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U.S. Strikes Iranian Militias; Johnson & Johnson Waiting for FDA Approval; Hong Kong Starts its Vaccination Program; E.U. Ramping Its Vaccine Rollout; People Desperate to Get COVID Vaccine; U.S. Airstrike Hit Iranian-Backed Militia In Syria; House Lawmakers Press For Answers About Response To Attack; Alexei Navalny Moved From Detention Center; Vaccines Versus new COVID-19 Variants; Russian Diplomat Ride Rail Handcar To Return From North Korea; Accusations Of Ethics Violations In India Vaccine Trials; Update On Tiger Woods Health; U.S. Market Movements. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): And welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada, and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Ahead on CNN newsroom, just weeks into his presidency, Joe Biden takes action. Ordering a U.S. airstrike against Iranian-backed militia in Syria.

Mass vaccinations are underway in Hong Kong as people try to get their shot. We'll take you there live.

And COVID restrictions in North Korea are so strict and conditions are so dire. Well these Russian diplomats got out the only way they could by pumping a rail hand car.

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered his first military action on Thursday. He authorized retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed militians (Ph)-- militants in Syria who have been accused of firing rockets in Iraq. The U.S. says a handful of militants were killed in the air strikes.

The militants were targeted after they sent rockets raining down in repeated attacks like this one in Erbil on February 15th. A civilian contractor was killed. And after Thursday's retaliatory strikes the U.S. defense secretary had this to say.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are confident in the target that we would have, that we know what we did, we are confident that that target was being used for the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes. So, you'll get more information in terms of the effect of the strike as time goes by, but I just wanted to make sure that, you know, I gave you that viewpoint for me, that level of confidence that there is kind of activity. So, we were very deliberate about our approach, as you would expect us to be.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): And we begin our coverage with CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The air strike against the side 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 then Biden gave the final authorization for the strikes on Thursday morning.

A U.S. official familiar with the strikes said up to a handful of militants were killed in that airstrike. And they come after a series of rocket attacks against the U.S. and coalition forces operating in a rock. 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 that part of the messaging here, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby back this up, was first that there would be a response to these rocket attacks, and second, to deter future rocket attacks. Austin made it clear that they are confident that it was Iranian- backed Shia militias that were operating in these sites that were struck by the U.S. air force, and it was those same militias responsible for the rocket attacks.

Up until now the U.S. hadn't attributed the rocket attacks to anyone but now pinpointing 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 signaling that it wants to broaden out the agreement to include Iran's ballistic missiles and Iran's actions in the region.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, the Pentagon.

BRUNHUBER: CNN's Ben Wedeman is live this hour in Erbil, Iraq. So, tell us more about the militia that was targeted here.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, specifically, which ones aren't clear? Because there's really a myriad of these militias that are, in one way or another, affiliated with Iran that operate in many parts of Iraq, including that area on the other side of the border between Iraq and Syria.

Since the defeat of ISIS, a lot of these militias have taken up positions in northern Iraq around the city of Mosul, for instance. Basically, filling a vacuum that has been created by the defeat of ISIS but the weakness of the central Iraqi government. And it's important to keep in mind that the border between Iraq and Syria is fairly porous and these militias do, are able to move back and forth over that border with relative impunity.

Because it's also important to keep in mind that these Iraqi militias have also fought alongside with the Syrian military and its war against its opponents.


So, it's a very complicated situation which the United States finds itself, as usual, as it has basically since the downfall of Saddam into 2003. Now, these militias, during the war against ISIS sometimes fighting in essentially parallel with the U.S. military against ISIS.

Back in 2014 and '15, I, in fact embedded with some of those militias for quite some time. But what we've seen since the defeat of ISIS that they are finding themselves increasingly on opposite sides with the U.S. military, and of course they are being blamed, for instance, for the repeated missile or mortar attacks on the green zone in Baghdad where the U.S. embassy is located. And of course, here in Erbil on the 15th of February more than one dozen rockets were fired at the airport and some of them also landed in residential areas of the city. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: So, we heard that the strikes were across the border in Syria, specifically to avoid any diplomatic headaches for the Iraqi government. So, explain the dynamics here?

WEDEMAN: As I said, it's complicated. The Iraqi government does include people who are affiliated with those militias. Therefore, it's better for the United States, from that point of view, to strike those Iraqi militias at their positions on the other side of the border with Syria.

But at the end of the day, they are still, it's believed, Iraqi militias. And therefore, on paper perhaps, among in the sort of the diplomatic niceties know they did not attack targets in Iraq, but they might have attacked Iraqi targets just on the other side of the border in Syria.

So, in may make a difference in diplomatic terms, but in practical terms it could have been a strike in Iraq. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much for that reporting there, Ben Wedeman in Erbil.

I want to cross over to London now and bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. So Nic, this is just after the Biden administration opened the door to talks with Iran about the nuclear deal. Iran haven't yet, you know, responded to that invitation. So, what effect could this have on the dialogue on the JCPOA?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think at multiple levels, domestically in the United States where there were fears, perhaps by some that Biden was going to be soft on Iran, that his position to get back into those JCPOA, that nuclear deal talks was one that had laid out to the Iranians that they don't have to change any of the things that they are currently doing that break, and they're quite substantial, the things that they're doing that break that international nuclear deal.

The United States will get back to the table with them before they have made those changes to talk about the way forward. So far, Iran has not responded. I think internationally, diplomatically, there is a concern that Iran will is going to misread the situation. Domestically, in the United States, there's a concern that President Biden is going to be too soft on Iran. So, that sends a very clear signal and to the United States allies in the region thinking here, specifically Saudi Arabia.

President Biden spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia last night, Iran was one of the topics, and the language that both sides have used to describe that phone conversation is very tough on Iran. The United States saying it will support Saudi Arabia against attacks from Iranian affiliated groups. And the Saudis from that part believe that the United States is strong in that commitment, and that the United States will stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

Remembering, of course, that for this important ally, Saudi Arabia, President Trump is very tough on Iran. They like that. So this tough message on Iran from Biden will resonate, and these actions will resonate as well diplomatically in Tehran with allies in the region, and of course domestically back home.

BRUNHUBER: But in that call with Saudi King Salman controversially, maybe according to the White House readout, no mention of Jamal Khashoggi.

ROBERTSON: No. There wasn't. You know, I think nobody expected that both sides would say that that had come up in the conversation directly. It is, of course, a majorly contentious issue. Because the report that's expected to be released today is expected to give at least some more detail about the CIA's analysis that the king's own son, the crown prince, the sort of the leader in waiting, the de facto day-to-day leader of the country authorize the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That's the CIA's assessment.


And so, the report that's coming out could give more evidence and information on that. The understanding at the moment is that there is no smoking gun. But this is a real difficult issue between the two countries. But what we understand from the U.S. side, they say that they told the Saudis that they believe it's positive, that they release some Saudi-American detainees and other activists from detention in Saudi Arabia and look forward to greater transparency.

And as we heard from the State Department spokesman yesterday evening as well, saying that transparency leads to accountability. And I think that's the message here. We are not being told if they directly discussed Jamal Khashoggi, but what the U.S. side is saying that they are supporting the Saudi Arabia on its improvement on human rights. They're saying that's an important standard for the United States going forward, that relationship should be strong but it should also be transparent. Kim? BRUNHUBER: All right. As always, thank you so much for analysis. Nic Robertson in London.

Hong Kong's mass vaccination program got underway today and people have been lining up for their shot. We'll have a live report from a vaccination center after the break.

Also, coming up, the European Union has started its vaccination program of course, but it wants to ramp it up. We'll hear what their target date is. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Two and a half million lives now lost around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic according to Johns Hopkins University. And we just passed 113 million total cases globally. Now, those are staggering figures. But the numbers are improving for now.

In the U.S., both new infections and deaths are declining more quickly than expected. That is according to the influential modeling team at the University of Washington. And the U.S. could have a new vaccine option as soon as next week.

Regulators will meet in the coming hours to discuss Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate. We'll have more on that a bit later in the show.

So, experts warn that COVID-19 variants spreading around the world could drive another surge. The U.S. CDC confirms more than 2,100 cases involving concerning strains of the virus across the country.

Hong Kong's mass vaccination program kicked off today. And our Kristie Lu Stout is on the scene and joins us now live. I understand you're at a vaccination center, so tell us a bit about what's been going on there today.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's been a big day for Hong Kong. This is the first day of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for the public, and it's China Sinovac that is the jab on offer. I'm standing outside the central library here in Hong Kong, this is one of five sites offering the Sinovac vaccine. Seventy thousand people have already signed up for appointments slots, already booked solid for the next two weeks.


Now, the World Health Organization has yet to approve the Sinovac vaccine, but it has been approved by health authorities here in Hong Kong for emergency use. Among the people who have privileged access or first access to the vaccine include those over the age of 60, healthcare workers, caregivers, as well as workers in cross-border transport like drivers, as well as pilots.

Now earlier today, we spoke to a number of people who just took the Sinovac jab, they were very excited to take the first dose. And when asked about whether they had any reservations, any worries about its efficacy or its safety, apparently, no. Take a listen.


UNKNOWN: No, not at all. Because they tested it at least to see on all races it. Yes, they tested it on Chinese people. Yes, we have similar physical bodies. So, I'm quite -- I'm very confident.

UNKNOWN (through translator): I'm not concerned at all. This vaccine has been tried and tested. No one really had any major issues as a result of getting vaccinated.

UNKNOWN (through translator): You can even see for yourself, there are so many people here, and none of us had any problems.


LU STOUT (on camera): Those individuals very, very confident about the safety, about the efficiency of the Sinovac vaccine. But according to a recent survey by the University of Hong Kong, this came out in January, less than 30 percent of people questioned would be willing to accept the Sinovac vaccine.

In order to address this form of vaccine hesitancy, earlier this week we saw the top leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, take the vaccine herself on live television. And earlier today, the Hong Kong government announced that because of the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, on Monday, 200,000 additional slots will be given and open to the public.

And by then, there will be another vaccine on offer. We just learned that BioNTech vaccine to be distributed by Fosun Pharma will arrive in Hong Kong tomorrow. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much, Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

The European Union is aiming to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by mid-year, that's according to its health commissioner who says the block is taking decisive action to speed up production, delivery, and rollout of the vaccines.

Cyril Vanier joins me live from just outside Paris with more. Cyril, the E.U.'s confronting so many problems with its vaccine rollout from supply chain issues, to lack of confidence in the vaccine itself. So, what steps are they taking now to fix some of those issues?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, that is a great question. And look, there are two separate answers. As far as fixing vaccine hesitancy, which is true, was very high here in Europe, and especially here in France. To some degree that is taking care of itself, Kim.

As the vaccination campaign rolls out, and as we are seeing it progress, and there are no major red flags that are appearing in the news for the population to see, whether it's about side effects or about long term effects of the vaccine, there are just no major red flags that we are seeing right now for people who have been getting these doses administered to them. Well, the vaccine hesitancy is receding a little bit.

So, here in France where the hesitancy was high, we are seeing now that the take up of the vaccine and people who are saying that they are willing to get the vaccine when it is offered to them. That number is inching upwards. And also, it's important to point out, that the older generations, those people who are most at risk, that's where hesitancy is the lowest.

So, for instance, 80 percent of nursing homes have been here in France administered the first dose over 75, there is also a high take up. So, coming back to my original point, that to some degree is taking care of itself.

Now as for actually supplying the vaccine, that is, by far, the biggest problem that Europe has for the moment. And look, European governments are very concerned, they are very angry because as we know and we've covered extensively, some of the vaccine makers have had significant delays, especially AstraZeneca.

And so, they were all pulled in, all the vaccine makers that Europe has ordered vaccines from were pulled in to a meeting yesterday, or should I say, not pulled in because this is 2020. So, it was all video conference, but they -- it was a virtual pulling in to be grilled by European lawmakers.

And you know, what that revealed is that Europe can put as much political pressure as it wants, and that is what is happening right now, there is little that they can do short of actually making the vaccines themselves, Kim. And that is why Europe's vaccine rollout is still going to be tough for several more weeks as the European council president himself admitted this week.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Closer to home for you anyway, the mayor of Paris is asking for a three-week lockdown. What's happening there?


VANIER: Well what's happening is that France's strategy to contain COVID isn't really working at the moment. The president decided to gamble that his curfew, which is a strict curfew, from 6 p.m., to 6 a.m. nationwide, would allow him to avert a nationwide stay-at-home order. That has worked for some regions, it is failing in others. That is why we are seeing local restrictions being implemented.

On the French Riviera a few days ago, and the city of Dunkirk in the north also called for a weekend curfew starting this weekend. Now, Paris, which is one of the three hotspots in the north and the south, the mayor wants a three-week lockdown. Because she says current restrictions just aren't enough, and so her argument is they would prefer to have a more biting lockdown where you close schools, close stores but at least you are able to go back to a more normal life after those three weeks.

So, it is quite possible that that will be taken up in the next few days with effect starting next weekend, but we don't know that yet, Kim. It is still to be confirmed. BRUNHUBER: All right. We'll be watching. Thank you so much, Cyril

Vanier. I appreciate it.

All right, for more on all of these issues, let's speak to Jamie Webb, he is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Technomoral Futures based at the University of Edinburgh. Thank you so much for joining us.

You know, one thing we keep hearing about as these vaccines' rollout is that we have to make distribution more equitable. Here in the U.S., for instance, yesterday, Biden's surgeon general nominee talked about that of course. We're also inundated with stories about people, you know, trying to cut the line, the outrageous stance like those people who are dressing up as grannies.

All of those things make the headlines, but it's the more widespread abuses that are more concerning, like what we saw in Los Angeles. People using access codes to get vaccines that were meant for people in certain designated communities. So, do we know how widespread the problems are in terms of people cheating, gaming the system here?

JAMIE WEBB, DOCTORAL RESEARCHER, CENTRE FOR TECHNOMORAL FUTURES, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH: So, I think if you're thinking about people outright lying and cheating and misleading about either their status as essential workers or their age, as you mentioned with the Los Angeles case, I think that is quite (Inaudible).

What I think is more concerning is that it reveals broader inequities in access to vaccination that go beyond either extremely wealthy or influential people jumping the queue. So, for example, if your vaccine allocation system is done entirely (Inaudible) but like going on to a web site or an app and booking your appointment, you know, that rewards people who are more information rich, time rich, resource rich, who are able to spend their time in front of the computer refreshing the web site who are more internet savvy. So, those who were working from home.

And that might mean that it's harder for members of marginalized communities to get the vaccine or older patients to have access to it. So, I think it's those broader inequities that are revealed by those extreme cases that it's more concerning.

It's easy, for example, to think that a first-come, first-serve, or first sign- up online, first to receive the vaccine system is the most fair. It's not always the most fair because as I say, it rewards the information rich, the resource rich, the online savvy. And those inequities, those broader inequities I think are much concerning than isolated and kind of whacky examples that we're seeing increasing now.

BRUNHUBER: Of course. But I mean, the problems that you mentioned there seemed pretty intractable. How do we make it more equitable? Is it even possible to decouple, you know, wealth and access?

WEBB: Well, I think it would be unlikely given the influence of power and wealth in the world generally to eliminate in this one specific area. But there are a few things. A few suggestions. A few that I'll suggest and maybe (Inaudible) the best way forward and then some (Inaudible).

So, one solution, you might think would be, you know, some good old- fashioned public shaming, right, of individuals who seem to be cutting the vaccine queue. Now I don't think that would be a good idea because I'm very wary of any kind of public health messaging that suggests that people be trying to get vaccinated, I think that would have much more negative effects.

Some have suggested that, you know, some of these examples are people gaming the system, well, it's them pretending to be essential workers or pretending to have morbidity. So maybe it's better to have the system less gameable so we could just prioritize people according to their age. You know go down the age ranks not having protection (Inaudible) essential workers or younger patients with comorbidities.


And I think that would (Inaudible). I think that would be throwing the baby with the bathwater that they are going to bring those communities that we really want to be targeting for vaccination. And a few (Inaudible) of people breaking the rules shouldn't change that.

But I do think a better solution (Inaudible) possible. Allocating the vaccine at this early stage, well-established public health authorities. So, for example, we've seen plenty of examples of people gaining this (Inaudible) here in the U.K., then maybe we have in the U.S.

I think that has a large part to do with the fact the (Inaudible) is being distributed according to the National Health Service which is able to (Inaudible). And no one is being able to pay for access in a way that's maybe harder when you are providing across a patchwork of providers as it's happening in the U.S.

And finally, people are so offended by these examples, not just because of the individuals themselves, but because they are seeing those in dire need of vaccination not receiving it. So I think that means not just (Inaudible) people to come and get the vaccine, but when you are dealing with trying to vaccinate members of maybe (Inaudible) who have less access to resources, less able to sign up, you should be going out into those community.

Community leads to mobile vaccination sites, led by members of those communities to get access to those people who really need it. Now that would make these examples of people gaming the system feel somewhat less egregious.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Such a problem across so many nations, and unfortunately, we don't have any more time to talk about it. But we appreciate all the solutions that offer there. Thank you so much, Jamie Webb, doctoral researcher at University of Edinburgh. I appreciate you joining us.

An alliance of more than 60 travel organizations wants E.U. governments to get tourism back up and running in time for the northern summer and its busy travel season. The European tourism manifesto alliance has asked the E.U. to create a task force to restore freedom of movement.

They want to harmonize framework for travel-related testing and for the rollout of E.U. health certificates. That would make vaccinated travelers and those with proven immunity exempt from entry bans, testing and quarantine. The alliance also wants a coordinated reopening of tourism and leisure activities.

Well, the Democrats' push to increase the minimum wage in the U.S. hits a major roadblock. Why the proposal won't be included in President Biden's COVID relief bill. We'll explain coming up. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: And welcome back to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada, and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. And you are watching CNN Newsroom.


U.S. President Joe Biden ordered retaliatory airstrikes on Thursday against Iranian back militants in Syrian who had been accused of firing rockets at American and coalition forces in Iraq. U.S. says the strike killed a handful of militants on the Syrian side of a remote border crossing with Iraq.

The militants were targeted after launching several waves of rocket attacks on Iraqi targets, including this one, in Erbil on February 15th. A civilian contractor was killed. Earlier, we spoke with CNN military analyst, Mark Hertling, about the size and scope of the U.S. response.


MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED ARMY FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL: This is just interesting to me, because there are dozens of Iranian-backed militias within Iraq, and within Syria, and they have been harassing U.S. forces. The Iraqi government is tired of these Iranian militias, but they can't do as much about them because of the political implications there.

But, in my view, it is a very good response by the new administration to what has been happening in terms of the Iranian-backed militias attempting these kinds of strikes against United States forces. The 2,500 or so that is still in Iraq.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): To Capitol Hill now where House lawmakers were pressing for answers on Thursday about the response to the January 6th attack. The acting chief of the Capitol police, and the acting House sergeant-at-arms, were in the hot seat. The chief had a dire warning about what's some extremists are now planning.

Jessica Schneider has details from Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, growing frustration from lawmakers.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Why wouldn't we have been prepared for the worst-case scenario? That is what the average American is sitting at home thinking about.

SCHNEIDER: The acting chief of Capitol police and the acting sergeant-at-arms, grilled under lacked of preparedness and the breakdown of communication to Capitol police officers on January 6th.

JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER, U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: They were getting no leadership, they're getting no direction. There was no coordination. And you could see the fear in their eyes.

SCHNEIDER: Acting Chief Pittman, admitted there were failures.

YOGANANDA PITTMAN, ACTING CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: When there is a breakdown, you look for those commanders with boots on the ground to provide that instruction. That did not happen, primarily because those operational commanders at the time we're so overwhelmed. On January 6, our incident command protocols were not adhered to as they should have.

SCHNEIDER: But Pittman also pushed back, to the disbelief of the committee that even if leadership had seen that FBI bulletins that warn that rioters pledged to go to war at the Capitol, Capitol police would not have planned any differently.

UNKNOWN: Even if it had moved up the chain, you would have not done anything differently?

PITTMAN: That is correct sir. We do not believe that that document, in and of itself, would have changed our posture. We believe it was consistent with the information and intelligence that we already had.

SCHNEIDER: For the first time, Pittman disclosed just how many people came to the Capitol.

PITTMAN: I think that we were well in excess of 10,000 that traverse the grounds. But as far of the numbers that actually came into the building, we estimated that was approximately 800 demonstrators.

SCHNEIDER: And Pittman warned that the fencing and security will remain around the Capitol for now. Because the threat from extremists is still looming.

PITTMAN: They want to blow up the Capitol, and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the state of the union, which we know that date has not been identified.

SCHNEIDER: Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER (on camera): Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny is

on the move. But his lawyer say, they do not know where he is right now, and neither does his family.

CNN's Matthew Chance has the latest.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Lawyers for Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, say he is now being moved from a jail here in Moscow. And is presumably on route to a penal colony, somewhere else in the country. Navalny, of course has survived a horrific nerve agent poisoning last year and recovered in Germany. He was arrested when he returned to Russia last month and jailed for two and a half years.

A Moscow court, finding that he violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence by being out of the country for too long when he was sick. The opposition leader's chief of staff says that neither Navalny's lawyers, nor his family, know where he has been moved to yet, but a prisoner monitoring group in Russia tells CNN he is due to be sent to what is called, a general regime penal colony. Which is one of the most common types of prisons in Russia, where inmates live in dorms, not cells, and can work if they choose to do so.

But the transfer comes days, after the human rights, group Amnesty International, handed pro kremlin critics of Navalny, a propaganda victory by stripping the opposition figure of his prisoner of conscience designation, citing concerns about anti-migrant statements that Navalny made more than a decade ago.


In his defense, Navalny says, none of its past statements justify his current detention, and they say they are continuing to demand for his immediate release. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Emerging coronavirus variance, increasingly have U.S. Health experts on edge. Details ahead on the race to vaccinate as many people as possible to stop concerning strains and their tracks. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): The U.S. has administered more than 50 million coronavirus vaccine doses since Joe Biden became president. He mark the milestone Thursday, while making it clear there's still a long way to go. Mr. Biden also spoke with the Johnson & Johnson candidate, which could soon become the country's third COVID vaccine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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 will use every conceivable way to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, and we will make even more rapid progress on overall vaccines in March. I will have more to say about this in the days after the FDA review.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): That process begins today. Meanwhile, worrisome virus variance keep cropping up and health officials fear they could send things in the wrong direction again. CNN's Amara Walker, has more.


AMARA WALKER, CNN NTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the battle against the spread of COVID-19, new variants of the virus are making the race to get Americans vaccinated all the more urgent.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: Today, what we are seeing is a barrage of these new variants coming forward.

WALKER: Experts, are increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants, including new homegrown variants found in California, New York, and the northeast.

OSTERHOLM: Well 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 the single most important variant right now in our headlights and that is this V117 or the U.K. variant, which is rapidly spreading now throughout the United States.

WALKER: At least 45 states have confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants, according to the CDC. The seven-day daily average has tick up to more than 72,000 in the last month. The daily COVID deaths, drop 30 percent, and hospitalizations have decreased by 51 percent. A new CDC forecast released Wednesday, protects the daily COVID-19 death rate will continue to slow in the coming weeks. But they are also preparing for all scenarios, including the possibility of another surge.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: What we don't have is a perfect view of how the vaccines will handle the variants.

WALKER: Vaccine makers, Pfizer, and Moderna, are testing out new strategies to get ahead of these variants. Pfizer, announced this morning, they are testing how well a third vaccine dose targets new coronavirus variants.

And, Moderna announced, it was producing a version of its vaccine to protect against mutations found in the variant first identified in South Africa. The company said the formula will be tested as a booster shot, and a primary vaccine, against the strain for individuals who have yet to be vaccinated.

[03:40:14] We might ask that you consider waiting, so that others who don't have

any immunity, can be vaccinated before you.

But if you already have COVID-19, The CDC director is also asking people who already had been expose to wait for others to get the vaccine first. Although it is not officially a CDC guideline. And with more than 20 million Americans having been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the U.S. is one step closer to having a third vaccines to distribute. After a vaccination that like Pfizer and Moderna do. The White House adding you should get any vaccine that's available.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: The sooner we get vaccine into the arms of an individual, whatever that vaccine is, once it gets by the FDA for an EUA, if it is available to you, get it.

WALKER: The FDA could sign off on Emergency Used of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as early as Friday. But getting shots in arms, still moving slower than hoped. Georgia, this week, opened for mass vaccination sites around the state, but they are not seeing the numbers they had planned on.

UNKNOWN: I don't think we are going to get quite there, because we are just not getting the turnout in some of our places.

WALKER: Now, the Georgia emergency management agency Director, referring to low turnout at a mass vaccination site in Albany. Just three hour south of here. There were so many doses left over, they actually had to reallocate them at the three other mass vaccination sites.

Also, the Georgia Governor, Brian Kemp, announcing on Thursday that he will be expanding eligibility of the vaccine to include educators, and k through 12 staff. Adults with intellectual, and developmental disabilities, and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions. In Atlanta Georgia, Amara Walker, CNN.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): A group of Russian diplomats has gone to extreme and unusual lengths to return home from North Korea. CNN's Paula Hancocks, joins me now from Seoul. Paula, that video, I mean, it is almost, you know, cartoonish, but there is nothing to laugh about here. Tell us about this incredible journey?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): That's right. It is remarkable footage, really, and a very serious message behind it. The fact that North Korea is so concerned about allowing the coronavirus into its country, or in more than it already is, of course, we don't know for sure that they have sealed the border so significantly.

So, these is Russian diplomats who are trying to get out of the country, because it was too difficult to be staying in Pyongyang due to the restrictions, and they were not allowed a plane, a train, or a car, to come and pick them up. So, what they had to do according to the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow is they have 38 hours on a train, two hours on a bus to get to the border, and then, at that point, they were supposed to walk across.

But what they had done according to the ministry of foreign affairs is they had built this sort of handcar, they had put it on the rails, and they have then put all of their luggage on top, including their children. So, this was the 3rd secretary for the embassy, who is the engine, really, of this handcar. And one of his children was just three-years-old.

So, it is really remarkable images when you look at them. But, this is the way that they were able to come out of the country. But as I say, there is a serious story behind this. The very fact that North Korea knows that they would not be able to cope with a massive outbreak of coronavirus. Now, they still claim they have zero cases. There's a huge amount of skepticism when it comes to that.

But we did hear from the Russian ambassador to the DPRK, just a couple of weeks ago, and quite an unusually candid interview, talking about life in Pyongyang at the moment. And he did say that I have no doubt if North Korea had seen one case that we would have been locked down in the embassy.

So, he appears to think that there is no significant outbreak at this point, but he did also talk about the shortages. Saying that imports cannot come in, things like pasta, sugar, vegetable oil, flour, just simply can't get hold of it at this point. So, very restrictive within the country.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Absolutely, alright thank you so much, Paula Hancocks, in Seoul.

India has seen some recent success against the coronavirus, but it still got the second highest number of cases in the world. A new daily infection rate has fallen dramatically, since September. India has even sent doses of its Covaxin vaccine abroad. But activist and experts are raising red flags over potential ethics violations during Covaxin's clinical trials. Our Vedika Sud, joins us now live from New Delhi with more. Vedika, the allegations, if they are true, they are pretty horrific. What do we know?


VEDIKA SUD, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): Good to be with you, Kim. So, on the outside, let me just tell you more about these trials, they're over 26,000 participants across India who participated in the trials of which at least 1,700 where in the city called Rupal in central India. Also famous for the industrial disaster that took place in 1984, one of the worst across the world.

Now, a significant population, a percentage, rather, of the participants, were from the slum areas of Rupal. CNN spoke to 21 of them, and most of them have told us that they thought they were going to get the COVID vaccine, they did not know that they are going to be a part of the trial process. And that is something that the indigenous company here that is

manufactured Covaxin vaccine has denied. In queries that reports by the media back in January, we also spoke to the cosponsoring company, which is a government run institute called ICMR, and their own record had said that there was no ethical violation. Here is the report.



SUD (voice over): 27-year-old day laborers, Chotus Dos Beragi like many others in the slums of Rupal said this was an offer he simply could not refuse.


SUD: Beragi said he walk into nearby people's hospital in December, expecting a 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, (inaudible) cosponsored by government run institute, Indian council of medical research.

India's rules for clinical trials clearly states 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 said he had very little understanding about what he was agreeing to.


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

ANANT BHAN, BIOETHICS EXPERT: There is one recruitment in the wake of overplaying of the fact that there is reimbursement amount and the fact that this is an opportunity to be vaccinated, not clarifying it with a trial.

SUD: Bhan also say that reporting adverse events is critical in any vaccine trial. Some slum residents have said that despite experiencing, they considered adverse events, the follow-up by trial administrators wasn't regular. Responding to media queries of the trials in January, Bharat Biotech in a press statement said, all of these 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 payment of $10 was not an inducement. No compromise had been made with the scientific rigor of the trials. CNN spoke to 20 other participants besides Beragi. And most say they didn't know they were participating in vaccine trial, and other say they did not understand what that meant.

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

SAMIRAN PANDA, INDIAN COUNCIL OF MEDICAL RESEARCH: I see it is more respectful about the ethical practices by conducting a trial and has therefor no reason to believe that the (inaudible) did not follow ethical principles.

SUD: While manufacturers see no corners were cut in its trial phase, experts worried the findings in Rupal's vaccine trials might raise questions about the reliability of data gathered if these allegations are proven true.


SUD (on camera): CNN has, repeatedly reached out to Bharat Biotech, the manufacture of the Covaxin vaccine, but they yet to respond. Also CNN spoke to the dean of this hospital we have been telling you about, and the dean has spoken to CNN. And he claims that there was no such man that was sent to recruit participants and they claimed they have all the written and all the audio visual consent for participation by participants. Back to you Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Alright. Thank you so much for your reporting there. Vedika Sud, in New Delhi.


Tiger Woods has been moved to a different hospital in Los Angeles. The golfing superstar has been transferred to Cedar Sinai Hospital for quote, continuing orthopedic care and recovery. He was previously being treated at UCLA harbor medical center after Tuesday's terrible crashed in California where he sustained serious injuries to his right leg and ankle.

Now it may be hard to envision how Tiger Woods could return to golf after the injuries he received in the car crashed. Doctor say his path to recovery is long and uncertain. But if history is any guides, Woods could find inspiration in another golfer legend, Ben Hogan.

Omar Jimenez explains.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Two golfers, considered among the greatest of all-time. Now, intertwined by a horrible disaster. Ben Hogan, won nine major championships, but only three before he nearly lost his life in 1949. Hogan and his wife, Valerie were driving home from a tournament in Texas one foggy February morning, when a bus hit them head on.

Hogan fractured his pelvis, collarbone, and left ankle. Smash a rib, and endured nearly fatal blood clots. Doctors feared the 36-year-old would never walk again. Two months later, he started to regain in strength. The next year, he returned to tournament play. Legs, frequently swollen. In that very same year, at the 1950 U.S. Open, he won. Then, kept winning. RICHARD ILL, MERION GOLF CLUB CHAIRMAN: He would not even expected to

live after the accident, let alone win this open, and three of the next four Open after 1950.

JIMENEZ: In 2018, Tiger Woods said, as far as greatest comebacks? I think that one of the greatest comebacks in all of the sport is the gentleman who won here, Mr. Hogan. One can't help but draw comparisons. Tiger's comeback expand over a decade with the car crash, DUI, painkiller addiction, and back surgeries in between. Before his nearly unbelievable win at the 2019 Masters.

TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: Look, I don't want to take anything away from what Ben Hogan did after his car crash and the other comebacks that athletes have had in other sports, but right now, I can't think of any greater come back in sports than the one, you know, the journey that he made from that launch we had in 2017 to winning the Masters a couple of years later.

JIMENEZ: But this may be Tiger's steepest ill yet. At the age of 45, this car crashes has left his legs in pieces. But he is expected to survive, and will face a long journey ahead. Passed his physical survival comes the survival of his career.

JAY MONAHAN, PGA TOUR COMMISIONER: Tiger is a human being. Tiger's had some really difficult injuries. And Tiger wants to talk about the golf, we'll talk about the golf. All the energy right now is going to be poured into supporting him in the days, and months, ahead.

JIMENEZ: Across the sports world, support pouring in for Tiger. Jack Nicholas with the most golf majors of all time tweeted, offering heart felt support and prayers at this difficult time. Please join us in wishing Tiger a successful surgery and all the best for a full recovery.

Likely what would be a similar response to Hogan's crashed. Two journeys, connected by tragedy with many hoping Tigers to will end in triumph. Omar Jimenez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Still to come on CNN Newsroom, it's been a volatile few days on Wall Street, and while Thursday was no exception, we'll have the latest on what made the DOW end up in the red. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Joe Biden's hope to hike the U.S. federal minimum wage to $15 an hour took a hit when the Senate parliamentarian ruled against him, including the race in the presidents COVID relief bill. Progressive strongly supported the measure, but Republicans opposed it and even some Democrats resisted it.

And while the president and several Democrats express their disappointment, the ruling could now make it easier for Congress to adopt the Democrats' enormous $1.9 trillion relief bill that is expected to pass the House later today.

Well, it was another rush day in the U.S. markets, the DOW fell 559 points on Thursday, just one day after setting a new all-time high. And stock in videogame retailer, GameStop was on another rollercoaster ride. CNN's emerging markets editor, John Defterios is following this from Abu Dhabi. So, this seems to be a selloff link primarily to the U.S., both higher interest rates, and a lot of speculation there. What is happening here?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR (on camera): Well, it is almost a trifecta if you will, Kim. Placing one, two, and three, in terms of the factors here. Number one, let's break it down. The bond yield -- in the 10 year bond for the U.S. rose up to 1.6 percent, the biggest jump in a year, because of concerns of inflation. You talked about that stimulus package that is the second factor. $1.9 trillion -- how does it feed into more liquidity's and more bubbles in the market? As well as inflationary concerns that are there.

And number three, GameStop, it was swinging by 160 percent in a single day, and then finish up about 18 percent. But we have AMC entertainment, another stocks that are part of that. This knock the legs right underneath. The Asian markets, if we take a look, with Tokyo losing nearly 4 percent on the day Hong Kong at its low for this session at the close. Shanghai down better than 2 percent and you see the Seoul KOSPI there down 2.8 percent.

Those on Wall Street are saying this is a message to the U.S. Federal Reserve, because bubbles in the market are forming everywhere. Let's take a listen.


DAVID KELLY, CHIEF GLOBAL STRATEGIST: I think it should send a message for Federal Reserve, there's some price to have (inaudible) or having easier (inaudible) of interest rates forever. Because it is fueling some bubbles in different areas. You know, I think for long term investors, you need to realize you have your Vegas money, and then you have your long term investment money. And your long term investment money should not be put into things that do not make fundamental sense.


DEFTERIOS (on camera): You've got to love that Vegas money, right, Kim. He was making reference to the GameStop portfolio of retail investors that are speculating in the market, and bitcoin. So, let's take a look which is having it's worst week in the year, on the downside, it's down better than 5 percent, treating near it's low for the day at 45,700, but bitcoin in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic was at 5,000 a coin, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: So, I mean, could we be set for more turbulence here if expectations for the U.S. stimulus plan are set too high? DEFTERIOS: Yes. It is a trade-off isn't it, Kim, because you saw the

block on the hourly wage of $15 an hour, so this may open way for passage in the House. But the real resistance is coming with the Republicans in the Senate, and Kamala Harris, as vice president, having to break that vote. I would say it is in Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell that we trust. That is what investors around the world are suggesting here.

They have backed this level of spending, they say don't worry about the inflation, we have it under control, it is necessary to take what they say is the real unemployment rate of 10 percent right now and jump start it. U.S. futures are turning higher right now, Kim. So this is the one piece of (inaudible) going into the trading day that will offer a lows overnight for U.S. futures.

BRUNHUBER: Alright. Thank you so much, John Defterios, in Abu Dhabi, I appreciate it. And we appreciate you watching this hour of CNN Newsroom, I'm Kim Brunhuber, and I'll be back in just a moment with more news.