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WHO: Countries Should Keep Using AstraZeneca Vaccine; European Countries Suspend AstraZeneca Vaccine; U.S. Secretary Of State Says China Has Role To Play In North Korea Denuclearization; China's Xi Tells Military To Be Prepared For Maritime Conflict; Several Asian Countries Continue AstraZeneca Rollout; Japan Opens Super Nintendo World After Multiple Delays; Residents Of Oklahoma Town Resist Vaccine. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the bottlenecks behind the suspended AstraZeneca rollout in Europe and the blow to public confidence.

Official cause of death, heart failure but speculation continues that Tanzania's COVID-19 denying president who called for prayer over vaccines, is an unrecorded life lost to the pandemic.

As the U.S. tries to reset relations with China, the former supreme commander of NATO warns both countries could be sleepwalking into a nuclear war.


VAUSE: In the coming hours, the European Medicines Agency is expected to release findings to an investigation into the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. While E.U. officials say this verdict will be the final verdict, it seems unlikely to end controversy and debate which has swirled around the vaccine for months.

At issue is the potential risk of blood clots after inoculation. The drugmaker says, after 17 million doses, just 37 cases of blood clots have been recorded, well below the number for the general population. Experts from the E.U., the U.K., the U.S. and the World Health Organization have all said, if there is any risk, it is far outweighed by the benefits of being vaccinated.


MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, COVID-19 TECHNICAL LEAD, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The use of the vaccine far outweighs the risks. We know that the vaccines that are out there are safe and effective and it is really important that individuals get vaccinated. When it's your turn, when you are offered.

DR. MICHAEL RYAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: I think we need to be very careful that we don't end up overreacting and damaging the thought of it in people's minds until we are absolutely sure that there actually is a problem. Right now, that is not certain. Let's wait for the data to be looked at before we make any conclusions.


VAUSE: At least 16 European countries have now paused distribution of AstraZeneca. But not Greece, where the prime minister says he's at a loss to explain why so many countries have stopped their rollout.

The E.U. has now revealed first details about their vaccine passports or digital green certificates and how they're expected to work. With the northern summer just months away and with the tourism industry facing an uncertain future, it's hoped these passwords will allow unrestricted travel within the E.U.

There are 3 different ways for travelers to prove they're COVID free, first with a certificate recording brand and place of vaccination. Another option is to show negative test results and for the time being self tests are not allowed.

The third way is with a medical certificate for those who have recovered and have antibodies from the virus within the last 6 months. E.U. officials are aiming to have approval for the passports by June.


URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: It shows or states whether the person has either been vaccinated or a recent negative test or has recovered from COVID and thus antibodies.

Secondly, the certificate will make sure that the results or what it shows the data and the minimum set of data mutually recognized in every member state.

And thirdly, with this digital certificate we aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner.


VAUSE: Joining us now, Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the University of California in Los Angeles. Also Dominic Thomas, CNN's European affairs commentator.

Thanks both for joining us.

OK, Germany seems to have set off a domino effect here by suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday. Major European countries quick to follow. According to "Science" magazine, the reason behind the suspension by German authorities was the discovery of seven cases of CVT, which is basically blood clots of the brain, occurring 4-16 days after vaccination. Analysis showed only a single case would be normally expected among

1.6 million people vaccinated in that time.

Given that small number of rare reactions during mass inoculations is not unusual, did the Germans make the right call, given we are in the midst of a pandemic and vaccines are in short supply?

ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, it's really tricky because halting vaccination in the midst of a pandemic is very serious business.

First of all, it puts a lot of emphasis on what are very rare events. So people will be focusing on these very rare events are not getting the benefit of these vaccines, which have been proven in millions of people to be very, very safe.


RIMOIN: Of course, monitoring the vaccines is critical. We must understand what side effects may occur but we still have to truly understand, is this related to the vaccine?

Or is it related to something else?

Or is this related to the vaccine in a very specific population?

In which case, recommendations can be put forth, that this is what you need to look out for, these certain types of people need to be very cautious about getting the vaccine, et cetera. But full-scale halting vaccine, that's a very serious thing to do in the midst of a pandemic.

VAUSE: The other possibility, it could be related to politics and so that's where Dominic comes in.

The president of a medical agency was quoted saying the decision to suspend the vaccine was a political choice, as other European countries had done. France days ago, was talking up the vaccine, the prime minister telling parliament France had to listen to Europe.

How much of this is being driven by this desire for appearance of a united front in the E.U.?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Yes, here we are, John, another example of where you hope the European Union can be quick, rapid and flexible in its response. You see it hindered yet again by this bureaucratic apparatus.

So of course, when Germany moves to do just about anything, other countries will follow. I think the word front is important. You see a range of countries lining up, hiding and concealing some of the greater divisions that are shaping the discussion around these kinds of questions.

In fact, more often than not, leaders who are really seeking to deflect from their own inadequacies and shortcomings in dealing with this pandemic over the past year and pretending to have a kind of common front with the E.U., I think, helps them here.

VAUSE: You know, it was back in February last month, "The New York Times" actually reported about fatal blood clots in those who had been vaccinated. It reported 36 cases had been reported to the government's vaccine adverse event reporting system.

That was by the end of January. But it wasn't the AstraZeneca vaccine; it was rather after receiving the Moderna or Pfizer jab.

So why would adverse reactions from one vaccine, like AstraZeneca, lead to suspension of an entire rollout while similar reactions from 2 other vaccines, barely breaks mention?

RIMOIN: Well, you know first of all we've had many, many more vaccines distributed here in the United States and you also have to remember that blood clots are actually very common. They are somewhere around 250-275 deaths from blood clots daily in the normal U.S. population.

What does these adverse events mean in context?

Are they really greater than what's happening in the general population?

Are they related to the actual vaccine or not?

That's why we have this really great system of being able to monitor adverse events after vaccines. There is the state that is being monitored over time. I don't think there has been a big red flag because there's a very small number and it is being monitored and looked into at the same time.

I think we should all remember that these vaccines have been distributed now to millions and millions of people with very few side effects; whereas this virus has the ability to cause very serious disease, death and, in those people who even have mild cases, potentially long term sequelae or consequences. So very important to put this all into context.

VAUSE: There's also the question about public trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine. With that, the British prime minister tried to bring some confidence with this announcement to Parliament.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I'm pleased to discover (INAUDIBLE) but it will certainly be Oxford AstraZeneca that I'll be having.


VAUSE: The French prime minister, the British prime minister also says that he will get the AstraZeneca jab.

The vaccination will rise and fall on the level of public confidence and trust but how much damage has been done to AstraZeneca simply to provide this appearance of unity? THOMAS: Absolutely enormous, immeasurable, one could argue. This is

the product of months, weeks of inconsistent messaging. The big picture here that, let's not forget that the European Union invested massively in research and development of the vaccine and has been embroiled in a battle, a war, one could say, for weeks now with AstraZeneca.

There is a real risk here, that if this standoff does not end and if they don't find a way to move ahead with their common goal of getting people vaccinated, that they will end up undermining their mission.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, Boris Johnson -- and I hate to say this -- has been doing better than the European Union on this particular question. He is clearly instrumentalizing this as a way to bolster his Brexit argument and this is very bad news for the European Union as an institution.

VAUSE: Very quickly, onto these vaccine COVID-19 passports, like the green certificates, now if you've been vaccinated in Europe, you're actually entitled to receive one of these green certificates. It gives you the freedom of travel if you like from unrestricted.


VAUSE: Bringing back liberties like social contact and the ability to move freely around the E.U. But only 5 percent of Europe's population has been vaccinated. Seems liberty for a small number.

RIMOIN: Well, you know vaccine passports in principle are not new. Those of us who have traveled globally understand the use of the yellow card, the WHO card, where you must have, for example, your yellow fever vaccine in order to enter several countries. Vaccine passports are not new, it's something that could definitely be employed.

But you have to remember there's always workarounds in the system. So it's no guarantee that everybody that has one is going to actually be vaccinated. So you know, not a new concept, certainly interesting to think about.

But how do you really make it work and avoid fraud?

VAUSE: Dominic, last question to, you this seems to be focusing on the divisions in the E.U., the southern warmer member states pushing for this. Bigger countries like France saying, hey, not so fast, there are some serious concerns over privacy and civil liberties.

THOMAS: Yes, just to be very quick, ultimately, you want the European Union operating in a multilateral fashion. You don't want breakout groups. My main concern here is we are essentially seeing political leaders who are trying to balance business interests, opening up tourism with the real health concerns.

We learned the past year from listening to health professionals, is traveler circulation is a particular problem. We still don't know enough about the inoculation period. We don't know enough about transmissibility for those who are being vaccinated.

The last thing you want are people fortunate to be vaccinated moving from Region A to Region B, thereby exposing people that have been undervaccinated and potentially even reproducing so many of the inequities that have characterized this particular pandemic.

So this is a story to follow. It's still not clear as to the effectiveness of these passports in the European Union.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, we have a few more seconds to squeeze in this last question.

When it comes to essentially determining what the standard is, the vaccine, the time period, where it comes from, is there now acceptable standard put in place by the E.U.?

There's similar systems in China, Israel, is there now coming to a point where there's uniformity here?

RIMOIN: I think that goes to the heart of exactly what Dominic is saying here, which is that this is going to be very, very difficult to be able to enforce. There are a lot of different vaccines that are going to be coming forward. Right now, we have only a few vaccines in the arsenal. There will be others.

To be able to really understand who has been vaccinated, which vaccine, when they got it and how long that durability of immune response is going to last, it's going to be very complicated and it could be fraught with a lot of problems. But the concept is old.

VAUSE: OK, good one for the UCLA Bruins, thank you both, Anne Rimoin and Dominic Thomas, appreciate it.

RIMOIN: Thank you.

THOMAS: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: North Korea says it's rejected offers from the United States to start talks and will continue to do unless Washington rolls back its "hostile policies." This comes as two top U.S. officials are in Seoul meeting with South Korean counterparts.

On Wednesday, they called again for the denuclearization of the peninsula, saying Pyongyang's nuclear program has to be addressed and urgently. CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul for us.

Paula, what is the final bottom line of these meetings so far there in Seoul?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, here, they've been really been focusing on China and North Korea as you just mentioned there. Of course, North Korea has responded. We've heard from a top North Korean diplomat saying it is a time wasting tactic of the U.S. to be trying to get in touch with them, trying to negotiate.

She said that they've been trying since mid February, in a number of different ways, including the New York channel, this is something that Secretary Blinken had confirmed this week as well. They said until the U.S. stops its hostile policy towards North Korea, then nothing will change.

They said they won't be talking to them going forward until that changes. Now it is something we've heard many times before from North Korea. Considering how heated the rhetoric can be from Pyongyang, this is certainly not in that realm.

So even though they're saying they're not going to talk to the United States, they are still talking to them indirectly through state run media.

Secretary Blinken wasn't pressed or he was pressed on this. He wasn't talking directly due to what North Korea said, when he just had a press conference with his counterpart, also with the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his counterpart.

But he did say that it is important for everyone to work together, to try and deal with the nuclear program. Also pointing out that China has a significant role to play.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: China has a critical role to play, in working to convince North Korea to pursue denuclearization. China has a unique relationship with North Korea.


BLINKEN: Virtually all of North Korea's economic relationships, its trade go -- are with or go through China. So it has tremendous influence. And I think it has a shared interest in making sure that we do something about North Korea's nuclear program and about the increasingly dangerous ballistic missile program.


HANCOCKS: Secretary Blinken also said at the press conference that Beijing has a clear self interest in dealing with North Korea. The fact that is such a source of instability and danger and, interestingly, once again, he did bring up the human rights record of North Korea.

This is something we have not heard much about over the past four years but it is something that he has specifically pointed at when he has been here in South Korea, saying that they want to also improve the lives of the North Korean people.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks there in Seoul. Appreciate it.

When we come back, the last frontier with the last high-level meeting between Beijing and Washington set in Alaska. The delegation might best prepare for a frosty reception.



VAUSE: Next stop for the U.S. secretary of state will be Alaska at the meeting in Anchorage with China's foreign minister Wang Yi. The U.S. is setting the stage to confront Beijing on security issues and human rights, the new sanctions against 2 dozen Chinese and Hong Kong officials. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLINKEN: China is using force and coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan and (INAUDIBLE) to violate international law.


VAUSE: China is looking for a reset with U.S., including and end to the Trump trade wars but Beijing is also making it clear the U.S. should stay out of its internal affairs, translation of that, Hong Kong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): China has an unshakable determination to oppose U.S. attempts to interfere in Hong Kong matters, an unshakable determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests and an unshakable determination to implement the one country two systems policy.

The U.S. should immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters and China's internal affairs in any way.


VAUSE: Retired Admiral James Stavridis is the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and the co-writer of "2034: A Novel on the Next War."

He is with us from Jacksonville, Florida.

Admiral, thank you for being with. Us


The latest five-year plan, announced by Beijing, calls for preparation for maritime conflicts.


The "South China Morning Post" said, "Xi Jinping tells China's military 'be prepared to respond in unstable times'."

With regards to the book, the reality is, over the past 2 decades, tension between Beijing and Washington has been an upwardly spiking graph. Trust and goodwill has been declining and then you put your novel into that, which does seem to sort of blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction.

STAVRIDIS: The idea of the novel is simply to be a cautionary tale. It would be all too easy for the United States and China to kind of sleep walk into a war. I will tell you where that tension will come and you have already mentioned it, it is the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its entirety as territorial waters, the entire body of water.

It is the size of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea combined. So from a U.S. perspective, that is an untenable claim and the United States will continue to push back. And it creates real tension.

Could it flare up over the next decade or so?

Unfortunately, I think so.

VAUSE: I want you to listen to China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, on what sounds like a threat. To the U.S.


WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): For a long time, the United States has arbitrarily interfered in the internal affairs of other countries under the banner of so-called democracy and human rights, causing many troubles in the world and even becoming the source of turmoil and war.

The United States should realize this soon; otherwise, the world will still be at unrest.


VAUSE: The Biden administration has put human rights and democracy back on the agenda. There's an obvious area of friction but I can't imagine that would be a cause to go to war. No one's going to war over the Muslims in Xinjiang.

What's the process there that leads to this all-out military conflict?

STAVRIDIS: Again, it is the territorial claim over the South China Sea and what guards the northern entrance to the South China Sea. It is the island of Taiwan. And there you could easily see a scenario in which the United States is operating in what it considers high seas, international waters. Beijing objects, saying these are internal waters and the prize in that competition becomes the island of Taiwan.

And as a result a U.S. destroyer could effectively be approached, harassed, overflown by a Chinese vessel. A miscalculation could occur. A Chinese aircraft could be shot down. A U.S. vessel could be attacked by a Chinese vessel.

These are miscalculations. Neither nation has a real interest in going to war. But like the First World War, which was sparked by an action, an incident, an assassination in a small Serbian country, an incident on the South China Sea could indeed provoke a conflict. VAUSE: There has always been, the U.S. has always had this edge over

China when it comes to the size of the navies and the technology that the U.S. possesses, compared to China. China already now has the world's biggest navy and there are still gaps in capability. But even so, here's Adm. Philip Davidson testifying before Congress last, week let's listen.


ADM. PHILIP DAVIDSON, COMMANDER, U.S. INDO-PACIFIC COMMAND: As China continues to increase the size of the People's Liberation Army and advance their joint capabilities, the military balance in the indo- Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies.

And with this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response.


VAUSE: It seems in your book they kind of reach that point of technological equivalency in 2034.

The reality is it could happen a lot sooner.

STAVRIDIS: It could happen sooner. Let's put Admiral Phil Davidson in context. He was my opposite number when I was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe. Admiral Davidson is the commander of all the U.S. Forces in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. He knows that of which he speaks.

And yes, that edge that the United States has enjoyed for decades is eroding. And it is eroding rapidly. However, the U.S. still has some number of years to go before that balance tips entirely.

Admiral Davidson is seeking to hit a warning bell. I think it is an appropriate one. By 2034, when the novel is set, the tables will be quite even. No deterrent exists at that point. It becomes, I think, a moment of maximum danger. We approach it over the coming decade.

VAUSE: A cautionary tale and a warning, your novel is. Thank you very much.


VAUSE: It's a good book. Once again the title is "2034: A Novel of the Next War."

Thank you for being with, us sir.

STAVRIDIS: Pleasure, thanks John.


VAUSE: Russia has recalled its ambassador in Washington after these comments from U.S. President Joe Biden.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He will pay a price. We had a long talk, he and I. I know him relatively well. This conversation started off I said, I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: So you know Vladimir Putin.

Do you think he's a killer?

BIDEN: Yes. I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

BIDEN: The price he is going to pay, well, you will see shortly.


VAUSE: The Russian government source described the remark as ridiculous. He says the state of relations will be under discussion once the ambassador is back in Moscow.

For more than 2 weeks, Tanzania's president has been missing from public view, fueling speculation the coronavirus denying mask refusenik might have been receiving treatment for COVID-19.

But we recently learned that John Magufuli had died from heart disease. He had denied the virus was serious and in last year stopped official reporting of the number of dead and new COVID infections to the WHO. He denounced vaccines, claimed God, herbal remedies and steam treatments would cure the virus.

The vice president will assume the presidency, becoming the country's first female president.

Linus Kaikai is the director of strategy and innovation at Citizen TV. He is with us now from Nairobi.

Thank you taking the time to talk with us here. I want you to listen to part of that official announcement from the vice president on television that Magufuli had died. Here it is.


SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN, TANZANIA'S ACTING PRESIDENT (through translator); Today on the 17th of March, 2021, at 6:00 pm, we lost our brave leader, the president of the republic of Tanzania, honorable Joseph Magufuli, who has died of a heart condition.


VAUSE: How certain can we be about that cause of death, that it was a heart condition? He suffered from heart disease for a while but there were rumors that he was infected by COVID. It wouldn't be surprising given that his chief secretary recently died from the virus as well as the vice president of Zanzibar.

LINUS KAIKAI, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY AND INNOVATION, CITIZEN TV: The one thing that that announcement did last night was, in a most unfortunate way, to end speculation, to end the rumors of the last 17 days, because people did not know, not Tanzanians or neighboring countries like Kenya, everywhere, people were asking, where is the president of Tanzania?

And the sad news came out last night that he had died. Of course, again, there's a lot of speculation on what else is out there, because the information about COVID-19 in Tanzania has not been flowing freely since 2020, nearly a whole year ago.

But we have reports of senior government officials getting infected, some dying and now unfortunately the president finally himself dying. The reason given by the vice president is not COVID-19 but a heart attack.

VAUSE: Last month, as he paid his respects to his chief secretary at his funeral, also somebody who died from COVID-19, he talked down the seriousness of the virus and wanted everyone to simply trust in God. This is what he said.


JOHN MAGUFULI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF TANZANIA (through translator): The economy continued to soar despite COVID-19. Infrastructural projects continued being completed. We did not even impose a lockdown. And even now we will not impose a lockdown because we know God is with us every day.


VAUSE: Assuming that COVID-19 was not the cause of death here, the pandemic and his denial of it will still be a very bloody stain on his legacy.

KAIKAI: To the bitter end, to the literal end of John Magufuli, he proved himself a super skeptic of COVID-19. He doubted that this disease existed and that it was making rounds in Tanzania.

At some point in 2020, I think around June, he declared that prayers and traditional methods of treatment had ended COVID-19. So to his very end he was a skeptic. In the last days of his appearance, I think his last appearance was on the 27th of February this year, he now found his skepticism to face masks, marking the use of face masks, saying that they could even be spreading the infection.

So to the end, he was a super skeptic of COVID-19.

VAUSE: And, of course, that comes with a whole lot of implications and consequences for his country. But we dot know the cause of death officially, heart disease, heart attack, but still leaves a lot of questions. Linus Kaikai, thank you for being with us.

KAIKAI: Thank you.


VAUSE: Well, Brazil's COVID outbreak goes from bad to worse. A day after seeing its highest daily death toll, the country sets another staggering record.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

U.S. President Joe Biden considering releasing some vaccine supplies to Canada and Mexico. A senior administration official says supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be shipped while it's waiting for U.S. approval.

The foreign minister in Mexico says a deal could be announced by Friday. The U.S. has tens of millions of AstraZeneca doses already stockpiled. Only Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been authorized for emergency use.

Brazil confirmed 90,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, another daily record for the country just a day after reporting its highest daily death toll. In every Brazilian state but one, ICUs are at least 80 percent full.

Experts say the country now faces the greatest health and hospital collapse in its history.

In the Middle East, Iraq and Jordan are reporting their highest daily case counts since the beginning of the pandemic. Iraq had more than 5,600 new COVID cases on Wednesday. Despite that, the Iraqi government is planning to ease restrictions as the country faces economic challenges.

And Jordan broke another daily coronavirus record. More than 9,500 cases on Wednesday reimposing restrictions now and suspending mosque and church prayers, closing night clubs, bars, public pools, as well as gyms.

Now, while countries in Asia continue to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite many European nations pausing its distribution while investigations are underway into potential side effects.

At the same time, the World Health Organization says the vaccine benefits outweigh the risk. CNN's Kim Brunhuber reports.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR (voice-over): To the sound of snapping cameras, Thailand's prime minister becomes the first person in the country to get AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. His shot in the arm kicks off its use across the nation. PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA, THAI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I've been

ready to get vaccinated for quite a while. I'm thankful for all the medical staff who have been working to get the vaccine for the Thai people. Today, I'm boosting confidence in the vaccine for the general public.

BRUNHUBER: Thailand is continuing AstraZeneca's rollout after a brief pause following European reports of bleeding, blood clots, and low platelet counts found in a small number of those who receive the vaccine. While it's been suspended in more than a dozen E.U. countries, most of Asia seems to be deeming it safe.

Indonesia is the region's only nation to say AstraZeneca's vaccine is currently suspended. But from Thailand to India, to South Korea to Australia, vaccinations continue in the fight against coronavirus.


PAUL KELLY, AUSTRALIA CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: In any large vaccine rollout, we do expect to see unusual events, and we monitor very closely and carefully for those. But this does not mean that an event that happens after vaccination has been given, is indeed due to that vaccine. So we do always take it seriously. We do investigate.

But in this situation, I can absolutely say that I remain confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine, that it's safe.

BRUNHUBER: AstraZeneca, meanwhile, is doubling down on the safety of its vaccine. It says that, of the 17 million people vaccinated in the E.U. and the U.K. so far, blood clots were, quote, "much lower than what would be expected to occur naturally in the general population."

The World Health Organization said in a statement Wednesday that it believes, quote, "The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks."

That may be especially true in countries like India, where COVID deaths continue to rise and a pandemic that's claimed more than 2 and a half million lives, worldwide.

Kim Brunhuber, CNN.


VAUSE: When we come back, it seems the signs are everywhere. The pandemic pause on normal life might be coming to an end.

Back in Japan, where they're readying up the theme parks. We'll go live to Super Nintendo World in a moment.


VAUSE: After multiple pandemic delays, the doors of Super Nintendo World and Universal Studios Japan are now open.

The park is a bigger-than-life-size replica of the company's most famous games, featuring characters like Mario and Yoshi. Also featuring CNN's Selina Wang outside Super Nintendo World in Osaka.

And I guess we should say Mario time. It's just what I wanted. We'll need it.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the excitement here is palpable. If it weren't for the masks and COVID restrictions, honestly the energy here would make you forget that we're still in the middle of a pandemic.

There is still a long line of people here to get in on opening day. And I've been speaking to people here who have been playing Nintendo games since they were kids. And many of them tell me that this is actually an emotional moment for them to see the Nintendo games come to life.

Now, this theme park was supposed to open last year ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Of course, both have been postponed by a year. And this was also highly anticipated to bring an influx of tourists and economic activity.

However, capacity is limited here, and Osaka's state of emergency only lifted recently. But none of this is stopping the excitement and energy that we're sensing here today.


WANG: Here we go! Entering Super Nintendo World through the world pipe. Follow me.

And here we are, a life-size replica of Nintendo's most popular games. You've got Yoshi's Adventure, Bowser's Castle, Peaches Castle and all the iconic characters.


After nearly a year-long delay because of COVID-19, this theme park in Osaka's Universal Studios Japan is finally open to the public. We're getting a sneak peek before the big crowds come in.

But this is how things look during COVID. You temperature is taken at the entrance. Hand sanitizer is everywhere. Masks are required at all times, except for in mask-free zones.

Konnichi wa, konnichi wa.

So I can interact with Mario and Luigi, but there are rules against touching. And one of the few places in this them park where I can take my mask off are in this photo-op area with Mario and Luigi.

And actually, on the ground here, there are markers to prove that I need to be a certain distance away from them. So I am being socially distanced from Mario and Luigi.

Park officials say that this all cost about half a billion dollars to construct and more than six years to develop. Now the gaming industry, Nintendo especially, got a big boost during

the pandemic, as more people were stuck at home inside, playing Nintendo games. Games that become real life in this park.

The whole park is interactive. You can even compete against other people here. And just like in the Mario video games, I've got this power band on my wrist, and I can just punch up on these blocks. And I get points in the Mario app on my phone.

And this is what many fans are most excited about: Koopa's Challenge: a real-life Mario Kart race through Bowser's Castle.

All right. I'm about to get on a real-life Mario Kart ride. I've got to put on the augmented reality headset here, click it in. All right. Let's go!

The augmented reality headset took a little bit of getting used to, but I was racing through the mushroom kingdom. Princess Peach, Mario and Luigi. I'm not great at the video game version of Mario Kart. I think I might have fared slightly better in the real-life version.

For Nintendo, this is an important step beyond its core business of video games and consoles. It's cashing in on its treasure trove of intellectual property and iconic characters.

Here in the store and in the restaurant, Kinopio's Cafe. We're here in the mushroom kingdom and mushroom theme through this everywhere. It looks like a cartoon food, but it's edible.

(voice-over): She told me, "When I saw all this, I got emotional. I've been playing Nintendo game since I was small. It's not exaggerating to say that Mario games raised me."

"This is all beyond my expectations," she told me. "I feel like I'm in the Mario world!"

"I get worried about COVID when I take off my mask to eat," she said, "but the park is taking safety protocols, so I feel safe."

(on camera): Japan's borders are still closed, so international travelers won't arrive in this park yet. But there are plans to open Super Nintendo World in Florida, California and Singapore.

(voice-over): Mario creator Shigero Miyamoto says he wants the whole world come visit when the pandemic is over.

(on camera): The opening of the world's first Nintendo theme park comes as the global industry has been struggling and as theme parks around the world are opening in a patchwork. In fact, plans to open Super Nintendo World in Orlando have been reportedly delayed until 2025.

I asked the CEO of Universal Studios Japan if they have any plans for opening more parks with Nintendo game themes. And he wouldn't say specifically, but they're going to continue to invest in this park -- John. VAUSE: Well, I hope Mario and Luigi were wearing their masks outside

of that area. That was my one concern.

Selina, thank you. Selina Wang live in Osaka. Take care.

I'm John Vause. Thank you for watching. Stay with us. We'll be back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT is up next.