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German Health Minister: Not Enough Vaccines to Stop Third Wave; China Says It Will Safeguard Its Sovereignty; The Brutality of Syria's War on Children; Iceland's Residents Warned as Volcano Erupts. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2021 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, and welcome to Studio 7 here at CNN Center in Atlanta. I am Michael Holmes.

Coming up, new lockdowns in Europe as COVID cases spike in the vaccine campaign stumbles.

Tough talks between China and the U.S., leaving little result.

Could that meeting in Alaska set the tone for relations between the two nations?

And, it was dormant for nearly 1,000 years. Now this volcanic eruption has emergency officials scrambling.


HOLMES: More and more European countries, 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 the vaccine the green light following the E.U. medicines regulator's writing that it is safe and effective.

Finland not convinced. Even as it sees a spike in new cases, it is suspending the use of AstraZeneca for at least one week to carry out its own investigation into potential side effects.

Now contrast that with the British prime minister, doing his part to convince people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Boris Johnson, receiving his first AstraZeneca jab on Friday, saying it was painless and encouraging others to do the same.

Now Europe 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 on that map. Look at all the countries and red and orange. CNN's Lynda Kinkade, taking a closer look for us.


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: Phil Black, joining me now from Essex, in England.

Phil, it is extraordinary, France, Poland, partial lockdowns, restrictions in Italy, Germany warning exponential rise of coronavirus cases.

Just how worrying is the situation in Europe?


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, it is worrying, really. It is more than that. It is so familiar. And, demoralizing. It means, more lost time, more lost freedoms and more suffering and death.

For those who are really impacted by the societies that are shutting down once again, it is harder to accept this time. The brutal truth is, there is no and will be no imminent relief in the form of vaccines. Simply, there aren't enough vaccines in Europe.

The vaccine program is too slow to make a difference. Germany's health minister said, they don't have enough doses to stop this wave. It leaves governments with few choices and these same tools. They can tell people to stay home, they can shut down societies and that is about it.

It means that this grinding routine in Europe, that's been going on for so long, must continue. It does so without hope, even though the vaccines are out there and making a difference in some cases. Still, they are out of reach to the countries of Europe -- Michael?

HOLMES: So despite these assurances from the European regulators, some of these countries still seem reluctant to resume their campaigns.

BLACK: So Denmark, Sweden, Norway, all are maintaining their suspension of use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of these concerns over a possible link to cases of bleeding and clotting. As you say, that is despite the assurances of the World Health Organization, various regulators, who have said that the vaccine is safe and there is no evidence of the causal link between the vaccine and these specific cases.

These countries are saying, we are still not sure. They believe that the cases, the symptoms involved, are unusual and they want more time and more information. They will say and indeed the countries which temporarily suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine have said, this is about ensuring the safety of the vaccine programs, ensuring trust and openness to ensure that people are protected and fully informed, to have that confidence in what they are doing.

There is no doubt, there are concerns that this abundance of caution could, ultimately, be harmful. It could expose more people to the risks and dangers of developing severe COVID-19. And, it does reputational damage to this particular vaccine but of course, vaccines in general, fueling uncertainty among those who were already hesitant to embrace vaccines, which are, widely, accepted as the only way out of this pandemic. Michael?

HOLMES: Absolutely. Phil, thank you, Phil Black in Essex for, us in England.

Now the U.S. says that talks with China Thursday and Friday, were tough and direct, also charged and contentious as well. The face to face meetings between the high-level officials, got off to a heated start in an extraordinarily public display.

The countries' top diplomats traded sharp criticisms over China's reported human rights abuses and political and racial unrest in the U.S. Still, U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken says he accomplished his mission. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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: The start to the meeting, was rather shocking. Let's get the reaction from China. CNN correspondent Selina Wang, joining us from Tokyo.

Unusual start to the talks.

But how does China respond to how it all ended up?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's what you call an extraordinary public display, in considering those talks started out with more than one hour of heated accusations between the U.S. and China, both sides suggested that, behind closed doors, talks were more constructive, suggesting there was a certain degree of public posturing in the beginning of those talks.

Take a listen to what China's top diplomat had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The strategic dialogue, this time, is candid, constructive and beneficial. Of course, some major differences between the 2 countries. China will safeguard our national sovereignty, security and our interest to develop. China's development is an unstoppable trend.


WANG: Michael, these comments suggest that Beijing is not going to back down in these meetings.


WANG: We heard China publicly say and lash out at the U.S. against accusations of China undermining local stability. We are trying to ask the U.S. to stop meddling in its internal affairs, slamming the U.S. for its own struggling democracy and for America's own racism at home.

Experts say that this rhetoric is an important shift. This rhetoric says it is China's time, China's rise, the Chinese view increasingly see the U.S. as in inevitable decline. This makes cooperation much harder.

But China has made it clear, far before Biden was elected, that they want to see a reset in relations but only on China's terms -- Michael?

HOLMES: Selina, thank you so much, in Tokyo. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Bonnie Glasar is the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and joins me now from Washington.

The official line was constructive talks but that meeting on Thursday, how would China view that fairly direct and U.S. public position straight out of the gates, setting a tone and one that China probably, did not like?

BONNIE GLASAR, DIRECTOR, CHINA POWER PROJECT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think that's right. The Chinese expected that while the cameras were in the room, there would be a brief exchange of pleasantries and that after the media left, then, the two sides could get down to business.

I'm sure that they expected that it would be a little testy. I do think there was a surprise that the United States, right out of the gate, was quite direct about the nature of the problems that are in the relationship and sees itself in the strong position to compete with China, even confront China.

We saw pretty tough reactions from the Chinese member, but I think he was speaking to a domestic audience. After all, the cameras were rolling.

HOLMES: Domestic audience of one, you may say. There are so many areas of disagreement -- Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, with an aggressive military posture in the region, in the South China Sea and so on.

How important in the broader picture is the reality of economic self- interest?

GLASAR: I think both sides recognize they have a very important economic relationship. Even where they compete, in some areas, in technology and the U.S. may not want to see that advance technology going to China, it is targeted areas. Huawei's technology, where they want to sell into our 5G systems and we don't want to buy their equipment, still, just a drop in the bucket. So, trade is very important in the relationship and will remain so.

HOLMES: Great analysis as always, fascinating. Bonnie Glasar, thank you so much.

GLASAR: Thank you.


HOLMES: U.S. President Joe Biden says that 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 alt on Friday, meeting with Asian American leaders, days, of course, after eight people, including women of Asian descent, were killed in a mass shooting. Mr. Biden explaining how violence comes from racist rhetoric around the coronavirus. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are learning again what we've always known. Words have consequences.

It's the coronavirus, full stop. The conversation we had with the AAPI leaders and that we hear across the country is hate and violence often hide in plain sight.

It's often met with silence, as throughout our history. But that has to change. Because, that is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out, to act.


Vice President Kamala Harris, saying it is critical to treat all people with dignity and respect.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street and be safe and, also, the right to be recognized as an American, not as the other, not as them but as us.


HOLMES: We're going to take a quick break.


HOLMES: Syria's decade long war taking a visible toll on its children. Will see how their lives have been shattered by the violence. That's when we come back.




HOLMES: For 10 years now, Syria has been ravaged by war. Nowhere is the crushing toll more evident and more heartbreaking than on Syria's children. Many have known nothing but war for their entire lives, their childhood defined by fear, loss and trauma. Arwa Damon has more.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What do I do, use a bucket of water?

A blanket?

I tried using my hands like this to put out the flames; I couldn't. My son's body was a ball of fire.

Sultan was playing on his bike when a rocket blew up fuel canisters nearby.

SULTAN, WOUNDED CHILD (through translator): My belly was on fire. My belly looked like all the flesh came out of it. My belly and my back.

DAMON (voice-over): An ambulance brought Sultan to Turkey. He and his mother have been there ever since.

This is the last photo of Sultan before the airstrike.

No, you are not ugly, you are beautiful, Amar constantly tells him.

Sultan has an utterly disarming smile, with eyes that fluctuate between sparkling like a 10-year-old's should, but at times darken as his past sets in.

DAMON: He has these nightmares where he's on fire, his whole body's on fire, even his eyes are on fire. And he wakes up screaming, screaming for his mother to put out the flames.

DAMON (voice-over): Sultan is as old as Syria's war itself, a life that carries the emotional and physical scars of a nation. When he was five, his baby brother was killed in a bombing.

AMAR, MOTHER OF WOUNDED CHILD (through translator): The neighbors removed the glass. They pulled him out, his neck was slit.

DAMON (voice-over): When Sultan was six, his father died in a strike on the market.

AMAR (through translator): I saw so many children die in front of me. I couldn't save even one.

DAMON (voice-over): This is where Sultan was born into unimaginable violence, where he lost so much, a gray dusty town of smothered childhood laughter, stolen by war.

Renad's family did not know that mines were daisy-chained along the wall of their home. Her grandfather shows us where the first one went off.

DAMON: She was swinging off the door with her siblings and then all of a sudden there was just an explosion from a mine right there.

DAMON (voice-over): She lost her left leg, under the knee.

DAMON: She has a prosthetic now.

DAMON (voice-over): She says her father disappeared a decade ago, at the start of Syria's war.

She tell us he was blindfolded and she was thrown to the ground in a forest.

RENAD, MINE EXPLOSION SURVIVOR (through translator): There were people passing by who heard me crying.


DAMON (voice-over): It's the longest sentence she speaks. Mostly she gives one-word answers or falls silent. Her grandfather says he feels like she's just gone blank.

She doesn't dream of a life without war because she can't even imagine it.

It's been over a year since we were last here, covering Russia and the Syrian regime's most intense assault on what remained of rebel-held territory. There's been a ceasefire in place since then that has been, relatively speaking, holding.

COVID-19 peaked here late last year; now ICU beds are mostly empty.

DAMON: It's all sand bagged underneath here just in case there's more bombing that resumes.

DAMON (voice-over): This is a pediatric hospital, one of the few that remains intact. Sayed (ph) is 2.5 months old and severely underweight.

DAMON: They've seen a threefold increase in malnutrition cases in this clinic alone, for a number of reasons.

DAMON (voice-over): Years of bombings and displacement, leading to greater poverty and then further fueled by COVID-19 border closures and humanitarian aid slowing down.

We pass ramshackle camps with each bombardment, more of them, blotted the countryside, a decade for so many, a lifetime of compounded trauma. The past permeates everything. For most, there's not a month, a week that goes by that isn't the anniversary of the death of someone they loved.

Perhaps all that is left to save are the shreds of innocence of a scarred generation -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Idlib, Syria.


HOLMES: Just have a look at that, that is something that hasn't happened in 800 years. This long dormant volcano erupting in Iceland, prompting a warning from officials, we're going to have details when we come back. Pretty cool stuff.




HOLMES: What you are looking at there is lava, flowing from a volcano in Iceland that, until a few hours ago, was dormant since the 12th century. We know that, because we went back through our video archives.

Emergency management officials, urging residents to stay indoors and close the windows because of volcanic gas pollution. They add, this is not considered to be a major eruption. This comes as more than 40,000 earthquakes have hit the area in the past month.



HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes, Kim Brunhuber will be here in 30 minutes.