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AstraZeneca Vaccine Still Suspended In Majority Of European Countries; Miami Beach Curfew Imposed; U.S. Rallies Against Asian- American Violence; U.S. Border Crisis; Major Flooding In Australia; World Down Syndrome Day; Japan Opens Super Nintendo World. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired March 21, 2021 - 05:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Miami Beach declares a state of emergency, feeling the pressure of Florida's decision to reopen almost everything during the pandemic.

People across the U.S. rally against racial violence in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, with many asking why it's not, yet, labeled a hate crime.

And agents scramble to process thousands of unaccompanied children. The government, spending millions on hotel rooms for migrant families. How the Biden administration was caught off guard by the border crisis.

Live, from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to all of you watching here, in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


BRUNHUBER: We begin, with the tense situation unfolding in Miami Beach, Florida, where hoards of college students have descended on the city, for spring break.

Look at those pictures. Police say, about a dozen people were arrested, Saturday night, after an emergency curfew took effect. Officials say, they took the action, because the unwelcome crush of visitors was more than the city could cope with during the pandemic.

The mayor says, many people came to Miami Beach, precisely, because it doesn't have the COVID restrictions found everywhere else.


MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FL: We have had very challenging spring breaks at other times. We're a city that is 92,000 residents but will sometimes have 200,000 to 300,000 people here.

The problem is that this particular time and I think it is because of the pandemic, almost no other destinations are open. So we have been beside ourselves. We're having issues not just on weekends but on weekday evenings.

We have been arresting many, many people every single day, more than most communities will arrest in a month or a year. It is just creating disorder and danger to our cops, to our arrestees, to bystanders. So we just had enough of it, frankly.


BRUNHUBER: The spring break celebrations come, as the U.S. government reports vaccinations are gaining momentum, after a slow start. Right now, an average 2.4 million shots are administered every day in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 43 million Americans have now been fully inoculated. That's about 13 percent of the population; 79 million Americans have received at least one shot.

Health experts say, it's now a race to get as many people vaccinated, before new COVID variants can take hold and cause another wave. Dr. Anthony Fauci is optimistic, it can be done. Now listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF COVID-19 MEDICAL ADVISER: Vaccines are coming on really well. Between 2 million and 3 million doses per day are going into people. If we can just hang on a bit longer, the more people get vaccinated, the less likelihood there is going to be a surge.


BRUNHUBER: New lockdowns and restrictions have provoked angry protests across Europe. Scuffles broke out in London, as police tried to get demonstrators to go home. Three dozen people were arrested, there.

Saturday's protests in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere, were among the largest, in months. The new restrictions were imposed due to fears of a rising, third wave of infections.

The U.K.'s vaccination campaign relies heavily on the drug developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. European regulators reaffirmed, last week, that it is safe, though, many people remain apprehensive. CNN's Scott McLean reports, from London.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some 28 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and counting, pushed into arms across the United Kingdom. But in this clinic, in east London, the Oxford AstraZeneca shot is sometimes a tough sell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people say no, some people don't even want that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell me what you are worrying about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Previously, about 19 years ago, I did have a blood clot problem. So it's a little thing in my head.

MCLEAN (voice-over): More patients, coming in looking not just for the vaccine but also, for a bit of reassurance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think the risks of COVID itself, far outweigh any risk of a vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's on my mind. You do worry.

MCLEAN: Do you think the AstraZeneca vaccine has a bit of an image problem?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it does now, yes. I think it definitely does now.

MCLEAN: The U.K. has seen the numbers of new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, fall sharply in recent months.


MCLEAN: Thanks in part to its successful vaccination campaign, which is both the Pfizer BioNTech shot and the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. But it is a much different picture in mainland Europe.

MCLEAN (voice-over): This week, more than a dozen countries temporarily stopped using the AstraZeneca shot after a very small number of people developed rare forms of blood clots.

An urgent review by the European Union vaccine regulator could not, definitively, rule out a link between the clots and the vaccine but found that its benefits far outweigh its risks. Britain, never stopped giving the vaccine but, even here, its reputation could use a shot in the arm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are seeing people not turn up for their appointments and our appointment levels are down. So not all our clinics are full this time this week.

MCLEAN: Have people been asking for the Pfizer vaccine more often?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have. And that is a change. Earlier, we had people who wanted the British one.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Most European countries, resuming their AstraZeneca vaccine rollouts. The challenge now, convincing people to take it. A recent poll, finding only 20 percent French people trust the AstraZeneca vaccine. In London, many are still happy to have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was unwise of the E.U. governments to do what it did.

MCLEAN: If you are offered it, tomorrow you take it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was offered it on Tuesday and I took it.

MCLEAN: You have trust in it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've already taken my jab. So I have no problem with it.

MCLEAN: Would you prefer the Pfizer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sure, 100 percent.

MCLEAN: But you would both would take either one?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Preferably Pfizer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If those specialized fields feel it's safe, who am I to say it's not?

MCLEAN (voice-over): On Friday, British prime minister Boris Johnson got his first dose of the vaccine, made sure to point out, it was the AstraZeneca shot -- Scott McLean, CNN, London.


BRUNHUBER: For the latest, let's go to CNN's Phil Black in Essex.

So Phil, even though there were protests against restrictions in the U.K., it sounds as though people will likely be out of the woods, in terms of restrictions at least, a lot sooner than people across much of the E.U.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kim. Here, there is a sense of optimism and hope. In Europe, mainland Europe, the continent, not so much. It is, very much, two separate pandemic stories playing out in Europe right now.

In Europe, on the continent, there is this new, grim phase unfolding with new restrictions and lockdowns, talk of imminent action, of that kind, in some countries all, because of what's described as a third wave.

So with all the difficulties that come with that plus, an added frustration for many people. And that is, this sense that it didn't necessarily have to be this way because they know the vaccines are out there.

But they, also, know that European countries, E.U. countries, do not, yet, have sufficient supply, in order to roll that out in such a way that it can make a significant difference in driving down transmission, in the near future.

Compare that to here, in the U.K. just a short distance away, and you get the other pandemic story, in Europe. And this is where a rollout of the vaccine or vaccines is taking place, at pace and is at a very advanced stage.

The U.K. government announced yesterday at least half the adult population has now received at least one dose, impacting key indicators, hospital admissions and deaths. They are dropping steadily and they are expected to do so.

So here, in the U.K., people are talking about, maybe, taking holidays in the future, pubs, reopening. In the E.U., it is, very much, this frustration over the shortage of vaccines. And you are really hearing that expressed by E.U. leadership, who are talking about, potentially, engaging in what would effectively be a vaccine trade war with the United Kingdom, blocking vaccine exports to the U.K.

Their anger is fueled by the fact and what they perceive to be the injustice that E.U.-produced vaccines are flowing into the U.K. But U.K.-produced vaccines are yet to flow in the other direction.

So it's why you hear lots of E.U. officials talking about this concept of reciprocity and taking action against countries they believe are not living up to it. They are talking about the U.K., Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Phil Black in Essex, England. Appreciate it.

Earlier, I spoke with Dr. Keith Neal. He's an infectious disease physician at the University of Nottingham. I asked him, if pausing the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in Europe, over blood clot fears would further erode confidence in the shot and possibly cost lives.


DR. KEITH NEAL, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM: No one has ever said vaccines are totally safe. We do know that blood clots occur naturally in people. You've only got to look at the risk for women post- pregnancy, anybody who has had an operation.


NEAL: Many have worn those white stockings to prevent blood clots forming.

In fact, the rate of blood clots actually in people vaccinated is lower than one might expect in the general population. There are a few issues that the Germans and Norwegians have highlighted but we're talking seven episodes, so even 17 episodes in over 17 million doses of vaccine.

I've seen figures calculated that, in Europe, for every day you don't vaccinate 100,000 people, it's costing you five to 15 lives a day.

BRUNHUBER: Wow. As one writer put it, the adverse effects of COVID-19, which happens in about 1 percent of cases, is death. Obviously the risk is worth the vaccine there.

Do you think this controversy is sapping confidence in the vaccine, even in the U.K., and undermining what's been so far a very successful rollout there?

NEAL: I would surprised if it didn't. But we're fortunately not seeing the results. Our big problem has been having to stop doing the under 50s due to a vaccine supply issue. Throughout my 30-40 year career we've always had vaccine supply issues with one vaccine or another.

Part of the problem with the European vaccine was that they decided to order the vaccine only through factories within the E.U. That must be for political reasons. And it's the factories in Europe that have had problems.

The problems in Britain, which we started setting up three months earlier, have much more time to sort out teething problems. Our shortfall of supply is because of a problem with India. And these supply problems were totally predictable.

BRUNHUBER: I want to switch focus to the classrooms. Here in the U.S., in a renewed push to get kids back into in-person classes, the new CDC guidelines include measures like reducing the distance from six feet to three feet. But many teachers' unions, still wary, skeptical of in- person teaching until all teachers have been vaccinated.

What do you think of that and, more broadly, what are the lessons that we might learn from the U.K., which has had more children in classes for longer than we have here?

NEAL: We've done a lot of work on this. The rate of death among teachers, particularly primary schoolteachers, is way below the national average for people and also for older teachers, is similar to the whole population.

We know young children are not very good at spreading it within the household. So in the classroom, that risk must be less. The other thing, two papers on Thursday night, one was from Scotland, looking at health care workers.

I think that was a Scottish health care worker, which showed that, the more young children under the age of 11 you had at home, the less likely you were to go down with serious COVID, suggesting that other coronaviruses may provide cross-immunity.


BRUNHUBER: That was infectious disease physician, Keith Neal.

Ahead, on CNN. We are learning more about the victims in the deadly shooting rampage in Atlanta, including details of this woman. She was building her American dream but killed just days before her 50th birthday.





BRUNHUBER: In cities across the U.S., the pain and shock are still raw from this week's deadly shooting spree here in the Atlanta area. People held rallies across the country, on Saturday, to mourn those killed in three spas and to denounce violence against Asian Americans. Authorities are still investigating the motive behind the shootings that left eight people dead, including six victims of Asian descent.

The 21-year-old suspect from Georgia told investigators the shootings weren't racially motivated. But community leaders and anti-racism advocates say the violence has added to fears Asian Americans have, already, been feeling.

Crimes against people of Asian descent in the U.S. have surged, along with racist rhetoric since the pandemic started. Some victims say, they have even been blamed for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, we're learning more about the victims of the deadly attack. CNN's Natasha Chen has that part of the story.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Four of the eight people killed were here at two different spas in Atlanta. The South Korean foreign ministry identified them as being of Korean descent, one a South Korean citizen who was a U.S. permanent resident. The other three believed to be Americans of Korean descent.

At the third spa location in Cherokee County, one of the victims was Xiaojie Tan. I had an opportunity to sit down with her family and talk about her story. She seemed to build the American dream for herself. She came from China to the U.S. to Florida as a nail technician, worked her way up, moved to Georgia, ended up buying businesses.

She was known as a very hard worker, sometimes working seven days a week, always saving her money and made quite the impression on her customers as being an incredibly friendly person.

I want to share something with you what her daughter said about the experience of Tuesday and waiting to find out the news about her mother. And after you hear from her daughter, Jami, you'll hear from Michael Webb, her ex-husband, talking about how fiercely she defended the legitimacy of her business.


JAMI WEBB, XIAOJIE TAN'S DAUGHTER: I was just hoping that it wasn't my mom, it's not my mom. So I was having this hope that maybe my mom got shot in somewhere else, like maybe on the arms or on somewhere, that it wouldn't be like took her life away.

MICHAEL WEBB, XIAOJIE TAN'S FORMER HUSBAND: She never knows what goes on behind closed doors. She made sure that she trained them. They had meetings every week.

[05:20:00] M. WEBB: They had signage. She didn't allow locks on the doors.

She wanted to know where her employees were, who the client -- who the customers were she used to tell me a lot of times she would throw customers out because they would come in and think that they could -- could have sex.

And she would say, get out my business, you know, and she would throw them out. And so, you know, she was a strong mother hen over that business and the people that worked there, she protected it.


CHEN: I had to ask them how they feel about the designation of these attacks as a hate crime, which so many people have been debating. Michael Webb really wanted to make it clear that he wants to allow the investigators to complete their work, and that he didn't want to comment on that specifically.

But Jami did say that she understands where the Asian American communities' fear and anxiety is coming from. They are sensitive to that, but they wanted to emphasize that they'd rather have the authorities make that call without making a statement on that ahead of time -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: Rallies were held across California, on Saturday, in response to the shooting rampage, in the Atlanta area. It comes, as legislation is being introduced, in California, to make it easier and safer to report hate crimes. CNN's Paul Vercammen is following both stories for us.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can hear the sounds of a march behind me, the drums. This is Little Tokyo and there are 1.5 million Asian Americans or people of Asian American descent in Los Angeles County.

What leaders have been telling us, whether their roots are in the Philippines, Korea, China or Japan or other countries is, that they have been feeling this target on their backs during this wave of anti- Asian violence.

But they say there's a remedy: the legislative process. One assembly man is looking to pass a bill that would put in place a hotline, where Asians who might be culturally reluctant to report a crime can call the hotline anonymously.

AL MURATSUCHI, CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY MEMBER: One of the biggest problems in fighting hate crimes is that too many of the incidents are not reported. Many of the victims, they may be reluctant to deal with law enforcement. They may choose not to report incidents even when they're victims. So we want to make it as easy and as safe as possible for people to

even be able to report incidents anonymously. I mean, there are many people in the immigrant community, some that are undocumented. And so we want to make it as easy and safe as possible for people to report these incidents of hate crime.

VERCAMMEN: This vigil in Little Tokyo also focused on the treatment of Asian American seniors, particularly Japanese seniors in some retirement homes. There was an inordinate amount of deaths in two of these homes.

They also don't want to see Japanese Americans transferred or lose their place in any of the homes due to eviction. One thing is for certain, though, we're starting to see this community coalesce, this Asian American community in Los Angeles. And that was evident by what happened on the streets of Los Angeles today -- reporting from Little Tokyo, I'm Paul Vercammen. Back to you.



BRUNHUBER: Russell Jeung is the cofounder of Stop AAPI Hate and a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University.

Thank you so much for joining us. I want to start with the report by your organization, found nearly 3,800 incidents of bias over the course of the year during the pandemic through a self-reporting portal. Most of those incidents, I understand, were name-calling. Almost 70 percent of those incidents were against women.

I understand your wife is among them. Tell us what happened and what it says to you about the motives behind many of these incidents.

RUSSELL JEUNG, COFOUNDER, STOP AAPI HATE: Right. Thanks for having me, Kim.

Of the 3,800 cases, women were harassed 2.3 times more than men. People attack those who they think are more vulnerable. So my wife was running on a trail and someone deliberately blocked her path and then coughed in her face.

This is just an incident that's similar to hundreds of cases that we found, actually found so often in the reports that we created a special category for being coughed on and spat upon. It's a really debasing, aberrant behavior.

And people were asking, has the racism increased?

We weren't, you know, tracking whether people coughed on each other or spat on each other's face.


JEUNG: But because of the pandemic, because of the fear and the anger and because people treat Asians now like objects, as outsiders, they feel free to attack us in such dehumanizing ways.

BRUNHUBER: The scale of the violence, is it increasing, I wonder?

Months before the horrible murders, I think in April, you said in an interview that the dangers of the stigma and vilification -- let me get the quote -- "could have genuine life-or-death consequences."

Do you feel that early warnings like yours about the seriousness of this issue have been ignored?

JEUNG: I think it was ignored. President Trump insisted on using the term "Chinese virus." The Republican Party in this campaign continued to scapegoat and blame China and bash China. And that China bashing opened the way for the bashing of Chinese people and those who look like them.

So there was dire warnings early on. Our worst-case scenario, that people would be so angry and have their anger directed towards Asians, that we would have something like a mass shooting, and our worst fears have been realized.

BRUNHUBER: And you firmly believe that there was a racial animus behind this?

JEUNG: I think race has place in a lot of ways people relate and perceive and target who they wanted to target. This perpetrator could have gone to any massage parlor, yet he chose Asian ones. He could have attacked anybody but he chose to attack Asian women. And that clearly has a racial and gender bias and seems clear.

Women were disproportionately impacted throughout the pandemic and they were disproportionately impacted in this shooting.

BRUNHUBER: I wonder, further complicating things, the ongoing tensions with China itself which we saw play out last week, when the secretary of state met China's top diplomat. More and more Americans list China as America's number one enemy. You've argued that that, in turn, affects how Asian Americans are perceived here.

JEUNG: Right. So American foreign policy in Asia actually translates into Asian American domestic policies, that how the U.S. relates to, say, Japan during World War II impacted Japanese Americans and led to their incarceration.

When the U.S. declared a war on terrorism, that impacted South Asians, Muslims and Arab Americans here in the U.S. So a U.S.-China cold war, a hard stance against China, portraying China as the enemy, makes Chinese in the U.S. the enemy. It's really dangerous for Chinese Americans and Asian Americans.


BRUNHUBER: So the U.S. is currently holding thousands of migrant youngsters in custody near the southern border. Many of them are just kids, separated from their family. Now waiting in shelters.

What's the Biden administration doing about it?

We'll explain, next.





BRUNHUBER: And welcome back to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world.

New documents obtained by CNN show there are more than 5,000 unaccompanied children being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Biden administration is scrambling to find more shelter for the growing number of migrant children in custody. The government has signed a deal to pay $86 million for hotel rooms, COVID testing, processing and other services for migrant families as they await court hearings.

Officials say the contract will provide more than 1,200 beds. With more children arriving, every day, federal authorities are planning to open another temporary use shelter in Texas. And that's in addition to a new facility that just opened in Dallas. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez there in Dallas.


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration is using a convention center in Dallas to accommodate the number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone. It is now being called an emergency intake site, outfitted with cots.

Children will be provided medical services and books and games as they work through the process to be relocated with family in the United States. This is one of the many steps the administration is taking to try to alleviate the overcrowding.

The number of children in the facilities has continued to tick upward over the course of time. So Health and Human Services departments working around the clock to try to find shelters for these children, including the site behind me -- I'm in Dallas, Priscilla Alvarez, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: The Biden administration won't call the situation at the border a crisis. And even though the president himself promised transparency when he took office, journalists have been blocked from reporting on conditions inside detention facilities. We get more on that from CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to the border, he did so without any reporters on that trip. The Department of Homeland Security cited privacy concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason why the media was not allowed to accompany him on that trip to those border facilities.

But this follows a pattern from the Biden administration as this border crisis has been brewing. So far, reporters have not been allowed into those border processing facilities, where those unaccompanied migrant children are being held.

Many of these facilities not entirely fit to house children for long periods of time, as some of them are now. While Secretary Mayorkas was at the border, he was accompanied by some senators.

One of those senators on the trip, Democrat Chris Murphy, tweeted about the conditions that he saw.

He said, "Just left the border processing facility, hundreds of kids packed into big, open rooms. In a corner, I fought back tears as a 13- year-old girl sobbed uncontrollably, explaining through a translator how terrified she was."

This is certainly one of many scenes that is potentially playing out at these facilities but so far the media has not had access to them to see what is actually happening on the ground.

The White House has vowed that they want to be transparent and are working on ways to make that access possible at the White House. But so far there is no timeline just yet on when reporters will be allowed into those facilities -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: Caring for the most vulnerable children in a wartorn country. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, we will visit a center for kids with Down syndrome in Syria as we mark World Down Syndrome Day.






BRUNHUBER (voice-over): You're watching some extraordinary video here, showing an entire house being swept away by flash flooding on Australia's eastern coast. The government has declared a natural disaster in parts of New South Wales.

And for some areas, it's being called a once-in-a-century event. Heavy rains there have forced thousands to evacuate. Prime minister Scott Morrison says adults and children who have been affected will receive one-time disaster-relief payments.




BRUNHUBER: Turkish women's groups are outraged that president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pulled the country out of an international treaty designed to protect women and, ironically, named for the country's largest city. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more from Istanbul.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hundreds have gathered here to protest President Erdogan's decision to withdraw his country from the Istanbul convention. People woke up to this news of the presidential decree on Saturday that has, really, sent shockwaves across the country.

There is so much anger here. A short time ago, there were reading the names of women who have been killed. It was 10 years ago that the council of Europe's binding pact to combat violence against women was signed in the city. Turkey was the first country to sign the convention.

But since last summer, there has been a heated debate in this country, lobbying by some conservative and religious groups to withdraw from the convention. They say it damages unity, traditional values and quote-unquote, "legitimizes" the LGBT community.

Women's rights' defenders say that this is a nightmare for women. This is only going to empower rapists, murderers, abusers of women, they say. This is a country that has a serious domestic violence and femicide problem.

At least 78 women have been killed so far this year, according to a women's rights group. That is a woman every single day so far and they're very worried that this is only going to get worse.

They say this is not just about the Istanbul convention the way this happened. Despite the reassurances of government ministers, saying their countries' laws will safeguards women's lives, they are very concerned that, even Turkey's domestic laws, are now in jeopardy.

A lot of people said that this is a dark day for Turkey not just for women's rights in this country. Critics of President Erdogan, are very concerned that this move by presidential decree is just another step in the wrong direction by this president, taking this country further down that road of one-man rule -- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.


BRUNHUBER: Today is World Down Syndrome Day. The U.N. chose the date to symbolize the developmental condition, which is caused when a person has three copies of the 21st chromosome. So 3-21, March 21st. It's a day for raising awareness and advocating for inclusion. Arwa

Damon visited the only center for children with Down syndrome in war- torn Idlib, Syria.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is hardly what we expected to find but from the moment the children piled off the school bus, we were enchanted. The dingy building, the dark staircase, the tiny classroom, all of it melted away, overtaken by the rare beauty of what is happening there.

As the other children sway and dance to music, Sara keeps her head down. It is her first day. She is shy and scared. The other children were like this as well when they first started. Learning tools are shared. It is all they can afford at the center for children with down syndrome, the only one of its kind, in wartorn Idlib. All of the staff here are volunteers, drawn to the center because while Syria's war has eradicated childhood, it has been especially cruel to the most vulnerable.

They finally managed to coax Sarah outside. The isolation, brought on by war, the lack of specific resources meant that many children with Down syndrome regressed.


DAMON (voice-over): While others never learned the basics, like walking, feeding themselves and speaking.

One of the boys plays with our microphone. The children may not be able to articulate what they've been through but they are all well aware of the violence of their surroundings. Abdelkarim (ph) is 6 years old and a total charmer.

DAMON: Apparently, he used to be so shy, he would never come up to people.

(Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

DAMON: He wasn't even able to say any words. He had lost all of his speech before he came here.

DAMON (voice-over): The center was started by Abdullah Mohammad (ph) seven months ago. He's a pediatric nurse who did a year in a clinic for special needs children before the war. He pays the rent for this tiny space out of his own pocket.

"We are struggling to stay open," his wife and the center's director, says.

But at the same time, we can't let go of the kids, especially not now, not that they have seen the impact they can have, knowing that hundreds more need their help. Down syndrome is a genetic condition, in which a child has a full or

partial extra chromosome. This affects the way the child's brain and body develop. Early intervention can mitigate the majority of the developmental challenges.

But even before the war, that was a struggle.

"One of the many problems is weak muscle development," the physical therapist tells us. She says, "Abdelkarim (ph) should have splints to help his knee joints," but she has to work with the little she has.


DAMON: This is incredible. I mean, we have been here 2 months ago, he wasn't able to walk on his own. They had to carry him through everything. Now intense physical therapy and he's doing so well.

DAMON (voice-over): Years ago, Sarah's parents had put her in school but she was severely bullied. Her mother tried to help her at home and she was doing well until a rocket landed on their house. She was pulled out from under the rubble and hospitalized.

Her parents tell us that, after the strike, she stopped talking. One of the teachers keeps gently urging her to play, comforting her, making her feel safe.

Just 2 hours after she arrived, she is already making friends. She is not alone anymore.

"This is the first time we are seeing her interacting with other kids, bonding," her father said, clearly emotional. "She is still shy with us," he says, "but I'm happy." And then runs off to play outside.

If they were just given the opportunity, these children can grow up to fulfill their potential. War will not stop them. It is what the adults here dream of. It is what they see children with Down syndrome do, in more developed parts of the world. But at least, they have created a space where there is no stigma, a space where there is joy and hope -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Idlib, Syria.






BRUNHUBER: Well, there's disappointment at the March Madness men's basketball tournament after coronavirus hit Virginia Commonwealth University's team. VCU withdrew from their game with the University of Oregon after multiple members of the team tested positive.

The head coach says, dropping out is heartbreaking for the student athletes. The game was declared a no contest and Oregon advanced to the second round.

Japan's Universal Studios has finally opened its highly anticipated, new attraction in Osaka. As CNN's Selina Wang shows us, Super Nintendo World is just like stepping into a video game.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here we go. Entering Super Nintendo World through the Warp Pipe, follow me.

And here we are, a life sized replica of Nintendo's most popular games. You've got Yoshi's Adventure, Bowser's Castle, Peach's 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. Your temperature is taken at the entrance. Hand sanitizer is everywhere. Masks are required at all times except for in mask free zones.

Konnichiwa. Konnichiwa.

So I can interact with Mario and Luigi but there are rules against touching. And one of the few places in this whole park where I can take my mask off or 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 distant 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 and 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 up 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.


WANG: I've got to put on the augmented reality headset here, clip it in. All right. Let's go.

The augmented reality headset got a little bit of getting used to, but I was racing through the Mushroom Kingdom, next to 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 this store and in the restaurant, Pinocchio's Cafe, we're here in the Mushroom Kingdom and mushroom themed food is everywhere. It looks like a cartoon food, but it's edible.

WANG (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.

WANG: Japan's borders are still closed so international travelers aren't allowed in this park yet. But there are plans to open Super Nintendo World in Florida, California and Singapore.

WANG (voice-over): Mario's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, says he wants the whole world to come visit when the pandemic is over -- Selena Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I am Kim Brunhuber.

For viewers here in the U.S. and Canada, "NEW DAY" is just ahead. For those watching around the world, it's "My Freedom Day: A Global Forum."