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In Europe, New Variants' Rate Of Spread Faster Than Rates Of Vaccination; Myanmar Crisis Deepens; Military Orders Seem To Be Shoot To Kill; Australian Vaccine Diverted To Italy By E.U.; Pope Francis Leaves For Iraq On Historic Visit; Myanmar Crimes Against Civilians Becoming Crimes Against Humanity; Australia's Vaccination Program; Pope Set to Visit Iraq Friday Despite Security Fears; Iraqi Christians Hope Pope Will Help Heal Their Wounds; U.N. Calls for Probe into Possible War Crimes in Tigray Region; Near-Record COVID-19 Cases Overwhelm Brazil's Hospitals; Oil Prices Surge After OPEC Extends Production Cuts; New Zealand Earthquakes; Fly Me to the Moon. Aired 1- 2a ET

Aired March 5, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: This is another hour of CNN NEWSROOM, live from around the world. Hello, everyone, I'm John Vause.

Coming up.

Defiance in the face of deadly force. Pro-democracy demonstrators once again on the streets of Myanmar demanding an end to military rule.

The end of the decline brings fears of a new surge. Coronavirus cases across Europe have surged in recent days, spreading faster than the rate of vaccination.

And Pope Francis will soon arrive in Baghdad, for an historic visit to Iraq, a country which has been a focal point of religious violence.

Pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar appear to be standing their ground against a heavily armed military, allegedly ordered to shoot to kill.

In the past hours, they've also clashed with police. And just days earlier, dozens of protesters were killed when security forces opened fire with live ammunition.

According to a count by the U.N., at least 54 people have been killed since the military seized power in a coup in February. But the actual death toll is likely to be many times higher.

The United States has announced new economic sanctions and warned of further action if the military fails to exercise restraint.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NED PRICE, SPOKESMAN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: We are appalled and revulsed to see the horrific violence perpetrated against the people in Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance.

We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people. And to promote accountability for the military's actions.


VAUSE: Children are among the victims. UNICEF says five children have been killed, more than 500 others arbitrarily detained.

And hundreds gathered on Thursday in honor of a 19-year-old protester who was shot in the head by security forces. She was wearing a shirt that said, "Everything will be OK," while protesting.

She's become a symbol of defiance within the movement.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul with the very latest. And everyone seems to be saying this has to stop, no one seems to have a plan to make that happen.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John. And the fact is the military junta at this point is not appearing to listen to the international condemnation.

There needs to be a lot more we're hearing from activists on the ground than just condemnation; sanctions, targeted sanctions need to be put in place.

But for those that are actually still going out onto the streets despite this heightened level of force that's being used against them, there is fear on the streets but they're still determined to continue protesting.

Amnesty International saying, a statement, quote: "Everything points to troops adopting shoot to kill tactics to suppress the protests."

This is what we have been hearing from people on the ground and speaking to the loved ones of those who have been killed.

Protesters banged pots and pans on the streets of Myinchan in central Myanmar, unaware it's about to turn deadly. They duck and run for cover as security forces start firing.

22-year-old Zin Ko Ko Zaw is shot in the head. His brother carries him to a waiting ambulance, but it's too late.

Reliving that moment, he tells me, "My brother was shot and fell down, blood was coming from his mouth and his head. I dragged him away from there and he died in my arms."

His parents say he was the breadwinner of the family working at the local market. They were all at the protest together, his mother says, but were separated when the shooting began. She says, "We are risking our lives to claim victory. We don't have

any weapons, but they are fully armed. All we can do is protest. They're shooting us with live bullets. Please help us."

Makeshift hospitals were set up for the injured, treating a steady flow of protesters with gunshot wounds.

TOM ANDREWS, U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR: And now we're seeing orders that police and military soldiers shoot people down in cold blood. They're using 12-gauge shotguns, they're using 38-millimeter rifles, they're using semiautomatic weapons.


HANCOCKS: Security forces were caught on camera taking three charity workers from the ambulance in Yangon and beating them with guns and batons.

The charity says the three are now in hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Is anybody safe at this point?

ANDREWS: No. No one is safe. Here, ambulance workers, people that are there purely to save lives, to help anyone who needs emergency medical care. They're not there to hurt anyone, they're there to help everyone.

HANCOCKS: The level of force being used by security forces has increased since Sunday. Dozens have now been killed across the country.

Activists on the ground fear the actual death toll is far higher than that the United Nations has been able to confirm.

Makeshift shrines are emerging on the streets where protesters fell. Funerals are becoming a daily occurrence.

As Zin Ko Ko Zaw's family prepares for his funeral, they say they hope his death has not been in vain. His parents praying the next to fall will be the military dictatorship that took their son.

So the U.N. special rapporteur there, John, saying that protesters are being shot down a cold blood. We're hearing from Amnesty saying there appears to be a shoot and kill policy.

And certainly all the families of those killed that we have spoken to, all of them, have been killed by being shot in the head.

So this is clearly a concern at this point. Amnesty saying that the silence on the part of the military leadership does show a consensus that they are probably putting these orders out there. John.

VAUSE: Yes. And that number of 54 seems woefully underreported. I guess we'll find out more in the coming days.

Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, thank you.

To Washington D.C. now, and international human rights lawyer, Jared Genser, who's represented a long list of high-profile political dissidents, including the now former de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Jared, thank you very much or take the time to be with us. Appreciate it.


VAUSE: OK. Without sounding glib, have we seen this movie before? As more protesters are killed, it sparks outrage which fuels bigger protests, the military kills even more unarmed civilians. Sooner or later the generals cross that line of committing war crimes if they hadn't done so already.

Democratic nations like the U.S. did on Thursday; wash, rinse, repeat. Then what?

GENSER: Well, it's a great question. I don't think we've quite seen this version of the movie yet. I think this one's going to be a lot harsher and nastier.

I think that the last time we saw mass protests in Burma was almost 15 years ago with the Saffron Revolution and a lot has happened since then and the wide availability of mobile phones and video and real- time projection outward of what's happening in the country is dramatically different than it was 15 years ago.

And so we're seeing already not only a brutal crackdown by the military on protesters but the body count piling up much more rapidly.

And the real question is going to be ultimately whether the military can sustain this when even countries that you might think would be aligned with them like China, undoubtedly are not fully onboard with what the military is doing, China, for example, wants to see stability in the country.

And undoubtedly, they had much more stability with Aung San Suu Kyi running the country than they have with the military takeover that's taken place.

VAUSE: And as the world watches these images like we've never really watched them before -- this escalating use of deadly force by the military is being condemned. UNICEF, for one, has called out the military for killing, wounding and arresting children.

There's also this statement from the U.S. State Department. Listen to this.


PRICE: We continue to urge the Burmese military to exercise maximum restraint. This latest escalation in violence demonstrates the fact of the junta's complete disregard for their own people, for the people of Burma. It is unacceptable and the world will continue to respond.


VAUSE: Just a day ago, we spoke with the U.N. special rapporteur to Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, who called for a global arms embargo on Myanmar. And on paper, that could be quite effective, right, in decreasing the violence but in practice, it may not be that easy.

And that's where China, especially, comes into play, right?

GENSER: No, it does. And I think that we're seeing the crimes mounting in a way that we're rapidly going to be able to conclude that what's going on here are mostly likely crimes against humanity.

What we're talking about here is mass disappearances, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings committed in a widespread, systematic and horrific way directed against the civilian population of a country.

And as the numbers mount and the scale mounts, it's much more likely that we can conclude mass atrocities are being committed.

I think an arms embargo is a important first start.


But also we need the situation in the country referred to the International Criminal Court to hold accountable General Min Aung Hlaing who runs the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, and other generals of the country.

Not merely for what they're doing right now but, of course, for the prior acts that they've committed against the Rohingya and the acts of genocide against the Rohingya people that they were brought to the World Court about and were ironically and, quite sadly -- Aung San Suu Kyi had stood in their defense.

VAUSE: The Reuters news agency is reporting that three days after taking power, the new military leaders tried to get their hands on a billion dollars being held in the Federal Reserve in New York. It was stopped by banking safeguards which had been already been put in place.

"U.S. government officials then stalled on approving the transfer until an executive order issued by President Joe Biden gave them legal authority to block it indefinitely."

A billion dollars would have been a nice cushion for those economic sanctions coming. But from your experience in dealing with the leader of the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing, is all of this death, this bloodshed, the political turmoil essentially being driven by a B plan here to basically loot as much of the nation's wealth as possible?

GENSER: I think it's less about looting the wealth and it's more about the personal ambition of Min Aung Hlaing himself. I think that the conventional wisdom before this coup was that because

of the concessions that had been made to the military previously by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy -- which included such things as letting them maintain these conglomerates that they own and control and line their pockets with cash, not holding them accountable for mass atrocities that were committed not just against the Rohingya but over the prior decades and letting them control their own budget -- that this was all going to be enough to not give any incentive to the military to undertake a coup.

And the reality is that last November's elections were a devastating defeat for the military. The party that supported the military got seven percent of the votes whereas Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies won more than 65, 70 percent of the votes as well.

So he saw no pathway forward and felt that if he didn't do this, that he would lose his grip on power which undoubtedly would have happened. And sadly, I think this is about really him and his own burning ambition as compared to any broader set of issues or concerns.

VAUSE: Yes. Jared, thank you so much for being with us and the insight which you have, it's great. You've obviously had a lot of experience with the country and the coup leader.

So it's good to have you with us. Thank you.

GENSER: Yes, absolutely. Thanks so much.

VAUSE: Beijing's annual get together of the rubber stamp congress is officially underway. As is custom, China's premiere began proceedings delivering his work report, the equivalent of the State of the Union in the United States.

Laying out an agenda aiming for moderate economic growth and an end to political opposition and extinguishing all glimmer of real democracy in Hong Kong.

Li Keqiang wasn't quite so blunt but then he didn't have to be. Chinese state media have been running editorials saying electoral loopholes will be plugged and the official Communist Party talking point is staunch patriots should be governing Hong Kong.

Live now to Hong Kong, Kristie Lu Stout standing by.

It is an interesting way the Chinese have decided to find "patriot" and "love."

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. And what happened today has cemented China's ambition to have Hong Kong run by patriots.

The National Peoples Congress, the rubber stamp parliament of China, has announced it will pass legislation that would allow the usually pro-Beijing election committee that selects the chief executive of Hong Kong as Hong Kong's top leader, they'll be allowed to nominate and select members of the legislative council or the parliament. Again, this underscores China's desire for control over Hong Kong to

make sure that Hong Kong is a territory run by patriots, by people who love Hong Kong, who love China and also love the Chinese Communist Party.

Especially this year, a milestone year. It is the 100th anniversary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Now we heard from Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, as he read out that work report for 2021. In it, he addressed the need for stability for Hong Kong as well as neighboring Macao.

We have an excerpt of that work report for you, we'll bring it up for you. In it, it writes this.

Quote: "We will resolutely guard against and deter external forces' interference in Hong Kong and Macao affairs. We will support both regions as they grow their economies and improve peoples lives, so as to maintain long-term prosperity and stability."

Prosperity and stability. Those are the themes of the National People's Congress so far.

We heard the GDP growth target for the year was announced, China hopes to achieve above six percent GDP growth this year. Last year, a GDP target was not released because of disruptions caused by the pandemic. Over the last year, despite the pandemic, China managed to achieve 2.3 percent economic growth.

Also, we also heard from Premier Li, plans to create 11 million new urban jobs in 2021. Military spending will also increase, defense spending to increase some 6.8 percent this year.

We also got some key details about the next five-year plan.


This is that ambitious plan to fuel economic growth in China for the next five years by boosting domestic spending and reining in China's reliance on overseas technology.

Year on year, from 2021 to 2025, China plans to increase by seven percent a year its spending on research and development.

This is also significant. It means that China will continue to invest in high-tech areas that it, frankly, lags in like operating systems, like semi-conductors and chips, while continuing to maintain its leadership position in areas like A.I. and 5G. John.

VAUSE: What is interesting, that in a world which is still dealing with a global pandemic and a world where there's still climate change and that has not been addressed and there's a global economy which is struggling, that Beijing has decided that, among all of those issues, revamping the constitution for Hong Kong is up there in terms of priorities.

This is how determined they are essentially to rid Hong Kong of any effective opposition.

STOUT: Hong Kong is a priority because of what happened in 2019. The Hong Kong protests which were seen as a direct challenge to the authority of Beijing and the central government.

Remember, it was at the National Peoples Congress last year when they floated or they passed national security legislation just weeks before it was imposed onto the territory. And since then, Hong Kong has fundamentally changed.

Virtually every opposition candidate, activist, has either fled or they're in detention, they have been arrested under the law.

National security education is being rolled out through schools, even primary schools here in Hong Kong -- having primary school, elementary school kids learn what's subversion and secession means.

Slogans are banned, an anthem "Glory to Hong Kong " is banned. Hong Kong is fundamentally changed because of the decision those was put forth at the National People's Congress last year. And it continues again this week as we get more details about electoral reform, as they call it, for Hong Kong. John.

VAUSE: Electoral reform. That's an interesting way of putting it, I guess. Reforming is good in many respects, sometimes it's not.

Kristi Lu Stout, thank you. Reporting there live from Hong Kong.

Well, Pope Francis is about to take off from Rome's airport. He's heading to Iraq for what will be an historic visit.

The first time the Pope has traveled since the COVID pandemic began but, more importantly, the first time any pope has visited Iraq.

The Vatican has been planning this trip for decades. He thought it would be canceled because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and also terror attacks.

The Pope was supposed to arrive in Baghdad this afternoon, just a few hours away. Fairly short flight.

And there he is, the Papal Guard surrounding him, the Swiss Guard. He's about to board the plane, up the stairs. "Shepherd 1," they call the plane, in the United States is its call sign.

It's just a regular Alitalia flight, though, when it's in the U.S.

Pope Francis normally traveling a lot as his agenda as the pope, he travels the world. But, of course, the pandemic has meant he has been stuck in Rome for quite some time.

And there he is.

He's about to get on the plane. We'll see if he gets the first-class wash bag. I'm sure he will. But he will be arriving in Baghdad in Iraq at a time which has been

particularly sensitive because of recent attacks on U.S. facilities as well as other targets of coalition forces there and reprisals against Iran by the United States.

And there is the Pope. A quick goodbye, wave, into the plane. And soon he will be up and away and on his way to Baghdad. When he gets there, we'll bring that to you as well.

Well, still to come here.

After weeks of declining hospital admissions and falling daily infections, New York's numbers are once again going the wrong way.

Also, three massive earthquakes rock New Zealand all in a matter of hours triggering tsunami warnings and frayed nerves.

We'll have the very latest from Derek Van Damme, our meteorologist. Next.



VAUSE: For weeks, the signs were all there. Daily case numbers and deaths all dramatically in decline, hospital admissions too.

But six weeks on and now a screeching halt. And then once there was once hope in Europe that the end of this pandemic may be soon, now replaced with pessimism of a potentially more deadly third wave.

It's mainly in Central and Eastern Europe where the numbers have increased, the countries seen here in orange and red. Infections there up from 10 to more than 50 percent in the past week, compared with a week earlier.

Across 40 European countries, less than two percent of the general public has been vaccinated. Frustration is mounting over the glacial pace of Europe's slow progress on that front.

European medicines regulator expected to rule in the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, also reviewing Russia's Sputnik V.

Ravina Kullar is an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert. She is with us this hour from Los Angeles. Thank you for taking the time, it's good to see you.


VAUSE: OK. This new variant of the coronavirus which is now spreading so quickly in places like Hungary has now forced new lockdown measures. They take effect next week. All shops except for food, stores, pharmacies, petrol stations will close.

And this is happening at the same time as vaccinations are underway across Hungary.

Listen to the spokesman for the prime minister here.


GERGELY GULYAS, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER (Through Translator): Vaccinations are going well. We can surely say that currently we are at the third place in the E.U. but next week, we will be the most vaccinated country within the E.U.

But not even this speed is fast enough to stop the spread of the virus, especially the variants of the virus.


VAUSE: I wonder is it simply a case that the vaccination rollout across Europe has been so bad, combined with the regulatory approval process that moves at a glacier's pace that yes, Hungary may have got the bronze now and may be in line for the gold medal but it may as well be a participation prize at this point.

KULLAR: That's right, John. The rollout has been considerably slow in Europe, with it unfortunately halted due to there being a lack of supplies, there being a lack of personnel which are administering those vaccinations and there has been burdensome paperwork which is slowing the pace of these vaccines being administered and being there available for people in Europe.

And, as you stated, there are these variants which are very concerning and that's what makes this virus a beast.

There's a B117 variant which originated in the U.K., which has pretty much dominated all of Europe.

VAUSE: What is striking to me, though, is that when you look at the approval process here on the authorization for these vaccines -- there's Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca -- none of those are particularly effective or all have them have less effectiveness, if you like, against the variants which are set to dominate Europe anytime soon.

The one vaccine which has been proven to be relatively effective is the Johnson & Johnson one shot and done. It's still waiting for approval and it was authorized in the U.S. last week. That just doesn't seem to be sensible.

KULLAR: I agree, John. It's very concerning that there is that vaccine by J&J which was approved. And why is it not able to administered to individuals in Europe?

And that very slow rollout is, again, also definitely impacting the individuals from having some kind of light there, at the end of all this -- at the end of this tunnel.

So I can see why people are very frustrated but they have to mask up, make sure they're physically distance and wait until they get a vaccine.

VAUSE: But the problem, again, is that all this now is coming back onto health care workers. You have hospitals which have been stretched for a year, health care workers which are exhausted and they're being asked to step up again.


I want you to listen to the European director for the WHO.


HANS KLUGE, REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Continued strain on our hospitals and health workers is being met with acts of medical solidarity between European neighbors.

Nonetheless, over a year into the pandemic, our health systems should not be in this situation. We need to get back to the basics.


VAUSE: There's a couple of things there. But notably, a year on in and this admission that Europe should not be in this place that it's in right now.

So this third wave, this more deadly, more contagious third wave, was this totally avoidable?

KULLAR: It was avoidable. I think that there could have been those infection prevention measures that could've been put in place early on. I think there could have been more testing that was done, there could have been contact tracing measures that were put into place but that took some time. And that's why a year into this pandemic we are still knee-deep in this virus.

And I think many people are experiencing pandemic fatigue where 2021 has rolled around and they thought we're going to be in the clear; we can finally remove those masks, we can go back to some sense of normalcy. And that is not the case.

VAUSE: Ravina Kullar, thank you so much. Thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.

KULLAR: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Take care. Well, now to a major power move by the Italian government to stop the export of a quarter million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia on Thursday.

Italy said it's dealing with a vaccine shortage. Since AstraZeneca failed to deliver on promises it made to the E.U. and Australia doesn't need the vaccine as badly then, well, Australia just has to do without.

Australia has enough of its own vaccine to stay on track with its current program. Domestic production gets underway later this month. So far, there's been no comment from AstraZeneca.

Doctor Sanjaya Senanayake is an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the Australian National University -- I got your name wrong last time and hope I got it right this time.

Live to us from Canberra. Thank you, Doctor, it's good to see you again.


VAUSE: Great. I'm just going to call you Sanjay (ph). Over the weekend, there was 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which touched down in Sydney.

A week before that, Pfizer delivered about 150,000 doses and three weeks from now, domestic vaccine production will hit about a million doses a week in Australia.

Big picture here, 250,000 doses is not such a big deal, right? And if that's the case, why were they ordered to begin with?

SENANAYAKE: Right. So well, we still want to roll out this vaccine to about 75 percent of our population at the moment and two doses for each person, unless we're using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

So we do need the supply of vaccines so that's why it has been ordered. So it was, I guess, potentially on the cards, we've been hearing rumblings that this might happen. But it was a bit disappointing that the E.U. has withheld these doses.

But at the same time, Australia hasn't got widespread community transmission of COVID and we're just starting to roll out our vaccination program so we won't feel this as much as some other nations might, John.

VAUSE: Yes. And with that in mind, take a look at the numbers, just from today from Johns Hopkins University.

Italy, almost 23,000 new infections today, almost 340 people dead -- that's obviously way down from the worst of the pandemic. But look at the same timeframe in Australia, 14 new cases, no lives lost. In fact, no one has died from COVID in Australia for at least a month, maybe more.

As you say, Australia has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries.

I guess is there a bigger concern here about what this suspension of vaccine means for the bigger picture and what it means for the future?

SENANAYAKE: Well, I think part of it reflects what's going on in the E.U., John. So in the U.S. now, around 30 percent of the population received at least one dose of vaccine and similar in the U.K. and Israel, it's about 80 percent. But in the E.U., it's only eight percent and, as you said, with those Italian figures, there's still a lot of COVID there. So they're clearly concerned about that.

And vaccine nationalism has been talked about. But as I have said before, unless we ensure the whole world gets vaccinated we're going to have issues because new strains will emerge which will become resistant to the vaccine eventually.

VAUSE: No one is safe until everyone is safe, I think that's the way they put it.

The COVID response in Australia, I guess, it's a success so far. The vaccination rollout, though, not so much.

The program, what, began last week and the daily count is yet to exceed 10,000 injections; the government aim is 80,000 a day.


But there has been a study by the University of New South Wales which has found the rate of vaccine administration that will be necessary to meet the Australian government completion target of October 2021, a rate of 200,000 doses per day would comfortably meet that target. 80,000 doses a day will see the rollout extended until mid next year.

So with a slow rate of vaccination should Australians be concerned, you know, that the rise of cases that we're seeing in Europe right now, because of the variants, could maybe happen there as well.

DR. SANJAYA SENANAYAKE, INFECTIOUS DISEASES EXPERT: Look, I don't think we will achieve that October mark, but I think it is possible by the end of the year we could get there if we're getting 150,000 vaccinations a day.

And of course, it is still the early days, John. It is only the first couple of weeks. So it will take a while to ramp up production. We're only doing certain sectoral hubs at the moment to get the vaccines. Ina a little while, we'll open up community hubs such as in pharmacies and general practices as well, so there will be more opportunities to get vaccines.

So we'll certainly get that figure up. But yes, it will be nice to see us get to that 150,000 a day. And I think it's not going to just be a challenge for Australia, but for every country in the world to vaccinate in a timely manner.

VAUSE: I go (ph) ask the hard questions, I don't want to be too critical as you say these early days of the vaccination program.

Dr. Sanjaya, thank you so much. It's so good to see you.

DR. SENANAYAKE: Likewise, thank you, John.

VAUSE: Take care. Well, Iraq about to welcome a pope for the first time ever. Pope

Francis says he wants to support Christians who have been waiting far too long for this moment. It is also his most dangerous visit so far. That is next.


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

Well, Pope Francis is about to depart on a historic trip. The first ever papal visit to Iraq. There is his plane, it's on the tarmac there at Rome's airport. We are still waiting for the plane to begin taxiing and for takeoff.

But it's been sitting there for a while now because earlier, we saw the holy father climb the stairs on to the Alitalia flight for this historic visit. There he is. This was just a few moments ago, actually.

And of course, this is what is considered to be a very dangerous trip because of the risk of terrorism and the ongoing violence. There's been a number of strikes on U.S. military bases in Iraq lately. There's been U.S. retaliation.

Of course, now we have the live images of the plane which has started to taxi on the tarmac there for the final -- for the take off rather, for that trip to Baghdad. It is a few hours in the air to get from Rome to Baghdad, but not a very long flight.


VAUSE: They also are saying this is also an historic visit for the Pope. No pope has ever actually visited Iraq. It is a country where the Christian population has been decreasing greatly in recent years. Mostly because of the violence that they have been targeted by.

And also it has been a country which has been a focal point for religious strife and religious violence, for a long time now.

The Pope says he wants to go there to pray and to help the country heal. And there will be many things, many opportunities for that on this trip.

The concern though is on the COVID front though, that while the Pope has been vaccinated, and all those traveling with him have been vaccinated for COVID-19, the large gatherings that he may bring with him or when he arrives and those who want to just see the Pope, get close to the Pope, could in fact be almost like a super spreader event for the pandemic. Iraq is struggling with a huge outbreak of COVID-19 at the moment.

And, of course, that is one of the big concerns the Vatican has. And they're taking measures to try and address that.

Here are the cities where the Pope will be visiting. We can see Mosul up there in the north, that's a city which was destroyed by ISIS and the siege there back a few years ago. He will then travel to Erbil, which is in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the semi independent region of Iraq. And of course, Baghdad, and Najaf and Nasariya (ph) down there in the south.

We'll have more on the Pope's visit as it takes place, when he gets there. And of course, when he travels the country.

The Pope says he did not want to cancel the trip because it was important to him and to the Vatican.

Well, let's go to CNN's Ben Wedeman who has more now on the fate of Iraqi Christians and what this visit by the Holy Father means to them.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The image of Pope Francis graces the blast walls protecting Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church. The messages of brotherhood, a facade perhaps, to the bitter memory of the worst of ever massacre of Christians in Baghdad.

Each one of these red squares, representing the spot where somebody died. In October 2010 a total of 58 people were killed in the attack. Terrorists from the Islamic state in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, burst into the church during evening mass.

Deacon Luis Climas (ph) was inside and recalls the attackers made their purpose clear.

"Their intention was evil, it was to kill," he says. "They considered everyone in the church an infidel, deserving of death."

CNN's Arwa Damon reported from the church in the immediate aftermath.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When the attackers stormed in, half of the congregation came back here into this room trying to keep themselves safe. They had barricaded the door, but the attackers were throwing grenades in.

There is blood on the walls here. People have been leaving candles throughout the evening. Here, we were told, the residue of when one of the grenades exploded and all over the ceilings, and the walls just splatter -- splattered with blood.

WEDEMAN: Deacon Climas shows us exactly where he was, cowering on the floor with his son and dozens of others taking cover during the attack. Shrapnel, ripped into his head.

"We stayed here for four hours, in terror and fear," he recalls. We had surrendered to faith, and put our lives in the hands of the Virgin Mary.

Grainy amateur video shows the panic and trauma, moments after Iraqi anti-terrorism troops stormed the church. The massacre was the final straw for many of Baghdad's Christians. "Since the attack, almost everyone has left," says Natek Anwar (ph), a

survivor. Before, mass was held three times in the morning, and twice in the evening. Now, there is just one mass a day.

The specter of terror has receded for now, yet corruption, political paralysis, chaos and perceived discrimination have left the Christian community desperate for help.

"We need someone to stand with us," says Deacon Climas because we live in a jungle, a jungle controlled by political monsters. A jungle in need of saints.

Ben Wedeman, CNN -- Baghdad.


VAUSE: The U.N. is calling for a war crimes investigation into Ethiopia's role in the Tigray region, a northern province which is bordering Eritrea and Sudan. The U.N. says along with Ethiopian forces Eritrean troops are in Tigray, and they've been accused of committing atrocities.


VAUSE: More now from CNN's Richard Roth.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT (on camera): U.N. Humanitarian Affairs chief Mark Lowcock, told the security council in a private meeting, Eritrean forces must get out of the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

The secretary general of the U.N., through his spokesman, later agreed. Lowcock told the ambassadors there are well-corroborated reports that Eritrean forces were responsible for atrocities.

The U.N.'s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet in Geneva, urged Ethiopia to permit monitors to enter the country, to check for human rights violations and potential war crimes.

A recent CNN investigation found a massacre had been committed in the northern region of Tigray at a church with dozens of people, including priests, women, and children, killed.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the U.N. press corps after the meeting that Ethiopia have to get control of this.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The onus to prevent further atrocities and human suffering falls squarely on the Ethiopian government's shoulders. We urge the Ethiopian government to support an immediate end to the fighting in Tigray.

ROTH: Security Council countries got close to an agreement on saying something regarding the dire need of the people in the Tigray region, pressing forward on some statement on humanitarian affairs, which may come in the coming days.

Richard Roth, CNN -- New York.


VAUSE: With the surge of COVID-19 cases and with hospitals on the brink of collapse, Brazil's President Bolsonaro continues to downplay the crisis saying, if it were up to him, he's the president, right, Brazil would never have any lockdowns.

Shasta Darlington reports from Sao Paulo.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging Brazil yet again. On Thursday, 1,699 people died, just shy of the record number of deaths registered the day before.

The health ministry also reported more than 75,000 new cases. The second highest number since the pandemic began a year ago.

The new wave of infections, fueled by people flaunting social isolation measures, and by a dangerous new variant, has overwhelmed hospitals.

The health care systems in almost three quarters of Brazilian states are on the verge of collapse. With ICU occupancy over 80 percent. Several cities and states, have declared a lockdown forcing all but essential services to close.

But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to criticize the restrictions. On Wednesday, he said that if it were up to him, there would never be a lockdown.

At an official event on Thursday, he declared, quote, "we have to face our problems, stop being sissies, he said. Enough whining. How long are they going to keep on crying?"

Brazil has the world's second highest number of COVID related deaths, and the third highest number of confirmed cases. But it has vaccinated less than 4 percent of the population.

Shasta Darlington, CNN -- Sao Paulo.


VAUSE: The world's major oil producers are continuing to cut production. That is despite a recent price surge.

Live to Abu Dhabi for all the details, and of course, the implications.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: U.S. futures back in negative territory after a sell-off on Wall Street Thursday. The Federal Reserve chairman predicted an increase in consumer prices in the coming months and investors fear that will mean an increase in interest rates.

Asian markets also tumbling over that news, except for the Shanghai Composite but that doesn't matter. They've been all over the place for the last couple of hours. We're seeing a bit of a mixed bag there.

Meantime, oil prices are surging, after OPEC's decision to extend production cuts through April. Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate both shot up after the announcement, but OPEC and its allies have agreed to limit supply until the global economic recovery is on more solid footing.

CNN's emerging markets editor, John Defterios, live in Abu Dhabi.

You know, the markets are convinced of more oil coming, but I guess, you know, one-way to ensure that the global economy does actually mend is to keep the oil supply coming and not cut it back? The Saudis -- what are they doing?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, this is the element of surprise, John. They are not convinced, Saudi Arabia, that this recovery is for real. And they kind of feel in this environment now, with the virtual meeting you can call the meeting in short notice. If you need more oil, you release it into the market. They did not want to preempt any idea that they're going to come into the market in a very big, big way.

They were citing the recent lockdown in north Italy, a continued lockdown in Switzerland, and other parts of Europe. And also what Jay Powell had to say, right now, about the anemic job recovery in the United States.

So here is the Saudi oil minister suggesting, I want to see the enemy up close, before I start putting oil back on the market. He almost sounds like Dirty Harry. Here we go.


ABDULAZIZ BIN SALMAN, SAUDI OIL MINISTER: The jury is still out. There are those who believe in this and there are those who -- when you add unpredictability, and uncertainty, I think there are choices you could make.

I belong to the school of being conservative, and taking care of things in a more precautions way. And I will believe it when I see it.


DEFTERIOS: And in fact, the minister Abdulaziz bin Salman was suggesting that the market traders will get hit very hard, if they try to predict where everyone is going. It was a complete surprise, John, and we have prices adding over 1 percent today. But that was after 4.5 percent came yesterday. We're going to be marching very close to $70 a barrel.

The bad side, for consumers here, and this is the risk for Saudi Arabia, it could kill off demand. It looks like petrol or gas prices in the U.S. are going to go close to $3 a gallon, which is high.

India's already complaining, because it is the number three importer of crude. The prices are too high, and they don't have access to enough oil. So I don't see this going on forever.

But Saudi wants to play it cautious after that collapse of prices at the start of the pandemic.

VAUSE: Yes, I see the Dirty Harry connection.

First Friday of the month, it is jobs day in the United States. So what are the expectations here? Because January was a fairly poor number bringing the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent.

DEFTERIOS: Yes. Because of that very poor performance in January, and also the end of 2020, which I think we should mention as well, this is being closely watched. Particularly because Jay Powell was showing some caution here, that we may have inflationary pressures, but that the job market recovery is sputtering, if you will.

So let's take a look at those projections, John. This is a pretty decent number, if we get it, but in context to what happened in January, not so great. 182 -- January 49,000. The unemployment rate is hovering at 6.3 percent, and it's not expected to move.

But that bottom number is very important because we have lost 9.7 million jobs, and are not recreating them at a very fast pace. And this is why the Biden administration is pushing for that $1.9 trillion to get it done, and not adding other things to it like a minimum wage just yet.

VAUSE: John thank you. John Defterios, live for us in Abu Dhabi. Good to see you. Have a good weekend.

Now, Britain's Prince Philip will be in hospital for a few more days yet. Buckingham Palace says he is recovering after being successfully treated for a pre-existing heart condition.

His daughter-in-law Camilla, says he is improving slowly, but there is some discomfort from that treatment. The Duke of Edinburgh was first admitted to hospital more than two weeks ago after feeling unwell.


VAUSE: New Zealanders and the massive force of nature. When we come back, three powerful earthquakes, one tsunami -- live to our meteorologist for all of the details.

Also, have you ever wanted to go to the moon? Well, then you are not alone, bye. How one billionaire could make your dream come true, go to the moon. See you soon.


VAUSE: Tsunami sirens there ringing out after three powerful earthquakes struck New Zealand early Friday. The strongest was a magnitude 8.1.

Emergency alerts on phones, urged people to evacuate. The tsunami warning has now been downgraded. Residents have since been reassured it is safe to return home.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam, joins us now. Good to see you, Derek. What are the details.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, John, getting rocked by one major earthquake, if that's not enough, how about getting rocked by three major earthquakes in under 8 hours, that is what they felt in New Zealand.

Even though they were under the water, offshore, these were still felt in a faraway places like Auckland, New Zealand for instance. And it's just really interesting to see what took place here, because these 3 earthquakes, you would think they were all related. But actually, the first two were unrelated, it was the 2nd and the 3rd earthquakes which were the largest of the 3, were actually related.

One was a foreshock, preluding the magnitude 8.1 that occurred, the largest earthquake that occurred right along the fault line. That's just east of New Zealand.

This is where the Pacific and Australian plates, collide. The Pacific plate actually moved westward around 60 millimeters per year. That is roughly about twice as fast as your fingernails grow. But that's enough to give and thrust for this mega-thrust earthquake to occur, under the ocean floor.

And of course that displaces water. It allows for the water to propagate outwards. It creates a tsunami, and that is what ensued.

In fact, it's amazing to just study this, because there is the epicenter, with that highlighted star. But you can see, even 12 to 16 hours later, as that tsunami wave propagates in a general easterly direction, it will impact parts of the Americas.

Exactly how? Still to be determined. But we are noticing now, the closest locations -- Vanuatu, into New Zealand and eastern Australia -- they're threat of the tsunami wave has diminished. But as we focus our attention on the Americas, the threat level still exist anywhere from Mexico to Nicaragua, as well as chile. We have highlighted those areas in the shading of purple.

And it all depends on the (INAUDIBLE) or the exact depth of the ocean floor. How that tsunami wave will propagate across this area.

But you can see the projected wave heights, these are known as wave heights above normal tidal levels, anywhere from a third two one meter high, across those locations I just mentioned. You can see the cluster of earthquakes that occurred throughout this region there have been roughly 60 or more aftershocks since the original 8.1 that occurred. And we expect several more to continue for the weeks, if not months, to come from this powerful earthquake, John.

VAUSE: Ok. So far, no fatalities, that is a good sign.

Remember how old blue eyes used to sing "Fly Me to the Moon? Well now, it's going to happen for real.


VAUSE: It's a fashion billionaire mogul from Japan, who is now offering to take eight of his closest friends, all the way to the moon, free of charge.

Selina Wang in Tokyo, live for us for more on the story.

Ok, what is the deal, banana peel (ph)? What happens?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa is looking for eight members of the public to join him on a six-day trip around the moon. It is slated to take off in 2023. It will be on SpaceX's star ship rocket.

And anyone, John, including you and I, can start applying through March 14th. And this trip will be entirely free. Billionaire, Maezawa had made his fortune by starting the fashion e-commerce company, Zozotown. And he said he's going to pay for the entirety of this trip.

And SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that this trip could venture farther than any human has gone before beyond earth, including, potentially even farther than the Apollo mission's.

Take a listen to what he had to say here.


ELON MUSK, FOUNDER, SPACEX: It will be the first private space flight, first commercial spaceflight with humans beyond earth's orbit. So this has never occurred before. And in fact, again -- we are going to go past the moon.


WANG: Maezawa had made headlines back in 2018, when SpaceX announced that he would be their first, private customer for a trip around the moon. Now, at the time, Maezawa said that he was going to look for artists to come with him on the trip.

He later said, he was looking for his, quote, life partner to come join him. Now, they are only looking for two criteria here to go: one is that you're going to push the envelope in your field of work by going to space. And the second criteria they are looking for, is that you are going to support the fellow crew members on this trip, John.

VAUSE: I mean going to space is pushing the envelope, so that seems like one of the easy ones to get done.

What do we know about the SpaceX craft they will actually be using?

WANG: The spacecraft that is going to be used is the Starship, which is what is supposed to be SpaceX's next generation, reusable rocket. Now, anyone applying is going to have to have a healthy appetite for risk. Because the Starship is currently still in early stages of development.

Only prototypes have been flown, and so far an early test flights, and recent test flights, they have ended in explosion. Elon Musk is confident that it will be ready by 2023. Take a listen.


MUSK: Yes, I am highly confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023. And that it will be safe enough for human transport, by 2023.



WANG: Now John, in a video made that was said that he's just a little scared, but he is more curious.

VAUSE: Ok. Aren't we all? Thank you, Selina.

Thank you for joining us on CNN NEWSROOM.

Michael Holmes is up next. You're watching CNN.