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Desperate COVID-19 Victims in India Turn to Makeshift Oxygen Tents; South America Battling Record-Breaking Virus Wave; Crush at Religious Festival at Israel's Mt. Meron Kills 45; Thierry Henry's Social Media Boycott Gains Traction; Employees Who Risked Lives during Pandemic Lose Jobs. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 1, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): More Indian states, forced to halt a nationwide vaccine rollout, as the country sees more COVID cases than ever before.

The investigation into the disaster at Mt. Meron, it's been called Israel's deadliest peacetime tragedy.

Then, later, taking a stand against online racist abuse. CNN speaks exclusively to a football champion after his boycott goes mainstream.

Hello, welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Michael Holmes.


HOLMES: India's battle with COVID-19 setting another record, with more than 400,000 new cases in a single day. Not long ago, the government was boasting it had escaped the worst of the pandemic but now, the country is rapidly approaching 20 million total infections. Well over 200,000 people have died.

India is the world's largest producer of vaccines and Saturday was supposed to be the launch of an aggressive new inoculation program. But even as people began lining up, there were relatively few shots to be given.

That is because most of the vaccines had been exported. Punjab state, one of several places that say they don't have enough vials to get started.


BALBIR SINGH SIDHU, PUNJAB HEALTH MINISTER (through translator): We will start the vaccination drive, only if we have vaccines.

How will we begin without the vaccines?

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Central to this crisis, the nation's health care system, critically short of lifesaving oxygen. Long lines appear whenever there is a chance to get a full tank. And, with oxygen supplies scarce across India, volunteers have set up makeshift breathing centers to ensure that COVID victims stay alive. CNN's Sam Kiley with that story.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A sensor reveals dangerously low levels of oxygen, stifled by COVID-19, this canister of gas buys this patient time.

All of these patients arrive barely able to breathe. This isn't a medical clinic. It's a tent on the outskirts of India's capital, run by volunteers.

KILEY: Without the initiative being shown by these volunteers from the Hemkunt Foundation, who are providing oxygen on the street, on the outskirts of Delhi, they say many dozens, perhaps over 100 patients, would be in deep trouble medically now.

They already had one death, just over there, earlier on today. They treated over 100 people who are coming in, desperate for oxygen, unable to breathe. And it's all about this, the supply of these oxygen cylinders. It's a 300-mile drive each way to get one of these filled and brought back to Delhi.

KILEY (voice-over): They cost about $25 when filled.

KILEY: How easy has it been to found oxygen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, trust me, this is the toughest thing, we have to say.

KILEY (voice-over): With COVID-19 infections and numbers of deaths breaking records daily in India, many patients in Delhi have given up on hospital treatment, where they know that oxygen is scarce and beds often shared.

Pankaj Chandrawal said he was turned away by three hospitals. He took off his oxygen mask, demanding to be heard.

PANKAJ CHANDRAWAL, COVID-19 PATIENT: They are just not entertaining anything and they're just refusing all things. I cannot tell whom I can believe. It is both government and the hospitals also.

KILEY (voice-over): Bottled oxygen is mostly produced outside Delhi. Neighboring states are prioritizing their own needs. And so, the city gasps. And many die, unrecorded, in their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

KILEY (voice-over): Tijinder Gutji (ph) collects the bodies of patients who die at home. He'll pick up three in this one-hour run. Many are even afraid to take their dying loved ones to hospital.

Prashant Sharma's family decided to keep his grandmother at home.

PRASHANT SHARMA, GRANDSON OF COVID-19 VICTIM: We were scared. (INAUDIBLE). So, we got scared if we cannot do any nearby hospital, who's going to (INAUDIBLE)?


SHARMA: You know, who's going to give us the information, exactly the information what is (INAUDIBLE) in the hospital?

KILEY (voice-over): India's government has promised a vaccination campaign with renewed vigor. But with around only 2 percent of the nation inoculated so far, that's cold comfort here -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Delhi.


HOLMES: Meanwhile in western India, at least 18 people were killed when a fire broke out at a hospital to treat COVID patients. It is the second fatal hospital fire in India, in less than two weeks. About 70 patients were in the hospital at the time. Those who were rescued taken to other facilities. The cause of the fire, not yet determined.

Let's take a closer look at India's vaccination record. More than 26 million people, fully vaccinated in India. But that's around 2 percent of the population. Around 127 million people there have had at least one shot, more than 9 percent of the population. Altogether, 154 million doses being administered in India.

So, how does India compare with other countries?

Only the U.S. and China have administered more total doses than India, with more than 200 million each. In terms of percent of population, however, the story is a bit different. Let's give you some examples.

Using the metric of people with at least one dose, the United States is at 43 percent vaccinated; France, 22 percent; India, at 9 percent, which is higher than Japan. India, also higher than most of Southeast Asia and Africa. And on this map, India is higher than all of the countries with the light blue-green color.


HOLMES: Joining me now, Dr. Venkat Narayan. He is a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Emory University here in Atlanta.

Doctor, appreciate your time. India makes its own vaccine, it's a global leader in vaccine production. How does it happen that 2 percent of its own population are vaccinated not to mention they, until recently, were exporting?

What do you make of that?

DR. VENKAT NARAYAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Michael, that is a great question. Clearly, as you mentioned, India supplies 60 percent to 70 percent of the global vaccines. It has got a fantastic infrastructure of vaccine manufacturing and vaccine production.

As you can see from the data, the national data from India, about 120 million Indians who received one dose of the COVID vaccine. And, about something like 26 million have received both doses.

So you are, right 2 percent of the Indian population of 1.4 billion people have been vaccinated. It's a long way to go, so we need to get the 70 percent or 80 percent of vaccine coverage before they can reach herd immunity.

What this tells us is it's great to have wonderful vaccines but what you really need to have is well organized vaccination programs. By that, I mean, they need the logistics in place. They need the infrastructure in place. They need the data in place, which is openly shared so that you are actually planning services, vaccine services, through a data driven process so that you can make corrections whenever you need to.

And you can monitor trends. And you need the workforce and what India needs to invest in is a vaccination program.

HOLMES: Some experts have pointed out you can't vaccinate your way out of this. And even once vaccinated, it will take weeks for that effectiveness to kick in.

I want to ask you about the outsized impact of this, on Nepal, when we see the images we are, out of India and how the poor are being impacted, are they going to find a way or buy a solution and they are. But India's massive population of poor don't have that option.

Have they been abandoned by their governments in many ways?

NARAYAN: First, we'd like to say that, during the pandemic, we're now experiencing about 200,000 cases a day, reported cases. The real numbers are probably 8-10 times. And the pandemic has not peaked. You know, all the models project that it will peak by middle of May or end of May. It could be 800,000 cases a day or even 1 million cases a day.

And the question about the poor being vulnerable is absolutely correct and that is true across the world. Even here in the United States, the most vulnerable are the socioeconomic disadvantaged people.


NARAYAN: And you've had, for example, in phase I of our vaccination, was 70 percent of Blacks were eligible for it. But only about 5 percent have received the vaccinations. So, this is a problem everywhere.

And I think that this is something that Indian government really needs to take seriously, to preferentially address, you know, availability (ph) of services to the poor and the underserved.

This pandemic cannot be won unless we are equitable in our delivery of services to everybody. HOLMES: India is home to 18 percent of the world's population. We've

seen what's now known as the Indian variant spread to 17 other countries. Speak to the fact that what happens in India matters to the rest of the world. The virus does not respect borders.

This is a global imperative to get things under control in India, right?

NARAYAN: Absolutely. As you said, India has about a fifth of the world's population so it's a country that holds a fifth of humanity. And as you will see from the scenes across India, what's happening in India is extremely painful and has touched people across the world.

So, it's a humanitarian crisis, with which we all share a common responsibility. So that should raise global consciousness toward action against India so that we also make sure that these types of things don't happen in the other parts of world we all prepared (ph).

But aside from the humanitarian issue, which is extremely important, there are other considerations to take into account. For example, the virus does not respect borders. There are 17 countries in the world that have received the variant from India.

So, this can easily spread. So, it's in the interest of everybody to take care of India. I don't think India is alone in all this. I don't think any country is alone in this fight against the pandemic.

We have to work together and collaborate together. And beyond all, this the size of India is very important to the global economy. And for global security. If something was to go wrong with India, it can be a disaster for the global economy and for global security.

If something were to go wrong with India, it can be a disaster for the global economy and for global security. For all these reasons, I believe India needs care. We need to collaborate with India and even when it comes to vaccine, the COVAX program, together with the WHO, relying on Indian manufacture to supply vaccines to the world.

So, getting India right, getting the pandemic in India arrested, getting things under control will be extremely important and this has to be a global responsibility, with India leading it with India.

HOLMES: Absolutely, Dr. Venkat Narayan, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

NARAYAN: Thank you very much.


HOLMES: Now Singapore is closing its borders to more countries, citing the spread of coronavirus in South Asia. Visitors from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be denied entry from Sunday. Travel from India already prohibited.

Thailand also tightening travel restrictions as it works to increase vaccinations, looking there at an airport check-in area, turned into a vaccination center. Those arriving from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan must now quarantine for 21 days, one week longer than those coming from other nations.

And China's Labor Day Golden Week Holiday is underway. Crowds, once again, packing tourist attractions like the Great Wall. State media, reporting as many as 220 million trips could be made during the holiday season.

More bad news, South America dealing with its worst coronavirus wave yet, cases reaching record highs, even in countries that have the virus under control. On Thursday, Brazil officially topped 400,000 coronavirus deaths. Now the country's health minister is asking for help and journalist Stefano Pozzebon explains.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A call for help: on Friday, the Brazilian health minister urged other countries across the world with extra vaccine doses, such as the United States, to share them with Brazil, as the South American giant tries dramatically to curb the spread of yet another COVID-19 wave that is wreaking havoc across South America.

This week, Brazil became just the second country on Earth to formally cross the threshold of over 400,000 victims of the virus. One in every 526 Brazilians died since the beginning of the pandemic.

And it's a situation shared with many other countries across the region, from Argentina, to Colombia, to Peru, to Uruguay, all reporting record increases in new cases and deaths this past week as the new wave is really devastating the region.

Some hope perhaps at the end of the tunnel could come when, yet again, from the vaccine. This week, Brazil received the first shipment of the Pfizer BioNTech laboratory.


POZZEBON: With over one million doses of the vaccine that will help health officials to front (ph) up the virus.

And here in Colombia, starting next week, citizens aged 60 years old or older will be finally able to receive the precious jab -- for CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


HOLMES: Many Brazilians say they have had enough. A nonprofit laid down 400 body bags on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in memory of all of those who've lost their lives to COVID in Brazil. And here is what the head of that organization had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I feel the historical responsibility, because if one day, if I have grandchildren, they will ask me, what did you do in those days?

I feel ashamed of not voicing my indignation after 400,000 deaths, with a country that is the 10th economy of the world, that has the resources to face this.


HOLMES: Only two countries reporting that many deaths since the pandemic began, Brazil and the U.S.

Some very welcome news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., more than 30 percent of the total U.S. population, now, fully vaccinated. As COVID numbers improve, many states are forging ahead with reopening plans. CNN's Alexandra Field, with more on that.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major milestone in America's fight against COVID-19.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: With 100 million Americans fully vaccinated as of today, we continue to move ahead in our progress to end this pandemic.

FIELD (voice-over): As more people get vaccinated, the average daily number of deaths falling, down by 80 percent since the peak in January when 3,000 Americans were dying daily. The spread of infection also slowing nationwide. The average number of daily new cases dropping to its lowest level since October.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: What we've seen in the last weeks has been stunning progress in terms of reducing the levels of COVID, greatly increasing the numbers of vaccinations.

FIELD (voice-over): New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says he's hopeful that one of the country's first COVID epicenters could fully reopen by July 1st.

Chicago already loosening restrictions that will allow for a return to festivals and bigger events.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL), CHICAGO: Chicago is safely open for business and play.

FIELD (voice-over): Kentucky preparing to welcome 50,000 people to the stands for this weekend's Derby. Delta Air Lines putting passengers back in middle seats.

And the return of cruising is back on the horizon, as soon as this summer, according to the CDC. Most critically by fall, President Joe Biden suggests all children should be back in classrooms.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Based on the science and the CDC, they should probably all be open. FIELD (voice-over): More teens could soon have vaccines, too. Moderna is aiming to have its vaccine authorized for children ages 12 and up by summer, according to its president.

Pfizer's authorization for the same age group could also come soon. But right now, the country's average number of vaccinations has sunk to its lowest level in weeks, 2.6 million daily. And a new CNN poll, shows 26 percent of American adults do not plan to get a shot.

FIELD: For now, the White House is staying highly focused on building confidence in vaccines, for people who are saying that they're still hesitant about vaccines. Here's something that could help.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying you could see full FDA approval for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines very soon. All vaccines, currently on the market, were brought to the market under an emergency use authorization.

The full approval from the FDA is something that takes a bit longer -- In New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.


HOLMES: Crowds, chaos and carnage in Israel, in mourning after a religious festival turned tragic. The investigation into what caused the deadly stampede.

And athletes of British football organizations are boycotting social media platforms over online abuse. We tell you who is involved and why.





HOLMES: Now an investigation has been launched into what triggered the deadly stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel. The country, in mourning, as families have begun laying victims to rest; 45 people, crushed to death at the celebration on Mt. Meron earlier on Friday morning. At least 150 others were injured.

While visiting the site, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing condolences saying, our hearts are with the families and the wounded. Chilling stories are pouring in from those who narrowly escaped. CNN's Hadas Gold has more on how a joyful celebration quickly turned into a nightmare.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A crumpled pair of glasses. Water bottles, flattened and scattered on the ground. These are the trampled remnants of a festival in Israel, where dozens of people were crushed to death in a stampede, according to the Israeli health ministry.

Tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews, gathered at Mt. Meron for the religious bonfire festival Lag B'Omer. The witnesses say the night quickly turned into a tragedy, when packed crowds crammed into a narrow passageway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was there exactly when it happened. Now there on the side. It started when a few paramedics started to run and then there was some kind of mess, police screaming, big mess.

And after half an hour, it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack.

GOLD: What happened around 1:00 am when tens of thousands of worshipers were celebrating the Lag B'Omer holiday, crowds of people were trying to exit and enter along this ramp right here. They started to slip and slide all over each other, turning into a table of bodies.

GOLD (voice-over): Officials say, some people were asphyxiated, others were crushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Most parts of my body got pinned down under several people, except for my head and chest. So, I can still breathe. I think it is a miracle I survived.

GOLD (voice-over): Funerals began Friday afternoon for the victims, some of whom, were children. Israeli media says bonfire areas were cordoned off as a COVID-19 precaution. And this may have created bottlenecks in the walkways. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it's one of the worst disasters in Israeli history.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (voice-over): We will carry out a comprehensive, serious, detailed investigation, to ensure this kind of disaster never happens again.

GOLD (voice-over): The prime minister saying, this Sunday will be a national day of mourning -- Hadas Gold, CNN, Mt. Meron, Israel.


HOLMES: At least 21 people are dead and dozens more injured after a vehicle laden with explosives detonated in Afghanistan. This happened in the provincial capital of Logar province, just south of Kabul. So far, no one claiming responsibility for the attack.

It comes hours after the United States and some key allies met in Doha with representatives of the Taliban to try and jumpstart peace talks. It's a day into the United States official troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

English football players and leagues and now other sports are boycotting social media platforms this weekend. Ahead, we sit down with a legendary player and coach who explains why this cause is so important. We will be right back.





HOLMES: Social media accounts from across the sports world are shut down this weekend to demand an end to racist abuse online. It was organized by English football organizations, including the Premier League and Football Association. The unprecedented blackout on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, running through Monday.

It's growing to include British broadcasters, UEFA and other sports. Adidas says it is halting paid advertising across the U.K. social media platforms. Many Formula 1 drivers are supporting the social media boycott as well.

Now online vitriol driving football legend Thierry Henry to quit social media last month. He says this is about taking a stand for those less powerful. He spoke exclusively to CNN contributor Darren Lewis.


DARREN LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been 5 weeks since you canceled social media.

What has life been like for you?

THIERRY HENRY, FOOTBALL COACH AND PLAYER: Great. Holiday camp -- no, I'm making a joke. But it has been great in all fairness. At the very beginning, I was in a weird mood, shall I say. But that was like always talking, always mentioning the strength of the pack.

Sometimes, when you are alone, to scream something, you feel lonely. But I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about the people who don't have a voice. I'm talking about the people who have been abused, harassed, for the way they look, for what they believe in, for the color of their skin, on social media.

So I thought, OK, maybe, maybe, if I come off social media as taking a stand for the people who don't, maybe have a voice, maybe, it can create a wave on social media and people would like to know why. And they wanted to know why.

But in the aftermath of it was like, there was a period where I was like, well, it's kind of a shame that people are not reacting.

LEWIS: Other people weren't quick to follow.

When you see what has happened since in the way that all of sport, some media outlets, some mobilizing to get behind you, does that make you feel better after feeling alone in those initial weeks?

HENRY: All of English football is doing it at the minute. What's been happening on the weekend, people ask me if it's enough, the weekend. And I say, it's a start. You can't be too greedy from not having anything, to that. It's a start.

But, yes, we have a voice.


HOLMES: India suffering another day of global record-breaking coronavirus infections, even as aid from around the world pours in, including oxygen and medical equipment. We will look at why India's catastrophic surge is a threat, far outside of its borders.

While in Britain, this, thousands of maskless club goers, packed shoulder to shoulder, at a rave.

How is this happening in the time of COVID?

We explain.





HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers, all around the world, You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now India has broken that global record again for new COVID infections, almost 402,000. Experts say, the actual number is, likely, much greater than that. This is the first time India has reported more than 400,000 cases in a day. The country, also reporting more than 3,500 deaths.

Everyone 18 and older, now eligible for vaccination but shortages already stopping rollouts and several states. Desperately needed aid from pouring in around the world, these boxes contained supplies from the UAE, including ventilators; 600 oxygen concentrators, from the U.S., also arriving on Friday. Shipments, also coming in from Thailand, the U.K. and Qatar.

Now Ivan Watson, joining me from Hong Kong.

This big vaccination program meant to get underway but postponed and several states, right as the country so desperately needs it.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in the country, in the midst of a crisis, needs some hope and it was hope that the dramatic expansion of eligibility for the vaccines allowing people over the age of 18 to be eligible would help.

Instead, we are seeing a number of states, their governments, announcing that they simply cannot launch the expanded vaccine program, on May 1st, today. That list includes Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh.

And the chief minister of Punjab, putting out this tweet, saying the, quote, "non availability of the vaccine, that the phase III of vaccination for the 18-45 age group, cannot be started as scheduled. And vaccination of private health facilities will remain suspended from Saturday."

So this is getting a bumpy start, even though, back in mid-January, the prime minister celebrated the launch of, what he described, at the time, as the world's biggest vaccination drive.

That is not what we are seeing on the ground, in India. And according to the government statistics, only about 2.1 percent of the country's population has been fully vaccinated.

All the more troubling when you consider that India is supposed to be the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines. Instead, we have state after state, announcing that they just do not have the supplies necessary to vaccinate the population.

HOLMES: That's incredible, isn't it. Obviously, the concern about India's variant and it's spreading outside of its borders, seeing more countries, blocking travel from there.

WATSON: Yes, more and more countries saying not just India, suspending flights from India but from broader parts of South Asia as well. It is a disturbing development right now and a sign of the growing concern for the staggering numbers of new infections and coming out of India.


WATSON: In an additional, tragic twist, I have to bring us back to one issue in India right now, a predawn fire in a COVID ward of a hospital in the state of Gujarat. At least 18 people were killed by this fire, 16 patients and 2 staff members, local officials saying, could have been due to some electric short out.

They're calling for an investigation of that, pledging money to families of the victims. And that is just compounding the tragedy Indians are seeing day, after day, as they deal with this awful second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic -- Michael.

HOLMES: Just piling, on Ivan thank you, Ivan Watson in Hong Kong.

Now as the crisis continues, there are many ways you can help people in India cope with this devastating COVID outbreak, go to to find out how there is a lot of resources there for you to check out.

India's neighbors, meanwhile, also on high alert. Nepal, dealing with its own COVID-19 surge and confirms the variant first found in India is, indeed, spreading there. Sources telling CNN there are now dozens of suspected cases at Everest Base Camp, as Kristie Lu Stout, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Evacuated from Everest Base Camp, after developing COVID-19 symptoms at 5,000 meters.

ERLEND NESS, NORWEGIAN MOUNTAINEER: I felt weak, and I had a headache, and my oxygen level was very low. In base camp I was getting worse. I was checked by two doctors in base camp, and they found some cracks in my lungs.

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

NESS: When I tested positive when it come it was quite a shock. And then I realized that the expedition was over for me.

STOUT (voice-over): In preparation for the event, Ness had trained for two hours a day for six months. And he 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 we wanted to stand on the summit and see the view.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you, Erlend Ness?

NESS: I'm good. Thank you.

STOUT (voice-over): He says he got a negative test before heading to the mountain and doesn't know where he picked up the virus. Two sources from base camp tells 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 denies that there had been any cases there.

This comes as neighboring India battles the world's worst outbreak of COVID-19. The border between the two countries still open. The seriousness of the wider situation left Ness grateful for the care he received in the hospital.

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

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


HOLMES: Thousands of people in Liverpool, England, are partying like it is 2019. But it's all in the name of science. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES (voice-over): You can see there, the size of the crowd of British music fans, gathering at a specially converted warehouse on Friday. Dancing the night away, as you can see, no masks, no social distancing, that's for sure.

The goal is to determine how night clubs and events may return this summer, to the U.K. After more than one year of clubs being closed, many work, understandably, were a bit emotional.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just excited, all of us are excited, we're all on the verge of (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Liverpool for having the first not socially distanced event in the country. We love this city, we love it.


HOLMES: Now all attendees had to test negative for COVID 24 hours before the event and were asked to retest over the next 5 days.

In Los Angeles, a local measure designed to boost the pay of frontline workers could actually cost some of them in their jobs. One major grocery chain says it will close stores rather than pay the extra money.


HOLMES: That has many critics, comparing CEO salaries to those hourly workers, who, every day, are putting their lives on the line. CNN's Kyung Lah explains.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Food 4 Less grocery store in East Hollywood, California, the value of the essential worker...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their right to hero pay, for risking their lives.

LAH (voice-over): -- is what is on the line. They are trying to keep the store open. It is among the half-dozen Kroger stores the grocer announced would close on the West Coast, after cities like Los Angeles mandated temporary hazard pay, so called hero pay, to help frontline workers for a few months during the pandemic, workers, like Nelsy Cifuentes.


LAH (voice-over): She makes $15.30 an hour and, will soon lose her job at the store.

CIFUENTES: It's not fair, for everyone, it is not fair.

LAH (voice-over): Kroger says the extra $5 for L.A. workers will cost nearly $20 million, over four months, saying, it is impossible to operate these stores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trust me, if it wasn't for workers, if it wasn't for all of, us you would not be making $21 million.

LAH (voice-over): He is talking about Kroger's CEO, Rodney McMullen, whose salary in 2019 was more than $21.1 million while his workers average around $27,000. That is almost 800 times what his workers make on average.

McMullen and S&P 500 CEOs have made more money on average during the pandemic than ever before. Data from research firm MyLogIQ shows in 2020, while the U.S. hit record unemployment, CEOs got paid a median salary of about $14 million, an 11.5 percent increase from 2019.

Paycom software paid its CEO about 3,000 times more than its average worker.

General Electric?

About 1,400 times more.

Starbucks, 1,200 times more.

While workers say CEOs certainly have tough jobs, they are not the ones who put their lives on the line, working through the pandemic.


LAH (voice-over): Nelsy Cifuentes still fears bringing COVID home from work and infecting her young children. Her union says at least 158 grocery workers, nationwide, have died from COVID. She wishes her CEO would think about that more.

CIFUENTES: Maybe I can hold his hand. It was hard and think a little bit about (INAUDIBLE) workers. We work so hard for the community.

LAH (voice-over): There is little sign that Kroger, which posted a $2.8 billion operating profit in 2020, will change its mind about closing Cifuentes' store. But the CEO class is on track for another record year for their pay -- Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes, thank you for spending part of your day with me, I will be back at the top of the hour with CNN NEWSROOM, "MARKETPLACE AFRICA," is next.