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Pakistan Weighs Tougher Lockdowns Amid COVID Surge; India's COVID Surge Spills into Neighboring Countries; Cases, Hospitalizations Climb in Central and South America; Colombians protest Tax Plan and Government's COVID Response; Green Burials in the U.K.; New Air Filters Aim to Clean Up Public Transportation; Olympic Organizers Push Ahead amid Fourth COVID Wave; India's Soaring COVID-19 Death Toll; Countries Send Urgent Aid to India; Biden Calls Out China. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 29, 2021 - 01:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers, joining us from all around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead:

India sets more records for COVID cases and deaths, as the countries scrambled to send medical aid and what some countries are doing to help India try to save lives.

Plus, U.S. President Joe Biden calls out China in his historic address to a joint session of Congress.


CHURCH: Everyone is afraid, every single person -- those words from a New Delhi resident, as India grapples with COVID surges in deaths and infections. The country has just reported more than 3,600 deaths, and almost 380,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, breaking global records for yet another day. And experts say the real tolls are likely much higher.

In Delhi, officials are begging the government to provide more firewood for cremations, and graveyards are running out of space.

Now, there's a scramble to sign up for vaccines as registration opens for all adults, but there aren't enough doses to inoculate the estimated 600 million eligible people.

CNN's Anna Coren is following this tragic for us, joins us from Hong Kong.

Good to see you, Anna.

So, what is the latest on this a dire situation we are seeing in India? ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned that toll, that

the health ministry has just released, and of course, Rosemary, another global record. We've been seeing this now for days. And it is going to keep going up, according to all of the health experts.

And it's not just the health experts that are questioning the true number. The Delhi, North Delhi mayor, he has said that the official death toll was 300 in his area. He said that they've been burning at least 600 bodies a day. So, that is double the official death count. And this is what we are hearing also from the experts.

I mean, logistically, it is very difficult for the testing to be going on. We know that there's, curfews lockdowns in certain cities and states. So the data that is required perhaps not getting through, the infrastructure. It is very, very difficult to get that data out.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, Rosemary, he was told people to go out and vote. That is in West Bengal state, where state elections are occurring. The last phase is happening today.

And he said, quote, I call upon people to cast their vote and enrich the festival of democracy. He said that COVID protocols need to be taken. Obviously, social distancing and mask wearing.

But you are talking about a state that yesterday recorded the highest number of daily cases, as well as the highest number of deaths for that state during the second wave. And his defense minister also tweeted out moments ago, get out there and vote.

So it is very confusing. You know, these mixed messages that the government has been sending. You know, whether it'd be political rallies or whether it'd be voting. You've got the second wave decimating parts of India and yet, you have the BJP Modi's party encouraging people to go out and vote.

And we saw in the state of Telangana in the south of the country, just a few days ago, they were holding political rallies. Now, the electoral commission of India has told all parties that restrictions are now in place, you can't hold rallies, mass gatherings of more than 500 people. That celebrations upon voting, that is not allowed, but, clearly, not necessarily adhered to.

Rosemary, I should also mention that aid is getting into the country, finally arriving. It has been trickling in the last couple of days. You know, the United States has sent out planeloads of aid. As has Singapore, Russia.

And you also mentioned the vaccine. Now Russia is standing in its Sputnik vaccine. That will complement the Covaxin, which is the locally made vaccine in India, as well as Covishield, which is the AstraZeneca in India.


That is in short supply. And we are hearing of shortages in vaccine. To date, 150 million doses of vaccine have been administered. But,

Rosemary, according to the health expert, to dent the curve that we are seeing right now of the -- just over 2 million vaccines a day. That needs to be bumped up to 10 million vaccines, to really hurt what is going on right now.

CHURCH: Absolutely, they need the vaccines, they need oxygen supplies. The situation is dire at this time.

Anna Coren, bringing us the very latest from her vantage point there in Hong Kong, many thanks.

Well, now, desperately need help is finally heading to India, as we just heard from Anna. Countries around the world have pledged to send aid to the COVID stricken nation, from vaccines and oxygen, to ventilators, and PPE. The U.S. says it's delivering supplies worth about $100 million, including more than 1,000 refillable cylinders of oxygen, 15 million N95 masks supplies, that will allow India to make 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and a million rapid COVID tests.

The U.K. is sending three mobile oxygen factories to India. Each unit is about the size of a shipping container and can produce enough oxygen for 50 people at a time. Hundreds of ventilators are also on the way from Britain, as one official explains.


JAMES CLEVERLY, BRITISH MINISTER OF STATE OF MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA: Well, India is a long-standing and close friend of the parliament (ph) of United Kingdom. We've seen the horrible images and the suffering. So, in addition to the oxygen production support we have already allocated today. We will also be providing three mobile oxygen factories, each of which can provide or produce 1,500 liters of oxygen per minute, and that will help support India in its fight against coronavirus.


CHURCH: But when it comes to COVID vaccines, the U.K. says it can't afford to share any with India.

The British health secretary says India can produce its own Oxford AstraZeneca doses, a vaccine that a lot of produce and British researchers worked on.


MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: We are supporting India with what we can. We don't have any excess doses a vaccine in the U.K. at the moment. But what we have done is by providing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at cost, working with the Serum Institute of India, they are making head produce a more doses of vaccine than any other single organization. And, obviously, that means that they can provide vaccine to people in India at cost.


CHURCH: Russia is also sending medical aid to India. After President Vladimir Putin spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a plane loaded with medical equipment took off for Delhi. And a second plane is expected to follow soon.

Much of the 22 tons of aid, Russia is promising is technical equipment such as, oxygen supplies, ventilators, and medical monitors, all of which India desperately needs at this time.

And in China, the medical equipment company UL (ph) is working overtime to produce vital criminal for India. The company is one of the world's largest makers of oxygen concentrators, which produced pure oxygen from here. UL says they can make 100,000 concentrators every month, but skyrocketing demand has prompted it to create emergency teams to handle India's orders.

China says, it shift 800 concentrators to India on Monday and will send 10,000 more in the next week.

Joining me now, Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Thank you, Doctor, for talking with us.


CHURCH: So we are seeing COVID cases and deaths exploding across India, a tragedy and horror that is revealing insufficient oxygen supplies, medicines, vaccinations, even firewood for cremations.

How much worse do you fear this may get? Even as medical supplies from other nations arrived there?

MURRAY: Well, from what we understand in our modeling of the epidemic in India, we expect that the death toll will continue rising and probably reach over 10,000 a day in about 2 to 3 week period. It should be ground 12 to 14,000 deaths a day, there is a lot of bad times ahead.

But that also means that we think that infections are -- which happened before deaths, of course, are close to peaking probably next week.

CHURCH: Those death toll numbers, of course, are just horrifying, and Indian authorities reporting more than 300,000 COVID cases a day, and about 3,000 deaths a day. But your calculations clearly show those numbers are more likely double that, or close to double that.

How are you able to figure that out? And are you saying the Indian government is covering up the real numbers, or just doesn't know them?

MURRAY: Well, when we look around the world that COVID deaths we find that pretty much in every country there is some under registration at the actual death toll from COVID, ranging from really huge under registration in some countries, in Central Asia to, you know, capturing about one of three deaths in many low and middle income countries. And it's really the lack of testing that is the reason to get the undercount.

CHURCH: And, of course, the tragedy here is that the Indian government doesn't appear to grasp the enormity of this pandemic. Still allowing political rallies in the country, mitigation efforts are not in place sufficiently. Religious festivals have been allowed across the country, as well as these political rallies still being held.

And as Prime Minister Modi took a victory lap just a few months ago, claiming he had defeated the virus. How does that mishandling of the health crisis play into your calculations, certainly when you're trying to predict where this is going?

MURRAY: Well, we look very carefully at all of the social distancing mandates that each state in India has put in place. And some states have much stronger mandate than others, there is very few if any federal government mandates. It's really quite varied across the states.

And so, some states put in pretty strong mandates about two to three weeks ago, and that's going to help bring infections, start to help bring them down. Other states have not, and we expect infections already rising.

So, it's -- but I think the key driver here that why is India so different in the month of April is the appearance of these new variants that have increased transmission and meant that people previously infected can get reinfected.

CHURCH: And, of course, we did see similar failures, maybe not on this level but right here in the United States last year. Using that as a model, and in other nations we saw in the U.K. in Italy, how can India turn this around?

MURRAY: Well, the main strategy and this is true throughout the pandemic and it remains true it is in the setting of exponential growth in transmission, which happened in India. The primary strategy is putting in the social distancing mandates, increasing mask use, getting people to avoid close interaction with each other.

The second strategy of course, is increasing vaccination. That's going to be critical. India is a major producer of AstraZeneca, one of the vaccines. And so, you know, getting that vaccine into peoples arms is going to be important.

CHURCH: All right. Dr. Christopher Murray, we thank you so very much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

MURRAY: My pleasure.

CHURCH: And for more information about how you can help combat India's COVID crisis, you can go to Well, Joe Biden has made his first official address to Congress, and

as U.S. president and his remarks on U.S. foreign policy, largely focused on China. Those details are just ahead.

Plus, it's not just India. Countries across south Asia are imposing tougher COVID restrictions with infections rising rapidly across the region. We'll take a closer look.



CHURCH: Wednesday night marked U.S. President Biden's first address to Congress since taking office 99 days ago.

He spent most of his speech addressing the pandemic and pitching a sweeping plan to overhaul the U.S. economy. But on foreign policy, it was clear he views China as America's top competitor for global dominance in the 21st century.

Take a listen.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My discussion with President Xi, I told him, we welcome the competition. We're not looking for conflict.

But I made absolutely clear that we will defend America's interest across the board. America will stand up to unfair trade practices and undercut American workers and American industries like the subsidies from state to state owned operations and enterprises, and the theft of American technology and intellectual property.

I also told President Xi that we'll maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific just as we do for NATO and Europe. Not to start a conflict, but to prevent one.


I told him what I said to many world leaders, that America will not back away from our commitments, our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to our alliances. My -- I pointed out to him. No responsible American president could remain silent when basic human rights are being so blatantly violated.


CHURCH: CNN's Steven Jiang joins us now from Beijing.

Good to see you, Steven.

So, how will Joe Biden's speech likely play in China, particularly when he says autocrats will not win the future, America will?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: You know, Rosemary, the Chinese government has not formally responded to Mr. Biden's remarks, but when they do, likely in a few hours at the foreign ministry's daily press briefing, they are probably going to stick to the usual talking points about wanting mutually beneficial relationship with the U.S. based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

But it is really noteworthy to see Joe Biden devote a quite bit of time on China in a largely domestically focused speech. Now, you know -- and that sound bite you just played, he touched on major flash points between the two governments, security, trade, and human rights. A lot of these obviously started before he even took office, during the presidency of Donald Trump.

But Mr. Biden and his team have said they actually agreed with Trump's assessment that China is a strategic competitor of the U.S. Where they disagree, was the approach, especially the scorching the earth tactics towards the end that Mr. Trump's tenure.

And Mr. Biden and his team said repeatedly they want Americans to compete from a position of strength. That's why you heard the president say there is not only this necessity, but also this urgency to invest in research and development, in education, in infrastructure. And a lot of these areas China has not only caught up but also surpassed the U.S.

So, you know, if you listen carefully to Mr. Biden's speech, he's really trying to reach across the political aisle, and China is one bipartisan consensus in Washington these days. That's why his core message to Republican is if you want us to compete with China and gain the upper hand, if you want to get tough on China, endorsed my domestic agenda and passed my bill.

And this kind of messaging obviously is now going to be lost on the Chinese leadership, which is under no illusion that the fundamental China policy from Washington is going to change from Trump to Biden. So, that's why the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has been saying repeatedly, China needs to become self reliant in key technologies, because that's one area, in his words, America could still choke China's development and ambitions.


And Mr. Xi, of course, has also become more confident after pandemics, seeing the advantages of this one party political system and how this top-down approach, this power structure served him well.

So, you have heard Mr. Xi saying to his officials repeatedly that this is a historical trend that the East is rising and the West is in decline. And China needs to seize upon this once in a lifetime opportunity to really, in his words, rejuvenate Chinese dream, but many other interpreting as propelling China to the top of the world order.

So, Rosemary, at the end of the day, the world's two most powerful nations fundamentally clashing points of view about themselves, about each other, and about where the world should be headed. So, that is a cause for a lot of concern around the world -- Rosemary. CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to our Steven Jiang joining us live

from Beijing.

African nations are struggling to get the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses they need and the World Health Organization wants to change that. The message from the organization's regional office for Africa is everyone deserves an equal shot at life.

Eleni Giokos reports from South Africa on the COVID challenges the continent is facing.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From Guinea-Bissau to Uganda and Malawi, vaccines to fight COVID-19 have been arriving across Africa. The U.N. Children's fund UNICEF does logistics and an alliance led by the World Health Organization funds the efforts. It's an initiative called COVAX to get vaccines to the world's poorest countries.

The great majority of African countries have received their first doses of COVAX, but for only a fraction of their population, and several, including the Central African Republic and Chad are yet to get their first shipments. For now, South Africa is not tapping its COVAX while Zimbabwe has turned to China for its vaccine supply. Nowhere and Africa besides Morocco has more than 3 percent of a population received a dose. Worldwide, just north 0.3 percent of vaccines been administered in low income countries.

DR. PHIONAH ATUHEBWE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: It's heartbreaking to see a young 19 year old child from the global (INAUDIBLE) be vaccinated while a frontline health worker and Africa working inside a COVID-19 treatment center not able to access this vaccine. It's quite heartbreaking.

It's a global issue. No one is safe until everyone is safe. We need to reach a certain level, at least get the priority groups vaccinated in Africa.

GIOKOS: But there are other factors including vaccine skepticism. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli said God would protect Tanzanians, and it was no need for lockdowns.

JOHN MAGUFULI, TANZANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have lived for over a year without the virus and good evidence is most of you here don't wear masks.

GIOKOS: Magufuli died in March. His successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has indicated she wants Tanzanians vaccinated.

Poor distribution and lack of public awareness have also been issues and in some countries, thousands of vaccine doses have been discarded, pauses in the distribution of two vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have not helped.

And there is another problem, this is Aspen Pharmacare in Gqeberha, South Africa, and it's producing millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But in Africa, manufacturing capacity of vaccines is a rarity, and that's because those continent of 1.2 billion people imports 99 percent of vaccines.

The African Union and WHO want patients waved and indigenous production ramped up.

ATUHEBWE: We were able to get the amount of vaccines we needed in the past, even from importing them. But right now, we have seen that because we don't have that manufacturing capacity, this is the result of that full globe is accessing a vaccine that we cannot able to access. Right now, even with DOLA (ph) findings, even when governments have committed to buy these vaccines, there are no vaccines.

GIOKOS: For now, Africa is playing catch-up and getting vaccines to its people. The vaccine alliance hopes distribution will quicken in the second half of this year, with 2 million doses reaching the continent every week. But there's a long way to go.

Eleni Giokos, CNN, Gqeberha, South Africa


CHURCH: And CNN's Zain Asher spoke with Africa's leading health official about what needs to happen on the vaccination program.


ZAIN ASHER, ANCHOR, ONE WORLD: The head of Africa's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is critical, critical for the continent to be able to produce its own vaccines.

His name is Dr. John Nkengasong and he's joining us live now from Douala, Cameroon.

Dr. Nkengasong, thank you so much for being with us.

So, it is clear that Africa dependency on other countries for its vaccines has come at a very, very high price. A lot of high income countries are prioritizing vaccinating their own populations first before they even think about, before they even think about giving or donating vaccines to Africa.

What needs to change at this point for Africa to become much more self sufficient?


I think it's obvious now Africa took its own vaccine security into its hands. And that's why, just two weeks ago, the African CDC, and the African Union Commission convened a meeting to begin to address this and set ambitious timeline for us to reverse the trend. The trend which was highlighted in this conversation is that we import 99 percent of our vaccines and only produced 1 percent of the vaccine. No people, and I repeat, no people can guarantee the herd security

with importing 99 percent of their vaccine, which we note always a game-changer in any pandemic.

ASHER: So, when you think about Africa potentially being more self sufficient. Now, you've talked about, hopefully, Africa being able to produce 60 percent of the vaccines that it consumes by the year 2040, when you think about the challenges, though -- there's research, there is an investment, there's financing, there is also building a strong regulatory frame which I think is the most important thing.

Where does all that money and planning come from?

NKENGASONG: You are right. We need 3 things to achieve the transition target we set for ourselves which is to manufacture 60 percent of our vaccines in the next 20 years. And I believe it's doable. It's not overly ambitious. I think China, India, Thailand and others within 15 years will be able to manufacture -- start manufacturing vaccines. I think that timeframe is very, very achievable, if we commit to it and recognize that the risk against vaccines is always against the continent of Africa.

We import -- 99 percent the vaccines that we import, 70 percent of them come from China -- from India. I beg your pardon, and that cannot be sustained in a pandemic environment as we have seen an economy with the situation with AstraZeneca vaccines which have been banned, being exported from India.

The continent has been mobilized, both at a political front, and a financial front, and also the policymaking front. The African Development Bank, the Afreximbank all continental financial bodies, are ready to step in and begin to work with us so that we move this important agenda forward.


CHURCH: The British prime minister is now under formal investigation over the week pricey remodeling of his Downing Street flat. Boris Johnson insists he paid for it, but his former chief advisor has said the plan was to have Conservative Party donors pick up the tab. British media put the cost at close to $300,000.

The leader of the U.K.'s opposition Labour Party demanded answers in parliament Wednesday.


KEIR STARMER, UK LABOUR LEADER: Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative Party, or it was a private donor, or it was the prime minister. So, I'm making it easier for the prime minister, it's now multiple choice. There are only four options. It should be easier than finding the chatty rat, Mr. Speaker.

So, I asked the prime minister again, who paid the initial invoice, initial invoice, Prime Minister, for the redecoration of the prime minister's flat? The initial invoice? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prime Minister.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, I've given him the answer, and the answer is I have -- I have covered the costs, and most people will find it absolutely bizarre. And, of course, there's an Electoral Commission investigating this. And I tell him that I conformed in full with the code of conduct, with ministerial code, and officials have been kept -- have been advising me throughout this whole thing.

But I think people will think it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue. When, what people want to know is what plans the Labour government might have to improve the life of people in this country.

And let me tell you, if he talks about housing again, we're helping people -- I'd rather not spend taxpayer's money, by the way, like the last Labour government who spent 500,000 pounds of taxpayers' money on the Downing Street flat.

I would -- yes, they did. Yes, they did!



CHURCH: The prime minister is also under fire for allegedly saying last year that he would rather see bodies piled high than order another COVID lockdown. He denies making those remarks.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is scheduled to appear by video link in a Moscow courtroom in the next few hours. He is appealing his conviction for slandering a World War II veteran who appeared in a promotional video backing President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny is serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence for a separate parole violation. He ended a month-long hunger strike last week over what he called lack of proper medical care.

And a mural of the Kremlin critic appeared briefly in St. Petersburg, Russia on Wednesday with the title, "Hero of the New Time". It showed Navalny making a heart shape with his fingers like he did toward his wife in a Moscow courtroom earlier this year. But the tribute didn't last very long. Workers covered over the mural with yellow paint about two hours later.

Well, COVID cases are on the rise in Pakistan, and that has the government considering new measures to keep people safe. We are live in Islamabad coming up.

A national strike in Colombia turned deadly on the same day the country records its highest number of deaths from COVID-19. We will explain what's behind the latest unrest.


CHURCH: Welcome back. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

And I'm Rosemary Church.

The COVID-ravaged nation of India has just reported more than 3,600 new COVID deaths. And almost 380,000 new cases Thursday, breaking global records for yet another day.

Patients are sitting on the sidewalk outside hospitals waiting for a bed. And family members are afraid it may be the last time they will see their loved ones alive.

Delhi is under a lockdown until next week and the state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, is considering extending its lockdown until mid May.

And a U.S. military aircraft is on its way to India, carrying the first shipment of more than $100 million worth of COVID relief supplies as the world rallies to help.

Pakistan is considering new lockdowns as COVID cases there are surging. The country recorded more than 200 deaths in a single day for the first time since the pandemic began.

CNN's Sophia Saifi is live this hour in Islamabad. She joins us now.


CHURCH: So Sophia, what all are authorities doing there to prevent the tragedy that we are seeing unfold in India happening in Pakistan?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, it's pretty obvious that the authorities in Pakistan have been shaken by what's happening next door in India. And we have seen a series of notifications and announcements coming out from the health officials, from the prime minister himself, calling for the army to come in to make sure that, you know, in this holy month of Ramadan, which is a huge month of festivities here in Pakistan when people are out and about, shopping, going to markets, going out to eat. Those markets now have specific cut off times for when they are supposed to be shut.

The prime minister has come out and himself requested the public that they need to wear masks, that they need to follow social distancing otherwise he will have no choice but to enforce a lockdown.

We haven't had a lockdown enforced yet, however there have been measures taken with the Eid holidays coming up in mid-May. There's been an announcement that all tourism is to be banned. There's been an announcement that provincial travel is going to be banned for about a week, close to the Eid holidays to prevent further spread.

There is also a mounting concern of diminishing oxygen supplies in the country, so according to the head of the National Commission on Coronavirus, he told us last week that about 80 percent to 90 percent of the country's oxygen supplies is currently in use by medical institutions. And to prevent that, Sindh and Punjab, which are the two most populated provinces of the country, have gone ahead and banned elective surgeries which means that, you know, if somebody has tonsilitis, if somebody breaks their arm or has a kidney stone, they cannot be operated upon.

These are only -- the only surgeries that can be done are emergency surgeries, or those that are urgently needed to be done. Just (INAUDIBLE) as much oxygen for the rising critical COVID-19 patients in the country.

We haven't seen scenes like we are seeing in India next door of people waiting in parking lots. But there are -- there is data that's being shared to us by health officials that the number of beds in wards -- in COVID wards across the country, specifically in the province of Punjab is above 65 percent in some cities, even in the city of Lahore (ph) which is extremely populated, second most populated city in the country, has about 55 percent already, you know, full of patients.

So there is definitely a concern about what lies ahead. The Indian variant isn't here yet but, you know, there's a lot of scare (ph) and a lot of concern but people are still out and about. So we are hoping that the authorities kind of clamp down perhaps further, but it just remains to be seen how things will unfold, Rosemary.

CHURCH: It certainly sounds like officials there are taking this seriously and that is very important.

Sophia Saifi joining us live from Islamabad. Many thanks.

Well meanwhile, other countries in South Asia are working to ensure their COVID situations don't get as bad as India's.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout looks at the crisis growing across the region.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Fueled in part by the devastating second wave burning through India, the number of global cases of COVID-19 has been on the rise for nine consecutive weeks.

As you can see on this map of cumulative COVID-19 cases by Johns Hopkins University, India is not the only place in Asia hit hard.

Cases are spiking in neighboring Nepal. The border city of Nepalgunj has become a COVID-19 hot spot. Local lockdowns have been imposed in cities, including Kathmandu. And there have been reports that tourists at Mount Everest base camp were infected but the Nepalese government has denied this.

Other neighbors are not taking any chances. Pakistan has deployed the army in 16 cities to enforce pandemic safety protocols.

Bangladesh has imposed a strict lockdown. On Monday, it sealed its border with India for 14 days. The trade will continue. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is bracing for a third wave of infection. Local media reports that all ICU beds and hospitals are full after Sri Lanka detected a new variant over the weekend.

And starting Wednesday, schools across the country will close. Residents in designated areas are required to remain indoors and a police curfew is in force.

Indonesia is also battling one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia with over 1.65 million infections since the pandemic began. To prevent the spread of the new variant, Indonesia has stopped issuing visas for travelers who recently spent time in India.


STOUT: And this week, the Philippines logged its one millionth case of the virus, a grim new milestone as it struggles to boost health care capacity.

About 16 months after the virus was first identified in China, the surrounding region is being ravaged again. And medical workers across Asia are struggling to push back the pandemic.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN -- Hong Kong.


CHURCH: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday that lines are forming for admission to hospitals there and that the government is running out of resources to provide aid. He also said Metro Manila will continue COVID restrictions until mid-May. The restrictions limit travel in and out of the capital and have closed nonessential businesses.

Well, Brazil's president is lashing out and criticizing a parliamentary commission investigating the federal government's response to the pandemic. Jair Bolsonaro questioned whether the senate commission would call governors and mayors to testify, or whether it will hold an off-season carnival.

The president claims he's provided resources to local officials to fight the outbreak but he has also long downplayed the severity of COVID and resisted lockdown measures despite his country's surging cases.

Hospitals across South and Central America are struggling to cope with the rising number of COVID infections and patients. Variants and slow vaccinations are combining to drive the surge.

CNN's Matt Rivers reports from Mexico City.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, we continue to get reminders that throughout the western hemisphere in the Americas, this pandemic just isn't getting better as fast as many of us hoped that it would at this point.

The Pan American Health Organization saying that in the last week, of all the COVID-related deaths worldwide, one in four were recorded in the Americas. Meanwhile, looking throughout Latin America, PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization, says that infections in just about every country throughout this region are rising.

We are seeing concerning trends in places like Costa Rica, hospitals are filling up in Guatemala, and even down in Colombia infection rates are nearing what they were back in January as ICU occupancy rates continue to be of a major concern in major cities like Bogota.

Meanwhile, we're hearing from Brazil, a new study suggests that 90 percent roughly of new COVID infections in the southeastern Brazilian state of Sao Paulo are due to the P-1 variant. That's concerning, of course, because scientists say that this P-1 variant is more easily transmissible than other variants.

Some good news though with Mexico and Russia announcing that Mexico will begin to start packaging domestically the Russian vaccine. More than 1 million doses of that Russian vaccine have already been given out here in Mexico. That domestic packaging of that vaccine expected to start in the coming weeks.

Matt Rivers, CNN -- Mexico City.


CHURCH: And in Colombia, the worsening pandemic and a controversial proposal to raise taxes brought thousands of protesters to the streets in a national strike.

The mayor of Bogota says more than 30 police and demonstrators were hurt in the clashes. One person was reported killed in the city of Cali.

Stefano Pozzebon is in Bogota and has the latest.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Thousands of people took to the streets of Colombia this Wednesday to protest against the government's handling of the pandemic and in particular to protest against the fiscal reform that President Ivan Duque is trying to pass through Congress. And the critics argue it's going to make the situation worse for the middle class.

According to recent government figures, the number of families that cannot afford to eat three meals per day have tripled since the beginning of the pandemic. And while the protests were mostly peaceful throughout the day, small clashes erupted in the afternoon in Bogota and other cities. At least one person was killed in the city of Cali which witnessed the worst of the violence.

And this comes as Colombia has been really hit by the pandemic. On Wednesday, the country reported a new record 490 deaths due to COVID- 19. Vaccination rates are not picking up.

Several cities including Bogota are currently under curfew and social distancing measures which have prompted authorities to urge for the national strike to be paused (ph). But today's national strike and the record exactly on the same day is a testament to the double-edged sword that has hit (ph) the nation with the health situation worse than ever and the economy in tatters.

(on camera): For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


CHURCH: And just ahead, protecting the planet beyond the grave. What green burials look like in the United Kingdom. We'll take a look.



CHURCH: Now, "Call to Earth", CNN's initiative to promote a more sustainable future. And today: how to be good to the planet, even after you die. A consecrated forest in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom is leading the way for green funerals.


CHARLES ROYDON, THE REVEREND CANON, ST. MARK'S CHURCH: This is a spiritual place, it's a wonderful place. And when people have had a funeral here, they want to stay here and be here because they can sense that there is something special.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most funeral practices come with an environmental cost. For example, some of the materials used to build caskets don't biodegrade. Imported stone for tombstones are (INAUDIBLE) and cremations create air pollution. In fact it's estimated that cremations release 1.74 billion pounds of CO2 in the U.S. alone each year. But around the world there is a growing movement to make funeral practices more sustainable.

ROYDON: We just wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for people to choose to be buried in a way that was helpful to the planet, as opposed to damaging it.

It was called green burials or natural burials or woodland burials. And when we first started with the burials, it was regarded as being very wacky and I think that time has now moved on. Many people are now choosing woodland burials just because they want to be friendly to the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the U.K. the first natural burial ground was in Carlisle (ph) in 1993. Today, there are around 270.

In Bedfordshire, the St. Albans Woodland Burial Trust have taken advantage of an old English law to protect their woodland burial ground forever. ROYDON: We are doing something which have longevity built into it. And

the way that you can provide the greatest protection in English law of any size is to consecrate it. Set the land aside for eternity, for the purpose to which it is prescribed. In this case woodland burials.

So what we are trying to do is make sure that anything that we bring in here is not going to impact adversely on the environment. So you see the monuments are made of wood. And we don't have stones. We don't import granite.

The coffins themselves, they'll be made of biodegradable material. You have wood or wicker or willow. The bodies themselves will be embalmed so we're not introducing any of those nasty chemicals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many funeral practices are marketed as environmentally-friendly from human composting to biodegradable urns that break down once they're buried.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the greenest burials involves dressing the body in clothes made of natural fibers, foregoing embalming fluid and using a natural biodegradable coffin made of local materials.

ELLEN MUSGROVE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, MUSGROVE WILLOW LTD: We grow 60 varieties of willow on around about 200 acres of Somerset (ph) farmland. The number of coffins that we produce now are in excess of a hundred a week.

We've had many, many families come along to help weave coffins for their loved ones and found it incredibly cathartic. When they go there is a lift in them. They are much happier, they're laughing, they've had a chance to chat about the person that passed away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the climate crisis worsens, more people may choose to be laid to rest in a way that is good for the planet.

In the U.S., a 2019 survey found that more than half of respondents were interested in exploring the options for a green burial. However, only 85 cemeteries in the U.S. have been certified under the Green Burial Council. The movement is still young.

ROYDON: If we could have woodland burial grounds creeping out across our country, and people being able to choose to be buried in a place where there are trees planted and nature flourishes, I think we can do an immense amount of good in terms of returning woodland (ph) to our country.


CHURCH: I love that idea.

And we will continue showcasing inspirational stories like this as part of the initiative at CNN.

And let us know what you are doing to answer the call with the #CalltoEarth.

CNN NEWSROOM continues in just a moment.


CHURCH: Well, this week, CNN's Bianca Nobilo is exploring the future of the transportation industry post COVID for a special called "ROAD TO THE FUTURE".

Today she looks at how public transportation is becoming safer and cleaner with the help of new air filtration technology.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENTs (voice over): Air pollution has long been a problem many have tried to solve. AirLabs, a U.K.-based company that specializes in clean air tech and air quality management, has developed a potentially groundbreaking technology known as AirBubbl.

MARC OTTOLINI, CEO, AIRLABS: The AirBubbl technology is aimed at cleaning a large volume of air. We're talking about 30,000 liters an hour which is really massive.

The aim is really to process as much air as possible while having a product that is small enough to fit in the interior of vehicles, buses and trains. The technology that we use is actually very effective.

So we are removing up to 95 percent of the pollutants and pathogens. We also remove gas pollutants. Of course, at the moment, the focus is on a particulate matter and coronavirus.

NOBILO (on camera): And what's the cost of owning and installing one of these devices? Who exactly are you targeting? Could I have one in my house, for example?


OTTOLINI: Yes, you can. It probably (ph) will cost -- you know, it depends on do you buy it outright? Or do you take a subscription service where, you know, we provide it including a regular filter replacement?

But if you think about public transport, you would be thinking maybe $20 -- $30 a month or so as an operating cost. So you probably talk about less than $1 a day.

Our mission is to play a leading role in reducing the exposure of all people (ph) to air pollution. We are committed to continuing to develop technology that is on the one hand dealing with the evolved (ph) nature of air pollution, as well as making these technologies more energy efficient and producing less waste.


CHURCH: Well, with less than three months to go, Olympic organizers are pushing ahead with the Tokyo Games. They have released an updated Olympic playbook, outlining how they plan to hold safe events in the midst of this pandemic.

CNN's Selina Wang takes a closer look at the guidelines.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Olympic officials say they are prepared to have no spectators at the Tokyo Games. With the Olympics just months away, officials still have yet to make a decision on how many people, if any, can attend. They say they are postponing their decision until June because of pandemic developments.

Overseas spectators have already been banned. Japan is currently struggling to contain a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases. The prime minister has just declared yet another state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures.

Meantime, Japan has fully vaccinated less than 1 percent of its population. The situation here on the ground has once again reignited doubts as to whether or not Japan can successfully hold the games.

But organizers say that they are confident. Officials have just released new details on COVID-19 countermeasures and a 30-page Olympic playbook. All participants are required to take two COVID-19 tests before entering Japan. Athletes and close contacts will be tested every day.

While athletes are not required to quarantine for 14 days here in Japan, their movements will be restricted and tracked with smart phones apps. For athletes it is clear that these games will be like no other. They will be socially distanced, and handshakes and hugs are not allowed.

But despite these COVID-19 countermeasures, experts are still concerned that these games could turn into a super spreader event, one that not only spreads more contagious COVID-19 variants throughout Japan, but also around the world.

During a press conference, the Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshihiro Muto was asked if postponing the Tokyo Games again is an option. He said that with the Beijing Olympics in 2022, the Paris Games in 2024, and all of the logistical challenges involved, he said that another postponement would be, quote, "probably not practical".

Selina Wang, CNN -- Tokyo.


CHURCH: I'm Rosemary Church. I will be back in just a moment.