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Starving, Dying Children Pack Yemen Hospitals Amid Civil War; Biden Set to Sign $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package; Biden's Border Strategy Faces Test Amid Surge of Migrants; Texas Health Experts Brace for Possible Surge After Reopening; China's National People's Congress Passes Law to Change Hong Kong Electoral System; Meghan Says Palace Denied Her Mental Health Support; One Year Since Covid-19 Declared Global Pandemic. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 04:00   ET




NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

HOUTHI (through translator): Trust must come about decisions. And so far, we've 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 al-Saladin 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?

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ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Biden administration has announced it has withdrawn support for the Saudi offensive.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 6 long years of war. And for the children dying of hunger it's 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. They need urgent support, urgent help. Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility was 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 saying, in 2020, this population 23 percent of the children under 5 here, were severely malnourished. In 2021, they think that the number is going to go over 30 percent. There is no doubt in his mind, he says, that they, here in Hodeidah, are in famine.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Nearly 3 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.

Once more, the world has stopped caring. The U.N. needs almost $4 billion to stanch 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, 10 months and struggling to breathe, he came into the hospital 6 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.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Hodeidah, Yemen.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Nima thank you so much for bringing this to us. I want to mention that CNN has reached out to Saudi Arabia for comment but hasn't gotten a reply yet.

And thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, well I want to welcome all of our viewers joining us from the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber in Atlanta.

Stimulus checks should begin reaching Americans' bank accounts by the end of the month.




BRUNHUBER: The enormous $1.9 trillion relief package passed the U.S. House in its final vote on Wednesday. President Biden is expected to sign it into law by Friday, with checks due to go out soon after. Now it's been one year since the pandemic was first declared a global health crisis. The president and Democratic leader said economic relief was long overdue.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill represents a historic, historic victory for the American people. And I look forward to signing later this week. Everything in the American rescue plan addresses real need including investments to fund our entire vaccination effort.


PELOSI: Consequential legislation that any of us will be a party to. Who knows what the future may be, but nonetheless on this day we celebrate.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: So what do we say to America? We say to America, help is on the way. Help is on the way. You will receive $1,400 checks by the end of March. Help is on the way.


BRUNHUBER: Now despite President Biden's earlier efforts to get bipartisan support for his rescue package, no Republicans voted for it. We get more from CNN's Ryan Nobles.



RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a done deal here on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives offering the final passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. It was a bill that was passed largely on partisan lines. I mean, only one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, voting no for this package, all the other votes were Republicans voting no and Democrats voting yes. The bill now heading to the White House where President Biden is expected to sign it into law by Friday.

This quick passage of the bill means that there's unemployment insurance benefits were scheduled to run out on March 14th can now be extended without any kind of hiccup. It also means stimulus checks. $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans should be in their pocketbooks and bank accounts by the end of the month.

It's also going to push millions of dollars of funding and to vaccine distribution, and into schools to get those back up and running for students across the county. There's also some long term benefits in there as well. Including a child tax credit that's going to lift millions of young people out of poverty.

Now Republicans, as we said before, voted against this across the board. They argue that is too much money and doesn't do enough to specifically target the relief necessary as it relates to the coronavirus. They also say that there's no mechanism to pay for it. Which there isn't. This is certainly going to drive up the Federal debt and deficit.

Regardless, it is now law. The question now becomes what is next for the Biden administration and their agenda. It may be a lot more difficult to get packages like this passed through Congress without Republican support. Biden has said in the past that he is open to working with Republicans on things like infrastructure. They're going to begin that conversation now, but already Republicans signaling that it is going to be difficult to get them on board with some of Biden administrations biggest asks.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


BRUNHUBER: And while President Biden looks to cheer the passage of his COVID relief package, his approach to immigration is about to face a critical test. Right now, hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children are arriving each day to the U.S. border with Mexico, and with facilities are overwhelmed, officials are scrambling to accommodate them. We're told the number of children referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the month of February is expected to be, quote, historic. And that has the White House border coordinator urging migrants not to make the journey to the U.S.


ROBERTA JACOBSON, BIDEN ADMINISTRATION'S COORDINATOR FOR THE SOUTHERN BORDER: I want to be clear, neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion. The border is not open. Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection while we continue to enforce our laws.


BRUNHUBER: In Texas right now, there's a battle building over the use of masks. Well the governor just lifted the statewide mask mandate, the city of Austin plans to keep its order, even after the state attorney general threatened to sue.

All this is playing out as many raise concerns about the easing of restrictions. Our Ed Lavandera has details.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Feelings of frustration and dread as businesses are allowed to fully reopen and the statewide mask mandate in Texas is lifted. This Houston restaurant owner says he doesn't understand why Governor Greg Abbott is turning him into the mask police.

AL JARA, HOUSTON RESTAURANT OWNER: We've been hurt the most and requiring us now to take a side on the mask isn't right in my opinion.

LAVANDERA (voice over): For some, it's triggered an emotional reminder of what's been lost in the last year. Thirty-eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez died of COVID. His mother says the Texas reopening is a kick in the stomach.

CATHERINE RODRIGUEZ, MOTHER OF COVID-19 VICTIM: My son left six children behind, two of the youngest are six and four-years-old. They don't understand why their daddy isn't coming home.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Other states are now pushing ahead to reopen as well. Utah will lift its mask mandate on April 10th. In Maryland, starting this Friday, capacity limits will be lifted for restaurants, retail stores and other businesses, but masking and spacing protocols stay.

Health officials are urging caution as more than a dozen states are easing restrictions with more in the coming days and weeks.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you start doing things like completely putting aside all public health measures as if you're turning a light switch off, that's quite risky. We don't want to see another surge.

LAVANDERA (voice over): The renewed fights over mask wearing come as the race to vaccinate Americans continues to speed up. An average of 2.2 million people now getting the shots every day. Alaska is becoming the first state to open vaccinations to people 16 and older.


GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R-AK): And we have a real good possibility of hitting herd immunity before any other state.

LAVANDERA (voice over): More guidelines will be released as more people are fully vaccinated.

FAUCI: What about travel? What about going out? What about getting a haircut? What about doing things like that? That's all imminently going to be coming out.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And as the country enters Spring Break season, the University of California Davis is offering 500 students $75.00 to choose a staycation instead of traveling as a way to slow the virus spreading.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is better than nothing, and I think it helps people maybe on the fence of staying or not staying.

LAVANDERA: Governor Greg Abbott has said that Texans in the last year have mastered the skills necessary to avoid catching COVID-19. But despite that, top health experts in this state say that after the reopening here, they are bracing for another surge of the coronavirus.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


BRUNHUBER: Right now 400,000 children in a single country are at risk of death. Six years of war in Yemen are putting its most vulnerable at the greatest risk. Stay with us, for rare access to Yemen's unfolding crisis.

And pressure on the palace to take more action as claims Meghan Markle made about race continue to have a real impact on the British media. We're live in Windsor, England, next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Major changes are coming to the way Hong Kong elects its legislators. In just the past few hours, China's National People's Congress unanimously passed a law that paves the way for new rules governing the territories elections. The measure is expected to produce democratic representation and promote pro-Beijing candidates. Among its provisions, those running for office in the territory must be patriots. Hong Kong's CEO Carry Lam is hailing the action. Saying it will end the, quote, reckless moves that have torn Hong Kong apart.

That's presumably a reference to widespread protest that rock the city for months. Now many worry that any opposition in the city will be completely silenced. But Chinese officials say managing Hong Kong is their business, and no one else's.


SONG RU'AN, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF CHINE IN HONG KONG: Hong Kong is part of China and this electoral system is part of China's local electoral systems. It is surely China's Internal affair as to how to design, develop and improve a system and no external force shall interfere.


BRUNHUBER: Britain's foreign secretary is among those condemning the new law. Dominic Raab said, quote, this is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself. Meanwhile, China's government is lashing out at a think tank report

that says Beijing bears responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs. The foreign ministry called the accusations a complete lie. The independent report accuses China of violating the U.N.'s genocide convention and committing systemic atrocities against the ethnic minority. Dozens of experts came to this conclusion after examining evidence form Chinese state media, leaked state communications, satellite images and witness testimony.

Well there's new fallout following Meghan and Harry's interview with Orpah. A top British media executive has resigned after more than 160 journalists of color objected to his organization's claim that racism has plays no role in how the British press has treated the Duchess of Sussex.

Anna Stewart is in Windsor, where there's increasing pressure on the royal family. So this interview has sparked a lot more than just discussion. I'm frankly surprised at how quickly things have escalated. Take us through what's been happening there.

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Well, there's been quite a big fallout. I feel like the ripples from this interview keep coming whether it was the very high profile dramatic exit of Piers Morgan, a TV show host. Who had on Monday said that he simply didn't believe the Duchess of Sussex's claims that she felt suicidal. He didn't believe her mental health comments at all. He said that repeatedly. And a few days later he had to resign.

We've also, as you said, had the Society of Editors which is a body in the U.K. that represents U.K. media following this interview saying that they felt the interview was an attack on the media and saying quite simply that the U.K. media isn't bigoted.

Huge backlash to that, 250 journalists of color complaining, cosigning a letter against it. And the executive director even -- though he did try and walk back that claim on Wednesday, a few hours after it, he had to resign as well.

So we are seeing this real ripple effect in terms of people having difficult conversations. It's really galvanized nations to talk about the issues of mental health and racism and it's a conversation that some seam to be struggling with. But at least it's a conversation that's happening.

However, when it comes to the royal family, because of course, the couple didn't just point to issue the racism and mental health in wider society or in the media, but also within the royal family. Now the royal family did release a statement a couple of days ago. And it quite simply said that while they recognize there's some concerning issues there, they do want to deal with this as a family.

A royal source told CNN that they very much see the family is at the center of the problem and they also suggested that the Duke and Duchess perhaps should have initiated the conversation privately rather than doing a public interview. So there was a bit of a rebuke there as well. The whole nation continues to talk about this all quiet on the palace

front. We had Prince Charles doing an official visit earlier in the week. He went to see a vaccination center in London. And of course someone did ask him what they thought of the interview. They will keep getting asked the question. So I don't think we're going to hear any answers any time soon -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much. CNN's Anna Stewart in Windsor, England. Appreciate it.

And former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama spoke candidly to "People" magazine about her own low grade depression during the pandemic. She also encouraged other Americans to talk more openly about their mental health.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Depression is understandable in these circumstances during these times.


You know, and to think that somehow that we can just continue to rise above all of the shock and the trauma and the upheaval that we have been experiencing without feeling it in that way is just unrealistic. What I have said to my children, to my daughters, is that I think one of the things that is getting me through is that I'm old enough to have perspective.


BRUNHUBER: And clearly, she's not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in August found that nearly 41 percent of respondents reported mental health issues and about one American in three said they have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Now many Americans are in fact, people everywhere can relate to Michelle Obama's concerns. It's been one year since the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic and a working COVID vaccine seemed like a dream. CNN's Tom Foreman looks at how things have changed in the U.S. since last March.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The NBA season called a time-out after a players of the Utah Jazz tests positive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quite frankly, everybody was shocked.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Actors Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson developed chills, aches and are diagnosed.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Everyone was wondering when we were going to see somebody famous.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The World Health Organization declares a pandemic. And on March 11, 2020 COVID widely dismissed by the president as a minor threat from distant China --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear.

FOREMAN (voice-over): -- it comes crashing home.

TRUMP: To keep new cases from entering our shores we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Overnight travel screams to a near halt. Millions of workers are told to stay away from the office and start grappling with Zoom calls. And kids schools are shutting down too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This could be our last time going to school today.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Panic buying strips many grocery stores of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, necessities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only things you've got left is like salami. You know, I can't use salami every day.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Food lines sprout up shockingly miles long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just kind of all getting together and figuring out how we can help the best way.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Confusion rains. People are told to wash their groceries and don't bother. Wear a mask and maybe not. The trouble will last a couple weeks, but then again.

FAUCI: The worst is, yes, ahead for us. It is how we respond to that challenge that's going to determine what the ultimate end point is going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is how difficult is this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a war zone. It's a medical war zone.

FORMAN (voice-over): In hospitals the worst times come fast through too many patients, too few supplies, doctors and nurses pushed beyond exhaustion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today has been crazy.

FORMAN (voice-over): And more bodies than morgues can handle. Many families must say farewell by telephone.

DR. UMESH GIDWANI, MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL: One patient expires. It's very hard to lose a patient that you've been fighting for.

FORMAN (voice-over): Before that crucial day in March, 782 cases and 28 COVID fatalities had a been recorded nationwide. By month's end it's more than 192,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths including minister Ronnie Hampton in Louisiana who was diagnosed and dies a day later. RONNIE HAMPTON, MINISTER, DIED OF COVID: I want you to know that my

faith has never wavered.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Now the number of fatalities in the U.S. is well over a half million, famous, influential, and regular folks.

FORMAN: That's about one American dying every minute since March 11th one year ago.


BRUNHUBER: That's incredible.

Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of dying in a country a top U.N. official calls hell. A new CNN investigation goes inside Yemen's hospitals for a look at how dire the situation really is.

And a moment of remembrance in Japan as the country marks ten years since the Fukushima disaster.