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Navalny Allies Call for Nationwide Rallies on Wednesday; Moscow Orders 20 Czech Diplomats to Leave the Country; Ontario's Hospitals Overwhelmed Amid Third Wave; Former Australian PM Condemns Partisan Influence; NASA Helicopter Set for Historic Flight on Mars; Navalny Allies Call for Nationwide Rallies on Wednesday; Top European Clubs Plan to Form "Super League"; Abandoned "Vagrant Fire" Suspected in Massive Blaze. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 19, 2021 - 01:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Amid growing concerns over Alexey Navalny's health, aides call for rallies across Russia while the West warns Putin.

Out of control. Historic buildings destroyed as Cape Town's Table Mountain is ravaged by fire.

Super league. Twelve top clubs vowing to break away and shift the landscape of European football.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


HOLMES: The Russian government under pressure from world leaders to keep jailed opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, alive. That's spoken Kremlin critic is on day 20 of a hunger strike and his allies say he's very close to death.

The European Union demanding that the Kremlin let Navalny see his own doctors. And the U.S. national security adviser saying the White House is weighing its options if Navalny were to die.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We have communicated to the Russian government that we have months to Mr. Navalny in their custody is the responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community. In terms of the specific measures that we would undertake, we are looking at a number of different costs we would impose. And I'm not going to telegraph that publicly at this point, but we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Russian opposition members meanwhile are calling for nationwide rallies to put more pressure on the government. Details now from CNN's Sam Kiley.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The followers of Alexey Navalny as a consequence of the Novichok poisoning, with nerve gas that he suffered back in August and a hunger strike that he is currently undergoing that they brought forth plans for mass demonstrations across Russia against the Putin regime ahead of actually reaching the target of having had 500,000 signatures in a online petition before triggering demonstrations.

They are now fearful that he could actually die following analysis by doctors who support him, saying that they fear he could be in new imminent danger of renal failure or of heart failure, following the spike of potassium in his bloodstream. This all comes as Moscow prosecutors have been trying to outlaw his organization and designated as extremist movement. Other organizations that fall in the category have been more often associated, for example, with violent, Islamic extremism, then if it was so designated, it would make it almost impossible for his followers to campaign the December elections.

But, nonetheless, they are hoping to launch these mass demonstrations, details of which we are unable to broadcast at this stage because there is legislation in this country that means even the media circulating details of such demonstrations could be prosecuted for incitement.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Moscow.


HOLMES: Joining me now is Masha Gessen, staff writer for "The New Yorker", and also author of the book, "Surviving Autocracy".

Masha, thanks so much for your time.

I mean, all the reports from supporters suggest that Navalny is risking his life with this hunger strike. Why do that what does he achieve? Or would he achieve with his own death?

MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: I don't think it's a question of what he would achieve with his own death. Although I think there is an answer to that as well. The simple answer to why he is doing this is because a hunger strike is absolutely the only form of protests that is available to an inmate in a Russian prison.

And so the only way he can demand what is his by law which is a visit by his regular physician is by declaring hunger strike.

HOLMES: When you look at the bigger picture, I mean, there's been widespread calls from the international community including from the U.S. for Navalny to be given the medical access, or for him to be released full stop. What can the international community do? Putin is not going to, you know, help Navalny presumably just because of U.S. or France or the U.K. or the E.U. says to.

GESSEN: I don't know.


I don't know if at this point it is possible to influence Putin's behavior. From the last 21 years of Putin, we have learned that it's generally very hard. But, and I think, if there is anything that he's afraid of he is afraid of protests on the streets of his own country. That's going to happen on Wednesday.

I really hope that enough Russians are brave enough to risk their own safety and security to take to the streets, to exert enough pressure on Putin to stop killing Navalny. And also that Navalny lives to see that day.

HOLMES: We have seen in the past what has happened with protests and rallies in Russia. I mean, would you expect a big turnout? Four hundred fifty thousand plus signatures. Do you expect these rallies to be big?

GESSEN: So the 450,000 signatures are actually people who have submitted their email addresses, their full names and committed to attending a demonstration. This is the first time that a demonstration and contemporary Russia has been organized in this way by sort of taking sign up sheets first.

Everything that we have seen in the last 20 years has been demonstrations that have been called and we don't know if it's going to be 5,000 people who show up or five people or 500,000, right?

So this was an organizing method that was tried for the first time with an attempt to really sort of nail down how many people are going to show up. That said, we don't know how well this method is going to work. But my sense is that, yeah, we should probably expect really large protests.

HOLMES: You have written about this. But, briefly tell people why Navalny even returned to Russia after his treatment in Germany for the Novichok poisoning. He knew he'd be arrested and likely jailed. Why do that?

GESSEN: I think Navalny knows that he would not be able to work from abroad, right? But I think more than that, it's a matter of principle to him. It's a matter of refusing to hold up one of the pillars of Putin-ism which is fear, and -- which is the ability to get even the bravest critics of the regime ultimately to leave the country. Which we have seen with Garry Kasparov, with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, people who when they've been asked to decide between their own lives and continue to fight have said my life is worth more to me.

Navalny says, look, this regime will not be able to stand if we refuse this bargain, if we refuse to act out of fear. But I think he is hoping to do is he is hoping to send enough of an example of acting on courage and principle and determination to create a new society in Russia, whether or not he lives to see it. HOLMES: That is really well put.

I would ask you this, too, before we go. The Moscow prosecutors office filing that lawsuit to label Navalny's anti-corruption foundation, his headquarters, as extremist organizations. What impact is that likely to have on the ability of his team to operate in Russia? You know, just one example. There are elections in September.

One presumes Navalny's orders will be banned from even running in that case.

GESSEN: That's likely. Yes, if they -- if these are people who have a known affiliation with an organization that's been declared extremist, they will not be allowed to get on the ballot. I think they may also not be allowed to engage in any campaigning on behalf of other candidates.

And I think ultimately, it is the next step in this very slow, bureaucratic process. You know, they can kill people fast. But it's harder to shut down any organization. I think they're trying to make their way to declaring Navalny's organizations terrorist organizations so they can ban them outright.

HOLMES: Yeah. Terrific analysis as always. Masha Gessen, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

GESSEN: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: Scores of protesters demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Prague on Sunday. They waved European Union flags chanting anti Russian slogans, and calling on the E.U. to support the Czech Republic. The two countries are in the middle of a diplomatic row right now, and Czech police are searching for two Russian suspects allegedly linked to the Salisbury Novichok poisoning. We'll have more on this later in the program.

E.U. countries are working on a special pass to facilitate travel inside the bloc for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated against COVID. Or can show they tested negative for the virus.


French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to CBS News about the plan.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: We will progressively lift sections at the beginning of May, which means we will organize in summertime with our professionals in France for French European citizens, but also American citizens. So, we are working on propose a very concrete solution especially for citizens who are vaccinated. So, with a special path I would say.


HOLMES: Half of all adults in the U.S. have now received at least one COVID vaccine shot. That's according to data from the CDC. Meanwhile, Greece dropping quarantine restrictions for some travelers. Starting Monday, visitors from the European Union, the U.S., the U.K., Israel, Serbia, and the UAE will no longer be required to self isolate on arrival as long as they have been vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.

One official calls it a first step as Greece prepares to formally reopen its tourism season May 14.

India seeing a record rise in coronavirus cases again. More than 200,000 infections a day. And with religious festivals and election rallies adding to the surge in cases the Delhi government is planning to convert sports complexes and wedding halls into makeshift hospital wards.

Hong Kong temporarily banning flights from India, Pakistan, and the Philippine starting Tuesday, after a rise in cases in those countries.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me live.

Let's talk about India, Paula. Numbers from bad to worse. And as we said, all the while there are these mass religious gatherings and even political rallies going on.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Let's start with that, Michael, because there have been criticisms of the Prime Minister Modi saying that there are mixed signals coming from his government, the fact that you mentioned that festival. It's one of the biggest religious festivals in the world.

And over recent days, in fact, last week, for two days, you saw millions of people on the river banks as they go into the river to wash away their sins. So, you do have those massive amounts of people gathering in one particular area. Now, the prime minister has called for people to observe this religious festival and this religious holiday symbolically, to disband and not to physically congregate as they have been.

But at the same time, you also see Prime Minister Modi at his own political rallies. There are local elections coming up so you have seen masses of people not socially distancing. The majority of them, but not all of them wearing masks at political rallies, that the prime minister speaking at. So, that is one of the criticisms being leveled against the government that there are some serious mixed signals coming out.

But I have just been speaking to some of our colleagues in New Delhi and the situation really seems dire. We know at this point there are less than 100 ICU beds available in New Delhi. And this is a city with the population of some 19 million people. We know that we are still seeing record numbers of new cases.

Officials admit that they have been running low of hospital beds and the drugs in order to be able to treat those with COVID as well. And what we are seeing now is a new development that the people within the country are actually starting to turn to social media to try to get help. We understand that many of these hospitals are completely overwhelmed. They're not answering telephones at this point.

And so, people who need help for themselves or for their relatives are going to social media, and asking for a hospital bed, asking for plasma, asking for drugs which could be life saving. So, it really does appear as though that system in India is becoming completely overwhelmed -- Michael.

HOLMES: That's just dreadful. Paula, appreciate. Thanks for that, Paula Hancocks there.

Now, elsewhere, signs of some hope and progress in the battle against the virus. Just the week before Anzac Day, New Zealand is allowing Australians to travel to the country quarantine free.

Journalist Angus Watson is tracking the progress and the new freedoms for travelers down under.


ANGUS WATSON, JOURNALIST: A travel bubble opening between Australia and New Zealand on Monday with the first of 140 flights planned this week across the Tasman Sea, with no passengers having to quarantine on arrival. That offer previously was available to New Zealanders traveling into Australia. Now, New Zealand returns the favor, making that one way travel corridor into a two-way travel bubble.

New Zealand says that will mean millions for its economy with Australian tourists though as targeted, and families split by the border closures by over a year will be reunited again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really important that we're going back to (INAUDIBLE), we are taking this little guy to meet his family for the first time.


He's 10 months old. So, it's pretty exciting for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no replacing the human touch and as human relationships. We're looking forward to going over to New Zealand, speaking to our people. Making sure that their welfare is right and also that our business continues to prosper.

WATSON: Both countries entering into this agreement tentatively. Each say that they're willing to pop this travel bubble if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on either side of the Tasman Strait. Both countries have had success with that sort of strictness when it comes to COVID-19.

Just around 2,500 cases in New Zealand since the pandemic began, and just under 30,000 in Australia. That platform means the country is going to extend these travel bubbles further into the region. New Zealand wants to incorporate Pacific Islanders into its trouble.

Australia has earmarked Singapore as a potential country that it could have a trouble bubble with. But that will also rely on vaccine rollouts in Australia or New Zealand, where governments have been criticized for being slow to get vaccines to their people.

Angus Watson, in Melbourne, Australia.


HOLMES: Now to an announcement sending shockwaves to the world of football, 12 of the top European clubs planning to form a breakaway 20-club super. The final lineup is a work in progress, but there are some pretty big names involved so far.

Both FIFA and the governing body of European football condemning the move.

CNN World Sport's Patrick Snell following the developments from here in Atlanta and he joins me now.

This has been a real shocker for the football world, hasn't it?

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: It really has, Michael. We've known this has been on the table for a number of years but we've always fallen short of getting on this level of scrutiny in terms of detail. There are many questions, though, that remain unanswered.

But there's no question, this is the news that could very well shift the landscape of European football as we know now it and feelings running high on this I can assure you.

Here's where we can tell you. Late Sunday, this was all starting to develop in a big way. Twelve of Europe's top clubs announcing their intention to form this so-called Super League. This is how those clubs break down.

We just have a taste of it now. I want to do it now country by country in more depth. We start with the big 6 from England's premier league. You've got the two Manchester giants in there. You've got Liverpool, Chelsea. And the two north London clubs as well. Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspurs, Michael as well.

In Spain, you've got Real and Atletico Madrid, along ion Barcelona. And in Italy, Inter Milan and AC Milan, plus Juventus.

So, what do we know in terms of the timeline? Well, the group planning to add three additional clubs before the new leagues integral season which they say, this is the quote that's really important. This is what resonated for me.

Quote: Intended to commence as soon as is practicable. OK, read into that what you will.

It is meantime propose that the league will ultimately consist of 20 clubs. Midweek fixtures as well being touted. They will be played.

With teams those still, this is a very important point, continuing in their respective national leagues. That's what the European League is saying. That they will continue to compete in their respective National League. So, I want to hear more now from Man United legend Gary Neville who

was not holding back with his views. Take a listen.


GARY NEVILLE, FORMER MANCHIESTER UNITED & ENGLAND PLAYER: I'm a United fan and I've been for 40 years of my life. But I'm disgusted, absolutely disgusted.

It's pure greed. They are impostors. They're impostors. They're nothing to do, the owners of this club. The owners of Liverpool, the owners of Chelsea, the owners of Man City, they have nothing to do with football in this country. There are 100-odd years of history in this country, from fans that lived and loved these clubs, and they need protecting.

My reaction earlier, almost an emotional reaction, deduct them all points tomorrow, put them at the bottom of the league and take the money off of them. Seriously, you've got a stamp on. This is -- it's criminal. It's a criminal act against football fans in this country.


SNELL: Words of Gary Neville there, Michael.

And I warned you. He's not holding back in any way shape or form, is he? Back to you.

HOLMES: He certainly isn't.

I've got to ask you, Pat. You've got to wonder, is this a foregone conclusion or do you see this as, you know, a trial balloon, something that could falter along the way?.

SNELL: You know, it's a fascinating scenario. I've said, this has been on the table allegedly for years, but this is like the closest we've come.

In terms of the clubs coming out more detail on the proposal, actually, we now know for a start to the first 12 clubs are, Michael. But as I say there are still many intangibles remaining out there on the table. Still many questions to be answered.

And don't underestimate the strong resistance from European football, for example governing body, EUFA, from the English top flight Premier League as. Well we've seen FIFA expressing its concerns. And who -- what about the mystery? Who are the mystery three other clubs that are being touted as well.

What about the likes of, for example other powerhouse names like FC Bayern, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, these are all still up in the air.


We have only had to stress those first 12 confirmed, they were teasing, us weren't, they buy referencing three other clubs but not exactly going there with specifics. But I will say this. There is a huge PR war in effect as well here.

You've got a win over the fans, the life blood of the sport, the grassroots, the people that live and breathe the sport, the beautiful game of football. They are incensed. They are feeling the passion.

And as Neville alluded to, there you've got this concept of these English Premier League clubs with ownership outside of these local communities. It's one we're watching very closely indeed. You could be sure.

HOLMES: Big, big money. This top fan is not too happy at the moment, Patrick. So, thanks for --

SNELL: I can believe that, Michael.

HOLMES: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it. Good to see you, Patrick Snell there.

All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, an out of control fire tearing through Cape Town's Table Mountain National Park. Coming, up the battle control the flames. We will have a live report.

Also, the strongest typhoon ever recorded in the month of April hammering parts of the Philippines. We'll have the latest on Surigae and where it's headed next.


HOLMES: At least 11 people are dead in Egypt after a train derailed on Sunday, 98 are injured. Officials say 4 course one off the tracks on a line that heads north from Cairo. But according to the government, only a few of the injuries were severe. The cause is under investigation.

The thing is that there have been several train accidents in Egypt in recent years, Sundays derailment. The third incident in just the past month, including that collision in march that killed 32 people, and injured 165.

Five crews are racing to contain a wild fire threatening Cape Town, South Africa. Officials believe a fire left by a homeless person may be partially to blame for a massive police in Table Mountain National Park, two firefighters are being hurt, nine structures have been damaged. Officials say high temperatures, low humidity could keep firefighters battling the flames for at least 3 days.

Now, David McKenzie has an update for us from Johannesburg. Pedram Javaheri is as well with more of the conditions in Cape Town.

David, let's start with. You bring us up today on what has been a terrible fire for the area.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, it's been a harrowing night in Cape Town, and the conditions have certainly gotten worse. Now that is because the southeastern wind picked up dramatically overnight in the early morning hours in Cape Town, whipping that fire around from the southern suburb section of the mountain, Table Mountain, that iconic mountain, towards the city bowl.


Now, in the early hours of this morning local time, residents of at least one neighborhood of Cape Town have been evacuated. There is some 250 firefighters working against the blaze. The bad news is because of that wind, just a short time ago, speaking to local media, the fire spokesman told me they probably won't be able to get those choppers up, except for one which will be very effective and battling the blaze.

It's going to be a very challenging day. This morning and into today, whether they can see some of the houses and certainly protect the lives of the people in that part of Cape Town.

Now, moving backwards, Sunday, this fire started in the early morning hours. Close to roads memorial iconic to recite, the other side of the mountain. It's believed to be started by a homeless person. At this stage unintentional, and then ripped down the mountain towards the University of Cape Town, probably one of the best universities on the continent, and ripped into at least one residents, a library, and a biomedical building.

The worry is, is this fire is still being battled this morning. Thousands of students were evacuated from the residents, put up an emergency quarters and given food by volunteers. This fire is not entirely uncommon in Cape Town.

What's uncommon though is that it gets off the mountain and into the properties. The good news, there is no sign of anyone killed so far by this fire, firefighters have been injured, it's a group of volunteers city prevention firefighters that have been fighting this fire with everything that they have. At the end of the summer, the dry conditions and the strong wind, it's just -- it's just a bad scenario for that city this morning.

HOLMES: Just dreadful, the loss of property. There are some historic places, too. David, thanks.

Pedram Javaheri, let's go to you. Talk to us about the rule that the weather commissions played, but also the topography.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Michael, it's great question, because when it comes to this particular region, that's exactly what I thought of one I thought of table top being Table Mountain being the area of impact here, because elevated terrain, rolling hills, you kind of see this along portions of southern California where that elevated terrain allows the fires to take off rarely quickly.

I often use the analogy of taking a match, lighting it and it will take about seven to 10 seconds to burn on your finger. But if you give the match a little bit of a slope, that elevated terrain, you'll double that spend and burn it right towards your finger at a much more rapid clip. And this is part of the reason why the fires expanding so quickly here near the university and points just north of it where you have a rising slope. Of course, southerly winds certainly help, but we know when it comes to fire and wind speeds generally, we elevate the terrain, it can easily doubled the speed of conception of land. So that is exactly what has happened here in the last 24 hours.

It hasn't helped the temperatures have been up to 37 degrees when the fire was in ignited, 23 is what is normal for this time of year, humidity down to about 15 percent. We know 90 percent of fires are human induced which is believed to be the case with this particular fire. The other and percent generally related to lightning strikes.

And notice there is some weather in the, area the temperatures have dropped off rather sharply but much of the rain stays to the east. The gusty winds, they don't. They can't across the region, we expect it to be a blustery here, not only for this afternoon, possibly over the next couple of days. So, firefighters really going to try to battle this one out here when it comes to weather, not helping the situation of the next couple of days as well, Michael.

HOLMES: Fascinating information. Appreciate that, Pedram.

Now, do stick around. We've got more to talk. We, of course, are keeping an eye on the record breaking typhoon, Surigae. It has been battering the eastern Philippines with heavy rains, huge waves, and winds over 200 kilometers an hour. The storm, the strongest typhoon on record for the month of April.

Let's go back to you, Pedram Javaheri. Tell us more about the impact of what has been a monster of a storm.

JAVAHERI: An incredible storm for any time of year as you noted, for this time of year, it's as impressive as a, gets look at the presentation on satellite imagery. With talking about a storm system that is as, symmetrical, as organized, as well-defined, as it gets, sits about 600 kilometers east of Manila so large that the outer bands are already beginning to impact portions of the central Philippines and the Visayas, and close enough here to land to produce upwards of 150 millimeters in the last couple of days.

Now all eyes on this because where it ends up will be a massive destruction left in place but you will notice the models have actually been favorable and wanted to guide this very close to the Philippines by keeping it away, sharp, right potentially putting it back out over open waters were water temperatures are cooler, winter, stronger and the storm is forecast to weaken.


But really an incredibly close call here for the first super typhoon of the season, and of course, everyone on alert because we know as the months wane here into say July, August and September, conditions become much more active and this is kind of a wake up call here for the month of April, Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It's scary when you think it's just the beginning. Pedram, thanks. Pedram Javaheri there.

Now, a Caribbean island once again being rocked by a volcanic eruption. The La Soufriere volcano on Saint Vincent erupting again on Sunday afternoon. Ash covering the streets and the homes as if they need more of that. 20,000 people evacuated so far.

The Rock legend, Mick Jagger tweeting about the situation on the island just hours before the latest eruption saying quote "There is a huge humanitarian effort taking place to supply essential's to those evacuated on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent following the continuing eruptions of the La Soufriere volcano."

He does love that part of the world.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM European leaders urge the Russian government to help Alexei Navalny and do it now. How Kremlin officials are responding.

Also Russia under pressure from the Czech Republic. A deadly explosion at an arms depot in the 2014 igniting a diplomatic round 2021.

We'll be back (ph).


HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world.

I'm Michael Holmes. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Alexei Navalny's team is calling for supporters to join rallies across Russia on Wednesday. The opposition leader on day 20 of a hunger strike in prison. Allies say his life is quote, "hanging on a thread" and that he needs access to his own doctors.


LEONID VOLKOV, CHIEF OF ALEXEI NAVALNY'S STAFF (through translator): Have you ever seen with your own eyes how someone is killed? Yes, you have. And you are seeing it right now.

Whatever the urge to pull away from it, not think about it, change the subject, that doesn't negate the fact that Alexei Navalny is being killed in a terrible way and in front of everyone's eyes.


HOLMES: Now, world leaders are urging the Kremlin to act before Alexei Navalny's condition worsens.


HOLMES: The British Foreign Office releasing a statement, saying, quote, "The U.K. is deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptable treatment of Alexei Navalny and the continued deterioration of his health. Mr. Navalny must be given immediate access to independent medical care. We reiterate our call for his immediate release from his politically-motivated imprisonment," unquote.

Now, Russia's ambassador to the U.K. though downplaying the seriousness, saying Navalny's hunger strike is a crass publicity stunt.


ANDREI KELIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO BRITAIN: Of course, he will not be allowed to die in prison, but I can say that Mr. Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan absolutely in trying to violate every rule that has been established. History tells us all of that is to attract attention for him.

Also by saying that today his left hand is sick, tomorrow his leg is sick, and all of that stuff. So, journalists can't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't believe him.


HOLMES: Russia has given 20 Czech diplomats until the end of the day to leave the country. The expulsions retaliation after Prague issued similar moves against Moscow on Saturday. Senior international correspondent Sam Kiley explains.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Czech authorities have announced that they are going to expel 18 Russian members of what they say are intelligence organizations. Russian authorities have responded saying that they will meet this latest what they're calling provocation from the Czech Republic in kind.

The decision to expel these Russians follows investigations the Czech government has said into the mysterious explosions in 2014 at two ammunition depots that killed two citizens of the Czech Republic. They are also simultaneously, the Czech police saying that they're looking for two other individuals that have already been named by the British government as being behind attempts on Sergei Skripal's life using the Novichok nerve agent back in 2018 in the cathedral city of Salisbury.

Now, the Czech Republic's decision to carry out these mass expulsions come close on the heels of a decision from the Poles to throw there Russian diplomats out and the United States' decision to expel 10 Russian diplomats following what the United States has accused Russia of having conducted not only a widespread cyber attack on the United States and her allies, but also interference in the U.S. 2020 elections.

These moves are being met by the Russians with what they say is going to be reciprocity with the expulsion they say of 10 U.S. diplomats. They say that they will be meeting the Czech Republic's efforts in kind and also have condemned all of these expulsions as what they call provocation.

This all coming as the Russian Federation and its leader, Vladimir Putin, have been accused of no less than dramatic provocation particularly by the Pentagon with a level of buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, not seen since Russia and its proxies were responsible for the invasion and the illegal annexation of Crimea back in 2014.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Moscow.


HOLMES: Still with Russia, and they are defending their troop buildup on the border with Ukraine that Sam mentioned there. The Russian ambassador to the U.K. calls it a normal military exercise not a prelude to an invasion.

The ambassador says he did not think the two countries were close to war but he warned Russia would respond if Ukraine moved troops to the Donbass region.

Meanwhile the French President Emmanuel Macron says Europe and the U.S. must define clear red lines with Russia over Ukraine.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I think the situation isn't acceptable. Russia has to de-escalate. this is clear. The situation today and the level of tension at the border is both counterproductive and unacceptable. I'm definitely in favor of discussion with Russia with an open, quiet and respectful discussion with Russia.

But I think that when we put red lines, we have to be sure to be credible and to make let these red lines respected by the others.


HOLMES: Pope Francis meanwhile, calling for prayers for people of eastern Ukraine. He says in a tweet he hopes that an escalation of tensions can be avoided.

Canada is sending more health care workers to Ontario where coronavirus cases are surging and hospitals are stretched thin. At least one hospital says its ICU is operating at 115 percent capacity. And there is concern doctors could soon be forced to ration care.

CNN's Paula Newton reports.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the pandemic Canada had planned for but was so hoping to avoid. This Toronto field hospital will open within days as a punishing third wave of the virus now threatens the country's health care system.


NEWTON: In the last week alone, hospitalizations and deaths are up by more than a third with a worrying increase in younger, sicker patients needing intensive care.

Toronto doctor, Michael Warner says his critical care unit is already overcapacity.

DR. MICHAEL WARNER, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF CRITICAL CARE, MICHAEL GARRON HOSPITAL: We will be there, we will do our best. But you know, I'm trained to save people, not to use a checklist to decide if people are going to live or die. But that's where we're headed and that is my biggest fear.

And it's -- I think a lot of health care workers are beyond angry. We're just really forlorn that we're in this situation that we find ourselves in.

NEWTON: The crisis is most acute in the province of Ontario, including Toronto where top public health officials describe the situation as dire. Some patients are now being transferred to hospitals hundreds of miles away to get the care they need. And the unthinkable -- that still hundreds more will need ICUs in the weeks to come.

DR. WARNER: They will break the health care system and virtually assure that we will have to triage patients we would normally save today to palliation and death because we won't have enough staff (ph) beds to care for patients that need care for COVID, or non COVID related critical illness.

NEWTON: Some doctors we spoke to here now say the Ontario government acted too late even though the city of Toronto has been in some form of lockdown for nearly five months.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has now put in tough new measures extending a stay-at-home order until at least mid May closing even outdoor activities restricting travel in and out of the province.

DR. FAHAD RAZAK, ST. MICHAEL'S HOSPITAL, TORONTO: Whatever we put into place though it's going to take time to have an effect. and right now, the trajectories of COVID rises are really baked in, and I think the next two to three weeks for Ontario and for Canada are going to be very, very tough.

NEWTON (on camera): Talk to me about the distress in your patients and their families right now.

DR. RAZAK: There is clearly a difference in this wave compared to what we saw in the earlier waves. The people are younger and they're clearly sicker. And we are having a very hard time getting them stable enough for them to leave hospital.

NEWTON (voice over): And Canada has not secured enough doses to vaccinate its way out of the worst of this third wave. This Toronto vaccination clinic was empty for much of the week while patients filled hospitals. Ontario hospital and ICU admissions have now shattered records.

DR. WARNER: We're stuck where we have cases out of control, hospitals completely full, not enough vaccine supply available and months of difficult public health measures ahead of us.

NEWTON: Despite months of planning this pandemic is sure now to push and yes, punish patients and health care workers in Canada, as never before.

Paula Newton, CNN -- Ottawa.


HOLMES: Still to come here, on CNN NEWSROOM, former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull has some rather sharp criticism for Rupert Murdoch's media empire saying the family has created a market for crazies (ph).



HOLMES: Rupert Murdoch's media empire has major influence, of course, through its many outlets in the United States, the U.K. and Australia. But how that influence is used is being called into question.

In a recent parliamentary proceeding former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull blasted Murdoch's company NewsCorp.

CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter spoke with Turnbull who argues the media group is eroding democracy in the U.S. and Australia.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The Murdoch media empire has enormous political power. It is the most potent political force in Australia. It does not operate as a conventional news or journalistic operation any longer.

Its influence in the United States, in Britain, in all of the countries where it is to be found is now utterly partisan. It is more like a political party but the only members are the Murdochs.

And as you know, it has driven populist right wing agendas, denying climate change, supporting extremism on the right of politics, populist politics to the extent most irresponsibly of all, you might think, supporting the proposition that Joe Biden had in fact stolen the election and was not legitimately-elected president.

And that of course was directly connected to the sacking, the assault -- the violent assault on the United States Capitol. A shocking event and one of the darkest days in America's political history.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: You, Mr. Turnbull, seem more disturbed by the attack on the U.S. Capitol than a lot of people here in the United States. A lot of conservatives are trying to deny what happened and pretend it wasn't that bad. But I appreciate that you saw it for what it was.

TURNBULL: It was an assault on democracy. It was -- and you see what Murdoch has delivered, largely through Fox News in the United States is exactly what Vladimir Putin wanted to achieve with his disinformation campaigns.

Turning one part of America against another, so exacerbating the divisions that already exist in American society and undermine the trust Americans had in their democratic institutions.

Now that was the objective of the Russian disinformation campaign. And that is exactly what is being delivered by Fox News and by other players in that right wing, populist media ecosystem.

And it is in effect what they have created is a market for crazy. They have become unhinged from the facts. It's now basically -- they've worked out that you can just make stuff up.

We -- everyone talks about and complains about social media. But what is being done by curated media, mainstream media including and in particular Fox News has done enormous damage to the United States.

I mean the question you have to ask yourself is: is America a more divided country than it was before thanks to Murdoch's influence? The answer must be yes.

Do Americans have less faith in their electoral institutions and their legitimate institutions of government as a result of Murdoch? Yes.

Now that is a terrible outcome. That is a terrible outcome.

STELTER: You said Murdoch's created a market for crazy. I've never heard anyone say it quite like that before. A market for crazy. And if this clip is re-aired on Fox News they will say you are insulting all of Trump's supporters. You are insulting all of conservative America. And they would say that is going to harm your cause.

Have you thought about what the right way or what the most effective ways are to combat the so called market for crazy?

TURNBULL: Look. When somebody tells lies and spreads misinformation and you call them out you are calling out the liar, not the people that have been taken in by the lies. They are the victims. Right?

So, you know, Murdoch has to take responsibility for what he has done. You know, politicians take responsibility. They come up for election every few years.

The power that has been -- the power that is exerted by Murdoch, and in such a partisan way -- I mean this is, look I've been involved in the media business most of my life since the mid 70s, early 70s in fact.


TURNBULL: And you know, I grew up with newspapers that some of them leaned more to the left, others more to the right. But they basically reported the news straight.

And on election day, they would say, you know, vote for this party or vote for that party -- fair enough.

What you now have with Murdoch, and you see it with Fox News, Americans don't need, you know, an Australian to tell them this. But what you see now is just undiluted propaganda.

STELTER: Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch has relocated near you. He's relocated to Sydney or thereabouts. And so I wonder why you think that is, and whether the two of you should get together to try to hash this out.

TURNBULL: Well, I have Lachlan Murdoch for many years. And I've spoken to him and his father about -- in fact I know pretty much all the family. I've spoken to both of them about these issues in the past.

I would say that Lachlan is more right-wing than his father. More extreme. And he -- I think the bottom line is they enjoy the power.

You know a lot of people assume that people are attracted to power simply for the purpose of doing something. That is a very generous assumption.

But many people in the media, in business, in politics are attracted to power for its own sake and asking them why do you want to exert this power is like saying to somebody, you know, why do you want to have sex? It's an urge.

It is a -- so the power, the influence -- that is what turns them on. And it's a very, very dangerous. I mean I saw the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. I have never seen a politician as deferential to Murdoch as Trump was.

And you know, it was clearly a very symbiotic relationship. Murdoch knew very well, I know this, he knew very well what Trump's shortcomings were. He didn't think he was qualified to be president. But once he thought he could make him president and have that influence over him but to what end, he did do. And so you ended up -- again, where did you end up? You ended with an assault on the Congress. You ended up with a country where a third -- I recently saw the public believe that Biden was not legitimately elected, you know, in defiance of all the facts and all the reality.

Now that is the type of outcome that Vladimir Putin could only dream of having achieved. But it was done by Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan, their organization and they are not held to account at all. But they should be.


HOLMES: CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter there speaking with the former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull who was not holding back.

We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, NASA on the verge of making history with a small piece of history, the famous artifact on board the Mars computer -- or the Mars helicopter coming up.



HOLMES: NASA could be just hours away from one of its biggest undertakings yet, flying a mini helicopter on Mars.

Now, it might not seem like much but if it succeeds it could change the way that we study the red planet.


HOLMES (voice over): It's the little helicopter with a very big mission. NASA hopes its min chopper named Ingenuity will be the first aircraft to achieve powered controlled flight on another planet.

Ingenuity's first flight is intentionally brief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, the flight itself will consist of a takeoff and then a climb to an altitude of three meters and then we will hover in place for about 30 seconds and make a turn with the helicopter while we're hovering and then come down and land again.

HOLMES: A short hop that is the culmination of many hits and misses. Ingenuity has so far survived the frigid Martian nights after separating from the Perseverance rover relying on its solar-powered batteries to fire up internal heaters.

But an initial spin test of its rotors delayed a scheduled flight attempt due to problems with a timer. NASA says the helicopter later successfully completed the test spinning its blades at 2,400 revolutions per minute -- the speed it needs to take off.

Scientists say having a bird's eye view of the terrain could revolutionize the way that we study new planets.

LORI GLAZ, DIRECTOR, NASA PLANETARY SCIENCE DIVISION: Ingenuity will open new possibilities and will spark questions for the future ABOUT what we could accomplish with an aerial explorer. Could we image areas not visible from space or that a rover couldn't reach? Could a helicopter scout ahead for rovers and help plot the most efficient course with the best science.

M1: Flying on the red planet presented some difficult engineering challenges because of the low gravity of Mars and an atmosphere that is 1 percent the density of earth.

NASA engineers sent along a good luck charm. Attached to Ingenuity is a piece of fabric from the wing of the Wright Brothers flyer, which carried the first powered controlled flight on earth.


HOLMES: Remarkable, isn't it?

Thanks for watching, spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN.

My colleague and friend Robyn Curnow up next with more CNN NEWSROOM.