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Looking Back on the COVID-19 Pandemic One Year Later; Yemen Reaches Famine Conditions Under Blockade; Judge Reinstates Derek Chauvin Third-Degree Murder Charge. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I just wonder, big picture, do you see us turning the corner here as a country, a year later?

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, Jim, I definitely think that a lot has happened in the last year. And I mean, looking back a year ago, I don't think any of us could have imagined the unfathomable suffering and tragedy that we've had.

And I also don't think that, a year ago, we could have predicted the suffering that we would have, and also the fact that we would have these three safe, highly effective vaccines. I think we as a country were relying on science and medicine to save the day, we really didn't focus on those public health preventive measures, we were waiting for science to deliver. And this time, it did.

And so I do think now we're looking at a much brighter future ahead, but I also am worried. I think that this plateau is real, and with all these states lifting restrictions, I think there is a good chance that we could see another surge with more people dying. And I guess the question is, what can we do to prevent that from happening now?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: There -- and, you know, there are different kinds of restrictions, right? It's one thing to lift a mask mandate or open businesses at 100 percent capacity, it's another thing, just moments ago here in New York State, the governor said, starting at the beginning of April, people who travel out of the state aren't going to need to quarantine.

You have been outspoken questioning why the CDC this week didn't change their travel guidelines.

WEN: That's right, and specifically travel guidelines for vaccinated people. I think --

HARLOW: Right.

WEN: -- that we have a very narrow window of opportunity to distinguish between what it is that vaccinated people can do, and what it is that unvaccinated people can do.

So for example with regard to travel, I think the CDC could have said unvaccinated people still have to test before they leave and quarantine when they come back, but if you are fully vaccinated, you don't have to do that anymore. You still should be wearing a mask when you travel, but here are the differences between these two paths depending on your vaccination status.

And I think that is the key missing opportunity here, because as states are reopening at 100 percent capacity in many places, we're losing the opportunity to offer vaccination as the ticket back to pre- pandemic life. If --

HARLOW: Right.

WEN: -- everything is reopened, people are going to say what's the point?

SCIUTTO: Yes. OK, vaccination rate, I mean, you see on our screen, 10 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated, we're approaching 20 percent that's received at least one shot.

Have you changed your timeline as more and more supply comes on? In addition, this third vaccine option with Johnson & Johnson as to when the majority of the country will be vaccinated now? You know, there had been talk of summertime, I mean, can we move that up at all, where do you stand?

WEN: Well, my best prediction at this point, given what President Biden has said, is that we're going to have enough supply for every adult American by the end of May. And that's really remarkable and credit to the administration there, but that doesn't mean that people are going to be vaccinated by the end of May.

I think that probably by June, definitely by July every American that wants a vaccine can get one, as in you can walk into the pharmacy that day and get one, regardless of your eligibility, which is great.

But I'm really concerned about vaccine hesitancy. I'm concerned that, even heading into the fall, we're not going to reach herd immunity. And then the fall wave could really hit us then, because I think that acceptance of the vaccine is going to be the major barrier, going forward.

HARLOW: Yes. What are your thoughts? You've been with us, Dr. Wen, really, on this journey. You, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, some of the leading voices on this network, since this was declared a pandemic a year ago. You had a baby in the meantime, you know, going through this as a pregnant woman.

I just wonder what -- I wonder what your thoughts are, as we sit here today, one day out -- one year out.

WEN: I mean, I'm filled with so much emotion because we've gone through so much as individuals and as a country, and as a world. And you know, I'm struck in particular by how much this pandemic has affected people unequally, and we've seen that.

This is not a virus that's doing the discriminating, that it's our systems that are. And unless we are specifically focused on equity as a goal, we'll just have even worsening of these disparities when it comes to education, when it comes to health, when it comes to every aspect.

And I think if it's anything that we've taken away from this, it's that we really need to redouble our efforts to close these horrific disparities and really focus on equity and fairness.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And think, more than half a million American families have suffered the ultimate loss of losing a loved one. Dr. Leana Wen, it's been good to go through this with you --


SCIUTTO: -- and I know we've got a way to go, but thanks very much.


According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 400,000 children are now at risk of dying in Yemen, this as the six-year civil war there rages on. CNN's Nima Elbagir will take us there, next.


HARLOW: As Yemen's six-year civil war rages on, 400,000 children are now at risk of dying. That is according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

A heartbreaking new CNN investigation shows just how dire the situation really is. The Biden administration says it wants to bring an end to this war, which was partially funded by American tax dollars, but no longer backing the Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting Iranian-backed Houthis. U.S. backing of the war started under the Obama administration, and escalated under Trump.

SCIUTTO: CNN's investigation has found it has been more than two months since the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade has allowed tankers, packed with the necessary fuel for food and supplies, to reach all the starving Yemenis to dock at the crucial port of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Houthis. Fourteen tankers scheduled to dock there are also currently being held off the Saudi coast -- this, according to a vessel tracking app.

This goes against the United Nations agreement, and is making the situation on the ground just desperate for innocent parents and children who are suffering as a result. CNN's Nima Elbagir made a very dangerous trip on a small boat to get inside Houthi territory in northern Yemen, a place that few foreign journalists have ever been, in order to show the world exactly what's at stake. We do want to warn you that some of these images, just frankly, are tough to watch.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The derelict coastline of the north of Yemen, rusting hulks tell a story of war, blockade and devastation. For years now, the Houthi- controlled north has been increasingly isolated from the outside world. We secretly traveled through the night by boat after our previous reporting here led the government to deny us entry.

On the road to Hodeidah Port, we get a sense of the humanitarian disaster kept from the outside world. Along the roadside, hundreds of stalled food supply trucks with no fuel to move. In a country in the grp of hunger, their cargo stands spoiling in the hot sun.

The port of Hodeidah is the supply gateway for the rest of the country. It should be bustling with activity, but today, it is eerily empty, a result of the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade. The last tanker to dock here was in December. In the echoing silence, it dawns on us: We are about to witness the terrible impact of this blockade.

Desperate patients and family members, trying to get the attention of Dr. (ph) Khalid, chairman of Hodeidah's hospital. If he signs these papers, they get some financial relief for their treatments and medicines. He doesn't get far before he is stopped again and again.

KHALID AHMED SOHIL, CHAIRMAN, AL THOWRA HOSPITAL, HODEIDAH (through translator): Nima, this is the pediatric emergency (INAUDIBLE).

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Since the Yemen war started six years ago, families have been in financial freefall. The fuel blockade has sped that descent into oblivion.

This is the main hospital for Hodeidah Province, and we're surrounded by doctors and nurses rushed off their feet.

ELBAGIR: Is this a normal day? Is it this busy all the time?

SOHIL: Not (ph) really (ph) (INAUDIBLE) today.

ELBAGIR: This is not a busy day?

SOHIL: This is a normal day.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Dr. Khalid wants to show us some of his critical patients in the therapeutic feeding center. A ten-year-old girl, whose growth has been so stunted by starvation she can no longer stand.

ELBAGIR: Dr. Khalid says every hour of every day, they are receiving more and more cases of severe malnutrition that are this advanced, because the parents can't afford to feed their children. They also can't afford to bring them to the hospital to treat them.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The U.N. says pockets of Yemen are in famine- like conditions, but it says Hodeidah is not considered one of them because it doesn't meet the metrics to declare famine. But Dr. Khalid thinks the reality on the ground has outpaced the U.N.'s projections.

The Saudi fuel blockade is biting. Malnutrition numbers are spiking, and at the same time, this busy hospital is running out of the vital fuel that keeps its generators running, which means that babies like Miriam (ph), who doctors say, at two months, weighs the same as a newborn, would die.

Yemen has been devastated by a civil war, which has pitted Iran-backed Ansarallah, known as Houthis, against the internationally recognized government, and a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition.

We're in Houthi territory, some of whose officials have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. for targeting neighboring Saudi Arabia. We've been granted a rare interview with a leading Houthi official. We must meet in an undisclosed location because his aides say of the threat of assassination.

We ask him to respond to allegations they are escalating this war.

MOHAMMED ALI AL-HOUTHI, SENIOR HOUTHI OFFICIAL (through translator): Not true at all. The battle is continuing, and it has not stopped.

ELBAGIR: Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

ALI AL-HOUTHI (through translator): Trust must come about decisions. So far we have not seen any concrete decisions being made.

ELBAGIR: You've spoken about being subjected as a nation to international terror, but three of the leaders within the Ansarallah movement are designated by the U.S. as terrorists. One of your key slogans talks about death to America, how do you see this as pushing forward the negotiation and the possibility for peace in the future?

ALI AL-HOUTHI (through translator): When we say death to America, they effectively kill us with their bombs, rockets and blockades. They provide logistics and intelligence support and their actual participation in the battle. So who is bigger and greater, the ones who are killing us or the ones who say death to them?


ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Biden administration has announced it has withdrawn support for the Saudi offensive, but it comes after six long years of war. And for the children dying of hunger, it still hasn't brought peace any quicker. Peace and help can't come soon enough.

ELBAGIR: Over half the hospitals in this district are threatened with shuttering. This is one of them. They need urgent support, urgent help. Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility were shut down? Look at the chaos that there is already here, and that's while it's functioning.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): For years now, the U.N. has been warning that famine is coming to Yemen. Doctors across Yemen's north tell us famine has arrived.

Another hospital witnessing wave after wave of children in the red zone, severe malnourishment, impoverished mothers, desperate to keep their children alive, are forced to make harrowing choices. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Just to get to the

hospital, I stopped eating and drinking, not even water, just to get him treated.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): These doctors are keeping track of the numbers spiking beyond what they ever imagined.

ELBAGIR: The doctor was saying that in 2020, this population, 23 percent of the children under five here were severely malnourished. In 2021, they think that that number is going to go over 30 percent. There is no doubt in his mind, he says, that they, here in Hejja, are in famine.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Nearly three years ago, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare, demanding access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel, be kept intact, here and in other conflicts. That clearly hasn't happened.

What's more, the world has stopped caring. The U.N. needs almost $4 billion to staunch this crisis. They received less than half that from donors.

Numbers don't lie, but numbers also don't reflect the full tragedy. This is Hassan Ali, ten months and struggling to breathe, he came into the hospital six days ago. He keeps losing weight, even with the critical care he's receiving.

Hours after we left, Hassan Ali died, one more child in Yemen that represents so much more pain.

The doctors here are desperate for the world to see and to help.


HARLOW: Wow, wow. The king of Saudi Arabia did not respond to CNN's request for comment, and Nima Elbagir joins us now from Khartoum. We do want to tell you there's a satellite delay, so bear with us.

But, Nima, remarkably important reporting. And I want to ask you about the Biden administration choosing not to sanction the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, in the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And if you believe in what you saw on the ground there, that that will simply embolden Saudis' actions in Yemen, is there more the U.S. could have done and can do to stop this?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely, there is more the U.S. should be doing right now. The message that this sends is an incredibly confused one, especially given the signs, the signals that the Biden administration, when they were an administration-in-waiting, were putting out, which is that we will have a morally -- a more morally centered foreign policy, especially with regards to ending, as they called it, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen.

But when we put these findings to the newly appointed U.S. envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, he told us that what we saw, what we show you there in that piece, was not true, that these ships were not being blockaded by that U.S. block, U.S.-backed Saudi blockade, that they weren't off the port of Gizan on the Saudi coast, when you can see for yourself that that's where those ships are located, and you can see the impact of that blockade.

It was frankly disappointing to hear that from the U.S. envoy, because it raises concerns about the prospects for peace, and it appears like the U.S. is placating Saudi Arabia in order to get them to the negotiating table. But if you are not seen as an honest arbiter, how can you bring peace to this kind of a region?



SCIUTTO: Nima, talk to us about Marib as the final safe haven for these displaced people. Why is it so important, and is that position in danger?

ELBAGIR: This is very much, Jim, the hidden tragedy in Yemen. I mean, almost every tragedy in Yemen is hidden because it's so difficult to get to, but Marib is the center of the current fighting between the coalition and the Houthis, and it is the last safe haven for some half a million displaced people, and that fighting is encroaching upon them, they're all within Marib city.


The Houthis, the Ansarallah, will not stop fighting because Marib is strategic, and it's considered to be that last important stronghold. It also gives them access to fuel, and the coalition, the Saudis we're hearing are demanding that the Houthis stop fighting in Marib, save those displaced people in order to get access to fueling.

And these people are essentially trapped between the warring parties, but also pawns of the warring parties. And at the moment, it doesn't seem like the U.S. is effectively able to step in and advocate for those displaced people and negotiate for a ceasefire -- Jim.

HARLOW: Nima, thank you from all of us, from the world, for your reporting --


HARLOW: -- that's our Nima Elbagir live for us this morning from Khartoum.

Ahead, the former police officer in Minneapolis charged in the death of George Floyd will now also face a third-degree murder charge. It could, if found guilty, send him to prison for up to 25 years. Why this add is significant, next.


SCIUTTO: A third-degree murder charge is now back on the table for Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer charged in the death of George Floyd. That charge carries a potential penalty of up to 25 years in prison. He now faces as well a more serious second-degree murder charge, and second-degree manslaughter charge as well.


HARLOW: That's right. Let's go to our colleague Omar Jimenez, he joins us in Minneapolis this morning.

This is the third day of jury selection in this trial. Can you explain to all of us why this addition of a third-degree murder charge, especially in the case of a former police officer, is so significant?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this is significant because, one, it gives prosecutors another target to hit; also, another opportunity to convict Derek Chauvin.

Now, when an appeals court ruled that this court needed to at least reconsider reinstating this charge, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who's leading the prosecution team, said that "We believe the charge of third-degree murder in addition to the manslaughter and felony murder reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin."

TEXT: Charges Against Derek Chauvin: Second-degree unintentional murder; Second-degree manslaughter; Third-degree murder

JIMENEZ: And the difference here became that an appeals court ruled on a separate police officer, third-degree murder conviction that established a precedent that the judge in this case clearly felt was strong enough to bring this third-degree murder charge back.

And then there is this question about whether the trial would be delayed, but because the defense, it appears, had an avenue to delay this on account of having this new charge added.

But we heard from the attorney for Derek Chauvin, Eric Nelson, who said the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals have spoken, I am confident in the decisions this court has made and he will not be seeking to restart this trial, which is significant, because that now clears the path to move forward with this now-day three of jury selection, and keep things on track for opening statements to start on March 29th -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: OK, Omar, thank you for the reporting, live from Minneapolis this morning.

And thanks to all of you for being with us today. We will see you right back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.