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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; Car Bomb Kills at Least 21 in Afghanistan; Thousands Attend Experimental Rave to Test U.K. COVID-19 Rules. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 1, 2021 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome, everyone, coming to you live from Studio 7 at the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, another milestone in India as the country struggles with a massive surge of COVID-19. To keep themselves safe, some countries moving to restrict travel from India.

Plus, disturbing new questions about the deadly stampede at a religious gathering in Israel.


HOLMES: India's battle with COVID-19, hitting another record with more than 400,000 new cases in a single day. It is the 10th day, in a row, new infections have soared passed the 300,000 mark. Not long ago, the Indian government was boasting that it had escaped the worst of the pandemic.

Well, now the country, rapidly approaching 20 million total infections. Well over 200,000 people have died.

Now today was supposed to be the launch of an aggressive new inoculation program but there were relatively few shots to be given because most of India's vaccines had been exported. CNN's Vedika Sud, joining me from Delhi, with the very latest.

The huge number, Vedika, we keep hearing, it is almost certainly under the real total. Meanwhile, vaccination programs, being postponed.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me call the token vaccination for, you Michael. The supplies are out and most of the states and they've come forward and announced, may not be the start of the vaccination program, which is phase III for those 18 and above today.

A lot of them have said, we just don't have the vaccine supplies. So, while some states are still carrying on with inoculating people who are 45 plus and even 30 plus, the real program of phase III would not be at a large scale, is not rolling out across the country.

This is so important, if the government has said that they would do it from today, this mixed messaging, clearly, because not happening across the country. Vaccinating people is so important at this time.

You heard of how very young people in India are dying. Possibly one reason for that is because they aren't inoculated yet. We started with 60 plus, then 45 plus. And now, a huge and significant population of India, between 18 and 45, needs to be vaccinated.

This comes at a time like you rightly pointed out, many countries have said, move away from India. Their travel bans, Americans joining that list. And come Tuesday you will see that everyone who is traveling to America, except for American citizens, will be banned from the country.

And that's something that the travel advisory by the U.S. government had, already, come out. Really, there is no change on the ground, these numbers are piling up as you see. Two milestones today, as you pointed out, the 18 million mark when it comes to the total caseload. We also crossed 400,000.

As someone living here with my team, we haven't been inoculated yet, because we don't qualify in the 45 plus category. We are losing friends, we are losing relatives, so it's difficult. This is just our story.

We are still grateful, we are here, talking to, you at this point in time.

What about those people who don't even have those benefits that we, possibly, enjoy?

What about those people in rural areas?

They are so scared at this point that everyone is. We don't know when it will be the last conversation with someone we're talking, to Michael, at this point in time.

HOLMES: It is hard to imagine, and we appreciate your reporting and the whole team there. Vedika Sud, thank you so much.

The U.S., as Vedika was saying, limiting travel from India, starting on Tuesday. Entry will be restricted for foreign nationals who have been in India for the previous 14 days. Humanitarian workers, along with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, are exempt although they must still test negative and quarantine.

But Australia says, it will actually jail anyone entering the country from India, including its own citizens. Violators, technically facing up to 5 years in prison. That restriction, going into effect on Monday. Let's take a closer look at India's vaccination record. More than 26 million people have been fully vaccinated in India.

[03:05:00] HOLMES: But that's only about 2 percent of the population. About 127 million there have had one shot. That's more than 9 percent of the population but altogether, around 154 million doses have been administered in India.

How's India compared to other countries?

Let's have a look. Only the U.S. and China have administered more than India, with more than 200 million doses each, in terms of the percent of population the story is a little different.

Looking at the metrics of people with at least one dose, the United States is at 43 percent vaccinated; France, 22 percent and, as we said, India at 9 percent, which is actually, is higher than Japan. India, also higher than most of Southeast Asia and Africa.

On this map, India higher than all of the countries you see there in 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.

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?

DR. VENKAT NARAYAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: 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 already 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 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 put together with the WHO, relies 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 within India.

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

NARAYAN: Thank you very much.


HOLMES: South America dealing with its worst coronavirus wave yet. Cases reaching record highs even in countries that had the virus under control. Now Brazil's health minister is asking for help, as 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 with over 1 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 --


POZZEBON: -- this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


HOLMES: The United States meanwhile reporting encouraging numbers in the COVID-19 pandemic battle according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 100 million people, now, fully vaccinated. That is more than 30 percent of the U.S. population.

There has been an 80 percent drop in the seven-day average of new deaths since the peak back in January.

Israel is in mourning, after dozens were crushed at a mass religious gathering. Coming up, a live report on one of the worst disasters in the country's peacetime history.

And a deadly attack on civilians in Afghanistan hours after peace talks and just one day into the U.S. troop withdrawal. We'll be right back.




HOLMES: Israelis are grappling with the tragedy that unfolded Friday morning at a religious gathering. The country, in mourning, as communities gather to lay the victims to rest; 45 people, killed in a stampeded at a crowded festival, on Mt. Meron; 150 others were injured. CNN's Hadas Gold joins me now from Jerusalem.

Hadas, the government promising a thorough investigation but there has to be a lot of unanswered questions, including the fact that, for years, there has been warnings this sort of thing could happen at that site.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, I'm standing just outside of the entrance, we are at the top of the hill, there's an ancient tomb of a rabbi where this festival, for whom, this festival is really all about.

There are many questions. One of the first ones is that, for years, people have been warning that something like this could happen because inside, when we go inside, it is not equipped to hold 10,000 people. But those are the estimates of the numbers who attend these festivals, including on Wednesday evening.

First of all, how were so many people allowed up?

They come up here on buses.

How were they allowed into the site without some sort of more of crowd control?

We're actually up at the actual place where the stampede took place. And it's quite clear, even walking there, in dry conditions, on a normal day, it was a rather slippery ramp. You could only imagine, with many people, maybe several having drinks, in a crowded area at night, something like this could happen.

The attorney general, calling for a full investigation. The police commander for the northern region saying he is taking responsibility, but many questions still remain as to how so many people could be allowed onto this mountain, especially in the age of coronavirus.

Why was more not done?

In previous years, when warnings had popped up, many people hee, many family members here still seeking for answers.

HOLMES: I guess, it is a touchy subject but many in Israel and elsewhere were talking about the issue of resistance by the ultra- orthodox community to state authority.


HOLMES: And how that might have played into the stringency of safety precautions and the enforcement of them.

GOLD: Michael, there has long been a tension in this country, between the ultra-orthodox community resisting any sort of state control. That does seem to have played a part, in this tragedy.

Yesterday, the former head of the local regional council gave multiple interviews, where he said, the writing was on the wall, that something like this was going to happen. He said every year this event took place, and nothing happened, he always breathed a sigh of relief when, after the event was over, nothing had happened.

It was a miracle that nothing had happened before. He actually called what happens on this mountain a sort of mafia. He said, there are different rabbis, different sects, that control different parts. That just doesn't lend itself well to any sort of organization by any sort of authority.

There are many questions here, first of all, how do you allow so many tens of thousands onto a mountain, onto a situation like this when you have other events like football events, concerts, sporting events, where you have the same number of people in a much more controlled situation?

Now, what investigation will come forward?

Who will take responsibility, what consequences will there be?

And when and if this happens again next year, will it look any different?

HOLMES: Really good question. Thank you for the reporting, Hadas Gold in Jerusalem.

Now at least 21 are dead and dozens wounded after a vehicle laden with explosives detonated in Afghanistan. This happened in the provincial capital of Logar province, south of Kabul.

So far, no one claiming responsibility for the attack, but it comes hours after the United States and some key allies met in Doha with representatives of the Taliban to try to jumpstart peace talks and also just a day into the United States troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joining us now from


This drawdown is far from calming the Taliban, actually has led to an uptick in violence.

Is these bombing and other incidents a sign of what is to come as the U.S. pulls out?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are. Basically, as part of the agreement that was worked out between the Taliban, and the United States. There were just a few requirements from the Taliban.

One is not to use Afghanistan as a base for attacks afterwards, attacks abroad, and severed ties with Al Qaeda. As far as some sort of agreement with the current government in Kabul, stopping attacks against Afghan government forces, there's nothing there. There is nothing in the agreement.

Therefore, what we've seen, for instance, according to the U.N., is that, over the last year, there is a 30 percent increase in the number of civilian casualties. There has been an increase in assassinations of government officials, journalists and others, members of civil society.

So, what's clear is the United States and its NATO allies are very eager to get out of Afghanistan and, really, they are added to this, after us, well, we hope things go well but really this is very much a repeat of the experience of the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union, which entered Afghanistan in December of 1979, leaving it in February 1989. Equally eager to get out of the country, they were hoping for adequate arrangements and provided support for their government in Kabul.

After the withdrawal, but that didn't seem to really change the course of events. Of course, we did see the Taliban taking over Kabul in 1996 and 90 percent of the country, by the beginning of the U.S. intervention in 2001.

And yes, the country is bracing for perhaps civil war and the possibility of a resurgence of the Taliban, who are already in control, directly and indirectly, 50 percent of the country after the U.S. says it will have pulled out all its forces. And they know by September 11th, 2021.

HOLMES: There's been talk of power sharing.


HOLMES: Noble aims but what do you think the impact will be on the battlefield?

As you said, the Taliban controlling vast swaths of the country already. They are not a group that, is likely, to want to share power. They have made their aims very clear. You wouldn't want death the Taliban to be running in the place in 2-4 years.

WEDEMAN: No, basically, it's very clear that the Taliban consider the current situation and the withdrawal of the United States and NATO as a victory. And the victors, rarely, want to share the spoils, particularly with the government in Kabul.

So, the expectation is that Afghanistan is going into a renewed period of even greater instability. Yesterday in Doha, the capital of Qatar, there were talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Pakistan and representatives of the Taliban.

The other parties in these talks are trying to urge the Taliban to come to some sort of agreement with the government in Kabul. But so far, we have seen that the Taliban aren't really that interested in reaching some sort of arrangement, a coalition government with the government in Kabul and therefore it's -- when you look back in history, it does look like we are about to enter a period similar to that after the Soviet Union withdrew its final troops from Afghanistan in 1989.

HOLMES: It was a bloody time. Yes. As the Taliban or others have said in the past, we have the time; you have the watches.

Ben Wedeman, in Beirut, thank you so much.

Here we go again.

Maskless club goers, turning out in droves to attend a rave in the U.K. But it wasn't anything too dramatic. It was in the name of science, explaining that when we come back.




HOLMES: How's that for a sight?

Tens of thousands of people, packed into a nightclub, no mask and, as you can see for yourself, no social distancing. A lot of dancing and having a good time. This is not from last year. It is from this weekend. The U.K. government are the ones to do it. Cyril Vanier following the story from London.

An interesting experiment.

When will we know what they learned?

Tell us what happened.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, what's interesting about this is that this was the really, really, real deal. No face masks, no social distancing, indoor event, thousands of people rubbing shoulders.

And it was a government sanctioned day rave. So, there is probably alcohol involved. If you have been to an English club or a club anywhere, you know, after a while, people are shouting in your face, in your ear and projecting their breath onto your face. The absolute worst scenario in terms of COVID.

So, what happens is people were asked to go there, obviously after having taken a negative test.


VANIER: Normally what you do, you are gathering thousands of people who are COVID free. And you ask them 5 days later, to take a PCR test. That is how you monitor the spread of COVID.

Also, what those pictures didn't show, is there was scientists monitoring the air flows in the room. We know that is important to circulation and oxygen and, therefore, COVID. They are monitoring that to see where there are pockets of stale air, stale carbon dioxide, in the air to see where the air is moving.

The point is to see whether this type of -- and whether you can control events to avoid COVID-19 infection, even with large gatherings. Under the U.K. road map out of lockdown, everything coming online at the end of the June including live events. So he government is still trying to figure exactly how they do that.

HOLMES: It's fascinating, I think they did a similar experiment like that in the Netherlands. And that's interesting. I think you will get a lot of those people, the party is there, the party animals to turn up for the follow-up tests. Maybe some good luck with that.

Cyril, I hope you enjoyed it, Cyril Vanier, in London.

He wasn't there.

For the first time in over a year, Californians can visit the happiest place on Earth. Disneyland opened on Friday at 25 percent capacity to state residents. There were restrictions, visitors had to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid getting too close to their favorite Disney characters.

It is a sign that life in California is returning to some semblance of normal after months of COVID restrictions. Many Disney employees have been rehired and it's a shot in the arm for the local economy.

Finally, something not for the faint of heart, Portugal, opening the world's longest pedestrian bridge. The hanging structure spans 516 meters, is more than 150 meters high and took three years to build. As you walk -- oh, goodness, look at that -- you look through the grated deck at a waterfall, a gorge and a river below.

It takes about 10 minutes to get across, unless you get frozen with vertigo or do it on your hands and knees, like I would be.

Ehh, that freaks me out.

I'm Michael Holmes, thank you for your company, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @HolmesCNN. Kim Brunhuber will be here at the top of the hour here with more CNN NEWSROOM, meanwhile, "AFRICAN VOICES CHANGEMAKERS," up next. See you tomorrow.