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Hala Gorani Tonight

World Health Organization Warns of Omicron "Storm" As European Cases Soar; Israel Offers Fourth Vaccine Dose to Vulnerable Groups; Russia Hoping to Hold Talks with NATO and the U.S. Next Month; Xi Jinping Poised to Extend Reign; U.S. Conservatives Targeting School Librarians; UAE Shifting Approach to Foreign Policy. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in New York, I'm Bianna Golodryga in for Hala Gorani. Tonight, the U.K.

reports another COVID record reaching 100,000 cases for the first time. But as other European countries lock down, Britain isn't following suit.

Meantime, Israel begins to roll out its fourth vaccine shot, the first country in the world to do so as Omicron threatens to bring a fifth COVID


Plus, Russian state media reports that Moscow hopes to hold talks with NATO and the U.S. in January. Could it help cool the escalating tensions on the

Ukrainian border? Well, we begin this hour with what the World Health Organization is calling an incoming storm for the planet. The dominating

force of the Omicron variant. Britain has just reported more than 106,000 new COVID cases in the past 24 hours alone, the first time that number has

been in six figures.

There's now increasing speculation that a lockdown could be ahead, something the government has not ruled out. But the U.K. has also reduced a

self-isolation period. Most COVID cases from ten to seven days. That's to help curb worker shortages. The CDC is considering a similar recommendation

here in the U.S.

And elsewhere, France has reported more than 84,000 daily new cases close to its all-time high. There are fears that the country could, like the

U.K., see more than 100,000 new infections a day. And Portugal has announced strict new measures, closing schools, bars and clubs from Sunday.

Germany is banning new year's eve gatherings and will put restrictions on other meetings from next week.

And as countries race to get people boosted with a third vaccine shot, Israel says it's ready to roll out a fourth. Over 6-year-olds and medical

workers will be first in line. So, let's get more on the picture across Europe from Salma Abdelaziz in London and Cyril Vanier in Paris. And let me

begin with you, because, Cyril, in Paris, what is the situation there and where are we seeing these numbers headed?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the numbers have been going up, have been skyrocketing really since the beginning of the month, and now we

are reaching pretty much -- we're very close to what has been France's record since the beginning of the pandemic, and we are in the 80,000 cases

a day range. Bianna, that tells us that probably Omicron is already here, more than the French authorities are able to detect. Currently, French

authorities believe that Omicron coronavirus variant is responsible for 20 percent of the cases.

They think it will be up to 30 percent, 40 percent by the end of the week, and it will be the dominant strain of coronavirus by the end of the month.

Now, France for the moment saying it is not panicking, that it has already put some restrictions in place such as closing night clubs, such as

cancelling new year's eve celebrations to avoid clusters, and it is holding on to the hope that the relatively high level of vaccination that we've

seen here, 75 percent of the overall population, and a rapid booster campaign, government holding on to the hope that all of that will be enough

to protect against a deathly surge of Omicron.

Still, they expect that by the end of the month, you could be seeing a 100,000 cases a day, Bianna. And what's going to matter now is whether the

French hospital system is going to be able to withstand those numbers. Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and Cyril, I heard you talk earlier about the implications on your children in school and classes having to close down temporarily

because cases are popping up. What can we expect to see in other European countries as they are desperate to get ahead of this new wave in time for

the holiday season?

VANIER: Well, one thing that is spreading across the continent is that numerous European countries are now opening up their vaccination efforts to

the youngest age group, 5 to 11-year-olds. That has just begun today in France. It has begun in Finland, Belgium, Poland are also doing it, Spain

is doing it, an increasing number of European countries. So they are effectively widening the pool of eligible or people who are eligible for

the vaccine, that is one thing. The other thing is restrictions.

Countries are racing to impose restrictions before Omicron overwhelms their health system. So in Germany, there are going to be severe limits on social

restrictions that will kick in on December 28th, just after Christmas, with capping the number -- the size of groups that can meet irrespective, by

the way, of vaccination status.


In Portugal, they have closed cinemas in -- sorry, I beg your pardon, in Belgium, they have closed indoor spaces, this just happening in the last

few hours. Indoor spaces meaning cinemas, meaning the indoor spaces of amusement parks and zoos. Portugal also taking similar measures yesterday,

and Spain has just imposed an outdoors mask mandate, something they had stopped doing in June. So you see all these countries just on a hair

trigger, imposing these restrictions, hoping this can be enough to slow down the spread of Omicron, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and trying to get ahead of it quickly as it has overtaken Delta. Let me get to you, Salma, because in the U.K. obviously, we are

seeing these numbers explode as well. But Boris Johnson at this point is saying there are going to be no restrictions until at least after Christmas


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Bianna, if you're talking about the storm of Omicron, well, the U.K. is absolutely in the eye of that storm. I mean,

if you just look at graph showing the number of positive cases over the last several days, it just shoots straight up, skyrocketing, record-

breaking case numbers. Multiple times now the daily case figures have broken records since the start of this pandemic. Still, as you said, Prime

Minister Boris Johnson insistent, steadfast that no new restrictions will go into place before Christmas day, at least for now.

So that means health officials, government officials are preparing the country in other ways, other rules are coming into force to really brace

this country for what potentially could turn into a surge in hospitalizations. One of the key things that's happening that was announced

today is the reduction of the isolation period for people who do test positive with COVID-19. That period of isolation is now reduced from ten

days to seven days, given the individual tests negative on day six and day seven on a lateral flow test.

That's to keep basically public services running, Bianna, because there's concern that doctors and nurses are going to call out, that the healthcare

industry will not be staffed, that hospitals will not be staffed as potentially a surge of hospitalizations happen. So, that's one way just to

keep lives and livelihoods going, Bianna. Another thing is approval of vaccines for the very young. I know you were discussing this with Cyril as

well. Today, the U.K. regulatory body approving vaccines for 5 to 11-year- olds, so there's going to be a push there to get young, vulnerable children vaccinated.

The U.K. is also buying drugs in bulk. They have made two contract deals to purchase over 4 million antiviral courses to really help with vulnerable

people who get sick in hospitals. So you can see really the authorities here fortifying the country for what comes next. But, again, just as Cyril

said, the question is, is it enough? Do we know? These tens of thousands of positive cases we're seeing every day, how many of them are going to wind

up in hospital? We won't know for days, maybe a couple of weeks time. But for now, that's what the authorities are prepping, that's how they're

preparing for what could come. Bianna --

GOLODRYGA: The data is still relatively young and new, but fingers crossed, it does seem to be a bit promising coming out of South Africa in

terms of the hospitalization rate. Salma, let me ask you one more question because I know that Boris Johnson and his administration had been

steadfastly focused on the booster campaign. How is the booster rollout going right now in the U.K.?

ABDELAZIZ: It's really like a war-time effort, Bianna. I mean, you have thousands of vaccinators just fanned out across the country. Military

troops are involved as well in getting these vaccinations out. Remember the prime minister's promise is really ambitious, to get at every single

eligible adult, every single eligible person, to get them an invitation for a third shot before the end of the year. So time is absolutely running out.

If you just walk around central London and you see a long line, it has nothing to do with Christmas shopping. It is people lining up for their

booster shots. It is absolutely every single person trying to get out there, get their shots. GP is putting aside things that are not mandatory,

things that are not emergency procedures just to be giving out these shots. Again, it's the hope that you have the layer of protection across the


We had record numbers of vaccinations given in a single day on Saturday, super Saturday. So, really, this is a vaccination effort that's even

bigger, even grander than the one that happened at the beginning of the year when we first got our shots. And really, the hope is that it's going

to give the country the layer of protection it needs, but some people saying that maybe this is too late now. Omicron is already here, it's

already spreading like wildfire. Are these booster jabs going to really slow that spread? We'll find out.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, we're seeing --

ABDELAZIZ: Bianna --

GOLODRYGA: Similar lines here in the United States, not for the boosters per se, but for testing, period, right? As the U.K. and Europe are a few

weeks ahead of where things are predicted to be in the United States. Cyril Vanier and Abdelaziz, thank you so much, Salma, we appreciate you joining

us. Well, Israel is the world's first country to authorize a fourth vaccine dose.


Only certain groups are eligible for this latest dose right now. But that could change, and it's far from the government's only weapon in the fight

against the variants. Here is more from the region.


ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST (on camera): I'm Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. The day after Israel became the first country in the world to recommend a

fourth dose of the COVID vaccine. Initially, it will be made available to over 60s, medical workers and people with suppressed immune systems. But if

history is any guide, it will quickly be rolled out to other age groups and then the rest of the population.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailed the decision by the government's panel of coronavirus experts as wonderful news. Do not waste time, he said,

go get vaccinated. The move to add a fourth shot is just one of a battery of measures being pursued by the government as Israel battles the Omicron

variant in a fifth wave of the virus.

Others include expanding its red no-fly list to include countries like the U.S. and Canada, reducing the number of shops and food outlets and shopping

malls available to people without proof of vaccination or recovery, shifting half of all public sector employees to work from home from Sunday,

and a move to distance learning in areas where there's a high prevalence of COVID and vaccination uptake among children is below 70 percent.

On Tuesday, Israel's daily COVID case load fell from more than 1,300 to just over 900, but the number of tests also dropped possibly due to a major

storm blowing through the country. Going forward, the Israeli government expect cases to resume their upward march, knowing that the best it can

hope for is to slow Omicron spread.


GOLODRYGA: And our thanks to Elliott for that report. Well, the World Health Organization's director-general is warning that booster shots in

wealthy countries could leave fewer doses for poorer nations, prolonging the pandemic worldwide. But with Israel now authorizing a fourth vaccine

dose for vulnerable people, CNN asked the U.S. Surgeon General if Americans could soon could be lining up for a fourth shot as well.


VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: We have to look at our data to see whether or not people's protection continues to hold in the months ahead.

Right now, we feel confident that if you have a booster that you have a high level of protection against overall infection, particularly against

hospitalization and death, the most severe outcomes of COVID. That is true with Omicron as well.


GOLODRYGA: So countries are taking different approaches to Omicron, that's for sure. Let's bring in senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to

dig more into this. Elizabeth, great to see you as always. As we heard, Israel is one of the first countries to roll out that -- their vaccine

efforts and then following up with booster shots. Now, they're going to be issuing fourth shots for those 60 and older. Can we expect and should we

expect to see similar measures taken in other countries?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think so because what Israel does is often then done by other countries weeks o

months later. Let's take a look specifically, Bianna, at what the Israelis are doing. They are saying go out and get a fourth shot if you're 60 or

over, if you're a medical worker or if you are immune suppressed, and you should be getting this at least, four months after your third shot.

They're also saying, look, if you know -- there are areas of the country where there's a lot of COVID and low vaccination rates, that those children

should be going to school online rather than going to school in person. Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Well, another question that many people are asking here, thankfully, many of those people are those that are vaccinated and boosted

that nonetheless have had and seen breakthrough infections, their symptoms are mild, and yet, what seems to be most frustrating for them is the

quarantine period, right, having to be at home for ten days. That imposes a lot of challenges on work life, on school, what have you. We see in the

U.K., for no other reason, the need for work personnel, that they are lowering that isolation stay to seven days. What do you make of that and

could we also see that in the U.S.?

COHEN: So, Bianna, I think we will see this in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky; the head of the CDC, they have both been very

clear that this is under consideration, it seems like they're almost sort of hinting that, that is the direction that we're going in. So, let's talk

about what they've done in the U.K. So in the U.K., if you are vaccinated - - and that's an important point, if you are vaccinated and you have COVID- 19, they have shortened that isolation period from ten to seven days.

Now, unvaccinated with COVID, people with COVID-19 have to still isolate for ten days because they could be sicker and more contagious for longer.

Let's take a look at something interesting. Delta Airlines, obviously, a huge employer in the United States, they said, look, you know, we get, you

know, medical workers obviously, you know, need to get back to work too at some point, but our people are flying people around the world. We're

essential as well.

And so, the CEO of Delta Airlines wrote a letter to Rochelle Walensky at the CDC and asked for this. Ed Bastian requested that isolation for fully-

vaccinated people with COVID-19 be shortened from ten to five days, and that there will be a test, of course, before ending isolation.


And he mentioned that over 90 percent of the airline's workforce is vaccinated. So, I think you're going to see pressure from Delta Airlines,

possibly from hospital systems, other essential kinds of services saying, hey, if we've got a vaccinated person who is sort of asymptomatic or barely

sick with Omicron, why should they stay out for ten days? Let's get them, you know, home, make sure that they're negative and put them back to work

with the right protective gear, of course.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it could be yet another incentive for those people that are vaccinated, right? And for those that haven't been yet, a warning that,

A, your symptoms are going to be worse most likely, and, B, you're going to have to isolate for a longer period of time. Some good news though today -


COHEN: Right --

GOLODRYGA: The U.S. has authorized its first pill to treat COVID-19. Again, a reminder that while things are going to look dark for the next few

weeks or few months, we are nowhere near where we were at the start of this pandemic. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much, we appreciate you joining us.

COHEN: Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the pandemic has devastated Colombia's economy. Many people have lost their jobs and prices for basic supplies have surged. And

it's a crisis that is affecting countries across South America. Stefano Pozzebon shows us from Bogota.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST (voice-over): With about a week until Christmas, in one of Bogota's poorest neighborhoods, a group of

missionaries are handing out meals to the homeless and everyone who needs it. The numbers they serve have grown steadily since the pandemic hit.

Before COVID, most of the people they would attend were drug addicts, but things have changed.

CAMILO DEVIA, FUNDACION AMIGOS MISION, COLOMBIA: Right now, there are more, there is an equal presentation between the people that are addicted

to drugs here and the people who lost everything. There are too many, too many old people here.

POZZEBON: Millions in Colombia lost their job as a result of COVID-19. While the country is recovering, more than 40 percent of the population

live in poverty. Among them are people like Edwin who used to work as a mechanic and now lives on the street. More than a health emergency, COVID

has taken jobs away, he says.

(on camera): The pandemic had a devastating impact for informal workers in particular who didn't have any social safety nets to rely on when the

lockdowns were imposed.

(voice-over): Distressingly, just as more people found themselves in need, prices have shot up across the board, from gasoline to food supplies.

(on camera): The price of meat increased almost 30 percent in 2021 in Colombia, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Poultry is up more than

20 percent. Fresh fruits and vegetables, everything that you want for a good Christmas meal is more expensive.

(voice-over): As a result, while this will likely not be a lockdown Christmas, the economic outlook is bleak. Colombia's situation is far from

unique. Inflation hitting the entire region hard. In South America, 2021 has been a year of rising prices and waning meals. According to UNICEF, 50

percent of Argentinean children under the age of 6 eat less than before COVID hit. While in Brazil, 19 million people are going hungry according to

an independent survey.

SANDRA CHAVES, PROFESSOR, FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF BAHIA (through translator): We've never been in a situation as serious as it is now.

POZZEBON: Tapping into international capital markets is not an option for most South American governments, making it hard to finance the sort of

large public support projects common in the U.S. and Europe. As a result, the immediate future looks just as dreary. The Organization of Economic

Cooperation and Development expects it will take at least two years to return to pre-COVID levels of wealth in Latin America. The food charity in

Bogota has finished their deliveries for today, but the job is far from over. Tomorrow, somebody else will be hungry and wanting comfort. Stefano

Pozzebon, CNN, Bogota.


GOLODRYGA: A reminder of the devastating impact from COVID around the world. Well, still to come tonight, Russia signals that it wants to talk

with the U.S. and NATO, and that could happen within weeks. We'll go live to Moscow to find out what this could mean for Ukraine's fate. And later, a

nation desperate for political stability has just postponed crucial presidential elections. We'll see what's behind the delay in Libya.



GOLODRYGA: Russian state media tonight is reporting that Moscow hopes to hold talks with NATO and the U.S. In January, and a top U.S. diplomat says

she thinks that will happen. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants security guarantees, they include a binding pledge that NATO will not

expand further east and will not allow Ukraine to join NATO. For weeks now, concerns have grown that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine, it

continues to amass thousands of troops near the Ukraine border.

The top U.S. diplomat for Europe says both the United States and Europe are ready to act if Russia does invade. CNN's Melissa Bell joins me now from

Moscow. And CNN -- and Melissa, I have to say that over the past few weeks, it did seem like this week in particular was a really alarming ones for

those that were watching to see whether or not Russia would finally invade, given that we now know that there are talks scheduled hopefully for

January. Does that appear to have simmered some of that concern?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the idea that there are talks ahead, definitely a positive sign, and one of the few that we've had over

the course of the last few weeks. We're -- you're quite right as we -- on one hand, NATO has watched with alarm those tens of thousands of Russian

troops amass on the border with so many questions about exactly what Vladimir Putin was planning next.

And on the other, the kind of concerns that we've heard from the Russian president yesterday speaking at the defense ministry, at that defense

ministry meeting about Russia's fears that if NATO's expansion eastward were to continue, then you might be looking at missiles with strike ranges

within a few minutes in countries like Ukraine, and, therefore, not very far from Russia and Moscow particularly.

And that alarm very much at the heart of what he was saying. And at one point, he said, look, we cannot retreat any further than we have already --

that is behind Russia's borders, and really trying to make NATO understand where their fear and concerns are coming from. And so what you've seen over

the course of the last few weeks, is this ratcheting up of tensions? Is this ratcheting up of rhetoric? is this building, amassing of troop and

military forces on the other side of the border growing tensions within east Ukraine, where of course, that front line has existed for so many

years now.

And there's been growing distrust, there's been growing anger, and even as we saw this breakthrough, and I think this is interesting, the idea that

there would be these talks in January, which came really yesterday, we also heard both sides continue to ratchet up that language. Vladimir Putin

saying that even if they were hoping to avoid bloodshed, they would not hesitate to resorting to military means if they felt that, that perceived

regression from NATO was continuing.

On the other hand, we heard from the top U.S. diplomat for Europe Karen Donfried and the Secretary-General of NATO each separately holding press

conferences, but really speaking the same language of coordinated sanctions that are being prepared by Washington and its European allies within NATO.


And they go far beyond, Bianna, anything that Russia has felt before, and that would strike it, were it to cross that border with its troops, and its

economy and its financial system. So, a real war of words are ratcheting up of tensions, but yes, the idea that they will talk, now, of course, all is

not resolved. The talks will happen on the basis of the demands being made by Moscow that you alluded to a moment ago.

Many of them, and again, Karen Donfried explained this yesterday, that are simply unacceptable to the west. But of course, some talks are better than

no talks, an opportunity to get together around a table will certainly allow both sides to try and rebuild the kind of trust that has been so

terribly damaged these last few weeks, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, people desperate to find some sort of off-ramp, and I agree with you, it's hard to find one at this point given those demands

that really are a no-go, right? For the west that it came from Russia. We will continue to watch this space with you, Melissa Bell. Thank you so

much. Well, just two days before Libya was due to hold long-awaited presidential elections, the vote has been postponed with no new date in

sight and no resolution of the bitter disputes that forced the delay. Our Becky Anderson has more from Abu Dhabi.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tensions are mounting over a number of controversial figures who plan to run when Libyans eventually

go to the polls. Amongst them is Renegade General, Khalifa Haftar who once laid siege to the capital, and is commander of the Eastern Base Libyan

National Army. Also, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi; the son of the former dictator. He wants to run despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court,

and interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah who heads the Tripoli-based unity government.

He pledged not to seek elected office when he took the post earlier this year. The country has been split between rival administrations supported by

vast numbers of militia, and tens of thousands of foreign fighters from countries such as Russia and Turkey. International organizations and

members of Libya's government have voiced strong objections to foreign interference in the national vote, leading to the potential delay.

JAMAL BENOMAR, CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR DIALOGUE INITIATIVES: Elections by their nature unleash political competition. But unleashing

political competition in a country with no states to speak of, no institutions to manage conflict is a recipe for disaster.

ANDERSON: A shell of what it once was, the leadership struggles to allocate properly the country's natural resources, particularly oil. And

another crisis brews offshore as hundreds of thousands of migrants use Libya as a gateway to Europe. Nearly 1,500 men, women and children have

died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. The EU sent more than $500 million since 2015, largely channeled through agencies

like the U.N., which aims to beef up Libya's coast guard.

There have been reports of abuse of migrants, and Libya's foreign minister recently criticized the EU's migration policy in the region. Holding

elections won't solve these issues, but the hope is it will bring stability to a country desperate for peace. For now though, it's a waiting game.

Becky Anderson, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


GOLODRYGA: Our thanks to Becky Anderson for that report. Still to come tonight, Chinese President Xi Jinping is increasing his control and flexing

his military might. What all of this could mean for the world in 2022. That's next. And then, it will be a bleak holiday to end a tough year in

Lebanon. We'll go to Beirut to show you why a country once called the Switzerland of the Middle East has fallen on such hard times.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, CNN HOST: During the past year, China's president has gained power and stature, some now comparing Xi Jinping even with Mao

Zedong. China is growing under President Xi, stronger, wealthier and farther than the West. CNN's David Culver shows us how from Shanghai.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Walking the streets of China's capital, it's not hard to see who is in charge. There are pictures

of President Xi Jinping all over. The poster addressing the firefighter community.

At the center of life here is the Chinese Communist Party. But at the center of the party, this man, Xi Jinping.


CULVER (voice-over): 2021 saw major steps to further consolidate power. In an early November meeting of China's ruling elites, the 400 or so top party

officials passed an almost unprecedented resolution, highlighting the role of its current leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the nation's

triumphant rise on the global stage.

VICTOR SHIH, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA/SAN DIEGO: He wants to really highlight his own contribution to the development of the party. That also

will seal his legitimate rule over China in the foreseeable future.

Of course, no one would challenge his power within the party.

CULVER: Inside national museums like this one, President Xi Jinping has elevated himself to be on par with past leaders like Deng Xiaoping and,

even the most famous, Mao Zedong.


CULVER (voice-over): China has already become the second largest economy in the world, on track to surpass the U.S. It has successfully lifting

millions of its people out of poverty.

CULVER: Walking in the morning rush hour here in the Chinese capital, you feel the rush of energy, a lot of activity. At times it feels like everyone

in this country is on this constant drive for more ambition, more success. It's only amplified by a population of more than 1.4 billion people.

CULVER (voice-over): An incredible buying power, bolstered by new technologies, making it quicker and easier to spend money, not to mention

track people.

CULVER: Just to get into some of these stores and restaurants, you have to first take your temperature. It says that you are OK. Then you get a scan,

your health code. It then says, we're good to go.

One thing that is incredibly convenient about China is you don't really even need to carry your wallet places. Everything is on your phone,

including payment and ID.

CULVER (voice-over): 2021 marked 100 years since the party's founding in Shanghai.


CULVER (voice-over): It's a triumphant rise that the leadership proudly displays at so-called Communist Party pilgrimage sites, historically

revered spots that downplay or ignore failures and controversies, from the tumultuous Cultural Revolution to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Instead, they focus on a century of successes. And China is now making other countries, including the U.S., increasingly uneasy with its rapid

military expansions.

CULVER: With all the power that President Xi has amassed, coupled with an increased military might, many believe one of his ultimate goals is to

reunify with Taiwan. He has not even ruled out taking the island by force, if necessary.

CULVER (voice-over): China has been putting military pressure on the self- ruling democracy. Xi stressing in a recent virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden that, on Taiwan, the U.S. is playing with fire. Biden

trying to calm the rapidly rising tensions.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition

between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. It's simple, straightforward competition.

CULVER (voice-over): That's easier said than done, A deep rooted geopolitical battle is lingering into the new year, citing widespread

allegations of human rights abuses against China's Uighur population.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of country does this to people, to innocent people?

CULVER (voice-over): The U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter


CULVER (voice-over): With allies following, calls for boycotting the games, fueled in part by the case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. The

three-time Olympian briefly disappeared in November after she accused a top Communist Party official of forcing her into sex.

The Women's Tennis Association suspended tournaments in China, calling for Peng to be able to speak freely and openly. But for now, it won't halt the

Winter Games, these the first Olympics to be held under President Xi. 2022 setting the stage for Xi to rule for an unprecedented third term and likely

beyond -- David Culver, CNN, Shanghai.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, from China, we turn now to Lebanon, where the U.N. secretary general told the country's politicians that they, quote, "do

not have the right to be divided."

Antonio Guterres spent three days in Lebanon, urging politicians to work together. He said free and fair elections must be held on time in 2022. It

is just the latest chapter in the country's political and economic crisis. Ben Wedeman reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what a collapsing state looks like: perennial disorder, sporadic violence,

basic services barely functioning, basic goods in short supply, a national currency and economy in freefall and a squabbling political class,

incapable or unwilling or uninterested in putting aside their differences to save this country, once described as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

When 2021 began, it seemed things couldn't get worse. Beirut was still reeling from the August 2020 port blast. COVID was ravaging a population

already battered by a deep economic crisis. The politicians couldn't agree on the formation of a new government and, as 2021 ends, events have proven

things could get even worse.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Makati hasn't met since October, divided between those who want Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating the

Beirut port blast, to resign and those who want him to stay.

The Lebanese currency, already a fraction of its pre-crisis value, has plummeted from a historic low to a historic low.

The economy continues to shrink. 2021 ended up being the year that never was the year when the families of the victims of the port blast demanded

justice which never happened, the year when once again Lebanon's leaders failed to serve the people almost 80 percent now live below the poverty

line, the United Nations reports.

Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the ruins of Beirut's port; tweeting afterwards, "The Lebanese people deserve the


He's the latest in a long list of world leaders to call on Lebanon's politicians to do their duty and save the country from falling into the

abyss, those calls still falling on deaf ears -- Ben Wedeman, CNN.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And still to come tonight, as the jury in the Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking trial still ponders its verdicts, we will

go to the courthouse for the latest developments.

Plus, a book battle in Texas schools. Why some librarians are worried it could have them facing criminal charges.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The jury in Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial is now in its third day of deliberations. The British socialite and long-

time associate of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein could face up to 70 years in prison if she is convicted on all six charges. CNN's

Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in New York.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The jury has been deliberating for 14 hours in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. Today they have

not sent any notes. But yesterday they sent three notes, where they asked for evidence and instruction on the law.

The first note from the jury, they asked to see the testimony of three of the four accusers; Annie Farmer who testified that Maxwell had touched her

breasts in New Mexico; Jane, who testified that Jeffrey Epstein and Maxwell had sexually abused her since she was 14 years old; and Carolyn, who

testified she was paid hundreds of dollars in cash to provide Jeffrey Epstein sexualized massages.

She also said that Maxwell arranged those massages. The jury had also asked to see the interview notes from the FBI interview with Carolyn in 2007.

That had been a key part of the cross-examination by Maxwell's attorneys.

They wanted to focus in that Carolyn maybe changed her story and added Maxwell to this later in more recent years. The judge said that they could

not have that because it was not in evidence. But it is a key point for the cross-examination.

Now lastly, the jury also asked to see the -- they also asked the judge for clarification on the law. They wanted to know if they could consider Annie

Farmer's testimony as part of the conspiracy counts. The judge said that they could. So we are still 14 hours into deliberations, waiting to see if

the jury will reach a verdict in this case today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And CNN will bring you the jury's decision once they reach a verdict.

Some conservative lawmakers are hitting the books, not to learn from them but to accuse educators of corrupting children. Evan McMorris-Santoro shows

us how librarians are fighting back.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a school librarian in Texas.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): Why are you afraid to show your face?

TEXAS LIBRARIAN: Because there was a day not too long ago when I had to stop and think.


TEXAS LIBRARIAN: When they come in with handcuffs and they come in with a warrant for my arrest for alleging that I provided obscene material to

minors, who am I going to call first?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Across Texas protesters at school board meetings are accusing educators of forcing pornography or obscene content

on children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a political thing. This is not a witch hunt. This is genuine concern for children. It's abuse. It is grooming

behavior. It's predatory.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The anger is largely aimed at school libraries and many Texas politicians are on board.

In October, Republican State Legislator Matt Krause requested every school district in the state scour their libraries for a list of 850 books.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The infamous Texas list -- that the pattern seems to be books that are representative of LGBTQIA on subjects and characters and

topics. Books that may contain depictions or narratives of sexual violence, survivor stories. Some books that are about racism.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The list includes "New Kid," a graphic novel about a Black student's struggles fitting in in a majority white

school; "The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves"; and "The Cider House Rules," a coming of age story that features a character

who performs abortions.

Republican governor Greg Abbott took things a step further ordering officials to investigate any criminal activity in public schools after

complaints about two LGBTQ-themed books he said were pornographic.

MARY WOODARD, PRESIDENT-ELECT, TEXAS LIBRARY ASSOCIATION: I have never experienced anything like that before where a government agency or any kind

of government entity was interested in specifically what kinds of books were in the library.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The Texas Library Association is traditionally a pretty sleepy advocacy group but the heated rhetoric is

forcing that to change. Last week, the group set up an anonymous hotline for librarians afraid of job consequences.

WOODARD: School librarians don't go into this business to harm kids. They are working really, really hard to select books that represent everyone on

their campus.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): This is happening all over the country. LGBTQ and racial-themed books written for children and young adults are

facing powerful resistance. Educators are being put on notice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is pornography, plain and simple, and it does not belong in our schools.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Just since the start of the school year, the American Library Association has tracked more than 230 book challenges

nationwide. The ALA says there's been a dramatic uptick in challenges to books featuring LGBTQ and racial themes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: LGBTQIA, plus students like me, who are being harassed for not conforming to antiquated notions of gender roles and how

they should express themselves.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): There you go.

FOOTE: There it is.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Librarians are starting to fight back in a very librarian way.

FOOTE: And this week we're sharing books that were gifts in people's lives. And so, I'm going to kick this off by sending the first -- my first

tweet from our #FReadom Friday account.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Carolyn Foote is a retired librarian and one of the founders of the group #FReadom Fighters. In just a month it's

become the grassroots way librarians under threat find and help each other.

FOOTE: It's amazing how widespread these book challenges are. People are contacting us, like, privately from all over the country saying can you

help me?

BECKY CALZADA, CO-FOUNDER, #FREADOM FIGHTERS: Scared, nervous, unsure, worried.

FOOTE: Worried they might lose their jobs.

CALZADA: Yes, I've heard that, too or I'm hearing this from my district or they don't know this. What do I do?

FOOTE: They're facing pressure -- external pressure. Like, what if I'm called out at a board meeting or someone's in front of my house?

So really, it's a time when people need a lot of support.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Librarians helping librarians so librarians can get back to helping kids.

CALZADA: I grew up reading "Trumpet of the Swan" and "Little House on the Prairie." I mean, there were no Hispanic girls. That's a disservice to

kids. And so we work really hard as librarians to make sure that kids have books that they can see themselves in but we also want to offer books where

kids can learn about other kids' lives.

FOOTE: And who knows that that's something that would get you demonized.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Governor Greg Abbott's office didn't respond when we asked for comment on what librarians in Texas are telling


We also reached out to Matt Krause and stopped by his office.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): Hello?

Do you think you're going to win this or do you think you're going to lose this?

TEXAS LIBRARIAN: It's not about whether I will win or lose this.


TEXAS LIBRARIAN: I think it's a point in our culture and our society when we have to ask ourselves what do we stand to lose if we don't correct

action and course now. We can't afford as a democracy to believe anything else that will correct this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Such a disturbing story there. Our thanks to Evan.

Still to come tonight, Madagascar's secretary of state for police says he swam for 12 hours after surviving a helicopter crash. You will want to hear

his story.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The United Arab Emirates is resetting its approach to foreign policy, reflecting its desire to be an influencer in the region.

Sam Kiley explains how it is doing a delicate balancing act when it comes to diplomating relations.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a little bit out of date now. Then dubbed Little Sparta, the United Arab

Emirates took a muscular approach to foreign policy, supporting NATO in Afghanistan, making war in Yemen, backing rebels in Libya.

And it didn't work. Criticized by human rights groups and the U.N., the Emirates is out of Yemen and out of punching its way to recognition. It is

a move from war to jaw (ph).

H.E. ANWAR GARGASH, DIPLOMATIC ADVISER TO UAE PRESIDENT: So he said that began in 2018, in our final days of presence in Yemen, that he said that

was influenced by the whole COVID ordeal.

And I think from that reset, we realized that the challenges of the next decade are not necessarily the same challenges of the past decade. Now the

past decade was unusually problematic and unusually polarized.

KILEY (voice-over): The Emirates' shift is from taking sides to bringing opposing sides together.

GARGASH: We are going to be an influencer in the region. But our influence is going to be through different tools, through this sort of diplomatic

navigation, through keeping this balance between all of these different relationships that we have.

KILEY (voice-over): That has already meant snubbing U.S. appeals for more sanctions on Iran, controversial outreach to Syria's dictator, Bashar al-

Assad and warming relations with Turkey. The Emirates has met an American request to halt construction of what the U.S. says was a secret Chinese

military intelligence facility inside a seaport.


KILEY: But it ignored U.S. appeals to cancel Chinese tech giant Huawei's installation of 5G networks.

The U.S. is still the Emirates' most important ally but it is seen as an unreliable friend after the sudden evacuation from Kabul and years of chaos

in Iraq.

And now the Emirates have suspended talks over buying $23 billion worth of F-35 stealth fighters from the U.S., citing technical issues and concerns

that American restrictions on future use eat into Emirati sovereignty.

The loss of the aircraft sales is a blow to U.S. arms exports. But not to the Emirates air force, which has done a $19 billion deal for 80 French

rafati fighters. And now that the Emiratis are opening their arms to friend and foe, they may not need America's stealth fighters anyway -- Sam Kiley,

CNN, Abu Dhabi.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we turn now to an astonishing tale of survival. A government official, a minister in Madagascar, survived a plane crash, not

only a helicopter crash, which is incredible enough; he also swam for 12 hours to reach safety.

You can see 57-year-old Serge Gelle here, understandably exhausted after his ordeal. A man traveling with him also survived. But another,

unfortunately, was found dead.

The chopper came down off the island's northeast coast as they were trying to find survivors of a boat accident. A search is underway for a fourth

person who was on board the helicopter. That is the pilot. Incredible story of survival there.

Before we go tonight, you may not realize that bird singing sweetly outside your window is actually a dinosaur. Now we have more proof. Listen to this.

This 70-million-year-old fossil has become a hit on the internet as it sheds light on the links between dinosaurs and birds. It is a perfectly

preserved embryo of an oviraptor, a dinosaur, curled up inside its egg. It was discovered in China more than two decades ago but it sat in storage for

10 years before becoming the subject of a new study.

Researchers say the incredibly rare fossil indicates dinosaur embryos were moving around and changing poses before hatching in a similar way to modern

day birds. What an incredible discovery there. Thank you to science.

And thank you for watching tonight. Stay with CNN. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next.