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China's Hubei Province Reports 242 New Deaths; Trump Thanks Justice Department In Roger Stone Case; Turkey Increases Pressure In Northwest Syria; North Korea Has not Reported Any Cases of the Disease; Businesses in Hong Kong Hit Hard by Outbreak; Pope Sidesteps Proposal for Married Priests in Amazon. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 13, 2020 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[01:00:00]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Cases surges in the outbreak's epicenter after Chinese government uses a new way to count the people who are sick all but admitting it lowball the extent of the crisis from the start. Trump's revenge. The U.S. president goes for payback against his perceived enemies despite claims he learned his lesson after being impeached for abuse of power. And serious Civil War grows into a shooting conflict with Turkey. Millions of civilians still caught in the crossfire.

It was a day of news whiplash. At first, it seemed the coronavirus outbreak was starting to stabilize, that containment measures in China was starting to work. But days in came a sudden and dramatic surge in both the death toll and the number of new patients with Hubei province reporting more than 240 dead, the largest single-day increase so far pushing the overall death toll digital past 1,300. Suspected infections worldwide also jumped to at least 60,000, nearly 15,000 new cases in Hubei alone.

Meantime, this outbreak has forced organizers of this month or next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to cancel the event, which only affects tens of thousands from the tech world. And in Japan, at least 219 cases of the virus have now been confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. It's being quarantined off Yokohama for days and will remain there for at least another week. Some passengers though will soon have an option to disembark a little earlier.

Let's go now live to our correspondent in the region, Will Ripley in Yokohama, Japan where the ship is docked, also Steven Jiang is where we'll begin standing by live in Beijing. And Steven, often in these cases, the central government will look for heads to roll, it seems they may have found them in Hubei province. But as the saying goes, I'll kill the chickens to scare the monkeys. This time though the monkeys are in the firing line as well.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, that's right. As you said in the last few hours, we have learned the most senior official in Hubei, the Communist Party Chief was replaced by the mayor of Shanghai, a trusted protege of President Xi Jinping. Also replaced was the Communist Party Chief of the city of Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei.

Now we are expecting to see more heads to roll in the coming hours or days. Now as you said as of now, the level of officials being sacked -- being kept at the provincial level, that's probably something the central leadership wants to see keeping the frustration, keeping the criticism at that level. But the thing is, the numbers have surged because of their changing methodology in how they tabulate these figures, and the leadership in the province has changed as well. But what hasn't changed is the grim reality there.

We have been talking to people trapped in Wuhan and the surrounding area for over two weeks now. And what they continue to tell us is how desperate, how helpless they feel with many extremely sick people displaying full-blown symptoms of the virus continue to have challenges not only to get tested but also, of course, being treated for their symptoms.

That is something they are saying they just continue to see and they are now resorting to posting information online trying to seek the attention of the authorities. And state media event has reported at least one case of a suicide of this because of this situation.

Now, I think local officials have also acknowledged they're still facing a severe shortage of medical supplies, personnel, and facilities. And until -- unless these issues get resolved, that picture at the epicenter, John, is not going to improve anytime soon.

VAUSE: OK, Steven, thank you. We're going to Will now. So, the passengers on board that boat or ship, they have a date, February 19. That's when this holiday from hell is expected to come to an end. But to the other details, little things like how do they get home once they're onshore?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The answer is no. I guess you know -- I guess at this point, the Diamond Princess passengers are used to information trickling in at a maddeningly slow pace. But, you know, they're now in the final week of the quarantine. Presumably, they're being told that they will be able to go home, that the quarantine officially ends at 7:00 a.m. on the 19th.

But as you said, they don't know who gets off the ship first. Will there be cars waiting to take them directly to the airport? They have been told they won't have to go through another quarantine period when they get back to the United States. So that is certainly welcome news for those passengers. But they don't know -- are they going to book their own flights? Is the cruise line taking care of all of that?

And that lack of information continues to be a frustration for the passengers, you know, not to mention the fact that they continue to basically sit in their cramped cabins almost 24-seven except for those rare, you know, days when they're allowed outside for an hour. So -- and certainly they're trying to take advantage of that, especially on a beautiful day like today.

We saw some video the passengers are sending, you know, where they have their young children, that they've been cramped up in the cabin and they just run back and forth on the deck to get some exercise you know, before they have to go back down into their cabins and continue the quarantine period.

Also, some welcome news for passengers of the Westerdam. This is the cruise ship that was basically floating around aimlessly after being turned away here in Japan, also in Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Finally, Cambodia has allowed the ship to make a port of call there. We know that Cambodian officials are on board the ship right now.

[01:05:17]

Keep in mind, nobody on the western dam is even suspected of having coronavirus. The only reason that country after country after country turn that ship away is because they made a stop in Hong Kong, a city that now has 50 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. And so, this ship and these passengers have been essentially kind of stranded at sea.

Now, they're in Cambodia, and they're told that in the coming days, John, they'll be able to get off the ship, and they will go, you know, take basically charter flights, commercial flights that the cruise line has arranged for them to get them back home. They're also being told they'll get 100 percent refund for their cruise vacation, and even a credit if they want to take another cruise anytime soon. Although I think for a lot of passengers, I think we know what the answer to that is going to be, John.

VAUSE: Thanks, but no thanks. OK, Will, we appreciate you being with us. Will Ripley there live in Yokohama, and Steven Jiang as always live in Beijing this hour. We appreciate you both. Thank you. Last week, Republican senators were talking about their hopes that after his impeachment acquittal, the U.S. President may have learned the lesson, would change his behavior.

Well, yes and no. Yes, Trump says he learned a lesson that Democrats are crooked and vicious. And if there's been any change in behavior, it seems Donald Trump is hell-bent on revenge and unrestrained. CNN's. Kaitlan Collins reports now from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In the week since he was acquitted, President Trump has embarked on a payback campaign that has targeted witnesses and caused upheaval at the Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They treated Roger Stone very badly.

COLLINS: White House officials insists Trump didn't ask the Justice Department to reduce Roger Stone's recommended prison sentence, though he publicly thanked them today. The President criticized the four prosecutors who citing federal sentencing guidelines said Stone should serve seven to nine years in prison before later being overruled by senior officials.

TRUMP: They had to go back to school and learn because I'll tell you what the way they treated people, nobody should be treated like that.

COLLINS: As Trump has continue to dangle a pardon for Stone --

TRUMP: I don't want to say that yet.

COLLINS: The White House also abruptly pulled the nomination for a top Treasury job for the former U.S. attorney who headed the office that prosecuted Stone. CNN has now learned it was Trump who made the ultimate decision to pull Jessie Liu's nomination two days before her scheduled confirmation hearing. And that decision was directly tied to her former job.

Trump hasn't stopped there. After impeachment witness Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman was fired and escorted off the White House grounds last week, the President is now suggesting he should face disciplinary action.

TRUMP: That's going to be up to the military, we'll have to say. But if you look at what happened, I mean, they're going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that.

COLLINS: The Army says there's no investigation into Vindman. Vindman is not likely the last career official to leave the National Security Council. Dozens more are expected to be transferred out in the coming days in what the National Security Adviser is describing as a housecleaning.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER, UNITED STATES: I think we're down to around 115 to 120 staffers or will be by the end of this week.

COLLINS: Now, the President told reporters that no one can define what it is that Roger Stone did, though, of course, a jury did after they found him guilty on all seven counts after deliberating for less than two days. And those counts included lying to Congress and witness tampering. Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Harry Litman is a former U.S. Attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. He joins me now from Los Angeles. So Harry, just very quickly off the top. If you were the prosecutor in the Stone case, would you ask for that same sentence nine years in jail? Is it appropriate?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, there's nothing inappropriate about it. So it is exactly by the book. It's just what the guidelines provide. It wasn't just the prosecutors, it was also the probation people, pre-trial services, all said that's what the justice requires here. And that's totally typical when somebody like Stone goes to trial.

I hear the arguments and it's excessive. The place for those arguments are within the process. Once the assistant U.S. Attorney comes out and makes the recommendation for the political forces of the Justice Department to basically kick his -- kick him in the teeth the next day, that's what's really mind-blowing.

So those -- the arguments that it could have been less are really missing the point. The point is the override of the regular process.

VAUSE: And for some reason, this President believes that what he tweets is somehow different to what he says. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: No, I didn't speak to the judge. I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, whether he spoke directly to the Justice Department or indirectly via Twitter, doesn't really matter, does it? And he has an absolute right to do that, to interfere with the independence of the judiciary, is that right?

[01:10:03]

LITMAN: All right, so two points. He certainly doesn't by practice, protocol, memorandum, everything. He's saying, I'm president, I'm the boss, I can do what I want. In terms of doesn't matter, you know, I think what happened here very arguably is he didn't speak to them, and Barr was sort of channeling his political preferences. In many ways, that's worse. If you have the political leadership of the Department of Justice that unbidden looks what it can do to further his agenda of hurting his enemies and helping his friends, that's in many ways more harrowing nonetheless than it would be if he were giving specific explicit commands.

VAUSE: Yes. And the New York Times Editorial Board calls out the Attorney General for his actions in all this, writing, "An aspiring autocrat is only as powerful as his enablers. And Mr. Trump hit the jackpot with Mr. Barr who is now taking control of all cases involving the president including Mr. Stone's conviction." And they should add maybe to that list Republicans in Congress, guys like these. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's impossible that he is getting favored treatment here because he's a president's friend.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I don't know. I don't know enough about facts, but I do believe everybody ought to be treated the same.

RAJU: Should Barr come and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): About what?

RAJU: About this.

CORNYN: That's up to the Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shouldn't he be tweeting about a sentence regarding someone he's close with?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I have suggested to the White House and to the President that tweeting less would not cause brain damage, but the President is going to tweet.

VAUSE: You know, would any of this be possible if Congress and in particular the Republicans are acting as they should?

LITMAN: The short answer is no. I mean, they are really completely feckless and crave. And you also had Susan Collins saying, "Well, I think he will have learned his lesson." You know, trying to figure out how this has happened, a completely brazen president with no regard for the rule of law, what is the constitutional remedy for that, it is with Congress and they have completely abandoned their responsibility knowing, I feel confidence on -- everybody in the Senate and Congress knows exactly what kind of president he is and what he's done. And they're ducking for cover as those few excerpts illustrated.

VAUSE: Since his impeachment acquittal, Donald Trump has fired Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who testified to the house over that Ukraine phone call. He removed his twin brother as well from the National Security Council just for good measure. He fired the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union who also testified against him. Then came the Roger Stone sentencing sweet.

That same day, there was retribution for the U.S. attorney who was overseeing the prosecution of Stone as well as other Trump allies like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. He pulled her nomination and as a Treasury Undersecretary. That is what we know. That's what's public. This is a pattern for a president who believes he can now act with impunity. And is that the lesson he learned from being impeached from abuse of power that he can do whatever he wants?

LITMAN: It sure seems like it. I mean, it is a Reign of Terror. And he said this odd defense in the past, well, if I thought it was wrong, I wouldn't do it openly, you know, where these things are concerned with him. He's a sociopath and he may do it openly and it just makes it more stunning. But of course, if he now thinks well, you took your shot me, you got to kill the king if you shoot him. You didn't, and now no holds barred. You know, as an expression of the actual state of political play, maybe that's accurate.

But that's where people like Bill Barr and others who swear an oath to the Constitution come in. And now we have them abdicating their role.

VAUSE: Well, here's part of an op-ed written by Chuck Rosenberg who was a U.S. Attorney for a number of districts. He wrote, "The rule of law is a construct. It was made by people and it's nurtured and preserved by people. It can also be destroyed by people. And unlike the law of gravity, which works everywhere at all the time, at least on this planet, the rule of law is precious and fragile. As citizens and prosecutors, we either safeguard it, or we surrender. That's the choice." And what -- basically what he's saying is that this is how democracies

die. So where's the outrage from a country which was a champion of democracy around the world for generations?

LITMAN: It's true. First of all, Chuck Rosenberg, extremely respected across the board by Republicans and Democrats, and his words really ring true. There's outrage by some -- by some Democrats but just not enough to deter Trump and certainly not if they have the acquiescence of the Department of Justice. Which here, by the way, John, it's not simply that it's overriding what professional prosecutors do, it's putting their lot in with everything that's antithetical to the Department of Justice Mission, right?

Roger Stone thumbed his nose at them, made a circus of it, called them basically the deep state. That's the team that Bill Barr and Donald Trump have chosen to join and put the Department of Justice behind. Not surprising, but still stunning that four career prosecutors resigned yesterday.

[01:15:24]

VAUSE: Yes. Harry, we're out of time, but thank you so much. Great to have you with us.

LITMAN: Thank you.

VAUSE: A new dramatic escalation in Syria's civil war. Turkey's military now and direct open hostilities with forces loyal to the Assad regime, as civilians face of humanitarian crisis not seen in nine years of war. More on that in moment. Plus, one of these countries is not like the other ones. How can North Korea not have a single case of the coronavirus when it's been confirmed in so many neighboring states.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Well, a storm system impacting the eastern third of the United States as we speak. You can see the water vapor imagery, very active. Now here's the high-res forecast radar imagery. And mainly a rain event for the major East Coast cities Atlanta, D.C., New York, and Boston.

Of course, for the higher elevations of upstate New York, New Hampshire, and into Vermont. That's where we could pick up a few inches of snowfall through the course of the early weekend. You can see some snow moving across the Great Lakes as well, but there's a chance of rainfall for the southeastern United States.

Low-pressure system moving throughout Michigan as we speak. That's going to create light snowfall again through your Thursday. Frigid temperatures, in fact, some of the coldest air of the season will move in across the upper plains. Lots of sunshine overhead for that area while the Pacific Northwest welcomes in yet another storm system.

Look at the Winter Weather Advisory stretching from St. Louis to Chicago, Cleveland, all the way to northern New England. That's all thanks to a series of storms that are moving through the region. But again, it will be an all rain event for the Big Apple with temperatures near eight degrees for the afternoon. And we're going to keep temperatures right around the freezing mark as we head into the early parts of the weekend, but no precipitation in the forecast. And then we just start to warm things up as we head into the early parts of next week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Just like the ocean, it seems you should never turn your back on Syria. For the better part of a year, there has been a perception, the brutal nine-year-long civil war that has been winding down, but the reality is anything but. In recent months, Syrian government forces launched a major military offensive to retake the last province under rebel control. Idlib was meant to be a de-escalation zone, the last stop for rebel fighters and civilians fleeing government troops.

It's double the population there from 1.5 million to three million. But since the December surge in fighting, more than 700,000 people have fled their homes and headed to the Turkish border. According to the U.N., it's the largest displacement of civilians this war has seen so far. More than three million Syrian refugees are already living in Turkey and with the possibility of up to three million more.

The Turkish military has amassed tens of thousands of troops and hardware on the border, and thousands more troops are in Idlib right now to try and slow the regime offensive. And for the first time, Turkish and Syrian government troops are in a real shooting war. The casualties on both sides. And that brought this warning from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

[01:20:55]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): If there's the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of the lines of the Sochi agreement or Idlib.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Christopher Hill is a former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Poland, and Macedonia. He is with us this hour from Denver, Colorado. Ambassador Hill, thank you for being with us.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA, IRAQ: Pleasure.

VAUSE: In that setup, we didn't even touch Russia which is backing the Assad regime. And while relations between Moscow and Ankara are strain but amicable, it seems Turkey's president has sort of raised the possibility here of Turkish warplanes, F-16 fighters mostly in an open confrontation with Russian fighter jets in the skies over Idlib and beyond. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERDOGAN (through translator): By the end of February, we are determined to push the regime forces to the lines of the Sochi agreement to beyond our observation post. We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without stalling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So given that Russia controls the airspace and Syria's Air Force is all but non-existent, is the other way to read that, that a warning to Moscow and should be taken at his word on this?

HILL: You know, it's pretty clear it's a warning to Moscow. You know, Turkish forces have also been in Libya and there have been Russian mercenaries there. So, this is not the first time the Turks and the Russians have clashed.

What is rather extraordinary about this, though, is there seems to be no consensus on the political arrangements going forward. The Turks just don't want more refugees. The Russians don't seem to understand that point.

And instead, the Russians have been helping the Syrians and kind of taking the lead in some cases, especially on-air power to try to regain the area for the -- for Damascus. And clearly, this isn't going to work for the Turks. And so, whatever they think they agreed in Sochi last year, it's simply not working. And kind of this appalling lack of diplomacy, I'd like to lay it at the doorstep of the U.S. because we've done very little. But on the other hand, I think there's plenty of blame to go around on this one.

VAUSE: There's plenty of blame to go around. But I guess at this point, is Vladimir Putin the only one who could broker some kind of ceasefire here between Assad and Erdogan and why hasn't he done so?

HILL: Well, it's very clear, you know, there's been -- the Turks have wanted something, and the Russians really want to stay with what they've got, which is to support the government in Damascus. You know, this, to some extent should be a last step, although a very bloody one. But what has happened, of course, is the Russians -- I'm sorry, the Turks have said no, they're not going to take more -- millions of Syrian refugees. They're already inundated with them.

So it's a big problem, and there's just a complete lack of, of diplomacy. You know, one would have thought that coming out of Sochi where they did try to get all the parties together, there certainly was an expectation of the Turks and the Russians working together. They're not even talking. And meanwhile, they're fighting in other parts of the Middle East. So this is a pretty serious matter. And you sort of wonder what happened to the last remaining superpower.

VAUSE: Yes, it seems to be conspicuous by the U.S. absence. Is there an endgame though here for Turkey? You seem to indicate that there isn't. And is this potentially Vietnam sort of style quagmire for Erdogan?

HILL: Well, I think the Turks are kind of making it clear they're not going to take more refugees, and I think they'll -- you know, their hope is that this will put pressure on the -- on the Russians and Damascus to somehow manage this without more civilian casualties. That doesn't seem to be a memo they've received though.

And in the meantime, you do have very radicalized Sunni group sort of remnants of al Qaeda there among the -- among the refugees. So it's just a hideous situation. We don't know the death toll yet, but we can -- we can be -- we can assume this as heavily on the -- on the civilian side.

And I think it's just going to be something that, you know, at some point, someone's conscience will have to wake up. I doubt it'll be Damascus. I think the Russians are kind of an embarrassing position there. But it's pretty clear the Turks are dug in literally and figuratively on the issue of taking more refugees. So this is not quite at the end game yet.

[01:25:24]

VAUSE: And you touch on this. I mean, this is a humanitarian crisis which is unfolding, and it is staggering. Listen to the U.N. assessment. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK CUTTS, DEPARTMENT REGIONAL HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR FOR SYRIA, U.N.: Well, this is a massive humanitarian crisis. We haven't seen anything on this scale in Syria during these nine years of this war. There's more than a million civilians who had to flee their homes in northwest Syria in the last year, 700,000 of them in the last two months alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, on average, a civil war last between seven and 12 years, and usually it stops in all sides of basically exhausted from killing each other. Syria though seems to be in a different league altogether. And if you look at this, it seems like the worst is yet to come if possible.

HILL: Yes, it is in a different league altogether. And what's really remarkable is usually, you know, the issue of refugees, that's a problem early on. You try to put them in camps. You try to, you know, find solutions for it. The Turks certainly hosted a lot of refugees. But at this point, there's just kind of no end in sight. Damascus has with Russian and Iranian help has essentially won the war.

And they are going to take this last part of the Syria back, this Idlib province, and they just don't seem to care about the fact that they have their own people there essentially as refugees, but more as hostages. And the Turks are just saying we won't take any more of them. So it's just an amazing amount of just the lack of morality of this whole thing. And yet you know, you don't see the U.S. seeming to step up or even

care about this. So, it very -- you know, the president, President Trump has said, this is just a bunch of sand. We're sick of this. But I mean, we have -- you know, we are people with some conscience here, and we should be doing something for those refugees, and we're not doing enough.

VAUSE: Very quickly, last question. Every time there's a city under siege with Aleppo or wherever, whenever there was an evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians who did not want to give it to the government forces, they were evacuated to Idlib. It now seems that that plan is essentially putting all these people in one area which I've heard is being described as a kill zone.

HILL: Yes. And you know, and the point is, when you look at the geography, the only place for them to go is Turkey. And the Turks are saying we can't take any more. So one would think you might work with Turkey try to get you know, camps on the -- on the border. But the problem is -- the problem is so enormous, and the Turks are just saying they can't do it anymore.

But one would think that they could at least have connectivity with Russia, and the Russians would understand that this cannot go on, certainly not the way they're doing it. But the Russians are pretty heavily invested at this point in the Assad regime and Damascus. And you know, it looks like their analysis is this is going to be over and then we'll try to take care of the humanitarian carnage once it's over. It's just incredible and callous.

VAUSE: It's despicable and callous in everything all at once. Ambassador Hill, thank you so much for being with us.

HILL: Thank you.

VAUSE: Still to come, North Korea has not reported any cases of the coronavirus. The one doctor who defected says the North may not have the ability to actually test for the virus. More on that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:32:08]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for staying with us, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Donald Trump says he has learned a lesson from impeachment. Democrats are crooked and vicious.

And on Wednesday, the U.S. President thanked the Justice Department for withdrawing a seven to nine year recommended sentence for his longtime political adviser, Roger Stones.

Turkey says it will close off the skies above northwest Syria and target Syrian forces attacking civilians there. Syria calls the threat hollow and ignorant. It comes as the humanitarian crisis there gets even worst.

The U.N. says in the last two months 700,000 civilians have fled their homes to escape escalating fighting.

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus is now over 1,300 with at least 60,000 cases reported. The number surged in China's Hubei Province on Wednesday mostly because they're now counting both cases confirmed through testing as well as patients who were diagnosed in clinics but not necessarily tested.

North Korea has not reported one single case of the coronavirus despite sharing a long border with China. It could be because the borders shut down soon after the outbreak was reported or perhaps they simply don't know how to test for it, don't know what to say.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul in South Korea. So where is the smart money here? Is it on censorship or is it ignorance?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John -- it could be a bit of both. The fact is North Korea did react fairly quickly when the news of this first broke. We do know that they -- unlike many of the countries around the world -- were able to insulate themselves. They could shut down borders in a way that other countries simply can't do.

We also heard from the World Health Organization overnight saying that they have provided North Korea with some material. North Korea had asked for help and they've given them masks, goggles, protective -- personal protective equipment as well clearly for medical staff or for others that need it.

But one of the things that is interesting is we haven't seen North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in public for a couple of weeks now. That would be a priority for North Korea to protect him first.

But let's have a look at exactly what the country is trying to do to insulate itself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANCOCKS: North Korea was swift to react when news broke of the novel coronavirus in neighboring China last month. Shutting its border to foreign tourists, mostly Chinese on January 22nd, suspending all air and train routes to China nine days later and very publicly declaring a state emergency. Unusual for the secretive state.

SONG IN BOM, NORTH KOREAN HEALTH MINISTRY OFFICIAL (through translator): Just because there is no case of the novel coronavirus in our country, it doesn't mean we can let our guard down. We need civil awareness and to work together for prevention.

HANCOCKS: State-run media has reported on the virus almost every day showing the regime's efforts to disinfect public facilities, educating the public on how to stay healthy and sending Red Cross volunteers to the border for house to house checks.

[01:34:57] HANCOCKS: With confirmed cases in the Chinese border regions and

increasing unconfirmed reports of cases inside North Korea, some experts fear the virus may already be inside the Hermit Kingdom.

NAM SUNG-WOOK, PROFESSOR, KOREA UNIVERSITY: About 90 percent of North Korean trade is with China. You can see so many people as well as trucks and trains connecting the two countries on a daily basis at the border before North Korea shut its borders. It's very likely North Korea has infected cases already.

HANCOCKS: An outbreak of any kind could be very dangerous for the country with limited ability to test or treat patients. North Korea shuts its borders during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the ebola outbreak in 2014 suggesting Pyongyang is aware of the limitations on its medical system.

One former doctor who defected from North to South Korea says they may not even admit to having cases.

CHOI JUNG-HUN, FORMER NORTH KOREAN DOCTOR: Based on my experience I believe North Korea does not have test kits or medical devices to confirm what the virus actually is. Even if quarantine facilities exist in North Korea, the basic food supply is hard to maintain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANCOCKS: There are also some concerns for the foreign diplomats that are stationed inside North Korea. At this point, we have heard from the German foreign minister saying that they know that planes and the trains in and out of the country have been canceled saying that they note the travel restrictions with concern and they're currently in talks with the North Korean government -- John.

VAUSE: Paula -- thank you. Paula Hancocks, live in Seoul. We appreciate it. Thank you.

The virus has also been spreading across Hong Kong. At least 50 cases have been confirmed so far. One person has died. The outbreak is taking a heavy toll on the city's economy.

Here's CNN's Kristie Lu Stout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was the last thing this city needed. The outbreak of a new virus causing fear and panic with residents hunkering down and staying away from retail centers and eateries including this famous restaurant in Causeway Bay.

Last year locals and tourists were lined up outside and around the corner to sample its Michelin-recommended dishes, but these days is far too easy to get a table.

Lo Cheong Hei's business had already been hammered by months of anti- government protests. But the outbreak just packed (ph) another devastating punch. LO CHEONG HEI, RESTAURANT MANAGER, SE WONG YEE: It's a huge impact.

Ever since we came back from the lunar new year our business has gone down 70 percent.

On February 3rd Hong Kong released its latest GDP results and it was ugly. The economy shrank by 2.9 percent year on year in the last quarter of 2019. That was when the protests reached a climax with violent clashes in multiple universities.

The report follows a quarter of contraction triggered by the protest and the trade war but does not factor in the incoming hit from the virus.

In a blog post, Hong Kong financial secretary Paul Chan writes the virus outbreak will definitely cause a double blow to the economy with catering, retail, tourism and consumer sectors falling into a deeper winter.

In November the number of visitors to Hong Kong fell 56 percent over the previous November -- the worst drop since the SARS outbreak of 2003.

The latest outbreak will push tourism numbers down even more with Chan warning that the new coronavirus could hit the economy harder than SARS given the city's greater reliance on tourism and retail over the last 17 years.

Most of Hong Kong's visitors come from mainland China where many cities have placed residents on lockdown. And Hong Kong has closed the number of border crossings to limit new arrivals and the spread of the virus.

As with SARS only when the virus is contained can the Hong Kong economy bounce back.

JOHN MARRETT, ASIA ANALYST, ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT: We expect the Hong Kong economy to recover but any recovery is not going to be rapid. We're going to see probably even slower recovery from the coronavirus outbreak because the fear factor is even higher as well.

But Lo can't afford to wait any longer. To break even he needs to make 6,000 dollars a day. His daily take has dropped to below 4,000. He is bracing for the worst.

LO: The worst thing is close the door.

STOUT: At the back of his restaurant, Lo offers incense to a warrior god -- a much-needed prayer for prosperity and protection.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN -- Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still to come, Pope Francis has decided it is better to dodge than to deal with one of the church's most controversial issues. That means he'll need another solution for the shortage of priests in the Amazon.

We'll explain when CNN NEWSROOM returns.

[01:39:54]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Lawmakers in Italy have cleared the way for an investigation into the former interior minister Matteo Salvini. The Italian senate voted to lift his parliamentary immunity on Monday, potentially -- sorry, today rather, allowing a trial on charges of kidnapping.

The case goes back to last year when Salvini did not allow 131 migrants to from disembarking on Italy's coast as he waited for European Union states to agree to take them in. Salvini says he welcomes the investigation asking if defending Italy against illegal immigration is a criminal act.

Married men will not be ordained as Catholic priests in the Amazon any time soon. The Pope sidestepped the idea, at least for now, on Wednesday when he released a 33-page document on issues in the region which included a shortage of Catholic clerics.

Also absent, a decision on whether to ordain women as deacon. The Pope called last year for bold proposals at a meeting with bishops. Instead these documents focus on cultural and environmental issues in the Amazon.

And the price tag to fix Big Ben will be an even bigger bill than first thought. The British government says bomb damage from World War II is more extensive than expected. They found asbestos in the belfry, damage from pollution, decay to hundreds of intricate carvings, defects in previous work and loads of lead paint, in short it's a money pin.

It will add an extra $24 million to the prepare bill for a total of more than $100 million dollars.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

"WORLD SPORT" starts after the break.

END