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Suez Canal Authority Confirms Ever Given Mostly Free; U.S. Experts Urge Public to Follow Safety Measures; Some U.S. State Seeing a Rise in COVID Infections; England Lifts COVID Stay-at-Home Order; Biden Under Pressure to Address Gun Laws, Border Crisis; Key Democratic Lawmakers Slam Georgia's New Voting Law. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, and I'm Rosemary Church.

We are tracking developments in Egypt where a high tide in the Suez Canal may finally help free the Ever Given. The massive cargo ship has been blocking the water way for nearly a week now. But not long ago came confirmation from canal officials the ship is mostly free. Video shows the back of the ship being dislodged by crews. Now they're working to pull the front out while keeping the freed stern clear and they hope to refloat it in the coming hours. But the CEO of a savage company working to free the ship told Dutch radio, this was the easiest part and that the bow is stuck rock solid.

So let's bring in senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman. He joins us live from Cairo. Good to see you again Ben. So the bow still stuck but the stern is free. What is the latest information you have on this effort to free the whole vessel?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the high tide peaks in about an hour and a half and that is when Egyptian officials are hoping that there will be progress made in freeing the bow. Certainly, the statement from the CEO of Boskalis, which is the Dutch dredging company that the bow is stuck rock solid in clay throws a bit of cold water on the euphoria that was in the air here in Egypt.

It appears that perhaps even though progress has been made, very impressive progress has been made, we're still not out of the woods or the water, so to speak. The plan was that if the Ever Given was free and could float free that it would be tugged to the Great Bitter Lake, which is about 30 kilometers north of there, and that in theory, sometime today, navigation could be resumed on the Suez Canal. Keeping in mind, there are about 400 ships either in the canal, the Red Sea, or the Mediterranean waiting to make the passage. But if this is the case, if the -- there is still a long way to go in terms of freeing the Ever Given. Those optimistic predictions may prove somewhat false -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: That is a real concern. Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joining us live from Cairo, many thanks.

Well word that the end could be in sight is welcome news for global business of course. The economic fallout of the blockage has grown exponentially over the last few days. For perspective on this, let's bring in Richard Meade. He is an editor at the long running shipping journal "Lloyd's List" and joins me live now from London. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So this massive ship has been stuck in the Suez Canal for near a week now. It's looking promising right now, but we don't want to jump the gun here. Talk to us about the likely impact overall on business in the short term and long-term?

MEADE: I think obviously everybody's been ultra-cautious. We've had a few false starts in terms of the replacing. So it's now a question of waiting and see how long it takes for the canal to get open. What we saw over the weekend we're tracking a number of major container lines already rerouting ships. Regardless of how quickly it takes them to get clear the backlog in the canal when it does eventually open, what you're looking at now is several months of disruption in the global supply chains. It's not just a question of the canal being free and then all ships going through, that's going to take several days to clear the backlog, regardless of when they do open it.

We're tracking currently 372 ships waiting to transit, is likely to grow and wait. But as I say, a lot of ships already rerouting. That adds another seven to ten days, depending on how fast they're going. And when they do eventually get through the canal, those who've been waiting, you're going to see a lot of congestion at the ports as all the ships turn up at once effectively. So you're just deferring the congestion down the supply chain. So this is not a quick fix and regardless of how quickly they do get it open. It's certainly not going it resolve this problems in the supply chain any time soon.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean that is a real concern. Of course, at this juncture we don't know what caused this.


It may have been a combination of weather conditions, human error or one of the other. We don't know. But one thing is for sure because of the business impact, you talk about there, they need to figure out how to avoid this ever happening again. How would you do that? How concerned are you that this may happen again?

MEADE: I think, you know, Suez Canal has got a good track record. Regardless of the talk of how it happened and the size of the ship, and various other factors, the actual investigation is going to start today in earnest once they do eventually free it. And I think we will be looking to that report for lessons learned.

I think there is an issue of size of the vessel, you know, for the industry has seen the size of these vessels increase exponentially over the last decade or so. And I think there will be some questions as to, you know, piloting rules and safety regulations going through, but that is to come after the backlog is cleared. At the moment, the priority for the industry and the companies involved, really is to get this backlog cleared.

CHURCH: Right, and of course we know that high tide peaks next hour. How confident are you that it will be resolved sooner rather than later? And what do you think is happening on the ship now? I don't know if that's your area of expertise, as they're trying to sort of work the bow free knowing that the stern is at least released there.

MEADE: I think it's only positive. I've been talking to people on the ground over the weekend, and I think there was a certain amount of euphoria this morning as it was partly refloating. As you say, it's not quite there yet. There are still some serious issues to deal with but it's looking more optimistic. But let's bear in mind that the optimism has been quite high in waves over the weekend. And you get to see it actually still. So will keep our fingers crossed but I think everyone has been ultra-cautious to declare it as a successful operation quite yet.

CHURCH: Yes. We'll watch for that high tide in about an hour and a half from now. "Lloyd's List" editor, Richard Meade in London, thank you so much for your time and your expertise, appreciate it.

Well U.S. experts are warning a new COVID surge may be on the way. Many states are reporting a rise in case numbers and Michigan officials say that state is already seeing a new surge. Dr. Fauci says the rise of new infections has been fueled by a number of factors. They include new variants, more movements, and the easing of restrictions.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: When you're coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you're in danger of a surge coming up. And unfortunately, that's what we're starting to see. We got stuck at around 50,000 new cases per day. Went up to 60,000 the other day. And that's really a risk. We've seen that in our own country and that's exactly what's happened in Europe. In several of the countries in the European Union where they plateaued and then started to come back.


CHURCH: As more people get vaccinated and restrictions start to ease, experts are urging people to continue mitigation efforts to help avoid a spike in cases. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro has more now on that.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, U.S. CDC DIRECTOR: Please, take this moment very seriously.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Top officials warning Americans to keep focused on the pandemic, despite the pulls of warmer weather and encouraging vaccine news. Reservations on home rental sites VRBO, Airbnb, are skyrocketing according to those companies. Signaling a desire among Americans to get out of the house, for travel, and gathering for holidays like Easter and Passover are not a good idea, experts say.

FAUCI: Whenever we see surges in travel, the that around holidays or around certain situations like we did over the Christmas and New Year's holiday and other types of holidays, you get congregation of people. Those are the kind of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected.

SANTORO (voice-over): Cases are starting to rise again in some states, including Michigan. The Department of Health tells CNN they're now experiencing a third coronavirus surge. While more than a quarter of Americans have received their first dose of a vaccine, only around 15 percent are fully vaccinated. But most states continue to expand eligibility guidelines. Louisiana, among the states expanding vaccine eligibility, to all adults to over age 16 on Monday. Still this moment has all the ingredients for a new national surge, experts say. But Americans can prevent it.

WALENSKY: I know people are tired. And we're just asking people to hang on a little while longer in terms of the masks and the mitigation strategies so we can get the majority of people vaccinated.

SANTORO: In Michigan, officials are making the vaccine available to every resident of the state over the age of 16 starting April 5th. And they're urging people to get their appointments for that vaccine now.


Because they say getting the vaccine as quickly as possible is the best way to slow this new surge. And it could be the best way to prevent the entire country from having a surge of its own.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: In Australia, the greater Brisbane area have started a three- day lockdown after ten new COVID cases were reported there. Queensland premier says she is very concerned because the highly transmissible variant first discovered in the U.K. was detected.

Mexico's government released a report that shows nearly 120,000 victims of COVID-19 may have gone uncounted until now. That would put the total number of dead in Mexico since the pandemic began at more than 321,000. A 60 percent jump from the latest official number.

In France, intensive care units are so overwhelmed with COVID patients, health care workers will soon be forced to make tough decisions. Doctors in Paris say within the next two weeks, they will have to select which patients get access to the ICUs and which do not. They say the growing outbreak is alarming and current measures are not enough to slow the spread. Meantime, in England some of the country's COVID lockdown rules were

lifted today as the situation appears to be stabilizing. Outdoor gatherings with up to six people are now allowed and outdoor team sports can resume for all ages.

For more on all of this, let's bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz in London. Selma, good to see you. This easing of some restrictions will offer new hope. I know you're very hopeful. What are the details about what people can and can't do?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: This is the first step in a rather long road map out of lockdown, Rosemary. So these are baby steps to begin to ease restrictions in this country. As you said, starting today up to two households up to six people can meet outside to socialize. They can meet in private gardens. Outdoor team sports can also resume. So you'll see pitches and tennis courts and feels across this country come alive again. And for many people, this is a huge step.

Again, although it seems minor in London, for example, we have been under stay at home orders since before Christmas. So now the government changing their messaging from stay at home to stay local. Hands, face, space, fresh air, that's going to be the new mantra. Essentially emphasizing to people stay outside, that's safe. Don't go indoors, don't socialize indoors. That's still not allowed.

We'll see more restrictions ease on April 12th when retail will resume. We'll be allowed to get our haircut. So yes, little baby steps here toward freedom. But of course, the Prime Minister morning everyone to be cautious, to remain vigilant. You have cases rising in Europe, of course, variants are still a very real threat particularly when it comes to this country's vaccination program. You have about 30 million people who have received the first dose of their vaccine and, of course, the authorities want to protect those gains. But this is exciting. This is a really big day. I'm for one, I'm going to get to attend a garden party. I get to see my friends for the first time in months. I'm a little bit nervous but I am absolutely over the moon -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: I am so happy for you. That is great news. All very promising for people there in England. Many thanks. Salma Abdelaziz green is up- to-date.

Well a controversial election law in Georgia has Democrats up in arms. Now they are pushing even harder for a national law to protect the rights of all voters.

Plus, almost a year after the death of George Floyd, the trial is set to begin for the former officer charged in his killing.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well U.S. President Joe Biden is under pressure to address two key issues facing his administration. Gun control in the wake of the two recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado and the migrant crisis at the country's southern border. But right now the president is hoping to focus more closely on his economic vision for the future. CNN's John Harwood has more.


JON HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The challenge for the White House this week is to maintain focus on what president Biden considers his most important priority. Now from the right, Republicans are pressuring the White House to stem the flow of migrants across the Mexican border that has left so many children being housed in border patrol facilities that are inappropriate for kids.

From the left, Democrats are pressuring the administration to do something about gun control. Now the administration does not want to focus on the border situation because there's no quick fix. Even as they scramble for more health and human services facilities that are more appropriate for children. They don't want to focus on gun control because they know right now that Democrats do not have the votes to pass either an assault weapons ban or backgrounds checks. The White House is working on both fronts but don't have an expectations of success any time soon.

What the president wants to focus on is the massive infrastructure and human capital development plan that his second priority after passing that big COVID relief bill. That's something the administration considers both important and bold and also achievable. The president will begin outlining that program called Build Back Better in Pittsburgh in a speech on Wednesday.

John Harwood, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: Democratic lawmakers are slamming the Georgia voting law that was ushered in by the state's Republican governor. It imposes stricter retirements for absentee voting, limits ballot drop boxes, and give state officials power to take over local election boards among other things. Georgia-based corporations, the Coca-Cola Company, Home Depot, and Delta weighed in on the measure over the weekend. But some Democrats are calling on them to do more. Recently elected Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock said both parties have an obligation to make sure minority voices are heard.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): We have to pass voting rights no matter what.


And the reason why I have insisted that we talk to our Republican sisters and brothers on the other side of the aisle is because if we don't do anything else in the Senate, we have to stand up for the democracy. The filibuster at the end of the day is about minority rights in the Senate. How do you insist on protecting minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society?


CHURCH: But Georgia isn't the only state where this is happening. Dozens of states have proposed bills aimed at rolling back voting status. And earlier I spoke with CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and asked him if this was an attempt at voter suppression.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the answer is clearly yes. You know, you didn't even mention what could be the most explosive element of the Georgia law. One that really I think it's a time bomb under the 2024 election, which allows -- gives the state more capacity to go in and basically replace county election boards. And you can just imagine a Republican-controlled state legislative board in Georgia going in and replacing Democratic county election boards in Fulton or Gwinnett, or Dekalb with the presidency hanging on the balance.

I mean it's hard to imagine any more explosive scenario for the country. And look, whether you -- it's already happening in Iowa and Montana and New Hampshire and especially across the Sun Belt, Arizona, Texas, Florida not far behind. We are see seeing the most sustained effort to make it tougher for Americans to vote since the Jim Crow era, since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And it's very important that Democrats, you know, are talking about challenging this in court. It's going to be very hard with six-three Republican majority on the Supreme Court. John Roberts has been skeptical of voting rights throughout his career. If Democrats are going to prevent this from happening or reverse what's already been done, they really only have one option and that it to end the filibuster to pass a nationwide for voting rights like what's contained in HR.1.

CHURCH: And this is happening right before everyone's eyes. Why is there not more outrage do you think?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, you know, it's slowly building. And it is surprising. You know, process issues rarely engage the American public. We are, you know, we have to remember we're still dealing with the final stages of the pandemic that is up ended life for literally everyone in the country. Caused the greatest public health crisis that we've seen in a century. But, also, I think, Democrats have understanding of the Biden White House or some understandable reasons that have been primarily focused on that pandemic.

There hasn't yet been a march on Washington or a march on Georgia. There hasn't been sustained pressure on corporations in these states about whether they're going to kind of turn and acquiesce in this roll back of voting rights. I think there are a lot of people in the civil rights community feels the issue is not been sufficiently engaged but it's clearly coming to a head and ultimately, I think is the most likely issue this going to force the question of whether Democrats do or do not have the votes to curtail the filibuster.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH (on camera): Ron Brownstein talking to me earlier.

Well opening statement get underway in Minnesota today in what could be the United States' biggest trial of the year. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd last May. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty. Members of Floyd's family will be outside the courthouse joined by supporters. They plan to kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The amount of time Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck. The videotaped incident sparked massive protests around the world. Authorities have put major security measures in place ahead of the trial.

Well crews are working to move a massive ship blocking the Suez Canal in Egypt, while hundreds of vessels wait to move through the critical waterway. We will have the latest on the operation plus the economic fallout.

And as the situation on the streets of Myanmar deteriorates, President Biden weighs in.



CHURCH: We are keeping a close eye on the Suez Canal in Egypt where an imminent high tide may finally help free a massive cargo ship blocking the waterway. Ten tugboats have been working today to dislodge the Ever Given. And not long ago came word from canal officials the ship is mostly free. Crews hope to fully refloat the Ever Given in the coming hours. But the CEO of a savage company working on the operation told Dutch radio this was the easiest part and that the bow is stuck rock solid.

Well for more on all these developments, CNN's Anna Stewart is live in London. She joins us now. Good to see you Anna. So what are you learning about this massive ship that's been stuck in the Suez Canal and of course, the impact all this is having on business costs?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Nearly a week, Rosemary, of one of the biggest arteries of global trade being blocked. It represents 12 percent of global trade which runs through it. And as you said, while the Ever Given is now floating and mostly dislodged, the CEO of that salvage company has said the bow is stuck rock solid, which isn't good new at all.

There are hopes that as the waters rise, perhaps the ship can get moving today. That is the hope for business. Of course, there are some 300 plus ships stuck on either side of the Ever Given ship. They've got billions of dollars' worth of cargo on board and of course, they're stuck. So they're hoping to get movement here.

It was interesting looking at oil prices. While being a commodity is, of course, traded and runs through this canal. They did pull back today. Clearly, investors hoping that this is the beginning of the end of this blockage. You saw Brent crude down over 2 percent. I can bring you the prices now, though. They have pared back some of that. So it's now down less than one percent for Brent, over one percent for WTI.

It will be interesting if we see it translate to the other commodities that we see through the canal. For instance coffee, European coffee when it comes from Africa and Asia travel through this canal. We saw prices rise in recent days. Perhaps fears of shortages though won't actually be realized. There's no doubt, though, if the ship gets moving again, and it's good news for businesses, it will take a lot of time for the delays to end. It's going to be big knock on effect for the supply chain right across the world from the raw producers to the final and product.

Also, Rosemary, this comes as the worst time, really. Because global trade was under so much pressure due to the pandemic. All that online shopping has meant there's already been a shortage of containers of container ships. So this has really exacerbated that. So we're not going to see an end to trade delays and cost of business for some time, I think.

CHURCH: Yes, so right.