Return to Transcripts main page


Covid Outbreak has Taken a Toll on Health Care Workers; U.S., France Favor Waivers for Covid Vaccine Patents; Japan Considers Extending Covid State of Emergency; Study: Asian-Americans Targeted 2,400 Times this Year; Chines Rocket Debris is Expected to Crash into Earth Soon. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 7, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

In the U.S., COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply in recent week, but obviously the pandemic is far from over. Doctors and other health care professionals have been working nonstop for well over a year, and well frankly, they're tired. And as Elizabeth Cohen explains, many wonder how much longer they can go on.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 15 months on the front line of the pandemic, Dr. Sharon Griswold says she's tired.

DR. SHARON GRISWOLD, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: It's hard to continue to do this when there's really -- it feels like there's no end in sight.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Griswold works in an emergency room in Pennsylvania. At times, it all feels like too much.

GRISWOLD: I do have plenty of days when I do feel like leaving when I feel like nothing that I do is going to make a difference.

COHEN (voice-over): The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on health care workers. Worldwide, more than one in five have experienced anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic, according to a study in March. Also in March, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and "The Washington Post" found that nearly one in three health care workers say they've considered leaving health care as a result of the pandemic.

Dr. Justin Meschler is one of them. In April last year, he quit his position as an anesthesiologist. He had the risky job of putting breathing tubes in patients who might have had COVID-19 and his own health problems made him more vulnerable to the virus. COHEN: You could have been infected.

DR. JUSTIN MESCHLER, FORMER ANESTHESIOLOGIST: Yes. I was scared. I literally went to work terrified every day.

COHEN: What was your motivation for handing in that resignation letter?

MESCHLER: My primary motivation was I didn't want to get really sick and die. And I didn't want to leave my family, particularly my two young kids without a dad.

COHEN (voice-over): For some, the emotional toll of being a doctor during the pandemic has been deadly. Dr. Lorna Breen was an E.R. doctor who recovered from COVID-19 and continued to treat coronavirus patients, traveling from Virginia to New York City to help during the height of the outbreak there. She died a year ago by suicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so how's everyone doing?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hanging in there?

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Adam Jarrett is Chief Medical Officer at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey. He counsels doctors who are thinking about leaving.

DR. ADAM JARRETT, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, HOLY NAME MEDICAL CENTER: So many doctors, in fact, the majority I think have decided that they're going to tough it out and they're going to try to make it work.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Griswold says she won't be leaving her post anytime soon. She draws inspiration from a fish in the movie, "Finding Nemo".

COHEN: You wear Dory on your uniform that holds your ID. Why Dory?

GRISWOLD: Well, Dory's phrase is just keep swimming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, DISNEY/PIXAR'S FINDING NEMO: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

GRISWOLD: Just keep swimming is all that we can do to try to keep going forward through this pandemic.

COHEN (voice-over): Elizabeth Cohen, CNN reporting.


BRUNHUBER: Some nations are resisting calls to lift patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines but there are two big exceptions. French President Emmanuel Macron says he is fully in favor of waiving the intellectual property rights. And that follows a similar announce by Wednesday by the U.S. Now the idea is to let other countries make generic versions of the vaccines to make up for the global shortage. But a final ruling by the World Trade Organization and that could be months away. Plus, it would have to be unanimous consent by the WTO members.

CNN's Scott McLean joins us live from London. well it seemed this week like there was a lot of momentum behind the idea of patent waivers. But clearly some are also trying to pump the brakes here. So bring us up to speed.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kim, certainly President Joe Biden set off a pretty big international discussion when he announced that the U.S. was open to temporarily waiving these patent rights for vaccines in order to boost the global supply. But as you mentioned, this is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. This still requires some consensus from countries from the WTO, and as you said, that could take quite a while.

The reaction in Europe is pretty mixed. As you said the French President Emmanuel Macron fully in favor. On the other side of the coin, Germany is saying, look, these patent protections, these intellectual property rights, they are a source of innovation, and ought to be protected. And Germany also saying, look, the patent rights are not the problem right now. Quality production capacity, that is the much bigger issue.


The Eu Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Kim, her comments were a bit more difficult to decipher. She said that she is ready to discuss the U.S. proposal and how it could help address the COVID crisis but didn't make a firm commitment in either direction.

The argument for doing this, obviously, is that many of these vaccines were developed using public taxpayer dollars and ought to be as widely available around the globe as possible. The argument against is exactly the argument that the BioNTech founder made to CNN just yesterday. She says that by waiving these patent rights it would actually only increase the amount of chaos in production. Because developing a vaccine, she says is a very precise biological process. It's not something that you can easily replicate in any lab -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes interesting. We'll keep track of this debate through the coming days and weeks. Thank you so much, Scott McLean in London.

Well there are less than three months to go until the Tokyo Olympics and yet there are growing fears Japan's health care system is nearing its breaking point. Many hospitals are filling up with COVID cases and the government is now deciding on whether to extend a state of emergency in the capital city and other areas. CNN's Blake Essig is with us from Tokyo. Blake, serious cases are climbing, and of course, the clock is ticking.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim, look, nationwide, the case count here in Japan has been going down. That of course is good news. The bad news, the number of patients as you mentioned with severe symptoms are climbing. In fact, a new record has been set nearly every day this week. It's a situation that is pushing Japan's medical system to the breaking point, forcing several prefectures including Tokyo to request a month-long extension to the current state of emergency order.


ESSIG (voice-over): Infectious disease specialist Dr. Hideaki Oka is making his rounds. For now, it's relatively calm here in the COVID ward at Saitama Medical University. But all that can change in an instant.

DR. HIDEAKI OKA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, SAITAMA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY (through translator): If two patients entered today, another two patients are admitted tomorrow, and all cases turned out to be severe. Then 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.

ESSIG: 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.

ESSIG (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.

DR. 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 impacting 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.

DR. 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): So the emergency order for several prefectures including Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo for one month, given the current situation here in Japan, regarding the U.K. variant, and the fears of it spreading across the country.

Now, regarding the Olympics, 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, but as for Japan, the vaccine rollout is under way, and moving incredibly slow. Less than 1 percent of the population has received both doses of the vaccination -- the vaccine at this point -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks for the update. Blake Essig in Tokyo, appreciate it.

New York seeing a 223 percent increase in hate crimes against Asian- Americans and there seems to be a similar pattern all across the U.S. That's next. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: With negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal seemingly going nowhere fast. Sources say the Biden administration is weighing whether to unfreeze $1 billion of Iran's money to be used for humanitarian aid. The move would be something of a good faith gesture, as nuclear talks enter month two, with no sign of a breakthrough.

Iran has been demanding sanctions relief in exchange for the compliance with the 2015 deal. But the U.S. State Department says reports about releasing Iranian funds aren't true, and that quote, any substantial move by the U.S. would have to be part of a process in which both sides take action.


All right, well you're looking at the man stabbed -- the man accused of stabbing two Asian-American women at a San Francisco bus stop has now been charged. The district attorney's office says the charges include attempted murder and carry a potential life sentence. That's just one of the horrifying assaults targeting Asian-Americans in the past few months. CNN's Amara Walker looks at the new study tracking these crimes and what can be done.


AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 36-year-old Asian-American father beaten by a stranger last Friday as he was standing near an intersection in San Francisco with his one-year-old baby in a stroller, according to San Francisco police.

BRUCE, VICTIM OF ATTACK: I couldn't protect my child and I was on the floor and he was in a stroller that was slowly actually rolling away. So, it was definitely very scary as a parent. And I was just trying to shield my head and trying to prevent any, like, worse injuries.

WALKER (voice-over): When asked if he thought he was targeted because of his race, Bruce said it crossed his mind. The San Francisco police say the attack appeared to be random and that 26-year-old Sidney Hammond has been charged with assault and child endangerment among others.

Also on the streets of San Francisco, two elderly women, a 63-year-old and an 84-year-old, who were waiting for the bus, both stabbed on Tuesday.

PATRICIA LEE, WITNESSED VIOLENT ATTACK: It was a pretty big knife. It cannot push on the handle and he got like a blade, the blade has like holes in there like a military knife. Her back was turned, and all I see is the feathers came out of her jacket. So I'm very sure that he -- she got sliced.

WALKER (voice-over): San Francisco police say they have not ruled this incident out as a hate crime. Fifty-four-old Patrick Thompson has been charged with attempted murder and elder abuse.

In New York, two Asian-American women also targeted, this time with a hammer. In this video, you see the suspect approaching the women from behind. Authorities say the individual demands they take off their masks and then swings at them with a hammer. The victims fight back. The NYPD Hate Crime Task Force is investigating and asking the public to help track down the suspect. These are just the latest in a wave of attacks against Asian-Americans since the pandemic began in 2020. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks anti-Asian hate, there have been more than 6,600 incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders reported from March of 2020 to March of this year with most of them happening in public places and businesses.

New York City has seen the largest spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, a 223 percent increase in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period last year, according to the California State University Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

CONNIE CHUNG JOE, CEO, ASIAN AMERICANS ADVANCING JUSTICE-LOS ANGELES: We're talking too much about, OK, we need hate crimes laws. That helps after the fact.

WALKER (voice-over): In April, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed an anti-Asian hate crimes bill that aims to create awareness and expedite reviews of crimes targeting Asian-Americans.

But Connie Chung Joe of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles says more needs to be done to prevent these kinds of attacks, rather than only responding to them.

CHUNG JOE: We are really pushing for things like community safety programs, bystander intervention, chaperoning or escort services, neighborhood watches, things that really make us safe in our own neighborhoods and in real-time.

WALKER: And you just heard there from Connie Chung Joe with Asian-- American Advancing Justice, Los Angeles. She actually talked about bystander intervention. And her organization has partnered with another nonprofit called Hollaback!, which the mission there is to end all forms of harassment. And they are actually training individuals in the communities and dozens of companies on how to intervene if they actually see someone being verbally harassed before it can escalate into physical violence. And having allies in the communities is actually a key component experts say in helping to prevent anti-Asian attacks.

In Atlanta, Amara Walker, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: Debris from a massive rocket will soon crash into earth and no one knows where or exactly when but fear not. We'll bring you why experts say there's little need for concern. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: All right, you're looking at debris from that large Chinese rocket expected to crash into earth in the coming days. The founder of the Virtual Telescope Project says he took the photo with his robotic telescope, that's a 20-ton piece of what's now space junk crossed over Italy. Experts say it will re-enter the earth's atmosphere over the weekend.

Now, this is video of last week's launch, right now, the rocket's empty core stage is barreling around the planet about 18,000 miles an hour. U.S. officials say they aren't planning to shoot down. Now the good news, experts say the rocket poses very little threat to our safety. And in fact, in the past few moments, China says the probability of it causing harm to aviation activities and the ground is extremely low.

All right, let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Derek, the probability low, but not zero. So do you have any more clarity on where and when this thing is going to hit?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know we actually -- experts I should say have been able to identify a path across the planet where this could potentially land. You're looking what is known as the orbital path of this rocket and it puts New York, Sao Paulo, Lagos, Madrid, even Sidney, as well as Beijing, within this pat.

But you got to keep in mind, this is traveling at 18,000 miles per hour, roughly 30,000 kilometers per hour, so it's orbiting the earth 15 times a day. So any small deviation in that angle of approach towards reentry is going to lead to a very significant change in the final location, where it makes landfall, I should say.


So the estimate for exactly when and exactly where will only happen a few minutes, if not an hour, right prior to that moment. So very important to note that.

The facts though, if it is lucky enough to actually miss, I should say, or dodge 70 percent of our ocean, we only have 10 percent of the remaining land that's occupied by humans, like you and I, watching at home. Nonetheless, we are still watching for this potential reentry to take place throughout this weekend, ending about midday on Sunday.

It's quite amazing to see this photo -- I'll bring it up on the screen once again. The first image of this long mark rocket as it hurdles through space. Well it certainly got the attention of the international community. We are talking about it on CNN International to say the least. And look weight and the diameter of thing. It's massive, 32 meters in length as well. This puts it at the largest rocket -- uncontrolled rocket falling to earth since 1991. And we did the math here, it's 20 tons, that is equivalent to about 15 sedan vehicles, so that really puts it into perspective.

Space junk or space debris, it is floating around the atmosphere at low orbit, and it's got a bit of a personal connection, as meteorologists here, if any of that space debris was to knock out one of our active satellites, it could take down the weather observations and environmental observations. Not something I want to see.

BRUNHUBER: Hectic. All right, thanks so much, Derek Van Dam. Appreciate it. And here's to a happy hour that's out of this world. A bottle of

Bordeaux that was aged for 14 months on the international space station is now for sale. The Tetris 2,000 is expected to fetch a million dollars at Christie's. The bottle comes with decanter, glasses and a corkscrew made from a meteorite. Now members who tasted another bottle of the space wine, praised its remarkable aroma and flavor. A million dollars, all you get is a corkscrew. You should be able to drink it on the moon.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is up next.