Return to Transcripts main page

Hala Gorani Tonight

Europe Tightens Restrictions During Holidays; NATO Ready for Dialogue with Putin; Dubai Ruler Ordered By a British Court to Pay $728 Million Divorce Settlement; The Mental Health Toll of the Pandemic; Joe Biden Addresses the U.S. on COVID-19 Plans. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ZAIN ASHER, HOST, HALA GORANI TONIGHT: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in New York, I am Zain Asher in for Hala Gorani. Tonight, while some European

countries begin to introduce strict COVID measures, the U.K. hasn't despite 90,000 new cases there in the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations are creeping

up with warnings of the vast majority of those in intensive care are unvaccinated.

And NATO says it's ready to engage in meaningful dialogue with Moscow as tensions mount over potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. As we wait to

get an update from President Biden this hour on COVID-19, let's begin across the Atlantic and new efforts to contain the impacts of the Omicron

variant. Britain has reported more than 90,000 daily new COVID cases, but the prime minister says there's not enough evidence to implement more

restrictions in England before Christmas, but says nothing is being ruled out.

Scotland, however, is cancelling Edinburgh's famous celebrations and limiting the size of public gatherings elsewhere. The British chancellor

has announced new financial aid.


RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER: So, today, we're announcing three new measures to help people and businesses. Firstly, we're

announcing a billion pounds in financial grant support, which means eligible hospitality companies will be able to claim a cash grant worth up

to 6,000 pounds. Secondly, we're providing 30 million pounds to top up our successful cultural recovery fund to support institutions like theaters and


And lastly, we're reintroducing our statutory sick pay rebate scheme so that small and medium-sized companies can claim compensation from the

government for the cost of sick pay for their employees.


ASHER: Portugal and Sweden are both introducing tougher new measures. Portugal has ordered schools, bars and night clubs to close, and will limit

outdoor gatherings are new year's. While Sweden is introducing social distancing and a sit-down service for bars and restaurants. France says

Omicron is now responsible for one in three COVID cases in Paris. The government is aiming to get new vaccination passes approved by parliament.

Denmark says Omicron is now the dominant strain there, and is reporting record daily new cases.

And Germany's public health authority is calling for new restrictions as the country plans to limit private gatherings to up to ten people. Covering

all sides of the story, we've got Anna Stewart for you in London. Anna, I want to start with the announcement by Rishi Sunak. Just explain to us what

sort of support the U.K. government is giving to businesses, particularly those in leisure and hospitality.

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Yes, this has been a really tricky area now for about three weeks with cancellations just dropping off a cliff at some

sectors, particularly those consumer facing, except there is no U.K. lockdown, at least, not one imposed by the government. so it's been very

tricky. They have been calling it lockdown by stealth or a self-imposed lockdown. And the measures announced today are supposed to really

specifically target some of those businesses.

So, to bring you sort of the top three main takeaways from this, $1.3 billion available in grants, not loans, grants. This is for hospitality

only. Eligible companies can apply for up to 6,000 pounds each, that's a bit under $8,000. For context, that's actually a very similar level that we

saw in a proper lockdown in previous surges. Secondly, $40 million that's going into the cultural recovery pot that already existed, topping that up,

and that is available for the arts, for theaters, for opera houses, for museums and so on.

And then there's a re-introduction of the sick pay rebate scheme. Now, this is really crucial for small and medium-sized businesses because at the

moment, so many of the staff, the workforce are going off sick with COVID- 19 and it is a ten-day self-isolation, at least, it was. It's actually just been reduced down to seven days if you test negative on day six and day


That is of course, though, very expensive for businesses. So, this has been hailed as a success by some sectors, particularly hospitality. They saw

revenue fall last weekend by 40 percent according to U.K. hospitality, but not everyone is happy. Zain?

ASHER: Yes, that's going to be my next question. So, what has been the overall reaction to this new announcement?

STEWART: It's taken some while to filter through, I'd say, through all the sectors, but a very interesting comment I got from the travel association

today pointing out that they feel ignored. They say that their annual revenue for the U.K. travel sector is down nearly 80 percent compared to

before the pandemic. And their point is this.


Yes, this latest surge of Omicron is affecting some businesses more than others, but they say they've been feeling the pain from various travel

restrictions or testing requirements imposed by the government now for many months. And they don't see anything here that helps. I'd add to that as

well actually, this very much helps businesses. Businesses that really need it right now. It doesn't maybe help necessarily some employees,

particularly if you think about freelancers or those on zero-hour contracts.

In the past, they had the furlough scheme that really helped people while grants really helped businesses. They kind of worked in tandem. Right now

with no actual lockdown being imposed, and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson making clear he won't be imposing a lockdown at least before Christmas. I

think it's unlikely we're going to see that right now.

The measures announced today total $1.5 billion, it sounds like a lot, but the furlough scheme between March last year and September when it ended

this year cost $95 billion, and you can't just impose and take away. It's really hard to take businesses off that level of life support. Zain.

ASHER: Yes, I mean, this 1 billion pounds is a drop in the ocean compared to what happened early in 2020. Just walk us through how the U.K. economy

recovers from this. I mean, obviously the U.K. economy has taken a massive beating, Anna, over the past two years. This announcement by the way, we

should have seen that because it certainly helps in the short term, but what's the long-term strategy here?

STEWART: You're so right. And this is something that the government has to keep in mind at all times. They don't want to spend a huge amount of money

on, for instance, a furlough scheme if they don't really need to do it, but at the same time they've got to be very worried about businesses going bust

and people losing jobs if you consider the fact that, well, first of all, inflation is at a ten-year high, 5.1 percent last month.

In October, you saw the economy pretty much stagnate. That was the last monthly GDP data we had, it came in at 0.1 percent. There's a real risk

here that the U.K. could enter stagflation. The government needs to keep a strong labor market, that is critical, particularly when you think about

inflation. And that is what is so worrying right now if you look at businesses not making enough money in such a critical period around


So, we could see more targeted efforts looking at these sectors, looking at certain businesses and maybe also looking at some elements of the workforce

as well. Zain?

ASHER: All right, Anna Stewart live for us there, thank you so much. I want to bring in Ben Wedeman who is joining us live now from Italy to

talk a little bit more about the restrictions there. Do we have Ben? OK, we don't have Ben Wedeman, hopefully, we'll get him later on in the show. He's

been covering the Europe-wide restrictions because of the Omicron variant.

All right, the U.S. President is expected to announce in the coming hour new ways that America will confront its Winter COVID surge driven by the

now dominant Omicron variant. Officials tell us that Joe Biden will unveil a plan to ship half a billion free at-home COVID tests. Mr. Biden is also

expected to assure vaccinated Americans they don't need to cancel their holiday plans, and with Omicron taking over, chief medical adviser Dr.

Anthony Fauci is offering this reminder.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You want to be prudent and always be extra special careful

because you're dealing with an unprecedented situation of a virus that has an extraordinary capability of transmitting. You want to make sure, for

example, when you travel to see relatives who are vaccinated and boosted, that you don't get into a situation where you go to an airport, you don't

have a mask on, you are in an indoor congregate setting.

That's what I mean about being careful. But when you're in the home with vaccinated and boosted people, you could feel comfortable enjoying the

holiday celebration.


ASHER: I want to bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. So, Elizabeth, what sort of holiday is this going to be just in

terms of restrictions or self-imposed restrictions. What kind of holiday is this going to be for unvaccinated Americans?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Zain, I don't think there are any specific restrictions that are being placed on Americans

other than the restrictions that are already there about wearing masks in certain places and all of that. People are going to have to make their own

decisions about what they do. And we just heard Dr. Fauci talk about how, you know, if you're at home with your own family, all of you are

vaccinated, those of you who are six months past your second shot are boosted, you know, that is a safe -- nothing is ever a 100 percent, but

that is a safe party.

However, there's -- that's the difference between going -- there's a difference between that and going to some big event with all sorts of

people and you don't know if they're vaccinated or unvaccinated. Now, if you're unvaccinated, really you are -- you're taking your life in your

hands every day by walking around unvaccinated in the United States. Omicron is spreading at unprecedented rates, and they are not protected

against it. Let's take a look at how quickly Omicron is spreading actually.

If we take a look at these numbers, it's really quite stunning. In the past two weeks, Omicron has gone up enormously.


The week ending December 4th, only less than 1 percent of cases in the U.S., new cases were from -- were Omicron. Two weeks later, it was only 12

percent -- oh, I'm sorry, one week later, it was only 12 percent. One week after that, now three out of four, nearly three out of four new cases in

the U.S. is Omicron and it spreads very fast. There's a lot that we don't know about this particular variant. And let's look in some parts of the

United States, more than 95 percent of cases are Omicron in the northwest and in the southeast.

And the issue here is that unvaccinated people are unprotected. In fact, the first known death from Omicron in the U.S., this man was unvaccinated

and he had had COVID before. So all of these claims that anti-vaxxers have about, oh, I'm going to let natural immunity protect me, didn't protect

this man. He died. Zain?

ASHER: And when you look at what's happening in Europe with tougher restrictions being announced there, I mean, given that Omicron now

represents 70 percent, more than 70 percent of the cases now in this country here in the United States, do you anticipate -- you've been

covering this since the very beginning, Elizabeth. Do you anticipate that in sort of two to three months from now, perhaps after the Christmas

holidays, into the new year, we might see tougher restrictions in this country again?

COHEN: You know, the issue with the United States, Zain, is that it's really in some ways a lot of countries all put into one place. Each state

does what they want to do. They do different things. So, for example, in New York, in New York City, you've got to show your green pass, your

vaccine pass in order to get into a restaurant. That's not the case in other parts of the country. People I know who live there or who have

visited there, say you can't find a person with a mask, nobody wears a mask, there's no restrictions, and the -- and the vaccination rates are

very low.

So, it's a very different situation in each part of the country. My guess is that if things get worse, and that's what the predictions say, that

parts of the country that have restrictions will stiffen those up. They're going to have even more restrictions. Parts of the country that has

basically thrown up their hands and say, we're not going to do anything, they still won't do anything. They could have people dying left and right

and they still wouldn't put restrictions in because they seem to really, truly believe in their hearts that COVID is no big deal.

ASHER: Well, Elizabeth Cohen live for us there, thank you so much. All right, as we mentioned, the British prime minister says there's not enough

evidence to justify tougher COVID restrictions before Christmas. In the past, the U.K. implemented stricter rules in the U.K. based on

hospitalization rates. London, a current COVID hotbed, already is seeing an increasing number of COVID patients admitted to hospital with the majority

unvaccinated according to the British health secretary.

In the meantime, the British healthcare system is also facing staffing pressures as well as more and more workers test positive. Dr. Ed Pak -- Ed

Patrick, excuse me, is a COVID ICU anesthetist and the author of the book "Catch Your Breath", he joins me live now via Skype from Oxford, England.

Thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Patrick. Just walk us through what you are seeing in the ICU unit where you work.

ED PATRICK, COVID ICU ANESTHETIST: Sure, lovely to be here, thank you for having me. So it's pretty much as you've seen reported in the sense that

ever since the pandemic started, we've had to have what is essentially COVID ICUs and that hasn't gone away. And in the U.K., we've still had

cases and still have people coming into hospital with COVID and ending up in intensive care. So, that is still ongoing. And then obviously, we're

just wondering what will happen over the next few weeks.

ASHER: And the majority of cases you're seeing in ICU units are unvaccinated people, correct?

PATRICK: Yes, in -- you know, from my experience, and this is replicated across the country from speaking to people as well, is that the majority of

people in -- that come in with COVID, who are suffering from COVID and are admitted because of it are unvaccinated.

ASHER: So, I mean, what is it going to take? I mean, just from a doctor's perspective, what is it going to take to try to sort of combat the level of

vaccine hesitancy we're seeing in some pockets in the U.K.?

PATRICK: It's a good question. I'm a firm believer of choice, of people being able to make a choice. And I'd like to think that education could be

a big key with this, and talking to people about the vaccines and trying to educate and encourage and explain the benefits of them. I think some people

are, you know, just -- you feel like there's an argument that people don't want to listen anymore, and it's a shame we've got to that state.

But I think as much as we can do is just talk and offer people the advice and explain that it is the thing that could really stop you from coming

into hospital, and in particular in intensive care as well.


And you know, I'm someone who is needle-phobic as well, and I've had three vaccines, so it's -- it's not something I particularly look forward to.

But, you know, I've gone and done it.

ASHER: It's interesting because, you know, we've seen sort of countless stories of, you know, as you point out, unvaccinated people ending up in

ICU units, not just in the U.K., but also in the United States, other places around the world as well. And you would think those sorts of stories

would have an impact on people who are unvaccinated in terms of encouraging them to get the vaccine, but it hasn't worked. Why not?

PATRICK: It's a good question. I think there's a lot of misinformation going around and people questioning what people say, the legitimacy of what

people say, whether they're being truthful or not. And you know, you get that from me just talking to you now and people wondering -- well, said

they're wondering, you know, is this person telling the truth.

And of course, you know, as a doctor, we just tell what our experiences are, and it's difficult in this day and age when there's so much

misinformation and so much information being scattered around to really sort of be able to hone in on what is true, and, therefore, be able to

direct people to that information.

ASHER: What is the greatest need right now among doctors like yourself?

PATRICK: I think for us it's been a very stressful period, as it has been for everyone, but over the last couple of years, and there's this sort of

feeling of dread almost in the sense that, you know, what could potentially happen. I mean, the ideal thing is that, you know, it wouldn't cause a big

problem in hospitals in January, but we just don't know what's going to happen. But I think what we need is in the U.K. especially, is proper sort

of funding and staffing and looking after healthcare staff.

And I think, you know, we are worried about staff going off sick, especially with the virus, and I think it sort of exposes the staffing

issues we have because we're already, especially on-call, ready to work on a very thread-bear system, and it only takes a couple of people to be off

sick to really challenge that system.

ASHER: Yes, I mean, NHS workers are certainly under-staffed, over-worked. Dr. Patrick, thank you so much for being with us though. And good luck.

PATRICK: Thanks.

ASHER: And still to come tonight, Tigrayan rebels have announced a strategic retreat in their war with the Ethiopian government. We'll tell

you what they want in return. Then as Russia continues to build up troops along its border with Ukraine, NATO extends an olive branch to President

Vladimir Putin, but it comes with a warning.



ASHER: Tigrayan rebels call it a decisive opening for peace. The world is cautiously welcoming their announcement of a retreat as a possible turning

point in Ethiopia's 13-month-long civil war. Tigrayan rebel forces say they've withdrawn from the Amhara and Afar regions, pulling back to their

Tigrayan stronghold. The TPLF says the move is meant to spur the international community into action. It wants the U.N. to help create a no-

fly zone over Tigray as well as pressure the Ethiopian government into ceasefire talks. But the government is rejecting the rebels' claim of a

retreat as a ruse.


BILLENE SEYOUM, SPOKESPERSON, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER: Ceasefire from who is the question? The government has already been engaged in a ceasefire

before which has been evidently, you know, referred to as a sick joke. So, the federal government has got an obligation to maintain peace, to ensure

territorial integrity and the operations by the Federal Defense Forces will ensure that territorial integrity will be maintained, and that TPLF is no

more a threat to the peace and stability of Ethiopia.


ASHER: NATO says it's ready to engage in meaningful dialogue with Moscow as tensions mount over potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Secretary

General Jens Stoltenberg is also warning that any further aggression against Ukraine would carry a very high price. Russian President Vladimir

Putin says his demands for security guarantees that NATO will not expand further east are not an ultimatum.

It all comes as Russia continues to amass thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us live now from Moscow. So,

Melissa, what more do we know in terms of these specifics from Putin? What does he want from these security guarantees?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard from the Russian president today saying he was speaking at a televised meeting of the defense ministry

and his tone was fairly combative. It was all about how if these perceived aggressive tactics from NATO continued, then Russia would be well within

its rights to launch what he called a military technical response. So very much more sabre-rattling from Vladimir Putin, even as he urged dialogue and

explained that what he was saying was by no means an ultimatum.

What he's calling for, very clearly, is that these discussions begin, Zain, along the lines of the security guarantees that Moscow has outlined to NATO

and to Washington specifically, and that it wants to form as the basis for the negotiation over what happens next. Now, we've also today been hearing

from America's top diplomat to the EU, Karen Donfried, who said to journalists today that there was the possibility of discussion. I think

this is important.

We had been hearing earlier in the day from Russian state media that the Russian and American delegations that have been meeting in Vienna as part

of the Iran talks had begun contact, and some kind of talks and hope that the possibility of talks might be established. Karen Donfried explained and

confirmed that by January, the possibility of talks existed, although she pointed out that a number of the Russian demands were clearly unacceptable

to NATO.

Just to be clear, Zain, these are demands not only that NATO guarantee that it knows -- that it doesn't expand eastward, something that NATO has

already said -- has ruled out and said it would not guarantee. But Russia is also asking perhaps more worryingly that NATO essentially withdraw

behind the 1996 lines and leave -- remove its weaponry and its men from countries like Poland and the Baltic states, again, unacceptable either to

those European countries or to NATO.

So, the basis of the discussion is still controversial, still a subject to negotiations, but there's this hope that they will happen. But even as we

consider that possibility that the two sides will sit down and talk, there is this ratcheting up of language, that talk from Vladimir Putin in the

meeting to which I alluded a moment ago, at which Russia's defense ministry spoke of American mercenaries possibly using chemical weapons in the east

of Ukraine, in two cities which would clearly be, he said a provocation.

That kind of inflammatory language, that kind of accusation very dangerous in such a particularly tensed context. And on the other side, we've been

hearing again from Karen Donfried, but also from the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, that you just mentioned, that the two sides, NATO and the

United States, are looking very carefully at those coordinated sanctions that they're prepared to use against Russia, sanctions that Karen Donfried,

the likes of which they have not employed in the past and that would have an immediate and crippling effect on Russia's economy and our financial



So, the hope that there would be talks, but a clear ratcheting up of language at least around what is going on in Ukraine. Zain.

ASHER: Melissa Bell live for us there, thank you so much. A British high court has handed down one of the country's largest-ever divorce

settlements, and it involves royalty. The ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has been ordered to pay his ex-wife, Princess Haya

and their children almost $730 million, almost $15 million a year will go towards their security, with a judge saying the Sheikh is the main threat

that they face. CNN's Scott McLean is in London for us. So this amount, $730 million, an eye-watering number, Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely insane, this amount of money. But the reason that it is so high is because the justice in this

case, in the high court in London, found that it needed to be that high to essentially support the very lavish lifestyle of Princess Haya that she has

here in London and at her second home just outside the city. And the second reason is the one that you touched on, Zain, which is security.

Remember that previous court ruling had found that Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, had previously ordered that two of his other daughters be

kidnapped from British soil and forcibly brought back to Dubai, something he has always denied. He also tried to buy the property next to hers, her

country estate just outside of London. And so here is part of the court's ruling. It says that "Princess Haya and her children are particularly

vulnerable and need water-tight security to ensure their continued safety and security in this country.

Most importantly, in this regard and absolutely, uniquely, the main threat they face is from Sheikh Mohammed himself, not from outside sources. This

is compounded by the full weight of the state that he has available to him." Remember, Princess Haya fled to this country back in 2019 after the

marriage fell apart, and the court referred specifically in that last part to the previous court ruling that found that Sheikh Mohammed had used

government-issued Israeli spyware to hack his wife's phone, allowing him to listen into her calls, read her messages, et cetera.

Sheikh Mohammed's response to this, a spokesperson said that he has always ensured that his children are provided for. The court has now made its

ruling on finances, and he does not intend to comment further. One other interesting point in this, Zain, is that, look, this court ruling provides

an absolutely fascinating glimpse into how the other half lives, how the rich and ultra rich live. And I want to go through because the judge

detailed line by line what some of this payout was actually for.

For instance, he awarded Princess Haya $2.5 million for a kitchen extension and renovation, obviously, that's many times more than most people's entire

houses cost. He awarded $1.3 million for high-end clothing, the same for cars, $18 million for jewelry, $7 million for horses. The kids have a

nanny, a nurse and a tutor who each earn very comfortable six-figure salaries. And remember, Zain, this ruling comes at probably not the best

time for Sheikh Mohammed.

Of course, Dubai right now is hosting Expo 2020, trying to present this glowing image of the UAE to the world, and certainly rulings like this with

a really eye-watering number certainly do not help.

ASHER: My gosh, they live in a different universe. Different universe, Scott. Good to see you, thank you so much. All right, still to come here,

most people testing positive for COVID will have to isolate during Christmas as infections spike over the holiday period. We look at the

pandemic's toll on mental health. Plus, keeping the holidays safe and getting more COVID tests to Americans. The U.S. President is about to weigh

in on both. We'll preview his speech just ahead.




ZAIN ASHER, CNN HOST: Fatigue and uncertainty as new COVID-19 variant once again takes a grip on the world. Many are feeling a destabilizing sense of

deja vu, yet also completely lost about what may happen next.

This pandemic has placed an immense pressure point on mental health and now many people again will spend a holiday season contending with COVID.

Meantime, health care workers, many of whom are already past their breaking point, are staring down the barrel of yet another wave of infections. Our

next guest is a GP specializing in mental health care.

Dr. Clare Gerada is the medical director of Practitioner Health in the U.K. She is also the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners and

is the chairwoman of Doctors in Distress. She joins us live from London.

Dr. Gerada, thank you for being with us.

What sort of toll is this pandemic taking on people, whose job it is to help those who are fighting for their life?

DR. CLARE GERADA, PRESIDENT, ROYAL COLLEGE OF GENERAL PRACTITIONERS: Well, it is enormous, to be honest. Just to give a bit of context, the -- I have

been running my service for doctors with mental illness for 15 years.

And the first 10 years compared to the pandemic year, which we thought had ended in April 2021, we saw as many in one year as we saw in the first 10

years of the service. So we saw 5,000 doctors with mental illness.

And even since then, now, the numbers of doctors presenting to my service with mental illness is rising. It is doubling. So it is an enormous toll on

health care staff.

As your introduction said, it is exhaustion, it is loss, it is uncertainty. It is presenting with anxiety, which is what we're also seeing in the

general population.

But amongst doctors and nurses and other health care professionals, they have a great sense of guilt that they really should be able to care for

patients in the way they did pre-pandemic. Sadly, many are finding that they can't, for obvious reasons.

ASHER: So how can we, as members of the public, better support people like you?

GERADA: That's a very, very good question. I think the first thing is, we're there for our patients. So it is not that you have to support us. I

think you have to maybe be tolerant of us, that maybe sometimes we will be tired, we will be hungry and we might be a little bit sharper than we

normally would want to be.

But maybe just to understand that we are trying our best against really quite difficult situations to deal with your health problems. But we're

suffering in the same way that you are, of loss, of uncertainty. And -- but, in a way, it is not your job as patients to support us; it is our job

to make sure that we can do our best for you.


ASHER: I mean you say that but the NHS and doctors in the U.K. have given so much to the general public in this pandemic. So of course, a lot of

people want to support you guys.

What sort of help is available for those in the NHS -- doctors, nurses -- who are dealing with exorbitant levels of stress at this time?

GERADA: I mean there is help and the NHS has put on a tremendous amount of help and my service is there for any doctor.

Just going back to what patients can do, I am a GP. And we're struggling because patients and family doctors in America, we are struggling because

most people, when they're frightened, actually want to seek the help of somebody they know.

And they can't seek our help because we're overwhelmed with work. And so I think it is about being patient with us and just to realize that we are

really, really trying our best to support you. But we can't.

But with respect to what support is available, if you go on the NHS website, many doctors will find help at hand. If you go on our website,, you will find help available. You don't have to be a doctor or a nurse; you can be any health professional working in the

NHS. And there is help at hand.

Probably the most important help you can get is with your friends and family. And hopefully, we have just heard, in England certainly, that we

will be able allowed to have Christmas together.

Really I think what we will be doing in my own household is celebrating the fact that we can actually be together, which, compared to last Christmas

was very, very different.

ASHER: I mean you think about all of the things we took for granted, you know, two years ago, that we don't take for granted anymore. I mean, this

time last year, Christmas was basically cancelled.

It is not cancelled obviously this year but you know, there are sort of limitations in terms of, you know, how much people will be going out,

obviously, especially with the rise of the Omicron variant.

What sort of impact is that having on the mental health of ordinary members of society, just the fact that, you know, it is sort of two steps forward,

one step back, with lockdown restrictions?

GERADA: Well, absolutely. I mean what is happening with the general population is what we're seeing mirrored amongst doctors, which is rising

levels of anxiety.

I think, if we took a temperature check out in the general population, we would find that anxiety levels are really off the scale, that the general

mood now is of uncertainty, is of fear.

And for some who have maybe not supportive families as others, it is -- it is a sense of despondency. So anxiety is the overwhelming symptom.

But I think you are right, certainly compared to last Christmas, compared to previous Christmases, now we will be celebrating being together, being

with family and friends.

And how important is that?

So I think this Christmas, for the people listening to this, the most important thing you can do is just talk to your family, talk to your

friends. You are not alone in feeling fearful. You are not alone, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night, feeling panicked as to when does all

of this end.

If you are in unstable employment, feeling worried about where, A, you are going to get your money, you are not alone. Just talk to those closest to

you, friends and family. And if you are struggling, then please contact those who are paid to help, such as myself, as a GP, such as others, who

are there to support you. Don't suffer in silence.

ASHER: That's such a powerful message, Dr. Gerada, thank for being on the program.

GERADA: Thank you.


ASHER: And thank you for the work that you do.

GERADA: Well, thank you, and Happy Christmas to you, as well.

ASHER: Right now we are watching U.S. President Joe Biden to give a live address at any moment on the fight against America's new COVID surge. CNN

has learned that the president will announce a plan to distribute hundreds of millions of free at-home rapid COVID tests.

CNN's political director David Chalian joins us live now from Washington.

David, what more do we know in terms of what the president will announce here?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The press secretary, Jen Psaki, was just briefing reporters about that plan you were talking about for the at-

home test. A website will be set up in the new year and it will have the details.

And Americans can go on and sign up and request a kit to be sent to their house. So they're just not going to distribute them willy-nilly. You have

to go on and register for them.

The other thing we expect the president to address there, look at the decoration behind him. It is Christmas time and he knows we are just days

away. And so he's going to address how Americans can approach these holidays and do so safely.

Primarily, he's going to encourage fully vaccinated Americans, who have also gotten a booster shot, to go ahead with their plans.


CHALIAN: But he's going to express, you know, real concern and caution for the unvaccinated population here in America, to really employ those

mitigation efforts that, you know, masking, keeping distance from each other, trying not to gather indoors.

It is hard because he's got to really deliver different messages to different portions of the population here.

ASHER: Yes, I mean it is interesting because I was speaking to Elizabeth Cohen, who was talking about the fact that, really, America is several

countries, you know, rolled into one.

You have some places where people are obviously more than happy to get the vaccine; other places where the complete opposite is true.

How does he really unite everybody and not alienate certain segments of the population, who are not interested in getting vaccinated at all?

CHALIAN: I mean, I think this first year in office for Joe Biden, who wanted nothing more than to be a uniter for the country, has proven that's

not possible in America right now. I don't know that there's a real answer to that.

We are living in such polarized political times that even something like a virus or a vaccine is completely polarized. Joe Biden has not been able to

somehow bridge that divide in America, it is so entrenched at the moment.

This is our fundamental problem here, not just in combating COVID but in the health of our democracy as well.

ASHER: Do we know what the president is set to announce, just in terms of how he plans to support hospitals, which are clearly so burdened by this


CHALIAN: He is going to have some National Guard troops, about 1,000 or so, at the ready to be deployed to hospitals as needed, where you see

surging numbers in hospitalizations.

The other thing I think you should listen for is the president will try to keep the focus away from the rising case count of coronavirus cases due to

Omicron and, instead, focus on keeping severe illness, hospitalization and deaths, really, with a wrap on it; like, get it under a certain number,

that the case count, they will claim, is not the real --


ASHER: David, I have to interrupt because the president is speaking now. Let's listen in.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promised when I got elected I'd always give it to you straight from the shoulder, the good, the bad,

the truth.

So as we head into Christmas weekend, I want to answer your questions about the rising number of COVID cases, COVID-19 cases.

And I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried and frustrated I know you are. I know how you're feeling. For many of you, this will be the

first or even second Christmas where you look across the table, there will be an empty kitchen chair there.

Tens of millions have gotten sick. We've all experienced upheaval in our lives.

So while COVID has been a tough adversary, we've shown that we are tougher. Tougher because we have the power of science and vaccines that prevent

illness and save lives.

And tougher because of our resolve, so that -- let me answer some questions that lay out the steps the vice-president and I are taking to prepare for

the rising number of cases experts tell us we can expect in the weeks ahead.

First, how concerned should you be about Omicron, which is now the dominant variant in this country, and it happened so quickly?

The answer is straightforward. If you're not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned. You're at a high risk of getting sick. And if

you get sick you're likely to spread it to others, including friends and family.

The unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying. Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the

past many months has been unvaccinated. Unvaccinated.

If you're among the majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated, and especially if you got the booster shot, the third shot, you're much -- you

have much, much less reason to worry. You have a high degree of protection against severe illness.

But because Omicron spreads so easily, we'll see some fully vaccinated people get COVID. Potentially, in large numbers.

There will be positive cases in every office. Even here in the White House among the vaccinated -- among the vaccinated from Omicron.

But these cases are highly unlikely to lead to serious illness. Vaccinated people who get COVID may get ill. But they're protected from severe illness

and death. That's why you should still remain vigilant.

According to our doctors, even if you're fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask when indoors in public settings. Wearing a mask provides extra

protection for you and those around you.


And I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. And the answer is, yes, you can. If

you and those you who celebrated with are vaccinated, particularly if you got your booster shot.

And if you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we all know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating the Christmas holiday as you plan..

You know, you've done the right thing. Enjoy the holiday season.

And thanks to the progress on vaccinations, this fall we've gone from nearly 90 million adults in July who had not even started the vaccination

process to fewer than 40 million today. Still too many. Down from 90 to 40.

All these people who have not been vaccinated, you have an obligation to yourselves, to your family, and quite frankly -- I know I'll be criticized

for this -- to your country.

Get vaccinated now. It's free. It's convenient. I promise you, it saves lives. And I honest to god believe it's your patriotic duty.

Another question folks are asking is, what can you do to make yourself and your family feel safer and be safer? The answer is simple. Get your booster

shot. Wear a mask.

Our doctors made it clear. Booster shots provide the strongest protection.

Unfortunately, we still have tens of millions of people eligible for the booster shot but have not yet gotten it. Gotten the first two shots. But

they've not gotten the booster.

Folks, the booster shots are free and widely available. Over 60 million Americans, including 62 percent of eligible seniors, our most vulnerable,

have gotten their booster shots.

I got my booster shot as soon as they were available. And just the other day, former President Trump announced he got his booster shot. Maybe one of

the few things he and I agree on.

People with booster shots are highly protected. Join them. Join us.

It's been six months or more since my second shot. If it's been six months or more from your second shot for your booster, you can get yours today. If

you're six months or more since the second shot.

Another question folks are asking, is are we going back to March 2020? Not this last March 2021, but March 2020 when the pandemic first hit? And

that's what I keep getting asked. The answer is absolutely no, no.

Here are three big differences between then and now.

One, number one, first one, more than 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. And in March 2020, no one was fully vaccinated.

What that means is, today, as cases -- a case of COVID-19 for fully vaccinated and a boosted person will most likely mean no symptoms or mild

ones similar to the common respiratory virus.

Over 200 million Americans should have the peace of mind they didn't have in March 2020. They are protected from hospitalizations and they're

protected from death.

Second point. We're prepared today for what's coming.

In March of 2020, we were not ready. Today, we stockpiled enough gowns, masks and ventilators to deal with the surge of hospitalizations among the

unvaccinated. Today, we are ready.

And as I'll explain in a few minutes, we're going to be reinforcing our hospitals, helping them.

Number three. We know a lot more today than we did back in March of 2020. For example, last year. we thought the only way to keep your children safe

was to close your -- close our schools.

Today, we know more and we have more resources to keep those schools open. You can get 5-to-11-year-olds vaccinated. We didn't have that until last


Today, we don't have to shut down schools because of a case of COVID-19.

Now if a student tests positive, other students can take the test and stay in the classroom if they are not infected rather than cross closing the

whole school or having to quarantine.

We can keep our K-through-12 schools open. That's exactly what we should be doing.

So, folks, let me summarize. We should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked. If you're fully vaccinated, and especially if you got your

booster shot, you are highly protected.

And if you're unvaccinated, you're at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized, and even dying.

So the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot.

And, no, this is not March of 2020.


Two-hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We're prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused. So that's where we stand.

Now, let me tell you about the additional steps I'm ordering today to take on what is coming. I know you've heard a lot of this in the news already

this morning.

Three weeks ago, I laid out a COVID-19 action plan for this winter that prepared us for this moment. Today, we're making the plan even stronger.

First, we're setting up our vaccination and booster efforts. We're stepping it up significantly.

In the past two weeks, we've seen the highest vaccination rates since last spring. And we aren't as vaccinated as a country as we should be.

That's why we have added 10,000 new vaccination sites on top of the 80,000 sites that we already had in place. And even more will open in January.

I know there's some parts of this country where people are very eager to get their booster, where it's harder to get an appointment.

So starting this week, I'll be deploying hundreds more vaccinators and more sites to help get the booster shots in people's arms.

I've ordered FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to stand up new pop-up vaccination clinics all across the country where you can get that

booster shot.

We've opened -- excuse me -- we've opened FEMA vaccination sites in Washington State and New Mexico recently as cases have increased.

And today, I'm directing FEMA to stand up new sites in areas where there's a high demand.

These steps are going to help us add more and more booster appointments just over the next few weeks.

I also want to say a word to parents. If your children are not vaccinated, please get them vaccinated.

If you're a parent, understandably, who waited to see how the first shots went with other kids before getting your own kid vaccinated, you can stop

waiting. Six million children in our country, ages 5 to 11, are vaccinated.

Get your children protected today now.

For those parents out there who have a child that's too young to be vaccinated, that is under the age of 5, I know this can still be a scary


But one thing, one thing you can and must do while we await vaccines for children under 5, get yourself fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as

those around you, your children, your caregivers, your siblings.

It's critical to mask up in public indoor places.

We know that our youngest children have not really been impacted by serious COVID-19 cases but they can be further protected if they're surrounded by

vaccinated people.

And again, to folks who are not vaccinated, you may think you're putting only yourself at risk, but it's your choice.

Your choice is not just a choice about you. It affects other people. You're putting other people at risk, your loved ones, your friends, neighbors,

strangers you run into.

And your choice can be the difference between life or death. The longer the virus is around, the more likely variants form. They may be deadlier than

the ones that have come before.

Let me say again and again and again, please get vaccinated. It's the only responsible thing to do.

Those who are not vaccinated are causing hospitals to become overrun again.

I just spoke to the governor of New York. Every COVID-19 hospital means someone with a heart attack, cancer, or other serious illness may not get

that bed and that lifesaving care they need in the hospital.

Look, let me give it to you straight again. Omicron is serious, potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.

Let me be clear, thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.

Thanks to my administration and the hard work of Americans, we led a rollout that made America among the world leaders in getting shots in arms.

But uptake slowed this summer as vaccine resistance among some hardened.

Look, the unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices. But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social



You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and

their own supporters.


It's wrong. It's immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it, stop it now.

One of the other things that we know that has to be done is more testing because Omicron spreads easily, especially among the unvaccinated.

It's critically important that we know who's infected. That means we need more testing.

On that score, we're now where we should be. Yes, we have over 20,000 free testing sites.

Yes, we've used the Defense Production Act, and spent $3 billion to greatly expand the number of at-home tests available for purchase online and at

your local pharmacy.

And, yes, we made sure insurance covers the PCR tests you get in the hospital or at your doctor's office.

Starting next month, private insurance will also cover at-home testing so you can order a test online and get reimbursed.

We're providing access to free at-home tests for those who may have insurance as well, may not have insurance, I should say, as well.

But it's not enough. We have to do more. We have to do better. And we will.

Starting this week, the federal government will set up emergency testing sites in areas that need additional testing capacity.

Before Christmas, the first several of these federal testing sites will be up and running in New York City with many more to come.

This free testing is going to help reduce the waiting lines, the time we have to stand there, and sometimes it's an hour or more.

We're going to continue to add federal testing sites wherein needed. So if you want an immediate test, there will be a place where you can go get it.

We also need to do better with at-home testing. I'm announcing today that the federal government will purchase one-half billion -- that's not million

but billion with a B -- additional at-home rapid tests with deliveries starting in January.

We'll begin giving these tests to Americans for free. And we'll have Web sites where you can get them delivered to your home.

We have arranged for it to be easier for you to find free COVID testing site near you on Google. Just enter "COVID tests near me" in the Google

search bar, and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested.

We're going to continue to use the Defense Production Act, as we did earlier this month, to make sure we're producing as many tests and as

quickly as possible.

The bottom line is it's a lot better than it was. We're taking even more steps to make it easier to get tested and to get tested for free.

Next, we're preparing hospitals for what's coming. Those 40 unvaccinated adults have a good chance of getting COVID-19. And some of you will get

very sick.

That will mean hospitals are going to get extremely stressed, extremely stressed, both in terms of equipment as well as personnel to care for those

who get sick.

That's why my administration has stockpiled and prepositioned millions of gowns, gloves, masks and ventilators, PPP, ready to send them immediately

to any state that needs more.

In addition, I have directed the Pentagon to mobilize an additional 1,000 troops to be deployed to help staff local hospitals and expand capacity.

That's 1,000 military doctors, nurses and medics.

We have already started moving military -- excuse me -- medical teams. They've already landed in Wisconsin and Indiana this week. This is on top

of 300 federal medical personnel that are now on the ground, having deployed since we learned about Omicron.

Look, while we know staffing is the biggest need for hospitals, some may need more beds as well.

We're prepared. I've directed FEMA to activate the National Response Center and begin deploying teams now to provide additional hospital beds.

We'll begin to construct emergency capacities near hospitals in parking garages, in nearby buildings to be ready if needed. And the federal

government is paying for all of this, period. All of it.


Further, FEMA will deploy hundreds of ambulances and EMS crews, so that if one hospital fills up, we can transport patients to beds elsewhere.

This week, we'll send dozens of ambulances to New York and Maine because the COVID is spreading very rapidly to help transport patients.