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Almost All Nepal's Districts Under Lockdowns or Restrictions; Report: Faster Response Could Have Prevented Pandemic; CNN Crew Finds Eritrean Troops Blocking Aid in Tigray; IOC Plans to Hold Olympics Despite Rising Covid Concerns. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: India's neighbor Nepal is also drowning under a surge of COVID cases, almost all the country's districts are under either a full or partial lockdown.

CNN's Anna Coren joins us from Hong Kong. Anna, a real growing humanitarian crisis there. Last hour I spoke to an aid worker who outlined how dire it was with the higher positivity rate than India. What's the latest?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. Nearly 50 percent, which means one in two people are being tested positive for COVID. And the difference with Nepal, Kim, is that it is so poor, so impoverished in comparison to India. So really it is going through so much pain right now.

And international aid just seems to be trickling in. We know that China is sending in 20,000 oxygen cylinders, 100 ventilators, but so much more is needed. And it seems like these calls are landing on deaf ears.

Now, a lot of focus has been turned to the climbing industry in Nepal and of course it generates a lot of money for the government. Last year the season was closed, this year it was open for business and obviously it began before that second wave really hit Nepal with a vengeance. The government has issued more than 400 permits, that is a record for Nepal. So the 400 climbers plus Sherpas, plus workers, you're talking about, you know, over 1,000 people up at Everest base camp. Those permits, you know, $11,000 per permit that's a windfall of more than $4 million for Nepal's government.

The problem, however, is that COVID has been detected on the mountain. This is despite the government saying that no cases have been reported, and yet climbers over the last few weeks have been evacuated. They've been hospitalized and at hospital in Kathmandu they are testing positive. We've been speaking to climbers who said that they were at base camp, this was unfolding, and they felt that the government was misleading them. That they were lying to them. That they were more interested in financial gain than they were in public health. So, you know, they are very concerned as to what this is going to do

for the climbing industry of Nepal and how this is going to reflect on the government, which as we know is in political turmoil. The Prime Minister lost a vote of confidence, the opposition has until the end of today to form a government. If that fails it's a caretaker prime minister possibly until the end of the year.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, that uncertainty certainly can't help the situation. Anna Coren in Hong Kong, thank you so much.

Well a contrasting situation, now the U.K. health minister says England is heading in the right direction. A study finds the spread of the virus has dropped by half since March. The result, the number of new daily cases has fallen sharply. Researchers found just one in 1,000 people were infected with most being adults aged 25 to 34 who aren't yet eligible for a vaccine. More than 90 percent of the case are now caused by the British variant which officials are warning is still a threat.

A new report says the coronavirus pandemic could have been prevented if only the world had acted faster. That's according to an independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization. The report also warns that the world can't effectively respond to another pandemic without making drastic changes.

CNN's Cyril Vanier has been studying the report and joins us now live from London. Cyril, so take us through the report's findings. What are they saying went wrong here?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, the cause of the problem is that COVID travels in minutes whereas the international health alert system within the World Health Organization works over days and weeks. That really is why an outbreak became a pandemic.

So if you look at the timeline, a new pathogen of unknown origin was first discovered in Wuhan, China, in December, but it's not until the very end of that month that China alerted the World Health Organization. Then it wasn't until three weeks later that China actually fully locked down Wuhan. On the W.H.O. side it then took them three weeks from the moment they were alerted by China to convene the emergency committee -- I stress this is an emergency committee -- and then an extra week to declare this to sound the highest alarm that the W.H.O. has which is to declare it a public health emergency of international concern.

And even that, by the way, didn't really make that big of a psychological impact because they weren't using the word pandemic. It really wasn't part of their vocabulary until several weeks later.


And even at that late stage, Kim, so we are late January, early February 2020 by now, there were fewer than 200 recorded cases of COVID outside of China. This thing could still have been contained, but many countries didn't understand the severity of COVID and took this wait and see approach because they didn't fully get how it would impact them. And that's why the report says the whole month of February was just a lost month and by March it's causing many, many deaths in many, many countries. That's how the outbreak, targeted outbreak in Wuhan, China, becomes a global pandemic -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, no excuse for all of that foot dragging and hopefully lessons have been learned for the inevitable next one. Cyril Vanier in London, thanks so much for laying that out for us.

Eritrean troops were supposed to withdraw weeks ago from Ethiopia's Tigray region but when a CNN crew traveled there they found those soldiers, well they haven't gone anywhere and continue to terrorize the local population. We will have our exclusive look inside Tigray just ahead. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: After months of reporting on the crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region from outside the country a CNN team was finally granted access from Ethiopia's government. While there they found obstructed aid routes, Eritrean soldiers manning check points week after their supposed withdrawal, and reprisal attacks against civilians. The U.N. and the U.S. have been receiving these reports for weeks, but now for the first time CNN has captured this awful reality on camera. Traveling across Tigray from the regional capital city Mekelle. CNN's Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis and Alex Platt were the first journalists into the besieged city of Axum, the holiest city in Ethiopia. Senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report.



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been over a month now since the Ethiopian government promised the United States, the United Nations, the world that Eritrean troops had begun their withdrawal from the Tigray region. We went to Tigray to see for ourselves whether that was really true.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): A show of force by Ethiopia's national defense force in its Tigray region, a government visibly flexing control.

We traveled outside of the capital Mekelle, across the region, to see if the Ethiopian government has kept the promises to the world. Unimpeded aid access and the withdrawal of their Eritrean allies. The conflict for control of Tigray blazes on.

Days earlier, these Tigrayan forces fighting for regional autonomy pushed out Eritrean troops from this town.

ELBAGIR: As we arrived, one young man Kasa (ph) wants to show us where his father, brother and cousin were taken and executed just days ago. The blood is still visible. It stains the ground. They didn't want to wash away his blood. He says they wanted to leave it there. The body they took to the graveyard, but the blood, the place where his father was executed, he -- the family still wants that place marked. ELBAGIR (voice-over): Just a few meters from where Kasa's father died, his brother and cousin were executed, murdered, he says, by Eritreans. The same Eritreans who were supposed to have withdrawn. We returned with Kasa to his family. In total, just this one family lost seven loved ones less than a week ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): All of us have to run and hide when they come, even the women. They rape the women and then kill them. May God bring mercy on us because we don't know what we can do.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Eritreans are not only still here, but a day into our journey and we have found evidence of fresh atrocities. We hear that the holy city of Axum to the west have been sealed off by Eritrean soldiers for 12 days. We need to see for ourselves. So, we head out towards Axum, but don't get very far. Something is not right. The team car behind us radios in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Locals said there was shooting up ahead.

ELBAGIR: There's a car coming.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): A U.N. driver flashes us a warning, but we decide to press on.

ELBAGIR: Hello. Salam. Can we go ahead? We are going to go.


ELBAGIR: Thank you.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): But the road ahead is blocked. We get out of the car with our hands up and identify ourselves to the Ethiopian soldiers.

ELBAGIR: Hey, hey, hey hello, hello, hello, CNN, CNN, we are CNN, journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's impossible.

ELBAGIR: We are journalists. Sir. Tell us --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before ask our commander.

ELBAGIR: We spoke --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, what are you doing?

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The soldier spots our camera. They are incredibly tense.

ELBAGIR: It's OK, it's OK. We --

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The soldiers close in on us.

ELBAGIR: We aren't there.


ELBAGIR: We are.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): As we are pulled to one side, we turn on our covert camera.

ELBAGIR: Are we detained? Unless we are detained, we're not giving them the camera.

We will only go to the administration, the civilian administration. If you want to have detained a CNN team that's what's happening now. Because we're not going to the camp willingly.

They have now said that we are allowed to go and meet the general in a civilian location, but it is still against our will but we're going.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): On our way to the headquarters we're able to hide our footage and we are later released.

At the local hospital, we find out why the soldiers didn't us to film.

ELBAGIR: What happened? It's OK. You are clearly in shock. Just take a moment to breathe and then tell us what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were in the bus station when the shooting started. We were running trying to get away, and that's when it happened.

ELBAGIR: This girl is so scared she is covering her face, but she wants to tell us what happened which is that a grenade detonated in front of a group of soldiers, and she says they started randomly opening fire on civilians. She is clearly not a soldier. She is a teenage girl, and she says that she was shot through the leg.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This is the main route to Axum. It's a vital supply artery, but for 12 days now, nothing has been able to pass.

First checkpoint, Ethiopian soldiers let us through. Ahead we've been warned by senior Ethiopian military sources, we'll find Eritrean soldiers.


As we cross the hill, before we reached the second checkpoint, we turn on our covert cameras.

ELBAGIR: Hello, sir. Can I show you our papers? We are CNN, journalists. And we have permission to travel.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): These are the Eritrean troops captured here for the first time on camera. A ragtag army in their distinctive light colored fatigues, some are also wearing a previously retired Ethiopian army uniform, a clear bid to sow confusion as to whether they are Ethiopian or Eritrean.

ELBAGIR: Eritrean solders are telling us that we don't have permission to travel, even though the Ethiopian soldiers waived us through. The other thing is, Eritrean solders are supposed to have begun withdrawing, but here they are manning a checkpoint and blocking us from going forward.

Hello, sir. How are you? Journalists. We have permission.

You are asking us to turn back? OK. We have been sent back.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Both Eritrea and Ethiopia promised these troops would withdraw weeks ago. Yet this foreign force is still here and occupying, obstructing a key supply route with impunity.

After calling the interim government, military contacts and others, on our fourth attempt, we make it through. Three days after setting off, we finally arrived in Axum. A UNESCO heritage site, the holiest city in Ethiopia and place of pilgrimage, but even the act of worship here is dangerous one. The war is never far away. At a local health facility, we will see firsthand the consequences of this almost two- week siege.

Two-month-old Johannes' life is hanging in the balance. His mother risked her life and his to get him past the soldiers encircling the city so that he can receive life-saving oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When he first got ill, it was a hard time so I couldn't bring him. There was an act of war, he got weaker, but I could not find the transport. I had to travel roads along to get him here.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): He is not out of danger yet, the hospital electricity flickers on and off and they are still waiting to get more cylinders of oxygen.

In the almost two weeks that Axum has been cut off from the outside world, violence has spiked. We find this 24-year-old teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They found us, they took our money, beat the man and raped the two of us.

ELBAGIR: Do you know who did this to you?


ELBAGIR: Eritrean soldiers did this? I'm so sorry.

This is one case that we are able to capture, because we are here, but it is impossible to know how many more women this was done to while this city was closed off from the outside world.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Another health facility, Aksum Referral Hospital, soldiers walk in and out of the hospital with impunity. One spots the camera and runs off. They've run out of blood here. Doctors and medical students are donating their own but it's still not enough. People who could have been saved are dying. Every patient you see here -- the old, the young, the helpless -- all injured in this conflict. Our journey here has brought into focus the hollowness of Ethiopia's promises. As we leave Axum, a line of soldiers encircles the hospital. There is no respite.

ELBAGIR: CNN reached out to the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments with multiple requests for comment, but they did not respond.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


BRUNHUBER: Powerful reporting there.

A rising number of COVID cases and extended state of emergency and yet the International Olympic Committee is determined to keep the Tokyo games on schedule. We're live in Japan next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: With less than three months to go the International Olympic Committee says the Tokyo games are still on track. The announcement comes despite a rising number of COVID cases in Japan and an extended state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas.

CNN's Selina Wang joins me now live from Tokyo. Selina, I mean it seems increasingly unrealistic, doesn't it, given the current COVID situation, even, you know, polls show, what is it, more than 60 percent of residents don't want it.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim, it's hard to believe that we are just about ten weeks away and the challenges just keep mounting for the Japanese government and Olympic organizers. And as we get closer to the event you have this growing chorus of high-profile voices that are coming out and raising alarm about the games from sponsors to athletes, the medical community as well as politicians.

Most recently you had Toyota, which is a top Olympic sponsor, coming out and saying that the company is concerned about the public backlash and frustration against the games that are being held amid rising COVID-19 cases and a strained medical system. And this comes after you had two of Japan's star athletes, tennis players Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka saying that they are conflicted about whether or not the games should be held.

And this is the latest setback -- COVID related setback to the organizers. There are at least 35 towns that have canceled plans to host international athletes, citing concerns about the pandemic. You also have the U.S. track and field team canceling their pre-Olympic training camp in Japan. On top of that the torch relay has been canceled or moved off of public roads in several places and several test events have been canceled or postponed.

[04:55:03] But as you mentioned, Kim, in spite of all of this the International Olympic Committee continues to reiterate that they are determined to hold these games as planned. And they made this statement again in the press briefing yesterday that was virtual, but this press briefing was cut short when a protester abruptly cut in. Take a listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Olympics anywhere. No Olympics anywhere. (BLEEP) the Olympics. We don't want the Olympics.


WANG (on camera): Kim, here in Japan there is very much the sentiment that the government is putting the economy and national pride to host these games above people's health. According to recent polls the majority of the population here in Japan thinks that the games should be canceled -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, all right, let's see where this takes us. Selina Wang in Tokyo, thank you so much.

Well, a list of things you'd least expect to see in front of a house in Houston, Texas, a Bengal tiger is probably one of them. This nine month old tiger was spot there had a few days ago, thousands of miles from its native habitat of course. Another video shows a man coming out of a nearby house and grabbing the feline trespasser. Police say 26-year-old Victor Hugo Cuevas who was actually out on bond for a murder charge put the tiger in a white SUV and drove off. Now he's been arrested but authorities say the big cat is still missing. I hope they find it soon.

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