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Previous story U.S. FDA Authorizes Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine; Interview with BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin; Supreme Court Rejects Trump's Bid to Overturn Election Next story
 Published on Monday December 14, 2020 - 4:56 AM
U.S. FDA Authorizes Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine; Interview with BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin; Supreme Court Rejects Trump's Bid to Overturn Election
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U.S. FDA Authorizes Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine; Interview with BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin; Supreme Court Rejects Trump's Bid to Overturn Election; U.K. Prime Minister Projects "Strong Possibility" of No-Deal Brexit; Maskless Partiers Pack Mexican Beach; Poverty, Hunger Soar in Venezuela Because of COVID-19. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired December 12, 2020 - 02:00 ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A momentous day in the fight against COVID-19. The U.S. FDA, granting emergency authorization for the BioNTech Pfizer vaccine.


UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: It is indeed a service for humanity, and it is in the center of our hearts.

HOLMES (voice-over): BioNTech's CEO, speaking exclusively to CNN's Fred Pleitgen, about the decision.


HOLMES (voice-over): Plus, President Trump, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court has no wisdom and no courage. That is his reaction to the court throwing out his last ditch to overthrow democracy.

Hello, everyone and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I am Michael Holmes.


HOLMES: We are following 2 major breaking stories out of the U.S. First, the Supreme Court rejecting a lawsuit seeking to block millions of votes effectively ending President Trump's legal efforts to overturn a free and fair election.

And a landmark moment, also in the moment for the fight against coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration granting emergency use authorization for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in the United States.

Now that vaccine is the first to get the green light, here, in the U.S. and, of course, the stakes couldn't be higher. On the same day, the country, again, recording new highs and new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The record for those in hospital has been shattered, almost every day, for weeks. The U.S., as you know, the country confirming the most deaths worldwide, by far. More than 295,000 lives lost, when we look at data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 3,000 deaths, reported, again, on Friday, along with 231,000 new cases.

The numbers are just staggering. But the shots cannot start until the CDC vaccine advisers meet and recommend, the vaccine. It should be a formality, the meeting was supposed to happen Sunday but now being moved up to Saturday, 11 am Eastern time.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with more on what happens next and tells us who is not expected to get the vaccine.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What is a nine-page document from the FDA, basically, saying we have an emergency use authorized vaccine. This is the first authorized vaccine for COVID-19 in the United States.

A letter, sent to Pfizer tonight, late tonight, from the chief scientist at the FDA, basically, saying that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has met the requirements, has demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the risks and it is an effective and safe vaccine to treat COVID-19, to prevent COVID-19.

There are a few things I want to point out, this is an authorization, not an approval, meaning data will continue to be collected. There is a vaccine adverse event reporting system, where any kind of adverse events that occur over the next few years will continue to be reported.

They have to continue to submit safety data and, also, submit data about the manufacturing of the vaccine. It is one thing to produce a vaccine for tens of thousands of people in a clinical trial. But something else to produce it for hundreds of millions of people.

This is a long deliberation that's going on between the advisory committee and the FDA resulting in this authorization.

There's a few points for consumers that, I think, will be important. One is, for people who have had significant allergic reactions in the past, so significant you carry an EpiPen or something like that, there will be a discussion with your health care provider. But it's likely that this vaccine will not be recommended for you.

For pregnant women, you may remember, pregnant women were not part of the vaccine trial. And there are around 23 women who became pregnant during the trial. So, there is some data there but not very much.

They are basically saying the vaccine could be administered to someone who is pregnant, but after consultation with their health care provider and in acknowledgment that there is not much data there. Really, it's a question there.


GUPTA: If someone is in a high-risk category and a pregnant woman, should they go ahead and get the vaccine?

There was another point about age and, if you remember, this was supposed to be authorized for people 16 and older. There were a few members of the advisory committee who said that should be 18. And the FDA, seems like they're sticking with 16.

What this is -- and it's a huge moment, in this pandemic, it's a huge moment in science, just to have had a vaccine go from a genetic code that is identified to an authorized vaccine, within the year like that. A pretty remarkable achievement.

Now we wait on the CDC to tell us the specific recommendations, the who, what, where, of this whole thing. We know it is health care workers and people who live and work in long term care facilities that are most likely to get this vaccine first.

As far as who gets it after that, it is something we are waiting to hear from the CDC. We know they were supposed to meet on Sunday but now, as a result of this authorization, they have moved up that meeting to 11 o'clock East Coast time, in the United States, tomorrow and there should be a vote on the recommendations of this vaccine by midafternoon tomorrow.

So again, FDA authorizes; now the CDC here, in the United States, will recommend to who this vaccine should be given. That process is, likely to start within a few days.

This is not something I, frankly, thought would happen this year. This is a remarkable pace of medical innovation and here in the United States, people should start receiving this vaccine early next week. As we get more details on this -- and they are coming in quickly -- we will bring them to you.


HOLMES: Thanks there to Sanjay Gupta.

CNN, meanwhile, has exclusive access to BioNTech's CEO to talk about the FDA approval of the vaccine that he worked on. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has that interview for us. He is standing by, at BioNTech headquarters, in Germany.

One imagines, a very happy CEO.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, a very happy CEO. I was just listening to Sanjay Gupta say there, he didn't think it would be possible to have a vaccine.

And I can tell you, speaking yesterday to BioNTech CEO, he said the moment he heard there was such a thing as the coronavirus, in January of this year, he started working to develop a vaccine and his company did this 24/7, for several months.

He said, achieving that emergency use authorization in the U.S., is, of course, a massive milestone for him and the company as well.


SAHIN: This is a most important milestone. The authorization of our vaccine in the United States was one of the most important milestones from the very beginning.

PLEITGEN: When do you think it will start having an impact on the trajectory, also, of the virus in the United States?

SAHIN: It could happen beginning March, end of March, to see the first effects, I would hope it with the spring season and we would have, by nature, a lower rate of infections and the combination of that may help us to have a better summer than the situation is now.

PLEITGEN: What steps are being taken to really upgrade and speed up production as fast as possible?

SAHIN: We anticipate that the need for each of our vaccine (ph) is much higher than we initially estimated. Now of course, understanding that more doses may be required, we started a few weeks ago to evaluate if we can produce more doses.

And this, of course, means we need to understand the constraints, for example, the availability of raw materials, the availability of machines, of production rooms and of finished capacity. This is exactly happening.

And I anticipate, at the end of January, we will be able to clearly state if we can produce more of those and if, yes, how many more doses.

PLEITGEN: What do you think our future will be with this virus?

SAHIN: I expect the virus will stay with us and I expect we will require (INAUDIBLE) immunizations. This will become some sort of, I would not say seasonal but maybe every 2 years vaccination, will be required to ensure that people do not get reinfections or infections.

I could even anticipate that this could become a vaccine that is already applied in childhood.

PLEITGEN: You provide Americans with hope that we are turning a page and that we are getting to pushing the pandemic back.

SAHIN: I'm optimistic. Of course, we are now in an extremely difficult situation, not only in the United States but also in Europe. The infection numbers are high and, every day, many people are dying.


SAHIN: What we now know, we have a solution for the problem. And we have to work hard, to make our vaccine and to make other vaccines, available, as soon as possible.

PLEITGEN: It's a real service to humanity, isn't it?

SAHIN: It's indeed a service to humanity and it is in the center of our hearts, that we are able to help people. It is our goal and our vision, to make our vaccine available worldwide, to any region on the planet.


PLEITGEN: We also asked whether or not there would be a big celebration here at BioNTech and he, said absolutely not. They obviously still have a lot of work to do and are still looking for an emergency use authorization or emergency approval, here, in Europe. That is something that could be coming up in the coming days.

The main thing they're working on is to try and iron out one of the weaknesses, people say this vaccine has, and that is, of course, it needs to be stored and transported, at minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, around minus 70 Celsius.

He said they are working on possibly trying to make a new formulation of the vaccine, to get it stored at more adequate temperatures, possibly, even room temperature, maybe in the second half of next year -- Michael.

HOLMES: Either way you look at, its remarkable speed of achievement. Great interview, Fred Pleitgen, there at BioNTech headquarters at Mainz in Germany.


HOLMES: Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer of Providence Health System, joining me now from Seattle, Washington.

Good to see you, Doctor. Great news on the FDA approval, CDC has the vote next, of course. Essentially, now, the work of getting this into arms begins.

What do you see as the immediate challenges?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The immediate challenger is that the logistics are herculean. The vaccine that was approved today takes an incredibly challenging cold chain, those minus 70-degree freezers.

So, we need to get it from the manufacturing plant, into distribution facilities, into local facilities, which, right now, are typically hospitals. They're the ones that have invested in super cold freezers.

And then we need to make sure we get the health care workers who get this first, particularly, the highest risk health care workers, notified that they can come, in and get their vaccine in a way that is paced so we can get the vaccines done appropriately.

Fortunately, we have had a warning, we knew this was coming and I do think we will be ready early next week to start giving vaccines.

HOLMES: That is good news. One thing that concerns some people, is the percentage of Americans willing to take the vaccine. It is going up and that is good news. But the last poll was around 53 percent. Really, putting a lid on this thing, needs more like 75 percent to 80 percent of people vaccinated, doesn't it?

What if the take-up stays around 55 percent?

What happens with the virus?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I absolutely think, as the winter goes on and we get into spring and people start seeing their neighbors, their friends and people they trust getting the vaccine and seeing a benefit from it, actually slowing down the pandemic, they will start accepting the vaccine more.

I also think -- and states are doing this now, health care organizations are doing this now, we are doing this now -- that we really have to work with communities that, in the past, have not always trusted vaccines.

Those include communities of color, with African American communities, with Native American communities, with Latino communities, to ensure we are getting everybody and not just those who volunteer and say, come in, do me first.

We need to make sure we are doing the hard work of convincing people, working with them and understanding the barriers to work through those, so we can get everyone vaccinated.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

Should people be concerned about the reported allergic reactions, as small as that group this?

The issue was cited in the FDA approval and there are many people with allergies out there, who may be concerned they can't get a vaccination.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I think we will learn more, as we really ramp up the initial round of vaccinations and how many people get this. What it sounds like from the reports are anaphylactic reactions, extreme allergic reaction.

So at this initial round, ensuring that we target people who don't have that, if people are very high risk and they have a history of anaphylactic reactions, doing it in a way we can monitor them, so we can treat it if they have the reaction, will be critical.

HOLMES: The CDC director, Robert Redfield, said, quote, "Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we will have more deaths per day than we had on 9/11."

That is 3,000 per day range.

Regardless of vaccine rollout, what would you say to people who say, the vaccines are coming, out this is about over and drop their guard?


HOLMES: Is there a numbness to suffering? COMPTON-PHILLIPS: You know, I hope not. I hope people understand that is 3,000 human beings, with 3,000 families. And so, you are saying something that is critically important.

The best analogy I can think of is this war we are fighting against COVID is much like any other war. So, in World War II, we had D-Day. But then, it was a long way to Berlin. Getting the vaccine is our D- Day.

We can't stop wearing masks, we can't stop social distancing, we can't give up our bubbles and expect that everything will be miraculous, because we landed on the beach in Normandy.

We have to do the hard work, to make it all the way until the vaccine is in everyone's arms for us to really let our guard down. So do not give up.

HOLMES: This is certainly a big day for vaccine development. Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, always a pleasure, thank you.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Pleasure, thanks.


HOLMES: The election lawsuit, U.S. President Donald Trump touted as the big one, gets tossed out by the Supreme Court. Why the high court rejected the legal challenge and what it means for the president's efforts to overturn the election. We will have, that when we come back.




HOLMES: Now the U.S. Supreme Court, throwing out President Donald Trump's latest effort to reverse his election loss. The high court, refusing to take up a Trump backed lawsuit, filed by Texas, that sought to block votes in key battleground states.

CNN Supreme Court analyst, Steve Vladeck, summing up the court's decision this way.

Quote, "The closest possible thing to the last nail in the coffin for election related legal challenges," unquote. CNN Justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, with more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Supreme Court has spoken, and it is game over for what was a long shot lawsuit that gained support from more than 100 Republicans in Congress, nearly 2 dozen Republican attorneys general.

The justices on the Supreme Court have spoken for the second time this week, shutting down Republican efforts to stop Joe Biden from becoming president. The Supreme Court putting it this way.

"Texas has no right to even file this lawsuit at the high court because Texas has no right to legally challenge how another state conducts its elections."

In this case, Texas was challenging the election procedures of four battleground states. In this order from the Supreme Court, two of the most conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, said they believe the Supreme Court should have at least let Texas file the case.

But then these two justices said, if that had happened, they, too, would have rejected it. So, this is a complete rejection of the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton.


SCHNEIDER: His efforts to stop the electors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia from voting for Joe Biden when they meet on Monday.

Now this was a short order, just one page, and just a few sentences in it. But this is a major defeat for Republicans and it's a victory for all the states and officials who blasted this effort by Texas.

In fact, officials in Pennsylvania calling it, quote, "a cacophony of bogus claims that called for a seditious abuse of the judicial process."

The Supreme Court seem to agree, in a Friday order, that capped off a week of two Supreme Court rejections of Republican efforts. Of course, there have been repeated shutdowns of cases across the country by other state and federal judges. This one, just the latest -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: President Trump, meanwhile, sharing his disappointment, where, else but on Twitter.

Writing, quote, "The Supreme Court really let us down, no wisdom, no courage."

He said on several other tweets, pushing his baseless claims of a rigged election, vowing to, somehow, fight on.


HOLMES: CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, joins me now from Los Angeles. He's also a senior editor at "The Atlantic."

Good to see you, Ron. The Texas Supreme Court challenge, unsurprisingly, failed. Let's not be numb to what happened and what was being attempted. The result of the case was predictable. But talk about the impact of the act itself. That is important. These tactics could become the norm for the Right. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The failure of the

president in court, consistently, through this postelection process, has obscured his success at bringing along more and more of the Republican Party to a staggeringly undemocratic position of trying to subvert the election and disenfranchise millions of legal votes.

This case, specifically, virtually every Republican attorney general, in a state, in the country, signed onto it, a majority, a significant majority of House Republicans, signing onto it.

We saw, earlier in the week, the Arizona Republican Party tweet, asking people if they were ready to die to try to overturn the election. Over 60 Republicans, in the Pennsylvania state legislature signed a letter urging their congressional delegation to invalidate their own state's votes and object to them.

So if you look all across the board, the big story here is how far Trump has moved the Republican Party towards, frankly, an undemocratic, antidemocratic, posture that has enormous implications for how elections are contested, going forward.

HOLMES: Ron, you wrote in "The Atlantic" about, it and I want to quote, "a democratic erosion, concerns that Republicans are showing signs of treating elections as they are treated in countries like Turkey, Hungary or Russia."

How worried are you that those sorts of fears could be realized?

BROWNSTEIN: This is a continuum and it's not the first point on the continuum. Really, for more than a decade, we've seen Republicans in the states pass an incredible panorama of laws making it harder to vote. That was kind of the predicate.

Then, Donald Trump comes into office and he pushes at the boundaries of democratic conventions and norms one by one. He extorts the government of the Ukraine openly to produce dirt, manufacture dirt on his opponent. Only a single Republican in either chamber finds that worthy of sanction.

He becomes the first president to try to tilt the census results. The partisan advantage, not a peep from Republicans, he weaponizes the Postal Service, not a peep from the Republicans.

He intervenes in the Justice Department, cases, criminal cases, against former associates. Again, not a peep from Republicans. And then we see this extraordinary postelection activity in which a shocking number of Republicans have aligned with him and his efforts to overturn the election, even though he has failed to produce any evidence of fraud that has been accepted in any court in the country.

So when you look at all of this and add it all up, it raises serious questions about the Republican Party's commitment to small D democracy. And Michael, I think we will see further pressure from Trump on this.

One thing to watch, in 2022, does he support a primary challenge to Brian Kemp in Georgia that stood up, to some extent, against him in his efforts to overturn the election?

If that is successful, it is now becoming the norm in the Republican Party, where you are expected to try to overturn an election?

HOLMES: You already hinted at that for Georgia. The striking thing about the Trump faithful, his supporters -- I was on some message boards today. I don't want to say where they were because I don't think people ought to go there and read it, what you found was unwavering loyalty to Trump, the man.


HOLMES: There was a FOX poll, suggesting 68 percent of Republicans do believe Trump was cheated. We worry about some of the more extreme elements, about -- among Trump's base and what they might do, there's a lot of nasty chatter out there.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. It is more than shatter. The FBI interrupted a plot to kidnap and possibly kill the governor of Michigan. We've had an armed mob outside the home of the secretary of state of Michigan. We've had death threats against the secretaries of state in Arizona and Georgia and at other election officials in different states.

So, yes, there is a reason to be enormously concerned about what might happen in the short run. I think all of, this really comes back to the other Republican leaders, who have allowed Trump to seed these poisonous fantasies, without pushing back at them more, almost at all.

HOLMES: Ron Brownstein, a good chat. Always is. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.


HOLMES: Do join CNN Monday for special coverage of the Electoral College vote. It all starts at around 11 am Eastern, in the U.S., 4 pm in London.

I'll be right back after a break. Stay here on CNN.




HOLMES: "Be careful what you wish for."

A warning for the U.K., as the British prime minister talks up what he, calls an Australia style Brexit trade deal. Boris Johnson is looking at alternatives, as he braces for a possible no-deal outcome from weekend talks with the E.U. CNN's Anna Stewart, tracking the story from London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The talks between the E.U. and the U.K., are not going anywhere fast. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit seems to be increasing. Here is what the U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson, had to say.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: There is a way to go. We are hopeful that progress can be made. But I have got to tell you that, from where I stand now, here is blight (ph), it is looking -- it's looking, you know, very, very likely that we will have to go for a solution that, I think, will be wonderful for the U.K. We'll be able to do exactly what we want from January the 1st.

Obviously, it will different from what we had set out to achieve. But I have no doubt that this country can get ready. And, as I say, come out on well-played (ph) terms.


STEWART: The prime minister has suggested that leaving the E.U. like this is analogous to the arrangement that exists between the E.U. and Australia, comparison that has drawn much derision.

STEWART (voice-over): Australia trades with the E.U., largely on WTO terms, so this is in effect, no deal, not only that but Australia has been negotiating a trade agreement with the E.U. for the last two years.

Former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview with the BBC, said that the U.K. should be careful what they wish for. Of course, geography here, really matters. The U.K. is far more reliant on the E.U. than Australia.

And, in fact, it's its biggest trading partner. The country is readying for the worst case. If the U.K. trades with the E.U. on WTO terms, that means border checks and costly tariffs. Already, there are long lorry queues at U.K. ports, a result of businesses stockpiling, in preparation of a no-deal Brexit as well as the impact of the pandemic.


STEWART: Talks between the E.U. and the U.K., will continue this weekend. But at this stage, there is little hope of a breakthrough in the stalemate -- Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Just ahead, here on the program, COVID-19 isn't the biggest fear for many in Venezuela right now; hunger is. We will have an in- depth report from Caracas, when we come back.



HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers, joining us from all around the world, I am Michael Holmes, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

And the White House is not supposed to have any say in the FDA's drug authorization process. That did not stop them from, apparently, trying to speed things along with some rather questionable pressure tactics. Kaitlan Collins with that from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of major developments coming out of the White House tonight, namely with the FDA authorizing that emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine.

Of course, it comes about 12 hours after we were told the White House chief of staff called the FDA commissioner on Friday morning and basically warned him that if that emergency authorization had not come down by the end of the day, he could, potentially, lose his job.

While White House officials later said that they didn't actually think that they would fire the FDA commissioner in the middle of the pandemic with six weeks left to go, it showed a sign of the president's frustration that this emergency authorization had not been granted sooner.

It was something the president have been pushing the FDA to move faster on as he watched other countries start giving their citizens the vaccines. The president was venting, we were told by their sources, about the why the U.S. was not there yet.

Of course, he quickly released a video on Twitter, touting this -- Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, CNN.


HOLMES: Some good news for Mexico, its health officials have also authorized the use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, calling it a cause for hope. A quarter of 1 million doses, expected to arrive in Mexico, before the end of month, 15 million more by April.

Health care workers will be the first in line to receive the vaccine. Mexico has the fourth highest total of COVID-19 deaths worldwide when looking at numbers from Johns Hopkins University. It is also one of the world's top vacation destinations, of course. And some of those holidaymakers have been partying like it is 2019. CNN's Matt Rivers, reports.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is tourist hot spot Tulum, Mexico, this year, in mid-November.



RIVERS (voice-over): The dance party with the pre-pandemic vibe, was part of a five-day festival called Art with Me.

This attendee says, "At that moment, when you're in the party, you are not thinking about getting sick."

As "The Daily Beast" first reported, hundreds attended from multiple countries, including the U.S., despite the organizer's website describing COVID protocols that would be followed, masks, hand washing, social distance, CNN found lots of videos online, showing, well, not that.

Organizers said the event was designed to celebrate culture of all forms but, for many, just not the mask-wearing kind.

She says, "There's those who don't want to leave home and not live and then there are others that go out, live life and put COVID aside. We are that kind of people."

RIVERS: Some people who attended this party could have put others at risk. Some came down here to Mexico and could have put Mexican lives in danger, because they did not follow safety protocols. And some, because what happens here doesn't stay here, could have spread the virus when they went back home.


DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I see each of these events as potential superspreader events because if even one person at that event has coronavirus, they could spread it to dozens of other people.



RIVERS (voice-over): The government of Tulum says they are looking into whether local regulations were broken but says these events were not illegal. Organizers had said they would require attendees to wear masks and social distance. Many people just did not comply.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It puts human lives at risk, but it also puts our image as a tourism destination at risk.

RIVERS (voice-over): The organizers are apologizing; in a statement to CNN, Art with Me said they worked to implement strict health measures, quote, "We stand behind our protocols.

However, in the end, we regret not canceling the event entirely. We apologize for any strain this may have caused our already overtaxed health system and frontline workers and we hope others might learn from our experience."

Another event, the dance music celebrating Zamna festival will kick off on New Year's Eve. Their website says COVID-19 protocols will be strictly followed. But the mayor says, the event will not be held unless current COVID restrictions are relaxed.

The festival's opening party, already sold out.

RIVERS: An argument you hear a lot, including from some who went to this festival, is that if tourists don't show, up locals don't eat and it's true, tourism is Tulum's lifeblood. But in reality, it's a weak justification. There is traveling to support local economies, while being as safe as possible and actually considering the risk you might pose to others. And then, there is this -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


HOLMES: The coronavirus pandemic hitting Venezuela's economy hard, even though the country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Residents of the poorest neighborhoods there, barely scraping by. At this point, people are more afraid of hunger than they are of the virus. Isa Soares reports from Caracas.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Life has come to a standstill for many on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, after decades of corruption, economic pain and violence, the pandemic is now robbing many here of even a minimal income. Intensifying one of Venezuela's most pronounced ailments, extreme hunger.

Celestina Rondon (ph) tells me she lost both her boys to gun violence 16 years ago, shot just a few streets away from her home.

"There was so much war, they killed without mercy," she says.

Today, she's fighting a different battle: trying to make her $1 pension amid hyperinflation last the month.

"I eat bologna, rice and sausages, if there's any," she says.

Today there isn't much.

She has, what, three sausages, a tiny bit of rice up here, frozen water. And then if I open here, she's got plantain and leftovers that are now swarming with flies.

Water, too, is in short supply here, a result of Venezuela's deteriorating infrastructure after decades of mismanagement under President Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.

The little that does flow out, she uses to fill these up. Avoiding COVID-19 is the last thing on her mind.

"When there's water, we store it so it lasts. And when there's money, we buy bottled water," she says.

Down the road, I meet an 80-year old, Francesca de Sapia (ph), who, behind her smile, hides a world of pain. She tells me she has no fridge, broken as a result of Blackouts that have plagued the country more frequently over the last few years.

She shares this house with her two sons and, here, resignation adorns its every corner.


SOARES (voice-over): A report last year found that 96 percent of Venezuelans are living in poverty. Nowhere is that more evident than Petare, Venezuela's biggest slum.

Here, children quietly line up for their only meal of the day. Run by NGO Alimenta Petare, this soup kitchen alone feeds 80 children. Volunteer Yulissa Rodriguez (ph), a mother herself, can't quite believe how bad it has gotten.

"We have lots of vulnerable families," she says, "many of whom don't even have breakfast."

With hunger, comes malnutrition and, in Venezuela, there are 639,000 malnourished children under 5 years of age, according to a national survey.

So it's no surprise that this NGO worker, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisals, has so many knocking on her door.

"We were feeding 14,000 children and now, since the pandemic," she says, "we have 25,000 children."

Prominent Venezuelan nutritionist and activist Susana Raffalli says what Venezuela is witnessing is a crisis of great proportions.

SOARES: Do you think Venezuela will end up having a lost generation or even two lost generations here?

SUSANA RAFFALLI, NUTRITIONIST AND ACTIVIST (through translator): I wish I didn't have to say this but we're looking at two lost generations. We have seen an exponential rise in prostitution, of transactional sex for food. We have seen exponential rise in child labor, in exchange for food.

SOARES (voice-over): Back at the slums, I feel this weight being carried with all I speak to, including this health care worker, who now also has to worry about water.

"Everything is bad," she says. "I have my mom bedridden and I have to have water."

Exhausted, she's struggling to make ends meet, amid a backdrop of hyperinflation, where even her job has lost its value.

SOARES: How much do you earn a month?

"Two dollars."

Her mother, who she looks after, her pension is $1. So this family right here, $3 per month.

Overburdened with life, I ask her if it's all taking a toll.

"Everything we're living through is so tough," she says, "it makes me not want to live at all."

Heartbreaking words that will no doubt resonate with many here, a country where poverty and hunger are now eating away at Venezuela's soul -- Isa Soares, CNN, Caracas, Venezuela.


HOLMES: Tragic.

I'm Michael Holmes. Thank you for spending part of your day with, me. We will be back in 20 minutes or so with more of CNN NEWSROOM. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA," starting after a short break.