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AstraZeneca Pauses Vaccine Trial After Volunteer Gets Ill; Millions of U.S. Students Return to School Amid Outbreak; Trump Accuses Obama Administration of Neglecting Public Health; Trump Hits Campaign Trail Dogged by Atlantic Allegations; Dozens of Major Blazes Burning in Western States; Hikers Make Harrowing Escape from Creek Fire; Opposition Volunteers Attacked in Siberia; Champion Wrestler Navid Afkari Faces Execution in Iran. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, just ahead on the show, a setback in the global search for a vaccine. A pharmaceutical giant hits the pause button on one of the world's biggest coronavirus vaccine trials. We'll explain why. And that won't be welcome news for U.S. President Donald Trump. He's on the campaign trail and laying blame for the pandemic at his predecessor's feet. All the latest from Mr. Trump's rally just ahead

And fleeing the flames. We hear dramatic stories of survival from some of the people who escaped California's devastating wildfires.

ANNOUNCER: live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Well, thanks for joining me this hour. People around the world are hoping there will be a coronavirus vaccine soon but one of the biggest global vaccine researchers AstraZeneca is pausing one of their trials after a volunteer fell ill. The unexplained illness affected a participant in the U.K. But all of its COVID vaccine trials are worldwide now, and they've all taken a hit. So, U.S. medical analyst, Dr. Celine Gounder, explains the importance of pausing the trial.


DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: You're supposed to see, you know, if there are any side effects, if there are any issues. And sometimes it's related to the vaccines. Sometimes it's just is something that's happening at random. But the fact that they paused the trial that they are taking the time to evaluate what happened that's exactly how things should function.


CURNOW: I want to go live now to London. Nic Robertson is here with the latest. Nic, hi. Just explain to us what we know about why this trial, phase three trial was suspended for the moment.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: A normal pause to be expected, routine is how experts describe it. AstraZeneca saying that they discovered that one person in their study and we under they have about 50,000 people right now worldwide who are sort of undergoing phase three process of the trials which is the last phase, this sort of expanded phase of the vaccine trials. One person has been found to have a medical condition that they are now looking at. This will go to a safety review.

Remembering that when AstraZeneca began this early in the summer in the U.K., at Oxford University, starting a very limited Phase 1 trial on a very small number of volunteers to make sure that their drug was safe. That this vaccine was going to be safe when people had received it.

The earlier indications were that it was, and then it went on to this much bigger survey which is the Phase 3 part of the study which is under way right now. So, this is being described as routine. But I think, you know, it's going to come as an emotional blow for the people of Britain because there was a great hope here that this was one of the first vaccines to sort of get out of the gate and get under way. The government invested more than 20 million pounds for a vaccine to be ready. (INAUDIBLE), vaccine, 10 million doses of this vaccine would be ready by the end of the year or early next year. A lot politically, emotionally and scientifically invested into this. So, the pause routine (INAUDIBLE) AstraZeneca. They perhaps feal that way too many people in this country.

CURNOW: OK, thanks for that Nic Robertson. A few hits on your comments but we got the gist, appreciate it. We'll check in again with you in the next hour or so.

So meanwhile, more than .5 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and pediatric health officials say there's been a 16 percent increase in child cases just over the past two weeks alone. Well, Nick Watt now takes a look at how the U.S. is dealing with the pandemic as students return to school -- Nick.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Millions of students back in school, but most aren't actually in school. They're online only.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you're in the red zone, you really better be very careful before you bring the children back, because you don't want to create a situation where you have a hyper spreading event as you might have in this school.

WATT: Hartford, Connecticut planned a hybrid model, but a cyberattack just forced a delay.

LUKE BRONIN, (D) HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT MAYOR: As difficult as that was in this year when so much work has gone into preparing for the first day of school. [04:05:00]

WATT: Tens of thousands of confirmed cases now at colleges, West Virginia University just suspended nearly all in person teaching at one campus for two weeks. Friday night, a COVID positive frat member told to isolate went to a party anyway.

Nationally, case counts are still headed in the right direction for now.

DR. TOM INGLESBY, JOHN HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEATH: But we are beginning to do things that we haven't done since the start of the pandemic.

WATT: Like opening some schools and colleges and moving indoors in colder weather. In New York, sheriff's deputies will now stop buses arriving from a staggering 33 states and territories.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: They will be pulling over buses before they arrived. And there'll be giving out those traveler health forms to get people right away to sign up so we can make sure they quarantine.

WATT: Eleven states are right now seeing a rise in average case counts. Arizona and Florida success stories of the late summer taking up again.

FAUCI: We need to hang in there together. This will end and it will end even sooner if we continue to go by the public health measures that have been recommended time and again for so many months.

WATT: A new study of cellphone data suggests people staying home in the spring did slow the spread of this virus. They saved lives. But the President thinks shutdowns are ridiculous. Claims Democrats are using them just to hurt him.

FAUCI: We've got to regain the trust of the community.

WATT: So, the CEOs of nine pharma companies racing to produce a vaccine just signed a pledge that they won't submit too soon for approval suggesting they won't bow to any political pressure. They hope to "help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process."

ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: It is, your right, it's an unprecedented moment. It's an historic pledge. We saw it as critical to come out and reiterate our commitment was that we will develop our products, our vaccines using the highest ethical standards.

WATT: Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: Well, U.S. President Donald Trump is blaming the Obama administration for the failures of the pandemic response while touting his America First agenda in an event in Florida. The President tried to point the finger at his predecessor.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the last administration pursued its globalist agenda abroad, they were all over the place. They were everywhere but here in our country. They were taking care of other lands. Countries that you never heard of they were taking care of. They didn't do a good job there either. They neglected the fundamentals of public health right here in the United States, right here in our home.


CURNOW: So, avoiding responsibility for the pandemic response was only part of Mr. Trump's agenda and what was a busy campaign there. The President hit two battleground states on Tuesday but he's also in damage control mode as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports -- Kaitlan.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Labor Day behind him President Trump is back on the campaign trial in two states that were critical to his 2016 election, Florida and North Carolina.

TRUMP: We're going Florida, we're going to North Carolina. We're doing a double stop

COLLINS: But in between his two stops the President is still dealing with the fallout from a report in "The Atlantic" claiming he disparaged Americans killed in war and insulted the service of military members.

TRUMP: Who would say a thing like that? Only an animal would say a thing like that.

COLLINS: New CNN reporting reveals that Trump was visibly distressed over the fallout from the story this weekend fearing it could erode his support within the military. Trump's anger was evident as he vented from the front steps of the White House yesterday where he accused senior military leadership of being beholden to defense contractors.

TRUMP: I'm not saying the military is in love with me. The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren't because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs, and make the planes, and make everything else stay happy.

COLLINS: Sources said that comment was sparked by the President's anger that more Pentagon leaders didn't defend him. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows claims Trump wasn't talking about the Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, who was once the top lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the biggest defense companies in the world.

MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Those comments are not directed specifically at them as much as it is what we all know happens in Washington, D.C. So, that comment was more directed about the military industrial complex.

COLLINS: Meadows didn't mention how Trump has bragged in the past about a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

TRUMP: I believe is the largest order ever made.

COLLINS: Trump is on the road as his campaign is facing a potential cash shortage after spending heavily in the early stages of the race. Trump said he's considering funding the race with his own money like he did in the 2016 primaries.


TRUMP: But if we need it anymore, I'll put it up personally like I did in the primaries last time. In the 2016 primaries I put up a lot of money. If I have to, I'll do it here.

COLLINS (on camera): And the President visited Florida. That was his 11th trip to the state this year where he announced that he is going to extend that moratorium on offshore drilling including obviously, the Gulf coast side of Florida. But he said he's extending it to the Atlantic Coast side and Georgia and South Carolina. And a big reversal of what his administration was thinking of doing just two years ago when they were going to allow new drilling to happen but then that was faced with serious push back from Florida officials.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: CNN politics White House reporter Stephen Collinson joins me now from Washington. Stephen, hi. So, for a man who said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose supporters. What do you make of this reporting that the President was really visibly upset about the fallout from his comments about the military that were reported in "The Atlantic"?

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think, Robyn, that there are a couple of things going on. First of all, the President never likes to be embarrassed. He sees himself as a great advocate of the military. He's kind of based his whole persona on this idea he's this kind of General Patton style leader who is tough and who's provided the military with all the resources they need. So, of course, these stories, these reports cut against that.

I think there's also a political thing going on here. If you look at some of the swing states, Wisconsin, for example, North Carolina where the President was tonight, there are large numbers of veterans and serving military in those states. For example, in Wisconsin and North Carolina it's around 8 percent, 9 percent of the adult population. In a really close election in a state, for example, like Wisconsin that was decided by about 27,000 votes last time, it wouldn't take too many of those votes to move away from Trump for him to be really in a difficult situation in a close election. CURNOW: Can the public be swayed here? You know, this is a man who got

elected after a pretty devastating recording of him describing grabbing women. So, you know, will comments about losers, you know, people dying in Vietnam being losers will that move a lot of his base?

COLLINSON: Right, you know, there's this kind of joke in Washington where reporters say well this is the thing that will really bring Trump down. And of course, that refers to your point that if Donald Trump's political career was dependent on his good character he would have been destroyed as a personal figure years ago. Donald Trump's base is absolutely loyal as we've often said over the last four years. It's unlikely that they will be swayed by this.

CURNOW: We see Joe Biden trying to sell himself as the every man, as somebody who is stable, you know, in terms of his policies, and he's the guy you can trust. We got a video out coming from Barack Obama and Kamala Harris sort of chatting about how Joe loves ice cream and pasta and, you know, in many ways it is quite vanilla. But does that matter and why is his campaign doing that, taking this tack?

COLLINSON: I think that Barack Obama would have been in normal circumstances in a non-pandemic election, he'd be out there in the country by now doing rallies in places like Philadelphia, Cleveland. Areas where Biden needs a very strong African-American turn out that Hillary Clinton didn't get. So, I think the campaign, the Biden campaign is looking for ways to activate Obama and, of course, placing him with Kamala Harris is, again, that kind of parting of the torch moment.

CURNOW: Stephen Collinson there speaking with me a little bit earlier. Thanks to Stephen for that.

So, you are watching CNN. Wildfires in California are forcing thousands of people to evacuate. Three hikers who made a harrowing escape from the flames share their story. That's next.

And it's not just California. Wildfires also burning in Washington state and in Oregon. Is there any relief in sight? We have the forecast coming up.



CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Firefighters are now working to contain a massive blaze that broke out in a crowded refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. One eyewitness says the Moria refugee camp is, quote, completely destroyed. An estimated 13,000 people were living there. More than six times its maximum capacity. There are no reports of injuries. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Meanwhile wildfires are burning throughout much of the Western United States. In California they really scorched a record amount of land turning buildings into kindling. The Creek fire alone has destroyed nearly 400 structures and is not at all contained. And worst months could still be ahead. California's governor says the state is facing an enormous challenge.


GOV, GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): 118,000 acres were burned in 2019 by this time last year. You can see close to just shy of 2.3 million acres have been burned this year. Historic is a term we seemingly often use here in the state of California. But these numbers bear fruit to that assertion that this is historic. This is the largest fire season we've had in terms of total acreage impacted in some time back recorded recent modern history. But nonetheless, you put it in comparison terms in contrast to last year it's rather extraordinary.


CURNOW: Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes. Some have literally had to outrun the flames as you can see from these images. Imagine being behind the wheel of this car with fire in front of you and fire behind you. And as you can hear, the driver had to gun it just to go through it.

Well, I want to bring you some hikers who escaped the massive Creek fire in Central California when it began. It began as a birthday trip and turned into quite an ordeal. So, Asha Karim, Jaymie Shearer and Lucas Wojciechowski. You're all in Berkeley, California, snuggled up together. No doubt you've got to know each other very, very well over the past few days. Thanks so much for joining us. Asha, just to you first, happy birthday. That was a wile of a trip wasn't it? You're not going to forget this birthday.

ASHA KARIM, WAS HIKING NEAR THE CREEK FIRE: I'll certainly not this one, no.

CURNOW: Tell us what happened.

KARIM: This actually came about because we had initially planned to go to Mount Whitney but scrapped it because it was too smokey because of another wildfire. And so, instead we planned this one with the main tag billing, there was minimal smoke when we began. There were clear skies and about maybe the first two miles into the hike for two hours into the hike we started seeing thickening smoke. Started seeing this darkening sky. This starting of a roll of thunder just overhead as it starts to expand.

CURNOW: Jaymie, to you, I mean, how terrifying was it and how quickly did you realize you were in trouble? Did you think you could walk out the smoke or did you realize you might be trapped?

JAYMIE SHEARER, WAS HIKING NEAR THE CREEK FIRE: Well, if I had time to kind of assess the situation and took a moment to really try to get as much information as possible. We luckily had not one but three inReach devices which is like a satellite phone you can use to text without cell phone service. And so, we were able to gain enough information to make a decision to move forward. So, it was frightening. Something which was to the car. To try to

drive out. Which didn't work. We decided that wasn't a good option. Turned around and parked the car, which we hope is going to be there once it's safe to return to and we decided to hike 13 miles back to the western side of the Sierra.

CURNOW: In Lucas, I mean, there are a lot of photographs you took on the way. There were four of you. And, you know, there seems to have been this sort of terrifying sense of knowing that you were hiking for your life but at the same time what got you through it? There seems to be a lot of comradery and a sense of real grit.

LUCAS WOJCIECHOWSKI, WAS HIKING NEAR THE CREEK FIRE: Yes, I mean as a group we have a lot of experience together and a lot of experience independently in difficult situation in the outdoors.


So, it was really like we had a lot of practice and a lot of past experience to draw upon.

CURNOW: And did you call your families? Did you say good-bye? Did you tell them in these phone calls that you were in a bit of a tricky situation?

KARIM: I actually waited to tell my mom until I was safe. My attitude towards that of it does me no good to have her panic and be trying to manage her stress at the same time managing our stress and that whole dynamic. The people we reached out via sat phone were different friends who were really familiar with the tools that we needed to figure out fire footprint and forecast and things like that. My attitude towards like reaching out towards family is if it's like absolutely dire and fatal, absolutely. And once I'm safe or at a point where I know I will be safe I'm happy to reach out.

CURNOW: And did you think you might have to make that call, though?

KARIM: We did sit and discuss under what circumstances we push like evac button on those phones, what circumstances we need to be met and like at what point is self-rescue the right way to go.

CURNOW: Those families must have been so happy to see them anyway. Thanks to Asha, Jaymie and Lucas there for speaking with me.

Well, I want to bring in our Pedram Javaheri. Pedram, hi. You just heard those young hikers certainly had a lucky break. But for folks in the region across California, is there any relief in sight?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, as far as wet weather, certainly not going to be the case, not for California in the immediate forecast. We are seeing the winds die down, at least for the forecast for the winds to die down within the next couple of days. And the fact the coverage here for red flag warnings which have been up to 55 miles per hour in the last several days, now see that dwindle a little bit as well. So, that will give the firefighters at least a brief period here to get the upper hand on some of these flames. But you'll notice now, we have simultaneously the second, the third

and the fourth largest flames in state history as far as how much land they consumed now taking place across the state of California. And as we noted, of course, you put this together we're talking about over 2 million acres of land that have been consumed since the first of January.

So, one way to think of it is take the U.S. state of New Jersey. About half the state of the state of New Jersey as far as the land area has been consumed when it comes to what's happened in the state of California. But the fire weather concerns still elevated in some areas, still critical. And that's across areas just east of Los Angeles and northward across Northern California into the state of Oregon. And that's really where it gets really concerning here because you notice some of these fires, they're certainly getting expansive rather quickly.

In the Lion's Head region there, is near Bend, Oregon, only 30 percent containment but 100,000 acres of land already consumed. And then next door in Washington state the fastest growing fire there within a 24 hour period that they've seen in about 12 fire seasons. You've got to go back to about 2007 since the last time they had fires that were rapidly expanding such as the one that's taking place in eastern Washington.

But unfortunately, the forecast here for the remainder of September, does keep it above average for a large area of the Western United States and as far as rain is concerned, kind of highlighted some of the fires in the Western U.S. You'll notice parts of Oregon, parts of Washington state, about next Tuesday to next Wednesday, that's the best bet here for some rainfall. But California stays bone dry within the next week. And the reason that's so important here is, we can look at previous fires. We can look at the amount of rainfall necessary for an average fire at least to kind of stop the spread of these fires and generally, about half an inch is what it takes and up to two inches is what is needed to extinguish flames. Now we know those sort of numbers has not happened in months across California and certainly, nothing like that in the forecast in the immediate future as well. So again, winds dying down. At least that gives the firefighters a chance here to get a brief period of an upper hand there -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Meanwhile, climate change very clearly playing out as we speak. Pedram Javaheri thanks for that update. We'll don't check in with you.

So, I want to take you to Russia now. At least three opposition volunteers have been hospitalized after masked men attacked their office with an unknown yellow liquid. Now the office is the local headquarters for the Putin critic Alexey Navalny who German doctors say was poisoned last month. Well, Matthew Chance is in Moscow and filed this report -- Matthew.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well this is yet more evidence of the dangers facing opposition activists in Russia. This time an office in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk which opposition workers linked with anti-corruption campaigner, Alexey Navalny have been using as a local headquarters ahead of forthcoming local elections there.

Security cameras recorded two masked men bursting into the office and dusting -- dousing it with an unknown liquid before running away. The office was evacuated. But some of those inside have both suffered breathing difficulties, one of them passing out. At least three of them were taken to hospital by ambulance where they were treated and later discharged.


But there are heightened fears among opposition activists in Russia, as Alexey Navalny himself lies in a Berlin clinic with suspected nerve agent poisoning. The latest update on his condition is that it's improved. He's out of a medically induced coma. He has been weaned off his mechanical ventilator. The clinic says he is also now responding to voices.

But doctors say it's still too early to know what long term effects his serious poisoning may have had. Russian officials meanwhile are still refusing to open an investigation into the suspected poisoning of the Kremlin's most prominent critic, despite growing international calls for them to do so or face consequences.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


CURNOW: Well, leaders around the world including President Trump are urging Iran not to execute champion wrestler, Navid Afkari. The 27- year-old faces the death penalty on Wednesday. Afkari was sentenced for the 2018 murder of a water and sewage department employee during an anti-government protest in Shiraz. The president of the Ultimate Fighting championship is also coming to Afkari's defense.


DANA WHITE, PRESIDENT OF THE ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP: He's one of us. Could be any of my fighters. And the only thing I thought to do was to call the president and see if he could help this man. And he said let us look into it. We talked to my administration and see if there's something we can do to save his life. I would just like to say that I too respectfully and humbly ask the government officials in Iran to please not execute this man and spare his life.


CURNOW: The World Players Association is calling for Iran's expulsion from international sport if Afkari is executed.

So still to come here at CNN details on why AstraZeneca is pushing the pause button on late stage coronavirus vaccine trials around the world. And British Prime Minister is expected to announce new limits on

social gatherings in an effort to curb a rise in infections there. The details all next in a live report from London.