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Italy Announces New Restrictions, Easter Lockdown; AstraZeneca Defends Vaccine amid Blood Clot Fears; Video Captures Chaos in Myanmar; U.S. to Restore Humanitarian Assistance to Northern Yemen; UNICEF Shows School Closing Crisis; Over 12 Students Daily Test Positive in Seoul; U.S. Schools Tackle Safety Measures. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired March 13, 2021 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Locking down, yet again: Italy taking drastic measures to contain soaring cases of coronavirus and it is not the only country.

Brutal violence against protesters in Myanmar, again, going on for weeks now.

So why haven't the U.N. taken action?

And then, later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE WINKELMAN, BEEPLE, DIGITAL ARTIST: I don't even -- it's -- I -- yes. It's just crazy.

HOLMES (voice-over): You would be speechless too if you were, suddenly, $70 million richer. The digital artwork that's setting records and has us all wishing we had done it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Hello, everyone, welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, appreciate your company, I am Michael Holmes.

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HOLMES: It is a warning to the rest of the world, daily COVID-19 cases in Europe back on the rise. Just days after devastating numbers out of eastern Europe. It is the western part of the continent now struggling as well.

The variant, first identified in the U.K., which seems more contagious, appears to have become dominant in some areas. In Italy, new restrictions kick in on Monday and the entire country is set to enter a new lockdown over the Easter weekend. In Berlin, a top health official spoke of the situation Germany is now

facing.

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LOTHAR WIELER, ROBERT KOCH INSTITUTE (through translator): We are now at the beginning of the third wave and, together, we need to keep the third wave as low as possible. The virus will not disappear again. But if we have a base immunity level in the population, we can control the virus.

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HOLMES: CNN's Melissa Bell, joining me now, live, from Paris.

Melissa, let's start with Italy, bracing for new restrictions.

Why the increases in cases in western Europe?

What can Italians expect?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just as elsewhere in Europe, Michael, what we have seen is the second wave seemed largely contained by restrictions and then what changed was the spread of the new variant and particularly the one from the U.K., it's spreading fast, of course.

Given how contagious it is, that is actually a faster spread than we've seen in the first few ways. For Monday, half of Italy on lockdown, just as it was a year ago. That means of bars, restaurants, schools closed for Monday. Then the entire country will be on lockdown over Easter weekend.

Over the course of the last 6 weeks, Italy has seen a steady rise in the number of new cases and again, the fast spread of that U.K. variant, similar situation in Germany. The new variant, the one first identified in the United Kingdom, now represents 55 percent of cases.

Six weeks ago, that figure was 6 percent. That is how fast it is spreading.

Here, in France as well, a situation that remains extremely worrying, we see a tightening restriction in the north of the country and in the south. Now fears for the greater Paris region, where hospitals are under particular strain.

We have heard from the French health minister who explained, it isn't simply that the new variant, that now represents 2 thirds of cases in France, it is also that it is more dangerous, which is why, he explained, on fairly study numbers in France over the last few weeks in terms of rises in the number of new cases, they've been high but not necessarily, rising sharply.

You've seen in dramatic rise in the number of people in ICU. France now with more than 4,000 people in intensive care, that figure the highest since the end of November. HOLMES: Very worrying. Meanwhile, in Europe, there is still division

among nations there on vaccine rollout. The Austrian chancellor, saying that vaccine doses, in the E.U., just are not being distributed fairly.

Why is the rollout fraught with so many problems?

BELL: I think, in a word, Michael, in Europe it was determined that when all of this began, by June, it had a coordinated policy together for trying to sort out vaccine procurement. It was the first-time health was dealt with by the E.U., rather than member states. That took some coordinating.

The contracts with the latest result being signed and then these delivery issues and very public rows with AstraZeneca, for instance, about making sure the E.U. can get the vaccines it had been promised.

Now yet another division in Europe, over these vaccines and once again, over the AstraZeneca vaccine. This time, over the investigation happening in a number of countries to look into whether there is a higher incidence of blood clots in people who have been inoculated with it.

[02:05:00]

BELL: The company, itself, saying that the figure in fact, in those who have been inoculated, is what you would find in the general population or below something that was repeated last night for France's national agency which has urged for the vaccine to keep on being delivered.

Once again, divisions over this. And as you say, now the Austrian chancellor speaking out about the unfairness of the system, saying that vaccines should be delivered on the basis of populations, rather than simply to the countries themselves in a more uniform manner. So, divisions and we don't seem to be finding much harmony yet.

HOLMES: Yes, very concerning. Melissa, good to see you, Melissa Bell in Paris.

Speaking of vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine could soon be available to Americans. AstraZeneca says they will seek an emergency use authorization shortly after it gets the results from its U.S. phase III trial.

Reuters reports that that is likely to be early April. The U.S. has been under pressure to donate its supply of AstraZeneca vaccines to other countries since it can't use them yet. The Biden administration, declining, saying it is focused on vaccinating Americans.

While parts of Brazil have run out of vaccines, it is at a time when COVID-19 is killing more people, in Brazil, each day than anywhere else in the world. Hospitals there, on the brink of collapse. Matt Rivers, with more, in Sao Paulo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are here in Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of many Brazilian states currently reeling during what are unquestionably the worst days of Brazil's pandemic so far.

We've talked about how multiple single day coronavirus death records have been set in just the last week alone. We see a surging number of cases and, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of good news on the horizon, either.

Specifically, when you look at what is happening in hospitals across this country, specifically in intensive care units. If you look at ICU occupancy rates, that is where you see the most disturbing numbers. In 23 of Brazil's 26 states plus its federal district, ICU occupancy rates are at 80 percent or higher.

In 11 of those 26 states, ICU occupancy rates are at 90 percent or higher. All of this comes as we heard today from the state of Rio de Janeiro, they are going to be forced to temporarily suspend their vaccination campaign due to low vaccine supply. Brazil has had consistent issues procuring vaccines for its population.

Back weeks ago, when the Brazilian federal government announced its vaccination campaign plans, it had said that they would have some 46 million or so doses of vaccines available during the month of March.

Over the last few weeks, they've consistently brought that estimate down to the point where it is now. Some 26 million doses of vaccine are expected to be available this month during the month of March.

Those vaccines are desperately needed in the country when we look at the numbers of cases, the number of deaths. But the vaccine supply just not there yet -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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HOLMES: Taking a quick break on the program. When we come back, protesters in Myanmar are looking for international help and so are human rights experts.

What's the holdup with the U.N. Security Council?

Also, back to in-person learning. Places around the world taking different approaches to keeping their students safe. We will be right back.

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HOLMES: Protesters are gathering in Myanmar, once again, fighting for democracy after a night of deadly violence. Two people, in Yangon killed overnight when security forces opened fire at a group of protesters.

The violence is escalating, and we are seeing more on camera. This footage was taken by a protester, showing the chaos in the streets as crowds of people clashed with police.

In a separate video, posted on social media, police are seen dragging people from their houses and beating them in the street. Protesters in Myanmar know that they are risking their lives when they march against the military.

One woman, whose husband was killed by police, told Reuters that he believed the fight for democracy was worth dying for. It is the young people who have the most to lose, of course, and they are the ones taking up the charge. Ivan Watson tells us about the protester, whose death has galvanized the pro-democracy movement.

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IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She called herself Angel, only 19 years old, Angel -- real name Ma Kyel Zin -- was a small but fierce presence of protest against the military coup that swept Myanmar's elected government from power on February 1st.

She challenged the security forces, but Angel's defiance came to a sudden end when she was shot dead during a protest in the city of Mandalay on March 3rd. The young woman in the "Everything will be OK" T-shirt became a symbol of Myanmar's deadly fight for democracy. Before the coup, Angel behaved like many other teenagers, making TikTok videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She liked to live freely. She was a good-hearted girl.

WATSON (voice-over): Angel's friend, Ming Ta Bu, hides his face for safety.

You can see him here, ducking for cover by her side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She was ready to risk her life way before that day.

WATSON (voice-over): Several days earlier, Angel posted this message on Facebook offering to donate her blood and organs to anyone who might need them. Using activist videos and eyewitness accounts, CNN reconstructed Angel's final moments around noon on March 3rd as demonstrators faced off against security forces.

Angel cheered on the protesters, chanting, "We won't run."

Around 12:30, activist videos show Angel and the other protesters retreating amid the sound of gunshots. This was the moment, activists say, she was hit.

They raced her on a motorcycle to a makeshift clinic when this doctor, who doesn't want to be identified, pronounced her dead-on arrival. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The primary cause of death was

a brain injury caused by a gunshot wound.

WATSON (voice-over): The doctor gave us the x-ray, showing the bullet that killed Angel. Scores of people attended her funeral but, only hours later, Myanmar police dug up Angel's body to conduct an autopsy, they said.

The next morning, bystanders found shovels, a bloody glove and razors, which police apparently left behind at the grave. Police claim the bullet that killed Angel is different from the kind of riot control bullets their officers used. Police insist they used minimum force to disperse the protesters on March 3rd.

It's unknown who fired the bullet that killed Angel. But an activist video shows a soldier. firing what appears to be an assault rifle at the protesters. This was filmed moments after Angel's shooting on the same street where she was fatally wounded.

The United Nations estimates scores of people have been killed in Myanmar in recent works.

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WATSON (voice-over): A top U.N. official lays the blame squarely on the security forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we're seeing orders that police and military soldiers shoot people down in cold blood.

WATSON (voice-over): Supporters have rebuilt Angel's desecrated grave. Friends are now calling her a martyr for democracy -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

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HOLMES: The U.N. special rapporteur of Myanmar says the military junta is unleashing quote, "terror and lawlessness" against civilians. He is saying again that there is mounting evidence that security forces are committing crimes against humanity.

But that has not been enough so far to force the U.N. Security Council into action. Richard Roth explains what's holding them up.

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RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: The people of Myanmar currently under the gun in the streets of their own country should not really be hoping for immediate outside intervention by the U.N. or any other force.

That is because the global organization just doesn't function that way. There's too much division inside the 15 member U.N. Security Council, especially the big powers. In order for Western countries to get the first formal condemnation of the coup on the books, Russia and China insisted that the wording of the statement not include the word "coup" and it should not include any threat of further measures, should the Myanmar generals failed to comply.

So, in order to get that compromise that many countries wanted, they had to give in on that very significant wording.

So, whether the Myanmar generals really get any kind of hint to do something to protect their own people is highly unlikely. And the U.N. is just set up in a different kind of labyrinth.

You will hear headlines that the U.N.-hired human rights representative in Geneva announcing Myanmar for potential crimes against humanity and that something, a message has to be sent to the generals so that they know there's no impunity, the problem is that that is not the full U.N.

It's really the Security Council that causes action, legal action under the charter of the U.N. So you cannot be fooled when you see headlines about U.N. condemns Myanmar generals. It doesn't necessarily mean it will lead to action -- Richard Roth, CNN, New York.

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HOLMES: And Kayleigh Long joins me now, she's a Myanmar researcher for Amnesty International.

Thanks for doing this. You worked in Myanmar on the ground.

How do you assess the determination of the people to resist military rule?

KAYLEIGH LONG, MYANMAR RESEARCHER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: As we've seen, the response to the situation has been enormous but it is important to remember that people are just exercising their rights. They are allowed under international law to express themselves freely, to have freedom of assembly and association and those rights are being trampled on by the military.

HOLMES: Knowing the people as you do, are you surprised the protests have gone on this long, despite the military violence?

Or not surprised?

LONG: I think there is a real determination from protesters, that what has been shocking is the brutality of the response of the military.

HOLMES: Talk about the role of the military chief, the general, and why he is responding this way, because this is very much about him and his ambitions, his position.

According to many observers, his personal financial interests as well.

What to make of him and his role?

LONG: The general has had command responsibility for a number of atrocities in recent years. Obviously, there was the Rohingya crisis in 2016 and 2017, but this is a military with a long history of impunity, in particular in ethnic states. The difference this time around is that we're seeing it meted out in

cities and towns all around the country on camera.

HOLMES: How strong, as you've seen this unfold, how strong is the evidence against the military in terms of its use of force and tactics?

One imagines that the smartphone pictures that have been documenting the crackdown could result in increased pressure but also possible evidence for what might be to come in terms of international action once this is over.

LONG: As you say, there has been a pretty constant stream of information coming out, shocking images and footage. Each day, while the internet is on, as you know, they've been shutting it down at night.

So, it's really shocking to see this conduct caught on camera. Whether that will be serving as evidence in the future for criminal procedures, I don't know. But certainly, at Amnesty we have been trying to piece together who is responsible for the killings and violence we've seen on the streets.

HOLMES: You mentioned the Rohingya. It's worth talking about that because it shows that the military has form, if you like.

[02:20:00]

HOLMES: The killings, displacements, horrors, what happened to the Rohingya, there was international outrage but so far very few if any meaningful consequences for the military.

Do you think in some ways that action has actually emboldened the military, that they think this time there won't be meaningful consequences either?

LONG: Absolutely. I think the fact that we're in this situation today is the direct result of failure to hold of them to account for their past crimes, whether it be against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities. This is why we're really calling for decisive action. It's history repeating and it can't happen like this again.

HOLMES: So what is it that you want to see done?

What is going to be effective?

The U.N. Security Council has often shown itself to be a toothless tiger when it comes to the self-interests of the permanent members, so I don't know that anyone is going to hold their breath for something substantial on that.

But what would you like to see done, an arms embargo or what?

LONG: Yes, as you say there is a problem with the stalemate in the Security Council. But what we would like to see pushed through and what should happen is a comprehensive global arms embargo as well as a referral of the situation in Myanmar as a whole to the International Criminal Court.

In order for that to happen, Myanmar's allies, that have shielded them from responsibility time and time again, really need to get out of the way on this.

HOLMES: Yes. And I mean, just quickly, the country has operated under sanctions before and survived.

What else do you think can be done in terms of pressuring from the outside?

In terms of the public, what can -- can people -- I get messages from people, saying all the time, what can we do?

Is there anything?

Can they help with Amnesty or what?

What would you tell them?

LONG: I think there's a lot of organizations that are working to try and raise awareness about the situation in Myanmar.

But I think it's critical that people maintain pressure on their governments and elected representatives, whether they're able to exercise leverage as a state within their direct unilateral relationship with Myanmar or by applying pressures to allies of Myanmar who going to have influence in the situation to call for a de- escalation of violence and to the military to refrain from the use of force and (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: Kayleigh Long with Amnesty International, really appreciate you coming on with this very important issue. Thank you.

We are going to take a quick break. When we come back, some are warning that it could be the biggest famine in modern history. Millions of Yemenis in need, many in Houthi controlled areas. Why a senior official tells the group they are not to blame.

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HOLMES (voice-over): New Zealand held a national remembrance service to mark the second anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack; 51 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in two separate mosques. This was back in March of 2019. Dozens of people were injured in the shooting that was livestreamed by the attacker.

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HOLMES: The United States says it will be restoring humanitarian aid to northern Yemen.

[02:25:00]

HOLMES: An area largely under Houthi control. This comes as the country is on the verge of what could be the worst famine in modern history, a situation so dire that the U.N. estimates nearly 21 million people are in need throughout the country.

The head of the World Food Programme says the crisis needs more coverage.

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DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WFP: The demands are catastrophic right now. And, you know, you turn on the media, the United States right now, it's all about Harry and Meghan. I mean, OK, that's fine. But, my God, I have people dying right now.

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HOLMES: The director also said he spoke with Houthi leadership about a nationwide cease-fire plan that the U.S. presented a number of days ago. He said that an agreement is imperative to prevent more deaths.

Now in a rare interview a senior Houthi official sat down with CNN's Nima Elbagir and said that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the humanitarian crisis, even as the suffering worsens in a city under attack by the Houthi rebels themselves.

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NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

MOHAMMED ALI AL-HOUTHI, SENIOR HOUTHI OFFICIAL (through translator): Today, America is seen as a murderer by whole of the Middle East and Islamic world and most of the countries that it has reached. We consider America as the murderer of our people.

First of all, President Biden were a partner of President Obama. And during the time, they declared they would join the coalition against our country.

They also agreed and gave the green light for the coalition to perpetrate the killing in our country. Trust is created by actions, not words. Trust must come about as a result of decisions. So far, we have not seen any decisions.

ELBAGIR: What is your responsibility for the humanitarian crisis? There are half a million displaced people within that city while the fighting is happening on and the offensive continues?

AL-HOUTHI (through translator): The humanitarian crisis involves 18 to 19 million, all who are on the areas under our control, because they are suffering because of the shortage of water, shortage of medication and shortage of food. And they are suffering from the suffocating and restricting blockade. Sick people are dying here every day.

With regard to the children, according to statements from certain reputable organization, a child dies in Yemen every five or 10 minutes as a result of the suffocating blockade.

ELBAGIR: In terms of the peace process, you said that so far, the American administration has not actually done anything, practically, it hasn't come forward with a plan, it hasn't come forward with any points to bring about a resolution to this conflict.

If they did come to you with key points, would you be willing to go back to the negotiating table?

AL-HOUTHI (through translator): We're always pro-peace, I have suggested and presented many initiatives to the Republic of Yemen. We have requested that the shelling on us stops, that the shelling on them stops and the blockade be lifted. We asked for the fight to cease on all fronts, but they refuse to stop it.

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HOLMES: That was CNN's Nima Elbagir, speaking with a leading Houthi official in Yemen.

Nigerian police and military forces are searching for students who were kidnapped from their dormitory Friday. Yes, again, this has happened. This is the third mass abduction in northwestern Nigeria just this year.

Armed men stormed a coed college in the early morning, opening fire and kidnapping students. Officials aren't sure exactly how many were taken. One student who escaped said the attackers targeted the girls' residence, even though the boys was closer.

A London police officer is being charged with the murder and kidnapping of a 33-year-old woman, Sarah Everard. She disappeared on March 3rd while walking home in south London. Her body found days later in some woods.

The high-profile case has sparked anger in Britain and drawn attention to the violence women face. Prime minister Boris Johnson says he understands that reaction.

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BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I think that the whole country will be united in the feeling for her friends, her family. And we'll share their shock and their grief. And I can see and I totally understand why this has triggered such a wave of feeling on this issue. Every woman should feel able to walk our streets in safety.

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HOLMES: A Reclaim the Streets vigil will be held later today in London to highlight women's safety and bring awareness to sexual assault and harassment. [02:30:00]

HOLMES: Now after a year of being away from class, many schools are taking the step of bringing students back. How science is paving the way.

Also when we come back --

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HOLMES (voice-over): -- fine art goes digital. How a piece of artwork you can't even hold sold for a whopping $69 million.

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HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now one year into the pandemic, countries around the world are grappling with how to safely reopen schools. While many initially took to online learning, the virtual setting has led to some challenges, of course, often leading to frustrated students and struggling parents, many of whom can't afford or access high speed internet or childcare.

To visualize the global crisis, UNICEF has lined up row after row of school desks outside the U.N. headquarters in New York, 168 backpacks sitting at empty desks, one for every 1 million of children around the world who have largely missed in-person learning during all of this.

Now from a return to in-person learning, to completely virtual or hybrid systems, we can take a look at how countries are approaching education during the pandemic. CNN's Sam Kiley is in Tel Aviv, Isa Soares in London but we begin with Paula Hancocks in South Korea.

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PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 90 percent of schools here in South Korea are back to in-person classes to some degree since the new term started earlier this month.

What they are doing is younger years, officials say it is more important that they are physically in the school. They say the social interaction is very important. It's harder for them to learn online and they need that physical interaction with both the teachers and the students.

So kindergartens to grade 2, they are in the school full-time, as are high school senior and those years in between are still a hybrid of in-person and online classes. We are still seeing a continuation of new infections though, among

students, here in the capital, Seoul, where most of the cases, to be fair, have been found over recent months.

Officials say that there is still, on average, more than a dozen students a day that are testing positive for the virus. So the protocols of schools across the country is everybody without exception within a school wears a mask all day.

[02:35:00]

HANCOCKS (voice-over): There are temperature checks throughout the day, hand sanitizers as they walk in. The only time when people remove their masks, students remove their masks, is at lunchtime. And they make sure that there are plastic dividers between people and they do have a rule of no mask, no talking.

As soon as you take your mask off you're not to talk to other people, to try and prevent any infection happening. Schools here in Seoul have to spend at least 10 percent of their budget on measures to try and prevent the spread of the virus.

But there have been a number of cases, as you can imagine, since May of last year, when classes and schools first allowed people to come back in person after that first wave was contained. There have been more than 5,700 cases amongst students and teachers -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

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ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isa Soares, in London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the opening of schools the first stage in his cautious four-step roadmap out of lockdown. But the reality looks very different for students returning.

Very strict coronavirus rules, from one-way corridors, to hand sanitizing stations, to face coverings that have to be worn at school and in classes by students as well as teachers. They'll also have to have regular rapid coronavirus tests.

The plan here, say authorities, is to be able to track and isolate those pupils, who are asymptomatic, to make sure that doesn't have an impact on England's infection rates.

SAM KILEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sam Kiley, in the Cliffs Spring School, in North Tel Aviv. Now, there are about 500 children here, all of whom are being accommodated in the school. There is no distance learning for the kids here.

It is different for other children around the country. There's 2.4 million children trying to get back into school. If they're in areas, where the infection rates are high, they can't do it.

But here, and in other areas of Israel, where the infection rates are relatively low, they're able to get at least some of the children back, others in distance learning, and all of the teachers have been vaccinated.

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HOLMES: Well, here in the U.S., starting Monday, teachers in all 50 states will be prioritized for vaccines. But some districts have already opened their doors to welcome students back to class. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at the science behind keeping them safe.

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DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): School in the age of COVID-19, temperature scans, plastic dividers, eating outside, all of it to lower risk.

LISA HERRING, SUPERINTENDENT, ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Decisions, tied to health risks, feel very much out of our wheelhouse. It felt scary.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was the weight of the world that Atlanta Public School Superintendent, Lisa Herring carried when the city schools reopened on January 25th.

GUPTA (on camera): There was huge surge post-holidays that we were still in the midst of. So how did you arrive at these decisions?

HERRING: We became more and more aware of the high level of focus around mitigation for safety and health risks.

You start by looking down.

GUPTA (voice-over): Herring shows me what that means at David T. Howard Middle School.

The CDC's guidance for schools to reopen safely considers community spread and relies on five familiar strategies, masking, physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning facilities and improving ventilation, as well as contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

HERRING: All of the doors open, so we're very intentional.

GUPTA (on camera): All the doors there you open.

HERRING: Yes.

GUPTA (voice-over): The few studies that have been done looking at in- school transmission have found few Coronavirus cases when those mitigation measures are in place. One study of 11 North Carolina School Districts found just 32 cases of

in-school transmission, among nearly 100,000 students and staff. Not one of those cases involved a child infecting an adult.

Another study looking at more than 200,000 people, in the New York City public schools, between October and December, found just 0.4 percent of those tests were positive.

Still, sixth grade social studies teacher, Patrick Dougherty (ph) had his doubts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I definitely was leaning towards "We should stay virtual." Now there's not a lot of crowding, they hand-sanitize, they keep their masks on. So, I feel safe. And I'm getting vaccinated tomorrow, first dose.

GUPTA (on camera): Should teachers get the vaccine before coming back to school?

HERRING: In a perfect scenario, absolutely, Dr. Gupta, absolutely. This just simply was not the perfect scenario.

GUPTA (voice-over): Weekly testing of staff and students that began in February spotted 32 cases so far.

GUPTA (on camera): Can school districts open, if they don't have that level of surveillance testing?

HERRING: There are school districts that are open who don't have that, so the answer is yes. Does it give another layer of protection? It absolutely does.

GUPTA (voice-over): More than a third of the district's 52,000 students have now returned.

GUPTA (on camera): By show of hands, does everyone feel safe being back in school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hadn't been in-person for like a year. I haven't socialized with anyone at all. But it was better than I thought it was going to be.

[02:40:00]

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

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HOLMES: And now to a piece of artwork that can't be physically displayed and is setting records. Now it's a purely digital piece that started with a big of just $100 at auction and quickly catapulted to nearly $70 million. Kim Brunhuber explains why it was so desirable.

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KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's an online auction that the artist is sure to never forget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $50 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $69 million. I think it's probably means digital art is here to stay.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): $69,346,250: that's how much someone paid for this work of digital art that they will never be able to frame. Its sale left the creator at a loss for words. WINKELMAN: I don't even -- it's -- I -- yes.

Mike Winkelman, who goes by Beeple, has become the third most expensive living artist on Earth after the sale of his work called "Every Days: The First 5000 Days." It's a digital collage of 5,000 images that took him 13 years to make.

WINKELMAN: I started doing a drawing a day. And after the first year of doing that, I noticed I had gotten -- I had learned a lot about drawing. So I thought maybe I could apply this to another medium. So I was like, what if I did a rendering of it?

And from there I just honestly kind of kept going.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Beeple's work was presented by Christie's as the first virtual nonfungible token or NFT artwork to be sold at a major auction house.

So just what is an NFT and how could it be worth so much?

In economics, something fungible can be replaced by thing equal and identical; for example, one dollar bill is essentially the same as another. Something nonfungible is one of a kind. An NFT artwork could be a GIF or music or a video clip.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is even looked to sell the first ever tweet as an NFT.

Now you might ask, why bother?

Can't anyone copy and paste it for free?

But an NFT is kind of like a certificate of ownership for virtual assets. It authenticates an artist's digital work as his or her own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUILLAUME CERUTTI, CEO, CHRISTIE'S: It's very important to understand that this work, this art community, did exist before. But today, the NFT and the block chain technology together give these artists a safer marketplace, because their works, their digital works, can be proved as being unique and authentic through the block chain technology.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Just after the historic sale of his digital work, Beeple tweeted this, with the caption, "The next chapter."

The term masterpiece gaining new meaning in our increasingly digital future -- Kim Brunhuber, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Someone can explain block chain to me one day.

That's it for CNN NEWSROOM for the moment. I'm Michael Holmes. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next. I'll see you in about 15 minutes.