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War of Words Between China and U.S.; E.U. Countries Divided on AstraZeneca Use; Brazil Dealing with Massive Virus Cases; U.S. to Deal with Ethiopian Crisis; Unaccompanied Children Flock to U.S. Southern Border; AstraZeneca Vaccinations To Resume In Many E.U. Countries; U.S. Finalizing Plans To Send Vaccines To Canada And Mexico; Canada To Keep Border With U.S. Closed For Another Month; Netanyahu Courts Arab Voters Ahead Of Fourth Election; France To Resume AstraZeneca Vaccinations; COVID-19 Testing Rules Under Fire In South Korea; India Sees Jump In New Coronavirus Cases; Iceland Rumbles As Eruption Looms. Mozzarella Merkel In Germany. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Live from CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Kim Brunhuber. And this is CNN Newsroom.

Just ahead, the U.S. president's administration now with confrontations on two fronts. A simmering feud with Russia rekindled, and a squabble with China in the nation's first face-to-face meeting of the Biden presidency.

Plus, the struggle to renew confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine as several European countries allow its use once again.

And, we go along on the harrowing journey of thousands of migrants trying to cross the border into the U.S.

The U.S. found itself in a two front diplomatic war of words Thursday with its modern economic rival, China and its old cold war foe, Russia. After Joe Biden agreed that his Russian counterpart was a killer. Vladimir Putin enigmatically wished him good health and challenged him to a live online debate. We'll have more on that in a moment.

Meanwhile, the first face-to-face meeting between U.S. and Chinese official since Joe Biden became president got off to a rocky start in Alaska. Now normally blend introductory statements ended up as an exchange of diplomatic barbs. U.S. secretary of state vowed to pursue a variety of concerns.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion toward our allies.

Each of these actions threaten the rules-based orders that maintains global stability. That's why they are not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Later, U.S. officials describe the first closed-door talks as substantive, but the cameras saw a chain of rebuttals as each side responded to the other's remarks.


UNKNOWN: When I entered this room, I should have reminded the U.S. side of paying attention to its tone in our respective opening remarks.


UNKNOWN: The Chinese side felt compelled to make this speech because of the tone of the U.S. side.

Isn't this the attention of the United States, judging from what -- or the way that you have made your opening remarks, that it wants to speak to China in a condescending way from a position of strength.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): All right, let's bring in our Kristie Lu Stout joining us live from Hong Kong. So, not the smoothest start, each side blaming the other for starting it. What's your take on this bizarre back and forth?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are two days of talks. The first day, apparently, has just wrapped. It is 11 p.m. local time in Anchorage, Alaska. The first session wrapped a few hours ago, and the senior Biden official said that those talks were serious, they were substantive and they were direct, but they definitely got off to a rocky start with the opening remarks in this high-level dialogue between U.S. and China in Alaska descending into this heated conversation that was all caught on camera.

But it really shouldn't be surprised because this is still a time of unprecedented friction between these two world powers, U.S. and China, on multiple fronts, the trade war, the tech war, the fate and future of Taiwan, the fate and future of Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, cyber and the economic coercion of key allies including Australia.

Now the Biden administration early on has signaled it will continue with Trump era pressure on China, especially in regards to trade and Xinjiang, but, at least the two sides are talking. You know, don't forget, last month in February, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden had that phone call, and one month later, in Anchorage, Alaska this high-level dialogue is taking place with the top diplomats of both countries. The very first face to face meetings between the Biden administration and senior Chinese officials. Day one of these talks have wrapped, day two tomorrow of course taking place tomorrow. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. So then what's next? Where do they go from here?


LU STOUT: More talks. And what are they going to achieve, expectations are frankly quite low. You know, going into this meeting the language is already out there. Don't expect any deliverables, don't expect any joint statements. And also, don't necessarily expect more talks to come out of these talks in Alaska.

In fact, it was last week, when the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said any potential follow-up meeting depends on, quote, "tangible progress." But, as we have witnessed in those opening remarks, both sides are doubling down. The United States saying that it is safeguarding a rules-based order. China is pushing back saying, stop meddling in our internal affairs.

Going forward, it seems really difficult to see how there can be a constructive path forward or additional talks, other than any potential talks on something that they both agree on, which is more collaboration and cooperation on climate change. Kim?

BRUNHUBER (on camera): All right. Thank you so much for breaking that down for us, CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And China's foreign ministry says that the trials of two Canadian men accused of espionage have nothing to do with the U.S. meeting in Alaska. Canadian diplomats said Michael Spavor's trial behind closed doors ended a little while ago, soon after it began. No verdict was issued.

During the hearing, Canadian diplomats were forced to stay outside and called the trial arbitrarily. Beijing detains Spavor and Michael Kovrig in 2018 after Canada arrested the top Chinese executive on a U.S. extradition request. Kovrig's trial is set to start Monday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls their arrests political.

And tensions are also rising between the United States and Russia as the Kremlin fires back at scathing comments from President Joe Biden. Vladimir Putin is now challenging to hold online talks in the next few days, but the White House seems to be pouring cold water on that.

CNN's Matthew Chance has more on their deteriorating diplomatic relationship.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the moment U.S.-Russian ties fraught by fresh allegations of election meddling and the poisoning of a key Russian opposition figure plunged to a new low


BIDEN: I do.

CHANCE: Just a few words, President Biden signaled his intolerance of Russian misdeeds. And unlike his predecessor, who phoned over the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, willingness to call out the Kremlin strongman.

He looks relax, marking the 7th anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea, but Putin is clearly furious, facing the promise of yet more painful U.S. sanctions in the weeks ahead, he is recalling Russia's ambassador from Washington for consultation, first time that's happened in decades. And issuing a snipe response to the killer insult.

"I wish him well and good health, and I mean that without any joking or irony," Putin said of Biden via a video conference. Some have casted as a veiled threat from a leader who kills his critics opponents. But he looks more like a wink to rampant speculations from Russia state TV, alleging that Biden's mental health is faltering due to old age.

"Maybe he just forgot to take his pills," one state anchor jokes about the Biden remarks. "It's age-related dementia" says another, a triumph of political insanity. Putin also troll Biden by citing an old Russian children's joke to deflect the killer tag.

"You are what you call others," he says. "It takes want to know one." In other words, the playground retort that sums up the worst diplomatic spat between these nuclear rivals for years. It was a falling out waiting to happen, when Biden first met Putin as U.S. vice president in 2011, he says he told him he didn't think he had a soul, and warns the Russian leader not to run for another Kremlin term.

Ten years on, with fewer than 100 days in office, President Biden has toughened his Russia stance even more.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Italy, France, and Cyprus say they will resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine as early as today. Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands also say they will begin giving AstraZeneca shots again now that European regulators have reconfirmed the drug is both safe and effective. About 10 other E.U. members who suspended the use of the vaccine haven't said what they plan to do.

An emergency review of AstraZeneca found no evidence that it caused blood clots, although the European Medicines Agency said it couldn't completely rule it out in rare instances. [03:10:00]

So, the medical experts concluded that AstraZeneca is too good not to use and that the risk of serious side effects was extremely low. Now the question now is whether a skeptical public can be won over.

So, we begin our coverage with Melissa Bell in Rome and Fred Pleitgen in Berlin. Fred, let me start with you. A massively important decision here for Germany and the rest of the E.U. Take us through what this means.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Kim. It is certainly important decision, also because the AstraZeneca vaccine is of course so important to the E.U.'s strategy on trying to get those vaccinations on track.

Now, especially here in Germany, the next step really in their vaccination rollout was going to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine in general practitioner's office, that is something that has been delayed, and that's also one of the reasons why the vaccination rollout has been going very slow, especially in the last couple of days as of course in other European countries as well.

We've talked to several states actually here in Germany, the rollouts here happening in responsibility of each state. For instance, a state close to Brandenburg they say they're going to need a couple of days to get things back on track. They've obviously canceled a lot of appointments for people who were supposed to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

They reckoned that around Monday is when they will be able to start administering that vaccine once again. However, the area where I am, Berlin, of course, the lovely Brandenburg Gate, they said that they are going to start using the AstraZeneca vaccine again today. They do believe that there is going to be some hitches because of course also a lot of appointments have been canceled. They've been trying to bring back as many people as possible, but they say they want to get this going as fast as possible.

Because at this point in time, in time, of course, Germany, and that's the case for a lot of other European countries as well, is dealing with a steep increase in new coronavirus infections. I was looking at the numbers today, several thousand more than on the same day of last week. So certainly, the Germans do believe, and other European countries as well, that there is a sense of urgency to get these vaccinations going as fast as possible, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Absolutely. And you spoke with the CEO of BioNTech, what did he tell you?

PLEITGEN: Well, the CEO of BioNTech or the chief medical officer, actually of BioNTech and co-founder of BioNTech, Ozlem Tureci, she and her husband who is the CEO, they're actually getting an award here in Germany today, the Cross of Merit (Ph) of the German government, and basically we talked about some of the side effects issue. They also say -- she also says that she believes that the vaccines

that are out there in the European Union are safe, she said something like what happened with the European Medicines Agency look -- taking a look at the AstraZeneca vaccine. Again, that is something that is a completely normal process as this vaccine come into mass use.

One of the big takeaways that we also had, Kim, was that she said, that with a lot of these coronavirus variants that we are seeing right now. On the one hand they say so far, everything that they're seeing proves their vaccine is still effective against those variants, but on the other hand she also said that they are preparing in case there are variants which could be more difficult, they are preparing to try and combat those as well.

They're putting together a preemptive program of the steps that they would take if they encountered such a variant, and obviously continues to test their vaccine the entire time. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much. Fred Pleitgen in Berlin. Let's go now to Melissa Bell in Rome. Melissa, Italy was the first E.U. member to announce it would resume AstraZeneca vaccinations immediately after the EMA gave the green light there. I understand you're waiting for a press conference from the health minister? What are you expecting to hear?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're expecting is that the vaccination centers that were delivering specifically the AstraZeneca vaccines will resume today. Now here in the Latvia region around Rome, that's not going to be until this afternoon, because of course logistically after several days of suspension you have to get things back up and running.

But up in Milan, for instance, we understand that they are going to be overbooking, giving more appointments than they would have in order to try and make up for the last few days. I mean, in all it is eight million doses that have been stopped as a result of these suspensions by 16 countries across Europe.

And those doses of course will be able to get back into people's arms relatively quickly. Then there is of course the broader question of what happens to the lack of supplies thereafter.

Because of course, one of the stories that we have been covering over the course of the last few months ever since the European Medicines Agency first approved that AstraZeneca vaccine at the very end of January for the use in the E.U., it's not only the fears over its safety for health, but also the supply questions.

You know that the European Union has been lock in this battle with Brussels now for months. We know that AstraZeneca will be delivering -- did deliver fewer vaccines and it had promise to as part of the contract in the first quarter, we know there will be a shortfall in the second quarter.

So, it is crucial, of course, that this rollout can continue. But there will remain for some time the question of supplies. Of course, the Pfizer and Moderna have continued to be rolled out, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which has the advantage of being a single dose vaccine, and has now been approved, not only by the European Medicine Agency but by national agencies like France and Italy. But those delivers aren't going to happen until the middle of April.


So, it's going to be a little while before Europe gets to where it needs to be in terms of the vaccine rollout capacity in terms of supplies. And then of course, you alluded, too, a moment ago, there is that question of faith that people might have in the vaccine.

One poll in France where, you know, people are pretty vaccine hesitant in the best of times when all of this had begun and the vaccines began to become available. One poll had shown that only one in two French people intended to get vaccinated. A new poll that came out as a result of the last few days of doubts and suspensions has only showed that only 22 percent of French people now have faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine.

So, it's going to be all about trying to restore that faith and getting people to accept having this vaccine that is seen so many difficulties in the last few days and weeks. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: Well, that number is shockingly low. All right. Thanks so much, Melissa Bell in Rome.

In Brazil, coronavirus is devastating the healthcare system. Now city leaders are begging for federal help. Mayors representing 61 percent of the countries say they desperately need medical supplies. And in Sao Paulo, a man has now died waiting for an open ICU bed.

The country has been seeing a rapid rise in cases and deaths, but Brazil's president is in denial.

Matt Rivers reports from Rio de Janeiro on the deteriorating situation.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On a day where Brazil recorded its second most death ever in a single day from coronavirus, more than 2,700 deaths recorded on Thursday, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, found a way to make himself the victim in all of this.

Speaking on Thursday he said, quote, "here it became a war against the president. It seems that people only die of COVID." He then went on to question in ICUs across the country, how people are actually dying of COVID versus how many were dying from other illnesses.

Let us be the one to tell you that these ICUs across this country are not collapsing because of other illnesses, state after state after state, after state said that they are in a situation there in because of COVID-19 and this latest wave.

In fact, the latest data that CNN has, shows that 16 of 26 Brazilian states the ICU capacity in those states is at 90 percent or higher. That means that if the healthcare system in those states haven't collapsed already, they are at imminent risk of doing so.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Rio de Janeiro

BRUNHUBER: Thousands of migrants, many of them children without their parents are trying to get into the U.S. Just ahead, CNN joins a group of them at the end of their long journey.

And an alarming humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. How the Biden administration is responding. We'll have that next. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): President Biden is sending one of his top congressional allies to Ethiopia to address the crisis in the north of the country. The U.S. has described the violence in the Tigray region as ethnic cleansing, something Ethiopia rejects.


About four and a half million people there are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Our David McKenzie is in Johannesburg for more on this. So, David, the U.S. is sending a senator and millions of dollars in aid. What, if anything, are they expecting in return from Ethiopia?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, I think it's the latest sign that international pressure is growing on Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia. You look at these scenes from Tigray from just a short while ago earlier this month in Wukro in Tigray, just the terror and the pain that people, civilians are going through there as you've mentioned, so many people in need of assistance.

Now, Prime Minister Abiy announced the end of hostilities in late November but it's been clear that fighting has been ongoing. Just listen to a doctor from earlier this month responding to the fact that the national government had said that the war is over.


ADONAI HANS, DOCTOR, WUKRO GENERAL HOSPITAL: That will be a joke to me. That will be a joke because we are constantly receiving patients who are injured by the war. They are all civilians, we are -- they are all civilians and we are constantly receiving patients who are injured. So, if somebody says I don't care whoever he is, if somebody say there is no war in Tigray, that would be a joke for me.


MCKENZIE (on camera): There was a blackout on that region for some time, but there have been steady stream of very disturbing allegations of massacres and other human rights abuses from different sides of that conflict. That really has now been ratchet up in terms of international pressure.

Senator Chris Coons, a close ally as you say of President Biden on his way to the region. He'll be discussing the conflict in Tigray with the prime minister, as well as the African union which is headquartered in Addis Ababa, whether they can make any difference in terms of stopping the fighting and getting aid in remains to be seen. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: So then how does the U.S. go about doing that? What leverage does the U.S. government have?

MCKENZIE: Well, the U.S. government has very close ties to Ethiopia and gives a massive amount of aid. All told in 2020, it was slated to give a billion dollars of aid to Ethiopia, both humanitarians. They are also very close military ties, because Ethiopia was the bulwark against Somalia in the east and Sudan in the west. Now Sudan has improved its relations with the U.S. in recent months.

But there is a sense that the Biden administration is now trying to regain the role of the U.S. as a moral voice in conflicts like this. So, this will be an interesting test case. But despite all of this talk in boardrooms and offices, it's people you saw earlier that I was describing and the terror and the hunger that is ongoing in Tigray that really should be the focus of international community. Kim?

BRUNHUBER (on camera): Yes, absolutely. All right. Thanks so much. CNN's David McKenzie in Joburg. I appreciate it.

Amnesty International says there may be thousands of Uyghur families worldwide separated by China's crackdown in Xinjiang. There are new report says that some parents who fled the region years ago can't be reunited with their children and many lived in fear of returning.

China denies accusations of human rights abuses and says its Uyghur reeducation campaign is about fighting terrorism. But the author of the Amnesty report says, quote, "the Chinese government wants to gain leverage over the Uyghur population residing abroad, so that they would be able to stop them from engaging in activism and speaking out for their families and the relatives in Xinjiang."

Now we asked Amnesty International researcher Alkan Akad about just how deliberate a tactic this could be. Listen to this.


ALKAN AKAD, RESEARCHER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: The Chinese government goes through great lengths to cover up what has been happening in the region, and this includes intimidating those Uyghurs residing abroad. Stopping them from not talking about what is happening to them and their family members, and most of them they are forced to go back to China.

When they apply to extend their passports at the Chinese consulate and embassies, they are told that they have to go back to China to do that. So, this is basically an attempt to cover up the scale of human rights violation that are taking place in the region.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): And the full harrowing details of some of the stories can be found on our web site, so go to as we go behind the headlines and statistics to show you the families being torn apart.


While the Biden administration isn't calling it a crisis, but thousands of desperate migrants are trying to get into the United States through the border with Mexico. The U.S. border patrol says it's encountered 32 large groups of migrants there since October, and CNN has learned more than 4,500 migrant children are now in U.S. custody.

CNN's Rosa Flores joined one group for the end of their dangerous journey.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): These are the south Texas trails used by thousands of migrants like these unaccompanied teenagers from Guatemala to make their way into the U.S.

And sometimes they encounter Deputy Constable Dan Broyles as he patrols the border with Mexico. Sixteen-year-old Kevin gets emotional as he shares that he's been traveling for a month, sometimes without food or water. His father waits for him in Pennsylvania.

Seventeen-year-old Alan's voice breaks as he explains his grandma who takes care of him stayed behind in his gang ridden neighborhood. Border authorities in the Rio Grande Valley are encountering about 1,000 migrants a day, according to a federal source. Many of them unaccompanied minors.

Evidence mothers and children are on the trail, litter the landscape, diapers, children's clothing and masks.

Documents left behind by some of the migrants tell part of their story, in this case, it looks like a 34-year-old mom from Honduras and her 2 -year-old son they both tested for COVID before leaving their country and tested negative.

So, what do you look for when you patrol?

DAN BROYLES, DEPUTY CONSTABLE, HIDALGO COUNTY: Well, what I'm looking for is splashes of color than don't belong in the brush.

FLORES: He also looks down the path that lead to the river for signs of life.

BROYLES: This is an indication sign --

FLORES: And he shows us the arrows posted by border authorities.

BROYLES: As you can see that is a homeland security bag.

FLORES: And it's one that reads, silo or asylum.

Walk to the bridge just two kilometers?


BROYLES: Just two kilometers. Yes.

FLORES: What bridge? The bridge near the Rio Grande where immigration processing begins. This is as close as our cameras can get. Border patrol is not granting media access but with permission from deputy constables who patrol alongside federal authorities.

BROYLES: Precinct three constable's office is in charge of approximately 22 miles of international border.

FLORES: We've got our eyes and ears on the ground.

Did you come alone? This teen says, he paid a smuggler after a recent hurricane flooded his single mom's home.

How much did you pay? Or about $2,500. How did you get the money? Was it alone?

Broyles' job ends here when he sends the teens off to border patrol. For the teens it's just another step in an already uncertain journey.


FLORES (on camera): I'm on the banks of the Rio Grande, the land mass that you see behind me is Mexico. The man in charge of this portion of the border is precinct three constable Larry Gallardo and he tells me that there is a constant dual challenge here. Downriver, the smuggling of people, upriver the smuggling of drugs. And the border patrol chief tweeting, there is no end in sight.

Rosa Flores, CNN, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

BRUNHUBER (on camera): And stay with us here on CNN Newsroom. Next, I'll be talking with an expert from Doctors Without Borders in Mexico about the difficult challenges the migrants and the U.S. are facing on the border.

Well the United States is hoping to share its stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine with its neighbors. Ahead, how Canadian politicians dealing with the continuing COVID outbreak and tight supplies are reacting.



UNKNOWN: I'm surprised to see that it is working, it's effective. They really believe in cooperation with the Likud.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): A fourth election in a new unlikely tactic by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is now courting votes from a group he's fiercely demeaned in the past, Israeli Arabs. We'll have a live report from Jerusalem coming up. Stay with us.




KIM BRUNHUBER CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers watching from around the world I'm Kim Brunhuber and you are watching CNN Newsroom.

Many European countries say they will resume giving AstraZeneca vaccinations after drug regulators in Europe insisted the vaccine is safe and effective. The European medicines agency says an emergency review found no evidence the vaccine causes blood clots, but also didn't completely rule it out.

The agency said, only about two dozen cases of rare blood clots have been reported out of almost 20 million AstraZeneca doses administered so far. Which means the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

And with us to talk more about this from Brussels, Belgium is Flemish health minister Wouter Beke. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. So, with more than a dozen countries including your three closest neighbors pausing the use of AstraZeneca because of those fears of blood clots, I mentioned, Belgium kept using the vaccine. Do you feel the results of the review validate Belgium's decision?

WOUTER BEKE, FLEMISH HEALTH MINISTER (on camera): Yes of course. We have not allowed us to be driven by rhetoric that we always listen to our experts to the European medicine agency to the World Health Organization and also to our superior health council. And their advice was clear, keep going on with vaccinations and that is what we did. And I think it is very important to have trust in the vaccination strategy when there are no other scientific arguments.

BRUNHUBER: But do you feel that the damage has already been done in terms of public confidence in the vaccine? And you know, even this latest decision by the experts may not be enough to change that?

BEKE: Yes of course. I think there is damage there. There are a lot of questions and I understand people that have questions. But just to control the damage, we set -- we listen to the experts and we continued with our vaccination strategy.

I think that it is very important to have trust and the willingness of the people. I think that other countries who stop or interrupt or suspend their vaccinations of AstraZeneca have now, now they have more problems than we have.

BRUNHUBER: I'm just wondering, we were hearing from our correspondent in France about how low the confidence in the vaccine is there and how few people wanted to take it. What is it like in Belgium? Do you have the same problems?

BEKE: Well, promise, we don't have that problems. We are campaigning also for the vaccination strategy, through out the week there were 5 percent to 10 percent of the people who refuse the vaccine. But we have a high degree of vaccination and that's a good thing for others.

BRUNHUBER: So even before all of this there were supply problems with AstraZeneca but the rollout of vaccines in the E.U. largely has been problematic relatively slow, you know, dealing with so many members, juggling contracts with several companies. Obviously it's not easy, but how frustrating is it for you as you are trying to vaccinate your population as quickly as possible?


BEKE: Well, that is quite frustrating, because what I see and what I feel is that everyone wants the vaccine and we have also -- our operational strategy that is ready but what we need is the vaccine. That is also why I asked AstraZeneca Wednesday. That when other countries review AstraZeneca we want them, we really want them.

BRUNHUBER: Now, obviously there is more urgency now. We see more countries seeing a third wave, are you afraid that Belgium might be losing the race between the variants and the vaccine? I think the last numbers I saw from Belgium was that infections have risen by almost 30 percent compared with last week.

BEKE: Yes. And that is the second reason why that we kept our vaccination strategy, because the virus is still in Europe, it's still in our country. What we need is vaccination. We are now vaccinating the vulnerable people, 65 plus, the elderly people that kind of people that when they come, they get the virus, they get it through the hospitals, and that is what we want to avoid. So, for us there is just one answer and that is vaccination.

BRUNHUBER: Alright. Listen, we wish you all the best of luck with that campaign. Thank you so much for joining us Flemish health minister Wouter Beke in Brussels, we really appreciate it.

BEKE: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER (on camera): The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send millions of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines to Canada and Mexico. Both those countries have struggled to get enough vaccines. And in the meantime the U.S., and Mexico and Canada are all extending travel restrictions to keep new infections from crossing their borders. Paula Newton has the latest on Canada's efforts.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Canada announced today that its border with the United States would remain closed for at least another month. Now remember, the border has already been closed for a year since the pandemic began. And remarkably although this is one of the largest trading relationships in the world it has gone rather smoothly. Now that is to say if you speak to family members with people on both sides of the border they are literally aching for this border to reopen and be reunited. Unfortunately no sign of that yet. And issue as well is the tourism

industry on both sides of the border. Now, to that end to try and get this border reopen sooner rather than later there is some vaccine diplomacy underway. The United States announcing that it would give Canada 1.5 million of its AstraZeneca doses in kind of like a trade.

The United States has not approve AstraZeneca vaccine, Canada has. So Canada will take those early doses from the United States. And I want you to listen now to Ontario's leader. It is Canada's largest province and it is desperate for vaccines. Take a listen.

DOUG FORD, PREMIER OF ONTARIO, CANADA: God bless America they're coming to our rescue, thank god. I've been bugging Trump and bugging Biden, all of them. They must get sick of Doug Ford asking for help. Our greatest partner, our greatest trading partner, our greatest friend in the world. President Biden thank you.

And once I get them I will call you a champion, but I need to get the delivery first. So, thank you. And I appreciate it. We have been waiting. That is what true neighbors do, you help each other out in the crisis. And I understand they got to get their people done first. I would be no different but thank you. Bring it on the optic go down there and pick them up or I'll drive down there with my pick-up and pick them up if we have to.

NEWTON: Premier Ford there being quite blunt as you can see. The issue is that especially in Ontario top doctors here are already saying that look, we could be at the beginning of a third wave. In terms of how severe that third wave of this pandemic will be vaccines are crucial. So, even 1.5 million doses coming into this country right now are crucial, especially as those variants continue to spread through out Canada.

Paula Newton, CNN Ottawa.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Israelis head to their polls next Thursday for their fourth general election in two years. That might be another tight race looming. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is courting votes or group that he's harshly criticized in the past. Arab voters. But his strategy may be working.

CNN Hadas Gold, is in Jerusalem and joins us live. So as I mentioned there Netanyahu historically not notably the most Arab friendly let's say. What led him to change his tune now?


HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA AND BUSINESS REPORTER (on camera): Well, Kim, Israeli elections are sort of like a Rubik's cube. There are thousands of ways that you can turn, but it's only one or two key moves that lead you on the path to power and that's why we are seeing this movement by Benjamin Netanyahu reaching out to this group of voters. Which as you noted, he has not have the best relationships with in the past. In fact, in the past, he and his party have even been accused of trying to suppress their vote.

Now, Kim, the reason behind this outrage to the Arab voters is because of these tight polls that we are seeing right now. There is no clear majority, nobody is going to -- as we can see right now, get to the 61 seat majority needed to form a working government. And in fact there was a breakage really in the Arab parties.

One of them, the Islamic called the jointless (ph), is all of the Arab parties join together. One of them has actually broken off. And now that group might actually be the ones that can make the difference that would put perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu over the line to get those 61 seats, to keep him in power. Because as of right now, we seem to be almost heading towards a stalemate. And what that means is that it's almost hard to believe but there could be a 5th election in the next few months, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: So, I was watching your piece earlier and I think, correct me if I got the numbers wrong but I think you mentioned some 25 percent of Arab Israelis say they plan to vote for Netanyahu given the Prime Minister's previous comments. That does seem like a lot. Any idea why?

GOLD: So, Kim, you are right. There are -- a previous comments by Benjamin Netanyahu including in 2015, he was trying to scare his base into voting, saying that the Arabs were coming to the polls in droves. Now this is changed. We are seeing polling that showed from Tel Aviv University that 25 percent believe the Benjamin Netanyahu may be the best Prime Minister.

Now, for some of these Israeli Arab voters it is disillusionment with other parties including the Arab parties that they aren't doing enough to help them. And there is also a sense perhaps that if you cannot beat them maybe join them. Maybe it is better to have a seat at the table of power and try to make changes from the inside.

And Netanyahu and his party or making promises to these voters telling them they will have a special minister of Arab affairs sitting in the cabinet. But they are hearing warnings from other politicians that Netanyahu has made promises in the past and they have it necessarily come to fruition.

BRUNHUBER (on camera): OK. Well, I think -- why don't we see your piece? Because it was really well done. So, let's role that now.


GOLD (voice over): Just last year a campaign video like this from Benjamin Netanyahu would have been unthinkable.

Abu Yair, literally the father of Yair, an Arabic language way of embracing the Israeli Prime Minister. Contrast that with this video from 2015. Stoking fear of Israel's 20 percent Arab minority to scare his Likud Party base to get out and vote.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The rule of the right is in danger. Their voters are moving in drove to the polling stations. Left-wing organizations are busing them in.

GOLD: This election is expected to be so close that only one or two seats could determine who will be the next Prime Minister. That is why you are seeing a possibly surprising sight from Benjamin Netanyahu. Campaigning amongst an electorate he was previously accused of deriving.

Netanyahu's Likud Party has new promises to these voters. Peace agreements with regional allies and a cabinet position for a special minister of Arab affairs.

TZACHI HANEGBI, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: We are surprised to see that it is working. It's effective. We really believe in cooperation with the Likud, so we went on with this strategy and so far so good.

GOLD: It may be working. A recent poll by Tel Aviv University found nearly 25 percent of Israeli Arab voters thinking Netanyahu is the best candidate for Prime Minister.

In the village of Taibeh, the tension ahead of this election is evident on the streets were Jewish Israeli protesters try to convince the locals to vote against the Prime Minister. One of them yells at passing cars that Netanyahu is a liar and that they need to kick him out. But he's interrupted by a local man, (inaudible), who says there is no one like Bibi, only Bibi Netanyahu, there is no stronger than him.

Not everyone in Taibeh is a fan though. And for some the disillusion is spreads across the Arab parties as well. Mahmoud Amsha, says that for the first time in his life he may leave his ballot blank.

MAHMOUD AMSHA, TAIBEH RESIDENT (through translator): You do not have to be very smart to see that we are disappointed. First of all, violent scribe's, the murder, the murder of also women and children. Second thing infrastructure. Third thing all of the unemployed people. You know what? I'm at home all the time because I don't feel secure. Shouldn't they care about me?

GOLD: Dr. Ahmad Tibi, is a veteran of Israeli politics a Member of Parliament here for more than 20 years. He says it is foolish for an Arab voter to think that voting for Netanyahu will give him power to address Arab issues.


AHMAD TIBI, ISRAELI KNESSET MEMBER: Netanyahu is the problem, he is not the solution. He is a real rightist. Right ideology, with opportunism, but he is a rightist.

GOLD: In such a small country, Netanyahu's success may hinge on whether he can convince just enough of these voters to forget the past.


GOLD (on camera): Kim, four days to go until this historic election, but we may not get a clear picture. 13 parties could actually win representation in the parliament. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: Alright. Thank you so much for that, in Jerusalem, CNN's Hadas Gold. I appreciate it.

Some local governments in South Korea are under fire and it's over their COVID-19 testing rules. Why they are being accused of xenophobia. We will explain, stay with us.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): We've been mentioning how France is among the countries now restarting their AstraZeneca vaccine rollout. It comes as the nation grapples with a third wave of the virus with new cases continuing to mount.

CNN's Jim Bittermann has more from Paris.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After French President Macron abruptly suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday the Prime Minister told a national television audience that this with the stamp of approval of the European medicine agency it can again be used in France starting Friday. And perhaps to repair public faith in the vaccine, he said that he himself would be getting an AstraZeneca shot.

The authorities here now wanting to speed up, France's lagging vaccination programs giving them constantly rising hospitalizations and infections. And a further measure, the Prime Minister's sprawled out restrictions in large parts of the country including an area around Paris that stretches all the way to the English Channel.

It is not necessarily a strict as previous lockdowns, but the rules will again close nonessential businesses that require people to walk around with written explanations of why they were out and about. Jim Bittermann CNN, near Paris.


BRUNHUBER: The new restrictions were announced as France reported 35,000 new infections, Thursday. Cases are up more than 20 percent from last week and hospitalizations are also rising. The Prime Minister says across the country one person is being admitted to intensive care with COVID every four minutes.

Coronavirus testing rules for foreign workers in parts of South Korea apparently about to change. Testing is mandatory for them in Seoul and a number of other areas. And it is being labeled as xenophobic with one city official in the capital is defending these tests.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me from Seoul. Paula, this has led to a lot of anger, accusations of discrimination, take us through the reasons for that decision and the reaction.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, that's right Kim. I mean, the reaction has been fairly swift. We have had many ambassadors and Chambers of Commerce complaining about these measures. The British Ambassador Simon Smith posting a video on Twitter saying that the measures are not fair, they are not proportionate and they are unlikely to be effective.


We've also just had a response from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul as well saying that they have voiced their concerns with senior level Korean authorities. And they want a fare and equitable dealing of all U.S. citizens. Now we just have information coming through as well that the health ministry is now requesting Seoul city to call off the administrative order mandating that all foreign workers have this COVID-19 test.

That is what we have at this point, so we can update you on that shortly. But this is really causing quite storm here. What the officials of Seoul city have said is that they believed it was necessary, because the number of foreign residents who are testing positive have been increasing. There has been a cluster of infections in a neighboring province to Seoul in (inaudible) province among migrant workers working in a factory.

Now they were living and working in very dire conditions which made them more vulnerable to infection. And one health official in that province said that clearly the factories themselves had not been following mitigating circumstances. There are no social distancing, masks were not given and it was really something that have to be fixed.

But moving this towards Seoul and deciding that all foreign workers needed to be tested has certainly found many critics. Also within the South Korean government itself, there was one lawmakers saying, that he believe that this was a racist action and saying that there would be international embarrassment following this.

And certainly, considering South Korea has been praised so heavily for the way that they have managed to contain the COVID pandemic up until now. This is certainly taking a tarnish off of its image to somewhat as doing extremely well with COVID. Kim?

BRUNHUBER (on camera): Yes. Absolutely. Alright. Thank you so much. CNN's Paula Hancocks, I appreciate it.

India is seeing a jump in new coronavirus cases. It is raising fears that a second wave of the pandemic is gaming momentum. On Thursday new infections across the country rose by the most in one day that's been seen in over three months. Maharashtra which is India's richest state accounts for two thirds of that tally. Officials say the coronavirus fatigue maybe partially to blame.


J.P. MODI, MEDICAL SUPERINTENDENT, SURAT CIVIL HOSPITAL: There is COVID-19 fatigue from the last year. And people are tired of wearing masks and social distancing. People have started to crowd into places without wearing masks. So cases have increased because of this.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Recent rates of new cases are much lower than those seen in September of last year when new infections peaked at almost 100,000 a day.

For the second year in a row, Iranians are ringing in the New Year as they fight the spread of coronavirus.




BRUNHUBER (on camera): Markets in the capital city start some festivities ahead of (inaudible) as shoppers made plans to celebrate despite the pandemic. Officials restricted travel to 40 cities and towns ahead of the New Year holiday and urge people to stay home.

A night driving curfew is also been imposed on private cars and most cities across the country. Iranian residents say that while they will follow the rules coronavirus fatigue has set in.


UNKNOWN: I think it was a very hard and heavy year for everyone. Especially considering the coronavirus situation with its largest impact being economic with the closing of most workplaces and businesses.

UNKNOWN: I hope that in the coming year, Iranians get coronavirus vaccines fast and abide by protocols so that we can all passed through this wave of infections.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): Iran has seen another wave of new coronavirus cases in recent weeks with more than 8,000 new infections each day. This comes after cases have leveled off, somewhat after peaking late last year.

In Iceland swarms of earthquakes are rumbling. Stay with us and we tell you why an eruption, a molten rock is likely coming. Why scientists expect quite a show. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER (on camera): Unprecedented seismic activity is rattling Iceland and giving people sleepless nights. The nation southwestern region has had more than 40,000 earthquakes in the past month. More than an all of last year. Geophysicist say, underground molten rock called magma is working its way towards the surface. Until it erupts the quakes will continue. One geologists in Reykjavik says, the looming eruption should not disrupt air travel as a similar one did in 2010. But it should be quite a spectacle.


SIGRIDUR KRISTJANDOTTIR, GEOPHYSICIST, CELAND GEOSURVEY: It will be a small eruption. We will see these fissures on the surface with the kind of a nice (inaudible), fireballs coming through cracks on the surface. It will not be a large explosive eruption because there is no glacier water involved.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): And finally a chef in Nuremburg Germany got bored making the same old classic pizza margarita. So instead, Ali Mohamad cooked up the Mozzarella Merkel. It features a realistic portrait of the German chancellor or at least until the cheese melts. Ali, starts with the drawing and then painstakingly stencils the design on to his doughy canvas. He carefully adds sauce, and basil leaves, and viola. Now Chef Ali needs two days notice to prep the pizza portrait and in case you are wanting to order one, it costs $36 for the large.

Suddenly I'm hungry now. That wraps this hour of CNN Newsroom. I'm Kim Brunhuber and I'll be back in just a moment with more news. Please do stay with us.