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Dozens Killed in Stampede at Religious Event in Israel; Thousands Queue for Hours for Oxygen, Hospital Beds; Report: 48% of Myanmar May Live in Poverty by Year's End; Air India to Add Near Pre- Pandemic Direct Flights to U.S.; Nepal's Outbreak Comes Amid Peak Everest Tourism Season; Pakistan Imposes New COVID Restrictions for Eid Holiday; U.K. Study: Being Overweight Tied to Increased Risk of Severe COVID-19; 200 Million Expected to Travel in China for Holiday; Navalny Refers to Putin as 'Naked King'. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 30, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Officials said the 100,000 mostly orthodox Jews had gathered to celebrate Lag b'Omer holiday on Mount Meron. Those who were there saw this normally festive holiday turn to tragedy.



SHLOMO KATZ, FESTIVAL ATTENDEE: We were standing and waiting for our friends. We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff, and all of a sudden, we saw paramedics running by, like mid-CPR on kids. And then one after the other, they started to come out of ambulances. Then we understood, something was going on here. And we just went to the side, as the ambulances are driving in and out, and we waited until we were able to, slowly, get out.


VAUSE: For the very latest, CNN's Hadas Gold is with us now, by phone, from the scene on Mount Meron. Hadas, bring us up to date. What's the latest?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, so this situation, very tragic situation on this mountain, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of ultra-orthodox participate in these festivities for a holiday called Lag b'Omer. They were gathered at the tomb of an ancient rabbi. It's supposed to be very festive. Lots of singing, lots of dancing.

But as you can see from these images, it was very crowded, as well. There was some sort of stampede, and a crush of people took place on what might have been some sort of flight of stairs. And as a result, we're getting these tragic numbers of 44 dead, at least 100 injured.

We are near the mountain right now, heading towards the tomb, and we're just seeing bus after bus, tour bus after tour bus, heading towards the scene, because there are still thousands of people that need to be taken away from this mountain.

We are seeing people, literally, walking along the sides of the highway as they are trying to leave this area. Because normally, this festival would continue through the night, continue into today, but they are taking people away from the mountain, because of the tragedy of the vice president of one of the volunteer emergency services, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called one of the worst tragedies he had ever experienced.

Authorities are still trying to work out details on exactly what happened, why, and how. Because this festival takes place every year, with many people, tens of thousands if not up to 100,000 people. So clearly, something different happened, and something changed. And as a result, you are seeing what should have been a celebration, turning into a tragedy.

VAUSE: So Hadas, explain the area where this was is all believed to have taken place. Because it appears to have been a narrow passageway, possibly a stairwell, where suddenly, there was just a push of people, and a crush of people. And that is where so many people lost their lives.

And who's responsible for crowd control at this sort of event?

GOLD: Right. There is still people trying to leave the area, and there was clearly some issue with crowd control. It's not clear exactly what happened, and why, but just from the images you can see, that there was just many, many people completely stuck together. And that's quite unusual for us to see, especially in the past year of the pandemic, so many people together.

And actually, in the -- last year, this event did not happen because of coronavirus restrictions. But this year, clearly, somewhat of a return to normalcy, perhaps that caused more people to come to the event. They come celebrate, to enjoy, because most of these people are the ultra-orthodox, which is supposed to be a very festive holiday. Lots of singing, and dancing, lighting up of bonfires.

But clearly, something went wrong. It's still not clear what sparked this stampede, what sparked this chaos, but right now, what we are seeing is people trying to lead the mountain and many, many tour buses going by. And we are also seeing on social media calls from families, seeking information on their loved ones.

Obviously, the cell service was very difficult with the crowds of people, and some of the ultra-orthodox may not have cellphones, as well. And so we're seeing postings online, families posting pictures of their loved ones, seeking any sort of information about them. Because the situation is still -- it's still developing. People are still leaving the mountainside as the morning breaks here.

VAUSE: Hadas, thank you. Hadas Gold there, with the very latest on the line from Mount Meron in northern Israel. Thank you.

Crucial medical supplies, including desperately-needed oxygen and PPE, now arriving from around the world in India, where an outbreak of the coronavirus continues to spiral out of control.

Total confirmed cases now top 18 million. Thursday saw record highs for new infections and deaths in just one day.

Outside hospitals and makeshift medical centers, thousands are waiting in line for a long-shot chance of receiving oxygen, or maybe even a bed. The government has now approved vaccination for anyone 18 and older. A total of 800 million people, now eligible, and existing vaccine supplies can not meet that likely demand.


SHRUTI SAHA, DAUGHTER OF COVID-19 PATIENT (through translator): We have over the house since 2 a.m. There are no oxygen tanks in all of Delhi. After searching for hours, we finally reached here around 3 or 4 a.m. They were forming a line in the back, then told us to form a line up front. Then they told us to bring a prescription. My mother's condition is very serious, and we've been trying to get a hospital bed for her in all of Delhi for two days straight.



VAUSE: Despite all this, India continues to move forward with local elections. Health experts say the rallies and long lines of voters are essentially super-spreader events.

More than 8 million people expected to vote in West Bengal's assembly elections.

Well, the number of dead has overwhelmed cemeteries, many now working 24/7 and still unable to cope, while in Delhi, crematoriums are running short on wood used for funerals. The ceremony would normally last for hours, the body of the dead left to burn, a symbolic return to its original elements of air and fire, while the soul lives on.

But there is now a new macabre routine to this solemn ritual. As CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley reports, the grieving, you now take a ticket, and wait in line, like at a deli or the bank. And a warning: Sam's report has some disturbing images.


SAM KILEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the Simapuri (ph) crematorium. They're dealing with about 150 people who are coming here to be burned. They're and not being able to be seen off by their families. Indeed, their family members need to take a ticket, in an office just over there. A bit like visiting a bank. That gives them a place in the queue.

And the queue has been long, all day long. There have been many dozens of people backed up here. Now towards the end of the day, they're hoping to get them cleared through by sunset, although the pyres will continue to burn. And this is all happening at a time when the government is continuing

to allow, or indeed, insist on super-spreader events like elections, election gathering, election counting, and a consequence of the failure of public health is this. Dozens and dozens of victims of the COVID pandemic.

Being burned here, very often in ceremonies that are bitterly lonely, with just one or two friends in attendance. At the crematorium, they're dealing with 150 people per day. And these are the carts that bring in the loads of wood. For each, and every one, of the pyres.

But this crematorium, whilst it's dealing with 150 a day, has had to create this extra piece of territory to see people off.

It's been as crowded as this since sunrise, and it will be as crowded as this at sunset.

And everybody we've spoken to here blames the central government. This is a government that has allowed a net export of coronavirus vaccines, a government that seemed to indicate earlier this year that it felt that India had reached some kind of herd immunity without a massive vaccination campaign. And a government that continues to campaign over elections, at state and regional level.

It is a government that puts politics, clearly, above the public health of its people. And after all, India is a country that has a space program. It's able to put aircraft carriers, that see into the Indian ocean, and more widely, it wants to take a place on the Security Council as a permanent member of the United Nations. But its government has allowed this.


VAUSE: Joining me now from New Delhi, Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy. Doctor, thank you for being with us again.

There is now this urgency to try and ramp up nationwide vaccinations. And on that, here's India's foreign secretary. Listen to this.


HARSH VARDHAN SHRINGLA, INDIA FOREIGN SECRETARY: From the first of May, we will have made it universal to anybody who is already 18 years of age. That also requires, as you see, a very large number of people in the district for that vaccination. And we will have to ensure that we have the necessary capacity to do that.

And in that context, obviously, if we can source vaccines, we will do it. Whether it's from the United States, whether it's from Russia, whether it's from other countries who will have and manufacture vaccines, we can do it.


VAUSE: With such a fast-spreading virus, can India vaccinate itself out of this crisis? And just as a side note here, why is it a charge at all for any of these vaccines?

DR. RAMANAN LAXMINARAYAN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE DYNAMICS, ECONOMICS AND POLICY: So a good question. And the first round of vaccines were -- the price was gapped at something like about $3. And -- and many argue, and sometimes rightly so, that there were many people who could afford more than that, and paying more would incentivize the vaccine manufacturers to expand their supply.

That is what has happened right now. There will still be free vaccines through the government facilities for people who are poor or anyone who actually chooses to line up there.

But it allows for, you know, there to be some amount of differential pricing, as we see for drugs. Some people would pay more but -- but, effectively, we're able to expand the supply at this point. You know, the price gaps have not been helpful at this point in time. And your question about India vaccinating out, the only solution for India is to vaccinate itself out of this pandemic. And the world really needs to help, because if India doesn't fix this problem, the world is not done with COVID.

VAUSE: A senior official of the government, speaking to CNN, said that, you know, they do take responsibility for this crisis, but there was a "but." Here it is.


NARENDRA TANEJA, BJP PARTY SPOKESMAN: It is our responsibility, and we're trying to do our very best, but this did come, and it's a surprise today. A lot of people are saying that we should have done that. We knew in February. But at that time, scientists, doctors, they were all more or less of the same view. Politicians, we politicians formed the opinion that we are getting -- we were getting, more or less, out of COVID situation. We -- our views are basically coming out of a, you know, kind of analysis, the kind of reports, feedback we were getting for scientists, and doctors.


VAUSE: But there were warnings, at least according to local reports. There was one that read like this. April and November last year, the government was told about potential shortages of oxygen during a second wave. So while it's true the spread and the speed of the outbreak has been surprising, there were warnings about potential shortages of supplies like oxygen and PPE.

LAXMINARAYAN: Right. Every country has made this mistake of exceptionalism, which is to say that, you know, this happened somewhere else, and what happens to us happened in Mexico. It happened in Brazil, happening in the U.S. sometimes, but happening in India, as well.

And it's, you know, probably human nature, as well, to want to believe this is gone. But this is an unforgiving virus, and it is true that there were scientists and epidemiologists in February who were saying this was done, but there were some others who were not. And I think that there should have been, you know, more science it was

brought to the table, and with more, you know, different views, viewpoints. I mean, my own viewpoint was that, if you shut down early, we can control future waves. Everyone knew that a future, a second wave was unavoidable, but the scale of this wave has, in honesty, taken many by surprise, including people in the scientific community.

And it is -- I guess, we were unable to predict, from last year's events into this year, because last year was under the artificial situation of the lockdown, whereas this year there was no lockdown, and clearly, you see how the virus behaves when there's no lockdown. It's absolutely vicious, and it is tragic right now.

But I don't think India would be making that mistake again, with respect to taking this lightly. We're going to have to fight this to the bitter end for vaccines.

VAUSE: And what is different this time around is that so many people are just completely helpless. On Tuesday, an elected member of the State Department in Delhi was on Twitter, with an oxygen mask, pleading for help, because his hospital had just had a total of three hours of oxygen supplies left, in all.

So, during January and February, instead of passing resolutions to declare victory over COVID, and hail the prime minister as a visionary, if the government actually started to stock up on medical supplies, like oxygen, would the full extent of this disaster been avoided?

LAXMINARAYAN: You know, there's clearly a failure to prepare at many different levels. At state levels, central levels, and you know, it is tragic, but I don't think now is the time for that reformation.

Right now, many people, literally, researchers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are on the ground, trying to get oxygen to people. Oxygen for India is one of the -- the outputs that's providing this in various locations around the country. And we are looking for support to do that.

I think there will be a time for analysis here, but right now, we have to realize that, you know, that's not the situation. I think everyone's mind is, there are three categories of people in India. They either have COVID, they're taking care of a close family member with COVID, or they're working to help other people with COVID. And everyone is in one of those three categories right now.

VAUSE: Very quickly, last time we spoke, you seemed less than convinced that this double mutation, which was detected in India, was playing a major role in the spread of the virus. You were at least unconvinced on that.

But we now have reporting that it's been found in Israel. According to "The Times of Israel," those who have been infected, four of the 41 people have been fully vaccinated. Seventeen of those infected had not been abroad. Some of them had no obvious links to someone who did, indicating, the variant is spreading undetected. Moreover, five kids from five schools diagnosed with this Indian variant. So what are your thoughts right now on the role this mutation may be playing?

LAXMINARAYAN: You know, it is -- you're right. It is, you know, just like with all science. We learn more and then, you know, when the facts change, we change our minds.

It certainly does appear to be the case that it's spreading a lot more silently. The transmission does seem to be rapid. We were unable to correlate it with a variant, per se, as opposed to just the opening up, which might have facilitated transmission.


But certainly, the age profile of people dying of COVID is -- is very young right now. I mean, there's a lot of 20-year-olds and 30-year- olds dying of COVID that we never saw in the first wave.

So clearly, something is changing, but unfortunately, we don't have the science, the sequencing correlated with the field epidemiology to really make that connection.

And the challenge is that, in the middle of this entire crisis here, it's hard to do that science, as well, just because, you know, every place under lockdown and so forth. So -- but I -- you know, I do agree with you that we are seeing, you know, something that is definitely different, and the world should watch out for what is happening here.

India, just because of its population, has the potential to generate variants, like any large country would. And which is why I would still say unless the problem is solved in India, it is definitely not solved in the world.

VAUSE: And that is the point which we should end on, because that is the point which everyone should take great note of right now. Doctor, thank you. We really appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.

LAXMINARAYAN: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: So to learn more about how you can help India end this COVID-19 crisis, please visit our website,

Well, COVID-19 plus a coup d'etat equals misery for Myanmar. With poverty growing at an alarming rate. Ahead, a brand-new report just released, an exclusive interview with the U.N. expert who was behind it.


VAUSE: Just three months after the military seized power, and Myanmar is fast approaching the point of economic collapse. And along the way, poverty rates could double, returning to levels not seen for more than a decade. In other words, years of hard-won gains potentially wiped out in just months. CNN has exclusive details this hour of a new U.N. report on the

economic impact of both the global pandemic and military coup and finds that the worst-case scenario, nearly half of the population will live in poverty, compared to almost 25 percent in 2017, reversing gains made since 2005.

And while the economy took a hit from the pandemic, the civilian government had managed for the most part to contain the spread of coronavirus. And this report finds, with the promise of an effective vaccination program, post-pandemic economic recovery seemed imminent.

Projections by the IMF suggested Myanmar would soon return to an average of 6 to 7 percent annual growth rate.

But then came the coup and what could now be a very grim future for millions of people.

Achim Steiner is an administrator of the United Nations Development Program, and he is with us this hour. Thank you, sir, for taking the time. We appreciate you being with us.


VAUSE: OK. So on top of the hundreds of civilians whose lives have been taken by the military during the crackdown, what this report seems to spell out is how, now, millions of people in Myanmar have had their future, or at least the future they thought they would have, taken from them, as well. The overall impact on the country just seems devastating, especially in terms of where they were heading.


STEINER: Absolutely, John. It is a tragic story which already took a major setback with the pandemic, which we estimate to have increased the poverty rate by about 6 or 11 percentage points, and that was a significant setback to an otherwise economy and society that was moving forward.

And with the military takeover and the crisis that has ensued, the projections that we now make in terms of the poverty rates is that they will increase by another eight to 12 percent. And that brings the country to roughly half its population living in poverty, an equivalent to losing more than a decade of progress that it had made. Fledgling democracy it was, indeed, but it was beginning to make progress in terms of per capita income, in terms of life expectancy, in terms of years in school. And clearly, what we are confronted with right now is a tragedy unfolding.

VAUSE: Yes. There have been the two big hits to Myanmar's economy. But this report notes that, after weathering the coronavirus, "The compounding of negative shocks continued with the military takeover, which came at a time when Myanmar was beginning to project a post- pandemic recovery."

It seems the pandemic was a one-off event. At least, according to this report, it was a big one, but just a one-off event. The military coup and the ongoing economic turmoil, well, that is yet to end and could go on for quite some time. So just on a granular level, what are the effects here on the economy. Banking, I know, has been impacted. It's pretty much collapsed. Ports are not operating as they were once. So what is the daily impact for most people inside Myanmar now?

STEINER: Well, it is a systemic shock that is occurring, because a political crisis essentially paralyzes a country. We just mentioned a couple of its results (ph) already. We have fractured supply chains. Movement of people, movement of goods and services. The banking system essentially suspended remittances, not being able to reach people. Social safety payments that would have been available, particularly to poor households, not being paid out. These are just some of the immediate impacts.

And a protracted political crisis will obviously worsen this. Because what we are seeing right now is job losses from the COVID pandemic, now into the political crisis, because the cumulative impacts of what I have just described, if they continue throughout this year, will indeed lead to further impoverishment and particularly affecting those who are just living above the poverty line. Those are the most vulnerable, and they are the first ones to be affected; the urban households who live on their small businesses, essentially not being able to operate anymore.

But it is also female-headed households. The garment industry that will not be able to operate properly. Job losses there. Children. Together with our sister organization UNICEF, we estimate that, you know, up to 80 million children could be affected by these increased poverty rates that we are estimating and projecting in the report.

So you can see that across Myanmar's society, this is a major setback in not only development but also in terms of inequality and vulnerability.

VAUSE: Yes. The report goes into some detail with regards to that, because reducing poverty is about a whole lot more than just raising income levels. So it has a huge positive impact on women and children. And so when poverty increases, the reverse is true.

This is from the report. "Preliminary evidence on the ground already showing that the shocks will have profound effects, effectively undoing many of the human development achievements Myanmar has made in the last decade and threatens progress -- however imperfect progress has been -- on all the sustainable development goals."

So when we're talking about human development goals, what specifically does that actually refer to and what had been the impact already, and what will be the impact?

STEINER: In the broader sense, it's about the ability of people to earn a livelihood, to get an education, to lead healthier lives, to have access to health services, just to give you some parameters.

And to put it in a broader context, what we are seeing in Myanmar is the cumulative impact of various shocks. Now COVID and the pandemic clearly having had an impact on many countries across the world, but what is so frustrating right now and what is, I think, driving so many people into the streets across Myanmar, is the setback that they know from the past.

Many people forget that in 1950, the per capita income of Myanmar was actually, on average, higher than that of Malaysia or Thailand. Then followed decades of military rule, of closed-door policy, and indeed, Myanmar moved from one of the most promising economies in Asia to one of the worst performers.

I think many of the younger people have learned about that history, and that is why you are seeing right now this protracted political crisis playing out. And it will essentially lead to, in at least one scenario, the kind of poverty rates that put half of the population of Myanmar below the poverty line, which is estimated by national levels at around 1.1 dollars. And you can imagine this is truly a poverty line below which you will struggle to survive.


And this is why the World Food Programme, in its report, our sister agency, has also estimated 3.4 million people will struggle to feed themselves just in the next six months.

VAUSE: These are projections, and they're based on income and data and assumptions. They're not carved in stone, though, right? So could the outlook change for the better? And what would need to happen?

STEINER: Well, some of the data is actually based on the Myanmar living condition survey dating back to 2017 and then a 2020 household vulnerability survey which looked particularly at the COVID-19 impact.

Now, with telephone interviews, household interviews, triangulation of data, the projection moving forward and the estimate that by the beginning of next year, 2022, up to half of Myanmar's population could be living below the poverty rate, is indeed a triangulation of data using projections and modeling.

So clearly, much will depend on what happens in Myanmar over the next few months, which is also why the international community is so focused on trying to quickly find a way in which to contribute to some form of political settlement that will take Myanmar off this tragic course into the future.

VAUSE: Very quickly, we're almost out of time. Is there a reluctance, though, for the international community to actually help whilst this military dictatorship is in power? If you help the country, you help the dictators, in a way.

STEINER: It's always a terrible dilemma. Right now, most international partners have either suspended or paused their operations. The United Nations remains within the country, but clearly, we are, particularly at the moment, looking at what are the options for continuing or not continuing the work in various areas. Where they're able to work directly with communities, they may be able to provide support.

But clearly, in such a situation, it is always a very difficult choice to make. And clearly, the best way forward is also following the Asean summit, to quickly have the special envoys, a dialog emerge that allows a political solution to be found. Because ultimately, it is within Myanmar that the solution to this crisis lies, and particularly with the military leadership.

VAUSE: Achim Steiner, thank you so much. We are out of time, but we really appreciate you being with us, and that report is devastating reading on so many different levels. Thank you.

STEINER: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Well, still to come, more on the chaotic scene unfolding in northern Israel, where dozens have been killed in a stampede at a religious festival. Many more have been injured. We'll have the very latest details when we come back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VAUSE: More now on that breaking news out of northern Israel. A deadly stampede at a religious festival. The death toll stands at 44. Dozens more have been injured, many in critical condition.


Officials believe up to 100,000 mostly ultra-orthodox Jews had gathered on Mount Meron for the Lag b'Omer holiday. It's still unclear what may have triggered the deadly crush, but officials have ruled out earlier reports that temporary structures had collapsed.

This is where it's believed that so many were killed. A relatively narrow walkway, left littered now with shoes, bags, as well as other debris.

Dov Maisel is a cofounder and vice president of operations for the Israeli rescue organization United Hatzalah. He's on the scene at Mount Meron. He's on the phone with us again.

Dov, thank you for being with us. What do you know about the condition of those who are in hospital right now? We're told 20 in critical condition. What more can you tell us?

DOV MAISEL, COFOUNDER/VP OF OPERATIONS, UNITED HATZALAH (VIA PHONE): So we know that approximately, almost 100 patients in the hospital, like you said, 20 in critical and worse condition, and then many others at different levels. Lightly injured, et cetera. And the fatality numbers are 44 people who lost their life in this terrible tragedy.

VAUSE: When we look at those images, we see this is a festival that's attended to by ultra-orthodox Jews. They tend to have very large families. Do we know at this point if there were children among those who have been hurt or killed?

MAISEL: So there are -- well, not little children, as far as I know, but definitely, there were young teens amongst the injured and the fatalities. And yes, like you said, almost 100,000 people, mostly orthodox, ultra-orthodox, that celebrate, come from across the country to this mountaintop.

VAUSE: Do they normally have this many people who show up for this kind of festival each year? Was 100,000 fairly standard? Or was it more than usual.

MAISEL: So -- so actually, usually, the festival, the celebration takes place for a period of about 24 to 48 hours, depending on the year, et cetera. And this is a totally normal number.

An unusual year. The concern was there could approximately 400,000 people that come through the mountaintop, coming and going, over the period of 24 to 48 hours.

So this is a pretty reasonable number, except -- except for some reason at a certain point, the congestion in certain areas on the mountaintop was simply unbearable. And it just caused the stampede. It's obviously under police investigation, but that's what it seems.

VAUSE: And what can you tell us about the scene where this is all believed to have taken place, where the crush happened, where the people were hurt and died? What was that area specifically used for? Where were they going to, and where were they coming from by using that pathway?

MAISEL: So the mountaintop has, like, a big historical tomb (ph), and they do surround the prayers within the tomb (ph), and surround it. The area of incident itself was in the lower part, at least the lower part and surrounding the back part of -- of this structure, where it's like a bottleneck on the steep staircase, that simply, hundreds of people pouring in at the same time, and more people coming from the other direction, at the bottom of it, caused a massive amount of congestion, and simply, people got squashed.

VAUSE: And this is just the usual ebb and flow of foot traffic? There was nothing, no particular event which had taken place that people were trying to get to, or were leaving from?

MAISEL: So initially, they pronounced that there was some sort of collapse of a structure, but there wasn't any apparent evidence of that on the scene. Rather, simply, it was movement of thousands of people, through different bottlenecks, into this certain area, which was very tight. And it's very small, and it simply couldn't hold this amount of people.

VAUSE: From your experience, from everything that you've seen over all the years that you've been attending these sort of tragic events in Israel, what -- how would you describe this one, in terms of, you know, context of what you've seen?

MAISEL: I would describe this as, at a certain point when I was in the staging area of this mass casualty incident, as we call it, I simply had flashbacks to the beginning of the 2000s, when we were experiencing here big terror waves and buses blowing up. That's what -- that's what it felt like.

It was simply seeing dozens and dozens of critically-injured patients undergoing CPR and treatment. It was a scene that was impossible, because the evacuation was almost impossible, because there are thousands of people surrounding. It was -- it was simply tragic and horrific.

VAUSE: Yes, tragic and horrific, to say the least. Dov, thank you for that update. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us and share those details. We wish you all the very best. Thank you, sir.


MAISEL: Same to you. Bye-bye.

VAUSE: Well, India has broken a new record for the most new COVID cases in just one day. Health ministry reporting almost 390,000 new infections on Friday; nearly 3,500 deaths.

Families are searching frantically for oxygen and medical care for their loved ones. And hospital beds are snatched up moments after they become available.

The government now says everyone 18 and older is eligible to sign up for a vaccine, but supplies are short.

Despite the dire situation in India, traveling from there to the U.S. is about to get easier. India plans to re-introduce almost as many direct flights into the U.S. as it had pre-pandemic.

Here's CNN's Clare Sebastian.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Air India says it's increasing its flights to the U.S. because of, quote, "various factors." But it's clear that as India's virus numbers have surged over the past few weeks, there's been a rush among those with the means to do so to get leave the country, even as options become increasingly limited.

More than 15 countries have now banned or restricted travel from India. And one of those trying to leave was Roopesh Kondrella. He was on a work trip in India and was planning to fly back to the U.S. on April 27 on Emirates Airlines.

ROOPESH KONDRELLA, U.S. RESIDENT RETURNED FROM INDIA: And, on the 21st, I get an email saying my flight is canceled. And I went to the news. I see British Airways also canceled. I got panicked. And I said, let me take the next available flight back home. So, I looked for Air India option. The only option I got was United. And there was just one seat left.

SEBASTIAN: Kondrella says he paid more than twice what he's used to paying for his ticket and had to depart from a different city. The U.S., which has travel bans in place from countries like the U.K.,

from the European Union, and Brazil among others, has not put a ban on travel coming in from India. This is what the White House had to say about that, this week.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We would make those determinations based on the advice of our health and medical team. They haven't made that determination at this point.

SEBASTIAN: Well, this map shows India's flights over the past two days. It's currently operating 29 flights a week to the U.S. and planning 32 a week from May 11, just one less than it operated pre- COVID.

Well, the State Department has a tier four travel advisory in place, warning Americans against all travel to India. And travelers that come into the U.S. do need a negative COVID-19 PCR test from the past three days.

Something that's putting another strain on an already struggling Indian test center, like Dr. Dangs Labs in New Delhi. They told us that their drive-through testing is the most popular among travelers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): Our requests are through the roof. We get hundreds of requests every minute. And that's why we are only able to open drive-through bookings, only for a few minutes every day.

SEBASTIAN: Anyone trying to come to the U.S. from India, of course, needs a valid U.S. passport, a green card, or a visa. And there's another complication here, because some people who traveled to India to renew their visas are now getting stuck. The U.S. embassy and consulates in India has suspended all visa appointments until May 15.

Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: Well, what happens in India is unlikely to stay in India, and regional governments are closely watching as this crisis goes from bad to worse.

India has far more cases per capita than its neighbors. But Nepal has also seen a recent surge. Infections there erupted mid-April, and now daily cases are in the thousands.

Nepal's outbreak so far is centered in the capital, Kathmandu. But with a limited health care infrastructure, concerns are growing about Nepal's ability to cope with a large-scale outbreak.

And Nepal's outbreak comes during the peak season for tourists wanting to climb Mount Everest.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout introduces us to the Norwegian mountaineer whose dream was cut short by the pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) -- base camp after developing COVID-19 symptoms at 5,000 meters.

ERLEND NESS, NORWEGIAN MOUNTAINEER: I felt weak, and hang-over head, like. And my oxygen level was very low. In base camp, I was getting worse. I was advised by two doctors and base camp, and they found some cracks in my lungs.

STOUT: Norwegian mountaineer Erlend Ness was medivacked to hospital in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. It brought a temporary end to his decade- long dream to climb Everest.

NESS: When I tested positive of COVID, it was a shock. And then I realized that the expedition was over for me.

STOUT: In preparation for the event, Ness had trained for two hours a day for six months and had already climbed six of the world's highest seven summits, and attempted Everest once before, in 2018.

NESS: To summit the biggest mountain in the world is a big dream for every climber, I think. I wanted to stand on the summit and see the view.

STOUT: After Ness was hospitalized in Kathmandu, he says he tested positive for COVID three times. He is now in recovery.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you, Ness?

NESS: I'm very good, thank you.

STOUT: He says he got a negative test before heading to the mountain and doesn't know where he picked up the virus.

Two sources from base camp tell CNN that there have been dozens of suspected COVID-19 cases there in the past few weeks. But a spokesman for Nepal's tourism department denied that there have been any cases there.

This comes as neighboring India battles the world's worst outbreak of COVID-19. The border between the two countries is still open.

The seriousness of the wider situation left Ness grateful for the care he received in the hospital.

NESS: I was lucky in a way. Someone died at the hospital when I stayed there, so it could have been worse.

STOUT: This rapidly developing COVID threat in Nepal is likely to derail the gradual reopening of Everest, where more than 400 climbers were granted permits this spring, the main season for attempting the world's highest peak.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN.


VAUSE: Pakistan has imposed pandemic restrictions for Eid next month, and like neighboring India, Pakistan is dealing with shortages of medical supplies like oxygen.

CNN producer Sophie Saifi has the latest now from Islamabad.


SOPHIE SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: It's very obvious that Pakistan has been extremely shocked by what's happening in its next-door western neighbor of India. And due to this, the country has taken many precautions, which some critics are saying come too late but have now been issued specific notifications, calling for lockdowns between provincial travel, a ban on tourism.

With the Eid holiday just around the corner in mid-May, the military has been called in. However, there still is -- there's still a lot of crowds in markets.

The prime minister himself went ahead and has specifically requested that the people of the country follow social distancing guidelines, that they wear masks, but if they do not, he will be compelled to enforce a lockdown.

There has been data shared by the national command center on coronavirus, sharing that about 85 percent of beds in hospitals in one of the most populous provinces of the country in Punjab, they are now occupied at 85 percent capacity. Oxygen is running low.

So with the Eid holidays right around the corner, it just remains to be seen how many more strict measures the country is going to take with regards to curbing the spread of this pandemic.

Sophie Saifi, CNN, Islamabad.


VAUSE: With COVID cases remaining at alarming levels, Turkey is also imposing new restrictions. Many stocked up ahead of the first ever nationwide lockdown, which will now be in place for at least three weeks.

This comes as Turkey identified at least five cases of the new variant first discovered in India. That's in the city now of Istanbul.

The country has reported the fifth highest amount of cases worldwide. That's since the pandemic began.

The annual May holiday in China is one of the country's busiest times for travel, the May Day holiday. Millions of people are eager to finally hit the road again, despite risks of a new COVID outbreak. A report from Shanghai in just a moment.



VAUSE: Well, this just in to CNN: the number of cases of COVID-19 worldwide has now topped 150 million. That's according to data from Johns Hopkins university.

In Europe, though, there is some positive news. The WHO says that last week for the first time in two months, new COVID-19 cases fell significantly.

But there is a warning in the region, Infection rates are still high. So don't let the guard down.

Meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron has revealed a timeline for lifting restrictions. It's supposed to happen in four steps from May 3 until June 30. France is currently under a nationwide lockdown with a curfew running from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A new study is looking at the connection between body weight and the risk of severe COVID-19, especially in younger adults. CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard has details.


JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH CORRESPONDENT: This is a new study out of the U.K., and it adds to the growing evidence that being overweight or obese can raise your risk of getting severely ill with COVID-19, being hospitalized, or even dying.

And what really stood out here, John, the study suggests that body mass index is a greater risk factor for younger adults, ages 20 to 39, than it is for older adults, ages 80 and older. And it's a greater risk among black people than white people.

Now, when it comes to body mass index, having a BMI of around 25 to 30 is considered overweight. A BMI at 30 or above is considered obese.

But this new study says that the increased risk of severe COVID-19 starts to go up at a BMI of more than 23. And it says that that's not related to having an underlying health condition.

John, back to you.


VAUSE: Jacqueline, thank you. Jacqueline Howard there. Thank you for that report.

Well, in China, hundreds of millions of people are expected to begin travel this weekend for the annual May Day holiday. For many, this will be their first chance to visit family and friends in other parts of the country in about a year.

It's worth noting that most of China's population has not been fully vaccinated, which is raising concern that, with millions of people crisscrossing the countryside, there could be new outbreaks.

CNN's David Culver explains.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm David Culver in Shanghai, where China is preparing for a major travel holiday., one of the big travel agencies here, expecting up to 200 million people to be hitting the roads, taking to the skies, and going on the rails.

All of this for what's going to be several days of travel, and it's coming after what was earlier this year, normally the biggest travel holiday, spring festival, was subdued a bit. That's because the government ordered, and in some cases, just suggested people not travel. So folks for the most part decided to stay home.

Well, this May Day holiday going to be a bit different. And projections are already showing that folks are eager to be traveling. In fact, says, compared to 2019, just before the outbreak, they are seeing a major surge in domestic demand. Not only that, they're seeing prices increase significantly.

All of this is happening as China is still struggling with its vaccine rollout. There is a bit of a delay, especially compared to the U.S., in reaching that herd immunity.

Nonetheless, people are still going to be moving forward with some of their travel plans here within China and doing so as the government continues to urge that they take precautions.


VAUSE: Thanks to David Culver, reporting there from Shanghai.

Well, China now one step closer to its very own space station with a successful launch of the first section. According to Chinese state media, construction will be completed by the end of next year. It's expected to be in use for about a decade.

But this is a mini-space station, about a fifth of the size of the International Space Station. A number of missions are planned for the next few years, including crew four crewed missions, which will start in June.

Alexei Navalny's lawyers get a surprise when examining documents from his defamation case. Also ahead, what the Kremlin critic called Vladimir Putin in court. The very latest from Moscow in a moment.

Plus, it's the beginning of the end for America's longest war. The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan now underway. The very latest in a report from the Pentagon.



VAUSE: The jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny had some harsh criticism for Russia's president during a court appearance. He called Vladimir Putin, quote, "the naked king" who wants to rule indefinitely.

He appeared remotely in a hearing for his defamation case.

His lawyers also discovered previously unknown -- a previously unknown case against him whilst examining documents for this defamation case. CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is our man in Moscow with the latest.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a remarkable hearing in the Moscow court, as Alexei Navalny appeared via video link.

Now, all this was an appeals hearing for a defamation case in which he'd been convicted earlier this year for allegedly defaming a World War II veteran.

Now, Alexei Navalny at the beginning certainly didn't look very strong. He is, of course, currently recovering from a hunger strike, where his doctor said that nearly killed him. He still looks very thin. His head was shaved. He was wearing the black prison clothes of the prison that he's currently in.

And he actually told the court that he currently only weighs about 72 kilograms, and also that he's currently only eating about 5 tablespoons of porridge a day.

However, Alexei Navalny certainly did not hold back. He ripped into the court. He also ripped into Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here's some of what he said. Quote, "You are all traitors." He's speaking directly to the court there. "You and the naked king" -- there he's speaking about Russian President Vladimir Putin -- "are implementing a plan to seize Russia, and the Russians should be turned into slaves. Their wealth will be taken away from them. They will be deprived of any prospects. You have implemented that plan. No matter how hard you try to steal the victory, you will not succeed," Alexei Navalny said.

Now, he did lose this appeals hearing. The conviction was upheld.

And Alexei Navalny and his organization certainly are facing a lot of other troubles here in Russia, as well. His organization announced on Thursday that they are shutting down all of their regional offices. Of course, they already have been ordered to suspend all of their operations while another court here in Moscow is currently in the process of possibly declaring them an extremist organization.

And Alexei Navalny today also found out that he and two of his associates are also currently being investigated in another criminal case that they hadn't known about before.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: The unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is now formally underway. CNN's Barbara Starr has the latest from the Pentagon on what one general described as a complex operation which will unfold over the coming weeks.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT; The beginning of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning a few days earlier than Saturday, May 1. That was the date by which the withdrawal was to begin, but it's happening a bit sooner. They are getting ready to move a significant number of troops out of the country. Only a few so far, but eventually, 2,500 U.S. forces that the U.S. acknowledges are there will come out, as well as several hundred additional Special Operations troops that the U.S. doesn't talk about. They're involved in counter-terrorism missions.

All of that set to go, all of that now beginning to be assembled to move out of Afghanistan, ending America's longest war.

But before it all happens, the U.S. also sending in additional troops, about 650 ground forces, sending in rockets, artillery, putting an aircraft carrier in the region and Air Force bombers, all protection against the Taliban, if they decide to strike while U.S. troops are trying to get out of the country. There will be that force, that military force, to defend the withdrawal.


Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VAUSE: America's longest war has been an extremely costly war, as well. In dollars 825 billion. In blood, more than 2,000 U.S. military personnel have died in Afghanistan. More than 20,000 have been wounded.

Before we go, a quick update on the breaking news from northern Israel. At least 44 people are dead after an apparent stampede at a crowded religious gathering. Dozens more have been injured, with many in critical condition.

Authorities say the injuries resulted from massive overcrowding. Up to 100,000 orthodox Jews were there to celebrate the Lag b'Omer holiday. Again at this hour, the death toll is standing at 44.

Please stay with CNN. We'll continue to follow this breaking news, and we'll have more on the developing story at the top of the hour.

That is it for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. But I will be back with a lot more to come. I'm not done yet. Stay with us, please. We'll be back after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: Hello, again. I'm John Vause at the CNN Center. We begin this hour with breaking news from northern Israel, where at least 44 people have died after what appears to have been a stampede at a religious festival.

Up to 100,000 -- up to 100 others, though, have been admitted to local hospitals. At least 20 believed to be in critical condition. Officials say as many as 100,000 mostly ultra-orthodox Jews were celebrating the Lag b'Omer holiday on Mount Meron, normally festive holiday which turned to tragedy.


WICE ISRAEL, FESTIVAL ATTENDEE (through translator): I was there and inside the bonfire, it was crowded. And there were around 60,000 to 70,000 people, no place to move. And people started to fall to the ground. A lot fell to the ground.


VAUSE: Well, for the very latest now live to CNN's Hadas Gold, who is there on the scene on Mount Meron. So Hadas, bring us up to date.

GOLD: So John, I'm standing on the road that leads you up towards the site, towards this mountain, this tomb where these festivals take place. And you can see just this line -- line of buses, lining up, waiting to go up the mountain, and we're seeing bus after bus carrying full loads of people coming back down Mount Meron.

It gives you the idea, John, of just how many people were at this festival.