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U.S Carries Out Airstrikes in Syria; Coronavirus Pandemic; Mass Vaccinations Underway in Hong Kong; India Aims to Vaccinate 300 Million People by August; Concerns Over India Vaccine Study; Accusations of Ethics Violations in India Vaccine Trials; Asia Markets Take Sharp Drop; U.S. Futures Down After Rough Day Thursday. Aired 2- 3aET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 02:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello. You're watching a third hour of "CNN Newsroom" with me, John Vause.

Coming up, Joe Biden takes his first military action as president in response to attacks like these on U.S. assets in Iraq.

The variant versus the vaccines. The global race worldwide to administer enough vaccine and stop the coronavirus from mutating again.

And an offer too good to be true was allegedly a scam, which duped them into taking part in human trials for a COVID vaccine.

He's being president for less than a month -- just over a month, I should say, and Joe Biden has now ordered his first military strike of his presidency. The targets were Iranian-backed Iraqi militia based in eastern Syria just across the Iraqi border, which according to Pentagon, were behind at least three separate attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq.

The most recent was last week when a coalition base at the Erbil Airport came and a rocket had modified (ph). A civilian contractor was killed, five Americans hurt. The U.S. Defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, offered few details as to what precisely was hit by these U.S. air strikes.


LLOYD AUSTIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're confident in the target that we went after. We know what we hit. And we're confident that that target was being used for the same Shia militia that -- that conducted the strikes.


VAUSE (on camera): For more details, here is CNN's Oren Liebermann, reporting in from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The air strike against the site in eastern Syria along the Iraq-Syria border is the first known military action under President Joe Biden. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said it was his recommendation and that Biden gave the final authorization for the strikes on Thursday morning.

A U.S. official familiar with the strikes said that up to a handful of militants were killed in that air strike. They come after a series of rocket attacks against U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq, first in Erbil about a week and a half ago, then in Balad Air Force Base just north of the city of Baghdad, and then the green zone in Baghdad itself.

Austin said the part of the messaging here, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby backed this up, was first, that there will be a response to these rocket attacks, and second, to deter future rocket attacks.

Austin made it clear that they're confident that was Iranian-backed Shia militias that were operating in these sites that were struck by the U.S. force and it was those same militias responsible for the rocket attacks. Up until now, the U.S. had not attributed the rocket attacks to anyone, but now, pinpointed it on Iranian-backed Shia militias, and more broadly, holding Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies in Syria and in Iraq.

This comes at a crucial time for the Biden administration when it comes to Iran as it tries to figure out what to do and how to work diplomatically about Iran's nuclear program, also signalling and wants to broaden out the agreement to include Iran's ballistic missiles and Iran's actions in the region.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, the Pentagon.


VAUSE (on camera): Live now with CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman, who is in Erbil, Iraq, the site of one of those rocket attacks earlier this month. Ben, what do we know about these Iranian-backed Shia militia groups who were the targets of these U.S. air strikes?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do know, for instance, that the 15th of February strike, a missile strike on the Erbil Airport and residential areas of this city was claimed by a group that calls itself the guardians of blood.

Until now, largely unknown, but it is believed that this and many other Iranian-backed militias that operate in many parts of Iraq, in northern Iraq as well since the defeat of ISIS, have been held responsible.

In some cases, they actually claimed responsibility for missile or mortar attacks, for instance, on the green zone in Baghdad where the U.S. embassy is located. Many of these are acting in close coordination with some aspect, some parts of the Iranian government, the military or the revolutionary guard. But, the direct strands are rather difficult to nail down.


WEDEMAN: It is important to keep in mind that, you know, at this time when the U.S. and Iran are starting to talk about the possibility of reviving American involvement in the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal, there are various factions in Iran, some of which do want to see a resumption of diplomatic context with United States.

And there are other hardliners who are not at all enthusiastic about that and perhaps are instructing their affiliated militias here in Iraq to conduct limited occasional attacks on U.S. facilities like we saw on the 15th of February here in Erbil, like we have seen many times outside the green zone in Baghdad.

So this is really part of a much broader conflict or tensions that are being played out so also often in Iraq despite the wishes of many Iraqis and all of these outside players who would simply go away and leave them alone. John?

VAUSE: So Ben, the air strike was carried out, targeted these Iraqi militias in their buildings on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border. There is also the report that on Tuesday, quoting the White House readout, President Biden spoke with the Iraqi prime minister. They discussed the recent rocket attacks like the one in Erbil. There is something needed to be done to those responsible, needed to account to that.

So is there -- clearly the assumption there is that within Iraq, this action taken by the United States would be welcome.

WEDEMAN: By and large, of course, it depend who you talk to, but certainly the Kurds in this part of Iraq and those officials who are sympathetic to the United States do welcome this as a signal, but not too strong a signal to these Iranian-backed militias that they should not do what they did here in Erbil. They should not fire missiles or mortars at the green zone in Baghdad.

But as I said before, we have to keep in mind that there is a much broader context to these attacks. In a sense, Iraq is just sort of the board upon which these chest pieces are moved. At the end of the day, they are in a sense an audience to a conflict that is happening in their backyard but don't really have much to say at the end of the day. John?

VAUSE: Yeah. It has been that way for a while. Ben, thank you. Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live in Erbil.

And to London now, CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has been standing by. So Nic, just to pick up the conversation where Ben left off with regards to the fact that disproportionate air strike, as the Pentagon says, was basically intended to reduce tensions in the region. And of course, the fact of that is the ongoing negotiation or potential negotiation between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear deal. How do all of these parts fit together?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: President Biden is in a position in the United States where he needs to show that he can be strong in Iran and not weak on Iran. And Iran right now, essentially, the United States has put an offer on the table that it will come into talks with Iran before Iran scales back all the steps it has taken that have gone over the bounce of that internationally- agreed nuclear deal.

The United States will come back to the table and talk to Iran about the way forward before Iran actually reverses any of those. So there is a potential here for Biden to look weak on Iran. And by these strikes, he is making it very clear to Iran his patience is limited. There is a real concern that Iran is going to misplay its hand. It has an opportunity to get back into these talks. So, that sends a very clear signal.

I think, as well, when we look at the fact that President Biden spoke yesterday with the king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, and Iran was a central part of that conversation, remembering that President Trump had been very anti-Iran and that was something that the Saudis liked, the conversation has been reported by both sides, between Biden and King Salman, is one that specifically calls Iran a destabilizing influence in the region, that it attacks or its proxies attack Saudi Arabia and the United States would stand beside and support Saudi Arabia and its defense.

Also, there was a commitment to Saudi Arabia, from Biden, according to the Saudis, that Iran would not get nuclear weapons. So that messaging there has been very strong to this important regional ally and as well to the Iranians and domestically. I think that is the broad picture, if you will.

VAUSE: That conversation that Biden had with the Saudi King, it is notable that Biden has not had a conversation with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.


VAUSE: This is a real reset of relations, not between Riyadh and Washington, but between the leader of the United States and the crown prince because of the change in the administration. But what is notable is that things are about to get a lot more tense, when you imagine, with the release of the U.S. intelligence report into the brutal killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and essentially big focus back on MBS.

WEDEMAN: Yeah, so recalibration, isn't it? This is the way that the White House has been talking about the relationship. You know, the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, did speak to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a couple of days ago.

But yes, this is a reset, essentially the driving force and the power in the kingdom is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He effectively runs the country day-to-day. His father, the king, put him in that position and has confidence in him, it appears, to make the changes that the kingdom requires. This is what the crown prince wants to do.

However, the human rights record in Saudi Arabia is checkered, to say the least. MBS's role, as CIA has said in its best estimation in authorizing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, is a very damning indictment of him.

What came out of that phone conversation was a commitment to a more transparent relationship. And President Biden, although we don't know if this report was actually mentioned in the conversation, did say that he praise the kingdom for its steps towards improving human rights with the release of activists recently from jail.

But I think the underlying message is very clear here. If there is more meat on the bones, smoking gun, that implicates Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, that is going to put tension in the relationship. But everything we know about this report so far is there won't be a smoking gun. That is what we know so far.

VAUSE: And we will wait and see, I guess. We will take it from here. We will come back, I guess, sometime next Friday, I guess, is the expectation. Nic, thank you. Nic Robertson in London.

We will take a break. When we come, thousands across Hong Kong lining up for their COVID vaccine as it opens its first mass vaccination centers. We will have a live report in a moment.

Also, questions were raised about ethics on a vaccine study in India. Participants in human trials recruited from a slum with a tragic history and activists have some great concerns.


VAUSE: The spread of the coronavirus worldwide seems to be slowing. The number of daily infections has been declining recently. But that trend may be short lived with new more contagious variant spreading rapidly. Many countries are now focusing on ramping up vaccinations.

But the European Council president warns that Europe's vaccine rollout may continue to struggle for a few more weeks. He says their top priority is ramping up production as well as distribution.

Despite the slow start, the health commissioner says the goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of adults in each member state by the northern summer.


VAUSE: U.K. has administered nearly 19 million for its vaccine doses and the daily COVID cases in England has fallen nearly 80 percent. That comes after the government imposed a national lockdown six weeks ago.

In Asia, South Korea launched its vaccination rollout while also extending social distancing measures and bans on gatherings of five or more until the 14th of next month.

Mass vaccination is also on the way this hour in Hong Kong. That is after regulators authorized two vaccines for emergency use.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live at one of those vaccination centers. She joins us now. Kristie, the first priority is the (ph) elderly, the carers, as well as the frontline health workers, which would be as expected.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yeah. And also, these are all individuals who have full faith in China's Sinovac vaccine. This is the first day of Hong Kong's COVID-19 vaccine push and the very first coronavirus vaccine jab on offer is the one made by China.

I am standing outside the central library of Hong Kong in Causeway Bay District. This is one of five vaccination centers where people can get the Sinovac jab. Seventy thousand people have signed up for it. In fact, the appointment slots completely booked up for the next two weeks.

The World Health Organization has yet to approve China's Sinovac vaccine but it has been approved by health authorities here for emergency use. John, you just mentioned, individuals who are priority for this vaccine are the elderly, those over the age of 60, transport workers, as well as health care workers.

Earlier, we've been speaking to a number of people who took the Sinovac jab this day, including 63-year-old Mrs. (INAUDIBLE), who has absolutely no reservation about taking the Sinovac vaccine. Take a listen.


UNKNOWN: No, not at all, because they tested at least to see on all races (ph). Yeah, they tested it on Chinese people. Yeah, we have the similar physical body. So I'm quite -- I'm very confident.


LU STOUT (on camera): Now, she is very confident. A lot of other people here in Hong Kong are not. In fact, according to a recent survey by the University of Hong Kong, less than 30 percent of people questioned said they would accept the Sinovac vaccine.

This was something that Carrie Lam, the top leader here, addressed earlier this week. She took the jab. She took the Sinovac vaccine on live TV in order to boost vaccine confidence. It is a voluntary basis. You could choose which vaccine you want to take. We also learned that a shipment of the BioNTech vaccines that were due to arrive yesterday will arrive tomorrow. I think a number of Hongkongers are waiting for that option. Back to you.

VAUSE (on camera): Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout live there in Hong Kong.

After some encouraging signs that the U.S. may finally be turning a corner to this pandemic, now comes some bad news. Researchers say they found a new variant in New York City. It is spreading at an alarming rate. There is more. It might sicken anyone already vaccinated.

CNN's Erica Hill has details.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new coronavirus variant identified in New York City and other parts of the northeast, raising new questions after early research shows it may evade the body's natural immunity and some treatments.

JAY VARMA, SENIOR ADVISER FOR PUBLIC HEALTH, NYC MAYOR'S OFFICE: Not all variants are a public health concern. Some variants are just that. They're variants. They're just a little bit different.

HILL (voice-over): Meantime, new studies not yet peered reviewed showed a separate variant, first identified in California, may not only be more contagious but could cause more severe disease.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: While we need to be concerned about what we are seeing in New York and California or in other places around the world, we can't take our eye off to me what I think is a single most important variant right now in our headlights, and that is this B117 or the U.K. variant, which is rapidly spreading now throughout the United States.

HILL (voice-over): Both Pfizer and Moderna testing booster shots as vaccine makers work to get ahead of new variants.

ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: This has been one of the really impressive things about the development of these new vaccine platforms, the MRNA ones, the Pfizer, the Moderna, and others, as well, is that they can get updated pretty quickly. We are thinking about six to eight weeks.

HILL (voice-over): More than 21.5 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. New York City making up for last week's weather delays.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: We are adding capacity in a lot of our sites because we have extra vaccines.

HILL (voice-over): That includes new overnight appointments at Citi Field. A new nationwide ad campaign is targeting vaccine hesitancy.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Getting back to the moments we missed starts with getting informed.

HILL (voice-over): But it is not the only hurdle.

JEMAR TISBY, AUTHOR: It is again more of a problem of access than attitude.

HILL (voice-over): More states working to meet people where they are. And while eligibility is increasing, some grocery store workers in Michigan are expressing concern over not being included in the state's next phase.

PAUL PETROS, MIDTOWN FRESH MARKET STORE DIRECTOR: We have been on the front lines since it started. We have been interacting with customers. I'm not saying we are the most important people, but we are, during this pandemic, we were.


HILL (voice-over): Nationwide, the benchmarks are improving. Average new daily cases in the last month are down 57 percent. Hospitalizations are dropping 51 percent. Among more than 3,200 deaths were reported Wednesday, that number two is declining, down 30 percent in a month.

UNKNOWN: Hopefully it's a sign of what's to come as we get more vaccination.

HILL (on camera): The FDA just okayed the Pfizer's request to transfer and store its undiluted vaccine at normal freezer temperatures, which now avoids the need in many cases for the special ultra-cold freezers, which have been a hurdle to more widespread distribution.

In New York, I'm Erica Hill, CNN.


VAUSE: Thomas Bollyky is the director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of "Plagues and the Paradox of Progress." He is with us this hour from Washington. Thomas, thank you for taking the time to be with us.


VAUSE: You know, it has always been a risk to quote Charles Dickens, but this really seems to be the best of times, the worst of times. The COVID vaccines have exceeded all expectations, but then at the same time, we have these new variants which are emerging and causing increasing concern. So, if this is a foot race between the vaccinations and the variants globally, are the variants ahead?

BOLLYKY: So, they are and the two are related. Here is why. Ultimately, what we need to be able to do is to suppress the spread of the virus because with each new case, you run the risk of more variants emerging that can also be more contagious, more deadly, more resistant to vaccines. We need to stay ahead of that by vaccinating the population.

Here's the challenge. If we need to have additional doses or new vaccines or even a booster shot to deal with this variant, it is going to put increasing pressure on the global supply of vaccines. Not only the countries with vaccines will access vaccines, will take even longer to share them with poorer nations because they will need to boost their own population for this new variants emerging.

VAUSE: Yeah. Even if we look at the infection rates in the United States and Europe, which had been falling, it seems it's hit a plateau, that plateau was close to zero. It would be good news. But in the U.S., for example, it's around the 70,000 mark for new deadly infections. Some countries in Europe have seen these numbers go back up.

(INAUDIBLE) what we decide to do and the actions that we take at this point will be consequential for months and maybe years to come?

BOLLYKY: It could be. So the good news, and as you mentioned, there has been good news this year. Between the 1st of January and today, the world has had the number of cases that we have of the coronavirus, at least reported cases. That is progress.

But as you've also noted, in the last six days, they started to tick up five percent. And the issue there is that we all timidly need to be able to suppress the spread of this while our vaccine supplies catch up to the point that we can actually vaccinate enough population to start to suppress with just more with the vaccine than relying on the same types of measures, masks and social distancing that we've had throughout this pandemic.

VAUSE (on camera): Well, that seems to be the advice that we have been getting from the head of the WHO, who basically says the lower income nations that don't have access to the vaccine just simply have to wait. They have to continue with social distancing, as well as testing. Listen to this.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WHO: The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. To do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. We cannot stop this pandemic if we do not know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries. Test, test, test.


VAUSE (on camera): It seems testing as a priority has kind of dropped off the map recently. The official worldwide count of the number of cases is closing on 113 million. How many times higher would you expect the real world number to actually be and what are the implications of that?

BOLLYKY: It's going to vary country by country how far that number is off, the number -- reported numbers. But it is at a minimum multiple, multiples short of what the reality is. In some settings, could be even a lower percentage of that. It is true, as much as these variants are scary and they seem novel, the strategies for controlling them are not.


BOLLYKY: They are largely the same strategies that we have been trying to maintain for months now in this pandemic. We just need greater adoption. What's harder for that is in the wealthy nations that have access to vaccines, you do see some increased use of masks or social distancing, reduced mobility, showing that people are staying at home, particularly in parts of the U.S. and the U.K.

The problem is in countries where vaccines are not coming any time soon, this is a long haul for them. There really is some amount of pandemic fatigue. So, the director general is conveying the right message. I hope people listen and are able to hold on while we are waiting for vaccine supplies to reach them.

VAUSE: Thomas Bollyky, thank you so much for being with us.

BOLLYKY: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: India is aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by August, but many health care workers are refusing to roll up their sleeves for an injection until there is more transparency about the development and approval of Covaxin, the homegrown vaccine.

And after that, ethical concerns, as well, with the makers of Covaxin accused of recruiting volunteers from the slums of Bhopal who were unaware that they were taking part in human trials.

CNN's Vedika Sud is covering the story for us. She joins us live from New Delhi. We should add, the makers of the Covaxin say -- they denied the allegations. They denied any hidden malpractice. But still, these questions remain.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (on camera): Good to be with you again, John. Yes, that is absolutely correct. Now, the concern for some of these activists and experts, including four NGOs who in fact in January this year wrote to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the health minister to ask them to stop the Covaxin vaccine phase three trials that were in Bhopal.

Now, for the benefit of our viewers, Bhopal is a central city in India. In 1984, it actually witnessed one of the worst industrial disasters across the world.

The concern of these experts is that these people, mainly from slum areas, a significant percentage of those participants of this third phase trial are from the Bhopal slums, and they claim, while speaking to CNN, that they did not know they were a part of a trial, they thought they were getting the Covaxin vaccine instead. Here is the report.


CHOTU DOS BERAGI, VACCINE TRIAL PARTICIPANT (translation on-screen): A van came. It had speakers on top and they were making announcements that they are offering COVID vaccines and you will get 10 dollars. They said everyone needs to take it now or you may have to pay money to take it later.

SUD: Twenty-seven-year-old laborer Chotu dos Beragi, like many others in the slums of Bhopal, say this was an offer he simply can't refuse.

BERAGI (translation on-screen): I haven't been working since the lockdown last year. I thought, might as well get the vaccine and $10.

SUD: Beragi says he walked (INAUDIBLE) People's Hospital in December, expecting the COVID-19 vaccine. But he claims he unknowingly became a participant of phase three clinical trials for India's indigenous vaccine Covaxin, developed by India's pharma giant, Bharat Biotech, cosponsored by a government-run institute Indian Council of Medical Research.

India's rules for clinical trials clearly state administrators must inform participants about the trial, require written consent, provide clear understanding about the trial risks, explain the placebo may be administered in place of the vaccine.

But Beragi, who is illiterate, says he had very little understanding about what he was agreeing to.

BERAGI (translation on-screen): They gave me a form and asked me to sign it. I said, sir, I cannot read or write, how will I fill it out? So they filled it out themselves and asked me to sign it.

SUD: It is an allegation that gives bioethics expert Dr. Anant Bhan pause.

ANANT BHAN, BIOETHICS EXPERT: There have been some (INAUDIBLE) recruitment and the way it was done (INAUDIBLE) of the fact that there was reimbursement amount and the fact that this was an opportunity to get vaccinated, not to be part of a trial.

SUD: Bhan also says that recording adverse events is critical in any vaccine trial. Some slum residents have said that despite experiencing what they considered adverse events, the followup by trial administrators was not regular.

Responding to media queries and the trials in January, Bharat Biotech in a press statement said, all adverse events were duly reported and all patients were monitored on a regular basis. The pharma company went on to say that participants were enrolled after careful assessment and the payment of $10 was not an inducement. No compromise had been made with the scientific rigor of the trial.

CNN spoke to 20 other participants besides Beragi, and most say they did not know they were participating in a vaccine trial, and others say they did not understand what that meant.


What's more trial participants that spoke to CNN were from a vulnerable community. This slum around Bhopal was a major site of an industrial disaster in 1984. ICMR, which collaborated with India's pharma giant on development of the vaccine denies the trial was unethical.

DR. SAMIRAN PANDA, INDIAN COUNCIL OF MEDICAL RESEARCH: ICMR is respectful about the ethical practices while conducting a trial and has therefore no reason to believe that the coupon site did not follow ethical principles.

SUD: While manufacturers say no corners were cut in its trial phase, experts worry the findings in Bhopal vaccine trials might raise questions about the reliability of data gathered if these allegations are proven true. So therefore, non-government organizations we're talking about, they're yet to receive a response from the Indian government also Bharat Biotech, the big pharma company that's manufactured Covaxin.

CNN reached out to them repeatedly asking them about these allegations of ethical violations. They're yet to respond to us. We also did speak to the Dean of this particular hospital, and he said the van was not sent for any sort of recruitment for participants. And he also says that they have all the written forms albeit for audio visual or written consent with them. John.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN HOST: Yes, thank you. Vedika Sud for us in New Delhi. We'll take a short break. Coming up on CNN Newsroom, markets in Asia closing way down on this day. We'll talk about why they took a sharp turn. That's next.


VAUSE: Welcome back. You're watching CNN Newsroom. I'm John Vause. Well, U.S. Futures are looking a little grim after a bad day on Wall Street. The Dow was down nearly 560 points Thursday, just a day after setting a new all-time high. The S&P and NASDAQ dropped as well.

A lot of volatility has to do with rising bond yields and fears about possible rising interest rates. CNN's Emerging Markets Editor John Defterios following all of this live from Abu Dhabi.

So John, as a good folk of the Weimar Republic will tell you sooner or later, printing money will eventually lead to inflation. But beyond the rise of the 10 year yield, 10-year Treasury yield of the U.S. which is linked to the 30 year mortgages.

Is there any other significant side of inflation in the U.S. economy?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, there's speculation we could get up to 2.5 percent in inflation, John, which is not historically high, but much higher than what we've seen in the last decade, that's for sure. Let the forces be against you. I'm trying the kind of the Star Wars phrase upside down here for the 1970s because there's three factors at play here, John.

Number one is that yield going to 1.6 percent, the biggest jump since 2016. The impact of stimulus spending on what that could mean for inflation, chasing different assets and different commodities, property bubbles as well. And then this whole retail investors speculation that we've seen.


We have GameStop jumping up and down by 100 percent. And the AMC Entertainment, Koss Headphones, another one - another valued stock that the retail investors kind of pile in. And then we have to look at the selloff in Asia itself. This is a horrendous day. We have the Nikkei finishing it up right near its lows for the day, just shy of 4 percent.

The Hang Seng index down 3.3 percent. And you see now Shanghai at its low for the day, down just over 2 percent. And in Seoul down 2.8 percent. Seoul though was up 45 percent in a 12 month window and the Nikkei index up 30 percent. And the view on Wall Street is by - at least by some of the market strategist is that interest rates have been so low, it's led to speculation all across the board.

Let's take a listen.


DAVID KELLY, CHIEF GLOBAL STRATEGIST, JP MORGAN: I think it should send a message to the Federal Reserve. There's some price to have - having easier liquidity and very low interest rates forever because it is fueling some bubbles in different areas. You know I think for a long term investors you've got to realize, you've got your Vegas money, and you've got your long term investment money and your long term investment money should not be put into things that do not make fundamental sense.


DEFTERIOS: Vegas money. Got to love that phrase, right, John and we have Bitcoin here having its worst year, first worst weekend in a year, down better than 5 percent. We're looking at a trade now of 45,300. Now this is going to boil down to the confidence in Jay Powell, the Head of the Federal Reserve and Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, can they get the stimulus package through for Joe Biden $1.9 trillion?

But if they don't, the market is something we see today, and the political infighting on Capitol Hill will play out over the next couple of weeks for sure. We're going to have a Senate vote probably the next week.

VAUSE: Vegas money also known as the Shanghai Composite. Just very quickly, is it just a feeling now that you can't keep printing money forever? Eventually, it's going to bite you. And that's what's happening.

DEFTERIOS: Yes, I know we're a bit tight on time, John, but there's a huge question mark, as we've added about 20 percent of debt to GDP and all the industrialized nations, the G20 is meeting this weekend. What do you do with it? And as you suggested here, investors have been spoiled by all this money printing, and there's real fear, you could have a spike up of inflation.

Not like we saw in the 1980s of 13 percent. But it's certainly doubling over the next year from the expectations that we see today.

VAUSE: Yes, thanks, John. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi. Sorry for the producers for blowing out the time. When we come back North Korea's coronavirus are so harsh, I believe some Russian diplomats went to some extreme lengths to escape Pyongyang. Their grueling trip back to Mother Russia, next.


VAUSE: Well, pandemic restrictions in North Korea are so severe, conditions inside the country so bad that eight Russian diplomats were so desperate to leave, they loaded their families onto a rail handcart. And finished their journey by pushing and pumping their way to the Russian border by hand. Live now to CNN's Paula Hancocks, who's following the story from Seoul.


This is cruel because it was a long journey by train and the car then this rail thing which they push up and down and they build it themselves?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's right, John. It's absolutely remarkable. This is what we're hearing from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through their Facebook page. They've confirmed all this saying that this family that you see there had 32 hours on a train, two hours on a bus to get to the border. And then the final part they had to do on foot. So what they've done beforehand is they built this, this handcart, put it on the rails, put all of their suitcases and luggage on top, and then put the children on top of that as well, which is just remarkable.

They said that the one particularly tricky bit was going across the bridge across the Tumen River. So this is the third Secretary for the embassy Vladislav Sorokin and his family and one of his children is a three year old. So they've been in North Korea throughout the entire time that it has been lockdown.

And what this really shows us john is just how tightly sealed these borders are. Russia is a close ally of North Korea, it is a friend of North Korea. And yet North Korea still wouldn't allow a car or a plane or a train or anything to come in and pick these diplomats up. This is the way that they have to get out of the country.

So it really shows just how closely they've sealed the borders, how concerned they are about the coronavirus and allowing any of the infection in. John.

VAUSE: A lockdown in any part of the world is miserable enough but a lockdown in North Korea, oh gosh, OK, but essentially the situation in North Korea, no one really knows where they stand right now in terms of the spread of the virus, right?

HANCOCKS: The official line is still that they have zero cases. There is skepticism obviously about that, considering they border China. But the fact is we've seen a number of big meetings recently with the leader Kim Jong-Un, there is no social distancing. There are no masks being used.

And one interesting thing we heard from the Russian ambassador to the DPRK a couple of weeks ago, in an interview he did with the Interfax news agency is that he said that I have no doubt if North Korea had seen one case, we would have been locked down in the embassy.

So certainly from the Russian diplomats point of view, they don't believe that there is a significant issue with coronavirus within the country itself. But of course, there is a very difficult situation for any foreigners left in there. The ambassador, really speaking unusually candidly, about North Korea was talking about the lack of basic food, staples because the imports have been stuck at the border.

Things like sugar, flour, pasta. And so certainly that clearly is one of the reasons why these diplomats are trying to leave now, John.

VAUSE: In many ways, it just makes sense because they call it the Hermit kingdom and they had the ability to hermetically seal that border. They've done it in the past. Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks in Seoul. Thank you for watching CNN newsroom. I'm John Vause, please stay with us.

At the top of the hour, Kim Brunhuber will take over. In the meantime, World Sport is up next. I'll see you next week. Thanks for watching.



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: There is progress report on vaccines tonight of 91 million vaccines distributed. Over 68 million have made it into arms so far, and 50 million of those have been administered since President Joe Biden took office. But he is warning, now isn't the time for a victory lap and hinting at some announcements still to come.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two weeks ago, if the FDA approves the use of this new vaccine, we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson and Johnson can make it. We'll use every conceivable way to expand manufacturing of the vaccine and we'll make even more rapid progress on overall vaccines in March.

I'll have more to say about this in the days after the FDA review.


LEMON: Plenty to discuss now with CNN Medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Doctor, thanks for joining tonight. So the President seemed to hint that a big vaccine announcement will be coming in the very near future. And any - do you have any idea what to expect?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, it's probably going to include the J&J Vaccine. There's a lot there's a lot happening. We have a really good vaccine that's about to come on the scene in the United States, the J&J vaccine, which is easy to transport, it comes in only requirement for just a single dose.

And it's very, very effective at preventing illness in general, and completely effective at preventing death in hospitalization, at least in the big pivotal trial. What's going to be a bit of a game changer from this vaccine is that it's going to almost double our capacity to deliver new shots to people.

So if you think about it, right now, we're delivering every day about 1.4 million vaccines into arms. But about half of that is split between new folks getting vaccinated and people coming back for their second shots. So we're giving about 5 million new vaccines per week, we'll probably see somewhere between 3 million to 4 million doses of the J&J vaccine available immediately.

And then about 5 million doses per week after that. So it's going to almost double our ability to get new shots into people, to get immunity on board. It's a big deal.

LEMON: The FDA's vaccine advisors will meet tomorrow, they're going to discuss whether to give emergency approval to the J&J as you call it, Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which looks likely and it could begin rolling out as early as next week.

How much is this single dose vaccine going to help us fight this virus?

REINER: I think it's going to be very, very useful. First of all, you know, there are a lot of people who you know, we can basically get a hold of to vaccinate once, harder to arrange for people to come back for a second shot.

You know, people who have limited mobility, people who can make it to single mass vaccination events, but hard to schedule back for other events. This vaccine is going to give us a lot of flexibility. We'll also learn perhaps, you know, going forward some interesting new ideas about vaccinations, there's some data that suggests that the Pfizer vaccine for instance, is superbly effective at producing neutralizing antibodies after a single shot in people who have already had the infection.


So, it may be that people who have recovered from the coronavirus maybe, you know they had it in the fall only need a single dose. So over the next you know, few weeks we're going to start to learn about some of these perhaps, changes to our vaccination strategies.

LEMON: All right. Dr. Reiner, thank you. I appreciate your time.

REINER: My pleasure.

LEMON: So an odd story coming out today about Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga's dog walker shot, her dogs stolen. It's a very disturbing story and disturbing videos next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: So this is new tonight. It's video from the moment Lady Gaga

dog walker was shot and two of her French Bulldogs were stolen.


This new video recorded last night by home surveillance camera and obtained by CNN, OK? It captures two individuals attacking and then shooting the dog walker on a Hollywood Street. CNN has removed the moment the victim was shot and some of the audio. Here it is.



LEMON: My goodness, horrifying, horrifying. Later on the dog walker yells that he has been shot in the heart and lungs. Los Angeles Police say that he is in critical condition. The two attacker speeding off with French Bulldogs Kogi and Gustav, they are still missing tonight.

A third Frenchie was recovered by Police. A source telling CNN that Lady Gaga is offering a half million dollar reward for the two missing dogs. We hope the dog walker's OK. We hope she gets her dogs back. I would be just beside myself. So best of luck all around with that story.

Breaking News Tonight. The first known airstrikes under President Biden. The target was Syria but the message appears to be aimed at Iran. Stay with us.