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Myanmar's Development Gains Being Erased; Dozens Killed in Stampede at Religious Event in Israel; Crematoriums Burning Bodies Around the Clock; Concerns about Nepal's Ability to Handle Large COVID Outbreak; Imagining a World with Flying Cars; Dozens Killed in Stampeded at Religious Event in Israel; 386,000+ New Cases in Past 24 Hours Break Record; New Clashes Between Myanmar Military and Armed Ethnic Groups. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 30, 2021 - 01:00   ET


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Up to go up the mountain, and we are seeing bus after bus carrying full loads of people coming back down them (ph).

That gives you an idea, John, of just how many people were at this festival, because these buses have been doing this since the night, all night into this morning. It's 8:00 a.m. now local. We are seeing bus after bus coming up and going back down, because, as you know, there was upwards of 100,000 people at the festival.

It's the Lag B'Omer festival. It's normally bonfires, singing, dancing, praying. As you can see from some images, it was incredibly crowded. Around 1:00 a.m. local time, is when it turned tragic. At some point, on some sort of stairway during the event, something happened.

We still don't know what exactly happened. It caused a stampede, and chaos, and as you noted, 44 people tragically lost their lives. More than 100 people were injured. Complete chaos at the scene. Details are still being worked out what happened.

One of the questions, of course, is how this happened because this event happens every single year and there are many who come to this mountain, who come to the celebration, and clearly, something change this year.

Last year, actually, this event didn't take place at the same scale because of coronavirus, because of how Israel handled the coronavirus pandemic, because of the vaccine rates, and the lower infection rates, the authorities seem to allow this to take place. But still, almost 100,000 people were crowded this event, clearly something went wrong, the police commander, head of the northern division here, he was taking responsibility for this event, saying it was up to him, good or bad, whatever happened, he is taking responsibility.

John, there is still families, though, that have not heard from their loved ones. They're posting on social media, photos of their loved ones, seeking any sort of information that they still have not heard from them, putting up phone numbers, asking people to call them, clearly, a such a whole his situation. Still thousands of people on the mountain that are waiting to come down, but what was supposed to be a festive, happy holiday, John, has turned sadly very tragic.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Israel is no stranger to the loss of life, but certainly, it's in some conflicts. If you look at the death toll now, which could still rise, is this one of the worst civilian disasters in Israeli history?

GOLD: Well, yes. Actually, the vice president of one of the volunteer emergency services here, actually said, it was one of the worst tragedies he had ever experienced. And many people, actually citing terrorist attacks, saying they haven't seen a drudgery like this since terror.

But, as of right now, it just seems to be a very sad accident, a sad tragedy. We still don't know, what exactly, caused these people to either fall, or to have some sort of stampede. Those, all still getting worked out, as we speak.

But, yes, this is a country that is used to, unfortunately, tragedies. But they tend to be of, perhaps, a different nature. For many of these emergency service workers, it was a very sad reminder of things they had seen in the past. But, unfortunately, right here, just a -- what was supposed to be a happy holiday turned into a very sad night.

VAUSE: Absolutely. Hadas, thank you. Hadas Gold there, will bring us up to date with new details as we get them. But in the meantime, thank you. We appreciate that.

Kalanit Taub is a volunteer medic who is also on the scene. She joins us now on the line. She was one of the first there on the scene, one of the first ambulances to arrive.

So, Kalanit, can you recall what it was like when you first got there? What did you see?

KALANIT TAUB, VOLUNTEER EMT, MOUNT MERON, ISRAEL (via telephone): When I arrived, there was crowds of people, like yelling, this way, this way. We took a stretcher, we ran, and when I arrived at the scene, literally, I saw a like 20 plus CPRs ongoing, at the same time.

Anywhere you look, do you saw another person doing CPR, another person doing CPR, and another person doing CPR. It was nonstop. One, after another.

VAUSE: And so, we are looking at a situation that there were mothers, fathers, kids, do we know what you suspect was behind the crush in that very sort of narrow pathways down the side of this religious structure where it gathered?

TAUB: I didn't understand, I'm sorry?

VAUSE: There was a trigger for this crash in the narrow pathway, were so many people seem to have lost their life. Do we know what the cause was? Was there a particular reason why so many people were pushing against each other? TAUB: I don't know. I was this like -- I was in this mode of, like,

I'm turning off my brain, I'm not thinking about how I feel emotionally about this, I just need to take care of this person, and take care of this person, there was nonstop people to care, for one after another. There is no time to think about it.

VAUSE: Sure. What sort of injuries? What sort of wounds today sustained?

TAUB: Most of the people I treated were CPR. Their heart wasn't beating, they were doing chest impressions, there is a paramedic next to me who's like, okay, this guy, I'm going to declare him dead, and it just goes from one person to another, moving over, declaring more and more people dead.


And there wasn't anything to do for them anymore.

VAUSE: Was there a problem, essentially, getting people out of the area? It seems like it was very chaotic, and there is just so many people there. It seemed very difficult to get in, and out.

TAUB: It was very crowded getting in and out. Seeing is how all of the action, and all of the activity. But, we came in as the ambulance crew, people were just shouting, get out of the way, let the ambulance come through, and like that's how we could arrive at the scene quickly.

VAUSE: Who -- do you know who was in charge of crowd control for this event? Was there anyone in control of, you know, the number of people who are allowed access, and, you know, who was allowed to come and go? Was there any sort of restrictions in place?

TAUB: I don't know. I'm -- I was there an EMT. My job to treat people, and the majority of the evening, I wasn't even at the site, I was driving the ambulance.

VAUSE: Yeah.

TAUB: And we're called to the site. It was horrific scene to be.

VAUSE: So, there is up to 100 people who've been at least admitted to hospital, and in northern Israel, there would be an overwhelming number seen for that region. How are they coping?

TAUB: So, this is something that they are used to dealing with, it happens on a regular basis. Last year, it was canceled because of coronavirus, but this is a regular occurrence in Israel. It's like it's very organized, and people are not even allowed to arrive in private cars.

There are multiple car parks to park your car, and then organized buses, taking you up. This also lead to chaos afterwards, where there was no cars in and out except for ambulances, and all these people were trying to leave the site, but there is nothing available at the time. But then, when they did open up the buses again, people were trying to get on to the buses, and get home.

VAUSE: I know that Israel had a very successful vaccination grow, and where you still surprised, after 100,000 people had gathered in this one, very small place, when we are still in the midst of a pandemic?

TAUB: Well, that I don't know how to describe. I'm sorry. It's not within my jurisdiction. I guess, people just wanted to come because they felt like after a year of corona, finally, they could come, and that's why they came. But from what I understand from other people, it is not unusual to have this large number at the site.

VAUSE: This is normally a festive gathering, it is a time when people hold weddings, and get haircuts, and celebrate. Clearly, it has turned into quite different.

TAUB: Yes, there's like is a bonfire where people were dancing and singing around near the site of the bonfire, and it went from seconds of a site where people were singing, and dancing, and joyous to mass chaos, pandemonium, and death, et cetera.

VAUSE: How many people did you -- how many people did you attend to? Do you remember?

TAUB: That I attend to, I would say, probably, close to 100. I am also a member of the psycho trauma unit. So, the minute I started, I completed with CPRs, and then everyone who was declared dead of the people who was treating, I was walking around the site, for a number of hours afterwards, and there is people on their sides, just crying, or staring into space.

I helped them process what they were dealing with, because there was hundreds of people as well, very traumatized by the incident, and didn't know how to cope with what they had just seen. So, from psycho Trump, I was also treating many, many, probably close to 100, or more, people, for psycho trauma as well.

VAUSE: Well, you have, clearly, a lot of work to do, we wish you all the best, and clearly this is such a tragic --

TAUB: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: -- tragic time for Israel. So, thank you for being with us. Kalanit Taub, we appreciate it.

Well, this just in, the COVID pandemic has just passed another milestone, total number of COVID can cases worldwide? More than 150 million. That's equivalent to more than the population of Russia. But, one in five of those cases, in the United States. With 150 million, more than 3 million patients have died from the virus.

Crucial medical supplies, including desperately needed oxygen and PPE are now arriving from around the world in India, where outbreak of the coronavirus continues to spiral out of control. The country has broken another record with 386,000 new infections in the past 24 hours. More than 3,500 people have died so far, on Friday. Outside hospitals and makeshift medical centers, thousands of waiting

in line for a long shot chance of receiving oxygen, or maybe a hospital bed. The government has now approved vaccination for anyone 18, or older. That is a total of 800 million people now eligible.


And the existing supplies cannot meet the likely demand.


UDAYSHANKAR KUMAR, NEW DELHI RESIDENT (through translator): This is our shanty of 4 by 5 foot in area in which seven of us live. If the distance between 7 people will be measured, it would be less than one foot. The coronavirus pandemic is spreading, and if, God forbid, any one of us is infected, it is said that they can infect 460 people in 24 hours.

If something happens to us, there will be no beds to hospitals. The ritual make their arrangements, but where will we go? What will be our condition?


VAUSE: In the midst of the crisis, India is holding elections which health experts say the rallies and long lines voters are essentially super-spreader events. More than 8 million people are expected to vote in West Bengal's assembly elections.

Planes filled with oxygen and other desperately needed supplies are now landing in India. Much of the relief is coming too late for thousands of patients.

CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is in New Delhi. A warning, her report contains some graphic content.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Delhi now, you're never far from heartbreak. Almost everyone in the city has been visited by grief. At this Seepamuri crematorium, the loss weighs heavily in the smoldering air, and the dead are piling up.

There are bodies literally everywhere you turn here. I have honestly never seen anything quite like it. And the organizers say that pre- COVID, they might cremate 7 or 8 people a day. Today alone, they have already cremated 55 bodies, and it's not even lunchtime.

Just months ago, India's leadership boasted that the country had effectively defeated COVID. Now, it has set global records for new cases as a terrifying second wave ravages the country.

Yuntander Singh Shante (ph) says he and his men don't even stop to take breaks, and still, they can barely cope with the flow.

A volunteer approaches. They've run out of tables for the bodies, he says, then adds that his mother died from COVID the night before.

You must be tired?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very. But this is not the time for arrest.

WARD: Do you believe think the government figures, the death tolls, the COVID figures they are giving, or do you think the real figures are much higher?

The numbers you are seeing on television are the numbers of people who are dying in hospitals, he says. They are not factoring in the people who died at home and isolation. If those numbers are added, the actual number will go up by three times.

To keep up with the mounting numbers, the crematorium has been forced to expand, creating an overflow area in a neighboring car park.

Sham Sharma (ph) is saying goodbye to his 45-year-old younger brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night, I was thinking his health was improving, but suddenly, the doctor called my mobile phone that your brother has expired.

WARD: Do you think his death could have been prevented?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. I think we can save -- we can save him with better health hospital.

WARD: India's health care system is at a breaking point, unable to cope with the scale of the crisis. Its people are left to fend for themselves. This crowd has been waiting for 6 hours to the chance to get some oxygen. They can't rely on the state.


WARD: Your mother, how old is she?


WARD: Is her oxygen very low?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is in very critical condition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty-eight percent and we are trying since morning, but we are not getting the oxygen anywhere.

WARD: How many places have you've been to?


WARD: Nineteen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, since morning, since 6:00 a.m.

WARD: Have you tried taking her to the hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are no beds.

WARD: There are no beds?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before four days, we have tried to so much, but we didn't get any beds.

WARD: Freah Shevastriva (ph) was lucky enough to find her mother a place in a hospital, only to find out there was no oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) What should I do? I am so scared of what will happen with my mom.

WARD: Are you angry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am so angry because the disorganization of our government is so careless. They even don't care about what public is suffering. They don't know from which thing we are suffering. There are so many people standing over there and fighting for this thing.

WARD: Her mother is now in critical condition. Like many here, she feels completely overwhelmed.

For those who can't source their own oxygen, this is the only option, a drive-in oxygen center by the side of the road. A woman arrives unconscious in a rickshaw. Several hospitals have already turned her away. They simply didn't have the beds.

Now, she is relying on the kindness of strangers. Her sons work desperately to try to revive her.

This isn't a hospital or even a clinic. It is a Sikh temple, but for these people who have already been turned away from so many hospitals, this is their last chance at survival.

The leader of the Sikh charity that runs this facility says it gets no support at all from the government. He says he already had COVID twice, but he and his volunteers continue to work 24 hours a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to save their lives. This is our heart's voice.

WARD: It must hurt your heart to see the way or people are suffering?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, madam. Many times, we cry also at what is going on.

WARD: It is impossible to escape the tragedy of this vicious second wave. Coronavirus is ravaging the old, but it has not spared India's young. The prime minister has announced that everyone over the age of 18 can get the vaccine, but with less than 2 percent of the country inoculated, that offers only a distant hope.

So, India's capital continues to burn, suffocated by the rampant spread of this deadly virus, a city and a country brought to its knees, praying for respite.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, New Delhi.


VAUSE: So, to learn how to help India's COVID-19 crisis, please visit our website,

Well, Myanmar villages are fleeing new violence along its Thailand (ph) border, and a just released report shows poverty is soaring across the country. An exclusive look at both those topics.

Also, an update on the breaking news out of Israel, where dozens are dead after a stampede at a religious festival.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.



VAUSE: Well, the outbreak of violence in Myanmar is now spreading beyond the big cities, with clashes between the military and ethnic insurgent groups.

CNN's Paula Hancocks spoke exclusively with the leader of a rebel army, and has this report.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Late last month, ethnic armed fighters staged a surprise attack. An intense gun battle, ending with the fall of one of Myanmar's military guard posts in Karen state along the border with Thailand.

The Karen National Liberation Army took eight soldiers prisoner. Their leader, speaking exclusively to CNN, says that they are treating them humanely. Treatment they would not expect, if the tables were turned.

GEN. SAW BAW KYAW HEH, KNLA CHIEF OF STAFF: I see the Burmese dictatorship is very evil, very bad. So, I cannot feel, I cannot stay like that. So, I want to tell all people in my country here, we need to cooperate together.

HANCOCKS: The military has not acknowledged soldiers are missing. But three state-run media accused the KNLA of violating the 2015 cease- fire, a cease-fire, that ethnic groups say ended when the military seized power.

The military did say, there would be repercussions, and within hours, airstrikes began on a terrorized population.

Children's photos, still hanging on the wall of this destroyed school, a broken lesson schedule, listing math, English, science. A symbol of a routine, that has been shattered.

The villages, already flooded, so no one was hurt in this airstrike. But, most are now too scared to go home, in case the jets return. Humanitarian groups believe, 20,000 are displaced in the Karen state

alone, hiding in the jungles.

This mother says, my children are sick, and now, so do the adults. There is no clean, water or food.

This man says, his 6-year-old son is killed in an airstrike.

He says, when the fighter jets came, his grandmother took him far away from the home. The jet, dropping its bomb at the spot they had fled to. My son was injured, and died.

Some have tried to cross the border into Thailand, but say, they were pushed back by Thai military. The borders closed, due to COVID-19.

Humanitarian aid groups are calling on the government to allow them to cross. Thailand says it will provide aid, but will not take sides.

This is becoming a familiar sight in some of Myanmar's ethnic areas. Deserted villages, livestock, roaming free, and feels neglected. Planting season should start within weeks. If it doesn't, United Nations warnings, and rising hunger, and desperation, will be exacerbated.

GEN. SAW BAW KYAW HEH: If we cannot assure this government, we must feel we are not secure all the time. So, we need to try to stop the regime like this. We need to destroy the dictatorship.

HANCOCKS: Fighting this week is so close to the border, it can be seen from Thailand. Burning guard posts, lighting up the night sky. Then, dawn breaks on a new day of violence in Myanmar.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Bangkok.


VAUSE: Just 3 months after the military seized power, and Myanmar is fast approaching the point of economic collapse. And along the way, poverty rates could double, but they're 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 about the global pandemic and military coup, and finds that the worst-case scenario, nearly half of the population will live in poverty. Commending over 25 percent, in 2017, reversing gains made since 2005.

And while the economy took a hit from the pandemic, and the civilian government had managed for the most part to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 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.

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 States 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 lives being taken by the military during the crackdown, what this report seems to spell out is how millions of people in Myanmar have had their future, or at least the other 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 will increase the poverty rate of 6, 7 percentage point. It was a significant point throughout the economy, and the society that was moving forward. And with the military takeover, and the personal crisis that has ensued, the projections that we now make it in terms of the poverty rates, is that they will increase by another 8 or 12 percent.

And that brings that country to roughly half of its population, living in poverty, and equivalent to losing more than a decade of progress than it made, fledgling democracy was, indeed, beginning to make progress in terms of capita income in terms of life expectancy, in terms of years and storing, what we are confronted with right now is a tragedy unfolding.

VAUSE: Yeah, definitely, the two big hits to Myanmar's economy, but this report said, after weathering the coronavirus, the compounding of negative shots 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 one-off event, at least according to this report, it was a big one, but just a one-off event.

The military coup and ongoing economic turmoil, while that is yet to end, and was coming on for sometime. 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 impact for most people inside of Myanmar right now?

STEINER: Well, it is a systemic shock that is occurring because a political crisis essentially paralyzes a country. You just mentioned a couple of examples 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 are not being paid out.

There are just some of the immediate impacts, and a protracted political crisis, that are worse than 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've just described, if they continue throughout this year will indeed lead to further impoverishment, and particularly, affecting those who are just above the poverty line. Those are the most vulnerable, and they are the first ones to be affected, the urban households who live on the small businesses, essentially being unable to operate anymore.

But, it is also female headed households, the government industry, that will not be able to operate promptly. Job losses there. Children, together with our sister organization, UNICEF, they estimate that, you know, up to 80 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 society, this is a major setback in early development, but also in terms of inequality and vulnerability.

VAUSE: Yeah. The report goes -- there is 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 been the past decade, and threatens progress -- however, imperfect progress has been -- on all the sustainable development goals.

So, when we talk about human development goals, what specifically does that actually referred to, and what had been the impact already and will be the impact?

STEINER: In the broader sense, it is about the ability of people to earn their livelihoods, to get an education, to lead healthy lives, have access to health services just to give you some parameters. And particularly in the broader context, what we are seeing in Myanmar is accumulative impact of various shocks.

Now, COVID and the pandemic clearly having 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 follow 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.

Now, I think many of the younger people have learned about that history, and that is where you are seeing, right now, this protracted political crisis playing out.


And it will essentially lead to at least one scenario, the kind of poverty (ph) rates that put half of the population of Myanmar below the poverty line, which is estimated by nationals.

They set 1.1 dollars, and you can imagine, this is truly a poverty line below which people struggle to survive. And this is why the World Food Programme and its support, our sister agency, has also estimated that 3.4 million people will struggle to feed themselves just in the next six months.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: These are projections and they're based on economic 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 Conditions Survey dating back to 2017 and then the 2020 Household Vulnerability Survey which looked particularly at the COVID- 19 impact.

Now, the telephone interviewers, household interviewers' 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 two 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. So 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 is always a terrible dilemma. And 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 work directly with communities and may be able to provide support.

But clearly, in such a situation, it is always a very difficult choice to make. And the best way forward is also following the ASEAN summit to quickly and have special envoys and dialog (INAUDIBLE) that allows a political solution to be found. Because ultimately, it's 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 really on so many different levels. Thank you.

STEINER: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Still to come here, a nation which once thought it escaped the worst of the pandemic has just marked a ninth straight day of more than 300,000 cases. And it will get worse.

Still ahead, dozens of people dead in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel. The very latest on that breaking news after a break.



VAUSE: Welcome back.

More now on the breaking news from northern Israel, a deadly stampede at a religious festival. The death toll stands at 44. Dozens more have been injured. Many are in critical condition. Officials believe up to 100,000 mostly Ultra Orthodox Jews had gathered on Mount Meron for the Lag B'Omer holiday. The scene descended into chaos as many had gathered for a festive holiday.

It's still unclear what may have triggered the deadly crush but officials have ruled out earlier reports that a temporary structure had collapsed. Those who were there described how they got out of this deadly situation.


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, whatever -- running by like doing CPR on kids. And then one after the other started coming around ambulances, then we understood like something was going on here. And we just went to the sides as the ambulances were driving in and out. And we waited until we were able to slowly get out.


VAUSE: Dov Maisel is a cofounder and vice president of operations for the Israeli rescue organization United Hatzalah. I spoke with him earlier about what it was like in the moments following the stampede.


DOV MAISEL, VP OF OPERATIONS, UNITED HATZALAH: There was a certain point when I was in the staging area of this mass casualty incident as we call. 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 it felt like.

It was simply seeing dozens and dozens of critically injured patients undergoing CPR and treatment in a scene that wasn't possible because evacuation was almost impossible because there were thousands of people surrounding. It was simply tragic and horrific.


VAUSE: Please stay with CNN for the very latest updates on that stampede in Israel. We will be covering the story as it continues to unfold in the coming hours.

Well, these numbers just out from Johns Hopkins showing the worldwide total number of confirmed coronavirus cases now topping 150 million. The equivalent of more than twice the population of the U.K.

About 20 percent of those cases have been in the United States. Of those 150 million the virus has claimed more than 3 million lives.

Well, in February, with the number of new infections falling rapidly, India's government boasted to the world claiming victory over the virus, declaring Prime Minister Narendra Modi a visionary.

But pride comes before a fall and by the beginning of last month the coronavirus returned with a vengeance and India is now in the grip of the worst outbreak the world has seen. And it's only getting worse.

Hospitals are overwhelmed. Oxygen is in critical short supply. With more than 18 million total cases, Friday saw another record for daily infections. Almost 390,000 and the number of dead almost 3,500.

Help is now arriving from around the world and everyone 18 years and older is now eligible to be vaccinated.

But while India is the world's biggest producer of vaccines, demand will easily outstrip existing supply. One major reason for the stunning surge? Officials allowed super spreader events like this large religious festival.

And as the death toll skyrockets the bodies keep piling up. So many that crematoriums are unable to cope. In Delhi, funeral pyre's are burning nonstop. The wood used to burn the bodies now in short supply.

Here is part of a report from CNN's Sam Kiley.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): So the other members of the family are all suffering from corona?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes sir. Very badly, badly. Nobody is -- the government is doing nothing here. Nothing

KILEY: And does this make you afraid yourself -- for yourself and your family?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are -- with the lord's grace we are fine. We are taking so many precautions. We are not going outside. But we can say this, not other option I have to come because of my friend (INAUDIBLE).


VAUSE: We'll have a lot more from Sam coming up next hour.

Two parts of India are seeing different effects from the coronavirus. The national capital territory of Delhi, by far the worst affected, states in the center and southwest seeing more cases per capita than states in the east.

And many are blaming the government of Narendra Modi for how they handled this crisis. And a spokesman for the ruling BJP Party spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour taking responsibility for the crisis, but adding a but.


NARENDRA TANEJA, BJP PARTY SPOKESMAN: We are the government in India. So of course, the responsibility is first and foremost ours, good or bad, whatever it is. And it is our responsibility and we are trying our very best, but this did come as a surprise.


TANEJA: Today a lot of people are saying that we should have done that, we knew in February, but at that time scientists and doctors, they were all more or less of the same view.

Politicians -- we politicians form the opinion that we are getting -- we were more or less getting out of the COVID situation. Our views are basically coming out of that, you know, kind of analysis that under reports feed that we were getting from scientists and doctors including those living outside India -- but Indians are living outside India. But evidently, something went wrong.


VAUSE: India's neighbors are closely watching the crisis next door. The country has far more cases per capita than any one else in the region, but Nepal has also seen recent surge. Infections there are up in mid-April and now daily cases number in the thousands.

Nepal's outbreaks so far centered on the capital, Kathmandu. With a limited health care infrastructure, there are concerns about Nepal's ability to handle a large outbreak.

Well, CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong with more, Kristie.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, India shares a long and porous border that remains open with Nepal and COVID-19 cases are spiking there. Cases are rising at a rate of 30 percent compared to 3 to 4 percent just two weeks ago.

We know that local lockdowns are in place and cities across Nepal including Kathmandu and concerns are rising that people are leaving the cities in droves and returning to their home villages, thus facilitating the further spread of the virus in Nepal.

We've also been monitoring reports of tourists being infected by COVID-19 at Everest base camp. This is something that the Nepalese government denies. But CNN has spoken to one Norwegian mountaineer who says that he caught COVID-19 on Everest.


STOUT (voice over): Evacuated from Everest base camp after developing COVID-19 symptoms at 5,000 meters.

ERLEND NESS, NORWEGIAN MOUNTAINEER: I felt we can handle headaches and my oxygen level which were low in base camp. I was getting worse.

I was checked by two doctors in base camp, and I found some cracks in my lungs.

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

NESS: When I tested positive for 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.

He says he got a negative test before heading to the mountain and does not 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 deny 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.


STOUT: The Norwegian climber paid about $60,000 U.S. for the expedition, which is the standard price about 400 permits have been issued during this peak climbing season on Everest.

You know, this is a big moneymaker, it's a big money spinner for Nepal and its government. But with that long porous borders still open between India and Nepal, no national lockdown in either place, cases surging in Nepal and especially in India, one has to wonder how much longer can this go on, John. VAUSE: Well, I guess one of the answers to that will be when it comes to vaccination. So what is the state of play right now for vaccinations in Nepal?

STOUT: Yes, there are a lot of parallels between the vaccination drive in Nepal and that in India. Both started in January and yet both vaccination campaigns have been woefully slow.

In Nepal about 1.9 million adults have been vaccinated out of a total population of 29 million. They are relying on vaccines from two sources, from China and from India.


STOUT: But with India now saying that it is prioritizing its own vaccines for its own people, that's going to make vaccines less plentiful for Nepal, that's going to make the vaccination drive even more rocky ahead, John.

VAUSE: Kristie thank you. Kristie Lu Stout for us live in Hong Kong.

Well, when we come back, the number of dead in Brazil is second only to the U.S. and now standing at more than 400,000. We'll take a closer look at what's driving those numbers in a moment.


VAUSE: While the pandemic hit, the transportation industry has had a lot of lockdown time to rethink how we move from A to B. Maybe they have had a bit too much time because the never-ever going to happen flying car is making a bit of a return.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo has been looking at this kind of technology for a special called "THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE".


MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: Hey Doc, we've got to back up. We don't have enough road to get up to 88.

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD, ACTOR: Roads? Where we are going, we don't need roads.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In 1985, "Back to the Future" envisaged a world with flying cars zooming around the sky. Well, it's 2021, and I still don't see them.

But it's far from the world of just science fiction now. The concept of urban air mobility is edging closer to becoming a reality. The Brazilian plane maker Embraer is one of those leading the way.

Forget flying cars, meet the eVTOL. It's the catch name for an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. This one is a concept being developed by Eve, a spinoff of the EmbraerX, the innovation arm of the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone has been (INAUDIBLE) certain point of

their lives. So it will bring everything that aerospace and aviation brought to transportation in general literally closer to the people and each of the cities (ph) developing a vehicle that could fly in the city with no addition to the city noise or emissions, finding solutions that could make it a viable opportunity.

NOBILO (on camera) : Flying cars have become something everyone talks about when they think about the future of transport, but they don't materialize. It just doesn't happen.

So how far are we for making eVTOL part of the mainstream?

It's that type of technology that can disrupt aviation. It will be some years before it can have a commercial jet that's really elaborate. That can really fly 100 people, thousands of kilometers away. But the technology is ready to fly just a few.

And just to make it clear, we are not seeing a total replacement of cars or the (INAUDIBLE) "Bladerunner" or "Jetsons" It's about providing another option.

NOBILO: Do you think that urban air mobility or advanced air mobility is going to become a reality in our lifetime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought yes, I think it will become a reality during this decade.



VAUSE: I'll stick with helicopters.

Please stay with CNN. We will be right back.


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 1st. That was the date by which the withdrawal was to begin, but it's happening a little 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 are 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: CNN looked at data from top five countries with the most coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The United States, India, Brazil, France and Turkey.

For the seven-day average of new daily cases per one million residents. If you look at India's numbers, they are actually lower than France and Turkey. India has surpassed the U.S. It's nearly even with Brazil.

Looking at the 7-day average of daily deaths per million, India's average also lower than Turkey and France and far below Brazil.

The virus though is surging across much of South America. Brazil reporting more than 400,000 dead since this pandemic began, second only to the United States.

Argentina and Colombia also dealing with their own devastating outbreaks as Stefano Pozzebon reports.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in South America from Patagonia to the Caribbean coast. The region is being ravaged by the pandemic.

On Thursday, Argentina reported a record increase of 561 deaths in the last 24 hours while intensive care units are reaching capacity.

A little bit north in Brazil, not a record increase in death, but the crossing of the threshold of over 400,000 people dying of COVID-19. One every 500 Brazilians has lost his life to the virus because of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

And in Colombia, also on Thursday, yet another record increase in death with 505 victims in the last 24 hours.


POZZEBON: It's the first time that Colombia reports more than 500 victims in less than a day since the pandemic began. And while we are seeing all across the region that vaccination campaigns are continuing and are partially picking up pace, the impact of new more deadly and more infective variants is really bringing the region to the point of collapse with deadly rates not seen in the first wave of the pandemic last year.

And earlier, these ER and experts are afraid that the worst might still get to come for many of these nations unless, many more vaccines are deployed every single day.

For CNN, This is Stefano Pozzebon -- Bogota.

VAUSE: Also in Colombia, hundreds of demonstrators have clashed with police protesting new coronavirus restrictions and the proposed tax reforms. Fires broke out in the streets and police fired tear gas into the crowds. One official says at least one person has died. Plus it's come as the country fast approaches 75,000 COVID deaths into the pandemic. One of the highest death tolls within the region.

With COVID cases at alarming levels, Turkey is imposing new restrictions. Many stocked up ahead of the first ever nationwide lockdown which will be in place for at least 3 weeks. Officials in Istanbul have now identified at least 5 cases of the new variant first detected in India.

A quick update before we go on the breaking news out of northern Israel. At least 44 people have been killed in a stampede at a religious festival. Dozens more have been injured, many are in a critical condition. Up to hundred thousand people had gathered, mostly Orthodox Jews, to celebrate the Lag B'omer holiday. Authorities have not determined the cause of the crash. They say the injuries were a result of severe overcrowding.

Please stay with CNN. We are following that breaking news, live report at the top of the next hour.

Meantime, thank you for watching CNN. CNN NEWSROOM continues with my friend and colleague Michael Holmes, after a short break, have a great weekend.



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to everyone. I'm Michael Holmes and we begin this hour with the tragedy in northern Israel. Where a crowded religious festival has turned deadly.

At least 44 people have been killed there in the stampeded. Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, and others had gathered to celebrate the Lag B'Omer holiday.