Return to Transcripts main page


India Has Worsening COVID-19 Crisis; India's COVID Crisis Spills Across the Region; Japan Considers Extending COVID State of Emergency; Colombia Protests Leave 25 People Killed; Argentina Battles Oxygen Tank Shortage; U.K. and France Resort to Gunboat Diplomacy In Jersey Disput; U.K. And France Resort To Gunboat Diplomacy In Jersey Dispute; Space Debris Crashing Onto Earth Soon; Major Corporations Come Out Against Proposed Voting Restrictions In Texas; Capitol Rioter's Lawyers Claim He Had "Foxitus". Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired May 7, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching "CNN Newsroom." Appreciate your company. Now, coming up here on the program --


SWATI RATHORE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, KRITI HOSPITAL: Please help us, understand us, love us, respect us, because everyone can be on the ICU bed any hour of the day.


HOLMES (voice-over): Grief turns to rage in India as the coronavirus crisis there worsens. Why some families are lashing out at health care workers who were just trying to help.

Also drama winds down in the English Channel. Britain and France ease their dispute over fishing rights for now. We will have a live report from the region.

And it's still up there and it's still falling. Debris from a massive rocket on track to fall back to Earth this weekend, but nobody knows where it might crash.


HOLMES (on camera): Welcome, everyone. We begin in India where that deadly and more contagious variant of coronavirus is spreading rapidly across Asia for the second day in a row. The health ministry is reporting more than 400,000 new cases in India. U.S. health officials are also worried and have called this mutation a -- quote -- "variant of interest." So far, India has reported more than 21 million cases of COVID since the pandemic began, but that figure is double what it was two months ago and actually in reality is probably far higher. About 70 percent of India's 1.3 billion people live outside the major cities and it is in these smaller cities and towns and villages where the virus is now spreading. Hospitals are so overwhelmed that patients are being treated outdoors.

But in the capital, the government seems more focused on a massive construction of a new parliament building and new residence for the prime minister, hundreds of millions of dollars as hospitals languish and beg for basic supplies. Critics are furious at the $1.8 billion price tag for what they call a vanity project.

Now, the massive pain and loss in India is ripping at the country's very social fabric. So much so that CNN's Sam Kiley reports for us that doctors and nurses working to save lives are now themselves the focus of anger and even violence.




SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Frantic knocking on the door to an intensive care unit for COVID patients.


KILEY (voice-over): There's confusion among relatives and police. When they push inside, what they find is horrific.


KILEY (voice-over): The ICU has been abandoned, except for its patients.


KILEY (voice-over): And they are all --


KILEY (voice-over): Six dead before the doctors left.


KILEY (voice-over): A voice says, everyone ran away, there are no medics here, there's no one here, no doctor, no guard.


KILEY (voice-over): How can doctors run away leaving patients? A crime has been committed here. How can you leave them? He yells at a police officer.


KILEY (voice-over): There's been no crime. There has been a tragedy. Medical staff was ordered out of the ICU and to hide when the oxygen ran out.

(On camera): It is little hospitals like this that really form the backbone of the public health structures right across India. They're very much on the forefront of the COVID pandemic dealing with the patients, but also dealing with the emotional fallout.

(On camera): It's not fallout that caused them to briefly flee. Here is why.


KILEY (voice-over): Four days earlier, bereaved relatives of another deceased COVID patient attacked staff, forcing calls to the police from doctors. When the oxygen ran out in the ICU a couple of days later, another attack on the doctors began.

RATHORE: Fifteen people attacked us, we were sitting. And then I asked, I requested my doctors and staff, you please run away and hide on the third floor until I manage the situation because I don't want them to get hit at any cost.


KILEY (voice-over): COVID cases have soared past 20 million in India with the official death toll climbing towards 4,000 a day. Many people have died through lack of oxygen. There is growing anger at state and national governments, but it's often medics who bear the brunt.

RATHORE: Please help us, understand us, love us, respect us, because everyone can be on the ICU bed any hour of the day. You need doctors to supply the oxygen to the patient. If you will hit them, then who will take care of your patients?

KILEY (voice-over): Her staff are back at work and the ICU, again, filled with patients. There is ample oxygen here, at least for now. But as scientists are warning of a third Indian pandemic wave before the second has even peaked, anger and fear will continue to grow.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Gurugram.


HOLMES (on camera): And Ivan Watson joins me now from Hong Kong with more on this tragic situation engulfing India. I guess, Ivan, you're hearing warnings of a third wave for India even as the second wave rages on. Is there any sign the government has a strategy to get on top of this?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The government, of course, insists that it is working hard on this. But I think that judging by the fact that we are still seeing shortages of oxygen that are killing people in hospitals, as we just saw in our colleague Sam Kiley's report, and that we are seeing these kind of flare-ups of emotion and even violence in hospitals, it just shows the immense strain that society in India is under as the country continues to break its own records for new infections.

I mean, it has broken its own records twice in the last 48 hours for official reports of new cases of COVID. More than 414,000 new cases and experts all pretty much uniformly estimate that these official numbers are not accurate representations of the actual amount of COVID that is out there in the population.

And the same goes, they say, for the official statistics for casualties. More than 3,900 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours and that's the 10th day in a row that India has recorded more than 3,000 deaths in a day.

You know, you talked about oxygen supplies. You had -- the health ministry of India have to reject reports that some of the aid that has flooded in from foreign governments to help India through this crisis, that some of the oxygen concentrators were languishing in a customs warehouse.

The health ministry denying those reports and insisting that some 3,000 donated concentrators, oxygen concentrators were, in fact, going out to tertiary institutions. Those are the kind of responses we are hearing from different levels of the bureaucracy.

More and more states in India are either establishing lockdowns and curfews or extending them, banning, for example, the big wedding ceremonies that can be such a super spreader event. Those are signs that state governments are taking this seriously.

And you are still relying on the goodwill of ordinary Indians at an improvised grassroots level to help each other out. Take a listen to one rickshaw driver in Delhi who is running his vehicle as an ambulance for COVID-19 patients.


RAJ KUMAR, AUTO-RICKSHAW AMBULANCE DRIVER (through translator): New Delhi is choking under COVID-19, and I'm providing this auto-rickshaw ambulance service to help the public, if anyone wants to come and go from the hospital, if any patient who is not getting the ambulance service or the relatives of any patient who wants to go to their home.


WATSON (on camera): But Michael, here's the problem. We don't know when the peak of the second wave is going to happen and we are getting warnings that a third wave will be on the way for India. Michael?

HOLMES (on camera): Yeah. Incredible, isn't it? Ivan Watson there in Hong Kong. Appreciate it, Ivan. Thanks. Now, as the crisis continues, there are many ways you can help people in India cope with the COVID outbreak. Go to You can find many resources there.

Now, we've been talking about ways that India's crisis is rippling across borders and impacting neighbors. Nepal, particularly hard kit, its health care infrastructure overloaded with patients. On Thursday, Nepal reporting its highest number of daily cases so far.

Our Kristie Lu Stout now with more on COVID's impact across South Asia.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The surge is alarming. In its latest weekly COVID-19 update, the World Health Organization points to a marked increase in cases across Asia with India as the epicenter. And UNICEF is sounding the alarm.


STOUT: Its regional director for South Asia says this. Quote -- "The deadly new surge in South Asia threatens us all. It has the potential to reverse hard-earned global gains against the pandemic if not halted as soon as possible."

Nepal is overwhelmed. It has seen a more than 1,200 percent rise in average weekly COVID-19 cases since mid-April. And the Red Cross is warning that the outbreak there could soon mimic the catastrophe in India.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan are also reporting rise in case loads. This week in Lahore, thousands of people, many not wearing masks, took part in a religious procession, fanning fears about the spread of the virus.

Another Indian neighbor, Maldives, seen right here on the map, is also posting record high daily cases. The spike comes almost a month after officials announced plans to offer vaccinations to tourists on arrival in a bid to draw more visitors.

In Thailand, a new cluster in a Bangkok slum is raising concerns. More than 300 cases have been found in this area since the third wave began in April.

Indonesia continues to battle one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia with about 1.7 million infections since the pandemic began. Despite travel bans, 18 million people or nearly seven percent of Indonesia's population are reportedly planning to travel for the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday.

As the virus burns through the region, there are more restrictions. In Malaysia, there is a partial lockdown in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, from May the 7th to the 20th. Malaysia has also banned flights to and from India. But Cambodia is ending its lockdown in the capital, Phnom Penh. Despite setting new daily records of COVID-19 cases, a blanket lockdown is now ending.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


HOLMES (on camera): Japan's government will soon decide if the state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas will be extended. It comes as doctors fear that the medical system could be pushed beyond breaking point. Hospital beds in Tokyo and Osaka are filling up as the country faces a fourth wave of this virus. And all of this unfolding, of course, just months before the Olympics games are expected to get underway in the nation's capital.

CNN's Blake Essig joins me now from Tokyo. A real struggle to keep pace with the case loads. Bring us up to date on how bad it is.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Michael, overall, the nationwide case count here in Japan has actually been going slightly down this past week. That's, of course, the good news. The bad news is the number of patients with serious symptoms is climbing. In fact, a new record has essentially been set nearly every day this week.

Pushing Japan's medical system to the breaking point, you know, with all of these severe cases and forcing several prefectures, including Tokyo now as well as several other prefectures, to talk about the idea of extending a state of emergency order.


HIDEAKI OKA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, SAITAMA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY (on-screen translation): How is your condition compared to yesterday?

ESSIG (voice-over): Infectious disease specialist Dr. Hideaki Oka is making his rounds.

OKA (on-screen translation): You feel better? Don't have difficulty breathing?

ESSIG (voice-over): For now, it's relatively calm here in the COVID ward at Saitama Medical University. But all that can change in an instant.

OKA (through translator): If two patients entered today, another two patients are admitted tomorrow. And all cases turned out to be severe. The day after tomorrow, we will already be in crisis.

ESSIG (voice-over): A crisis that has the potential to explode in just a few months when tens of thousands of people for more than 200 countries enter Japan to participate in the upcoming summer Olympic games. It is a frightening scenario for chief nurse Kyoka Ioka, who has been treating COVID-19 patients since the beginning.

KYOKA IOKA, CHIEF NURSE, SAITAMA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY (through translator): I'm sorry for the athletes, but I'm terrified that the Olympics are going to happen. Is it really worth it? We are in the middle of a fourth wave and what is the point of having the Olympic Games now?

ESSIG (voice-over): Despite overwhelming concern from medical professionals and the Japanese public, Olympic organizers remain determined to hold the already once delayed games this summer, pointing to COVID-19 countermeasures outlined in a series of playbooks.

(On camera): It was only just a few months ago that a third wave of infection pushed Japan's medical system in some spots to the breaking point. Here in Saitama, medical staff say they still haven't recovered.

(Voice-over): Well, Japan's medical system as a whole is strained. The U.K. variant has brought this system in Western Japan to its knees.

HIROO MATSUO, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST (through translator): It is really like a natural disaster hit our hospitals. But it is a disaster that people on the outside can't see.

ESSIG (voice-over): Unlike previous variants, Dr. Hiroo Matsuo, an infectious disease specialist at Amagasaki General Medical Center in Hyogo, says the current virus variant is spreading faster and seriously infecting younger people with nearly 1,800 people waiting to be hospitalized.


MATSUO (through translator): Amid this fourth wave, hospitals are finding they can't admit patients or even treat them. Some of whom are dying at home. We are confronting a situation where we want to take more patients, but we just can't.

ESSIG (voice-over): The same situation is unfolding in neighboring Osaka. According to the government website, the hospital bed occupancy rate is maxed out at 103 percent and nearly 3,000 people are waiting to enter treatment facility. The result, doctors like Ku Kurahara are left to repeatedly make a heart-wrenching choice.

KU KURAHARA, KINKI-CHUO CHEST MEDICAL CENTER, OSAKA (through translator): We are forced to make decision on which lives to choose to save by providing respirator or not.

ESSIG (voice-over): With hospital already struggling to cope with the sheer volume of sick patients, lacking enough beds, and adequate staff, experts feel the Olympics could take the entire Japanese medical system past its breaking point.

MATSUO (through translator): I think if we did allocate help for the Olympics, then our medical system will totally collapse. We are living through a disaster at the moment, so we firstly have to find ways of overcoming this. It is so difficult to be thinking about the Olympics while we are living through this disaster.

ESSIG (voice-over): A disaster, Dr. Matsuo says, with no end in sight.


ESSIG (on camera): The International Olympic Committee is not mandating vaccinations but does encourage it. The IOC says it expects a significant portion of participants to be vaccinated. Some countries like South Korea and Australia have already planned to vaccinate their delegations.

For Japan, the vaccine rollout has been incredibly slow. It is underway, but only about eight-tenths of a percent of the population, less than one percent have actually been fully vaccinated at this point, Michael.

HOLMES: Less than one percent. Blake Essig in Tokyo, thanks so much, appreciate it.

Now, we are getting in the first results from Thursday's elections in the U.K., a big win out of the gate for Boris Johnson's Conservative Party, a kick in the pants for the Labour Party who have conceded defeat in the Hartlepool by-election.

Keep in mind this is a constituency that has voted Labour for almost 50 years. That general region did before the seat was ever created, that is hugely encouraging sign for the prime minister and his party who have been under huge pressure over their handling of the pandemic.

But a major blow for the new Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, who promised he could revive the party and stem the bleeding. Much more to come, including a live report London in the next hour.

It is day nine of protests across Colombia, even though the government dropped the controversy proposal that started it all. Why some are now calling for deeper change.

Also, an oxygen shortage in Argentina. How the government is scrambling to get COVID patients what they need to survive. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Demonstrations have been going on for more than a week now across Colombia . Protesters are speaking out against the government and also police brutality. Hundreds have been injured so far. At least 25 people have been killed.

Now, the protests were calm on Thursday night compared with previous nights. There was this candlelight vigil to honor the protesters who died The mayor of the country's capital sharing some of the reasons why so many are out in the streets.


CLAUDIA LOPEZ HERNANDEZ, BOGOTA, COLOMBIA MAYOR: At this moment, they have high levels of poverty, high levels of unemployment. This is an extreme and equal society. They want to be heard. They want to be heard at the table with the president, not only with political parties or all those social forces, but the young themselves, they want to be empowered and heard, and their voice has to be heard at the national level and the national government.


HOLMES (on camera): All right. Now, to journalist Stefano Pozzebon, who was at the visual in Bogota.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Tensions remain high in Colombia after nine consecutive days of protests. Yet again, this Thursday, protesters took to the streets to protest against the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and also to protest against police brutality.

Here we are at a nighttime vigil to mourn the victims of these marches. On Thursday, the Colombia n interior minister said that at least three policemen were issued arrest warrants for the alleged involvement in the death of protesters.

But when CNN asked him if he would welcome an independent international (INAUDIBLE), the United Nation, to look and investigate the actions of the Colombian police, which is one of the (INAUDIBLE) of the demonstrators who are taking part in this national strike, the interior minister refused to answer.

The root of this conflict runs deep in Colombian history and all across Latin America. This is why it is not just demonstrators, but government officials as well who are making bold calls for action to address the inequality that is fueling these protests.

CNN spoke on Thursday with the Bogota's mayor, Claudia Lopez, who made this call for action. Take a listen.

LOPEZ HERNANDEZ: We all need to contribute to a national democratic agreement, a kind of new deal, right, a kind of martial plan. That's what Colombia and I will say Latin American countries need at this moment.

POZZEBON: And even though the fiscal reform that was -- that originally sparkle this outcry has been withdrawn, these protests show no sign of slowing down. This is a sign of how deep the unrest is for many in Colombia .

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.

(END VIDEO TAPE) HOLMES (on camera): Argentina's health care system on the brink of collapse as well due to an oxygen shortage. The nation recently topped three million cases. Rafael Romo now reports on why and how the government is scrambling to treat COVID patients.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steel tanks and ship containers outside hospitals in Buenos Aires. This is Argentina's answer to a deep shortage of oxygen that has brought the country's health system to the brink of collapse.

A health department official says each individual container can provide enough oxygen for 30 beds. It is an innovative solution, but for now, just a drop in the bucket. The mobile oxygen units are now at 17 clinics and field hospitals in Buenos Aires province.

But according to government data, demand for oxygen increased by 330 percent in April, as the country faced a second spike of COVID-19 cases. The shortage has already had devastating effects. For many, the solution came too late.

It was not my mother's fate to die. She died ahead of time, this woman says.

A doctor at the private hospital where her mother was being treated, she says, told her they ran out of oxygen. The shortages is so bad, even Argentina's health minister made a public appeal. She called on health care workers to ration oxygen.


ROMO (voice-over): Part of the problem has to do with the way the system has worked for decades. Only three companies provide oxygen for the health needs of the entire country. And even though the government has asked providers to stop production of oxygen for industrial purposes for days or weeks as necessary, one of those providers told CNN 95 percent of their production was already devoted to medical oxygen.

Early in the pandemic, Argentina seemed to have been spared. But the infection rate increased by late 2020 and the South American country recently reached three million confirmed cases and well over 65,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, the long lasting quarantines and slow vaccination campaign are feeding growing political division and social unrest. ?arla Orno (ph) says she will forever wonder whether it was COVID-19 who killed her mother or an oxygen shortage that should have been foreseen.

She didn't deserve to die, she says, choking back tears. It's a race against time. And even though cases seem to be trending down, the shortages still a threat to COVID-19 and other critical patients throughout Argentina.

Rafael Romo, CNN. (END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES: And do be sure to tune in on the next hour. I'll be speaking with an expert on Latin America about the economic and human impacts of the pandemic there.

Well, Britain versus France, a centuries-old rivalry coming back into play. The two nations are now trying to find a way past a fishing feud in the English Channel. We'll take a look at both sides of the post- Brexit dispute.

Also still to come, debris from a massive rocket will soon crash into Earth. No one knows where that might be. Why experts say, though, there is a little reason for concern. We will have that when we come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching "CNN Newsroom." An ancient rivalry being rekindled as tensions flared between the U.K. and France over fishing rights around Jersey.

Under new post-Brexit rules, Jersey gets to decide what E.U. boats can fish in its waters. The island is self-governing but is defended and internationally represented by the U.K. So far, it's only given around 40 licenses to France.

But for decades, French fishermen have had free access to those waters around the island and now they say that their rights are being unfairly restricted.


The escalating tensions led to the U.K. and France, both deploying naval vessels, after dozens of French fishermen set up a blockade.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, who is live in Carteret, in France.

It's an amazing story. It seems tensions, though, in the immediate sense, might have cooled but the issue is still there, isn't it?

SASKYA VANDOORNE, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right, Michael. I mean, the situation is a lot calmer today.

We're at the port here, just off the coast of Normandy. And this is where those French boats came back yesterday evening. Now a lot of them have gone off again, this morning, not to set sail (ph), but to go and fish.

Now, we spoke to a young French fisherman, who had taken part in the protest yesterday. And he said that he had gone there to peacefully protest, that there had been some small collisions between boats, that that he had gone to really voice his frustration at Jersey for issuing these fishing licenses, last week, that he says it makes it impossible for him to now do his job.

Take a listen.


HUGO MUZARD, FRENCH FISHERMAN (through translator): Well if we have to, we'll come back. In any case, we'll do everything in our power. We will fight until the end. We cannot give up. We all have boats to pay for, families, houses, this is about our lives. We will fight until the end.


VANDOORNE: So, as you can hear, these fishermen really depend on these waters, for their livelihoods. And a lot of them say that the restrictions are just unfair.

For example, they now need to prove that they've historically fished in the waters. Certain sized boats are allowed to fish at certain times. One fisherman told us he was given a fishing license for 170 days, another for seven days.

And Michael, you mentioned that 40 licenses had been handed out. Well, that's 40 out of 350. So, you can understand their frustration.

Now they also weighed in (ph) yesterday and said that it would continue to protect its fishermen, but that this - these restrictions were not part of that initial trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom.


HOLMES: Yes. And, just quickly, Saskya, what are the fishermen planning to do next?

VANDOORNE: Well, the fishermen said that they met with representatives of the government of Jersey yesterday, but no concessions were made. So they say that they're not planning on protesting again this week, but that there would be more protests, if these restrictions continue, if they're not relaxed.


HOLMES: Saskya Vandoorne, there for us, on the French Coast. Good to see you, Saskya, thank you.

We are keeping an eye out for space debris, expected to crash into Earth soon. When we come back, we'll ask an expert how big a deal this object is, and also about the tons, millions of tons, of other space junk, flying around us right now.

We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Well chunks of debris from a large Chinese rocket expected to crash down to Earth in the coming days.


You can see little red movement there on that map. That's sort of the trajectory expected. Anyway, they don't know for sure. Experts do say that it will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere during the weekend.

We got some video of last week's launch.

Right now, the rocket's empty core stage is barreling around the planet at about 28,000 kilometers an hour. U.S. officials say they're not planning to shoot it down, but add that it's too early to make a decision, since they won't know exactly where the debris might land, until it gets closer to Earth.

The good news, this is not the first manmade object to fall from space, far from it. And experts say the rocket poses very little threat to our safety.

Let's bring in Meteorologist, Derek Van Dam.

Yes, I was going to ask if we should be taking cover this weekend. I'm not sure, where you'd hide from a 9 ton piece of space junk?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: That's a good question. I didn't learn about this in meteorology school either.

But from what I understand, the research that I've seen is this is not a doomsday situation. We don't need to be sheltering in place this weekend. But it certainly has the attention of the international community.

If this re-entering rocket does manage to dodge the over 70 percent of the planet that's covered in water, if it does impact land, only 10 percent or less of that land is actually occupied by humans. So the chances of it impacting you, or I, or anyone watching at home, very, very slim.

But nonetheless, this is the projection of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere sometime this weekend. And, like I said, it's got the international attention - international community's attention because of its sheer size.

And that impacts whether or not it will break up, as it re-enters into our atmosphere, similar to what a meteor does, often just breaks up or burns apart, as it reaches the outer edges of the atmosphere, a lot of friction there. And it allows for those objects to break up.

But this one is just frankly, too large. In fact, this is one of the largest uncontrolled objects falling back into Planet Earth here since 1991. So, it has happened in the past, but not some time.

In fact, this one is measured at about 20 tons. And there's a lot of space junk or space debris in the atmosphere, especially in that low orbit. We have gotten plenty of satellites rotating in about this area. In fact, some estimates put that at roughly 9,000 tons of space junk,

which is equivalent to 720 school buses. That's a lot of space debris. And of course that impacts weather satellites, environmental monitoring services, so starting to get personal when we have this space debris just floating around in our Earth's atmosphere.

But nonetheless, where will this make landfall? It's all about the trajectory. It is moving so fast, any small movements will change that exact location. So, it's going to come up to the last minutes, and hours, before it re-enters into our orbit.


HOLMES: I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks so much, Derek.


HOLMES: We'll check in with you next hour, and talk more about this. Appreciate it.

Ted Muelhaupt is the Principal Director of the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, at The Aerospace Corporation. He joins me now from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You're just the man to talk to about this. We'll move on to the big picture of space junk, in a moment, because I think it's fascinating. But briefly, how big a deal is this piece of debris?

TED MUELHAUPT, PRINCIPAL DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ORBITAL & REENTRY DEBRIS STUDIES: Well, this is around usually big piece of debris. It's really one of the two largest in the last 15 years or so, and one of the largest to come in uncontrolled.

The other one, only other one this big, in recent memory, was the earlier launch of this, and that landed in Eastern Africa, earlier this year.

So, we're talking about, about 22 tons, metric tons, of material, of which we expect about 9 tons of that to survive and reach the ground. So, this is a very large rocket coming in uncontrolled, with a random re-entry, larger--

HOLMES: Nine--

MUELHAUPT: --than space station--

HOLMES: Yes. 9 tons, I mean, I'm just trying to get my head around that. The space debris has, as you say, it's crashed into Earth on a number of occasions, last year as well.


HOLMES: But just give people an idea of how much space junk is out there.

MUELHAUPT: Well, mankind's been launching stuff for over 60 years. And there are currently we're up to the high 40,000s in objects that have been cataloged. And that's just objects that we are - that are big enough for us to catalog.

We've launched nearly 10,000 payloads, various kinds. Many of them are still in orbit. Recently with the Starlink launches and the OneWeb launches, there's been an explosion in launches recently.


And so, what we're going to see is that stuff that goes up does eventually come down, and so we're going to see a lot more re-entries. This particular one is quite - is unusual. But we'll see more and more of these, as time goes on.

HOLMES: What if anything can be done in that bigger space junk issue? I was reading this, there's like a graveyard orbit, where junk is sometimes set with it. There's got to be a limit to how crowded the debris field can be, before damage is done.

MUELHAUPT: Oh, yes, it is. And space, first off, space is really, really big. But things are moving fast. And eventually they're going to connect.

Now, Don Kessler, 40 years ago, predicted that debris would grow from collisions with other debris all by itself if we did nothing. And this is popularly called the Kessler Syndrome.

And in some senses, we're on that. But unlike movies, it's not going to happen really, really fast overnight. It's a gradual, slow process. And we can stop it. It's very hard to clean up space debris. So, the most important thing we can do is don't make any more. That's it.

It turns out that the best way to deal with space debris, it turns out to be through policy, and say don't make more debris. Because cleaning up this stuff is tough and expensive.

HOLMES: Absolutely. I mean, it's fascinating, really is. I mean, it's not just a threat to, you know, and it's a small threat to people.

But the thing that is also interesting is this space junk threatens active satellites that provide all sorts of services, weather and climate and telecom services, and even risk to the International Space Station, right?

MUELHAUPT: Yes, things hit the enter - the ISS all the time. It's just that we've shielded the most critical parts, and others are in small pits.

But if you go look at damaging debris, anything millimeter size or bigger is pretty damaging. And there are literally millions of those objects up there. The stuff we can track is a very small fraction of the stuff that is lethal and lethal mean, you know, in your satellite mission.

So, the debris is a very big problem. And we really need to get the world to the mode of what I call the Backpackers mode, pack it in, you pack it out. If you put it up there, bring it down again, and do so with high assurance.

HOLMES: It is - I mean I'll try my age. But I've been around long enough to say I covered the landing and recovery of parts of Skylab in Western Australia, back in '79. Low risk, then, and that was out in the middle of nowhere.

I will get you back because this is a fascinating conversation, and we're not done. Ted Muelhaupt, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

MUELHAUPT: Thank you.

HOLMES: And thank you for watching CNN Newsroom. I am Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @HolmesCNN.

I will be back in about 20 minutes or so, a little less, with more World News. "WORLD SPORT," up next.