Return to Transcripts main page


Brazil's ICUs Overflow; Kenya Imposes New Lockdown on Some Provinces; Ship Blocking Suez Canal Has Economic Toll; Top Myanmar General Vows to Uphold Democracy; Inside Hong Kong's Rough and Confusing Vaccine Rollout; Football Legend Thierry Henry Quits Social Media. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired March 27, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, welcome to our viewers all around the world, appreciate your company, I am Michael Holmes.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, a display of military might, as Myanmar threatens protesters with their lives. One live report.

Also, the COVID surge around the world, new restrictions in France, Kenya on lockdown and heartbreaking scenes as Brazil's hospital system teeters on collapse.

And, the situation in the Suez Canal. How the holdup could son affect consumer pockets and how high tide may come to the rescue.


HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

Right now, Brazil is being hit harder by the coronavirus than any other country as it sees more cases and deaths, than ever before. Brazil, on Friday, adding more than 3,000 virus deaths to its total for the second time in a week, a tragic new record. Since the pandemic began, more than 300,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to COVID.

Hospitals are overflowing and much-needed medicine, in short supply. CNN, obtaining footage from inside of bursting intensive care units. Matt Rivers, with the story.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the system collapses, it starts here. Paramedics rushing to respond to seemingly unending cries for help. This time, it's a grandmother short of breath, another COVID case limping toward a hospital system that cannot handle more patients.

RIVERS: So it's easy to spot ambulances like this one racing all over the city going on call after call after call and in some cases, going to multiple hospitals before they actually find one that can admit the patients that they have in the back.

RIVERS (voice-over): Here, a dozen ambulances with patients await outside a Sao Paulo hospital, hoping a spot opens up inside. These days though, getting inside might not help.

The person who gave CNN this footage from another Sao Paulo hospital told us, it feels like a war zone. The rampant viral spread its own mass casualty event and, across the country, a lack of medical supplies is crippling the ability to care for patients.

In this footage given to us from Brazil's federal district a nurse says this oxygen tube is leaking, taped to a wall, they're strung up all over the hospital this way. In some places, draped between windows. It's the only way to get the limited oxygen they have from its source to the patient.

Overflowing rooms are the norm in Brazil now. This Sao Paulo hospital was designated this week as a COVID only facility but it's plain to see, as we walk through, that it's filled beyond capacity, unable to accept any new patients.

RIVERS: This facility is designed for 16 patients; there's roughly double that number inside there right now.

RIVERS (voice-over): Crowded ICUs across the country have created impossible choices. This nurse, who fears he could lose his job for speaking with us, says one older patient this week was the victim of a zero-sum game. His life for another.

RIVERS: Did you even think that was possible?

RIVERS (voice-over): The nurse says the patient wasn't getting better, so we extubated him and gave his ventilator to a younger patient with a better chance to live.

And for those watching this all up close, like paramedic Luis Eduardo Pimentel (ph) the health care collapse is unbelievably painful.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he says, crying. "There is this cycle, taking a patient to the hospital, then a hearse arriving to get another body. It just hurts too much."

This video given to CNN from inside a city morgue shows coffins, bodies inside waiting to be cremated. There are so many, demand is roughly triple what they can handle in a single day. So the coffins are stacked, waiting their turn.

So many people have died in Sao Paulo recently, this week, there's been burials every few minutes, enough that they can't get them all done during the day. Cemeteries now busy, even at night.


RIVERS: We've been on the ground here reporting in Brazil for more than 2 weeks now and when we try to show in the report is what we've been seeing, which are consistent signs of collapse at just about every level of Brazil's health care system.


RIVERS: And when you look at what's going to happen going forward, consider that there's been hundreds of thousands of new cases recorded here in Brazil in just the last 7 days, which is why so many epidemiologists that I've spoken to are concerned that we haven't even hit the peak yet here in Brazil.

And that's on top of what we've seen so far. Consider, Michael, just over the last 2 weeks or so, of all the coronavirus deaths recorded around the world, Brazil has accounted for roughly a quarter of those deaths, an absolutely dire situation that is ongoing here in Brazil -- Michael.


HOLMES: Our thanks to Matt Rivers and his reporting there over recent weeks.

Now COVID-19 cases also surging in France where a third wave is hitting hard.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We weren't really expecting a resurgence of this epidemic as fast as intense as this because right now, we are submerged in severe cases. People who are younger than the last time. And we can't pin down how long this wave will last. Two, three weeks?

Or two, three months?

We don't quite know.


HOLMES: Officials are ordering new restrictions there, a big part of the country already under lockdown but now, in those areas, classrooms will have to shut down if there is just one positive case. It used to be 3 cases from primary schools all the way to high school.

To Germany now, classifying all of France as high risk. Starting on Sunday, travelers from France will have to quarantine upon arrival and have a negative test that is less than 48 hours old.

Officials in the U.K. have also taken note of the situation in France. Scott McLean is in London for us.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have a new effort to keep new COVID variants out. The British government will soon require truck drivers transporting goods from France to be tested for COVID-19 on arrival, according to an industry source familiar with the plans.

Much of mainland Europe is dealing with a new surge in infections without enough vaccine to stop it. France says it will allow dentists and even veterinarians to administer shots to help speed out the rollout of its vaccination campaign.

In Italy, the Vatican is offering the Pfizer shot to poor people in Rome, while in Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban is promising his country will have a summer of freedom. Hungary has jumped ahead of most other European countries in the vaccine race, thanks, in part, to its decision to use Russian and Chinese made vaccines -- Scott McLean, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Strict new COVID lockdown measures, now in effect for much of Kenya. Moving in and out of Nairobi and surrounding counties is banned. Eleni Giokos, following the story for us from Johannesburg.

What's triggered Kenya's president to make this move and how bad is the uptick?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: President Uhuru Kenyatta announced yesterday that the third wave hit Kenya, probably the beginning of March. That's what it looks like right now, that the positivity rate in the country, shooting up to 22 percent, from 2.6 percent at the end of January.

Hospitalization rates have accelerated and, in fact, since the top of March admissions increasing by 52 percent. So what is happening on the ground and the pressure it is putting on the health care system, this isn't a country wide lockdown. This is focusing on 5 of the 47 counties in Kenya.

These counties account for 70 percent of Kenya's caseload. These counties now mean no movement, in and out, a curfew between 8 pm and 4 am. Importantly, no meetings between people. All schools suspended, even cabinet meetings being put on hold.

So they are taking very strict action to curb the spread. One doctor who I spoke to yesterday, said that these measures should have been taken 2 weeks ago but is hoping that now it will be a circuit breaker.

He has been describing the dire situation in hospitals. Some people have been turned away, seeking non COVID related medical attention. People cannot find beds. ICU wards filling up.

Of course, it is the people that require oxygen. Public health care measures have been put in place as well as a curfew. Of course, there are a lot of concerns about how the rest of the country will respond.

But the anticipation here, Michael, is that the third wave will start to subside between 30 and 60 days from now. Vaccine rollouts are underway, again, but a concern here, it is not happening quick enough.


GIOKOS: So all of these things, now coming into play in Kenya.

HOLMES: Eleni Giokos, thank you so much, appreciate it there, in JoBurg. Now Hong Kong has been leading by example, showing zero tolerance for

coronavirus outbreaks. When it comes to vaccines, it is now the textbook example of what not to do. After the break, we tell you why.

Plus, it is a race against time to dislodge that massive ship, stuck in the Suez Canal. Just ahead, how tides could help or hinder, the whole operation.




HOLMES: At least 32 people are dead, 165 others injured after 2 trains collided on Friday in Egypt. Authorities say it happened after one of the trains got stuck after an emergency brake was pulled.

Egypt's prime minister says years of neglect have left the country's railway system in a dangerous condition. He is vowing whoever is found responsible for the incident will be punished.

The Biden administration says it will help in any way it can to dislodge that massive cargo ship, still blocking the Suez Canal. Two Defense officials, say the U.S. Navy is sending a team of dredging experts to lend their expertise.

Hundreds of other ships are at a standstill in the waterway or just outside of it. That is wreaking all sorts of havoc. CNN's Ben Wedeman with the latest from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The race is on to dislodge the giant container ship wedged across the Suez Canal since Tuesday. The canal authority estimates up to 20,000 cubic meters of sand and mud need to be removed to refloat to ship.

As dredging work continues, a fleet of tugboats stand by, hoping high tide will provide the vital window in which to free the free the carrier. Almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, the Ever Given got stuck during a sandstorm in 40 knot winds. Blocking a crucial supply chain, that waves around 12 percent of global trade through the quickest maritime link between Asia and Europe.

SAL MERCOGLIANO, MARITIME HISTORIAN: The potential for this is to magnify. If this goes on for a long period of time, worst-case scenario, this goes on for a month to clear the vessel, that's going to cause a massive disruption in the economy.

We saw what happened with a global recession almost that took place in early COVID when all of a sudden, we were not able to move goods in a clear efficient way.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Roughly 30 percent of all global container volume transits daily through the 120 mile waterway carrying vital fuel and cargo.


Incoming ships will now be made to anchor in waiting areas in the Red Sea and Mediterranean. More than 200 vessels are backed up in either direction with more than 100 en route over the weekend. Their only alternative is to divert around the southern tip of Africa, adding about a week to the journey.

Japanese shipping companies who own the Ever Given told CNN they're bracing for lawsuits but insist their priority right now is refloating the ship, possibly as early as Saturday.

WEDEMAN: And time is of the essence, as data from the shipping expert, Lloyd's List suggests nearly $10 billion worth of goods is disrupted every day, raising the question, who will bear the cost? -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.



HOLMES: Joining me now from North Carolina, is Sal Mercogliano, who we just saw in Ben's report. He is a maritime historian at Campbell University and a former Merchant Mariner.

Professor, great to have you on for this crazy story. Let's just say 12 percent of world trade passes through the Suez; the majority of trade between Asia and Europe, relying on the canal, including things that are vital, like medical equipment and PPE.

What are the potential impacts of global supply chains?

We're talking knock-on effect for hundreds of ships and their cargo.

MERCOGLIANO: We are seeing cargo, right now, pile up at the canal, anywhere between 200-300 vessels we're looking at right now. Every day, roughly 50 vessels arriving, the average flow through there. Lloyd's estimated about $9 billion worth of goods, traveling both entirely through the canal. So this has an impact on Europe and Asia.

If you start seeing what we're seeing, we're starting to see vessels diverting. Ever Green has already diverted their first vessels around the Cape. We're seeing tankers go around. We're seeing a 3 percent spike in oil right now in.

We can expect to see container charges right now, container rates coming from the Far East are $7500 per box. Companies are thinking about adding a surcharge on that because it's going to be costing extra fuel and an extra 3,500 miles, 7 days steaming. So ***

HOLMES: What do you, when you look at what's happened, has it exposed, I don't know, a fragility in the Suez system?

It operates fine, until it doesn't. To think one ship shuts down a big proportion of the world's supply chains, what might have to happen in terms of procedure or even design of the canal itself?

It's very narrow where this incident happened.

MERCOGLIANO: It's narrow and it's the main one-way section left south of the Great Bitter Lake, down to the Red Sea section. A couple of things come to mind.

Number one, vessels the size of the Ever Given go through there daily. In fact, the vessel just in front of her in the convoy, that morning, the Galaxy, is the same exact size and traversed the canal with no problem.

A sister ship, of the Ever Given, was in the Great Bitter Lake ready to come southbound. Large vessels, like this, go up and down the canal without too much problem. The canal has been expanded since 2015.

The irony of this all, when the canal closed in 1968, vessels went around the Cape of Good Hope for eight years. They grew in size and Egypt wanted those vessels back and have grown the canal ever since.

We won't know the real answer here because we are hearing conflicting stories from the ship, from the agent, from the Suez Canal. But usually, it comes down to human or mechanical error of some kind.

HOLMES: It's literally longer than the Suez Canal is wide and a bow in Asia, a stern in Africa, hanging across the channel.

What is the risk of the ship itself being damaged by powered sitting?

Sort of, propped up at either end and the stresses on the integrity of the ship?

Could there be cracks or damage?

MERCOGLIANO: We already know that the operator of the vessel has sent out a report this morning, that the empty void area in the front of the vessel, including the bow thruster room, has flooded.

We already know, there is a fracture in the hull. You have to be careful in the situation, I use this analogy, imagine putting your car on cinder blocks but you are suspending it from the fenders. Now you want to kick a block out. It's a dangerous position you're in.

Dredging is great but you have to worry about this vessel hanging from two points and firmly planted on Asia. And the shallowest part of the channel there, it is on the eastern side.

You have to worry about the vessel rolling, the vessel cracking. The nightmare scenario is the vessel breaks apart. That would be not weeks or days of salvage.


MERCOGLIANO: But months at that time.

HOLMES: How fascinating to speak with you and tap into your expertise. Professor Sal Mercogliano, thank you so much.

MERCOGLIANO: You're welcome. Thank you.


HOLMES: Nature, in the form of high tides could potentially play a role in helping crews dislodge the ship.


HOLMES: We'll take a quick break. When we come back, Myanmar's military marks Armed Forces Day as the brutal crackdown on dissent intensifies. Meanwhile, state media, giving a terrifying warning to pro-democracy protesters. We will tell you all about it with Ivan Watson, when we come back.




HOLMES: Myanmar's top general is promising to hold elections and promote democracy. He spoke at the annual Armed Forces Day parade. But that is just a thin promise, made just one day after warning on state TV, pro-democracy protesters risk being shot, quote, "in the head or the back."

An activist group says that security forces, already killing more than 300 people since the coup last month.


HOLMES: Ivan Watson, in Hong Kong.

That is a chilling warning from the military. Really, a direct threat to shoot to kill civilians.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a signal of how the military is struggling to crush this uprising against the February 1st coup. Even as it is celebrating itself with this parade, in the capital. A parade that, to the best of our knowledge, the only foreign delegation that attended it was the Russians.

The military dictator calling Russia a true friend. I think it underscores the fact that the military junta faces a crisis of legitimacy, both inside of the country and around the world right now.

At least for the time being now, close to 2 months after the coup swept an elected government from power, they justified that by saying, the leaders of the former elected government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, were guilty of crimes such as corruption.

But in the same breath, the military is issuing warnings to protesters on military owned television stations, warning that they will shoot people in the head. We are seeing a disturbing amount of images and videos, emerging from different cities and towns, across the country today of violent clashes that are killed and injured.

We're trying to confirm those right now. I was in communications with the leader of a protest movement in a township in Yangon, the commercial capital. He said he was planning for protests in his township today, starting at 8 am, silent protests outside of people's homes against the military.

But also, explaining how there are hotheads within the opposition to the coup movement, who are mobilizing to carry out acts of violence against the military, that there are disagreements within the protest movement about whether or not it is the right strategy moving forward.

In the meantime, we are hearing more and more from the ethnic militias that control swaths of territory around the borders of Myanmar and have fought against the military for decades in the past, expressing support for the protest movement in the cities.

It has a very diverse country. It has 150 different ethnic groups and more than a dozen of the so-called ethnic militias that have been in various states of war with the central government and cease-fires. And CNN was able to interview the leader of one of the largest groups. This is the Shan state army. Take a listen to what he had to say to us.


GEN. AWD SERK, SHAN STATE ARMY COMMANDER (through translator): We will stand with the people. It means, if they are in trouble, they come to us seeking help and we will take care of them.

If the military continues to shoot and kill people, it means the junta will, have simply, transformed themselves into terrorists. They simply do not care about the people. We won't sit still, and we will find every means to protect people.


WATSON: This would be, potentially, a big problem for the military, Michael, if the protesters in the cities link up and ally themselves, with these militias that control large parts of the border regions of the country -- Michael.

HOLMES: We see more sanctions targeting military leaders. I know you have been connecting the dots on that issue. Also, the economics of this, give us a sense how interconnected the military is with the economy.

WATSON: The military, Michael, is not just armed forces involved in bayonets, bullets and bombs. The military runs giant companies, two huge conglomerates, MEHL and NEC. A United Nations fact finding a report from a few years ago found that there is a group, called the Patron Group, which is part of the corporate governance of MEHL and the military dictator is the leader of that Patron Group.

In other words, he's a business mogul, as well as a man dressed in an army general's uniform. They're involved from everything to construction, to natural resource extraction, to tobacco, to the garment industry, to running ports and hotels.

This week, the U.S. and British governments both announced sanctions on these companies. The U.S., on MEHL and NEC, the U.K. on MEHL, to further try to punish the military for what's going on right now.


WATSON: That gives you a sense of the linkage in Myanmar, between commerce and corporations and the armed forces. When Myanmar was a more economically isolated country, facing many sanctions, the military was able to continue cranking out money, printing cash, while also nearly controlling all of the levers of governance in the country -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, all intertwined. Ivan Watson, in Hong Kong, appreciate, it thank you so much.

We are taking a quick break, when we come, back the football legend Thierry Henry is quitting social media.



When you see a comment on social media, although you have 1 million that are good, you know you are going to concentrate on the bad one.

HOLMES (voice-over): When we come back, CNN sits down with the football star, talking about his decision and what he hopes it will inspire others to do. We will be right back.





HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers, all around the world, I am Michael Holmes, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now a new analysis says there could be enough coronavirus vaccines for 70 percent of the world's population by the end of the year. That seems to be, more or less, the threshold of herd immunity. Duke University researchers estimate that 11 billion doses will be needed to reach that number and vaccine makers are aiming to hit 12 billion this year.

So far, Hong Kong, has been able to keep COVID-19 cases to a minimum and now has plenty of vaccine doses to go around. So Hong Kong's vaccine rollout, relatively easy, right?

Not exactly, as CNN's Kristie Lu Stout explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hong Kong should be an easy vaccine success story. It has secured 22.5 million doses from Sinovac, Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca, more than enough to inoculate a population of 7.5 million.

A widely praised online booking system in place and a vaccine rollout has been underway but the rollout has been rough. Due to concerns over packaging problems, health officials have suspended the use of two batches of the European made BioNTech vaccine, distributed by Fosun Pharma.

In a statement, they said that, "So far, BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have no reason to believe that there is a risk to product safety."


STOUT: Before the suspension, vaccine hesitancy was already high. According to a University of Hong Kong study, only 50 percent said, in January, they intend to get vaccinated, much lower than elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the reasons for, that is our success, in controlling COVID in the past year. We've only had 11,000 cases in 7.5 million people, less than 1 percent of people in Hong Kong. I think that means we don't necessarily see the risk as the U.S. and Europe.

STOUT (voice-over): Another factor behind the hesitancy, fear: at least 8 people have died after getting the Chinese made Sinovac vaccine, although official investigations found no direct link with the inoculations.

At least one death of a patient who received the BioNTech vaccine is being investigated. The fatalities have spooked many in Hong Kong but experts insist there's no reason to be concerned.

DR. CHRISTOPHER HUI, RESPIRATORY AND CRITICAL CARE SPECIALIST: Don't be afraid, get vaccinated. What we have seen is there has been a lot of information. Sometimes, with a lot of information in the open public, it creates a kind of analysis paralysis. People, perhaps, are beginning to overthink.

STOUT (voice-over): Sinovac has yet to be approved by the World Health Organization. A lack of data could also feeding public reluctance to get that shot. The government said that the benefits outweigh the risks and accused critics of smearing the Chinese made vaccine.

To boost confidence, Hong Kong's top leader receiving her first and second Sinovac injections on camera. But a quick vaccination drive may be a long shot;, as of Wednesday, only 5.5 percent of the population has received a dose.

STOUT: Hong Kong experts say that 70 percent of the population need to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity, paving the way for the city to relax social distancing restrictions, resume international travel and reboot an ailing economy. But some say it may take 300 more days for the city to reach that goal. STOUT (voice-over): Before the suspension, the BioNTech vaccine was

taken up at a faster rate. Many of the newly inoculated shared celebratory selfies of their first jab. But these moments of relief and joy, including my own, are happening at an even slower pace as hurdles and hesitancy hamper the rollout -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


HOLMES: The International Olympic Committee, scaling back the number of people who can attend this year's Tokyo games even further. Because of the pandemic, they say that they will grant accreditation, only to people who have essential and operational, roles at the games.

A spokesman says, a decision will not affect members of the media. Officials had already announced overseas spectators wouldn't be allowed at the Summer Games.

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame is making its way across Japan, participants smiling and waving to small numbers of bystanders on Friday. About 10,000 will participate in the 4 month relay.

Let's show you the route the torch will take. It will go through all of Japan's 47 prefectures before ending up in Tokyo. Next up, the runners will finish the Fukushima prefecture on Saturday and then move on to the next.

The French football star, Thierry Henry, has said that he is quitting social media. That, is until tech companies start doing more to hold users accountable for their actions. This comes after a recent spate of online racist abuse, targeting Black football players.

The legendary athlete telling "CNN SPORT"'s Darren Lewis he hopes his decision will encourage others to take a stand.


THIERRY HENRY, FOOTBALL STAR: Muhammad Ali didn't wait to see if everyone was with him. That's what it felt. Please understand I'm nowhere near that caliber, nowhere near. But I said to myself, Thierry, that's how you feel, you feel strong about this?

That's what I want to do is to show, obviously, I'm not happy with the way things are going on social media and where it goes. Because every time I hear these types of complaints -- and I'm not understanding well, it's not just bad things on social media, it's also -- I mentioned it again, there is a lot of good stuff.

But can it be a safe place for a person to operate on it?

DARREN LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you speak about this, you show people that you do have the option to take yourself off social media if it is affecting your mental health. And I think we are in a situation now, where people have to realize that if the social media companies won't take that action we need to take that action for ourselves. [02:40:00]

HENRY: I played the game. Social media wasn't that big at that particular moment but I've seen a lot of it. I understood recently, the vulnerable resource of good emotion and showing emotion is a good thing. I come across so many people. But we all know, right?

That when you see a comment on social media, although you have 1 million that don't, you will concentrate on the one bad one. That is what is going to happen on that site. OK?

So you, I or anyone -- and this is a me thing personally -- sometimes, I just try to figure out what I should do, who am I, the and what they're saying is, is it right?

Is it true?

Am I like this?

I'm just trying to imagine a kid going through these wishes and sometimes, I just can't deal with it. With all your knowledge, with all of your learning, you are a man of a certain age. So imagine when you're a kid and this is what I'm saying.

Can it be safer for kids?

Can it be safer for any community?

Can it be safer for your mental health?

This is something for me that is very important. We are seeing it by the minute. Things are just a tiny bit better. Now the problem has moved on social media where people can hide. People can hide behind fake accounts and they can say, oh, it is difficult to trace where it is, they can close the account and reopen a new one.

Who is it?

Can we know?


HOLMES: CNN reached out to social media companies for their reaction to Thierry Henry.

Twitter said, "Racist behavior, abuse, harassment, have no place on our service. Twitter is a safe place to express yourself and to follow the conversation about football, without fear of abuse or intimidation."

Nice in theory. Facebook and Instagram, sending a combined statement, saying they will, quote, "take tougher action when we become aware of people breaking our rules, in direct messages and have built tools to help people protect themselves.

"We will continue this work and we know these numbers are bigger than us. So we work with others to, collectively, drive societal change."

I am Michael Holmes, thank you for spending part of your day with me, follow me on Twitter at home CNN, over back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA," after the break.