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Ireland Resumes AstraZeneca Vaccine; Rio de Janeiro Closing Beaches to Spare ICUs; Olympic Athletes Face Mental Challenges. Aired 12-12:15a ET

Aired March 20, 2021 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM everyone, I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company.

Let's get straight to our main story. More and more European countries are resuming use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine just as much of the continent faces a third wave of infections.

Ireland now the latest country to once again give it the green light following the E.U. medicines regulator reiterating that it is safe and effective. European leaders are doing what they can to try to rebuild trust in the vaccine.

The German chancellor said she would use it when offered but the health minister says more needs to be done to stop this current surge.


JENS SPAHN, GERMAN HEALTH MINISTER (through translator): There are not yet enough vaccines in Europe to start the third wave through vaccination alone. Even if deliveries are reliable, it will still take several weeks before the risks are fully vaccinated. Only then can we talk about wider openings in society.


HOLMES: The British prime minister Boris Johnson, as you can see there, receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. He said getting the jab is the best thing for your family and everybody else.

Finland, however, is not fully convinced. It is suspending use of AstraZeneca for at least a week to carry out its own investigation into potential side effects.

Now Europe, of course, cannot afford any more hiccups when it comes to vaccinations. Much of the region struggling to keep the virus under control as you can see there with that map. Just look at other countries now in the red and orange. CNN's Lynda Kinkade takes a closer look for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLISH PRESIDENT (through translator): This situation is bad indeed. They need to control it is a fundamental importance.

LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That message from Poland's president on Thursday as the country recorded its second highest daily increase in new cases since the start of the pandemic.

Poland's health minister issuing nationwide restrictions, closing theaters, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas until after the April 4th Easter holiday. Poland is just one of several European countries seeing a surge in cases.

Restaurants and shops are now closed in Venice. Normally alive with tourists, St. Mark's Square sits empty. The Italian city is in a red zone under the most severe restrictions. Residents there are only allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons. This is Italy's third lockdown since the pandemic began.

In Serbia, a 5-day shutdown is underway; all nonessential shops and businesses are closed. The country reporting more than 5,000 new cases on Tuesday alone, the highest daily number seen in months.

In one city, online rumors questioning the safety of the vaccines are undermining their vaccine campaign. Only 6 percent of the city's population of about 100,000 have received the vaccine as of Tuesday, well below the national average.

The situation is dire in France, where, according to the prime minister, one person with COVID 19 enters the intensive care unit every 4 minutes. In a press conference on Thursday, prime minister Jean Castex announced restrictions to 16 areas of the country and said that it's becoming clear France is entering a third wave.

JEAN CASTEX, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The virus has been accelerating for 15 days now. The pressure on hospital systems has increased for a week. The time has come to face the consequences. This means that the measures we are taking today in the most impacted region could be extended, if necessary, to other areas.

KINKADE (voice-over): Some European officials blame the spike in cases on the more contagious variants of the virus. The WHO says it's worried about the spike in cases in central Europe and the Balkans where hospitalizations and deaths are now among the highest in the world -- Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


HOLMES: More than a year after Brazil confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the country is breaking its daily record of new cases yet again. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro now closing the city's world-famous beaches. There are other extended measures as well; they are supposed to last just this weekend but will be reviewed on Monday.


HOLMES: Hospitals in Rio and elsewhere in Brazil are fast approaching their breaking point.

Now the White House is setting its sights on a new vaccine goal after reaching 100 million doses given under the Biden administration on Friday. It took only 58 of the original 100-day goal.

More than 118 million doses have been administered in the U.S. in total. Now Mr. Biden says he wants to reach 200 million by his 100th day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, says schools can operate safely with only 3 feet of distancing, a little under a meter. It's half the distance of the previous recommendation.

The CDC says new studies show it is safe as long as there is universal mask usage and other preventative measures in effect.

The U.S. is framing this week's talks with China as, quote, "tough and direct" but they were also charged and contentious. The face to face meeting between adversaries got off to a heated start on Thursday in an extraordinary, rare public display.

The leaders traded sharp criticisms over issues like China's reported human rights abuses and political and racial unrest in the U.S. Still, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, says he's accomplished his mission.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We wanted to share with them significant concerns we have about a number of actions China has taken. And the behavior it's exhibiting, concerns shared by our allies and partners. And we did that. We also wanted to lay out very clearly our own policies, priorities and world view. And we did that, too.


HOLMES: Tensions between the U.S. and China are nothing new, of course. But with the world saw at these talks in Alaska was not diplomacy as usual. CNN's chief security correspondent Jim Sciutto from Washington.


JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is an extremely unusual public confrontation between U.S. and Chinese officials at a very senior level. I've been in a lot of these meetings and I've never seen a public outburst like this in front of the cameras. Nothing quite to this degree, even in private.

This is in part an expression of China's growing confidence, not only to match the U.S. but to surpass the U.S. and it has a goal of doing so around the middle of the century. There is some in China, Chinese officials, who bring up that timeline to the next several years, perhaps the 2030s because they see the U.S. having been weakened by the Trump era, by the 2008 financial crisis, by long wars in the Middle East. We've seen this kind of forthrightness from Chinese diplomats,

ambassadors; even on Twitter it's called wolf warrior diplomacy. But not from the senior most Chinese leaders and diplomats.

It's a reflection right up to the top of Xi Jinping, an increasingly confident leader and increasingly aggressive leader, who's made moves in Hong Kong, imprisoning Uyghurs in northwestern China and whose hostile moves towards Taiwan that made American officials are nervous, all of these things an expression of China's confidence -- Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: The U.S. President Joe Biden says hate crimes against Asian Americans are skyrocketing and that none of us can stay silent about it anymore. Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visiting Atlanta on Friday.

They met with Asian American leaders just days after 8 people, including 6 women of Asian descent, were killed in a mass shooting. Mr. Biden spoke directly about the fear and the pain Asian Americans are feeling.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets worried. They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed. Hate can have no safe harbor in America. It must stop.


HOLMES: Vice President Kamala Harris says, over the past year, people in positions of incredible power have used racist rhetoric about the coronavirus. And that has directly contributed to the rise in hate crimes.

The rescheduled 2020 Olympics is set to begin in just 4 months from now in Tokyo. So, a lot of uncertainty surrounding these long delayed games. And it's taken a mental toll on some athletes. Selina Wang with more on that.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Olympic fencer Ryo Miyake took up a new job last year, delivering food for Uber Eats to make extra cash and stay in shape during the pandemic.

His training stopped for several months after Tokyo announced the postponement of the Olympics. He since resumed practice, but the physical and mental challenges remain.


RYO MIYAKE, OLYMPIC FENCER (through translator): It's been very difficult. And after all, the Olympics are like God, an absolute existence for athletes. It's like running a full marathon for four years. Adding another year is like we have to keep on running before reaching the goal.

WANG (voice-over): With the Olympic Games just months away, it is still unclear how Japan plans to hold the games safely. While the Japanese government has vowed the games will go ahead, a poll in January by public broadcaster NHK found that 77 percent of people in Japan think the games should be canceled or further postponed.

MIYAKE (through translator): I think it's quite risky to hold the Olympics at this stage. I think all athletes understand safety is the first priority and I don't think there are any athletes who want to compete in the Olympics, no matter what.

WANG (voice-over): At stake are tens of billions of dollars and Japan's national pride. But for athletes a lifetime of dedication hangs in the balance as does their mental well-being.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've started to see more and more Olympic athletes and aspiring Olympic athletes coming through our support system and having to put themselves through not only the level of training that these athletes are working at, 6 or 7 days a week, but also to stay as mentally hungry, driven, trying to reach their goals that isn't yet actually finalized and fixed at a set date in time.

It's really tough. Eventually that will take its toll on the mental health of these Olympians.

WANG (voice-over): But sport climber Akiyo Noguchi was happy to have an extra year of practice. She was planning to retire after the Tokyo 2020 games when sport climbing was supposed to make its Olympic debut. She has pushed back her retirement by one year in order to make the Olympics the last competition of her career.

WANG: How are you feeling that your first and last Olympics may be a strange one with COVID restrictions?

"Well, I feel very sad," she told me. "I wanted to be in the Olympics because I wanted to show my best performance in front of my family and supporters, but this will not be in the form that I've been imagining," she said.

Olympic organizers have yet to decide if international fans or if any fans at all will be allowed to attend. Miyake's wife, Marie, who he met over Zoom during the pandemic, said she has never seen him fence in person.

MARIE MIYAKE, RYO'S WIFE: Physically, I've never been able to be at his matches or see his matches yet. So, I've just watched on YouTube his past Olympic match.

WANG: You're hoping you can go to the Olympics then?

M. MIYAKE: I hope so, yes. I hope it's here in person, hopefully.

WANG (voice-over): But for now, all Miyake can do is train and wait -- Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


HOLMES: Thanks for watching everyone, spending part of your day with me, I'm Michael Holmes and we appreciate you being with us. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next. I will see you in about 45 minutes or so.