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Dozens Killed in Stampede at Religious Event in Northern Israel; India Breaks Record, Reporting 386,000 New Cases in Past 24 Hours; Michael Holmes Interviews Dr. Alok Kulkarni; Myanmar Poverty Report; 386,000+ New Cases In Past 24 Hours Break Record; Air India To Add New Pre-Pandemic Direct Flights To U.S.; India's Neighbors Worry About Crisis Unfolding Next Door. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 30, 2021 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Forty- four people have been killed there in a stampede. Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews and others have gathered to celebrate the Lag B'Omer holiday on Mount Meron. The descended into chaos as many scrambled to evacuate. About 100 injured attendees have been taken to hospitals, at least 20 in critical condition. Those who were there described how the normally festive holiday suddenly became a catastrophe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WICE ISRAEL, FESTIVAL ATTENDEETT (through translator): I was there. Inside the bonfire, it was crowded. There were around 60,000 to 70,000 people. No place to move. People started to fall to the ground. A lot fell to the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES (on camera): For the very latest, CNN's Hadas Gold is live from the scene on Mount Meron. Hadas, bring us up to date.

HADAS GOLD, CNN MEDIA AND GLOBAL BUSINESS REPORTER: Michael, I'm standing on the road that leads up to the site of the stampede. We have been just seeing buses lining up, waiting to come up the hill, to take people. Buses full of people back down the hill. That gives you a sense of just how many people were at this festival. We've seen estimates of up to 100,000 people that may have attended this Lag B'Omer festival.

Normally, it's an all-night party. They're singing, there's dancing, there's bonfire. It's to celebrate this ancient rabbi, where his tomb is on this mountain. But last night, around 1:00 a.m., it turned tragic when along a stairway something happened that caused some sort of stampede. As you noted, at least 44 people died, 100 people right now are in hospital, 20 of them critically.

The question, of course, is what caused this. It's not clear what caused the stampede, some sort of chaos, but what we are hearing from witnesses is that it was incredibly crowded. We can see from those images and videos. We are seeing just how crowded together it was. Tens of thousands of people at this festival all packed in together. Something caused some sort of stampede along a stairway and that caused the tragedy that we are now dealing with. Michael?

HOLMES: Yeah. The thing is that this -- this happens every year. This festival happens every year, didn't last year because of COVID. What changed this year to lead to something as horrible as this?

GOLD: That's right, this festival does happen every year, and that is why this event, what happened last night, is so surprising because the police are ready for this. They prepare for this well in advance. The police commander in charge of the northern command here in Israel has taken responsibility for the event.

But medics were also saying -- actually, a medic spoke to CNN in the last hour or so. She said that when she came in, it was very crowded, very difficult to come in, and people were shouting to clear the way for the ambulances. She said that one point she saw something like 20 people receiving CPR at the same time. That gives you a sense of just how massive this event was.

The question for a lot of people is just how did this happen, how is there not better crowd control, because, in fact, although there were many people on this mountain, tens of thousands, essentially 100,000, it has been bigger in the past.

So this is something that they've dealt with in the past and something went wrong with the police, obviously, that there are now calls for a state level investigation into exactly what happened, how did this come to pass in an event that happens every single year, that they are ready for, they know what happens could turn so tragic.

HOLMES: And also, just give us a sense from what you've heard about how difficult the emergency operation was. I mean, we are talking about a fairly small area, as you said, enormously densely packed crowd. I mean, the video -- some of the video we see, you know, quite narrow areas where people were streaming. What have we heard about what was that like as it unfolded?

GOLD: Right. So, because this is a big event, there were some first responders on site ready to respond and they had already responded to normal issues that you might have in an event like this, people fainting or something like that. So there were some people on hand.

But, as you can see, it was incredibly crowded. The medic who spoke to CNN said that at first, it was just chaos and it was just everybody grabbing somebody that they could find. She said that one point, there was 20 people getting CPR all around her, all at the same time. Other people had to kind of force others out of the way to let the medics in just because of how crowded it was.

But again, that leads to the question of, how did this come to pass? It was so crowded. It could be so difficult for medics to come through. In fact, the vice president of one of the volunteer medical services told CNN it was one of the worst disasters he has seen. Keep in mind that this is a country that has seen terrorist attacks.

HOLMES: Yeah, indeed. Hadas, thanks. Hadas Gold there on the scene. And we will have more on this a little later in the program as well.

For now, turning our attention to India, where the COVID crisis is deepening despite an outpouring of international aid. The country has broken another daily record with more than 386,000 new cases.

[02:05:00]

HOLMES (on camera): It is also reporting nearly 3,500 additional deaths. We should warn you, the images from India are graphic. Grave diggers are working around the clock to bury the victims. Crematoriums are expanding into their own parking lots and building temporary fires just to keep up. Thousands of people are lining up outside of hospitals, hoping for lifesaving oxygen or a chance at a bed. Many turned away.

The government now letting anyone, 18 and older, sign up for a vaccine, but supplies are short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARENDRA TANEJA, BJP PARTY SPOKESMAN: Currently, you know, we were hit by a tsunami. As you know, when tsunami hits you, then very often, you are not aware of that. And in most cases, 80 to 90 percent of reasons could be external. We don't know. We don't want to blame anybody. All we know is, yes, we are in power, we are responsible, this happened, we are now -- our focus is how can we stabilize and how can we make sure our people are protected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES (on camera): Despite the crisis, more than eight million people are expected to vote in West Bengal's assembly elections. Health experts say the rallies and voting lines are super spreader events. We get more on all of this now from CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward in New Delhi. Again, we warn you, her report contains some graphic content.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

(CRYING)

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 the Seemapuri crematorium, the loss weighs heavily in the smouldering air and the dead are piling up.

(On camera): There are bodies literally everywhere you turn here. I've honestly never seen anything quite like it. And the organizers say that pre-COVID they might cremate seven or eight people a day. Today, alone, they have already cremated 55 bodies and it's not even lunch time.

(Voice-over): 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.

(INAUDIBLE) 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 have run out of tables for the bodies, he says. He then adds that his mother died from COVID the night before.

You must be tired.

UNKNOWN: Very. But this time is not for the rest.

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

UNKNOWN: Their figures --

WARD (voice-over): The numbers that you're 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 in isolation. If those numbers are added, the actual number will go up by three times.

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

(INAUDIBLE) is saying good-bye to his 45-year-old younger brother.

UNKNOWN: Lost tonight. I was thinking that his health is improving. But suddenly, the phone of doctor came on my mobile phone that your brother has expired.

WARD (on camera): Do you think his death could have been prevented?

UNKNOWN: Yes, yes. I think we could have saved him with better health hospitals.

WARD (voice-over): India's health care system is at a breaking point. Unable to cope with the scale of the crisis, its people left to fend for themselves. This crowd has been waiting for six hours for the chance to get some oxygen. They can't rely on the state.

UNKNOWN: We need oxygen! My mother.

WARD (voice-over): Your mother? How old is she?

UNKNOWN: Forty-seven.

WARD (voice-over): Is her oxygen very low?

UNKNOWN: She is in very critical condition.

UNKNOWN: Fifty-eight percent. We are trying since morning, but we are not getting the oxygen anywhere.

WARD (voice-over): How many places have you been to?

UNKNOWN: Nineteen. WARD (voice-over): Nineteen?

UNKNOWN: Yes, since morning, since 6 a.m.

WARD (on camera): Have you tried taking her to the hospital?

UNKNOWN: There are no beds.

WARD (on camera): There are no beds.

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

WARD (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) was lucky enough to find her mother a place in a hospital, only to find out there was no oxygen.

[02:10:03]

UNKNOWN: (INAUDIBLE) in front of my eyes. What should I do? I'm so scared what is going to happen with my mom.

WARD (on camera): Are you angry?

UNKNOWN: I'm so angry because of disorganization. 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 who are standing over there and fighting for this thing.

WARD (voice-over): 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 worked desperately to try to revive her.

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

(Voice-over): 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.

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

WARD (on camera): It must hurt your heart to see the way your people are suffering.

UNKNOWN: Yes, madam. Many times we cry also, what is going on.

(CRYING)

WARD (voice-over): 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 two 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.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): And joining me now from India, Dr. Alok Kulkarni, senior consultant psychiatrist at the Manas Institute of Mental Health. It is good to talk to you, doctor, because we've heard much about the deaths, the spread of the virus, and if you like, the physical damage the pandemic is causing in India. But you've been dealing with the very real mental health impacts. How much damage is COVID doing to Indians mentally, in your experience?

ALOK KULKARNI, CONSULTANT PSYCHIATRIST, MANAS INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH: Thanks, Michael, for that question. That is an excellent question. The mental health impact of the ongoing pandemic has been substantial, to say the least. We are seeing (INAUDIBLE) clinical presentations that have come to my attention in the last one year.

But regard to this, (INAUDIBLE) study was recently published to The Lancet by Harrison (INAUDIBLE) wherein they compared the rates of psychiatric and neurological illnesses in patients who had COVID-19 as compared to patients who had influenza or any other respiratory tract infection. This study found that the rate of psychiatric or neurological illness were significantly higher than the COVID-19 flu as compared to the respiratory tract infection or influenza.

In my clinical practice, I've increasingly been seeing cases of anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, (INAUDIBLE) obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and psychosis (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: This is very worrying. I mean, who are most impacted? Are you able to say -- I presume people with existing issues. But what are others? I imagined doctors and health care professionals.

KULKARNI: Absolutely. The administrative system has totally collapsed and the health care system is overwhelmed.

[02:14:59]

KULKARNI: That is largely due to the shortage of ventilators, oxygen tanks (ph). I've had calls from professionals but broken down by attending to COVID-19 patients. It is understandable anxiety. As rightly mentioned, people with pre-existing medical illnesses have to deal with (INAUDIBLE) managing their existing illnesses and also dealing with this newfound stressor.

HOLMES: Yeah. Posttraumatic stress is very real. I imagine that is what they're dealing with. I mean, how severe has the breakdown in the health care system been and what is happening because of that? KULKARNI: Well, if you look at the percentage of the GDP that has spent on health care, it is just around 1.25 percent. If you count out of pocket expenditure, it goes up to 3.5 percent. Compare this with the percentage of GDP expenditure of western countries. U.S. spends around 17.7 percent and U.K. spends around 10 (ph) percent.

Why we are wrapping up on our defense sector? It is vitally important that same amount of attention is also directed towards the health care sector. I want to say that although the doctors that are well, putting up a brave fight against this virus, there has been an administrative collapse.

HOLMES: I know that you've talked too about how doctors are being forced to make some terrible decisions, who lives and who dies quite literally. What needs to be done to support the psychiatric infrastructure in India not just for doctors but to the patients that you are seeing as well?

KULKARNI: There was (INAUDIBLE) national mental health survey. It identified mental health treatment (ph) gap of 70 to 92 percent. That is a huge gap for a country of 1.3 billion. There are less than 9,000 psychiatrists treating the population of 1.3 billion.

So, what needs to be done is that the mental health care system needs to really get integrated in the gentle (ph) health care system. And one of the ways of bridging this gap is by involving primary care physicians (INAUDIBLE) mental health care by harnessing remote technologies.

HOLMES: And just finally and quickly, if you will, do you worry that quite apart from the immediate mental effects that there will be for many people, lasting emotional and mental damage done by this?

KULKARNI: Absolutely. I expect to see a pandemic of mental health problems. Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In any case, there was a pandemic of mental health problems that was looming large over this country and COVID-19 has only facilitated that even more.

HOLMES: That is a really worrying aspect of this pandemic. Dr. Alok Kulkarni, I appreciate what you're doing for your patients and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

KULKARNI: Thank you, Michael.

HOLMES: And if you want to help the people in India facing this devastating COVID outbreak, go to cnn.com/impact to find out how you can make a difference.

Now, global coronavirus cases hit a stunning new milestone in just the last few hours. There have now been more than 115 million infections worldwide since this pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Turkey has Europe's highest infection rates and its first national lockdown is now in effect. On Thursday, people rushing to prepare for the weeks ahead when access to stores will be limited. The restrictions are set to last through mid-May, ending after the Eid holiday.

Meanwhile, France says it will begin lifting restrictions on May the 3rd. On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron said COVID rules would be lifted in stages and the process should be complete by the end of June.

When we come back, COVID-19, plus a coup d'etat equalled misery for Myanmar with poverty surging at an alarming rate. Coming up, a newly released report on that as fresh fighting erupts.

Also, an end in sight for America's longest war as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan gets underway. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back. Nearly half of Myanmar's population could be pushed into poverty by years end. That's according to a new U.N. report. Dual crises tormenting the country, the COVID pandemic, of course, and there's a -- on top of that, the coup.

The U.N. Development Programme warns that if the security and economic situation does not stabilize soon, up to 25 million people -- that's around 48 percent of the population -- could be living in poverty by next year. Compare that to about 25 percent just four years ago.

Now, if that worst case scenario is realized, Myanmar will be the worst off it has been since 2005 when it was an isolated pariah state ruled by a previous military regime. So much progress has been lost in such a short time. Women and children, of course, are already among the hardest hit.

Paula Hancocks is covering this for us live from Seoul. This report is painting a pretty bleak picture of the impacts of this coup on the people.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Absolutely, Michael. The problem at this point is that there is no end in sight. The violence is continuing. And so what UNDP is saying at this point is that if that doesn't end, then things will not get better.

In particular, what we are seeing is increased violence in some of the ethnic areas, in particular Karen State. This is an area that's just along the border with Thailand. Just in the early hours of Friday morning, we saw evidence of more bitter fights between Myanmar's military and the ethnic armed groups.

Now, it is strategically important area. The ethnic armed groups are trying to clear the way to allow humanitarian aid to come in and potentially, the refugees to flee out (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) HANCOCKS: Late last month, ethnic armed fighters staged a surprised attack.

(GUNFIRE)

HANCOCKS: An intense gun battle ended with the full (ph) 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 they're treating them humanely, treatment they would not expect if the tables were turned.

SAW BAW KYAW HEH, GENERAL, 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 that any soldiers are missing. But state media accused the KNLA of violating the 2015 ceasefire, a ceasefire 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 hang 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 villagers had already fled, so no one was hurt in this airstrike. But most are now too scared to go home in case the fight or jets return.

Humanitarian groups believe more than 20,000 are displaced in the Karen State alone, hiding in the jungles.

[02:25:04]

HANCOCKS: This mother says, my children have diarrhea and now so do the adults. There is no clean water or food. This man says his 6-year- old son was killed in an airstrike. They buried him where he died. He says when the fighter jets came, his grandmother took him far away from the home, but the jet dropped its bomb at the spot they had fled to. My son was injured and then died.

Some have tried to cross the border into Thailand but say they were push backed by Thai military. The border is 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 villagers, livestock roaming free and feels neglected. Planting season should start within weeks. If it doesn't, the United Nations warnings of rising hunger and desperation will be exacerbated.

SAW BAW KYAW HEH: If we cannot destroy 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.

(GUNFIRE)

HANCOCKS: Fighting this will be so close to the border it can be seen from Thailand. Burning guard posts light up the night sky then dawn breaks on another day of violence in Myanmar.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HANCOCKS (on camera): The longer that this violence continues in these ethnic areas, Michael, the greater concern for the food insecurity. I want to highlight again the fact that if farmers can't go back to their fields and start planting, the season that would start in just a matter of weeks, then there are going to be significant problems in the months ahead. This is the time when they need to be planting crops going forward to make sure that that food security issue is not exacerbated.

But they are simply too scared at this point. We are hearing from those on the ground that they don't want to go back to the villages. They don't dare to go and plant their crops because they believe that there are more airstrikes to come. Michael?

HOLMES: That's horrific. Paula Hancocks, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

We are going to take a quick break here on the program. When we come back on "CNN: Newsroom," we will bring you an update on the breaking news out of Israel where dozens are dead in the stampede at a religious festival.

Also, a sprawling nation that once thought had escaped the worst of the pandemic has just marked its 9th straight day of more than 300,000 cases and it's only getting worse.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:30:00]

HOLMES: And I want to welcome back our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN Newsroom and we do want to get you an update now on the breaking news from northern Israel.

Many still waiting to evacuate the area around Mount Meron, where 44 people were killed in a stampede at a crowded religious festival. At least 100 others have been taken to hospitals, 20 of them said to be in critical condition. Now 10s of 1000s of Orthodox Jews and others had been gathering on Mount Meron for the Lag Baomer holiday. Israel's Prime Minister calling the tragedy a huge disaster.

Now while it is still unclear, exactly what triggered the deadly crash, officials have ruled out early reports that some temporary structures might have collapsed. Now Avigail Beer joins me now on the line. She's an ambulance driver with the rescue organization United Hatzalah. Thank you so much for your time. You were one of the first ambulances on the scene and were transporting victims of this. Tell me what you saw when you arrived? What was the experience like?

AVIGAIL BEER, AMBULANCE DRIVER (on the telephone): I was the second. It was terrible scene. Thousands of people about maybe 200 or injured variables, paramedics and EMTs, all from United Hatzalah doing CPR about over 24 people. It was - it was dark, it was like just unbelievable. This tragedy - I saw a 17 year old. He was still breathing when I got there. Me and my team just took over, we put him in the ambulance and started driving but the traffic was so bad because everyone was running away from the scene.

So we just stood in traffic while my team was doing CPR, compressing in the back of the ambulance. The sirens are all over of more and more ambulances, police. Everyone was rushing to the area. It was a tragedy. I don't know, 44 actually died in that scene. It was terrible.

HOLMES: I'm trying to get a sense of you know, it sounds like there were there were such frantic efforts going on to save lives, tragically, not all of them successful, of course. But you know that just the sheer number of people. What sorts of injuries were you dealing with?

BEER: People just fell on each other. They - the reason it happened. It just snapped and they fell. A few people fell and then everyone continued falling on each other. So most of them couldn't breathe, they had (inaudible), they had injuries in their head pretty bad. They were bleeding. We had all kinds of injuries in this way. And unfortunately, a lot of them passed away. And also a lot of them are in the hospital in bad condition. And we're praying for them to be healthy.

HOLMES: Yes, how difficult was it to get people out? I'm trying to imagine how difficult it was for emergency workers like yourself given the just the sheer numbers of people.

BEER: (inaudible) so the scene is very difficult because there's a few areas in the mountains (inaudible) so we had to take the ambulances through the way through the people. And it was really impossible so we just started putting them on wheelchairs and wherever we saw people carried on their shoulders, injured people and we just walk to the ambulances and we were just were pretty far.

But after a while when people understood that it's really happening in the (inaudible) happening so people started walking away and started taking more ambulances closer to the area.

HOLMES: Yes, yes and ambulance driver Avigail Beer with the rescue group United Hatzalah. Thank - thank you so much for the work that you and the others have done. And thank you for taking the time.

BEER: Yes, pray for everyone. Happy Holidays.

HOLMES: You too. Now India recording its ninth straight day of more than 300,000 new COVID cases. The health ministry reporting more than 386,000 new infections on Friday, nearly 3500 deaths.

[02:35:00]

Hospitals have run out of beds, and there is not enough oxygen to keep people alive. CNN Sam Kiley visited a crematorium where funeral pyres are burning around the clock. Some viewers will find the images disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the Seemapuri crematorium where the dead have to join a queue. Their relatives or friends have to take tickets from an office in order to get access to the crematorium. That is dealing with about 150 people a day, almost all of them victims of the COVID Pandemic, a Pandemic that the government seemed to indicate earlier this year that somehow passed India by. That India had somehow reached the level of herd immunity, that even countries that are vaccinated on a vast scale have not reached.

Now, India's a net exporter of vaccines. People here squarely blame the government for this catastrophe that has unfolded. And this after all, is a nation that can put aircraft carriers at sea, that has a space program. That is the Center for many international corporations of IT and development. But it's also a country where there are catastrophic differences between the very rich and the very poor.

And here, it's been extraordinary because a lot of the victims of this Pandemic have been middle class. They're the ones perhaps you can afford to have their families burn in a facility like this. And it may indicate one of the reasons as to why a lot of the estimates for the number of dead and the number of people in India who've been infected may be woefully inadequate. Sam Kiley, CNN, New Delhi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Now the international community sending emergency supplies to India as quickly as possible. A Military plane loaded with aid arrived from the U.S. on Friday. It is now a race against time to get those supplies to the people who need it most. Many other countries also promising to send in what they can, including Russia, Australia, Canada, and some members of the European Union.

Despite the dire situation in India, traveling from there to the U.S. is actually about to get easier. Air India planning to reintroduce almost as many direct flights into the U.S. as they were pre-Pandemic. CNN's Clare Sebastian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN 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 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, US RESIDENT RETURNED FROM INDIA: Then on the 21st, I get an email saying my flight is canceled. And I go 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 caught was United.

There was just one seat left.

SEBASTAIN: 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 US which has travel bans in place from countries like the UK and 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 that 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 4 travel advisory and plays warning Americans against all travel to India.

And travelers that come into the U.S. do need a negative COVID-19 PCR tests from the past three days. Something that's putting another strain on already struggling Indian test centers like Dr. Dang Labs in New Delhi. They told us that their drive through testing is the most popular among travelers.

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Meanwhile, India's neighbors are monitoring the crisis unfolding next door. I'm going to show you a map now. You can see India still has far more cases per capita than these adjacent countries.

[02:40:00] But Nepal has seen a recent surge, infections their rapid in mid- April, and now the daily cases are in the 1000s. That outbreak so far centered in the capital, Kathmandu. Nepal has limited healthcare infrastructure and there are concerns about its ability to handle a large outbreak.

I have more on that next hour as well. Now Pakistan imposing new Coronavirus restrictions for the Eid holiday next month. Like neighboring India, Pakistan also dealing with shortages of medical supplies including oxygen. CNN producer Sophia Safi has the latest from Islamabad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: It's fairly 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 came too late, but have now been issued specific notifications calling for lab lockdowns between provincial travel, a ban on tourism with the Eid holidays 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 impose a lockdown.

There has been data shared by the National Command Center on Coronavirus sharing that about 85 percent of beds are 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.

Sophia Saifi, CNN, Islamabad.

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HOLMES: Now the virus also on a rampage across much of South America. Brazil reporting it has more than 400,000 people who have lost their lives to the virus there. It is only the second country to reach that milestone after the US. Argentina and Colombia are also dealing with their own devastating outbreaks as Stefano Pozzebon reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in South America from Patagonia to the Caribbean coast. The region has been ravaged by the Pandemic. On Thursday, Argentina reported that 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 have lost his life due to virus so 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.

It's the first time that Columbia reports more than 500 victims in less than a day since the Pandemic began. And while we're seeing all across the regions 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 the deadly rates not seen in the first waves of the Pandemic last year and earlier this year.

And experts are afraid that the worst might still yet to come for many of these nations unless many more vaccines are deployed every single day. For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, (Foreign Language).

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HOLMES: After two decades of war US troops officially on their way out of Afghanistan, I'll speak with a retired Army General about the impact of this withdrawal coming up next.

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[02:45:00]

HOLMES: It is the beginning of the end for America's longest war. The White House announcing on Thursday that the U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan is now formally underway. A top generals said the operation will unfold over the coming weeks. CNN's Barbara Starr with the latest from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 that 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 2500 U.S. forces that the U.S. acknowledges or there will come out as well as several 100 additional Special Operations troops that the U.S. doesn't talk about.

They're involved in counterterrorism 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 withdraw. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: CNN Military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling joins me

now. He's a former Army commanding general in Europe and the Seventh army and also commanded multinational forces North in Iraq where we spend some time together. Let's talk about Afghanistan, Mark.

The withdrawal process is underway. It was interesting the Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said it is, "a complex operation and not without risk." What are the logistics of getting those troops and equipment out? And what are the risks?

LT. GEN MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it's a good question, Michael. And what I'd say is don't use the word withdrawal. The Chairman specifically called it a retrograde operation, and that has a doctrinal definition along with it.

It's - the definition is actually a task, which involves organized movement away from the enemy. Now, in some cases, the enemy may force that operation or commander - commander may execute it voluntarily, because he feels like he can gain an advantage, either tactically or strategically. That's a lot of militaries, a lot of Military speak. But what it means is we are choosing to do this.

And Chairman Milley did say, it's complex. It's extremely hard, and it's not without risks, there's going to be plenty of risk here. And you know, whereas most people will think about just the 2500 people, the Military personnel that have to be moving out. It's much more than that from a logistical operation and it is extremely hard. You're talking about coordination with forces on the ground with allied forces and the Afghan forces because as you know, there's a lot of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It's the accountability of equipment, it's the transference of equipment, some will go to the Afghan army, it's centralizing people and equipment so you can ship them out. It's caring for the personnel while this is going on and it's bringing in other people, other forces to help defend, because this is an opportune time for the enemy to take advantage of the Armory.

[02:50:00]

HOLMES: And do stay with us here on CNN for more from Lieutenant General Mark Hertling with the Taliban controlling large parts of Afghanistan, we discuss how America's troop withdrawal will impact those vying for power. We'll bring you this answer next hour of CNN Newsroom.

Now the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has postponed elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and the presidency. The move sparked anger among Palestinians who have not elected new leadership in 15 years. The elections were designed to bring unity between the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas is blaming Israel for not guaranteeing that Palestinians in East Jerusalem can cast ballots.

Voting a sensitive issue there because Israel considers Jerusalem its territory while Palestinians of course see Eastern Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state. Russia opposition leader Alexey Navalny has some harsh words for

Vladimir Putin. He called the Russian President a 'naked king' who wants to rule indefinitely. It was a very thin Navalny who made those remarks when appearing remotely in a hearing on his defamation case.

His lawyers also discovered a previously unknown case against him when examining documents for this case. CNN's senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in Moscow with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOT INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was remarkable hearing in the Moscow court as Alexey 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.

Alexey 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, 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 five tablespoons of porridge a day.

However, Alexey 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, "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," Alexey Navalny said.

Now but he did lose this appeals hearing. The conviction was upheld and Alexey 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've already 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 Alexey 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Now the annual May Day holiday in China is one of the country's busiest times for travel and millions of people are eager to finally hit the road again. Of course, despite the risks of new COVID outbreaks. We'll have a report from Shanghai when we come back.

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[02:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Hundreds of millions of people in China are expected to begin traveling this weekend for the annual May Day holiday for many they will be their first opportunity in a year to visit family and friends in other parts of the country. But there is of course genuine concern, it could lead to more COVID outbreaks. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm David Culver in Shanghai where China is preparing for a major travel holiday. Trip.com, 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 holidays Spring Festival was subdued event.

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, trip.com 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.

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HOLMES: David Culver reporting there from Shanghai. I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company, spending part of your day with me. CNN Newsroom does continue though after a short break. I'll see you on the other side.

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