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Texas Governor Defends Next Week's Lifting of Mask Mandate; Latest U.S. Jobless Numbers to be Released Friday; Duke of Edinburgh's Procedure After a Heart Condition; Protesters Defy Violent Myanmar Military Crackdown; Thousands Gathered for National People's Congress; 118-Year-Old Woman to Become Oldest Torchbearer. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 5, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The governor of Texas is defending his decision to lift COVID restrictions including the state's mask mandate from next week. Gregg Abbott says it was based on medical developments, like have half of the states senior citizens vaccinated. The governor says he encourages masks, but he says people should decide for themselves whether to wear them or not. This despite a warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci about getting back too normal too quickly.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: You don't want to go from very stringent public health restrictions to just turning it off and say, that's it. Let's let everybody do what they want. You particularly don't want to do that when you have a high level of community spread, which is what we have now. 60 to 70,000 new infections per day. Those numbers don't lie. So I want us all to start getting back to some degree of normality, but we want to do that gradually, and not all of a sudden abruptly.


BRUNHUBER: Not all, some people feel it's too soon to lift the mandate. Other are welcoming the move. Ed Lavandera on some of the reaction from San Antonio, Texas.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Mike Nguyen whips up lunch in his San Antonio noodle restaurant, he can't help thinking what might happen next week when the state's mask mandate is lifted.

MIKE NGUYEN, OWNER OF NOODLE TREE: What he's done is he's put the burden on the business now. LAVANDERA (voice-over): He says Texas Governor Greg Abbott is forcing small business owners to become mask-wearing police and face the frustrations of defiant customers.

NGUYEN: Instead of being a real leader and uniting us and helping us get past this once for all, he's created division.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The last year has already been brutal for Nguyen. We met him last May when he told "OUTFRONT" that will the pandemic ravaged his business, he would close the noodle diner to undergo months of cancer treatment. Six months later, Nguyen reopened and he's struggling to keep the business going.

NGUYEN: We all have COVID fatigue. I even have it at this point. And it's just like we're on edge. People's anxiety are at an all-time high.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: This must end.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Without consulting most of his medical advisers, Republican Governor Greg Abbott says because of lower positivity rates and the vaccine rollout, it's time to fully reopen the Texas economy and lift the mask mandate. While the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is dropping, the state still has one of the highest hospitalization rates in the country.

ABBOTT: Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID.

LAVANDERA: Missy Herring says in her south Texas embroidery and print shop, the mask mandate was always ignored. She's celebrating the governor's announcement.


LAVANDERA: Do you think mask wearing has kept the pandemic from getting worse?

HERRING: No. Everybody that I know who's been sick, they wore their mask faithfully. Faithfully. I've never worn the mask. I don't have people come in my store wearing the mask. I'm not sick.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But the governor's controversial decision has sparked a tidal wave of local leaders sending out pleas for Texans to keep wearing their masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a false claim, false pandemic.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Scenes like this is what many officials and business owners fear.

There is one other fear haunting Mike Nguyen, the recent unprovoked attacks on Asian Americans.

NGUYEN: They tell me to go back to China, or you and your kung flu. I'm nervous. And my anxiety has been at an all-time high. Because I'm trying to hope for the best. LAVANDERA: Despite the intense criticism, there is a great deal of support for the governor's move to reopen the economy and end the mask mandate. However, some of the biggest chain businesses here in the United States say they will continue to insist on mask wearing by customers inside their stores.

However, there are still another number of large stores saying just the opposite. And it is that inconsistency that has many worried about how all of this is going to unfold starting next Wednesday.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Antonio, Texas.



BRUNHUBER: Well it looks like Wall Street may be heading for another down day. Here's where the U.S. market futures stand at this hour. Pointing negative after that late selloff on Thursday. The Federal Reserve Chairman predicted an increase in consumer prices in the coming month. And investors, well they fear that that will further force up interest rates, restricting borrowing, and business expansion.

And Asia markets are also tumbling over that news. And this is where they stand right now. You can see they're in the red across the board.

Oil prices are continuing their strong gains this hour. Prices have surged following an agreement between OPEC and other major producers to extend production cuts for another month.

So to better understand this latest move, well else to turn to but CNN Business's John Defterios in Abu Dhabi. So explain this. Many might have thought there'd be more oil coming from the major producers. But didn't seem to happen. What's happening here?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well it's interesting, Kim. Because the expectations of the investors were right up here and the strategy by Saudi Arabia and the other 22 members of this coalition of OPEC plus were there, right. We were expecting more oil to the investors. 1.5 million barrels on the top side, at least half a million barrels. It turned out, they only added 150,000 barrels.

And I just saw in the last 15 minutes, we hit a new 13-month high of up over $68 a barrel. Whether that holds for day, but it looks like we're on a march to $70 a barrel which is quite extraordinary in itself.

So let's kind of bring people up to date and what this really means for oil. They've been cutting ferociously for the last 11 months. This will be 12 months if it carries through April. 6.5 million barrels a day as a group. And then Saudi Arabia decided in February or March now to carrying it to April, another million barrels a day. That's historic. 10 times the normal average. And it gives you a sense of the pandemic. In fact, the Saudi oil

minister at a press conference I was on, said we're not convinced about the recovery. We see the variants around the world, Switzerland having challenges. Germany, the core of Europe, having challenges with COVID and vaccines, Italy locking down again. And then even suggested the U.S. recovery, is it for real?

And we'll get a clear indication here in about four hours' time, Kim, on the U.S. jobs market. There's going to be better than the month before almost certainly, but the expectations are for job creation of 182,000 for the month of February. Much better than January of 49,000. But look at the bottom number here, Kim. Still 9.7 million Americans still without a job since the start of the pandemic in February 2020.

And then Jay Powell talking about prices for consumers going up. But he said that the road to recovery for jobs is long and arduous. And this is why we see stock market investors getting panicked, not only in the United States, but in Asia. That will probably carry through to the European trading day as well -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Not a lot of good news in everything you said there, John. But we thank you anyway. CNN's John Defterios in Abu Dhabi. Appreciate it.

Britain's Prince Philip remains in hospital following what's described as a successful procedure for a heart condition. Joining us from outside the hospital in London is CNN's Anna Stewart. Anna, what's the latest word on how he's doing?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Kim. We've had some good news from the palace. He underwent a procedure on Wednesday. It was deemed a success. This was to treat a pre-existing heart condition. Now we don't know much more detail really than that in terms of what the procedure was or indeed what the preexisting heart condition is.

We do know that Prince Philip was treated for a blocked coronary artery all the back to 2011. He had a stent fitted. It's possible it's something similar but at this stage we don't know. There's good news that does follow on from some comments we had from Prince Philip's daughter-in-law. Camila, the Duchess of Cornwell, she said in a few comments to some reporters earlier in the week that his condition was improving although the treatment at times hard.

But this is of course really good news here. Prince Philip is expected to stay in the hospital for several more days for treatment, rest, and recuperation. It's by far and away the longest stint in the hospital. It's now 17 nights and counting. It's expected to get longer. One could only expect though, of course the docs are being extra cautious not just because he is husband to the Queen but also because he is 99- years-old.

Now while he recuperates -- and we all are wishing him the very best for his health -- but slightly he not reading a newspaper at the moment, because there's been an absolute barrage of royal news. Particularly of course from team Sussex in California and plenty more to come, I suspect. Because we have the full 2-hour interview, the sit down interview with Oprah Winfrey broadcasting on CBS on Sunday night -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, interesting. Thank you, appreciate you staying on this story. Anna Stewart at St. Bartholomew's Hospital from London.


All right, coming up on CNN NEWSROOM. pro-Democracy protesters in Myanmar are still marching even as they face police gunfire. We'll bring you the latest developments. Please do stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Another deadly day of protests in Myanmar. Reuters reports police opened fire on a crowd of pro-democracy protesters, killing one person. It's the latest in an extremely bloody week of crackdowns. U.N. human rights chief says 54 people have been killed by police and military officers since last month's coup.

But despite all that, the protesters appear determined to stay peaceful. Paula Hancocks is monitoring the latest developments from Seoul. Paula, so while there's more evidence that the security forces are basically shooting to kill here, the government's playbook seems to be to portray the protesters as the ones using violence here.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have been, yes. But certainly when it's outside of the military circles within Myanmar there are very few people who are actually believing that. Now what we've heard from Amnesty is that they believe that there is a shoot to kill policy now and it's something we have been hearing consistently on the ground in Myanmar.

They also say that the fact that the government has -- excuse me, the military dictatorship has been very silent about the deaths and about the shooting of protesters does suggest they have actually authorized this. And as you say, Kim, there are still people willing to go out onto the streets pushing for democracy despite knowing the risks.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Protesters bang 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.

Twenty-two-year-old HANCOCKS 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 this 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: Now we're seeing orders that police and military soldiers shoot people down in cold-blood.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Security forces were caught on camera, taking three charity workers from their ambulance in Yangon and beating them with guns and batons. The charity says the three are now in hospital with non-life- threatening injuries.

HANCOCKS: Is anybody safe at this point?

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


HANCOCKS (voice-over): 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 say 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.


HANCOCKS (on camera): And just to show that many of these young protesters know the risks they are taking, Kim, on 19-year-old woman, named Angel, who died on Wednesday, had actually posted beforehand on her Facebook page, her blood type in case she was injured and also her parents detail and contact numbers in case they needed to be contacted. So it just shows that these protesters know the risks and they're still willing to come out onto the streets -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, what courage there. Thanks so much, CNN's Paula Hancocks from the South Korean capital. Appreciate it.

China's rubber stamp parliament is now in session. The National People's Congress has opened. It's setting goals for GDP growth and defense spending. But one of the main areas of focus is Hong Kong. Officials say they'll make big changes to the territory's electoral system. And that means Beijing's grip on Hong Kong is about to get even tighter. Kristie Lu Stout is in Hong Kong for us. So what are we learning so far?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the political fate of Hong Kong has again been altered in Beijing at the National People's Congress was kicked off earlier today. It was announced that the usually pro-Beijing election committee, that select the chief executive of Hong Kong -- that's the top leader here, will nominate and select members of the legislative council. That is the Parliament of Hong Kong.

This effectively reinforces China's admission for Hong Kong for Hong Kong to be run by patriots, by people who love Hong Kong, who love China, and love the Chinese Party. But why make electoral reform in Hong Kong such a priority especially given everything else that China must deal with. You know, economic weakness in key markets, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the threats posed by global warming, et cetera. It has to do with the 2019 Hong Kong protests and the perception of chaos in Hong Kong. Listen to this.

WANG CHEN, VICE-CHAIRMAN NATIONAL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS STANDING COMMITTEE (through translator): The chaos in Hong Kong society shows that there are obvious loopholes and deficits is the current electoral system and mechanism of the Hong Kong S.A.R. which provides an opportunity for the anti-China forces in Hong Kong to seize control of the Hong Kong S.A.R.


STOUT (on camera): You just heard from Wang Chen. He is the vice chairman of the NPC standing committee. He is also on the U.S. sanctions list for his role in national security legislation for Hong Kong.

And earlier today, we also heard from the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who delivered the work report for 2021. He announced the GDP growth target of above 6 percent for the year. He also said that military spending will increase 6.8 percent this year. And also provided more details about the five-year plan. That's that ambitious blueprint for economic growth in China next five years by boosting domestic spending and consumption and also decreasing China's reliance on overseas technology. R&D will increase 7 percent a year for the next five years. Back to you Kim.

All right thanks for bring us up to speed. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And we will be right back. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: A woman in Japan is about to accomplish an Olympic size feet that almost defies belief. She'll be a torchbearer at the Tokyo games at the age of 118. CNN's Blake Essig spoke to her and her family.


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Konnichiwa, Tanaka-san. How are you feeling?

ESSIG (voice-over): Meet 118-year-old Connie Tanaka.

ESSIG: She's asleep. At 118 years old you've got to take your naps where you can get them.

ESSIG (voice-over): Sure, she might have been a bit tired while talking with me, but that's probably because she's conserving energy. After all, in just a couple of months, this super centenarian will become the oldest person ever to carry the Olympic flame as a torchbearer.

EIJI TANAKA, GRANDSON (through translator): We thought it was a great thing. It's great that people of all generations can take part in the torch relay.

ESSIG (voice-over): Tanaka is almost as old as the modern Olympics itself, first held in Athens in Greece 1896, just 7 years before she was born. She was 61 years old when Tokyo held its first Olympics in 1964 and has already lived through 49 summer and winter games. But this is the first where she'll participate.


E. TANAKA (through translator): We think she'll be in her wheelchair for the designated relay distance, whether that's 100 meters or so.

ESSIG (voice-over): Born in 1903, Tanaka has lived nearly her entire life in what's now known as Fukuoka. Married at 19, she and her husband have five kids. She survived cancer twice, endured two pandemics, ran a rice cake shop until she was 103 years old, is currently listed by Guinness World Records as the oldest living person on the planet, and she has her very own Twitter account.

Despite her advanced age, family says the 118-year-old has the heart and mind of a woman at least half or age. The avid board game aficionados still practice's math and studies the writing form kanji. Focused on activities that keep her mind sharp. She tells people it's her secret to longevity. For more than a year, as a result of the pandemic --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translated text): Can you see the camera?

KANE TANAKA, WORLD'S OLDEST WOMAN (through translated text): Yes, I can see.

ESSIG (voice-over): This is as close as Tanaka's family is able to get to her. But they say COVID-19 concerns won't stop Tanaka from participating as a torchbearer. Instead, her family says her involvement depends on how she's feeling on the day of the relay. And if all goes to plan, she might even have a little something special planned. E. TANAKA (through translator): If she can walk through the last few meters, because she can still walk, it would be great. She can walk over and hand the torch to the next relay runner, and we could be by her side as she does that.

ESSIG (voice-over): A historic opportunity in an already extraordinary life, one which proves monumental memories can be made at any age.

Blake Essig, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: What a great story. Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is up next.