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COVID Cases Increase Worldwide; Freedom Not Being Felt in Many Countries; Germany Reverse Vaccine Rules; Protesters Sings in the Streets of Myanmar; Cuba Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine; Papal Visit To Iraq; Palace Has No Comment About Markle's Remarks; Prince Philip's Health After Heart Procedure; New Zealand Earthquakes Warns Of Tsunami; OPEC, Allies Keep Lid On Oil Output; Latest U.S. Jobless Numbers To Be Released Friday; U.N. Calls For Probe Into Possible War Crimes In Tigray Region; Japanese Billionaire To Invite Eight People On Trip Around The Moon. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 5, 2021 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.

Coming up here on CNN Newsroom.


SIBYLLE KATZENSTEIN, GENERAL PRACTITIONER: Why don't we distribute AstraZeneca to doctors and we vaccinated?


HOLMES (on camera): Germany's COVID vaccine reversal. Could its about face on the AstraZeneca shot silence some of the criticism for being too slow.

Also, singing tributes fled the streets of Myanmar as protesters face- off with police. We'll have a live report from the region.

And democracy under siege. This year's freedom in the world report has the highest percentage of countries that aren't free since 2006. My guest heads that report's research department.

A worrying spike in European cases despite a year of lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions across the continent. New infections erupt at least 10 percent in all of the countries you see there in orange compared to last week. In the red countries on that map, cases are up at least 50 percent. The World Health Organization officials have a somber warning on Tuesday.


You are seeing a resurgence in central and eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries. The rates were already high. 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 system should not be in the situation. We need to get back to the basics.


HOLMES (on camera): Meanwhile, Italy sticking by its decision to block the export of a quarter million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia. The foreign ministry says both Italy and the European Union are experiencing ongoing shortages. No comment from AstraZeneca. But Australia says it has enough of that vaccine for now.

Germany, meanwhile, has reversed itself on whether people 65 and older should take the Oxford AstraZeneca's vaccine. It is now advising that they should.

Frederik Pleitgen explains the change in guidance and why the country needs all the doses it can get.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Thomas Buchhammer just got his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. Himself, a medical doctor, he says he has no sympathy for Germans who shun AstraZeneca's vaccine.

THOMAS BUCHHAMMER, MEDICAL DOCTOR: I think people in Germany are just too spoiled, just reminds me of children playing on a playground and complaining about a candy and thinking they deserve another candy, because someone tells them it's better.

PLEITGEN: Germany's vaccination committee initially approved AstraZeneca's vaccine only for people 65 and younger, hurting public trust in the product. Those running this vaccination center in the state of a Brandenburg, which administers both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the AstraZeneca vaccine tell us early on, barely anyone wanted AstraZeneca, but that is now changing.

"People were reluctant to make appointments" he says, not many people wanted to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

And the spokesman for the physician's association says my impression on what the numbers tell us is that the acceptance of the AstraZeneca vaccine is rising. We can see that with the bookings. Germany's numbers are damning, according to CNN's calculations only a little over a quarter of the AstraZeneca doses delivered to Germany so far have actually been used.

Germany's a vaccine committee has only now approved AstraZeneca for all age groups. A move that German Chancellor anticipating as she was announcing an extension of the country's pandemic lockdown measures. ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): It will

probably be the case that the expert panel on vaccine use, and we will happily follow here will approve AstraZeneca for older age groups.


PLEITGEN: All this, in a country suffering from a severe lack of available vaccines. Sibylle Katzenstein, a general practitioner in Berlin, says she has been lobbying authorities to allow her to administer a vaccine to some of her patients with severe pre-existing conditions.

KATZENSTEIN: It would have been nice if I had at least 10 vaccines in my fridge. It would've -- it did cost me a lot of time and frustration and in the end, these people who need it didn't get vaccinated. So, why don't they distribute AstraZeneca to doctors and we vaccinate?

PLEITGEN: The German government now says it will allow G.P.s to administer vaccines but only starting in late March. As the German public goes increasingly angry at what many view as a severely botched vaccine rollout.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


HOLMES (on camera): There's a lot going on across Europe. For more we're joined by our Melissa Bell in Paris. Let's touch on this, you know, E.U. blocking the export of AstraZeneca to Australia. Australia is now saying it's vaccine nationalism, even though they're going to live with it. What's behind the whole issue?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well this export mechanism, export ban mechanism has been in place since the end of January, Michael. It was introduced you'll remember amid that row with AstraZeneca over the announcement by the company that it would not be delivering to the European Union the doses that it had promised to as part of its contract for the first quarter.

This of course, as in so many European countries the problem of supplies of vaccines has led to the slowing down our -- the virtual stopping of the campaign in some parts. As a result, it means that companies wanting to export vaccines that are produce in European countries have to apply for an export license to the member state. One hundred seventy-four applications have been made and approve so far.

Yesterday, we heard that Italy had in fact decided to stop this export of 250,000 vaccines to Australia. The first time the export mechanism has been used. But Mario Draghi as he came in as prime minister in Italy had announced that this would be his priority getting the vaccine program up and running. Pleading for a stricter enforcement of that export ban mechanism back in February when he spoke to fellow European leaders. And you know, Italy is unlikely to be the last country to go ahead and use the system. The French health minister, Michael, speaking on French TV this morning has said that France could go the same way. HOLMES: That's fascinating. I mean, meanwhile, there's word that the

case numbers, there was a decline in case numbers in Europe and that has stalled and it's going up in several countries. How concerning is that? And what approach is being taken to try to curb it?

BELL: A worrying trend, of course in a number of European countries. Hungary announcing its lockdown earlier this week. France has extended the number of places in the country which will have a weekend lockdown. It had been the case down in the French Riviera, it had been the case in the northern town of Dunkirk. They've now introduced it for that whole region in northern France the (Inaudible) where now there will weekend lockdowns because the number of new cases has been rising significantly, because throughout Europe hospital systems continue to be burdened.

And that's why there is so much pressure on European governments to get this roll out strategy improved, and up and running. We heard from the French yesterday that they were going to try and speed up their vaccination strategy. We know that a number of European countries are trying to improve things partly because, of course, the AstraZeneca vaccine is at the heart of all this. We now know that in many European countries it can be used for people over 65. So many countries have now changed their advice. And that will help with this problem of supplies throughout the E.U.

Hence, the Italian decision. Hence, this very close eye that Europeans are going to be keeping on any vaccines made in the European Union that companies are trying to have him exported. And there is a secondary problem for Europe. And that is about European cohesion.

We've seen a number of countries, you mentioned it earlier, Michael, Austria and Denmark looking to that agreement with Israel for future vaccine procurement. Hungry, the Czech Republic, Slovakia all going down the route of looking at delivering both the Chinese and Russian vaccines, rather than the three that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

So, there is this fracturing of the approach. And that of course is dangerous to European unity itself. So, you're likely to see a much more aggressive stance from Europeans with regard to those exports going forward.

HOLMES: Fascinating. Melissa, good to see you. Melissa Bell there in Paris for us.

Turning our attention to Brazil now where in many states the number of coronavirus patients is simply overwhelming healthcare systems. Brazil is third in the world in terms of total COVID cases. And second only to the U.S. for the total number of deaths.

Shasta Darlington with more from Sau 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 healthcare 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 sissy," he said. Enough whining, how long are they going to keep on crying? Brazil has the world's largest second highest number of related deaths and the third highest number of confirmed cases but it has vaccinated less than four percent of the population.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sau Paulo.


HOLMES: Cuba has long been proud of its socialized medical system which often sends doctors to disadvantage countries around the world. But when it comes to COVID vaccines, the island nation is too poor to afford treatments from companies such as Pfizer and Moderna. So, now it is making its own vaccines not just for its own people but also to make money by selling them abroad.

It has four vaccines under development. And as Patrick Oppmann now tells us from Havana, two of them are on the cusp of a big breakthrough.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cuban scientists announced on Thursday that for the first time a vaccine produced on this island will advance to the phase three clinical trials. This has been a game- changer not just for Cuba but also for the wider region because the Soberana 2 vaccines means sovereign in Spanish. It appears that vaccine will be the first vaccine produced in Latin America that will be widely available.

Cuban scientists said that more than 40,000 people here in Havana will be given the vaccine as part of these final trials. And then a second vaccine called Abdala will also enter to phase three trials in the month of March. And that more than 80,000 people will begin to get vaccinated as initial mass vaccination efforts.

Cuba has taken the somewhat unique approach of producing their own vaccines, rather than trying to import them because, as you said, just too expensive. And as well, that will mean that Cuba will be competing with much richer countries for a limited supply of vaccine. So, Cuba is hopeful that they can make enough vaccine -- not just enough for Cuba but also to sell to other countries that need vaccines.

Cuba though, says that they need to increase their level of production. Right now, they have made hundreds of thousands of doses. They need to begin to make millions of doses. They are confident they can make enough though to vaccinate this entire island within the next 6 months or so. And then have the entire population of Cuba vaccinated by the end of the year.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


HOLMES: Coming up next here on CNN Newsroom, Myanmar's pro-democracy protesters this week have faced the deadliest crackdown since the military coup last month. And now, a report that police have opened fire on them again. We'll bring you the latest developments.

Also, new report shows how the world has become less free over the past year. And the Trump administration played a role in that. We'll have that as well after the break.



HOLMES: Myanmar's pro-democracy protesters sit in the streets singing and holding up that three-fingered salute as they again face off with police. The protesters appear intent on staying peaceful even after a week of escalating deadly crackdowns.

Reuters reporting that police have just fatally shot one demonstrator Friday in the city of Mandalay. The U.N. Human Rights chief says at least 54 other people have been killed by police and military officers since last month's coup.

And the U.N. special rapporteur to Myanmar says the country's security forces are shooting people in, quote, "cold blood."

Paula Hancocks monitoring the latest development from Seoul. I know you spoke to that rapporteur and that follows Amnesty International. And official there saying pretty much the same thing that everything points to the troops adopting shoot to kill tactics to suppress protests. Is that what you are hearing on the ground from your sources?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. yes, Michael. It is certainly what protesters are assuming is happening at the moment, and the families of those who have been killed that we have spoken to, all of them have been a gunshot to the head. Now, clearly, that is a wound that you are more likely to succumb to, but the fact is, activists are saying that this is something they have seen repeatedly.

We are now hearing it in more official terms. Amnesty, as you say, saying it appears as though there is now a shoot to kill policy. And also pointing out that the silence on the part of the military leadership does strongly suggest that they are the ones that came up with this order, and that the U.N. special rapporteur as well saying the people are being killed in cold blood. Pointing out that no one is safe at this point.

That we were talking about a video that had been released of security forces beating up charity workers who had been pulled out of an ambulance, journalists have been arrested. We know many young people have been targeted on the streets of Myanmar. So there really is a sense that something has changed over the past week since Sunday when a number of people were killed, and it does point to the fact that it appears that this is a directive from the military leadership, or at least that is what we're hearing from Amnesty at this point.

HOLMES: I mean, there is so much courage among the protesters on the streets. I mean, what are they telling you? Given the risks literally to their lives, why do they go on and in such numbers?

HANCOCKS: They do know the risks. They are well aware of what could happen to them. In fact, one 19-year-old, Kyal Sin, also known as Angel, who was killed on Wednesday, again a shot to the head. She had posted on her Facebook page before she had gone to the protest, giving her blood type in case something happened. Giving the details of her family that could be contracted in case something happened to her.

So, those that are going out onto the streets are well aware of what could happen. But many are also saying that they feel like this is their last chance, this is a final battle. It's not something that they can back down from because they fear what would happen if the military dictatorship stayed in power, if they just gave up against them. Many say that they fear that that would be worse than being injured, or worse, in a protest.

So, this is something we've heard many times that this feeling of desperation of knowing that this could be the final chance they have to push back against the military and to regain their democracy. Many also are very young on the streets there. Late teens we have seen. In their 20s, in their 30s, they have had a taste of what democracy is over the past 10 years or so, albeit a fledgling democracy, but they certainly don't want to go back to what their parents and grandparents have referred to as the battle days of a military dictatorship.

HOLMES: Yes. Great reporting, Paula. Thank you, Paula Hancocks there in Seoul for us.


Now the harsh crackdowns on protests in places like Myanmar, and also Hong Kong for that matter is a worrying sign of global democracy in decline. That's according to a U.S.-based NGO, Freedom House. They've just released their 2021 freedom in the world report, and there is some pretty grim findings.

Out of the 39 countries with major protests in 2019, 23 of them experienced more oppression in 2020. Overall, we're seeing the 15th straight year of global democratic decline. Less than 20 percent of people in the world live in a free country, a truly free country. And we are seeing the highest percentage of countries that are not free since 2006.

Joining me now from New York is Sarah Repucci who is vice president of research analysis for Freedom House.

Sarah, great to see you. I mean, three quarters of people on earth living in countries where freedom is declining, it's a pretty stunning assessment. How does that fact manifest in the real world? What are the impacts of it?

SARAH REPUCCI, VICE PRESIDENT, RESEARCH ANALYSIS, FREEDOM HOUSE: So, we see different impacts for different people and in different countries. Everything from people being arrested in mass numbers at protests, to people getting confusing information from their government about what's going on with COVID-19, to certain marginalized groups who are having their freedoms further restricted than the population as a whole.

HOLMES: You touched on something that is important, and let's spend a minute on it. The report did place an emphasis on the role of the pandemic and further erosion of freedoms. How so?

REPUCCI: So, I think the biggest impact was on the transparency of governmental information. There were many countries where people weren't getting accurate information, or they were even getting misinformation from the government itself. And then we also had a set of countries like Nicaragua or Turkmenistan where the government actually denied that COVID was in the country at all. And that directly affects people's ability to keep themselves healthy and safe.

HOLMES: Yes, good point. I mean, as we have said, this marks the 15th consecutive year of democratic backsliding. I mean, as a report it put, I'll just read one line, a long democratic recession that is deepening. What are the main factors that makes that so that the backsliding of freedoms continues year on year?

REPUCCI: So, you know, we are seeing backsliding across the board everything from less democratic elections to people being beaten by security services, to people being unable to make individual decisions about their lives without interference from the government.

I think that a big factor in this is the rise of China and other authoritarian powers who are reaching across borders in order to control their critics in other countries and try to push their model of a repressive regime that they say is more efficient, and claiming that actually democracy doesn't serve people in the way that it actually does.

HOLMES: It was interesting, too, and I want to read another quote from the report which I urge everyone to read. This quote. "Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States."

So, how then did Trump impact freedoms? Both in the U.S. in terms of democracy as we saw in recent months, but also what were the ripple effects of his postures around the world?

REPUCCI: Yes. So, the United States has actually been in decline, by our measure since before the Trump administration. It is still a free country, but we've seen a gradual erosion of our democratic freedoms here, and that did accelerate under the Trump administration. I think especially damaging was the way the President Trump tried to undermine the will of the American public, and say that there were -- there was fraud when actually there wasn't and the independent judiciary throughout those cases.

It definitely does have a ripple effect. It affects people in other countries who are fighting for their own freedom, who want to look to the United States as a model, and think if democracy can't work here, then how can it work in Nigeria or in Ecuador? But it also gives authoritarian a lot of talking points, a lot of power to say, well, look, what's happening in the United States, obviously democracy doesn't work.


HOLMES: There is a lot of emboldening going on, I think it's fair to say. OK. Let's finish on some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. How then to reverse the slide of freedoms?

REPUCCI: So, I definitely don't think that it's irreversible. We do see hope all over the world. I mean, you can see it right now in Myanmar with the way that people that are risking their lives to go out into the streets, to fight against the military coup, and that they overthrow the election. People still want freedom. They still believe in it. Democracy is still the most popular form of government.

And I think, you know, one positive example is last year in Malawi, which is, you know, a small country, that's not in the news, but where the judiciary resisted bribes in over -- in order to overturn the results of a fraudulent election. And if that can happen in a country in Africa, that can spread to other countries in Africa and all over the world. So, I definitely think or I hope that by this time next year we'll have more positive stories to share.

HOLMES: Hopefully -- hopefully, you're right. It's a fascinating report, and again, I urge people to read it. Sarah Repucci, thank you so much.

REPUCCI: Thank you.

HOLMES: Now, the Chinese premier just opened this year session of Beijing's rubberstamp parliament, touching on a number of issues including economic growth. But the main focus of the National People's Congress seems to be tightening Beijing's grip on Hong Kong. Chinese state media are running editorial saying, quote, "electoral loopholes will be plugged in." Officials have said only, quote, "staunch patriots should be governing Hong Kong.

I got perspective on this from Willie Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


WILLY LAM, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Obviously, it wants to one, they set the rules for international financial, and other inter causes, and Beijing is also investing more in huge intercontinental projects like the Belt and Road Initiative and so forth. So, in both hard and soft power projections, Beijing has been focusing on reaching as the so-called Chinese dream. The (Inaudible) of the Chinese people.

HOLMES: We were just talking with Kristie about Hong Kong. What do you expect to hear at the Congress in terms of plans, strategy, and for that matter, rhetoric regarding the Hong Kong situation?

LAM: Well, there will be a thorough restructuring of the electoral system for Hong Kong's legislature, as well as for the special election college which will elect or select a chief executive. So, the most important thing is that they will set up a vetting committee to vet the qualifications of potential applicants, and potential people who want to run for the legislative council and so forth, which means that most of the pro-democracy activists and politicians will in fact be disqualified.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, Iraq is about to welcome a pope for the first time ever. Pope Francis says he comes as a penitent pilgrim seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. We'll have more details on his trip, coming up.

Also, Britain's Prince Philip remains hospitalized after a procedure for a heart condition. A live update from London on how he is doing.




HOLMES (on camera): And welcome back to CNN Newsroom everyone, I am Michael Holmes, I appreciate your company. Now, Pope Francis is on his way, right now, on the first ever papal visit to Iraq. The four-day trip will take in the capital of Baghdad, as well as Mosul in the north, which of course is under ISIS occupation. And, also, places in the south as well. Iraq's foreign ministry, calling the visit, a historic event which shows support for all Iraqis, a message echoed by the pope himself.


POEP FRANCIS (through translator): Dear brothers and sisters in Iraq, a peace be upon you. In a few days, I will finally be among you. I long to meet you. To see your faces. To visit your land, ancient, an extraordinary a cradle of civilization. I come as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim to implore forgiveness and reconciliation from the lord, after years of war and terrorism.


HOLMES (on camera): And our Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad, where the pope will arrive in just a few hours. So, Ben, there was a lot of concern about, you know, the potential for a superspreader event with the coronavirus, and also, security worries. But the pontiff determined to go ahead. How is it looking there on the ground?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well certainly, the preparations have been quite intense for those areas where the pope will be visiting. We have seen roads being repaved, flags being put up and posters as well, welcoming the pope. Now he is due here in just about two and a half hours. He is currently on Ali- talia flight 4,000 from Rome, and, he's obviously, his first couple of hours are going to be spent meeting and greeting Iraqi officials. But his first visit beyond that is to a certain church here in Baghdad, where the memories of nightmares past are still vivid.


WEDEMAN (voice over): The image of Pope Francis, graces the blast walls, protecting Baghdad's our lady of salvation church. The messages of brotherhood of Assad, perhaps, to the bitter memory of the worst ever massacre of Christians in Baghdad. Each one of these red squares, represents 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 one of the grenades exploded, and all over the ceilings, and the walls. There is just splatter, splatter with blood.

WEDEMAN: The 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 have 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 (Inaudible), 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 the Deacon Climas. Because we live in a jungle. A jungle, controlled by political monsters. A jungle in need of saints.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And it really is hard to emphasize just how historically important this visit is by Pope Francis. Just in 2014, I was here in Baghdad. ISIS was on the outskirts of the city, and today, seven years later, Pope Francis is coming to the capital of Iraq. Michael?

HOLMES: An extraordinary time indeed. And you will be there to cover it for us, Ben. Thank you, Ben Wedeman in Baghdad.

Buckingham palace has issued a terse no comment after some startling suggestions by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, making the remarks in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, part of which was released on Wednesday. Markle suggests, the palace has been, quote, perpetrating falsehoods about her, and Prince Harry. Winfrey's full interview with the royal couple would be broadcast on Sunday.


OPRAH WINFREY, OPRAH 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 was an active role that the firm is playing, in perpetuating falsehoods about us. And if that comes with the risk of losing things, I mean, there is a lot that has been lost already.


HOLMES (on camera): Now Britain's Prince Philip, meanwhile will remain in hospital for several more days following what's been describe as a successful operation or procedure rather for a heart condition. He's daughter in law Camilla said on Wednesday that the 99 year old Duke of Edinburgh's condition is slightly improving. He was a first admitted to the hospital more than two weeks ago, while feeling unwell.

Joining us now from outside the hospital in London is CNN's Anna Stewart. Let's start with Prince Philip. What more have we learned about the condition itself, and the procedures?

ANNA STEWART, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): Yes, well at least we have some good news from the palace regarding Prince Philip. As we said, he underwent a successful procedure for pre-existing heart condition on Wednesday. We really don't have much more information than that. We don't know what the procedure was, we don't know what the pre-existing heart condition is.

We do know that 2011, the prince was fitted with a stint for a blocked coronary artery. So, it is possible that it is something same as that. But we really don't know, we know from the palace though that his royal highness is expected to stay here, at the hospital, for a number of days. That is the treatment, rest, and recuperation.

All of our best wishes, of course, with the prince for his recovery. And we are slightly hoping, Michael, suddenly hoping, he is not looking at the newspaper this week. Plenty of royal news, and really, not very much that is positive.

HOLMES: Exactly. And why not ask you about that? What is the latest on what we've seen lately with the duke and duchess, versus the palace? I mean, what in Britain, they might call or rather unseemly. Bring us up to date.

STEWART: Rather unseemly. Well, yes, it has been really a barrage of royal news throughout the week, over a week, really. And the latest salvo, came from the Sussex camp in California, via CBS. They released another promotional video clip, teasing ahead to that big Oprah Winfrey sit down on Sunday. It's going to be a two hour interview.

Now, in this clip, and you heard a bit just before you came to me, you'll Meghan saying the firm has played an active role in perpetuating falsehoods about them. It's really interesting use of language, not least of Oprah asked the question about the palace which refers, of course, to the network of households, to staff that work there as well as the royal family.


Meghan answers, with the firm. That refers to the royal family specifically for perpetuating falsehoods. Not necessarily accusing the royal family here of lying, but suggesting that, perhaps, they did not correct falsehoods that possibly were out there in the British press.

That is my understanding of the soundbite. We really need to see it in context of the full interview, and of course we will on Sunday. It has been a no comment, Michael, from the palace. No surprise there. Continuing, really with their policy of never complain, never explain. And that is really something that Sussex has to take issue with.

We do know though that Buckingham Palace is going to investigate those allegations that Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, may have believe some of her staff, when she was in the U.K. These are allegations that were made in the Times newspaper, by an unnamed source which, of course, we cannot corroborate. We do know though from team Sussex, that they have really dismissed that as all part of a smear campaign. Plenty more to talk about, I am sure, over the weekend, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, all very tacky isn't it. Anna Stewart, in London, good to see you my friend, I appreciate it.

And we are going to take a quick break, when we come back on CNN Newsroom, powerful earthquake rock New Zealand in the early morning hours. Now, emergency officials are warning people to be careful on the beaches. We will have the latest with Derek Van Dam, when we come back.

And also, a decision with major ramifications for the global economy. OPEC, and its allies, agreed to keep a lid on oil production. We'll explain why that matters, as the world struggles with COVID. We will be right back.


HOLMES: New Zealand has canceled a tsunami warning, triggered by three powerful earthquakes. People, rushed to higher ground as a siren sounded. But officials say it is now safe to return home. Some small waves, were observed, and officials warn that people should still watch out for unusual currents and unexpected surges. Let us bring now our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam. Derek, good to see you. So, you know, what is the state of warnings and risk and so on?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Yes, well, it was certainly a tense moments for many across the South Pacific. The good news is that the tsunami threat has diminished across the South Pacific. However, we still need to focus on the other side of the world, across the Americas, where a tsunami threat is still possible. And we'll get to the details about that in just one moment.

But I want to get into some of the details here, because you can just see how the epicenter of this earthquake, across the southern central Pacific Ocean, emanated and propagated across the entire vast ocean. And 12 hours later, now impacting the Americas. This is the area we've highlighted in purple, anywhere from Mexico, to Nicaragua, as well as Chile. That is an area that still has a tsunami threat, according to typhoon, or, an organization that we monitor for potential tsunami impacts.


And you can see the forecast wave heights. These are wave heights above normal tidal levels. So we are talking about a third to upwards of a meter high tsunami potential anywhere across these locations, although the threat again, starting to diminish and wane as the hours take on.

Now, this is just incredible, because there were actually three earthquakes that occurred yesterday. And two of which were related to each other. One of the earthquakes was actually unrelated, and that was just off the coastline of the north island of New Zealand. But, nonetheless, we still have clusters of aftershocks that we had to contend with.

That means, the potential for more shaking, and the potential for additional tsunamis as well. Especially is some of the stronger aftershocks impact this region, because, as you'll see, the probability of a strong 7.0, or greater is possible. We have already had 60 plus aftershock, since the original 8.1 occurred. So, this is going to continue for the next several days, if not months, because that is the average occurrence of aftershocks, once a large earthquake of this magnitude occurs.

And you can see, on average, when you receive a main earthquake of 8.1, the potential exists for aftershocks, over 7.1. So, you can see that this will bring concerns here across the south pacific, for days to come, if not weeks. So, busy stretched of time here for that region, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Well, OK. Derek, good to see you, Derek Van Dam there with the very latest.

VAN DAM: Thank you.

HOLMES: Now, oil prices are continuing their strong gains this hour. This is the live picture of the board, green arrows. Prices have surged really following an agreement between OPEC and other major producers to extend production cuts for another month.

Now, to better understand this latest move, let's turn to CNN businesses John Defterios in Abu Dhabi. And John, the market was pretty convinced that more oil was on the way, wasn't it? And the global economy on the mend. But Saudi Arabia seem to have different intentions. Did they just catch investors off-guard?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR (on camera): Yes, they were flat-footed, the investors on this one, because they were expecting a kind of healthy contribution here, by the OPEC plus group of producers, all 23 of them. Mark was expecting a minimum of half a million barrels added back on to the market up to 1.5 million barrels, which I thought was ambitious. In fact, they just got a fraction of that.

Saudi Arabia's position on this, and they did build a consensus internally, according to sources was, why are we moving so quickly? Let's make sure the recovery is there, see the variance taking place around the world, northern Italy locking down, challenges in Switzerland, in Germany with the vaccine distribution. Let us just hold our fire. Here's the minister of energy of Saudi Arabia.


ABDULAZIZ BIN SALMAN, SAUDI ENERGY MINISTER: The jury is still out. There are those who believe in this and there are those not. When you have this unpredictability and uncertainty, I think, there are choices you can make. I belong to the school of being conservative, and taking things in a more precautionary way. And I will believe it when I see it.


DEFTERIOS (on camera): So, wait for the evidence is the answer here. And look at the cuts they have, Michael. I mean, I've been covering the OPEC for three decades, you look at, you know cuts of 500,000 to a million barrels a day. We're looking at 6.85 million by the group of 23, and then Saudi Arabia, added another million for February and March. They are going to carry that through April.

This would mean, by the end of April, they've been cutting for an entire year, seven to 10 million barrels a day, that's how bad the pandemic is. What this likely means in the United States, for example, we could see petrol or gas prices rising to $3 a gallon nationwide. And India has already complaining that the import prices for oiler surging. The number three customer for imports around the world.

But the answer, by Saudi Arabia, will hold a meeting the first week of April, if we need to act, we will, and that will be implemented in May. So they are meeting more often, and ready to have a rapid response, if necessary, Michael. But, right now, the stock of the supplies is very low, and the price is skyrocketing higher.

HOLMES: Yes. First Friday of the month, of course, means jobs day in the U.S. There has been more first time unemployment claims coming. What were the expectations after what was a very poor January number, and the unemployment rate, what was it -- high 6.3 percent?

DEFTERIOS: Yes. That is historically high, and you are right about the jobless claims. I'm glad you brought it up. 745,000 on Thursday. That remains very high. There's a link here between what the Saudis did, and the jobs reports, because they say we are not really clear the rehiring will take place in the United States, which would trigger demand, of course for fuel. Correct?


And so, let's take a look at the expectations here. The central bank, by the way, Jake Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve was suggesting that the recreations is going to be very difficult and sluggish, although we see price pressures and the interest rates, on a 10-year bond climbing. And that's kind of shocking in the stock market.

So, the expectations today is much better over January. If it holds 182,000 for the month of February. Only 49,000 for January. But look at this number, 9.7 million people still without a job, since February 2020. That is pretty shocking, Michael, considering the state of play, and the amount of stimulus in the system already.

HOLMES: Yes. Absolutely. John, good to see you. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi, I appreciate it.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, the United Nations is calling for investigations of possible war crimes in Ethiopia's Tigray region. We are going to show you the map there, and you can see, they are bordering on Eritrea and Sudan. The U.N. says it is clear that Eritrea has troops in Tigray that are being accused rather of committing crimes or atrocities even.

Here is CNN's Richard Roth. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 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 report that Eritrean forces where responsible for atrocities.

The U.N.'s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet in Geneva, urge 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 have 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, ltg1 told the U.N. press corps after the meeting that Ethiopia has to get control of this.

LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Be honest, to present further atrocities and human suffering false squarely on the Ethiopian government 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.


HOLMES (on camera): Coming up here on the program, have you ever wanted to go to the moon? If so, well, you are not alone. How one billionaire could make your dream come true. We will have that, when we come back.


HOLMES: Well they say the sky is the limit, don't they? Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa seems to think it is just the starting point. The billionaire is inviting eight people to join him on a SpaceX mission, around the moon, in 2023. Get this, free of charge. CNN's Selina Wang, joins me from Tokyo, with all of the details. Very generous. So what is exactly he's proposing?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Michael, very generous indeed. That's right. Japanese billionaire, Yusaku, Maezawa is searching for eight members of the public to join him on a six-day trip around the moon.


It is set to takeoff in 2023 on SpaceX's star ship rocket. Anyone can start applying online, right now, up until March 14th. And as you say, it is going to be free. Now billionaire Maezawa made his fortune by starting the online e-commerce fashion company, ZOZO town, and he said he's paying for the entire journey.

Now, Elon Musk says that this trip could venture further than any human has gone before, from earth, even further potentially then the Apollo mission's. Take a listen here.


ELON MUSK, TESLA CEO: It will be the first private spaceflight, first commercial spaceflight, with humans, beyond earth orbit. So this has never occurred before, and in fact we are going to go past the moon.


WANG (on camera): Maezawa 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, he said he would be taking artists with him, then he said he was searching for his, quote, life partner to come on the trip with him. And now he is opening it to the general public. He says the main criteria they are looking for our, one, that the participant is willing to take this trip so that it will push the envelope in their field of work, and two, that they are going to support their fellow crew members during this trip. Michael?

HOLMES: And then, what about the vehicle? What do we know about the SpaceX rocket that would be used for this little journey?

WANG (on camera): Now, the star ship rocket would be used for this journey, this is SpaceX's next generation reusable rocket, but Michael, anyone going on this trip is going to have a very healthy appetite for risk. Because the SpaceX star ship rocket is still in early stages of development. Only early prototypes have been tested, and the most recent test have been ended in explosion. But Elon Musk says he is confident that a safe rocket will be ready by 2023. Take a listen.


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


WANG (on camera): Now in that video, Maezawa admitted that he is a little scared, but he is more curious. Michael?

HOLMES: Some people have a lot of money. Selina Wang, in Tokyo, I appreciate it, good to see you. Thanks for that. Not me. I'm Michael Holmes, thank you for spending part of your day with me, follow me on Twitter and Instagram at home CNN. The news continues with the one and only Kim Brunhuber, after a short break. Join him, you'll enjoy it.