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CNN INTERNATIONAL: One Year Since First Cases Reported In Wuhan, China; Senior Citizens Queue Up For Hours To Get COVID-19 Vaccine; UK Hospitals Struggle To Keep Up With New Cases; New UK-EU Relationship Goes Into Effect In House; Sydney Celebrations Go On With Few Spectators; World Ringing In New Year With Muted Celebrations As Virus Surges. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2020 - 11:00   ET




ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Zain Asher in New York, and this is "CNN Newsroom."

For some of you, 2020 is already in the rearview mirror. Many are saying good riddance to a year that has brought so much pain, and of course ushering in a 2021 full of promise and hope. Right now, Hong Kong, known for its fireworks over Victoria Harbor is actually taking it online this year like everything else this holiday being celebrated differently because of course of the Coronavirus pandemic.

On computers, phones, and television, people around the world are marking a New Year and a fresh start. Sydney, Australia, never disappoints, though. 2021 burst in over the Harbor Bridge. The show was shorter than usual, and the crowds were scaled back.

New Year's Eve mass is getting underway at the Vatican without Pope Francis. The Vatican says the 84-year-old is skipping it due to sciatic pain. In New York's Times Square workers are getting ready for the famous ball drop at midnight tonight but the crowds this year will be not be there. There will be no crowds whatsoever.

We will go live to New York in a few minutes for you. But on a holiday note people going out and having fun the message is clear. Stay home and stay safe. It is certainly very hard to believe it has been a year since the first cases of a mystery respiratory illness were reported in Wuhan China and since then it has led to the deaths of more than 1.8 million people across the world and infected nearly 83 million people and leaving an untold number with lasting symptoms.

Those are just the cases that actually have been confirmed and reported. In the United States, more people are dying from COVID-19 than ever before. Thousands of families lives are being ripped apart each and every single day.

After spending much of the weekend much of the week rather golfing in Florida, President Trump is boarding a plane back to Washington earlier than expected to focus on the election results. As Paul Vercammen reports it comes at a time when the COVID situations that never been more dire.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The United States sees its deadliest day since the pandemic began. More than 3,700 Americans were reported dead on Wednesday from the Coronavirus. And more than 125,000 Americans are currently hospitalized, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

The CDC now projects as many as 424,000 Americans will die from the virus by January 23rd. In California, the state identified its first case of the Coronavirus variant after Colorado reported one confirmed case and one suspected case on Tuesday. The case involves a 30-year- old man in San Diego who had no recent travel history and had very few social interacts in the days before becoming symptomatic.


NATHAN FLETCHER, SURPERVISOR, SAN DIEGO COUNTY: We believe this is not an isolated case in San Diego County, and there are probably other strains, other cases of this same strain in San Diego County.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Dr. Anthony Fauci is not surprised that this variant has been found in the United States and believes the vaccine will likely protect against this new strain.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The transmissibility of this mutant is more efficient than the transmissibility of the standard virus.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): This new COVID variant comes as California is still struggling to get the pandemic under control. In L.A. County, one person is dying every ten minutes from Coronavirus. The county just surpassed 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals are still overwhelmed in the state and ICU capacity is at 0 percent in much of the state.

Meanwhile some of the nation's top health officials are now admitting the pace of the vaccine rollout is lagging behind expectations.

DR. MONCEF SLAOUI, LEADER, OPERATION WARP SPEED: We agree that that number is lower than what we hoped for. We know that it should be better.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): The United States has distributed 12.4 million doses and administered only 2.7 million vaccines. The administration had promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of the year.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It is overpromising in the first place. It's also not having a national strategy but instead throwing up our hands and basically saying it's now the federal government has done their job it is just with the production and initially distribution to the states.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): In Florida this is what the vaccine looks like, senior citizens lining up for hours. Many arriving in the middle of the night and sitting in lawn chairs. Florida's first comes first serve policy for elderly residents leading to a scramble for a limited number of doses.



ASHER: England will ring in the New Year as a nation that is largely under lockdown. About three out of every four people in England are now under the toughest tier 4 conditions. The case count is steadily growing, reaching more than 53,000 new cases in the UK on Tuesday that was a new record by the way.

According to "The Times" of London, some hospitals are overwhelmed. The paper says hospitals in Essex near London are starting to run low on oxygen and ICU beds as well. Londoners were told on Wednesday to only call an ambulance if they absolutely have to. Our next guest has been pointing out some of the problems that the hospitals are up against right now.

Dr. Jenny Vaughan is the Vice Chair of UK Doctor's Association. He joins us live now from London. So Dr. Vaughan, thank you so much for being with us.


ASHER: Hi. Given the new sort of transmissible strain of this virus, given the rising number of cases, what does the month of January look like for hospitals there in the UK?

DR. VAUGHAN: Well, as you pointed out, our cases have been rising exponentially and we are swamped already. January is looking very worrying because we are -- we are yet to see the effects of Christmas. It is going to take ten days from Christmas, when we think there will be a furthest point round about the 11th or 12th of January.

We and in so many of our hospitals are wall to wall with COVID patients, patients suffering from COVID-19, in tragic circumstances. We are repeating to the public basically in the United Kingdom to obey what's going on. You know, they must obey the social distancing. They must wear a mask. They must wash their hands.

Because although we absolutely agree with you that this, as Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out over in the U.S., this new transmissible strain is definitely more transmissible, but our understanding is it is not more serious. Yet we have more cases and what we're doing isn't working and that's why they had to introduce the tier 4 lockdown.

We have got ambulances parked outside hospitals in Southern England basically treating patients in ambulances. The NHS is doing its absolute best to treat these patients, we really are, staffers stepping up, we are going to be there for patients, but everybody is under strain, the situation is dire.

ASHER: The one glimmer of hope right at the end of the tunnel if you will is of course the vaccine. However, I just want to get as a doctor, I just want to get your take on what you make of the fact the government is now deciding to just give as many people as possible the first dose of the vaccine and then sort of wait a longer period before giving them a second dose.

Even though Pfizer has come out and said, you know, we have no evidence, no evidence that this method actually works? What do you make of that?

DR. VAUGHAN: Well, on the one hand it is important to note that this is official advice that's come out and in fact by our national medical officers and the national vaccine committee. What they've looked at is they're seeing that if -- after one dose of vaccine -- obviously that's offering some protection, but it is also reducing the severity of the illness.

So, they're arguing that actually having the first dose would mean that that would relieve pressure on the NHS and if you get COVID-19 you are less likely to need a hospital bed. And at the end of the day if you have got it and you need a hospital bed that's what the NHS is trying to step up to doing it for everyone.

On the other hand, people who've had the first dose of the vaccine, and I am one of them, of saying well, aren't very worried this is -- going to get 50 percent protection, we just don't know as Pfizer have said. I have now got to wait yet another few weeks before I get my -- my next dose of the vaccine.

In the meantime, I could develop COVID-19 and I'm not protected and people have also consented to have further doses. GPs have only been given two days' notice of this decision. They have had to cancel vast numbers of patients and then book other patients in.

You have to remember that a lot of these patients are over 80. They made special arrangements to try and actually get their second dose of the vaccine. So, there are the two sides there arguing which way they should go? And I think the answer was a very difficult one.

If you are arguing it when you are looking at it from a national point of view, you do want to get as many of your population covered with that first dose as you can. From an individual point of view if you had had a dose and you want to be protected and get maximum protected so you don't get COVID-19, you would want your second dose.

So, there are those two things going on at the moment. Things are very, very tough.

ASHER: You know what you are right. It is such a difficult line to walk.


ASHER: I mean, obviously I understand why people definitely want their second dose if they have had their first dose, especially if the companies that's provided the vaccines have come out and said listen we don't even know if this new method that UK is trying is going the work. [11:10:00]

ASHER: But now that as you've just pointed out, the UK hospitals now are under so much strain, they have to do something. But in the meantime, I do want to ask you, Dr. Vaughn, how has COVID really affected especially this new strain, and you talked about just ten days after Christmas we might see an even bigger spike.

How has that affected people who have illnesses that are not COVID related, people who have underlying conditions, diabetes, cancer, that sort of thing, and them being able to get the care that they need as well at a time like this?

DR. VAUGHAN: One thing the NHS always tries to do is to be there for people in the moment of need. This is our darkest hour. We have never ever faced such a challenge. The NHS is on a war footing against this virus as indeed I know you are in the U.S.

People with those conditions who have medical -- who have emergency conditions and need emergency treatment, we are saying to them please come in. You must come into hospital to get the treatment you need. But the reality is that most of our beds in the health service at the moment are full of patients suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 virus.

So the staffs are fighting a battle to try and make sure that patients, all patients, get the care they need. We are really emphasizing to people not to go out partying on New Year's Eve and to behave responsibly because they could be the next person in this bed.

And we are worried that there is disconnect a big disconnect between how people are behaving outside and what's going on in our hospitals? My husband also works as a frontline surgeon. The things is that he has been seeing this week, he has had to pull all the elective surgeries for the routine surgeries has been canceled and even emergency surgery is under pressure.

It's taking place but everything is under pressure because of the sheer numbers of patients with this virus who are coming into hospital and needing care. And although we've got to look better treating the virus since the first wave, that has actually meant that patients are staying hospital for longer, oxygen supplies are under more pressure and our intensive care beds are under more pressure and because of that patients are having to travel especially in London Southeast sometimes hundreds of miles to be moved around the country to have another ICU bed.

We are managing to cope with whoever needs ICU beds at the moment. We are managing to find them beds. But we are all worried if people don't change the behavior and things don't -- and cases don't start going down soon how will we cope in January? These are the fears of the staff on the front line.

ASHER: Let's hope and pray that things really turn a corner in the New Year.

DR. VAUGHAN: Indeed.

ASHER: Dr. Vaughan I wish you a very healthy, safe most importantly--

DR. VAUGHAN: I think we all need that. The whole world needs that.

ASHER: The whole world hopeful 2021.

DR. VAUGHAN: Yes. We really do. Thank you for having me on the program.

ASHER: Of course. I mean England -- I'm from the UK. England is really going through. My thoughts are with everyone there. Dr. Vaughan thank you so much.

China has granted Sinopharm's Coronavirus vaccine regulatory approval for the public following the announcement that the vaccine was more than 79 percent effective. China already approved emergency use of certain vaccines in June and the National Health Commission there, estimates 4.50 million doses have already been administered. A top health official says that China will provide vaccinations to everyone in the country free of charge.

As the UK says goodbye to 2020 it is also saying farewell to the European Union as well Brexit's final hurdle has been jumped as the deadline closes. That's next.




BARONESS ELIZABETH BARKER, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: My lord I have to notify the House that in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967 that her Majesty the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following act European Union back its future relationship act.


ASHER: The Brexit bill has officially been given the royal stand of approval. Queen Elizabeth gave her Royal Assent the European Union future relationship bill announced in the House of Lords early this morning. It was the final step in the bill's approval after the Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the bill and it passed through the House of Lords on Wednesday. It will go into effect at 11:00 pm tonight local time. Just in time to ring in 2021.

The post Brexit trade deal culminates a process that began with the Brexit referendum way back in 2016. It feels like a lifetime ago by the way. And our Nic Robertson looks back at the UK's long winding road out of European Union membership.


DAVID CAMERON, THEN-BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will go to parliament and propose that the British people decide our future in Europe through an in-act referendum on Thursday the 23rd of June.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): February 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron triggers Brexit. It was and remains the most divisive issue in the UK. Campaigning was bitter. Families and political parties split. The UK had been a member of the European project since 1973. Cameron campaigned against Brexit.

CAMERON: I believe Britain will be stronger in a reformed Europe because we can play a leading role in one of the world's largest organizations from within.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He was a Remainer, wanted to stay part of the 500-million-person trading bloc, the largest in the world.

CAMERON: We want our country back.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): English nationalists who never liked the EU were gaining popularity, whipping up fears about migrants fleeing wars in Syria and beyond. Populist Former London Mayor, Boris Johnson waivered over which side to support then plunged for vote leave, campaigning in a bus emblazoned with a claim that was later dispelled as a lie.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Yes, we can. We can take back control of 350 million pounds per week over which we have no control at the moment.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Britain is ending its 43-year long relationship with the European Union.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): When the Brexit vote came 51.9 percent of the UK voted to leave the EU. Cameron quit.

CAMERON: I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.

THERESA MAY, THEN-BRITTISH PRIME MINISTER: I have just been to Buckingham Palace where her Majesty, the Queen asked me to form a new government.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Theresa May took over. She was a Remainer at heart, too. Her party the country deeply divided. 62 percent of people in Scotland voted remain. Brexit was in two parts. The divorce, or withdrawal agreement, deadline initially 29th March 2019 a new trade deals to follow.

MAY: I am confident that a deal and a new strategic partnership between the UK and the EU can be achieved.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): May struggled, called a snap election. It cut her majority and left her weakened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 202 the nays, to the left, 432.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Historic parliamentary defeats followed. The Brexit deadline passed May quit, an emotional farewell.

MAY: With enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.

JOHNSON: To those who say we cannot be ready. I say do not underestimate this country.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Boris Johnson took over. Oozing optimism but lacking parliamentary votes. Desperate for a breakthrough Johnson held secretive talks with his Irish counterpart.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): A week after meeting the Irish PM Johnson EU HQ in Brussels agreed the Brexit divorce. Johnson then calls a snap election and wins a massive 80-seat majority.

JOHNSON: Thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): 31st of January 2020, the UK finally leaves the EU but Brexit not fully done. Now the clock ticking to negotiate a new trade deal by December 31st. Negotiators struggle.

JOHNSON: It does break international law in a very specific limited way.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Trust is in short supply. After ten months, talks still faltering on fishing rights in UK waters, and how much the UK should follow EU regulations the so-called level playing field. Three weeks to the deadline, Johnson warns no deal likely.

JOHNSON: I do think it's vital that everybody now gets ready for that Australian option.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Pressure mounts on negotiators. The UK wants zero quotas, zero tariff access to EU markets. The EU says that comes at a price.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: I had a constructive and useful phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Brinkmanship in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are really in a crucial moment.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The EU Chief Negotiator warning European politicians a deal possible, but more time needed. Finally, on the eve of Christmas after 11 months of tough talks the deal has done likely slashing 4 percent from UK GDP.

DER LEYEN: So, to all the Europeans, I say it is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe.

JOHNSON: It is up to us all together as a newly and truly independent nation to realize the immensity of this moment and to make the most of it. ROBERTSON (voice-over): Much left unresolved financial services and data sharing a deal, nonetheless. Then it may be, but it will allow trading between the UK and the European Union to continue more or less smoothly. The forecast of leaving, however, may not be known for years. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


ASHER: You are watching CNN. We'll be right back after this short break. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four, three, two, one!


ASHER: Here another look at the Sydney Harbor Bridge being lit up with fireworks as part of Australia's famous New Year's Eve celebration. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this year's show went on without that many spectators. It was a last-minute decision to not allow big crowds following a recent Coronavirus outbreak in Sidney.

Meantime in New York that iconic Crystal Ball will still drop as planned but the Police Department has put it plain and simple, do not come to Times Square tonight. No one is going to be allowed into Time Square to watch the ball drop unlike every other year when thousands and thousands of people brave the cold to attend.


ASHER: CNN's Brynn Gingras is live for us in Times Square. So, Brynn, if you had told me a year ago that there would be New Year's Eve in Times Square without any people whatsoever, I don't know what I would have thought. Surreal isn't even the word.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, it is surreal. I mean, we have all seen those images right where Times Square is empty. There is actually almost a little bit of life right now in Times Square, which is good. But we certainly are not seeing the revelers like we see every year.

And in fact, I am standing right in front of the frozen zone right now. It has been shut down for only people who are allowed in there and everyone going in there had to the take a COVID test. So as the NYPD has said, stay away. They are going to make sure at a certain point tonight that this whole area where you can still see the ball, behind me, is cleared out.

They don't want anyone coming in here. So, it is definitely going to be a different feel for this celebration. No crowds, no fireworks, the ball drop will happen, 2021 will still come. I promise you that. But it will all be live streamed on air. The only people who will be able to see this up close and personal are the heroes of 2020, frontline workers selected by a group. They will go in there and be in these socially distanced pens. That's the only general public so to speak that will be allowed to actually be inside the Times Square celebration.

Of course, this is all going to be watched over by the NYPD as they do every year. And as you already said, they have given that message, just stay away, they don't want crowds. They want to keep it safe for everyone.


TERENCE MONAHAN, CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT, NEW YORK POLICE: We are not going to allow people to stand on the street corners, stare up. Don't come. Do not come to the area. If you think you are going to be able to stand there and watch the ball, you are mistaken. Don't come. Watch it at home. It will be a spectacular television show. Next year we'll all gather together, and we'll fill Times Square. But this year, don't even attempt to come down there to watch it.


GINGRAS: Zain, usually for the NYPD, the Rookies guys who just start this job, this is their initiation really is to cover this and it is crazy but 80 percent less force the NYPD is dealing with just because they are not going to have the more than 1 million people that usually come out here. But they're going to have a big job keeping those people away, keeping people safe.

But Zain you know what? Its New Year's stay home and enjoy from the couch we're still going to get 2021 in a few hours Happy New Year to you.

ASHER: Happy New Year Brynn. And yes, you know what the only people who are celebrating this year are the health care workers. I am glad that they're being honored. Brynn Gingras, life for us. Happy New Year my friend, wish you all the best for 2021.

And you can stay safe at home and watch CNN's New Year's Eve live it is hosted by our Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen as well as they do every year. The fun starts at 5:00 am in New Year's Day in Abu Dhabi. That's 1 am if you're on London and of course 8 pm today if you are watching from New York.

And that wraps up "CNN Newsroom." I'm Zain Asher. For those still in 2020 I wish you all the best for tonight's New Year's Eve. But for those already in 2021, let us know what it is like on other side. Stay safe. Good-bye.