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India's Healthcare System Collapsing; Protesters Calling Out for Alexei Navalny's Release; Russian Authorities Block Navalny to Medical Access; Super League Criticized by Fans and Supporters; Biden To Hold Virtual Climate Summit On Earth Day; Indonesian Navy Knows Location Of Missing Submarine; Verdict Expected In Trial Of Investigative Journalist; Hong Kong Versus Press Freedom; United States Imposes Sanctions On Timber, Pearl Industries; Peace Talks Between Afghan Government And Taliban Delayed; Afghans Who Helped U.S. Fear For Their Lives; Germany Weighs Federal Powers For COVID Measures; Some European Countries Grapple With Third Wave; Saving The Environment, Awareness On Microplastics; Rare Sighting Of Grey Whale. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 22, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. And I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, Indian hospitals are running out of oxygen as the country records the world's biggest single day rise in coronavirus cases of the entire pandemic.

Thousands of Russians march in support of Alexei Navalny as President Putin warns the west over a red line it will regret crossing.

And countries are laying out their climate goals ahead of a summit led by the United States. And all eyes are on the world's top polluter.

Good to have you with us.

Well, India is now facing a COVID crisis like no other as a second wave hits like a tsunami. The country has just reported almost 315,000 new cases. The highest daily increase anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. And it posted more than 2,100 new deaths also its highest daily increase so far.

Hospitals are overwhelmed, turning away patients and scrambling to get enough medical oxygen. New Delhi just received less than half the amount of oxygen it requires to treat COVID patients and could run out within the hours.

And the state of Maharashtra which includes the city of Mumbai is tightening restrictions through the end of the month. Officials say crematoriums are not able to keep up with the number of bodies and graveyards are running out of space. Health experts warn the situation is dire.


CHANDRIKA BAHADUR, THE LANCET, COVID-19 COMMISSION: We are going through pretty much the worst possible phase of the pandemic here. It has been -- it has been bad for a couple weeks, but now it's reached a peak, and essentially what's happened right now is that the health system is just not able to keep pace with the sheer number of cases that are coming in.


CHURCH (on camera): Well joining me now via Skype from New Delhi, Washington Post columnist and author Barkha Dutt. Thank you so much for being with us.

Of course, as we've explained, India is reporting its highest rise in cases and deaths now putting hospitals on the verge of collapse. And this comes after massive Hindu festivals were held across the country as well as election rallies. What is the government doing now to try to turn this tragedy around?

BARKHA DUTT, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you, Rosemary. This is a time of national crisis, a national emergency and a time of national mourning. The health system has absolutely collapsed. And I use those words with full responsibility and as a reporter who spent the last fortnight on the ground traveling across India chronicling ICUs, cremation grounds, graveyards, and funeral sites.

I do not believe that even now our political establishment has woken up to the enormity of what we're dealing with, because nothing would explain the fact that election rallies in one of the eastern states of India are still ongoing, which means mass congregation.

This mixed messaging seems absolutely callous given the fact that I have now met more people than I can count who have been done with the doors of hospitals. I have seen them waited commission grounds forbear, challenge to even light a funeral pyre. We have seen furnishes that are made from iron, corrode and melt and become un- operational because there are at least 100 bodies being brought in on a single day at one single site.

We are seeing an underreporting of deaths as a huge discrepancy between the official data and the cremations that are actually taking place on the ground which means the fatalities could be much higher than the world. And we, as a country are aware of.

And finally, amongst the most chilling things I've heard was the doctor who shared with me that because there is no medical oxygen available at almost all hospitals across key cities in India, patient are being made to sign a consent form that effectively says, we are signing a death warrant if we die because of a lack of oxygen, we will not complain against the hospital.

I understand what doctors are going through. They are stretched to the bone, but those are the forms that patients have been made to sign as they are willing to hospital with the system literally tethering on the brink. Think is break point and worse.


CHURCH: Yes. It is just a horrifying situation. Of course, at the same time, Prime Minister Modi says that lockdown should only be used as a last resort. But isn't that exactly where the country is right now, with its own health care, as you say, buckling under the pressure of too many patients, not enough oxygen, or medicine right now? Why doesn't the prime minister realize the magnitude of the situation across his country?

DUTT: I think what happened is that in 2020 a national lockdown was imposed. It was one of the severest lockdowns in the world. Public transport was curtailed, airports were shut, trains were halted, buses won't fly except to the skeletal service.

And what we saw happened at that time was millions of daily wage workers leave the cities and walk to their villages, creating a humanitarian crisis that overshadowed the medical pandemic. The economy was ravaged as well. We are deeply unequal country and lockdowns imposed centrally tend to hurt the poor and the marginal disproportionately.

But effectively, we are seeing localized lockdowns. It has been left to different states to impose those lockdowns as needed. And many states are now taking that extreme measure of imposing curfews of different kinds.

But as we spent time at hospitals gates and inside ICUs, another really grim thing that is emerging is that the virus in its second wave is hitting the younger people and even children in a way that it had not in its first wave. We have met 18-day-old babies that are fighting for their lives inside of ICUs, at mortuaries.

Anecdotally, I can't tell you that the kind of fatality that are coming in their mid-30s to their early 40s, defying the assumption that if the elderly that are necessarily the most vulnerable. And of course, while we are now announcing vaccines for all above 18 from the first of May, there is a great deal of anger as to why this vaccine rollout did not happen quicker.

There's a sense that we lost a couple of months in approving foreign made vaccines that we are very nationalistic about. Our two domestically manufactured vaccines. And we were basically complacent in trying to mistake how we dealt with the first wave too early. And now, we are literally, we are -- we are in the midst of an emergency.

And I think even now we have not recognized how bad this is. As I speak to you, my own -- my own father is in the ICU of the hospital battling COVID. This has come home. This is no longer a new story. Every home that I know, there somebody who is COVID positive.

CHURCH: I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with that personal situation with your father. That is awful. You mentioned the rollout of vaccinations across the country. They have bumbled along, haven't they? Many countries have, in fact, but India had really moved very quickly in the initial stages, hadn't it, with contracts, with the various vaccines. Why did it all go wrong here?

DUTT: Well, you know, the irony is that we were exporting and gifting vaccines, we were using vaccines as an instrument of soft power. That's how -- that's how, sort of, good we thought we were in terms of having dealt with the first -- with the first bout of the coronavirus pandemic.

And now, of course, questions are going to mount as to why those vaccines were gifted away. Why they were exported. The history of India tells you that India produces 60 percent -- or manufacture 60 percent of the world's vaccines. We've had successful mass immunization programs.

But we totally misread, we misread the situation. We did not put oxygen supply in place. We did not pull out the vaccines fast enough. We over centralized the system. The vaccine regime is now been liberalized. Manufactures have been allowed to set their own prices. States have been allowed to purchase directly from vaccine manufacturers anywhere in the world.

But for the first two months we saw a highly government controlled, state-controlled regime where Delhi, the capital was deciding which state would get how many vaccines, which each group would get vaccines. And I can tell you that I personally reported vaccine centers had to close down because there were not enough vaccines.

And now, although we are looking at a liberalized regime, the testing is going to be what happens in the first of May. It's all very well to say the rules have changed, and anyone above 18 can get a jab. But are there going to be enough vaccines? Or are we too late even for that? I think -- I think


DUTT: -- these are testing times for this nation.

CHURCH: They most definitely are. Barkha Dutt, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate you.

DUTT: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHURCH (on camera): Well protesters in Russia say it's a fight for the future as tens of thousands of people marched in 85 cities in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.


The numbers, though, were not as high as organizers had hoped.


CROWD: Yulia! Yulia! Yulia!


CHURCH (on camera): In Moscow, they cheered for Navalny's wife Yulia. Others were critical of President Vladimir Putin and what they call his abuse of power. And in far east port city of Vladivostok they chanted Russia without Putin.

Nearly 1,500 people were arrested. The protests were planned to coincide with Mr. Putin's annual address to the nation where he warned other countries not to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Whoever organizes any provocations to threaten our core security will regret this like they've never regretted anything before. I hope that no one will get an idea to cross a so-called red line in regards to Russia. And where this redline lies, we will determine ourselves in each specific case.


CHURCH (on camera): So, let's head live to Moscow. And CNN's Fred Pleitgen, he joins us now. Good to see you, Fred. So how much pressure would President Putin be feeling right now these protests across the country, and across the country and of course, the U.S. and E.U. warning of consequences should Navalny die?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there is a bit of concern, maybe within the Kremlin about these protests going on. But by and large, we did, yesterday, see a very defiant Vladimir Putin as at least as far as international pressure would be concerned. I mean, we just had that line there that he had there in his speech yesterday.

He was quite defiant also on other parts of that speech, especially when dealing with international issues. Of course, not specifically referring to the case of Alexei Navalny, but generally referring to pressure coming from other nations as far as moves that Russia is making is concerning, what Russia feel is other nations infringing on the Russian federation security.

So, certainly, there might be a little concern internally about the movement, but certainly not any or sort of a lot of defiance as far as any sort of external pressure, for instance, from the European Union or from the United States is concerned.

Nevertheless, those protests yesterday, while the turnout may not have been as big as some of the organizers may have hoped. Some of them of course first were building it or before it happened, or building it as probably the largest protest since the Soviet Union. That certainly did not happen. They were still fairly large.

There was a big turnout here in Moscow, big turnout also in St. Petersburg. And a lot of the very ugly scenes that we saw yesterday happened in St. Petersburg. It's quite interesting. I was just looking at the amount of detentions which now by the way an independent organization puts it over 1,700, around 1,780.

The bulk of those did happen in St. Petersburg with around 800 people who are apparently detained there. Again, according to this independent organization. We did also see some very ugly scenes of police beating of protesters there. That did not happen there in Moscow. I was in the protest the entire time that it was happening. It was very peaceful. And we did see a very hands-off approach by the authorities.

The entire area around the Kremlin was completely locked down. There was a massive security forces on the street. But by and large, they did let the protesters march, and you can also see that reflected in the amount of detentions, which is very low here in Moscow. Possibly also because Vladimir Putin did give that speech yesterday, and certainly the last thing that the government here in Moscow would've wanted, would've been ugly scenes in the Russian capital, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, of course. Fred Pleitgen, bringing us the very latest from Moscow. Many thanks.

And Vladimir Milov is an adviser to Alexei Navalny and the former deputy energy minister of Russia. He joins me now from Vilnius in Lithuania. Thank you so much for talking with us.


CHURCH: So, what more are you learning about the current condition of Alexei Navalny? Are you getting any information on how concerned you are about his failing health?

MILOV: We are extremely concerned. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to provide you anything beyond what everybody already knows because he is scarcely allowed to be visited by his authorities and relatives. And the information is very limited. We still were not able to give the authorities to allow independent medical testing or inspection.

We essentially, what we know about his condition is largely from how his attorneys physically view him, and from his own complaints. And this allows to judge about the severity of his condition at the moment.

However, authorities still deny to be, for Navalny to be inspected by the independent medics. So, there is very little knowledge. It only elevates the concern because he is well into the fourth week of his hunger strike.


CHURCH: It is a big concern, of course. And the U.S. has warned of consequences if Navalny dies in Russian custody. And the E.U. is holding Russia accountable. But President Putin he is warning countries to stay out of his business, and not to cross what he calls the red line.

How important is it to you that the international community gets more involved in this situation and actually does more to try to get Navalny released? MILOV: It is very important. On the one hand, we appreciate the

solidarity of the international community. But on the other, as my colleague Leonid Volkov have said to Christiane Amanpour on CNN, we prefer international leaders to act before Navalny dies and not speaking about consequences if that unfortunately happens.

So, yes, we would love to see a much tougher action because there is this sort of unprecedented situation where the brutal slow killing of a major political opponent in the European well into the 21st century that just could not happen. It's unacceptable. Not only if Navalny dies, but it's unacceptable that such things happen today.

And again, we reiterate that Navalny was denied independent medical inspection for almost two months since the beginning of serious complaints about Navalny's health. He spent over three weeks in hunger strike, and still denied independent medical testing. So that's unacceptable. We would obviously welcome more pressure.

CHURCH: Yes. And of course, at this time we know protesters across Russia are calling for Navalny's release. But there were fewer people that turned out on the streets than Navalny's allies were hoping for. How concerned does that make you that Russians are perhaps a little intimidated to get out on the streets?

And I do want to get your take on whether you think President Putin is feeling the pressure as a result of those protests and how some of the nations like the United States and the E.U. block are feeling about this?

MILOV: Let me explain because we have a sudden change of plans. We planned this to be a protest that will be set out for like a month from now so that people will have to prepare. It will be warmer weather, it will be Saturday or Sunday, so more people would come up, sometime in mid-May. But we have to skip that agenda and call an emergency protest within three days at the end of the working days.

Yesterday was Wednesday evening, so essentially, it's no surprise that fewer people came than we expected for this great big -- biggest rally as one of your correspondents spoke. However, that still the largest political protest that we have seen in years. And no one else except for Navalny network is capable of getting that many people on the streets.

Believe me, this is a big concern for the authorities judging by the whole array of efforts they used to try to stop people going out on the streets to intimidate, scare them off, threat, and so on. So, yes, that's a matter of concern. However, we didn't achieve the big number as we hoped for. But I think this can be explained by emergency circumstances. We will, believe me, in the upcoming months, you will see protests of bigger magnitude.

CHURCH: All right, Vladimir Milov, thank you so much for talking with us. We do appreciate it.

Well, European football fans are feeling betrayed and now powerful club owners are issuing apologies after losing big on their Super League gamble.

Plus, a global summit on climate change is just hours away. Some western powers already have set aggressive new goals to curb their emissions. And we will have a preview on all of that.



CHURCH (on camera): There's been no official death nail yet but if European football so-called Super League is still alive, it's on life support and failing fast. Most of the wealthy and prominent clubs behind the breakaway league have admitted it was an extremely bad idea. But Real Madrid's president insist the project has not been killed off and remains on standby.


FLORENTINO PEREZ, REAL MADRID PRESIDENT & SUPER LEAGUE CHAIRMAN (through translator): I've never seen such aggressiveness by the president of UEFA and from some presidents within the Spanish leagues. It was like something orchestrated. We were all surprised by it. I've been in football for 20 years. I've never seen this in my life. Never. There were threats, insults as if we had killed someone, as if we had killed football.


CHURCH (on camera): World Sports Don Riddell explains what let up to the league's collapse.


DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR (voice over): They wanted to call it a Super League but there is nothing very super about. The planning was secretive, the rollout was botched, from fantasy to farce, a spectacular failure.

Fans were celebrating in the streets and the reputation of some of the world's biggest sports brands lay in tatters. One by one, the rebels retracted. The six clubs from England's Premier League where the first to scupper it, and in recognition of their monumental miscalculation, some even apologized.

JOHN HENRY, OWNER, LIVERPOOL: I want to apologize to all the fans, supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours. It goes without saying but it should be said, that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans.

RIDDELL: But there was far less contrition from some of the biggest clubs on the continent. Andrea Agnelli, chairman of the Italian giants Juventus and a mastermind of the league, remained defiant.

ANDREA AGNELLI, CHAIRMAN, JUVENTUS: I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value it would've developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world.

RIDDELL: Whilst a stay small group of powerbrokers wanted the breakaway, they were seemingly alone in their ambition. Fans, players, and managers decried it. Broadcasters distance themselves. Prince William gave it a seal of disapproval. And politicians, including the British prime minister welcomed its demise.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the decision taken by the six English football teams not to join the European Super League. The announcement was the right result for football fans, for clubs and for communities across the country.

RIDDELL: But now it feels like the aftermath of a failed coup. Who were the architects? Who went along with it but didn't mean to cause any harm? Will the plotters be punished? Already, there is blood in the board room. On Tuesday, Manchester United executive vice chairman, Ed Woodward, announced his resignation. And the executives at the game's elite level will now view each other with even more suspicion than they already did.

European football governing body, UEFA, has emerge with its competition including the lucrative Champions League intact for now, but can they really claim the moral high ground?

RONALD KOEMAN, MANAGER, LA LIGA BARCELONA: Everybody is talking about the Super League, or Champions League, or a different way of playing in Europe. But -- and UEFA is talking a lot, but UEFA is not doing and not listening to the football people. Not listening to the managers, not listening to the players about the number of games. The most important for them is the money.

RIDDELL: UEFA's conviction to act so decisively in its own self- interest only served to highlight the previous occasions that they have been accused of weakness. In the future, will the governing body try harder to stamp racism out of the game? And will UEFA be tougher with a club that is manipulating the rules of financial fair play?


The European Super League went from boom to bust in just a matter of days. But it's wreckage will be picked over for months. And don't expect this to be the end of it either. These clubs have signaled their intentions next time they're unlikely to walk away from them so meekly.

Don Riddell, CNN.


CHURCH (on camera): Football expert Keir Radnedge is with World Soccer magazine and joins us now from London. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, is this the end of the Super League or will they give this another shot later?

RADNEDGE: Well, people have been talking about the Super League since the early 1960s. So, I certainly don't think it's going away forever. I mean, the basic problem is that football has this irreconcilable dynamic of open competition and a need for financial stability. And trying to walk this tightrope is extremely difficult, and the bigger the numbers they get, the more money comes in, the more difficult keeping on that tight rope is.

So, there will always be attempts to find nuances, new solutions. So, you know, Super League idea, one way or another, that will come back.

CHURCH: All right. So, they might change the name and sort of --


CHURCH: -- ambush the fans sometime down the road. So how tone-deaf was it, though, for these 12 teams to try to pull this off when they must have known how angry fans, politicians, and all other people would be at this time?

RADNEDGE: I don't think they did. And I think also the problem here seems to have been that it was created sort of, silently and duplicitously really behind the scenes. It was almost as if only the owners themselves and the presidents of the clubs knew what they were plotting.

Maybe if they had talked to their directors, their staff, their senior managers about it, they would have been told, actually, this is a bad idea. The timing is wrong, the structure is wrong. And you really should go and think again.

But it seems that there was a center forward of the team went off on his own run upfield, forgetting about his defense. And they really just -- it was almost amateurish.

CHURCH: Yes. And CNN did an interview with UEFA's president. I mean, he really felt a sense of betrayal, didn't he?

RADNEDGE: Well, yes, he did because, I mean, he is the godfather to the daughter of one of leading lights of the Super League creation, Andrea Agnelli from Juventus. So, I think he did feel that this was personal. And that was part of the reason for the verbal ferocity that he launched against the project.

CHURCH: Is this whole concept of the Super League, is it all about just making lots of money? And you know, we heard from UEFA's president how important it is that UEFA gives money and its support, so many different parts of the community. That certainly wasn't the goal with this Super League concept, was it?

RADNEDGE: No, it wasn't. I think that was also part of the reason so many people were utterly against it. I mean, UEFA has this Champions League, which is redeveloping in an increasingly tightened elitist form. So, it's not as if UEFA are just the happy good guys on the edge of the action. They have their own protectionist system. It's a -- it is very difficult, and I think this is why so many fans

reacted as they did. Because they really saw that, you know, they've seen the game as if it were taken away from them by rich owners over the last 10, 20 years. And they think they saw the game just disappearing over the horizon.

CHURCH: So, what damage do you think has been done, and how long will it take fans to get over this and basically forgive some of their teams?

RADNEDGE: Well, actually I don't think it will take very long. Football fans are resilient people. You know, you lose a match on the Saturday or the Sunday, and you come back the next Tuesday, Wednesday, or next Saturday at the latest with renewed hope and belief and optimism and happiness. So, actually, I think football will get over this extremely quickly.

CHURCH: Until the next time, I guess, right?

RADNEDGE: Until the next time.

CHURCH: Keir Radnedge, thank you so much for joining us from London. I appreciate it.

Well, Hong Kong versus freedom of the press. A journalist arrest may signal a crackdown on the public's access to accurate information. We'll have a live report.




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Well, President Biden hopes to reestablish the United States as a global leader on climate change when he hosts a virtual summit in the coming hours. Many western powers already are pledging deep cuts to their carbon emissions.

The European Union announced it aims to reduce emissions by 55 percent by the end of this decade. The U.K. has set a target of 78 percent reduced emissions by the year 2035. And President Biden is expected to announce a U.S. goal of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030.

Part of the summit is expected to focus on the devastation of Brazil's Amazon rain forest. A deal could be in the works between Brazil and the U.S. to stop illegal logging, mining and deforestation in the region.

And China repeatedly has been singled out for its heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. In fact it's the world's number one carbon emitter. So there is great interest in what President Xi Jinping will say when he addresses the summit.

CNN's Steven Jiang is in Beijing. He joins us now live. Good to see you, Steven. So, what are the expectations here? How far might President Xi go on the issue of climate change pledges?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): Well, Rosemary, he's very much likely to reiterate what he just said a few days ago here in China in a major speech that is dealing with an issue like the climate change. Like any other major global issues requires a multilateral approach instead of letting any single country dictate the global agenda. That's obviously a not so subtle swipe at the United States.

But the fact that he's attempting this Biden hosted virtual summit really is seen as a goodwill gesture from Beijing to Washington to show that the Chinese leadership is at least willing to carve out a special lane or niche area for cooperation at a time of growing tensions between the two governments and a whole range of other areas from trade to security to human rights.

And of course, this will also mark the first time the two leaders meet via virtually since Mr. Biden's election. So, it's symbolically important given the current political climate between the two countries. But as I just mentioned, this is also seen as a challenge from China to a U.S.-led global climate agenda.

As you remember, last week before the U.S. climate envoy John Kerry's arrival in Shanghai, the Chinese had made clear that they were only willing to participate in these talks and negotiations based on that both parties being equals. China was not going to make any unilateral concessions as they were saying back then. That this is going to be there continued position as well, just to satisfy the U.S. demands.

And there of course having calls from Washington for China to accelerate its pace of carbon emission reduction on top of it's already very ambitious goals of picking its emissions by 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2060.


Now there are of, course a lot of skeptical voices from around the world if China can achieve this given they have been expanding the use of coal in recent years. But China has brush these concerns aside saying they are sticking to their targets and roadmaps and they are also actively coordinating with other major governments including U.S. allies France and Germany whose leaders actually held their own virtual climate summit with Mr. Xi just last week to ensure the success of the Paris climate accord.

So Mr. Xi's is very much to likely to drive home the point that when it comes to the global issues like climate change, the world needs a new order based on multilateralism and justice instead of quote hegemony and coercion. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Alright. Steven Jiang joining us live from Beijing. Many thanks.

And you can join CNN for a climate town hall on climate policy as senior Biden administration officials will answer questions on how President Joe Biden plans to remake U.S. climate policy. That's on Friday night at 10:00 Eastern Time, Saturday morning at 10:00 in Hong Kong.

Well, Indonesia's navy says it knows where to find a missing submarine that had been conducting torpedo practice off the coast of Bali. For Indonesian navy ships have begun search and rescue operations, Singapore and Australia have also offered assistance. Officials say the sub and its 53 member crew are about 600 to 700 meters below the surface. That is 100 meters deeper than the sub is capable of diving.

Well, happening now, we are awaiting a verdict in the trial of an investigative journalist in Hong Kong. Bao Choy was arrested after investigating an attack on pro democracy activists. And uncovering possible government wrongdoing in the crackdown of the 2019 protests. The case has sent a chill through journalism in Hong Kong and shows how press freedom there is at risk.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins me now from outside the courthouse. So, Kristie, what is the likely verdict in this case? And what does all this signal about freedom of the press in Hong Kong?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Rosemary, we are still standing here outside the west Kowloon court (ph) and we are still awaiting a verdict. A prize winning journalist, prosecuted for accessing a public database. And my colleague, (Inaudible) is inside the courtroom. He reports that the magistrate has already struck down a number of arguments put forward by the defense team which does not bode well for the defendant. The journalist at the center at this case.

Her name is Bao Choy, she is a freelance producer for the Public Broadcaster RTHK, last year in November, she was arrested. She was charged with making a false statement while trying to obtain the (inaudible) information while researching and producing a report. Looking into the Hong Kong police handling of a bomb attack on pro democracy protesters in July of 2019.

She has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted, she could face up to six months in prison. And this case is just the latest incident here in Hong Kong that is stoking concern and fear over press freedom.


LU STOUT (voice over): The press literally under attack. A Hong Kong newspaper linked to a spiritual group banned in China shared this security cam footage of masked men smashing its printing presses. The attack coming at a time of tightening Chinese control was condemned by the city's foreign correspondents club and the Hong Kong journalist association.

CHRIS YEUNG, CHAIRMAN, HONG KONG JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION: Journalists are under a direct physical threat and that will cause damaging impact on that for years and feelings of terror among journalists and in doing their work.

LU STOUT: Hong Kong is a major media hub with a vibrant local press in a number of multinational outlets based here, but press freedom has been in steady decline according to the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index Hong Kong has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80.

Pressure on the media intensified in the wake of the 2019 pro democracy protests. Thanks to a new security law that is curb descent and pave the way for patriots to run the city.

When Hong Kong's top leader, Carrie Lam, unveiled the law on July 1, she promised that the city would continue to enjoy the freedom of speech freedom of press and publication, protest assembly and so on. But what followed were a number of moves against the press.

The police raid of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, the repeated arrest and imprisonment of the papers Jimmy Lai. The replacement of the head of public broadcaster RTHK. The cancellation of politically sensitive show. And the prosecution of the journalist who accessed a public database to investigate police brutality. The security law has also driven many to self censorship.


GRACE LEUNG, SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM AND COMMUNICATIONS, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: We don't know whether people at the next table can over hear what we are talking about. And then they may ring a phone to the police department, because they have a hot line.

LU STOUT: Despite the pressure, reporters continue to report. The Apple Daily, the city's largest opposition newspapers is still in print. And independent online reporters and media organizations like Citizen News serve a growing audience.

YEUNG: The more difficult circumstances is, that the more rewarding and meaningful journalism work is.

LU STOUT: When journalism is hit hard. There is hard-hitting journalism to do.


LU STOUT (on camera): Now the Hong Kong government has responded to the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index report that just came out earlier this week. Again according to the report Hong Kong and the index has fallen from 18th place in 2002, is now in 18th place for this year, 2021.

The report also cites the national security law is a quote, grave threat to press freedom here in the city. Now, the Hong Kong government, they called the report quote, appalling. They said that no profession, including journalism is above the law and everyone should be treated equally under the controversial national security law.

As we stand here outside the west (inaudible) court we are still awaiting the verdict for Bao Choy, the RTHK freelance journalist. About an hour and a half ago, we watch her enter the courtroom. She was surrounded not only by the media (inaudible), but the press here in Hong Kong, but also supporters who were holding posters and also chanting journalism is not a crime. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And we will keep a very close eye on this story. Many thanks, Kristie Lu Stout, joining us live from Hong Kong.

The U.S. imposed new sanctions on two state owned businesses in Myanmar, Wednesday and said, it would take further action. It's latest punitive action in response to the coup in February and violent crackdown on protesters. The sanctions are on the Myanmar timber enterprise and the Myanmar pearl enterprise. The Treasury Department noted both businesses are economic resources for the Myanmar military.

And Afghan peace conference backed by the U.S. is now on hold. The talks were suppose to begin Saturday in Istanbul, but the Taliban have said they won't come to the table until all foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan. The delay is a blow to President Joe Biden's plan to peacefully withdraw U.S. troops by September 11th.

Over the last 20 years many Afghans who have helped American forces were promised safe haven by the U.S. government. Now they fear that promise will never be fulfilled. And that the Taliban will come for them once U.S. troops are gone. CNN's Jake Tapper has our report.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Forced to run for his life.

UNKNOWN: I left my family and my colleagues, and it was very painful for me.

TAPPER: This Afghan man fled his own country fearing he might be killed all because he worked as an engineer for the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

UNKNOWN: I don't regret for my service.

TAPPER: He request we call him by an alias Abdul, protecting his identity because he says his life is in danger from insurgents he fears are still hunting him down.

UNKNOWN: Two gunman people step to my door, and that was really the worst situation I faced. I was thinking I will be killed.

TAPPER: Abdul is like thousands of Afghans who helped American troops during the nearly 20-year war. And to are now anxiously waiting for a special immigrant visa to come to the United States. A visa promised to them by the U.S. government. A promise that is turned into a nightmare for many. Due in part to lots of red tape and a years-long vetting process.

UNKNOWN: The United States is not making good, certainly not rapidly enough on the issue of bringing these people who helped us and literally saved American lives to this country.

TAPPER: The qualifications for special immigration duties are clear on the State Department website. You must be an Afghan national, you must have worked for the U.S. and Afghanistan for at least two years, and you must have experienced ongoing threats because of that work. But the reality for Abdul, who applied for the VISA in 2016, not as clear.

UNKNOWN: I was thinking I was able to go and get my visa.

TAPPER: After years of waiting and being told he was nearing the finish line, Abdul, was denied a visa on a technicality and his story is not unique.

Right now, about 18,000 Afghans who helped U.S. troops are stuck in that bureaucratic pipeline waiting for visas according to the State Department official.



TAPPER: And now with President Biden vowing to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by September 11th, the U.S. is running out of time to approve all these requests.

MATT ZELLER, TRUMAN PROJECT FELLOW: They got to be evacuated now.

TAPPER: Matt Zeller, a leading expert on this issue, who served in Afghanistan is not hopeful that will happen.

ZELLER: The Taliban are going to do everything in their power to kill them and they're doing it now.

TAPPER: He worked on a report detailing the dangerous conditions for these Afghans hoping to bring attention to this dire issue.

ZELLER: On the first things that every teacher in basic training is that we don't leave anybody behind, we are leaving people behind.

TAPPER: Ramish Darwishi is one of the ones not left behind, he's now living in the United States after serving as an interpreter for U.S. forces eight years. But that did not come without a price.

RAMISH DARWISHI, AFGHAN TRANSLATOR FOR HE U.S.: They can call you in front of your family and they just telling you that we will kill you in front of camera and we will put it on YouTube, so that your family can see it and suffer it all the time.

TAPPER: The Taliban harassed him and his family threatening to kill them if he kept of his work. But he refused.

DARWISHIS: And I just put myself my family, I just put myself, my friends even, even my wife's family under threat of death because of working with the U.S.

TAPPER: Ramish, applied for a visa in 2015, his thankfully was approved and he moved here eight months ago. Now he's telling his story and hopes Washington will act to save people still in danger like Abdul.

DARWISHIS: If anyone can help, help those people who are left behind in Afghanistan. Help those interpreters those translators and those brothers and sisters.

TAPPER: As for Abdul, time is running out. He is still trying to make it to the U.S. waiting in a different country and worried he'll be sent back to Afghanistan. Where he may end up paying the ultimate price.

UNKNOWN: If I am going to be sent back to Afghanistan, it's clear I will be killed.

TAPPER: Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: And during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan last week, U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, was asked about the visa issue and said he is committed to working on it.

Well, the German government is looking to impose tougher COVID restrictions nationwide. But it's being met with opposition. Coming up a live report on where a controversial piece of legislation stands.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well, some European countries grapple with a third wave of the coronavirus. German lawmakers have advanced a bill which would give the federal government greater authority to impose the country's first nationwide COVID restrictions.


Meanwhile Switzerland is planning to rollout vaccine certificates once the country's vaccination coverage rate reaches 40 to 50 percent. And as vaccinations pick up in France, local travel restrictions there are expected to be lifted on May 3rd.

So for more, CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, joins me now live from London. Good to see you Salma. So a lot going on across the continent. But let's start with Germany in that bill on COVID restrictions. What is the latest?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): It's what you are seeing across Europe right now, Rosemary. In the struggle to try to defeat this variant that is happening at once. First, you are dealing with a variant try that swept across the U.K. earlier this year into last year and it is a formidable enemy, Rosemary. This is a variant that spreads faster, that is more deadly and that countries are simply struggling to deal with it.

And there is also questions being asked as to whether or not governments are acting quickly enough. France going to its third nationwide lockdown. But a lot of debate there when that happened as to whether or not Macron of France should have acted sooner on that.

The other issue that you are seeing here across the continent is the vaccine rollout. There's been a lot of issues stumbles, roadblocks with that vaccine rollout. You've seen of course, at times debates over which vaccines to use. Refusal to use some vaccines, like the Oxford AstraZeneca one.

All of that left many people still unvaccinated at a time when a variant is spreading quite rapidly through the continent. So for leadership, they're trying to find a balance here after a year of a pandemic when people are very weary of rules and restrictions. People are quite tired of lockdowns and of pandemic. And of course the economy struggling under all of these. And each of these countries, they are trying to find a balance here between how you continue to put in the restrictions in place that can slow the rise of this variant.

How do you push vaccines, especially when so much hesitancy has been created by the back and forth of which vaccine is approved at what time for who and what age group? How do you continue to push that vaccine rollout and how do you face issues of supply and demand and vaccine hesitancy while trying to control this variant, Rosemary?

CHURCH: And I mean, the situation in Germany is particularly distressing isn't it? Because they did start out so well. And Chancellor Merkel really did understand what the science background, what she needed to do. And of course, people are just weary now with these restrictions. So, how likely is it, if they do this nationwide shutdown or lockdown across Germany? How much resistance will they likely receive?

ABDELAZIZ: Well, if you go based of what we've seen in Germany in the past, we've seen massive demonstrations in Berlin. Just a few months ago, against restrictions, against rules. We've seen massive demonstrations held by people who are anti-vaxxers, who don't believe that people should be vaccinated.

There's a very strong right-wing movement there that has shown its support on the streets of Berlin, has come out in huge numbers despite restrictions, despite rules, really giving the police some trouble in trying to crack down on these movements.

So, you can imagine that sentiment is only growing. Of course, if a lockdown is placed you then have to enforce it. And that's the difficult part, Rosemary, right. You can't put a policeman on every street corner and try to put these rules into force. You do need a measure of trust and confidence from your own public to follow these rules. And that's very tough after a year like this.

And what's at stake here is not just of course lives and people, but also the economy and most importantly the country's hospitals. How can they cope with another spike, Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. So many questions. I mean, everyone is just trying to figure this out. It is a new coronavirus and we will see at the end, assessments will be made on all nations. We will see what happens. Salma Abdelaziz, joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well, airlines are struggling through the pandemic even more than we thought. The International Air Transport Association says, the industry stands to lose almost $48 billion this year. Demand remains sluggish with fewer than 2.5 billion people expected to fly in 2021. That's 2 billion below pre-pandemic norms. The predictions are considerably less optimistic than was forecast just last autumn. The group behind the study says airlines need government relief. And we will be back after this short break. Stay with us.



CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well, a group of so-called Citizen Scientists in Australia are trying to bring attention to microplastics in the world's oceans. And these are tiny pieces of plastic almost invisible to the naked eye. They pose an increasing risk to the public. And the Australian Microplastics Assessment Program is helping it collect, record and raise awareness of this environmental hazard.


SCOTT WILSON, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, AUSTRALIAN MICROPLASTICS ASSESSMENT PROGRAM: We are finding them in all marine life. Everything from plankton through the whales, really there's evidence of plastics and harm associated with these plastics. And so, it's cause for a concern. There is chemicals associated with these plastics. It's not just the physical blockage but it's the chemical toxicity that is initiated.


CHURCH: And groups like that are trying to keep the oceans safe for creatures like this. A gray whale found off the coast of Naples in Italy. It's a rare citing since these mammals usually avoid the Mediterranean. Marine authorities say it was probably lost and badly nourished. They're following it back out to sea to make sure it doesn't beach itself and find its way back to its pod.

And thank you so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN Newsroom continues next with Kim Brunhuber. Have yourselves a wonderful day.