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Dramatic Escalation of Violence against Myanmar Protesters; More African Nations begin Vaccinations Thanks to COVAX; Pope Francis to Meet Iraq's Minority Christians; ICC to Probe Alleged War Crimes in Palestinian Territories; ICC to Probe Alleged War Crimes in Palestinian Territories; Outrage Over Killing of Three Female Journalists in Afghanistan; Buckingham Palace to Investigate Claims Meghan Bullied Staff; Broadway Performers Take the Stage in Australia; Is There a Bias Against the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine?; Gov. Cuomo Apologizes, Rejects Calls to Resign. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, massacre in Myanmar. The deadliest day of protests since last month's military coup, dozens killed when security forces opened fire with live ammunition.

The International Criminal Court opens a formal war crimes investigation into both Israel and the Palestinians under scrutiny.

And Buckingham Palace investigating allegations from a former royal aide that the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, bullied members of the staff.


VAUSE: A defiant demand to restore democracy in Myanmar has been met with a dramatic escalation in violence by security forces.


VAUSE (voice-over): The U.N. says nearly 40 people were killed on Wednesday, including four children, according to one aid agency. Police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds and with little warning. One activist called it a massacre. A warning, these next images are difficult to. Watch

Security forces were caught on video, ordering 3 charity workers out of an ambulance and then beating them with their guns and batons.

CHRISTINE SCHRANER BURGENER, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY ON MYANMAR: Today, it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on the 1st of February. We had today, only today, 38 people died. We have now more than over 50 people who died since the coup began. And many are wounded.


VAUSE: For the very latest now, Paula Hancocks following developments for us in Myanmar.

So we know about the situation right now?

Is it being contained in certain cities or just spreading across the country?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Effectively it is across the country. We're not seeing the protesters and the classes or the violence used by the military and police, in just the rural areas or just the cities. It is across the whole country.

We are seeing an increase in the level of force used by security forces, there are a number of livestreams throughout the day, videos being posted on social media, showing those who have been injured or killed, many of them far too graphic to be able to be able to be shown on air.

It shows the level of violence on the streets of Myanmar is unfortunately increasing. The United Nations is saying they believe 38 were killed on Wednesday, the deadliest day so far since the coup took place on February 1st. They have a total of 50 being killed.

When you speak to activists on the ground, they fear that the number is far higher than that. That is just the number that the U.N. has been able to confirm.

Despite this level of force being used increasing, we are still seeing thousands of protesters insisting they want to continue to protest. Many of those that I've spoken to say they see this as the final battle. They feel if they lose this particular battle against what they call the military dictatorship, then that would be worse than being injured or worse at a protest but having to live through another military dictatorship, John.

VAUSE: What about the party of Aung San Suu Kyi?

What about her herself, are they playing any role?

Can they negotiate with the military leaders at this point?

Is that even possible?

HANCOCKS: All we know for example on Aung San Suu Kyi is she has had court appearances, both by video conference, on both occasions she had extra charges leveled against her. A similar thing for the president, the ousted president of the country as well.

They're unable to get messages out to protesters at this point. But you would assume that they are talking to the military leadership. But of course, it is a legal process at this point, a legal process that the military leadership has changed the rules of, on a number of occasions.


HANCOCKS: But it certainly appears to be the case that we won't see much of Aung San Suu Kyi or many of the NLD, the National League for Democracy members that were rounded up on February 1st, right at the beginning of this coup.

Clearly there is a reason for that. The military says they believe there was voter fraud at the end of last year, which the election commission says did not happen. But they want to make sure that if there is another election, that they are not having to go up against Aung San Suu Kyi again, who will likely win another landslide -- John.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you Paula Hancocks with the very latest of the situation in Myanmar, live from Seoul.

To Washington now, the United Nations special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews.

Thank you being with us.


VAUSE: The coup leaders, are reportedly surprised when these protests first began a few weeks ago. Military seemed to take a must softer broach. Now that the protests have grown in size, soldiers are firing live ammunition. People are dying. The archbishop tweeted today, the country is like the Tiananmen Square in most of its major cities.

How much further will this escalate?

Do you suspect the violence in the crackdown is a lot worse than we're seeing?

ANDREWS: Well, I'm afraid John, it could very well. We are talking about a regime here, a military, that is infamous for its brutality. We've seen what they're capable of doing, certainly in protests in the past and, of course, we're now seeing that brutality play out on the streets.

And not just the major cities but in smaller communities and townships. This is going on all over the country. It is escalating and the regime is demonstrating to the world just how brutal it's capable of being.

VAUSE: Has this gone beyond the point of no return, in some kind of negotiated settlement here?

ANDREWS: You, know it just has to stop, John, it just has to stop because, the gruesome reality that we're seeing unfolding every single day just can't continue. Now we've seen police officers crossing lines. We've seen some evidence of some soldiers unable to continue with the brutality.

We are hoping that that trend will take hold and continue. But this is a protest movement that is very broad and very deep. There is just incredible opposition throughout the country to this coup and its aftermath. So the generals have very little support, except for their weapons.

VAUSE: The coup leaders have said that elections will be held in a year from now; there's no details on the timetable. What we're seeing playing out here is this roundup of all the prominent members of the democratically elected NDL party of Aung San Suu Kyi. They're being convicted on these trumped up charges, then ultimately it seems that it would lead to some kind of ban on the party.

Does this disparity leave the way open for these coup leaders win a rigged election in 12 months?

ANDREWS: No one believes -- and I don't -- it's just incredible to me that they continue to make these statements. Of course, Aung San Suu Kyi, the charges change it seems every other day. She's not allowed to see her attorney.

It's the same with the president and same with people all over the country that are being literally taken from their homes, in the wee hours of the morning, taken away. Their families still don't know where they, are how they are, what they're charged with.

So this is an incredible scene that's going on all over the country, so when the generals say, oh, don't worry, we'll have elections in a year's time. And oh, don't worry, we will make sure that they're fair, no one believes that.

It wouldn't surprise me if very few people within the military believe that. They have zero credibility whatsoever.

VAUSE: There's an agreement for most countries that something needs to be done and something needs to be done quickly to force the military to give power back to the civilian government.

The question is what?

Singapore's prime minister raised this concern.


LEE HSIEN LOONG, SINGAPORE PRIME MINISTER: Outsiders have very little influence on this. You can ostracize them, you can condemn them, you can pass resolutions or not. But it really has very little influence on what's the Myanmars will do.

It had zero influence in the last time around and the only impact was, for lack of anybody willing to talk to them, they fell back on those people who were willing to talk to them, which was China.


VAUSE: You know, one of the messages from both the U.S. State Department and the U.N. has been very global unified response. That response has to be unified but what about Beijing as well as Moscow giving the generals a get out of jail free card. This response will be ineffective won't it?


ANDREWS: Yes, you know I think that it's simply not true, that they are not going to listen to the world.

We know they did before and, of course, for the generals, money talks the loudest. And when there was coordinated sanctions back 10 years ago, they responded. In fact, the developing democracy that was overthrown by these generals actually occurred precisely because of the generals succumbing to the pressure of sanctions.

What I think is really important, obviously, it would be great if China could extend its influence. They have a self interest here. They don't want to see a conflagration over their border right there. They're a neighboring country so they have a lot at stake.

But whether they do or not, if the world could unite together and have coordinated, focused sanctions, we have right now a hodgepodge of sanctions, coordinate them, make them work together, toughen them, not just on individuals but businesses and business interests.

And then if the Security Council could be so moved as to, in their meeting this Friday, consider a reference to the International Criminal Court or signal that's coming, then if the generals understood that they were going to be held accountable for these atrocities, that might make a difference as well.

VAUSE: Absolutely. There's no more cards to play here but there are a few. Tom Andrews, thank you so much. Appreciate you being with us, sir.

ANDREWS: My pleasure. Thank you, John.



VAUSE: For a second day Brazil has reported a record high COVID pandemic death toll. On Wednesday alone, almost 2,000 people died, pushing the country's 7-day average to the highest level yet, with a total death toll passing over a quarter of 1 million, second only to the United States.

Daily COVID cases in England continue to fall but the decline may be slowing. Researchers from the Imperial College in London said infections are more prevalent in places like London and the South East, they're urging everyone to follow the guidelines, especially with restrictions soon to be eased.

Overall cases in the U.K. have fallen sharply since those measures were brought in. But they could be extended if infections begin to rise once again.

Germany will soon authorize the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 65, saying recent studies show it's effective for the elderly. Chancellor Angela Merkel also says COVID restrictions will soon be eased in 5 stages but they could be brought back if cases suddenly rise sharply.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): Politicians' task now is to take the next steps wisely. They should be opening steps, without setting ourselves back during this pandemic.

There are many examples in Europe of the dramatic third wave and this danger, and we should not delude ourselves, also exists for us. We must always keep this in mind.


VAUSE: Starting Monday, Germany will allow some businesses to reopen, including bookstores and garden centers. Up to 5 adults from two households will be allowed to meet.

Kenya and Rwanda are some of the countries that have now received coronavirus vaccines from COVAX. It's a program led by the World Health Organization and other charity groups. One of them is Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Its CEO spoke with CNN about making sure lower income countries are not left behind. Kim Brunhuber has the story.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Touching down in Nairobi, COVID-19 vaccinations arrive in Kenya for the first time, it becomes one of the latest countries to receive doses as the global vaccine sharing program rolls out across Africa.

MUTAHI KAGWE, KENYAN HEALTH MINISTER: We have been fighting this Africa but we have been fighting this virus with rubber bullets. What we have received here is equivalent, metaphorically speaking, to acquisition of my children's (ph) bazookas and guns to fight this war against COVID-19.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Kenya received its initial shipment of just over 1 million doses as part of the COVAX program, an initiative backed by the World Health Organization aimed at reducing vaccine inequality.

It got underway last week, starting with a delivery to Ghana, the country's president becoming one of the first to publicly get vaccinated through the program.

NANA AKUFO-ADDO, PRESIDENT OF GHANA: It is important that I set the example for this vaccine is safe, by being the first to have. It

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): In addition to Ghana and Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and the Ivory Coast are among countries to receive low cost or free vaccines through COVAX but it comes after a long wait, far behind wealthier nations that can pay full price.

That is partly due to difficulties securing supplies from manufacturers. Now coordinators promise the access in lower income countries will continue to accelerate.

DR. SETH BERKLEY, CEO, GAVI: We have delivered 10 million doses in 14 countries so far and we will now be doing at least another 10 million in the next week and scaling up from there.


BERKLEY: So yes, not enough doses and not as quick as we would like it, because 83 days from the first jab in the U.K. to the first jab in Africa. But now we're off to try to get as much of this out as we can.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Also COVAX aims to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of this year. Out of over 180 total participants in the program, 92 countries qualify for cheaper or free vaccines. Low and middle income countries are now hopefully catching up in the race to vaccinate the world against coronavirus -- Kim Brunhuber, CNN.


VAUSE: Next on CNN NEWSROOM, the long bitter battle between Israelis and the Palestinians heading to court, with the ICC now opening an investigation into allegations of war crimes carried out by both sides.

Also, a new scandal for the Duchess of Sussex. Buckingham Palace says it is very concerned about allegations of bullying. That's next.




VAUSE: An American civilian contractor suffered a heart attack and died during the rocket attack on an air base in Iraq on Wednesday. Damage assessments are underway after least 10 rockets were fired at the al-Asad base outside of Baghdad, which is used by U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces. The U.S. secretary of state says the United States will respond.


TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The first thing we have to do is get to the bottom of it and find out, to the best of our ability, who, in fact, is responsible. Then I think the president has been very clear that we will take appropriate action in a place and at the time of our choosing.


VAUSE: This comes almost a week after the U.S. military struck a site in Syria used by Iranian-backed militias, responding to previous attacks on coalition forces. That was President Biden's first known military action. It could mean that the violence is escalating.

This comes as the pope has a first trip to Iraq. This will be his first trip anywhere in 15 months, there are concerns about security as well as COVID-19. He's long wanted to meet with the Iraqi people who have suffered so much, the pope has never traveled to Iraq.


POPE FRANCIS, PONTIFF, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): The Iraqi people wait for us. They waited for St. Pope John Paul III, his visit was not allowed to take place. The people cannot be let down for a second time. Pray for this trip that it may happen in the best way possible.


VAUSE: The pope's historic visit begins in Baghdad this Friday, where he will reach out to Iraq's ancient and shrinking Christian minority. CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman looks at what's behind the mass exodus.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A bell summons the faithful to the church in this city of Irbil in northern Iraq. Christianity's roots run deep here.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Prayers conducted in the local dialogue of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. But his flock 100 years ago, which made up 20 percent of the population of the Middle East, has dwindled to below single digits.

An ISIS mortar killed a 4-year old in 2014 outside of home near Mosul. His mother, Dhoha (ph), sees no point in staying.

"If someone will take us, away I'll be the first one to emigrate," she tells me, "I wouldn't hesitate one moment. Me and my husband and my family will get dressed and go and leave everything else behind."

Over the last century, revolutions, wars, chaos, suppression and intolerance have driven many Christians abroad. In the last 20 years, however, it's gone from bad to worse, culminating in ISIS' reign of terror, from Iraq to Syria, to Egypt.

The group gave Christians under its sway a stark choice: a tax on non-Muslims, convert, flee or die.

The Muslim majority in the Middle East will remain indifferent to the plight of minorities, the archbishop of Irbil believes, until the majority starts to tear itself apart. Iraq's once dazzling diversity is fast disappearing, including the smallest communities, like the Mandaeans, followers of a pre-Islamic monotheistic faith that has all but vanished from Iraq.

BASHAR WARDA, CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP OF IRBIL: What's frighting (ph) me, is that during this period no one have asked what we for example, have lost when we have a declining number of the Mandaean, for example, and now the Yazidis, Christians. They don't care about this as they did not care when we lost the Jewish community back in the '40s, '50s and '60s and the cycle is ongoing.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): If that cycle carries on, worries Archbishop Warda, Iraq will destroy itself; 21 years ago, Sabah Zaitoun moved to Sweden, now home to a large Arab Christian community. He's back in Irbil for a brief visit; those who have left, he believes, have left for good.

"I don't think anyone will return from Europe," he says. "That would be difficult."


WEDEMAN (voice-over): In a stadium in Irbil, rehearsals are underway for Pope Francis' upcoming visit, the first time a pope from Rome has set foot in this land, where Christians and so many others have suffered so much, for so long.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): their voices, they hope, finally being heard -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Irbil, Northern Iraq.


VAUSE: The chief prosecutor with the International Criminal Court has opened a war crimes investigation, into actions by both the Israelis and Palestinians, The 2014 war in Gaza, along the Gaza fence 2018 and Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank are supposed to be the focus of the investigation. The prime minister accused the court of bias and anti-Semitism.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: The decision of the international court to open investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It's undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy. Without any jurisdiction, it decided that our brave soldiers who take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties against the worst terrorists in the world, would deliberately target civilians. It's our soldiers who are war criminals.


VAUSE: Palestinians welcomed the investigation, despite allegations of war crimes carried out by militant groups like Hamas.


WASEL ABU YOUSEF, PLO (through translator): This decision is so important, because it shows that justice will be imposed on those who carry out crimes against the Palestinian people or any crime in the world.

The occupation thought that they were exempt from the crimes that they committed and that they won't be questioned for these crimes. Today, this decision will cut off the ways for occupation to continue committing these crimes.


Luis Moreno Ocampo is a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. He's with us this hour from Malibu in California.


VAUSE: Mr. Moreno, thank you so much for speaking, with us, it's appreciated.


First up, do you agree that the court has jurisdiction for this investigation?

Because the U.S. secretary of state for one, says it does not have jurisdiction.

Or did that ship sail a month ago when the ICC ruled that it did?

MORENO: Well, it took 11 years for Palestinians to have three judges ruling on the matter. So the judicial decision, I hope, this intervention, could help to improve how we manage violence in Palestine and in Middle Eastern in general, no. Because I was listening to your previous news. And it's amazing all the killings there. It's time to just stop killings.

VAUSE: It's a great principle. The Israeli prime minister slammed the ICC's investigation, though, saying it's unfair because other countries are doing bad stuff and they're getting away with it. Here's Benjamin Netanyahu, listen to this.


NETANYAHU: This court, that was established to prevent the repetition of the Nazi horrific crimes committed against the Jewish people, is now turning its guns against the one and only state of the Jewish people. It's targeting Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

But of course, it turns a blind eye to Iran, Syria and the other dictatorships that are committing real war crimes left and right.


VAUSE: Whataboutism may work in politics, it doesn't have much of a basis in war?

MORENO: Look, for competition, it's great to prevent my people from for interventions. That normal for Sigmund Freud and Einstein, two Jews, were talking about that at the beginning of the 20th century. Nationalism is preventing to manage the problem. That's what they're saying.

So look, it's a good time for the leaders in both countries, Palestine and even elections to probably both sides will talk about whether they're in favor or against that. The matter here is, it is the International Criminal Court who can analyze what happened there.

No one was yet investigated, there's no one indicted.

So why they're talking about the lack of impartiality?

On the contrary; until now, the court, twice when I was a prosecutor, I rejected one Palestinian attempt in 2009 and '12 because they were not a real state in those days. Now after the U.N. consider them a state, the prosecutor took this decision.

But the same prosecutor that is opening the investigation today, she rejected to open the investigation a few years ago. So it's nothing against someone here; it's a impartial court. The issue for me is, after the election, with time, Israel and the Palestinians should re- discuss how they can use the law to manage problems.

VAUSE: You partly say what we looked at here is what happened. Part of the investigation will be possible war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza war between Hamas and Israel. When the shooting stopped and the missiles were no longer flying, more than 2,000 Palestinians were dead, of which 1,500 were civilians. On the Israeli side 66 soldiers and five civilians were killed; 11,000 Palestinians and 36 Israelis were wounded; 22,000 Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed, a handful of Israeli homes were damaged. More than 100,000 Palestinians were displaced, thousands of Israelis spent long hours in bomb shelters.

The Israelis have always argued the Palestinian death toll is so high because Hamas used civilians as human shields.

Is that the sort of claim that this investigation will look into?

MORENO: Absolutely, all of this should be properly investigated. That's what the ICC will do.

VAUSE: You know, the chief prosecutor tried to take politics out of this investigation. That's what you are saying, this is a statement.

"In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides."

Given the much higher Palestinian death toll and a boatload of despair in the West Bank and Gaza, in a way, does that make this investigation biased already toward the Palestinians?

MORENO: No, look the investigation is just starting. There's something new happening in the area. This week a Palestinian court ruled on this declaration. It's a group of 10 elders from Palestine making the application that the declaration should be re-discussed.

So it's a really interesting moment, where recent activities are reviewing what's happened in Palestine. Then we need political agreement but respect these legal limits. So many crimes should not be crimes and that is what I think is the most important aspect of this intervention of the International Criminal Court.

Look, Palestinian sand Israel have to find solutions for the problems and set the limits, that's it.


So justice should replace violence.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I hope you're right. I hope it happens that way. Luis Moreno Ocampo, thank you so much. We appreciate you being with us, sir.

Well, journalists attacked in Afghanistan, and the latest killings are especially shocking. More on that story in a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Well, the brutal killing of three female journalists in Afghanistan has left many shocked and others outraged. They were gunned down Tuesday in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It's the latest example of journalists being targeted in the midst of a surge of violence.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Among the terrifyingly regular assassinations in Afghanistan, this one stood out. Three female journalists in their twenties murdered with a silenced pistol outside the TV news channel where they worked, shot at 4:30 as they walked home together.

Saadia Sadat and Shahnaz Raufi, age 20 and 28, and then Mursal Waheedi, age 20, killed at the same time in another part of the city of Jalalabad.

Even in a city inured to daily violence as the Taliban's grip grows across the country, where their women's TV colleague Malala Maiwand, age 26, was shot dead in December, there was still shock in the ceremony and dust.

The murders claimed by ISIS in Afghanistan. A level of savagery a notch above the violence of the Taliban, who condemned the attack.

Whether it was because the women were journalists, or women journalists, ISIS did not specify. They worked in a dubbing department for foreign language translation.

Their relatives begged for the violence to stop.

"She was my little sister," he says, "a shy but active girl. She'd always fight for women's rights. She hoped to go to university and study law, but as you see, we've buried her with all her hopes here." You can see in the aftermath how they worked in a man's world, rights

for women something embryonic even after the nearly billion dollars the U.S. has spent on it. And now, a likely casualty of America's rush to the exit.

Two of the dead would never have known Afghanistan without U.S. troops in it. But now, as an agreement with Washington looks set to give the Taliban a grip on some of the levers of power, as well as land, two decades of war may leave Afghans back where they started before 9/11. Not that these three young brave women will be there to find out.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.



VAUSE: Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, with the lights still down on Broadway, some of the world's most talented performers are turning to Australia, one of the few places where theaters are back in business during the pandemic.


REED KELLY, ACROBAT: Right now, this is really the only place that both of us can be and do what we do.

JACK DAWSON, ACROBAT: We're really grateful to be here where everything seems to be really under control.




OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: How do you feel about the palace hearing you speak your truth today?

MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I don't know how they could expect that, after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us. And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already.


VAUSE: Meghan Markle there, talking with Oprah Winfrey. The interview airs on Sunday. It's the first time for the Duchess of Sussex and her husband, Prince Harry, since stepping back from the royal family and moving to North America.

So why do an interview now? Buckingham Palace announced it will investigate claims that Meghan bullied several staff members. This comes after a British media report this week, citing some sources which say complaints have been made against the Duchess of Sussex the same year she was married in 2018.

CNN's Max Foster following the story for us from Hampshire in England.


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: "The Times" newspaper here in the U.K. published an article on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. They said that this complaint claimed the Duchess of Sussex forced out two personal assistants from her Kensington Palace household and undermined the confidence of a third member of staff.

Now CNN hasn't been able to corroborate these claims, but the report goes on to say that these sources believed that the public should have insights into their side of the story, ahead of the couple's highly- anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday. It'll be their first sit-down interview since they relocated.

A spokesperson for the Sussexes dismissed the report in "The Times" as a calculated smear campaign ahead of the couple's interview with Winfrey.

Max Foster, CNN, Hampshire, England.


VAUSE: Well, controversy is not unique to the U.K. There's one with two princes, two princesses, I should say, from Spain. Princesses Elena and Cristina received COVID vaccines in Abu Dhabi long before they would have received them back home.

Several Spanish ministers criticized them for it this week.

Princess Elena responded, saying they received the shots while visiting their father, Spain's former King Juan Carlos, who is living in Abu Dhabi after a financial scandal.


And his daughters say they were vaccinated so they could get a health passport and see him more regularly.

For the past year, it's been lights out for much of the theater industry. The pandemic has forced Broadway shows in New York to shut down, leaving thousands of performers out of work.

But some have found new opportunities on the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, where live theater is back open for business.

CNN's Will Ripley reports.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The brilliant lights of Broadway, dark for almost a year. New York's iconic theaters empty, likely for many months to come. Nearly 10,000 miles away, in Sydney, Australia, the show goes on.

"Kismet," created by Broadway performer Reed Kelly and Australian acrobat Jack Dawson, the aerial straps duo Two Fathoms.

KELLY: Right now, this is really the only place that both of us can be and do we do.


RIPLEY: What they do takes hours of daily practice, discipline, athleticism, sacrifice.

KELLY: I'm away from my family. I'm not at home. I don't get to see my husband. We facetime every day, but it's -- it's been such a challenge.

RIPLEY: Kelly's husband, a doctor in Los Angeles.

KELLY: I'm good, how's your day?

RIPLEY: They've been apart for almost a year. If Kelly leaves Australia, his visa won't allow him to return. Sydney, one of the only places in the world where theaters have reopened.

DAWSON: We seem to be doing really well. We're really grateful to be here, where everything seems to be really under control.

RIPLEY: Broadway star Gabrielle McClinton just returned to the U.S. She spent months in Australia as the lead player in "Pippin." The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical was a smash hit in Sydney.

(on camera): Does that give you hope about Broadway?

GABRIELLE MCCLINTON, ACTRESS: Absolutely. It definitely had its challenges, but we got through the season. And people came to the show wearing their masks. And we would get COVID tested every week. And when we were onstage, we were in our masks, and everybody obeyed all rules. And we did our due diligence when we were outside of the theater to make sure that we weren't putting people at risk.

RIPLEY: A model for reopening Broadway and beyond, says Australian playwright Tom Wright.

TOM WRIGHT, BELVOIR STREET THEATRE ARTISTIC ASSOCIATE: You need political and social leadership to provide a safe set of circumstances for the theater to reopen.

RIPLEY: Sydney's Belvoir Street Theater has been open for five months. Strict COVID-19 lockdowns worked, virtually eliminating local cases.

WRIGHT: The reason why Sydney has been able to reopen is because people at, local, state and federal levels took seriously the safety of the most vulnerable people in their society. And we're a reflection of that.

RIPLEY: The pandemic's devastating toll goes beyond empty theaters. Artists around the world are struggling.

KELLY: I've lost three people this year to suicide, and that's on top of the people that I know that have actually died from COVID. It's not just a job for us. This is our legs.

DAWSON: We want to do this and we need to keep doing this, so we're just pushing through and hoping for better days.

RIPLEY: Giving hope to performers everywhere, their future remains up in the air.

Will Ripley, CNN.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. I'll be back in about 15 minutes with another edition of CNN NEWSROOM. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT is up next after a break.