A lot of
healthcare workers have been on their feet during this pandemic. We are talking 20 months now. And also, our local healthcare services are under a
great deal of pressure, and we are still waiting for the annual flu season. So, this is strict measurements, but very clear advice from our health
ASHER: And what are we seeing in terms of the severity of symptoms?
KJERKOL: Luckily, the spread of Omicron does not show more serious illness, but the total sickness burden due to people staying home from work
is also of some concern. When we look at the people who are in hospital and in need of intensive care, they are -- the majority are unvaccinated. So
the vaccines do provide good protection from serious illness, not so much on spreading the disease unfortunately.
ASHER: When you look at some of the other Scandinavian countries, they're also showing high numbers as well. How are you restricting travel between
your country, Sweden, Finland?
KJERKOL: Well, we have had measures on the border during the pandemic. Registration and tests for all who are coming into our country. Sweden
announced this week that they will do the same when Norwegians go to their country. So this is mostly due to being able to monitor the spread of the
virus and not so much as in preventing the sickness itself, but to keep a control and keep count of the cases reported so that we can enforce
measures when needed to keep control of this pandemic.
ASHER: A lot of other European countries are implementing very tough restrictions. And as I'm sure you know, some countries have seen very
aggressive reactions from ordinary people in the population who have taken to the streets, who have protested essentially angry that this is still
continuing despite all the government attempts with vaccinations and so on. What's been the reaction there in Norway to these new restrictions,
especially given the fact that it's Christmas right now.
KJERKOL: Unfortunately, the health authorities and the government still holds a high level of trust amongst the public. But, of course, businesses
are frustrated due to the alcohol ban, for example. So some protests, but not a big protest in the streets as we see in other countries. So, we are
all fortunate, calm people, where the authorities make decisions knowledge- based and very calm.
ASHER: All right, Ingvild Kjerkol, thank you so much for being with us, appreciate it. All right, Ingvild Kjerkol; Norwegian Health Minister
joining me there. Israeli government will begin barring travel to the United States, Canada and eight other countries in a bid to stop the spread
of the Omicron variant. The prime minister warns time is running out to get vaccinated as the country faces a fifth COVID wave. Health officials say
they will be storming schools this week, increasing child vaccination centers ten-fold.
Journalist Elliott Gotkine is in Tel Aviv for us. So, Elliott, here is the thing with Israel. There has been quite a successful vaccination campaign
in Israel since the start of the pandemic. A relatively high proportion of the population has been vaccinated. Just set the scene for us there in
terms of the spread though of the Omicron variant despite the high level of vaccinations.
ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: So, Zain, you're right, Israel was the first out of the bloc, if you like in terms of successful vaccination campaign.
It rushed to get first doses out, second doses, it was probably possibly the first country in the world to administer booster shots starting back in
August. Since then, there are still, you know, a decent chunk of the population that isn't vaccinated, and the biggest concern for the
government right now is the low tick up among children.
That campaign was rolled out several weeks ago, only about 10 percent of children have been vaccinated so far, and Naftali Bennett; the prime
minister, today, saying that this really is a priority right now to vaccinate -- to vaccinate children. In terms of Omicron itself, there are
175 confirmed cases so far, 380 so-called highly suspicious cases which may well turn out to be Omicron. And the reason -- and this is kind of tied
back in with the kind of introduction there about the U.S., Canada and eight other countries being added to this red no-fly list, because the
majority of those cases in Israel were imported.
They were brought into Israel from people flying back into the country. And so, what Israel is doing is, it's monitoring the situation and the
pandemics and the outbreaks in other countries. And when, for example, more than 10 percent of COVID cases in the country are down to Omicron or where
five -- excuse me, where five out of 10,000 visitors from a particular country test positive for Omicron, those countries then go on to the red
list because Israel is basically trying to cut off the main source of Omicron that is coming into the country.
And therefore, it knows that it cannot -- it will be able to focus better on the spread between people within the country. Zain?
ASHER: Right, Elliott Gotkine, live for us, thank you so much. All right, still to come here tonight, travelers at U.S. airports seem to be following
through on their holiday plans, even though COVID-19 cases are rising across the country. And then, a complete reversal from Chinese tennis star
Peng Shuai, who now says she never accused anyone of sexual assault. We'll get the latest from Hong Kong.
ASHER: The surge in COVID-19 cases and the threat of Omicron in the United States is not holding back holiday travelers. The Transportation Security
Administration says it screened more than 2 million people at airports across the country for a fourth day in a row, but the Omicron variant is
spreading rapidly there. And health experts expect it to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks. Here is what New York City Health
Commissioner told us earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CHOKSHI, HEALTH COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY: We have seen cases and test positivity increase sharply, but as yet, we have not seen the same
thing with respect to the markers of severe disease, particularly hospitalizations. Right now, there are about a 1,000 people hospitalized
with COVID-19 across New York City. That's about a quarter of where we were at the peak of last Winter's wave, and less than a tenth of where we were
in the Spring of 2020.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASHER: So good news there in terms of hospitalizations. I want to bring in aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joining us live now. So, despite the
hospitalization numbers being relatively low compared to this time last year, Pete, you know, people are still concerned about Omicron, but
apparently, not concerned enough to cancel their travel plans. Walk us through that.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, Zain, it's such an interesting case study in behavior. So many people right now having that
difficult go or no-go discussion, but what we're seeing is millions of people are still going. Just look at the TSA numbers, 2.12 million people
screened at airports across the United States just yesterday. That is the fourth day in a row where we have seen numbers higher than 2 million. We've
really not seen a stretch like this since the Thanksgiving holiday.
In fact, Friday's number was the highest number we have seen since the Monday after Thanksgiving. Clearly, so much confidence that people have in
traveling right now. Just look at the long lines at airports across the country from L.A. to Boston to Austin to --sorry, to Atlanta. You know, so
many long lines just yesterday. Dr. Anthony Fauci says there's just a need to really weigh the risks here as you go out, urging Americans to think
about that, given the high number of infections. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Clearly, when you travel, there is always a risk of increased
infection. That just goes with respiratory illnesses. But if people need to travel and want to travel for the obvious family reasons during this
holiday season, if you're vaccinated and you are boosted and you take care when you go into congregate settings like airports to make sure you
continually wear your mask, you should be OK. But we are going to see breakthrough infections, Chuck, there's no doubt --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right --
FAUCI: About that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MUNTEAN: Even still, AAA anticipates about 109 million people will travel 50 miles or more between December 23rd and January 3rd. The TSA just
updated its projection. It thinks 30 million people will fly between today and January 3rd, one of the busiest days, December 23rd, Thursday. We will
see if these projections hold, because airlines said cancellations did go up a little bit as the Omicron variant began to make headlines, although
really not all that much, Zain.
ASHER: Pete Muntean live for us, thanks so much. Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is walking back her sexual assault allegations against a former
senior government official. She now claims -- she doesn't even like using that particular phrase. But as Will Ripley explains from Hong Kong, her
reversal is stoking more suspicions that she's being silenced.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is certainly significant because it is Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's first interview with a
foreign media outlet. Now, granted, this is a Singaporean, Chinese-language newspaper that has a very pro-Beijing stance when it comes to its news
coverage, although it's not state media affiliated with the Chinese government. They are certainly approved by the Chinese government. We know
this because it's the only overseas Chinese language newspaper that you can buy in the mainland.
And you can also access their website without a VPN in the mainland. So, that means this interview with Peng Shuai which was conducted in Shanghai
on Sunday at a cross-country ski tournament can be read theoretically by audiences in the mainland, although it's not being shared actively on
social media by this Singaporean newspaper.
Peng Shuai made some statements that are very similar to the talking points that have been hammered home and tweeted out feverishly by Chinese state
media reporters since she disappeared and then kind of re-appeared in these what are believed to be very staged-managed videos in the aftermath of her
November 2nd Weibo post.
This explosive post where she accused a former retired Communist Party leader Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. She is now saying it wasn't a sexual
assault claim that she made in that very emotional and graphic Weibo post. Let me read you a portion of the quote from Peng Shuai to this newspaper.
She said, quote, "I've never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me. It's my personal privacy. There possibly has been a lot of
misunderstanding, therefore, there should not be such distorted interpretation here."
So, she's now essentially saying that she didn't accuse him of sexual assault, she doesn't like the use of that word, this is what she told this
newspaper. She also said that she is free, free to travel around China, she said she's always been free throughout this whole ordeal. She said she's
grateful to the International Olympic Committee and was very happy to have video calls with them from her home in Beijing. She says she hasn't been
speaking under duress. However, the Women's Tennis Association is still not convinced here.
They put out a statement essentially reiterating their call for a free, fair and transparent investigation without censorship. They say they're not
convinced that Peng Shuai hasn't been coached, hasn't been basically trained to say this sort of thing if approached by foreign media, and
they're still prepared to walk away from their business in China, worth reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars.
Also, no word here that the Chinese authorities have never actually acknowledged Peng's allegations. Discussion about all this is still
censored inside China. And so, this interview, while it does answer some questions about Peng Shuai, it also leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.
ASHER: All right, still to come tonight, wine, cheese and Brexit. No, I'm not talking about trade disputes. Ahead, why those three things are causing
new political headaches for the British prime minister. And COVID uncertainty once again shaking global markets. After the break, it'll be
up-to-the-minute details on Monday's tough session on Wall Street.
ASHER: I want to take you back to May 2020. In England, COVID restrictions meant that only two people can meet for social reasons outdoors and at a
two-meter distance and yet, The Guardian has now released an image from them showing British Prime Minister Boric Johnson and his staffers not
socially distancing and eating wine and cheese -- eating cheese, rather, and drinking wine in the garden at Downing Street. A spokesperson responded
saying this was a staff meeting after a press conference, but this is the latest in a string of allegations regarding Downing Street staffers
flouting COVID restrictions.
Boric Johnson's political turmoil does not stop there. His Brexit minister also resigning this past weekend as well. Jack Blanchard is the U.K.
Political Editor at Politico. He joins us live now from London. So let's take a look at that photo again. As I mentioned, this was a time when only
two people from different households could meet. They had to be at least two meters apart.
And if you look at the photo there, that's clearly not happening there at Downing Street. You see there's multiple people around Boric Johnson's
table, and it's several other areas in the garden as well. When the public, when the British public looks at this image, when they see this, why should
they continue to trust the Prime Minister?
JACK BLANCHARD, POLITICAL EDITOR, POLITICO: Well, that's the question that everybody's asking at the moment. And now, of course, it comes at a time
when the Prime Minister's just about to announce we expect further restrictions on what people can do over the next few weeks. So the timing
of it is absolutely dreadful for his authority.
The problem for Downing Street is that these allegations have come in and sort of drip, drip, drip form over the last few weeks. Since it was first
reported there's been a party in #10 while we were in lockdown. Last year, we've heard over the course of the last few days, we've heard story after
story about party after party, each time Downing Street denying it's happened. But then evidence has emerged to the contrary.
So with this particular case, we've seen today, they denied there was any sort of party in the garden, they said it was just a normal work meeting.
And then we see this photo, which was published by The Guardian late last night. And you can see Boric Johnson sitting at this work meeting in the
company of his wife, his son --
ASHER: With his fiancee - right. Fiancee at the time. Right.
BLANCHARD: She's -- there's a bottle of wine in front of him. You can see the others all standing in circle. There's no laptops, there's no minutes
being taken. It's not what most people think of as a work meeting. And so I'm afraid the excuses coming out of Downing Street starts to look pretty
thin when you start to see this kind of evidence of what was actually going on.
ASHER: What do you think should be -- what do you think ought to be or ought to have been a better strategy for the Prime Minister in terms of
handling this? Obviously, the strategy so far has been, you know, to deny that any rules were broken. And that -- Downing Street he continues to sort
of offer that excuse every single time a new photo comes out. Is that a smart strategy for the Prime Minister?
BLANCHARD: No, definitely not. I mean, of course, it's important to say that the really smarter strategy would have been for everyone who worked in
the government to follow the rules that they were enforcing upon the rest of the country last year, if you expect people to obey these unprecedented
restrictions imposed on people's freedom, which we've never seen the like of in this country ever before, of course, with good reason during a
pandemic. And the rule number one is that the people setting those rules need to follow them very strictly themselves. And we now know that wasn't
Where we are today, I think they'd have been much wiser to immediate -- once it came out, what had been going on, to immediately own up to what had
happened and try and explain to people that, yes, sometimes people did step slightly outside the rules. These are the occasions when it happened.
People were under stress. I think there may have been some level of understanding if they'd owned up to it all straightaway.
BLANCHARD: Not massively, but some. But I think what's really damaging is to keep denying these things. And then the next day some more evidence came
out. You know, the first original party was flatly denied to us as journalists for a whole week until video evidence that --
ASHER: It's the whole death by a thousand cuts thing thing.
BLANCHARD: Say that again, sorry?
ASHER: Right, it's the drip, drip. Yes, it's the death by a thousand cups - - cuts. It's the sort of drip, drip in terms of, like, new photos being released. But as you mentioned, the smarter thing to do would be to come
out and apologize and own up to it.
If you look at the past week, though, for Boric Johnson, or past two weeks, you've seen this litany of scandals. First and foremost, the rebellion
within the Conservative Party against him, obviously, the sort of string of accusations of not abiding by the rules and one rule applying to the elite
sand another role playing to everybody else, and then the lost in that by- election, that crucial by-election. And then on top of that, David Frost resigning, how does Boric Johnson survive such a sort of high amount, high
number of scandals in such a short amount of time, do you think?
ASHER: Yes, it's not often you see a Prime Minister take a battering in the way that Boric Johnson's taken over the next few weeks. And his authority
is badly wounded, if not mortally so. I don't think it's over for Boric Johnson. This is something that he could turn around. But it's going to
take a real, real effort from Downing Street now to start professionalizing the operation and convincing the Tory MPs that they know what they're
doing, and they're on their side.
And the problem that he's got is that he's now in a situation with COVID, with this new wave, that he is about to have to announce more restrictions,
and there's nothing his MPs want less than than the Prime Minister announcing that. And so, you know, it's difficult to see how he's got the
political space to start performing in the way that his party wants to. And so it's not -- things aren't going to get any easier for him after
ASHER: I mean, does he have the moral authority, given the sort of scandals we've seen? Does he have the moral authority to impose more restrictions at
BLANCHARD: Well, that's the million dollar question that we're about to find out. Does he have the moral authority? Will people still listen to
him? Of course, we hope so. And of course, people may decide the restrictions are the right things to do, regardless of what they think of
the Prime Minister, because at the end of the day, this is a public health crisis, not a political situation.
And so, you know, you hope the public can separate the two things, but it's certainly questionable when people see these photos, how they're going to
react when they're then asked to impose their own restrictions. The other point I would make is that he needs political authority to be able to
impose more restrictions. There will have to be votes in parliament, and he needs his MPs to support them.
And last time he announced some restrictions just a week or two ago, as he said there was a huge rebellion, half his backbench MPs voted against him.
And you think that number is only going to go get worse for him. Next time he comes back and asks for more. So it's not just the moral authority he
needs but the support of his MPs as well.
ASHER: He does not have the support of the Conservative Party right now. All right. Jack Blanchard, thank you so much for being with us.
All right, this just in to CNN from a Buckingham Palace source, Queen Elizabeth will not spend Christmas at Sandringham as she usually does. The
monarch will celebrate instead at Windsor Castle. It's the latest Christmas tradition to fall by the wayside during the U.K.'s outbreak of the Omicron
variant. Queen Elizabeth also cancelled her pre-Christmas lunch with her extended family as well.
There's a lot of anxiety across the world right now as COVID infection surge across Europe and the U.S. and the global markets are also feeling
the weight of that uncertainty as well. Right now, all three U.S. indices are in the red. Let's take a look here and see the Dow is down about 550
I want to bring in Matt Egan joining me live now from Bergen County, New Jersey. So Matt, we know that the Dow is down quite significantly, but walk
us through how travel stocks, travel stocks, hospitality stocks, those are the ones that are really going to suffer if there are more restrictions.
MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, absolutely, Zain. No Christmas spirit to be found on Wall Street today. We're seeing Omicron fears and just concerns
about COVID, in general, really coming back big time into the market. The CNN market sentiment gauge, the fear and greed index is tipping back into
extreme fear. On Friday, it was at just fear and a week ago, it was actually greed, so clearly the sentiments, when you mentioned travel
So we've seen a lot of the COVID sensitive stocks take a big hit. We've seen JetBlue lose ground, Wynn Resorts also down, Darden Restaurants down
as well, and concerns about people maybe not going out to eat quite as much, and people are -- investors are going into some of the stay-at-home
stocks, zoom, Netflix, Chewy, they're all rising on this idea that, you know, this pandemic is not clearly not over. It's not going anywhere. And
people might be stuck at home more often.
I mean, normally I would be in the studio in New York, and I'm not because of COVID concerns. And we also have to talk about what's going on in the
oil market because, you know. Oil is viewed as a proxy for confidence in the economy, competence in the recovery.
And we've seen Brent and WTI lose about four percent, so that could lower some gas prices, but there might be fewer people on the road to take
advantage of it. I would say Zain, though, that markets have been pretty orderly. I wouldn't say there's any, you know, any sort of panic in the
market. The selling has not been nearly as extreme as what we saw right after Thanksgiving in the United States where we saw even bigger losses,
but clearly people are concerned about COVID again.
ASHER: Yes. And a lot of people think that the Feds moved to raise rates and the sort of tighter monetary policy could not have come at a worse
time. Matt Egan live for us there. Thank you so much. All right. Still to come tonight, from student protest leader to President of Chile, a leftist
Congressman has won a runoff election capping an extremely polarizing race. And thousands in Warsaw raise their voices against the proposed media law.
We'll explain why this bill is making so many in Poland so upset.
ASHER: A leftist former student leader has made history in Chile after winning a presidential runoff election. Gabriel Boric will become the
country's youngest ever president when he takes office in March. Despite a heated campaign, his right-wing opponent conceded graciously calling for
the results to be respected. CNN's Rafael Romo is in Santiago with more.
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chileans had two very clear choices. A 35- year-old left this former student activist who promised a better, bigger government with more social services paid for by taxing the rich, and a
conservative attorney who campaigned on a law in order platform, family values, and a nationalist agenda. They chose Gabriel Boric who will become
Chile's youngest president, at least since the country's returned to democracy in 1990.
Boric promised the kind of government that takes care of people's needs by raising taxes. During the campaign, he spoke about improving public
education and welfare programs, as well as protecting human rights, LGBTQ rights, and the environment. His rival conservative attorney, Jose Antonio
Kast quickly conceded defeat, calling Boric less than two hours after polls closed and the trend had become irreversible.
Boric's victory was also swiftly recognized by current president Sebastian Pinera, who had a video conference call with the winner moments later. How
will Boric govern once he takes office in less than three months?
After a tooth and nail campaign in a very polarized country, Boric was ready to turn the page when he addressed Chileans afternoon winning the
election. He thanked his supporters, and said he will be a president for all Chileans. Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean,
including presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, and Colombia's Ivan Duque congratulated the new president elect.
Boric will take office on March 11 for a four-year term. The turnout was massive, even larger than November's first round. More than eight million
people went to the polls, about 56 percent of the electorate. Rafael Romo, CNN, Santiago, Chile.
ASHER: I spoke earlier with former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is now the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, she supported Boric in
this election, even releasing a video endorsement. I asked her why she felt he was the better choice.
MICHELLE BACHELET, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: I can only speak about this as former president of the Republic of Chile and as a
citizen, because as High Commissioner, I cannot give political opinions in this sense. So what I have to say, well, there were primary elections. I
mean, first around elections in November, and there were two candidates who passed to the ballot dash.
And when I look at his program, his political, social programs, he addresses the changes that needs to be or the things that in our country
need to be improved, because every government improve things, but there's still a lot of pending issues, like a small social justice, like, you know,
increasing rights for women, for diversity. So to improve the social and economic conditions of people, improve pensions, the pension system.
So there's a new constitution that is being worked by Constitutional Assembly. So there's a lot of challenges to improve people's life, people's
rights and I agree on those and on those -- on these things that needs to be done in terms of improving my citizens -- my -- well, I say competent
ASHER: You laid out some of the challenges that sort of ordinary people in Chile are facing right now. The country has rampant inequality. And of
course, Gabriel Boric has pledged to try to end that, to try to sort of lift people out of poverty and make it a much more equally -- equal society
But one of the other issues is just how divisive that campaign was. I mean, you watched the campaign, it was very divisive between both sides. Do you
think that Gabriel Boric has the ability or will have the ability to really heal those divisions and truly be, as he promises, a president for all
BACHELET: He -- I mean, during the -- his campaign, what I read, and what I heard is that he understands that he's going to be the president of all
Chileans, for the ones who voted for him, for the ones who didn't vote for him, or for the ones who didn't go to vote. He said that last night at
exactly this time.
So I think he has the ability, but on the other hand, I know it will be a very challenging moment because as you say, the country is pretty
polarized. Even before the campaign, if I may say, very polarized, you saw that during 2019, there was a huge social unrest with demonstrations on the
street, and really difficult political situation. So I think it will be challenging, because he's young, but because -- but on the other hand,
there's so much people -- so many people that want to support that I think if he got the right people who support him, he was open, inclusive, and
with a meaningful dialogue, that that's what he has been doing.
Youth is something that is intrinsically good or bad, it could be very interesting, it could be a very important way of dealing with problems that
are important, and that maybe believing that people has to be part of the solution, that has to be -- part of the in some way, have to be invited,
incorporated to discuss the solutions and that the people feel represented and identified, that will be in for a successful government.
ASHER: But as you point out, it's certainly not going to be an easy task for him despite his ambitions.
ASHER: Michelle Bachelet, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this.
BACHELET: OK, thank you, Zain.
ASHER: Thousands of Poles protested this weekend in Warsaw directly outside of the presidential palace to defend media freedom. The Polish parliament
unexpectedly passed a bill a Friday that would tighten rules around the foreign ownership of media. It will specifically affect the Channel TV and
24, which is owned by the U.S. media company discovery and has at times been critical of the government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAFA, POLISH PROGRAMMER: It's not about this one TV station because this is one TV station but it's about the idea -- it's about the precedent because
if we let that happen, then it's about it's about the media as a whole and our freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is very important, and it can't be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASHER: The Polish president hasn't yet signed the bill but is facing strong pressure from the U.S. to veto it and more than one million people have
signed a petition in defense of the TV Channel.
Still coming -- still to come here tonight, closing arguments are underway in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. We'll look at what the
prosecution said so far.
ASHER: Jurors will soon start deliberating the fate of Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime confidant of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Closing
arguments began a few hours ago at her criminal trial in New York. Prosecutors accused the British socialite of recruiting and grooming
teenage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them. Maxwell could face decades in prison if she's convicted on all pound counts.
CNN's Kara Scannell joins us live now from New York. So what sort of picture are we getting in terms of who Ghislaine Maxwell was as a person
and her role in this sordid, depraved operation, Kara?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, we've heard from prosecutors for about two hours this morning. And what they said that they could
describe her as a dangerous woman, someone who was crucial to Epstein scheme. She said that she helped prey on vulnerable young girls, bring them
into Epstein, get them in to find touching to be normalized. And then they say that's when Epstein had these sexualized massages with them so
prosecutors saying that Maxwell was key to this scheme.
They also asked her to focus on their common sense saying why would two adults spend weekends with teenage girls? Why would they travel on private
planes with teenage girls? And they brought up that little black book that had a list of some of Jeffrey Epstein's famous friends, they told jurors to
look at the section that had to do with masseuses and why next to some of these names did it say mom, dad, and parents indicating that that's their
phone number so really asking the jury to use their common sense.
Now Maxwell's lawyers painted a different picture. They suggested she was manipulated by Jeffrey Epstein. They also criticized an attack to
credibility of many of these accusers saying that a number of them had changed their stories over the years, that they only introduced Maxwell as
part of the scheme in recent years, and that they were motivated by money.
Now, her lawyers also told jurors to use their common sense, and pointed out that there were lack of phone records in this case, that there were
unlimited number of witnesses. There weren't a lot of witnesses who worked at Epstein's house. There weren't a lot of people brought in like family
members to corroborate some of the accusers' stories. And they also told the jury that in a number of instances, that the accusers and the -- were
brought into this by people other than Ghislaine Maxwell so saying that others were involved in this, but Maxwell wasn't.
Now her lawyers left the jury with this one phrase, they -- she said that "She's being tried here for being with Jeffrey Epstein. Maybe it was the
biggest mistake of her life, but it was not a crime." So they were pushing this argument that she was not part of the scheme that she, in fact, could
have been manipulated by Epstein herself.
Now the government is giving their rebuttal to the defense's closing arguments, then the judge will instruct the jury. And then if there's time
today, jury deliberations will begin in this case. And as you said, if Maxwell is convicted on all counts, she faces as much as 70 years in
ASHER: And Kara, there were sort of other famous people, celebrities that had links to Jeffrey Epstein. I mean, if Maxwell is convicted, could she
start to name names?
SCANNELL: Well, that has been a big question all along if she were to cooperate, if she were to cooperate post-conviction if she is convicted,
could she name names. Now it's a tricky thing because then the federal system, the reason why they've charged this case for the way that they've
charged it is on sex trafficking, and the enticement and transportation of minors.
Now, that is by the main actors here. We haven't heard them suggest, and none of these witnesses testified that they had had sex with any other men,
any other friends of Epstein. They did speak of being abused, and one of the witnesses said she was involved in sexual orgies, but no one has named
names of any significant people. So that would remain to be seen.
ASHER: All right. All right. Kara, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Finally, while Europe and other parts of the world are weighing new COVID
restrictions, one person will be working nonstop through the holiday season. That person is of course Santa Claus. And if you're in Venice over
the weekend, you would have been in for a very festive treat.
What you're looking at there is dozens of Santas, essentially swapping their slays for gondolas, rolling down Venice's famous canals in a colorful
Christmas Regatta. Great practice no doubt for a busy weekend ahead. Just four more days to go. All right. Thank you so much for watching tonight.
Stay with CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next.