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Genocide Unveiled in Tigray Region; Europe Makes U-turn on AstraZeneca; Germany Looking to Ease Restrictions; Protests in Myanmar Not Ending Soon; U.S. Sanction Russian Officials; Domestic Terrorism Growing in the U.S.; First Johnson And Johnson Vaccine Doses Administered; Health Experts Warn Against Relaxing Restrictions; Countries Grappling With Economic Impact Of Virus; U.K. Budget Day 2021, What To look For; U.S. Senate Taking Up COVID Relief Plan This Week; Reggae Legend Dead At 73; Australian Attorney General Denies Rape Allegations; Famine Crisis In Yemen; Israeli Right-Wing Courting Arab Voters; Violent Crimes In Arab Israeli Town Gets Attention; Dolly Parton Gets COVID-19 Vaccine; Iowa Pizzeria Under Fire, A Slice Of Controversy. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from and all around the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. And I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, some European leaders have public trust to build with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine after a policy U-turn.

Myanmar's ousted president faces new charges as another day of protests rocks the country.

And Australia's attorney general denies historic rape allegations against him.

Thanks for joining us.

Well, a months' long investigation has uncovered detailed evidence of the massacre of dozens of civilians in the Tigray region of the northern Ethiopia overcoming the information blockade around a pattern of atrocities that may have claimed thousands of civilian lives.

Since November, the Ethiopian government has waged war on the Tigray region with assistance from neighboring troops from Eritrea. Journalists have been severely restricted in their accessed, but in this exclusive report, CNN has been able to speak with dozens of people who say they witnessed a massacre at the hands of invading Eritrean troops in a town in Tigray on one of its holiest days on November 30th last year. And we must warn you, what you are about to see and hear is disturbing.

Here is CNN's Nima Elbagir. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A bloody jacket, some rope used to tie the victims, shoes worn by a Sunday schoolboy, the haunting remnants of a brutal massacre in a village in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region. A massacre perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers on Ethiopian soil.

Fifty-two out of the 54 pictures you see are victims whose identities have been verified by CNN. This is the village of Maryam Dengelat where CNN's investigation uncovered the murder of dozens possibly even more than 100 civilians. Witnesses tell CNN people were murdered here over three days of mayhem. With video and communication limited due to an Ethiopian government-imposed blackout on the region, and fear of government retribution, CNN has had to illustrate witness testimony through animation and use of actor's voices to describe what happened in December last year.

One eyewitness, Masah (Ph), not her real name, told CNN they were returning from morning church service. When they got home, they were confronted by Eritrean troops.

UNKNOWN: They came to our house, then they told us to get out. There were a lot of soldiers outside and they were saying come out, come out you botch. We said we are civilians, we are civilians, showing our I.D.'s. They didn't ask us any question. They just opened fire.

ELBAGIR: To understand what happened here over the course of these three days, you need to understand what's been happening over the last few years in Ethiopia.

Under the country's former rulers, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, Ethiopia waged hostilities with Eritrea for the almost 30 years in power. Ethiopia's President Abiy Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing all that to an end.

The Tigray region has always been distinct in culture and language and its leadership is battling for autonomy from Ethiopia's government. Now the two former enemies stand accused of working together to crush Tigray's fight for autonomy and civilians are being killed in what could be called war crimes and something the ousted Tigray leader described as acts of genocide.

This video was secretly taken and smuggled out to CNN to avoid Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. Its footage of the graves that eyewitnesses described to CNN in harrowing testimony. Underneath the branches and the sticks are grave sites for the victims. Another eyewitness, Abraham, again not his real name, was supposed to help clean the church at Maryam Dengelat before the festival. Instead, he became a gravedigger.

UNKNOWN: They were all so young and they took them and killed them together in a field.

ELBAGIR: Among those he buried were 24 Sunday school children. Abraham and others registered the kids' names as best they could. [03:05:02]

One by one, the shallow graves were uncovered and parents came to identify their children. Some were so badly disfigured. They could only be identified by their clothing.

This is not the only massacre perpetrated in Tigray. Using satellite images and interviews with witnesses, Amnesty was able to find evidence of at least one other separate massacre involving hundreds of civilians, believed to be carried out in another city days earlier.

A day after the investigations by CNN and Amnesty International, U.S. Secretary of State, Blinken said those responsible for them must be held accountable. Strong words, but will words be enough when the crimes described bear all the hallmarks of a possible genocide?

Nima Elbagir, CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): And CNN put the findings of its investigation to the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea, along with the TPLF. In response to a U.S. statement, the Ethiopian government responded that it's fully committed to undertake thorough investigations of alleged human rights abuses, while adding that it found U.S. comments on Ethiopian internal affairs regrettable, and that its forces were conducting lawful operations.

The TPLF said its forces were not in the vicinity of Dengelat before or after the massacre and called for a U.N. investigation to hold all sides accountable for atrocities committed during the conflict. The Eritrean government has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

On Friday, the government vehemently denied its soldiers had committed atrocities during another massacre in Tigray reported by Amnesty International.

A global initiative to ensure poorer countries are receiving equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is getting a big boost. The COVAX program will deliver 237 million doses of vaccines to about 142 economies and countries by the end of May. That's according to the World Health Organization.

COVAX is funded by donations from governments, institutions, and foundations. And its mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations.

I want to Belgium now, and people over the age of 55 may soon get access to AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. Belgian superior health council is recommending the country remove its age limit on the drug. They say new data confirms a vaccine is effective for older adults. Government leaders are expected to decide later today whether to accept the council's recommendation.

Belgium is one of several European countries with an age limit on that particular vaccine. And this comes just one day after France extended its age limit for

the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now live from Paris. Good to see you, Melissa.

So, it has to be said that European leaders initially confuse people about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And now, citizens are pushing back. How are they correcting that initial muddled message?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to take a bit of work, certainly in its communication, Rosemary. What actually happened is that, of course, is that the European Medicines Agency had approved AstraZeneca as the third vaccine that European countries were allowed to see marketed in their countries.

But then of course because of the way the European system works, that European Medicines Agency decision then goes to the national agencies with the individual member states. Once the decision got there over the AstraZeneca vaccine, several European countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy decided that there was insufficient data on the question of the vaccine's efficiency for over 65. And therefore, decided not to allow its distribution for people over the age of 65.

That of course led to the fact that because there were vaccine delivery shortages not only the AstraZeneca but also the Moderna and Pfizer, that suddenly all those priority population, people in nursing homes, older populations, could not be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca. And that led to a surplus of supplies on that one even as the vaccination campaign ground to a halt in some European countries. And they had to change of course their priorities for who is going to get the AstraZeneca.

Now, what's happened, essentially the agencies, the national agencies, have been able to have a look at how the AstraZeneca has been faring in a national rollout. Since in Scotland, there was no age cap on that AstraZeneca vaccine, and in fact, what the month-long study showed was that it was in fact more efficient in keeping people out of hospital than the Pfizer one.

[03:15:02]

And specifically, in those older population that have been given in priority to. That is what led the French national agency to change its mind, to look again at that data, not from clinical trials this time, but from the actual rollout of the vaccine.

This should now, the fact that the AstraZeneca can be given over a 65- year-old will be able to help some of those shortage problems that we've seen in a number of European countries, Rosemary.

CHURCH (on camera): Yes, the data speaks for itself, doesn't it? Melissa Bell, many thanks for bringing us up to date on that situation.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak with regional leaders in the coming hours to discuss the nation's coronavirus restrictions. She is facing increasing pressure to begin easing the measures despite an uptick in daily cases. And a sluggish start to Germany's vaccine rollout.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin.

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FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This isn't a birthday party or a wedding anniversary. Nope. Its Germans being allowed back to the hairdresser after months of lockdown, leaving both the coiffeur and his customers ecstatic.

It's like Christmas, New Year's, and my birthday combined," he says. I am allowed to do again what I love most, working with hair.

Hair and nail salons are among the few businesses allowed to open again in Germany since the start of this week. Other than that, the country remains in a hard lockdown. Shops, cafes, restaurants, all shut, and Chancellor Angela Merkel reluctant to allow for the restrictions to be loosened.

First, we need to see how well we can manage contact tracing, the coronavirus warning app and reinforcements for health authorities, better test strategies and so on, she said. We then need to see how we can step-by-step allow for more openness without risking another exponential growth.

Public support for Merkel of course is waning in Germany, especially as the country's vaccination campaign is only slowly moving ahead. This vaccination center we visited in Berlin is running like clockwork, mostly elderly folks and frontline medical workers getting their shots. The managing director saying most are grateful to get the vaccine.

MARKUS NISCH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, VACCINE CENTER: Everyone is really happy to meet each other. And so that's why the old people are very grateful to be here and to have a nice treatment.

PLEITGEN: But the staff also acknowledged they could be vaccinating almost twice as many people each day if they could get their hands on more vaccine. The problem, social Democratic politician and health expert Karl Lauterbach says is that Germany relied on the E.U. to order vaccine doses, and it didn't order fast enough.

KARL LAUTERBACH, MEMBER, SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF GERMANY: Procurement of the vaccines was slow. Past considerations were overwhelming. Capacity was not given the attention it should have been given. So, we lost time and we are basically suffering from a shortage of all the major vaccines.

PLEITGEN: The German government acknowledges there have been lapses in its vaccine rolled out, but says there will be a lot more vaccine available soon, as many citizens grow tired of waiting as their politicians tell them to be patient just a little longer.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): The U.S. and European Union are taking action over the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. We will have the punishment they are imposing on Russia, and what the Kremlin says it's going to do about it.

Plus, the FBI tells Congress domestic terrorism is spreading across America like a cancer. We will have full details on his disturbing warning.

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CHURCH (on camera): Myanmar's ousted president is now facing two new charges. His lawyer says they involve violating provisions of the Constitution. Meantime, protesters against the military coup confronted police again despite the increasing risk of violence. Security forces have used tear gas, stunned grenades, and in some cases, live ammunition to disperse the crowds.

The Association of Southeast Asian nations met to discuss the crisis. Several members called for the release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees. The group called for all sides to exercise restraint but steered clear of calling for sanctions.

And our Paula Hancocks she joins us now live from Seoul with more on this. So, Paula, another day of protests as the ousted president faces these two additional charges. What's the latest on this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, we are getting reports of more force being used at certain protests around the country. We are seeing live streams of the protests themselves. We are trying to confirm whether there have been fatalities or injuries at this point.

But it's certainly is in keeping with what we have seen over in recent days, that the level of force that the military and the police are using against protesters does not appear to have increased. The U.N. saying at least 21 killed at this point, and many more injured.

Now you did mention there, Rosemary, the president, Win Myint, is actually had another couple of charges against him. That brings the number of charges to four. It's the same as the ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. She now has four charges against her as well.

And we are really seeing these drip feed of legal charges increasing against both of them. Each one, if found guilty, has its own certain number of years of prison term. And certainly, there are concerns that what the military is trying to do, they say they will have a year before they have elections, but clearly trying to make sure that the -- those leaders who won that democratically elected government last November will not be able to stand in those elections. Now March 15th at the point is the date that we have from Aung San Suu

Kyi's lawyer for the next time that she will be in court. Once again, probably by video conference. But there is also, Rosemary, a battle for Myanmar in the United Nations. We did hear from the ambassador to the U.N. for Myanmar, Kyaw Moe Tun.

He clearly sided with the protesters, calling on U.N. member states to do as much as is necessary to bring that democratically elected government back into power. But now, of course the military has fired him. And they have said that they would like the deputy ambassador to be representing Myanmar. So, of course, it's a very difficult situation in the United Nations as to who exactly should hold that seat. Rosemary?

CHURCH (on camera): Yes, absolutely. Paula Hancocks, many thanks for bringing us up to date on the situation in Myanmar.

Well, U.S. President Joe Biden has taken his first major action against Russia. The U.S. hit Moscow with sanctions in a joint move with the European Union over the poisoning and imprisonment of Putin critic Alexei Navalny. The opposition leader was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated for exposure to what's believed to be a military grade nerve agent.

The White House says Russia was behind the poisoning. The U.S. sanctions target seven senior Russian officials and 14 entities. Washington and Moscow obviously have very different views of the situation.

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NED PRICE, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Together, they send an unambiguous signal that the United States is working closely with our closest allies and partners in Europe to make clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We will not countenance it. We will not tolerate it. And there will be penalties going forward.

[03:20:04]

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): When there is nothing to present to somehow at least substantiate their claims about Navalny's poisoning, when all those who treated him are carefully hiding the facts that could help you understand what had happened to him at the end. And when in parallel, instead of honest cooperation without secrets, they begin to punish us, as they think in my opinion, it does not do honor to anybody who takes decisions like this. Regarding the answer, we will definitely answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): Earlier, I spoke with Vladimir Ashurkov, he is a longtime friend and ally of Alexei Navalny. He is also the executive director of Navalny's anti-corruption federation and he lobbied for sanctions against Russia. Ashurkov spoke about Navalny's decision to return to his country despite knowing he would face arrest.

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VLADIMIR ASHURKOV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NAVALNY'S ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: His return to Russia was a risk and he knew that his incarceration was a possible scenario, he prepared for that and our organization prepared for that. But there was nothing he can do. I mean, the work of his life is in Russia. The millions of supporters that he has are in Russia. He has done nothing wrong.

So, it was natural for him to go back, it wasn't a calculated decision, it was more of a moral stand. And of course, we're worried for him. And Russian prisons are notorious for the torture and persecution. But we believe that he will prevail and we are working every day, both domestically and internationally to try to put pressure on the Kremlin to get him out.

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CHURCH (on camera): Vladimir Ashurkov talking to me last hour.

Well, satellite images obtained by CNN are raising new concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. This image was captured by Maxar on February 11th. Analysts say it shows Pyongyang was trying to hide underground tunnels leading to weapon storage facilities.

It could add urgency to calls for U.S. President Joe Biden to push North Korea higher up on his foreign policy agenda. Some experts think he should send a direct signal to demonstrate a willingness to engage.

Well for the first time since the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the FBI director appeared before Congress with a grim warning that domestic terrorism is spreading across the country.

Christopher Wray defending the FBI's handling of security threats. He shot down right-wing conspiracy theories that anti-fascist extremists were responsible for the violence.

Jessica Schneider reports.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, U.S. FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple, and it's a behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In his first congressional testimony since the attack on the capitol, FBI director Christopher Wray appointed by former President Trump put a dagger into the conspiracy theory is pushed by some Trump supporters about what happened that day.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Has there so far been any evidence, that the January 6th riot here, the insurrection was organized by people simply posing as supporters of President Trump's?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence of that. Certainly at --

(CROSSTALK)

COONS: Is there any evidence at all that it was organized or planned or carried out by groups like antifa or Black Lives Matter?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence to that effect, thus far in the investigation.

COONS: And is there any doubt that the people who stormed the capitol included, white supremacist and other far-right extremist organizations?

WRAY: There is no doubt that it included individuals that we would call militia violent extremists, and then in some instances individuals that were racially motivated, violent extremists.

SCHNEIDER: Wray also explained in detail the warnings his agency found online before the insurrection.

WRAY: This was information posted online, under a moniker or a pseudonym. It was unvetted, uncorroborated information but it was somewhat aspirational in nature. But it was concerning.

SCHNEIDER: The information came from the FBI's Norfolk field office, warning a violent war at the capitol. The Washington Post reported the FBI bulletin quoted individual saying, "be ready to fight, go they're ready for war, we get our president or we die."

Former capitol police chief Steven Sund testified last month that the details were only disseminated via e-mail, the day before the attack. But Wray disagreed.

WRAY: That information was quickly as within an hour disseminated and communicated with our partners, including the U.S. capitol police, including metro P.D. and not one, not two, but three different ways.

[03:25:03]

SCHNEIDER: Wray explain the bulletin was first e-mailed to members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes officers from the capitol and metropolitan police departments. Then there was a verbal briefing to members of those departments at the command post, and finally it was posted on the law enforcement portal available to agencies around the country.

WRAY: The information was raw, it was unverified, in a perfect world we would have taken longer to be able to figure out whether it was reliable. But we made the judgment. Our folks made the judgment to get that information to the relevant people as quickly as possible.

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SCHNEIDER (on camera): Director Wray says the domestic terrorism threat continues to grow. Right now, the FBI is investigating 2,000 domestic terrorism cases. That's doubled the number that were open in 2017 when Wray joined the FBI. And director Wray also acknowledged that this violent attack on the capitol it could serve as inspiration to foreign terrorist organizations.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

CHURCH: And still ahead, the U.S. President makes an ambitious new pledge as Johnson and Johnson's vaccine rolls out across the country. We will tell you when Joe Biden says all Americans can expect to get their shot.

Plus, Australia's attorney general is coming forward to deny his role in a scandal that has shaken the government. More on that in a minute. Stay with CNN.

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CHURCH (on camera): This just in to CNN. The Iraqi military says 10 missiles have slammed into an air base that houses U.S. coalition and Iraqi forces. There is no reports of casualties or damage. The Ayn al- Assad Airbase is the same one Iran attacked last year in a retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed the Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. It's not clear who carried out this attack but do stay with CNN for the latest. We will bring those details as they come into us.

Well, a vaccine for every American adult by the end of May, that is the ambitious new target from president Joe Biden. He announced that accelerated timeline on the same day the first Johnson & Johnson shots went into arms.

With three vaccines now authorized in the United States, more than 78 million doses have been administered nationwide. But authorities insist this is not the time to ease restrictions.

CNN's Erica Hill has more.

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UNKNOWN: Three, two, one.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With one shot, history made in Ohio.

BARBARA SCHMALENBERGER, RECEIVED FIRST JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE: It wasn't a dream. It was for real. I'm here.

HILL: Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine administered for the first time.

[03:30:00]

CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: It's definitely a game changer, having a vaccine that you don't need to schedule a second dose. It really is a very, very useful tool to have.

HILL: A game changer but --

PETER HOTEZ, VACCINE RESEARCHER, DEAN OF THE NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We need to accelerate our vaccination program to 3 million Americans a day and unfortunately we don't have the vaccine supply yet in order to do that.

HILL: The current seven-day average still under two million shots a day. Merck teaming up with J&J to boost production.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is a type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II. We also invoked the defense production act to equip two Merck facilities to the standards necessary to safely manufacture the J&J vaccine. This country will have enough vaccine supply, I will say it again, for every adult in America, by the end of May.

HILL: As the states wait for more supply, for the third straight day, COVID hospitalizations remain below 50,000 and falling. Also on the decline, testing, down 26 percent since mid January. Meantime, new cases on the rise in 15 states over the past week.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: The level of infection in the country right now is the same as at the peak of the summer surge. So we are not like in great shape. And we have variants.

HILL: Despite clear pleas not to move too quickly, restrictions are loosening in some states.

UNKNOWN: It's so really good to get out the house.

HILL: Texas dropping its mask mandate and allowing businesses to open at full capacity.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

HILL: Houston's mayor pushing back.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-HOUSTON-TX): I'm very disappointed by the decision of the Governor, quite frankly. To put it in very stark terms, it makes no sense.

HILL: The University of Alabama announcing plans for a full return to traditional in-person instruction this fall, no capacity limits in the classroom or the stadium, which has seeding for more than 100,000 fans.

JEANNE MARAZZO, DR. INFECTIOUS DISEASE DIVISION, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: These variants are modifying very quickly. This is a scary virus and we already know that we underestimate it at our peril.

HILL (on camera): Despite the warnings, Mississippi also announcing on Tuesday, businesses can operate at full capacity and lifting county mask mandate. Ohio easing restrictions for large gatherings, and Michigan announcing that bars and restaurants can double capacity to 50 percent as of Friday. In New York, I'm Erica Hill, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Joining me now is the Dr. Saad Omer, Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health. Thank you Doctor for being with us and for all that you do.

SAAD OMER, DIRECTOR OF THE YALE INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL HEALTH (on camera): My pleasure.

CHURCH: President Biden announced Merck will now help Johnson & Johnson manufacture its single shot vaccine. To get this done, the president invoked the defense production act and an effort to provide enough vaccines for every adult in America by the end of May. So, two months earlier than we were thinking. So, what was your reaction to this? And how achievable do you think it is?

OMER: I think it's commendable that there are efforts to expand supply, even if it doesn't happen by May. If it goes on for a few more weeks, as we wrap up supply, that still is good news. But I think the fact that we have a high number of doses in sight is good news.

CHURCH: And President Biden also hopes to get all teachers and educators vaccinated by the end of March. This will allow schools, of course, to open safely, get kids back to in-person learning. How quickly can 4 million or so teachers be vaccinated? Can it be done in less than four weeks?

OMER: So, look, there are supply bottlenecks and then there are delivery bottlenecks. So, once you resolves supply bottlenecks, delivery bottlenecks do not go away automatically. So, frankly, it will be a challenge, but it's a surmountable challenge. My understanding is that they are going to come up with a kind of a parallel system, a federal system to allocate these vaccines for educators.

I'm looking forward to more details. And folks would be able to get their vaccines through pharmacies etcetera, through this program. So, I think on paper this sounds good and they have done a lot of things that have been sensible. The proof is in the putting. Essentially we will see how it is implemented, how the micro plans are unfolded eventually. But it is an encouraging sign that the focus is on getting the supply out there for multiple vaccines and then prioritizing not just mortality, but education as well.

[03:35:18]

CHURCH: Yes, because we have got to get our kids back in the classroom. Of course, meantime, Texas and Mississippi plan to lift mask mandates and fully reopen in defiance of dire CDC warnings that we are not out of the woods yet. Clearly these two state Governors are not motivated by the scientific data but by politics and economics or something else. So, what might the consequences be of opening up too early, particularly ditching masks?

OMER: Look, leadership in pandemics requires not just listening to science but maturity, perseverance, and understanding that short sacrifices might lead to medium and long term gains. And we have examples from several countries where they didn't lift their restrictions too early. That yielded to a lot of dividends very quickly. They were able to have more economic activity.

So, I think we are following these cycles in a few states of instant gratification through policy. If they had waited only a few weeks, we were on a downward trajectory. And I think we would have had more control and with improving whether these states would have seen much lower cases, much lower hospitalization.

My concern is that they are going to go back to another cycle, or even if it's not a full on cycle, but the decline won't be as fast in those states if they open up too prematurely. The good thing is we are increasingly vaccinating people. So, even if we don't have enough numbers to interrupt transmission, we will have some impact on mortality and hospitalization.

CHURCH: Dr. Saad Omer, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate you.

OMER: My pleasure.

CHURCH: Well, many countries are taking new steps to try to deal with the crushing economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.K. is extending its support program for millions of workers until the end of September. And the budget, set to be announced later, will include $7 billion in grants for pubs, restaurants, shops, and other businesses.

In the United States, President Joe Biden is urging Democrats to reject poison pills that could sink the COVID relief plan. He says they might need to accept provisions they don't like. And for more on all of this, we want to turn to CNN's John Defterios who joins us live from Abu Dhabi.

Always a pleasure to chat with you, John. So, both the U.S. and U.K., hoping to offer COVID relief plans, the U.K. extending its support program until the end of September. What impact might this plan have on market confidence?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR (on camera): Well, Rosemary, we have this unusual case around the world, but particularly in the U.K. and U.S., where the case load, where the government is playing a very large role in trying to keep businesses moving here. So, the markets are looking for this right balance between budget discipline and trying to foster growth of 5 percent for 2021.

And that responsibility lies with Rishi Sunak who will be carrying that red leather suitcase or actually brief case for Boris Johnson with the new budget. They had their debts surged to nearly $3 trillion. One-sixth of that over the last year and a half because of the challenges related to COVID.

If you look, put together both the budget years here. So they have four core targets. So, one, is probably to raise corporate tax rates from 19 percent to 23 percent. That's still not a high rate. So it's not radical in terms of its measures. You talk about the benefits to small business, the high streets or the main streets of the U.K. absolutely decimated in terms of restaurants and retailers.

So, expect some of that relief there, vaccines will get about $2 billion and renewable energy, they are leader in this area. They are hosting the COP26 in Scotland, We will have more on that front as well, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Right, and John, and the U.S., the Biden administration trying to get the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package through the Senate after passing the House. But it has hit a few snags. How critical is it for the country and of course, market confidence that this package gets approved quickly?

DEFTERIOS: Again, we've been talking about it now for month. So, Joe Biden saying don't mess with anything, let's get that package across the line, but again, pressure from Senate Republicans on the right and progressive left. And Elizabeth Warren is leading that charge, a senator from New England -- the territory, Massachusetts she is kind of challenging Janet Yellen and saying I want to push through this 15 dollar minimum wage, even though it's been block within the Senate that's been in terms pf the rules committee.

[03:40:01]

And number two, she is proposing a wealth tax, 2 percent of those who are worth 50 million to 1 billion dollars and 3 percent for those over a billion dollars. Even Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest investors in the United States, supports this idea. But Joe Biden is saying not right now.

CHURCH (on camera): Alright. Many thanks to our John Defterios. I appreciate it. Well, reggae pioneer and legend (inaudible) Bunny Wailer Livingston has died in his native Jamaica.

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CHURCH (on camera): Brilliant music and that is him right in the front. He was an original member of Bob Marley and the Wailers and is credited with helping popularize reggae music and Rastafari in culture. The famous baritone also won three Grammys. No cause of death has been released, but he had been hospitalized in Kingston since December. Bunny Wailer was 73.

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CHURCH (on camera): Australia's Attorney General denies an historical rate allegation made against him. Christian Porter came forward Wednesday as the cabinet minister at the center of the scandal. He says he will not be standing down as Attorney General but would be taking a short period of leave. Porter addressed the allegations a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTIAN PORTER, AUSTRALIAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: The only thing that I

can say, like the only thing that I've ever done to be (inaudible), that is that nothing in the allegations ever happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): We go live now to Sydney and journalist Angus Watson. So, Angus, Attorney General Christian Porter strongly denying these rape allegations. What is the latest on this?

ANGUS WATSON, JOURNALIST (on camera): Rosemary, as you heard there, he denies the allegations, but this is the Attorney General of Australia, the most senior law officer in the land, forced to deny this really grievous case which dates back to January 1988 when he allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl at a time when he was 17 himself.

So, he admitted today he did know the woman. They attended a University debating evening together 33 years ago. As you heard there, he strenuously denies that he offended in any way. But Rosemary, the difficult thing here is and the tragic thing is that we will never know truly what happened. The New South Wales police who are investigating this case say there won't be enough admissible evidence to go to court.

[03:45:00]

And that's because tragically the woman at the center of this passed away last year. The South Australian Coroner is still investigating here death, but we won't be able to hear from her tragically. So, what will happen now is that Christian Porter as you say will stay Attorney General because this will remain an accusation.

But Rosemary, he will be tried in the court of public opinion here in Australia. This all came to light last week when the ABC announced, reported that this charge against this (inaudible) he's named himself Rosemary and he says he isn't going anywhere. We won't ever know, but what is important, of course, Rosemary, and the government says themselves in this case is that victims are listened to and of course their believed. Rosemary?

CHURCH (on camera): Yes. I understand she left a lot of documentation behind as well. So, we will see what comes of that. Journalist Angus Watson, joining us live from Sydney. Many thanks.

Well, the U.S. is slapping sanctions on two Houthi militant leaders in Yemen. They are accused of planning attacks impacting Yemeni civilians, other countries, and commercial vessels in international waters. A U.S. Treasury official says the fighters are making the humanitarian crisis in Yemen even worse. And Washington wants to hold the leadership of the Iran-backed militants accountable.

Well, meantime, the war in Yemen is pushing the country towards a large-scale famine. Sweden hosted a donor's conference that failed to raise the humanitarian aid the U.N. was hoping for. The Swedish foreign minister says even though the pledges were disappointing, at least Yemen's crisis is getting some attention again. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNE LINDE, SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER: We had hoped for more. We wanted nearly 4 billion U.S. dollar and we didn't get even half of it. But at the same time, we have to say that it's better than our worst fear. The situation with the pandemic and other priorities had made Yemen far too low on the agendas in many countries.

I am optimistic that the United States show more engagement now by having this special envoy, Mr. (inaudible) and engaging, and that E.U. is also engaging, they also has a special representative on Yemen. In the end, it is only the parties. It has to be a Yemeni lead and Yemeni decided agreement. But to get there, we need a push and I think that even if we cannot be satisfied with a donor conference, it has put Yemen higher on the agenda now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): And that was the Swedish foreign minister Anne Linde. Well, Israel's right-wing is now courting Arab voters as the country's general election draws closer. Authorities are beginning to listen to complaints that police are doing nothing to stem escalating violence in Israelis Arab communities. Arab Israelis make up more than 20 percent of the country's population and could be kingmakers in a coalition government. And as the election approaches, Israel says it will spend $45 million to quell violence in Arab-Israeli towns.

But critics their call it a Band-Aid, not a solution. And many in the town are just as fearful of the police as they are the criminals roaming the streets. CNN's Sam Kiley joins us now live from Jerusalem. And Sam, you investigated a rise in Israeli Arab gang warfare. What did you find?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well I think really, Rosemary, the story goes to the conundrum of the essence of what it is to be an Israeli Arab and to be Israel with such a substantial Arab population. They could be the kingmakers but they won't be the kingmakers unless the Israeli left agrees to get into bed with a predominantly Arab Party, something that is considered potentially electoral suicide for the Israeli left. And at the same time, Israeli Arabs want police in their cities but they don't want police in their cities. And this is what unfolded when we take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY (voice over): Newly qualified nurse, Ahkmed Hijazi (ph) got to wear his uniform for just a day before he was killed in cross fire between Israeli police and Israeli Arab suspects. Another victim of growing underworld violence that's hitting Arab Israeli towns.

UMM JABER HIJAZI, SLAIN'S NURSE MOTHER (through translator): He wore the white nurse uniform only for one day. We didn't get the chance to celebrate. They snuffed out the light in my heart.

KILEY: The number of Arabs murdered in Israel went up by more than a quarter last year according to the Arab Center for Safe Society. Ahkmed died February the first in Tamara, in the previous month, there had been 28 shootings and 18 arson attacks in this Israeli city that's being stifled by organized crime, according to police figures.

[03:50:00]

In nearby (inaudible), three weeks earlier this former mayor, Dr. Soliman Agbaria was shot several times in his car by masked gunmen. He survived and remains in hospital. Locals often believe that the police turn a blind eye to organized criminals.

ANAS AGBARIA, FORMER MAYOR'S SON: Anyone in (inaudible) can tell you the names of people who have guns. We have seven families who are gangsters here and the police and everyone knows they are gangsters and the police are doing nothing.

KILEY: Distrust to the police is deep in this town, it goes back 21 years when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by Israeli police during protests in support of the Palestinian uprising in the nearby west bank. Israel's parliament estimates that there are 400,000 illegal weapons in Israel, mostly stolen from the army and police and mostly in the hands of Israeli Arabs.

The innocent here, pray for an end to the mayhem guns bring. And they March every week to demand better security. Distrust to the police is reinforced when unprovoked by any crowd violence. The police react like this.

The Israeli police have opened fire with stun grenades and with the foul smelling what is known as skunk gun.

Still, some Israeli Arabs blame their own people for the violence which has engulfed them.

TAMRA MANAL HIHAZI, ENGLISH TEACHER: My cousin has been shot like, a month ago because he was in a place, in a store that some guys started to shoot at that store. And my cousin was there. So he was shot in his foot. I can't blame the police for what is going in our society, but I blame the police for the way they treat us and how they treat Jews.

KILEY: Israel's Arab city only got permanent police stations in 2017. Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel's population. Although they often complained of being seen as second class citizens in a Jewish state, Arab political parties are capable of winning 10 to 15 seats in elections to the 120 seat Knesset.

They are still largely shunned by Jewish parties, but could one day be kingmakers in coalitions, especially for the Israeli left. So, violence in Arab towns is slowly becoming a mainstream Israeli issue. This Israeli police general, a Muslim Arab says the police actions during the protest filmed by CNN are already under investigation. Distrust he agrees, does run very deep.

UNKNOWN: For decades the police were not in the villages. For decades, we were not there. It turns out the formula is obvious, either police in the Arab street or crime in the Arab street. In the past, there were no police, there were criminals. Now we put in police wherever we go in we get rid of crime.

KILEY: The general says it will take time to win over Israeli Arab towns. But he has a new budget of about 30 million for extra policing in Arab areas, including five new police stations. How much time it takes may depend on how often this happens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY (on camera): Now, Rosemary, the political parties here will go through yes, another round of elections on March 23rd, the fourth in two years. And every vote counts in these elections. For the first time you see both the right-wing and of course the left wing mainstream parties trying to call Arab voters with some of the left wing parties even having quite senior levels of their lists set aside for Arab politicians. But they are still not neither side if you like in the broader ethnic sense is still yet fully integrated politically, Rosemary.

CHURCH (on camera): Alright. Many thanks to Sam Kiley for that report.

Well, after funding coronavirus research last year, country music legend Dolly Parton is finally getting her shot and she doing what she does best to spread vaccine awareness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, please don't hesitate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[03:55:00]

CHURCH (on camera): Well, taxi rides are going hands free in Wuhan, China. The city rolled out a fleet of more than 40 self-driving taxis with autopilot features. The taxis are installed with sensors and high tech equipment to detect their surroundings and navigate roots. However, each vehicle has a safety driver who takes over, only in case of emergency. These taxis served nearly two dozen stops across the city during their trial run, with bookings available online.

Well, move over, pineapple. There is a new pizza topping dividing the internet, Froot Loops. An Iowa pizzeria is putting the breakfast cereal on their pizza igniting a fierce viral debate.

Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos with that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It starts like any other pizza. But then things start to get a little loopy.

UNKNOWN: There is a frooty delight in very bite.

MOOS: Is it a delight when its Froot Loop pizza? Fong's pizza in Des Moines, Iowa builds it as a breakfast and dessert pizza.

UNKNOWN: The Froot Loops obviously bring the sweetness and the crunch.

MOOS: But others call it a crime against humanity, an abomination to pizza everywhere.

It looks like something you would see on a New York City sidewalk after the St. Patrick's Day parade.

UNKNOWN: It seem to really make some people angry.

MOOS: As an Italian, I am formally declaring a war on Iowa. Fong's Pizza actually dreamed up what they called loopy froots pizza six years ago.

UNKNOWN: We were all sitting at a table and somebody goes what about Froot Loops.

MOOS: But it never quite took off. Now they are relaunching it, using cream cheese, and the Froot Loops, sprinkled with a bit of mozzarella, and drizzled with a sauce made from yogurt and sweetened condensed milk.

UNKNOWN: The color, the taste. The aroma.

MOOS: The infamy, the creators of Froot Loops pizza are basking in the attention. Froot Loops may never replaced pepperoni, but to its makers --

UNKNOWN: It's quite delicious.

MOOS: To an impartial reporter from Axios?

LINH TA, REPORTER, AXIOS: It was all right. It definitely reminded me of like when you were a kid and you put like random things together.

MOOS: Like in the princess diaries. When a pizza topped with M's and M's arrive. For 19 bucks, you can get a large loopy froots pizza.

TA: I ate about one slice of it. Yes. I gave it a good try.

MOOS: One critic responded by quoting the godfather.

UNKNOWN: Look how they massacred my boy.

MOOS: RIP, rest in pizza. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH (on camera): Definitely a crime.

So, country music star Dolly Parton got her first dose of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine Monday, the very vaccine she helped fund. Last year, Parton gave $1 million to COVID research at the Vanderbilt Medical Center, which is also where she got the shot, by the way. Dolly shared the experience on her social media accounts and even change the lyrics of her smash hit Joe Lean to encourage people to get vaccinated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOLLY PARTON, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine. Please don't hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine.

I'm trying to be funny now, but I am dead serious about the vaccine. I think we all want to get back to normal, whatever that is. And that would be a great shot in the arm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH (on camera): She is awesome. Great message there. And thank you so much for your company. I am Rosemary Church. I will be back with more news after this short break. Stay with us.

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