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California Amusement Parks Reopen April 1; House To Vote On Revised COVID Bill Tuesday; Pope Meets Top Shiite Muslim Cleric, Will Visit Christian Town Devastated By ISIS; Some Mexican Towns Refusing Vaccines; Prince Philip Recovers In Hospital; Monarchy Braces For Interview With Harry And Meghan; Protesters In Thailand, Myanmar And Hong Kong Want More Freedom. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 7, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi, welcome to CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow. Great to have you along this hour. Coming up on the show --


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today I can say we've taken one more giant step for delivering on that promise, that help is on the way.

CURNOW (voice-over): Joe Biden gets a big, big win in the U.S. Senate. Now he needs the House of Representatives to sign off on the new version of his COVID relief plan.


CURNOW (voice-over): And Pope Francis meets with Kurdish leaders as he brings his message of unity and tolerance to Iraq.

Plus the royal rift: just hours from now, Meghan and Harry reveal what life is like inside and outside the royal family. The latest on their much-anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

Great to have you along. We begin with U.S. politics. After a marathon overnight session, the U.S. Senate passed President Joe Biden's monumental first piece of legislation, his nearly $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 50. The nays are 49. The bill as amended is passed.


CURNOW: The president pushed for bipartisan support but failed to get it. Not a single Republican senator voted for the bill. You wouldn't know it, though, as Mr. Biden is forging ahead.


BIDEN: This plan will get checks out the door, starting this month to the American people, who so desperately need the help, many of whom are lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, will I lose my job, if I haven't already?

Will I lose my insurance?

Will I lose my home?


CURNOW: Now the bill heads back to the House for a final sign-off before it hits the president desk for his signature. Here's Jessica Dean.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Senate passing this massive COVID-19 relief bill right along party lines 50 to 49. But it passes a major hurdle, goes over to the House, where they plan to vote on the changes and then it goes to President Biden's desk, pledging that families will begin to relieve those stimulus payments as soon as this month.

And this is a massive bill. In addition to those $1,400 payments it also has money in it for reopening schools, unemployment benefits, for state and local governments as well as vaccines and vaccine distribution, child tax credits.

It is a big bill that touches so many pieces of the American economy.

Here's majority leader Chuck Schumer on that partisan vote.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Now that we're in the majority, they don't seem to want to work with us. But we will get it done. Anyway, we prefer them to work with us, we want them to work with us. Maybe they'll change their minds after this.

But we're going to get it done regardless because America needs it and that's what we did. So we didn't stop, we didn't let anything get in our way.


DEAN: And again, Democrats staying unified to get this bill passed. At one point, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, senator Joe Manchin, looked like they might lose him to a Republican amendment on unemployment benefits. It stalled out on the floor for nearly 12 hours as they worked that out.

Then senators were here overnight into Saturday morning before they ultimately passed this bill. Now it's back to the House on Tuesday then over to President Biden -- Jessica Dean, CNN, Capitol Hill.


CURNOW: So President Biden promised on the campaign trail he would pull off this financial feat for Americans. You remember that. Arlette Saenz has more on Mr. Biden's reaction.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden assured Americans that help is on the way after the Senate passed that $1.9 trillion COVID relief. Package. The president speaking at the White House detailed exactly what is in that measure, everything from the $1,400 stimulus check to enhanced unemployment benefits.

White House officials have said the president and vice president plan on spending some time selling this package to the American people so they know exactly what they will be receiving.

During the campaign and leading into the White House, President Biden insisted that he would try to get bipartisan support for this measure. But not one Republican decided to vote for it on Saturday. Our colleague, Joe Johns, asked the president about that at the White House. Take a listen.



JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Why don't you think you could get a single Republican vote?

And what does the drama of the last 24, including with Senator Manchin, tell you about the next four years?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be good. I'm going to succeed. We are going to succeed moving forward. Look, the American people strongly support what we're doing here. That's the key.

And it that's going to continue, deep down, into the public, including from our Republican friends. There was a lot of Republicans that came very close and there were lot of freshmen on it (ph). I still haven't given up on getting their support.


SAENZ: Since there were-changes to the bill in the Senate, it now moves back to the House and the White House is hoping the president will be able to sign the bill before unemployment benefits run out on March 14th. But bottom line here, President Biden is now one step closer to

providing that direct relief he promised to Americans and netting his first major legislative accomplishment as president-- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: Shortly after that Senate passed the bill, Joe Biden received congratulations from his former boss, former President Barack Obama tweeting, "Elections matter -- and we're seeing why. Congratulations to the Biden administration and to the American people on a COVID relief bill that will improve the lives of families across the country."


CURNOW: CNN's political analyst Sabrina Siddiqui is joining me now, she's also a White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."

Sabrina, hi, lovely to see you. Let's talk through this broadly.

Is this Joe Biden's first big political win?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Without question, this is President Biden's first major legislative victory. Now this came on a strict party line vote as expected.

Not a single Republican voted for this bill but the end result was still the same, which was the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that President Biden campaigned on and said would be his priority as soon as he took office.

He's saying that some of these benefits, in particular another round of stimulus checks to the tune of $1,400, are going to go out to Americans starting this month itself. So I think while this is just one of his priorities since he took office, it is a big victory for the White House because it was vital for them to pass the relief package.

And for it to not really change in a way from what they proposed, the price tag $1.9 trillion, is what Biden proposed and what he campaigned on.

CURNOW: Let's talk about the details. It is notable what did not change and how this could impact ordinary Americans, even the Americans who did not vote for him.

SIDDIQUI: There are a number of provisions in this bill that the White House had said were really necessary, given the toll that the pandemic has had on people's day-to-day lives.

This extends unemployment benefits, roughly $300 weekly payments, through September in addition to the $1,400 stimulus checks. There is also an expansion of child tax credit and there is funding for vaccine distributions and schools reopening and state and local governments. So a lot of what Biden said would be building blocks as his

administration tries to lift people out of the pandemic. He has said there will be a need for a stimulus, another big piece of legislation, to try to revitalize the economy.

In some ways, people can look at this as a two-step process. He has cleared one major hurdle. But he was clear that there are other challenges ahead. And this is just the beginning.

CURNOW: Economists and a lot of politicians had a lot of debate about whether this is too big or little in terms of a stimulus. And certainly, it's a history judging move.

How much does Biden's experience and particularly his involvement in the 2008 crisis, what he learned from that, how are those lessons played into this game?

SIDDIQUI: It is really interesting. President Biden had said he would try and work with Republicans to craft some kind of compromise. But as we pointed out, not a single Republicans voted for this bill in the end.

Republicans in their counter offer only proposed $600 billion, just a fraction of what President Biden were seeking. Polling shows it had support of the majority of Americans.


SIDDIQUI: I think that was a bit of politicking there, to say it may not look bipartisan in Washington but it is bipartisan across the country in terms of perceptions with respect to the American public and key stakeholders in various industries.

I think some of that is that experience and how you sell this to the American people but of course, it just passed one hurdle. The House still has to adopt it for it to become law and for it to go to Biden's desk. And we'll get more of a sense of how this bill is going to be received by the American people.

CURNOW: Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you so much.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.


CURNOW: Coming up, the pope prays for victims of war in a city that was once an ISIS stronghold. We'll have the latest on the pontiff's historic trip to Iraq.

Plus we'll soon know what Harry and Meghan told Oprah Winfrey. We'll go live to London for the latest on this rift in the royal family.




CURNOW: I want to show you these live pictures coming out of Mosul. Pope Francis will be visiting after this, a Christian town in Iraq devastated by ISIS.


CURNOW: It's the latest stop on a trip meant to reassure the country's shrinking Christian community and to expand dialogue with other religions.

Earlier on, the pope prayed for victims of conflict in Mosul. ISIS controlled that city for more than two years. All the pontiff's events on Sunday are taking place under heavy security, of course. I want to bring in our Ben Wedeman, in Irbil, Iraq.

Ben, looking at these images that we've seen in the last hour or so of the pope speaking to people in Mosul, what are your thoughts?

Because it wasn't, seems like, that long ago that we remember images from Mosul, when Abu Baker al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate there.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. When you consider it was just seven years ago, it's an incredible change, a dramatic change, in fact. I was here in the fall of 2014, when people, hundreds of thousands of people, had fled from Mosul, Muslims and Christians and Yazidis and others, in the direction of Irbil for safety.

There were refugee camps in public parks with people of various religions who had taken refuge here. It was also in the summer of 2014 that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself called on his followers to conquer Rome.

Of course, now to see the pope, who came from Rome, giving a sermon in Mosul itself, is almost difficult for many people to digest. And it's always important to stress that, yes, the pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

But his visit here, really, for many people, represents a good news story, a feel-good story for Iraqis, who so long have become accustomed to awful stories of war and terrorism and economic decline and civil unrest. So it makes a huge difference for people to watch these images and, for once, turn on the TV and smile.

CURNOW: Yes, it's very powerful. And of course, the feeling behind it is one of outreach and reconciliation. And certainly, the world needs more of that wherever you are, not just in Iraq. But let's just talk about the primary message in many ways.

And the symbolism here is that after the war in Iraq and then, of course, ISIS, the Christian community in Iraq was really decimated, wasn't it?

So many left Iraq, not feeling safe there; Christians felt they'd been persecuted. Do you think this trip will heal wounds, will offer an option of

return, even?

WEDEMAN: Well, I think it's hard to say. Certainly, these last few days in Iraq have been happy ones for many Iraqis because of the images they're seeing. But of course, once the pope leaves, it's back to reality, back to the reality of a spike in COVID cases here, the reality of an economy in crisis because of the fall in demand of oil, a country where corruption is endemic.

And there have been frequent street protests against the ruling elite, who don't seem to be able to get a grip on the situation, get a grip on their moral compass and put an end to corruption.

But, briefly, people are enjoying this change of tone. Now Pope Francis, once he's finished with Mosul, he will be going to a town that all the inhabitants fled from in the summer of 2014, when ISIS was rampaging across the plains of northern Iraq. Now they've gone back. But ISIS left a lasting scar on this town. Here's our report.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): ISIS was here -- and here -- and here.

Their reign of madness in the mostly Christian town of Qaraqosh ended more than four years ago. Services have resumed at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Rituals conducted for centuries once again part of the rhythm of daily life.

Almost all of the town's inhabitants fled before the onslaught of ISIS, the joy of return clouded by the shock of what was left of their homes.

"You can't imagine," she says, "it was empty, destroyed. They left nothing."

In April 2017 shortly after liberation, we attended the first mass in the scorched and vandalized cathedral.


WEDEMAN: This church has been repaired since then but still damages the confidence of this ancient community that it will be able to live and prosper in this land.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Pope Francis is scheduled to hold prayers here. Father Ammar Yako will show the pope some of the damage ISIS left behind. He worries decades of trauma have left a deep, still raw wound.

"Iraq is in a dark tunnel," he says. "There are challenges caused by wars, by the terrorism still present in some areas, by economic problems and by the corruption so widespread in Iraq."

Yohana Saqr's two daughters gave up and left, one to Sweden, the other to Australia. The visit of Pope Francis, he hopes, will spark a change of hearts and minds.

"Maybe there will be love and peace," Yohana tells me, "maybe it will soften and melt frozen hearts."

The sun shines once upon Qaraqosh as townspeople busy themselves, preparing for the pope, hoping darkness will not descend upon them yet again.


WEDEMAN: And Pope Francis' final event here in northern Iraq, where it will be mass at a stadium here in Irbil to be attended by up to 10,000 people, the authorities say they will somehow be socially distanced.

CURNOW: With that message and also with this trip, that has really gone across the width and breadth of Iraq the last few days, the pope's outreach, how has it mattered to non-Christians -- and non- Catholics, for that matter?

WEDEMAN: He is consistently stressing the fact that he's well aware that, over the years -- and of course, when we're talking about the suffering of Iraq, we're talking about the last more than 40 years, the Iran-Iraq War, the Kuwait war, the American sanctions, which were devastating for ordinary Iraqis.

The American invasion, the mess that it brought, then ISIS, the ISIS war. And he's made it clear, he understands Muslims, whether Shia, Sunni, Yazidis, other minorities, as well as Christians, have suffered.

And really, yesterday, the focus of his activities, first meeting with the grand ayatollah al-Sistani, then the interfaith event in the biblical city of Ur, really stressed the unity of the people of Iraq within the context of the Abrahamic tradition, the tradition of Abraham, the monotheistic religions.

So he really has made sure that this is a balanced message of his trip, that he's well aware of the suffering of all Iraqis. He's interested, as the head of the Catholic Church, in the Christian community. And the response of ordinary Iraqis has been very positive.

Yesterday, the top-trending hashtag on Twitter in Iraq was #TheHistoricMeeting. That was referring to the meeting between grand ayatollah al-Sistani and Pope Francis. So it really is having an impact far broader than the Christian community, keeping in mind, of course, that this is a country of 40 million people. And the Christians make up maybe 300,000.

CURNOW: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.

The coronavirus vaccine rollout here in the U.S. is certainly picking up steam. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say almost 3 million doses were administered since it last published its figures on Friday.

The total now stands at 88 million. And more people now say they are willing to get vaccinated. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 55 percent of Americans want to get a shot as soon as possible or have already gotten their first dose, up from 34 percent in December.

Then also embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro received his first dose of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Saturday. He posted this video to his Twitter account and can be heard saying, "It hurt," after getting a shot.

He blamed international sanctions for interfering with the country's ability to buy vaccines but that didn't stop him from, quote, "guaranteeing vaccines for all Venezuelans."


CURNOW: In Mexico, the vaccine rollout is underway but not everyone is ready or willing to get the shot. Some people there believe vaccines can actually do more harm than good, as Rafael Romo reports.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): In this town located in southern Mexico's highlands, life goes on as it always has. Young people mingle downtown, the men shake hands and talk business around the main square and women gather to weave traditional rugs.

There may be a global pandemic going on but in Aldama, population 7,000, seemingly no one wears a mask. The town's mayor is one of several local officials who proudly claim that no one has been infected by the coronavirus.

Health officials are unable to confirm the claim. He credits traditional medicine for the low impact of COVID-19 on the town.

"We asked our grandparents and great grandparents for guidance and that helped us a lot," he says.

But there may be other powerful reasons. It's a small rural and isolated community located in the impoverished state of Chiapas. The fact that very few outsiders ever visit and its residents rarely travel to the big cities may better explain why the town seems to have been spared by the pandemic.

Along with several other indigenous towns in Chiapas' central highlands have recently made headlines in Mexico, because most residents, like this woman, say they will refuse any COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of its origin. The town's secretary told CNN that people here, including himself, strongly believe vaccines can do more harm than good.

"Since we don't really know what vaccines are made of, we believe they contain the COVID-19 virus. That's the main reason why people don't want to get vaccinated," he said.

There are 421 municipalities in Mexico, 17 percent of the total, which because of their indigenous origin, rule themselves much like Native American reservations do in the United States. And there seems to be a growing movement in these communities to

reject COVID-19 vaccines, just when the country has launched its massive vaccination plan.

There's a lot of misinformation and rumors, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in mid-February, asking people not to pay attention to what he called "distortions" and trust the vaccines.

ROMO: But the president also made it clear that nobody will be vaccinated against their will. If Aldama reflects the way the people in similar communities feel, this could pose a similar challenge for Mexico's effort inoculating its people -- Rafael Romo, CNN.


CURNOW: The British royal family is bracing for a big day. Oprah's much-anticipated interview with Harry and Meghan will finally air hours after the queen speaks to her country. A live report on all of this next.





CURNOW: It's 31 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to all our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN.

Just hours from now, the British monarchy will be on full, full display. Queen Elizabeth and other senior members of the royal family will take part in this year's Commonwealth Day of service. The queen is expected to talk about unity.

Later Sunday, Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated interview with Harry and Meghan will be broadcast around the world.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip remains in a London hospital following a heart procedure earlier on in the week. Joining us from outside that hospital in London is CNN's Anna Stewart.

It certainly is going to be a very, very busy day.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A busy day which follows on from a very busy couple of weeks. As you said, Prince Philip here in hospital. He will be for a number of days, recovering from a procedure he had to do with a heart condition.

The queen celebrating the Commonwealth, one of the most important days in the royal calendar, she will be joined by all senior members of the royal family. Unlike normal years, when they gather at Westminster Abbey, they can't due to the pandemic. So there will be a TV show broadcast with preordered messages from them all. That is being somewhat eclipsed by what we will get on CBS later this

evening, a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan and Prince Harry. We've had a lot of trailers ahead of this interview, all sorts of topics expected to be discussed.

I think the most interesting will be whether or not the couple feel the royal family themselves let them down. Also probably talk about how they felt about the British press, how they felt that impacted on their mental health. That's something they've spoken about before. Perhaps some issues to do with British racism.

We expect Prince Harry to talk about his mother, Princess Diana, and draw some parallels between how she was treated and how Meghan has been treated.

CURNOW: Why is this interview such a big deal?

And do you think that Britons will be tuning in and eager to listen?

Or do you think they're preoccupied with pandemics and lockdowns and kids trying to go back to school?

STEWART: Well, I can tell you they are all very keen to tune in. But they can't this evening because it won't broadcast in the U.K. for another day. So most people here will have to wait until Monday evening. Of course, we'll get lots of information out in the newspapers accessing it from the U.S.

Why is it significant?

This is an outsider who's joined the royal firm, who's going to speak about it. That is the perspective we rarely get. When we do, we tend to get bombshell insights. We've drawn parallels between this interview with the one Princess Diana gave to the BBC in 1995 with Martin Bashir, where she said there were three people in the marriage.

Similar to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the interview they gave to the BBC in 1970. That was the king that abdicated for the love of Wallis Simpson. This is the perspective you rarely get.

Part of the intrigue of the royal family is the fact that you get a polished exterior, you don't see behind that veil. It's so rarely lifted. But we'll get a peek in a few hours.

CURNOW: OK, thanks so much, Anna Stewart in London.

So CBS is reportedly paying at least $7 million for this interview. That's according to "The Wall Street Journal," which also reported the duke and duchess are not being paid to talk to Oprah Winfrey.


CURNOW: The TV network is said to be asking roughly $320,000 for 30 seconds of special time. That's about twice the normal rate.

Princess Diana's former private secretary and chief of staff spoke with CNN about the current rift in the royal family. Patrick Jephson says public opinion on the matter could be shifting.


PATRICK JEPHSON, PRINCESS DIANA'S PRIVATE SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF STAFF: Interestingly, in the U.K., yes, there is a traditional conservative element who I think particularly regret the way in which Harry and Meghan have handled their communications with the queen but there is growing support for them, perhaps more among the young.

A recent YouGov poll showed that 50 percent of those surveyed thought that Harry and Meghan had been unfairly treated by the British media. So it's by no means clear-cut. There is sympathy on both sides and I think there is a recognition that there is a lot of blame to go around.


CURNOW: The British tabloids and media have been criticized for racist and sexist coverage of the Duchess Of Sussex, sparking conversations among strong supporters of the monarchy and others who identify with her and even had a personal connection with her, as Salma Abdelaziz reports.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): It's been months since Aker Okoye met Meghan Markle but he's still buzzing about it.

AKER OKOYE, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: She really is beautiful.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): After the surprise visit to his high school, the 16-year old got curious. He spent weeks comparing news headlines about the duchess and came up with some really tough questions for his dad.

A. OKOYE: I thought, what does this mean for me as a Black person in Britain?

And I was resenting what I found. Of the first person of color within the royal family, how she is treated by the British tabloids.

ABDELAZIZ: How do you answer that as a parent?

ERIK OKOYE, AKER'S FATHER: The last thing I want to do is say it's racism because what you need to do, you need to pull all other plausible explanations out of the way.

ABDELAZIZ: So when you've pulled up all those possible explanations, have you found another one?

E. OKOYE: Sadly, no.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Prince Harry saw it that way, too. He accused some in the press of undertones of racism and sexism against his wife, a charge many in the British media denied. The royal palace beefed up its social media operations to combat a

rise in racist abuse during the duchess' pregnancy. Last year the couple asked if they could be part-time royals, pursue financial independence and space but still continue to represent the monarchy.

Royal historian Kate Williams says the palace told them it was not an option. You're either in or you're out.

KATE WILLIAMS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Harry and Meghan made the decision they would be entirely out of the royal family and that really was because they'd felt so unprotected.

DIANE ABBOTT, LABOUR MP: I have come a long way.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Diane Abbott knows the challenges of breaking barriers at an elite institution. She became Britain's first female Black member of Parliament in 1987.

D. ABBOTT: Sadly, racism is as real for me now as it was just a few years ago.

ABDELAZIZ: What does it mean to be the first woman of color in any institution that's historically white?

D. ABBOTT: In one sense, it's clearly privilege. But in another sense, you are a focus. It's a combination of misogyny and racism. And Meghan came into for that in spades. It was almost as if they felt, as a woman of color, she didn't really belong in the British royal family.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Now in the U.S., Meghan Markle voiced her support for the anti-racism movement.

MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: You know what, we're going to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until it is rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken, so are we.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Aker is still trying to understand the cracks in Britain's foundation.

A. OKOYE: Me personally, I felt as if I wasn't accepted, was Meghan Markle for me as a representative of people of color, you know. And her presence within the U.K. had me feel as if I can get to these levels.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): The duchess is gone but, at a time of racial reckoning, the questions surrounding her departure are here to stay -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


CURNOW: For more news about the British royal family, we have a new service for you. Got to to sign up for our weekly newsletter. It launches on Monday. Do sign up now to get the first edition.

More to come on CNN. Protesters in Myanmar practice using shields to protect themselves from police. The latest on their fight for democracy ahead.

Plus pro-democracy movements in Thailand, Myanmar and Hong Kong, all have a common antagonist. We'll talk about how activists are teaming up again.





CURNOW: These Police are firing rubber bullets at pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar, the protesters hiding behind homemade shields. In other cities, police are using tear gas on protesters. But that's not stopping the demonstrations, which are taking place after a night of crackdowns.

Reuters reports security forces raided residential areas in Yangon overnight and made several arrests.

We've seen large protest movements elsewhere in Asia, like in Thailand and Hong Kong. Authorities are cracking down on dissent there, too. Protesters are taking a hard look at China and its dominance in the region and blaming it for their lack of freedoms.

Nic Robertson tells us about the fight for democracy in Asia and, a warning, this report does contain some disturbing images.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): From Myanmar, to Thailand, to Hong Kong. Across Asia, democracy is under violent attack. Myanmar citizens, protesting the month-old military coup and getting the worst of it. Derek Mitchell, U.S. ambassador there, until 2016.

DEREK MITCHELL, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE: This is very bad, it is crossing a line, it's not as bad, you can say, as 1988, where there was massive killings in the streets but that's just a matter of slight degree.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): International condemnation has followed.

DOMINIC RAAB, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: We (INAUDIBLE) to this indiscriminate violence.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Instead of listening, Myanmar's military is doubling down on its aggression, so Asia's youth are turning to themselves for help. An Asian pro-democracy movement, naming itself the Milk Tea Alliance, is reaching across borders.

MITCHELL: You see it play out in real time in places like Hong Kong, in places like Thailand and now you see it spread to Myanmar. It is quite remarkable. They're working in solidarity with one another. [03:45:00]

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Over the past year, it has grown from angry netizens criticizing China's Communist Party, to coalescing around the unified need to challenge autocracies. Its name is a poke at Mainland China, for local style of regional milky teas are symbols of cultural identities that are distinct from their massive neighbor.

NATHAN LAW, ACTIVIST AND FORMER HONG KONG LAWMAKER: It really gives China a lesson to learn that, if they want to isolate Hong Kong people, we can always find a way to garner more support.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Law, the Hong Kong activist, now in exile in the U.K., sees the Milk Tea Alliance as a potentially powerful weapon for Myanmar's unarmed activists, too.

LAW: The military is afraid of the influence that the younger generation brings and the global attention.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In Hong Kong, Myanmar and Thailand, activists all now sharing a 3 finger, "Hunger Games" style, salute. But it is a measure of the alliance's infancy. The same day protests organized in Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand in support for Myanmar's residents missed major coverage because Myanmar's military killings were so brutal they dominated the headlines.

Even so, the Milk Tea Alliance may have a future, one that could be a worry for China's authoritarian leaders.

MITCHELL: I think China does feel that liberal activity, anywhere, can be problematic for them. This is why you see them trying to shape a world that is more illiberal.

LAW: We really need a global response to the decline of democracy and to fight against the rise of authoritarianism. So I guess that is a clue for us for how we approach democracy in the future.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): For now, in Myanmar, bullets, not words, rule the day -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


CURNOW: Coming up, millions of people a day are receiving coronavirus vaccines. That includes a group getting attention for their muscular bodies. What the new viral sensation is being called after the break.





CURNOW: It looks like now the U.S. could reach herd immunity by late summer, thanks to coronavirus vaccines. That estimation is from a CNN analysis. Paul Vercammen shows us what it's like at one vaccination site in California.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here at Six Flags Magic Mountain, shots going into arms, COVID-19 shots. And at this windy park, we may soon see seats going back into the rise here because California has cleared the way for theme parks to open up on April 1st, as well as sports stadiums and outdoor concert venues if the county is in the second most strict tier, the red tier, and all odds are these counties will be out of that tier or into that red tier, because the numbers have been plummeting in California.

If you look from above, can a theme park coexist with a vaccination site?

Officials seem to think they can work together after all. If they open up in the red tier, the theme parks can only have 15 percent capacity. Here, at Magic Mountain, we saw a lot of teachers give themselves a vaccine shot today and they were, understandably, optimistic.

VERCAMMEN: It feels like there is a bit of optimism here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I would say so. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still think people need to be really safe and I think it's a little bit soon, I am worried about that. But I don't know, if it's OK with the CDC, I am all right with it.

VERCAMMEN: As for professional sports, the stadiums could open at a 20 percent capacity of attendance if they are in the red tier. Then, those tiers would loosen up over time as the COVID-19 infections go down. As for the massive outdoor concert business in California, Hollywood Bowl, among others, celebrating these moves. They are waiting to see if they can, indeed, open. So the outdoor concerts open but indoors, no -- reporting from Valencia, California, Paul Vercammen, back to you.


CURNOW: Thanks, Paul.

The Dalai Lama received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday. The 85-year-old exiled Tibetan spiritual leader received the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. He's urging anyone who's eligible to get vaccinated as well.

The Dalai Lama is among the latest high-profile figures to get vaccinated, to encourage others to do the same. There's now a whole new category within that group, dubbed the hunky vaxers. With a name like that, the reason why shouldn't come as a surprise, as Jeanne Moos has the details.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most American public figures have been demurely rolling up their sleeves, modestly exposing arms, even as Arnold joked


MOOS (voice-over): But elsewhere, shirts were going down. For instance, this South African doctor went viral, thanks to his impressive physique. Meet the hunky vaxers.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was welcomed into their ranks.

STEPHEN COLBERT, CBS HOST: People are getting the first dose and I didn't know that one possible side effect of the shot was of the gun show.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: That was just left over from 40 years and 40 pounds ago, when I used to be in shape.

MOOS (voice-over): But Neil showed barely any skin compared to the French health minister. Someone joked, he was promoting vaccine uptake as part of "Operation Smolder."

COLBERT: Good PR for the launch of his new fragrance, "Vaccine: the only thing contagious now is passion."


MOOS (voice-over): Then, there was the Croatian finance minister, whose photo op in a skintight T-shirt earned him leering eyeball emojis.

And this photo attracted eyeballs as a reporter suggested, "We need to talk about the Greek prime minister's vaccine pose."

"Very 'Putin on horseback'", commented someone. Not sure if they are needling Putin or the great prime minister.

There is plenty of fanning and adjusting glasses for a better look. This British member of Parliament dispensed with his entire shirt.

At least when Dolly Parton got her shot --

DOLLY PARTON, MUSICIAN: That didn't hurt.

MOOS (voice-over): She dressed for the occasion.

With this peek-a-boo top.

MOOS (voice-over): Dolly just wasn't cut out to roll up sleeves as she crooned new lyrics to her song, "Jolene."

PARTON: "Vaccine, vaccine, 'cause once you're dead, then that's a bit too late."


MOOS (voice-over): But it is not too late for this idea. "OK, we are going to need a vaccine calendar."

And checking a little beefcake while hoping COVID's days are numbered -- Jeanne Moos, CNN --

PARTON: "Vaccine, vaccine."

MOOS (voice-over): -- New York.


CURNOW: Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow. I'm going to hand you over to my colleague, Kim. He'll be here in just a moment. Continue to watch CNN. Much more news after the break.


PARTON: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you, please, don't hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, 'cause once you're dead, then that's a bit too late.