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Biden: Enough Vaccines for Every U.S. Adult by End of May; Texas Lifts Mask Mandate and Other Restrictions; Germany Mulls Next Steps as Cases Rise, Vaccinations Stall; Attacks on Asian Americans Surging Across U.S.; QAnon Theory Prompts U.S. Capitol to Increase Security. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Two months earlier than his previous goal. It is a great step forward, but health officials warn now is not the time to start relaxing COVID restrictions. CNN's Nick Watt explains why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, vaccinate.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Johnson & Johnson's vaccine just injected into American arms for the first time.

BARBARA SCHMALENBERGER, J&J VACCINE RECIPIENT: It's exciting, it's great. And I don't even feel a thing now.

WATT (voice-over): But supply is a trickle, not a flood.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: It's a fairly limited supply to begin, but later in the month we think we start to see real numbers.

WATT (voice-over): Merck will transform two facilities to manufacture the J&J vaccine in a deal just announced by President Biden.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: A lot to forward to, but right now, we are in a dire time potentially.

WATT (voice-over): The average daily COVID-19 death toll was falling. Not anymore. And average daily case counts now plateauing at about the level of last summer's surge.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, BIRMINGHAM SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA: This is a scary virus and we already know that. We underestimate it at our peril.

WATT (voice-over): Study of a surge in Manaus late last year found the variant first identified in Brazil was likely to blame and could more easily re-infect people who've already been infected. The research is not yet published.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Variants are starting to take over and if they become dominant and we relax restrictions, I think we can absolutely see a huge spike.

WATT (voice-over): Houston just became the first city in America to log cases of every major variant but --

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

WATT (voice-over): And one week from tomorrow, the mask mandate will end, and every business can reopen, no restrictions.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-TX), HOUSTON: Quite frankly, to put it in very stark terms it makes no sense.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, team Biden is still sticking to two doses within a month of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF ADVISER ON COVID-19 TO THE WHITE HOUSE: Even though you can get a fair degree of, quote, protection after a single dose, it clearly is not durable.

WATT (voice-over): And he's worried about mixed messaging, U-turning, not everyone agrees. The former surgeon general today tweeting, good protection for many with one shot is better than great protection for a few. Later adding, I'm not saying it's 100 percent the right way to go.

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, ASSOCIATE MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I think that he should park his Twitter fingers for a few minutes.

In order to be fully protected, you need to get at least two doses. And until we see science saying otherwise, I think we need to stick with that vaccination schedule.

WATT: Starting Wednesday in Mississippi, no more mask mandates. Businesses can open 100 percent without any state imposed restrictions. It's based in part on vaccine optimism. President Biden just said by the end of May, there will be enough vaccines for all Americans. But in the meantime, those variants could cause some problems.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: And as Nick mentioned in his report, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is lifting the state's mask mandate and removing other COVID restrictions. That announcement is welcome news to some Texans, but it has rattled health care workers who are now bracing for another surge in COVID-19 cases.

CNN's Chris Cuomo spoke with one ICU nurse who opposes the governor's decision. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITTANY SMART, ICU NURSE IN TEXAS: We're still allowing visitors, we're still masking up. And we're still taking all the precautions. Because we still have COVID patients. It's not like the COVID patients are dying. It's not like they're not dying. It's just that we no longer need a refrigerated truck outside.


CHURCH: That was Brittney Smart. She also told CNN the threat of more COVID-19 variants has her on edge as Texas relaxes its restrictions.

Well German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak with regional leaders in the coming hours to discuss the nations coronavirus restrictions. She is facing growing pressure to begin easing the measures, despite an uptick in daily cases and a sluggish start for its vaccine rollout. For more on all of this, we want to bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He joins us live from Berlin. Great to see you, Fred. So how will Angela Merkel respond to this pressure to lift restrictions, and what is happening with the shaky vaccine rollout?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Rosemary. Well, Angela Merkel is still very reluctant to lift any of the restrictions that have been in place. And one of the things where she is receiving a lot of pressure is actually also to open schools, at least to a certain extent. But so far from what we're hearing, she doesn't seem willing to budge on that specific note.

Now, there are some businesses that might be able to open. There are some contacts that might be possible that weren't possible before. But by and large, if you hear the media here in Germany, you talk to politicians here in Germany, they don't believe that the lockdown is going to be eased by a great deal.


And in fact, they believe that it's going to be extended until about the end of March, probably about March 28th. And then they'll reassess and see how they'll do around the Easter holiday and how the pandemic situation is then.

But you're absolutely right, the numbers here on the rise, at the same time, Angela Merkel under fire because more and more people do want this easing. And at the same time, of course, under fire as well because of that slow vaccination campaign.

And there's really two things. I spoke to a health expert yesterday. They say are responsible for that. On the one hand, it's the slow pace of procurement of the vaccine, the late contracts that were made for instance with companies like Pfizer and BioNTech that has led to a shortage here in vaccines.

It was quite interesting. I was in a vaccination center here in Berlin yesterday -- a very large one -- and they were telling me that administer right now about 2,600 doses every day. But they have the capacity to administer about 5,000 doses every day. So they're running at half capacity because they simply don't have enough vaccine to go around.

At the same time, there was also and is still, somewhat of a reluctance by some folks here in the population to take the AstraZeneca which is by far the vaccine that Germany and the Europe European Union have ordered the most. That's because the vaccination commission here only allowed that vaccine to be taken by people under the age of 65. Again, the German government saying, their trying to get more people to take that vaccine -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, it's doing very well in Britain. So there's certainly proof that it's a great vaccine, as all of them are. Frederick Pleitgen joining us live from Berlin, many thanks.

Well anti-Asian violence is on the rise in the United States and the rights group are demanding action. Ahead, we will discuss what's behind the crisis and what can be done to stop it.


CHURCH: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing calls for his resignation as an investigation is set to look into sexual harassment claims against him.


Three women have now made allegations against Cuomo. Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and a number of state lawmakers are calling for him to step down. Cuomo issued an apology for his behavior but denied sexual harassment. New York's Attorney General will hold an independent inquiry.

Well, now to a scathing report from the Defense Department which finds that former President Trump's top White House doctor engaged in inappropriate behavior while on the job. Ronny Jackson served in both the Trump and Obama administrations. He retired as a Navy rear admiral and is now a Congressman for Texas. The Pentagon report says Jackson made sexual comments, drank alcohol and took sleep medication while on official presidential trips. Jackson has denied the findings of the report calling them politically motivated.

Well, the U.S. has seen a disturbing rise in anti-Asian violence which coincides with the timing of the pandemic. From New York to California, Asian-Americans have been verbally harassed, physically assaulted and stabbed. CNN's Amara Walker has our report.


NOEL QUINTANA, ATTACKED ON SUBWAY: He slashed me from cheek to cheek with a boxcutter.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Noel Quintana was attacked on a packed subway in New York last month at the height of the morning rush hour.

QUINTANA: I was really a lot of blood oozing. So I was so afraid.

WALKER (voice-over): Afraid he would die on his way to work after encountering this man, identified here by New York Police. Quintana, a Filipino-American, says the stranger repeatedly kicked his tote bag, and when he confronted him about it, the 61-year-old says he was viciously assaulted.

QUINTANA: So I asked for help, but nobody came for help.

WALKER (voice-over): Quintana believes he may have been targeted because of his race.

QUINTANA: Because of the COVID-19, I think there are more Asians being attacked.

WALKER (voice-over): According to Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks these kinds of attacks, there have been nearly 3,000 incidents against Asians reported across all 50 states since March of last year. The Asian advocacy groups says nearly all of them were unprovoked.

Though rights groups don't know the exact cause of the surge, they say a clear pattern of targeted hate has emerged since the pandemic began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told me to go back to China.

WALKER (voice-over): In Los Angeles, 27-year-old Denny Kim (ph) says he was punched in the face by two strangers. The LAPD investigating the case as a hate crime.

On Thursday, police say a 36-year-old Asian man who was stabbed from behind in New York's Chinatown is now in critical condition. Although the NYPD said the suspect would be charged with a hate crime, no such charges have been filed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is driven by hate.

WALKER (voice-over): In San Francisco, authorities say an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand died after being violently shoved to the ground in January. A 19-year-old man facing murder and elder abuse charges.

ANDREW YANG (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL CANDIDATE: It's been heartbreaking and devastating for me and so many Asian Americans.

WALKER (voice-over): Andrew Yang, New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful, tells CNN, that while former President Donald Trump's rhetoric may have fanned the flames of anti-Asian sentiment --


WALKER (voice-over): -- racism against Asians is nothing new.

YANG: Certainly, having the president of the United States saying things like "Kung Flu" and "China virus" did normalize an association between the pandemic and people of Asian descent.

JASON WANG, PRESIDENT AND CEO, XI'AN FAMOUS FOODS: Our employees are heavily impacted by this.

WALKER (voice-over): Jason Wang, CEO of Xi'an Famous Foods, says violence against two of his Asian employees on public transit in separate incidents gave him no choice but to cut his business hours at all eight Chinese restaurants.

WANG: One was punched so hard that his glasses broke.

WALKER (voice-over): Despite the pandemic forcing him to already close six locations, Wang says safety is more important than the bottom line.

WANG: One of the biggest reasons for that is to make sure that our employees feel at least a little bit safer about traveling back home.

WALKER (voice-over): Even with many Asian-American celebrities like former NBA star Jeremy Lin and actress Olivia Munn speaking out about the hate, and lawmakers raising concerns about the disturbing trend.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): These are totally unprovoked attacks.

WALKER (voice-over): Some feel crimes against Asians need to be taken more seriously.

CHRIS KWOK, BOARD MEMBER, ASIAN-AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK: Government is still figuring out how to properly serve Asian- Americans. And so, look, like even prosecutors have to understand the nature of discrimination against Asian-Americans.

QUINTANA: I think that the Asians should speak up and work on solidarity so that the authorities would listen.

WALKER: Now, Noel Quintana, who is still recovering from that face slashing, tells me he's too afraid to ever ride the subway again or take any public transportation for that matter.


And I've got to say, I've spoken with many Asian-Americans in the past several days, and they tell me they don't remember a time where they actually had to stop and think about their safety before going about their daily routines.

In Atlanta, Amara Walker, CNN.


CHURCH: So let's talk now with Shan Wu, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. Good to have you with us.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: So as an Asian-American yourself, what is your reaction to these racist attacks that now account for nearly 3,000 incidents reported since March 2020, on Asians across the country. And why do you see we're seeing more attacks in the last 12 months? WU: Well, I think in the last 12 months, unfortunately, people who

have hate in their hearts have been emboldened by the kind of language, the racist terminology, the racist associations of Asians with COVID-19. I think that probably has accounted for this uptick.

I think as an Asian-American myself, it's a great strain. I know we've heard some reporting what the effect is on the community. And as the father of two daughters myself, it's something you just worry about, because you don't know what to expect. You don't know where it's going to come from. And unfortunately, historically, in our country, like other people of color, Asian-Americans have been victimized by violence for a long time, even as early as the 19th century.

CHURCH: So what can Asian-Americans do about these hate crimes? What legal recourse do they have?

WU: I think the first thing that people can do, is they of course need to be watchful and alert for each other, protect each other, and to report them. And that's where I think law enforcement, Department of Justice, state and local authorities can make a big difference by doing community outreach.

A lot of underprivileged communities, a lot of communities of immigrants aren't that comfortable sometimes in reporting to law enforcement. Folks from other countries may have had a bad experience with the police there. There may have been a very oppressive situation. So there's a reluctance and a fear about the system that's unknown to them. So it's so important to reach out to them to let them know how things work. Because prosecutors can only bring charges if they have evidence. And you're not going to have evidence if people don't report the crime, so that's number one.

CHURCH: Yes, that's a very good point. And what should federal and state governments be doing about attacks on the Asian population? Are they doing enough?

WU: It's hard to say, Rosemary. I don't think they are. One of the reasons it's hard to say is because the statistics on hate crimes are a little bit of a morass. There are different methods of calculating them, attributing them, and it's very hard to figure out which of the crimes actually get charged because the crimes are just incidents being reported and which ones become convicted.

So I think the one thing that prosecutors can do is really step up and use the laws that are on the books. We have hate crimes via statutes, and if you don't use the laws that are on the books, then it's like taking the laws off the books. We've got to send the message out to the community that their supported and we've got to send a message out to people who act hatefully that the hate won't be tolerated.

CHURCH: And what's your biggest concern right now about this this?

WU: I think my biggest concern right now is that it will pass. That people momentarily pay attention to it and then they'll forget about it when something else comes along. But the problem has been there since the 19th century. There are massacres, lynching of Chinese then, just as there were lynching of other people of color throughout history here. And it's so important that we come together and not let that be forgotten. And also so important not to be further divided. Not to fall for the trick that, oh, it's one minority group against the other. It's really everybody's problem. And that's my greatest fear, is that we won't remember that.

Shan Wu, thank you so much for talking with us, appreciate it.

WU: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: A QAnon conspiracy theory has prompted Washington to bring in extra law enforcement this week. And we will explain when we come back.



CHURCH: Capitol Hill will have an increased security presence on Thursday, all because of a false QAnon conspiracy theory saying former President Donald Trump will be inaugurated for a second term. Sara Sidner has our report.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On March 4th, Trump will be reinstated as president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm about to enlighten you. Are you ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the real president, President Trump, can be inaugurated.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): QAnon followers are at it again, not able to let go of the conspiracies that have proven false time and time again. Now they have grasped on to another impossible theory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump will take office as the 19th president of the United States on March 4th.

SIDNER (voice-over): They believe in an old inauguration date in place before the passage of the 20th Amendment. It changed from March 4th to January 20th only in 1933.

SIDNER: What's the significance of March 4th?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: The real inauguration will happen on March the 4th when our dear leader Donald Trump will actually be publicly inaugurated as the president.

TRAVIS VIEW, RESEARCHER AND QANON EXPERT: The problem with QAnon is that it is kind of like a big tent conspiracy theory that welcomes everyone regardless of what wild conspiracy theory you happen to believe. SIDNER (voice-over): The latest conspiracy was made popular by a movement known as Sovereign Citizens. The FBI has called the movement a domestic terrorism threat.

GREENBLATT: We have many examples of shoot-outs or attacks or sovereign citizens who literally went after police officers or sheriffs.

SIDNER (voice-over): That is what happened here. Members shot and killed two deputies in West Memphis. While QAnon believers don't necessarily share all Sovereign Citizen ideology, they use what they need.

GREENBLATT: They move the goal posts in order to wait for their reality to come to fruition.


SIDNER (voice-over): QAnon followers are not monolithic. The followers can be rich or poor, educated or not, from the city or countryside, black, or white, and everything in between. We encountered this group in 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think there is a sex trafficking ring. I do think that is going on from D.C. to Hollywood. Trump has been talking about sex trafficking and they vary (INAUDIBLE). And that's suspicious.

SIDNER: Do you have any doubt that anything you believe about that is incorrect?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my heart, in my gut, no, but anything is possible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pedophiles in Hollywood. They're killing our children and using their blood -- using their blood for sacrifices in Hollywood. We're trying to save our children. Our children matter.

SIDNER (voice-over): There is no evidence whatsoever of blood sacrifices of children in Hollywood or anywhere. There have been no mass arrests. And Donald Trump has not exposed a massive ring of blood drinking pedophiles.

There is not one shred of evidence to support all of these beliefs, but the believers persist -- even though President Joe Biden is already working after being fully sworn in as the legitimate U.S. president.

VIEW: They don't believe things because of actual, you know, evidence. They believe things because it excites them to be part of this grand story, so as a consequence of that really no amount of real reasoning or counterargument or debunking is very effective on them.

SIDNER: QAnon believers see Donald Trump as the hero of that story. They sometimes see themselves as heroes as well. I should also mention we are standing outside of the Trump hotel. And we've noticed that the rates are a bit different than normal. They're almost double what they normally are. I don't know what that means. We also noticed that there is quite a presence of National Guard here. We noticed them inside of hotels but not standing outside guarding them just yet.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: It is certainly, mind blowing, isn't it?

Thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. Have yourselves a wonderful day.