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U.S., U.K., Japan, Canada, Australia Issue Joint Statement On Failings Of WHO Report On COVID Origins; Testimony From George Floyd's Trial; Brazil's COVID Death Spiral, Bolsonaro Shakes Up The Cabinet; Mozambique's Northern Province Could Fall To ISIS; Serbia Emerges as "Vaccine Hub" of the Balkans; Variants Fuel Rise in Hospitalizations, Lockdowns in Canada; Beijing Greatly Reduces Elected Seats in New Legislature; Egypt's Sisi Promises New Investment in Suez Canal; Crowded House Drawing Crowds. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 31, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, everyone. I'm John Vause.

Coming up this hour. The only thing missing was a definitive conclusion and a lot of credibility. The growing international criticism of the WHO joint China report into the origins of the coronavirus.

The worst is yet to come in Brazil. A combination of mutated variants and government incompetence leaving record numbers dead each day.

And the secret to Serbia's success. Captain Obvious tells us order a lot of vaccines and order them early.

The much anticipated, long delayed 120-page joint WHO Chinese report into the origins of the coronavirus has landed with a thud.

More than a dozen countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, and Australia issued a joint statement raising concerns about the credibility of the research and the independence of the findings.

The report goes into details about epidemiology, molecular biology, DNA sampling, supply chain tracing, a whole lot more. Notably, what is not included is a definitive conclusion about where the virus came from.

Four scenarios are outlined from a most likely theory that it jumped from an animal or bat to human to a leak from a lab in Wuhan.

CNN spoke with a member of the World Health Organization team which visited Wuhan. He says there are many questions -- no kidding -- which are still unanswered.


PETER DACZAK, MEMBER OF WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TEAM INVESTIGATING COVID-19: There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done on following up with patients, looking into archive samples, reanalyzing and retesting samples from patients, interviews, looking into more details about the connections of some of the patients, relatives who may visited other markets.

In the report, we met with a patient who we think was infected on December the 8th whose parents went to a market in Wuhan, not the Huanan market, another one.

So we need to talk to those people and find out where did they go, what animals were sold there, was that the source of the outbreak?

I think the big take out from that is there was a lot of detail to what we asked. And some of the questions were right along the lines of the sort of conspiracy theory work that's been out there and the lab hypothesis suggestions that China's not been responding to in the past.

I think what's important is that they did respond and that they did give us answers and that those answers were to questions that were not vetted ahead of time.

So we asked live Q&A and we got answers to those questions that made sense, that weren't unusual.

But for instance, they tested all of the staff in the bat coronavirus group for coronaviruses, for SARS-CoV-2, to see if they'd been infected and they were negative.

And that's what they told us. And I think that's new information that's not been out there. I really hope the tide turns.

The real message here is that if we want to protect ourselves against new diseases, we've got to work with the countries where they emerge. It's no good just relying on that they're going to stop them.

We've got to do everything we can as a planet, as a species, to prevent these diseases. We're in the age of pandemics and we predict more and more of these every year.

So let's prevent them instead of waiting for them to happen and just hoping for a vaccine. It's not a strategy.


VAUSE: The director general of the WHO says the theory deemed most unlikely in that report, that the virus leaped from a laboratory, needs a closer look.

He's ready to deploy a team of specialists to investigate.

CNN's Steven Jiang joins us from Beijing with more on the reaction to this report. I guess the question is where does he send those investigators to?

China set the rules here, they decided where the investigators could go, they decided who they could speak to, what they could ask. The only thing China could not control, it seems, is the very loud cry

around the world the report lacks credibility.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right, John. It's very interesting or some would say surprising to hear Dr. Tedros who has been accused by some critics as being too cozy to the Beijing leadership heading this agency they describe as China's puppet to say the things you just mentioned.

Because for him to say more data and study are needed for the lab theory, a lab leak theory -- and he also said that WHO experts encountered difficulties accessing raw data from China during their investigations.

So these are the points, of course, long raised by the U.S. government.

And again, in the latest joint statement between Washington and 13 other countries, they called for unfettered access by independent experts to all original data from China.


So for Dr. Tedros to make these remarks really echoing and reinforcing growing critical and skeptical voices from the international community, that's not going to sit well with Beijing.

And the Chinese government has responded to the release of this report with a foreign ministry statement overnight saying this report is the result of close collaborations between Chinese and foreign experts and demonstrating the government's open, transparent, and responsible attitude.

They also denounced any attempt to politicize this issue. And again, calling for similar investigations to be conducted in other countries.

As you know, they have been promoting the so-called multiple origin theory, claiming this virus may have emerged in various locations around the world at the same time, often pointing fingers at the U.S., especially this U.S. Military run lab in Maryland without much concrete evidence.

A foreign ministry spokesman actually as recently as yesterday, on Tuesday, mentioned that U.S. lab again.

So even with them calling for -- denouncing any attempt to politicizing this issue, some of us say they themselves are doing exactly, John. To muddy the water to the point that nobody probably will ever find out where this virus came from. John.

VAUSE: Right, yes. Good tactic, that one. Steven, thank you. Steven Jiang in Beijing, we appreciate it.

Later this hour, we'll report on COVID-19's impact on a number of countries.

The big picture right now, globally, there have more than 128 million confirmed cases, nearly 3 million deaths worldwide.

The U.S. and Brazil stand out as the two countries struggling the most in terms of infection and daily death tolls.

Brazil on Tuesday reported another daily record for COVID deaths. And Brazil's most populous state, Sao Paulo, reported more than 1,200 deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday.

Hospitals have long since passed overwhelmed. And many there are just exhausted.


UNKNOWN (Through Translator): I don't know what to say about the pandemic. I've already lost many people in my family, friends, nieces and nephews.

It's an unfortunate thing. They should give this vaccine to all of us, not just the elderly. To all of us who need to work.


VAUSE: It seems Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has either ignored the pandemic or belittled and ridiculed those who fall ill and died is facing a backlash for his appalling handling of the pandemic.

He could be looking at a tough reelection fight next year. And that's the backdrop for a major shake up in his government over the last couple of days.

CNN's Shasta Darlington has details.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The biggest cabinet shakeup since Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, took office.

On Monday, he announced six cabinet changes including a new defense minister and a new foreign minister.

On Tuesday, his government announced that the leaders of all three branches of the armed forces were being replaced, the reshuffling an indication of how much pressure Bolsonaro is under as COVID-19 continues to ravage the country.

The change in the armed forces also fueling speculation about a possible breakdown between Bolsonaro and the military.

On Tuesday, Brazil registered a new record number of deaths from COVID-19, more than 3,700. The total death toll is over 300,000 people, and the vaccine rollout has been slow and plagued by political infighting.

Brazilians are increasingly directing their anger and frustration at Bolsonaro who downplayed the virus and lashed out at governors for lockdown measures. The cabinet shuffle allows him to shore up support in congress. It

was also important because he replaced the foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, who came under fire from congress for his antagonistic relationship with China.

China is not only an important trade partner, they've also been a main supplier of raw ingredients in vaccines.

The other cabinet changes, however, took Brazil by surprise, especially Bolsonaro's decision to remove the defense minister.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed to have the support of the military and has appointed a number of generals to key positions but he's grown frustrated with the lack of public support from the military in recent weeks.

The departure of all three armed forces commanders on Tuesday highlights the growing rift.

DARLINGTON (On Camera): Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.


VAUSE: Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is a professor of neurobiology at Duke University. He's been tracking the pandemic in Brazil since the very beginning. He joins us this hour from Sao Paulo. Dr. Nicolelis, it's good to have you back with us.


VAUSE: OK. This month alone, what, about 60,000 people in Brazil are expected to die from COVID-19. Expectations are it will only get worse.

Here's part of a report from Bloomberg.

"For the rest of Latin America, Brazil has always been a nation apart -- a huge Portuguese-speaking powerhouse, trendsetter with sexy beaches and bewitching music. These days, it's something else entirely; a COVID spreading threat fast becoming a kind of regional leper colony."

Given the number of countries which have banned flights and calls for full border closures, how does that description rest with you?


NICOLELIS: Well, first of all, it's very sad. It's real, it's the truth, but it's a very sad thing to witness because it shouldn't be this way.

But in reality, because of the widespread number of variants that are emerging in Brazil, all countries in South America that share borders with the country here are closing their borders and are trying to prevent the variants to spread across the entire continent. VAUSE: Even on some very basic healthcare metrics, Brazil has failed

to see improvements which have been seen around the world.

When the pandemic began, if a patient in the U.S. or Europe was put on a respirator, they had about 20 to 30 percent chance of getting off that, of actually living. Brazil was about the same last year at the beginning of this pandemic, around 78.7 percent.

While the survival rate around the world for someone on a respirator has improved -- those numbers essentially flipped around now -- in Brazil though, it's actually getting worse; a mortality rate of more than 83 percent.

So if someone gets on a respirator, they've got an 83.5 percent chance of dying. That chance is 90 percent in some parts in the country, in the north and northwest.

So is that a reflection of the overall situation across the country in terms of treatment at the moment?

NICOLELIS: Well, basically, this is the reflection of the national health care collapse that has happened a few weeks ago.

So as we move towards this collapse, there were several problems in the ICUs across the country -- lack of medication, lack of proper equipment, lack of trained people -- basically, the country was overwhelmed and the federal government didn't do anything to prevent the national collapse.

So, as you said, this mortality rate escalated tremendously in the last few months and now it's at a peak where less than 20 percent of people who get intubated may survive.

VAUSE: The words from President Jair Bolsonaro have changed recently, also the message which we're hearing from some within his government have changed as well.

Here's his latest health minister. Listen to this.


MARCELO QUEIROGA, HEALTH MINISTER OF BRAZIL (Through Translator): It is the country of face masks, the country of face masks.

It is the request I make to every Brazilian, wear the face mask. We in the government will work to obtain enough vaccines to immunize our population.


VAUSE: Is there any evidence right now that this is anything other than talk? And even if the government was moving to make some real changes for a national response, is Brazil able to turn this around by itself?

NICOLELIS: Well, for most of us this is just lip service; too little, too late.

And besides, the same guy who is talking about masks is basically saying publicly that he's against a lockdown, a national lockdown which is probably the last hope we have to cut the rates of the virus transmission very quickly in the country.

So he's saying that to the media but his actions don't basically follow his talking.

VAUSE: The publication "Scientific American" warned of the dangers posed to the rest of the world by the city of Manaus in Brazil where officials did nothing to slow the virus.

Here's part of that report.

"Tragically" -- they write -- "it continues to provide the wrong lessons about what should be done to ease the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The city and Brazil as a whole have become an exemplar of what happens when a country pursues a strategy of denying the pandemic and embracing herd immunity by letting the virus run unchecked."

So again, will this global pandemic ever come to an end if the coronavirus is allowed to spread like a forest fire in Brazil?

NICOLELIS: I don't think so. And that's the reason I think Brazil is now the epicenter of the pandemic not only in terms of number of cases and the number of deaths, unfortunately, but it's also the epicenter in terms of the global threat that it poses if the virus can keep running amok here without any federal government intervention that can actually have some effect.

So that's the reason I feel that international community should pay a lot of attention to Brazil and try to provide help in terms of allowing vaccines to be purchased by Brazil in large numbers. Any country that has an accident to vaccines -- an excess of vaccines should make them available because Brazil can't purchase them, can't get them.

We also need ICU medication, basic medications are running very low around the country so we need to acquire them in international market.

So these kinds of actions could help. And the Brazilian government has to be pressured to act.

He's in a comfort zone, the Brazilian president, because he feels that nobody's going to bug him about this. But this is an international right now.

VAUSE: Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate your time, sir. Good luck.

NICOLELIS: I appreciate it. Thank you.

VAUSE: Just like Brazil, India has seen some of the highest COVID case numbers in the world. India had managed to partially contained the spread of COVID-19 but now infections are spiking once again. [01:15:00]

India's health secretary has warned hospitals could soon be overwhelmed if lax pandemic prevention measures are not improved and improved now.

Meanwhile, despite the surge in cases, Indians celebrated Holi on Monday, the Festival of Colors, marking the advent of spring.

In some places, crowds were jam-packed. In others, they were more mindful of social distancing. Kind of.


UNKNOWN (Through Translator): Everyone is maintaining social distancing. We're trying to keep up with the traditions of our family but by keeping everyone safe.


VAUSE: I spoke with Dr. Naresh Trehan about the Holi celebrations and the COVID risks.


DR. NARESH TREHAN, CHAIRMAN & MANAGING DIRECTOR, MEDANTA, THE MEDICITY: Recently, we had Holi. And you must have seen the visuals, hundreds of thousands of people were out there in congregation playing Holi which is a very important festival in our culture and people going to temples.

So what had happened was that people had relaxed. They had actually felt that now it is safe to throw away the masks and actually be able to socialize -- and weddings were happening.

All these things started happening in the belief that we are over the worst. So this has happened around the world also, it's not only in Indian and we should have learnt that lesson.


VAUSE: In France, ICUs are now filled with 5,000 COVID patients, the most since the country's first lockdown last April. The big concern is that doctors will soon be forced to choose will patients receive care.

CNN caught up with a few people in Paris to get their take on the state of the pandemic.


UNKNOWN: I think in France, they should have a lockdown for one month and after we should be better. But it's matter of the vaccination was very late and for this I think our situation here bad.

UNKNOWN: I think the government has been doing a great job of the measures. I think maybe they should be a little less tightened, but maybe with more control.

UNKNOWN: We are in some kind of lockdown which is not very strict. Maybe they have to go further.

UNKNOWN: I think the COVID situation is going to be contained, I think we will be able to overcome that. But what we have learned about ourselves and how we behave as a society, that's what I worry about.


VAUSE: We'll take a closer look at France next hour. We'll speak with a doctor there who's been warning about the situation spiraling out of control.

In the meantime, a short break.

After a brutally violence siege there is confusion over who is in control of a town in Mozambique. The battle against the insurgency in Palma. That's ahead.

Also emotions running high in court as witnesses recall seeing George Floyd die. One firefighter says she was desperate to save him. Her emotional, powerful testimony when we come back.



VAUSE: The U.S. Security Council expected to meet privately to discuss the crisis in Myanmar in the coming hours.

This comes as an armed ethnic minority group has warned of a looming major conflict. The Karen National Union says thousands of government troops are advancing in their territory and they have no other choice but to confront the army.

Protesters are still marching against the coup despite an increasingly violent crackdown by security forces, several more people reportedly killed on Tuesday.

Now it's unclear who controls Palma in Mozambique after last week's terror attack.

Images from an ISIS-affiliated propaganda channel shows what appears to be fighters assembling in the region. And what's noteworthy is how heavily armed they are. Witnesses say the attack was well organized with the insurgents coming from three separate directions.

Portuguese public broadcaster, RTP, was the first network to enter into Palma after the siege and recorded these images.

Mozambique's military says that it regained control of the town but the head of a private security group hired by the government says insurgents are still in control.

Here's what he told CNN's David McKenzie.


LIONEL DYCK, DYCK ADVISORY GROUP: The situation on the ground was awful when my pilots got there. The first thing they saw was two food trucks on the road where the drivers had obviously been pulled out and their assistants and been beheaded, they were lying next to their cars.

And then there were more people around that had been beheaded. And then we came under fire from these people and obviously, we do what we do best, we engaged them.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is the situation now in Palma?

DYCK: It's not much different. These people are still all in the houses, they live in the houses, they live amongst the people and they come out, shoot at you and run into the houses.

It's a standard ISIS-type tactic, to hide amongst the people.

I think the operation in Northern Mozambique is like a cancer, it will insidiously grow because there is quite a good growing ground for them. And as they grow and there's no real control of this, they could lose that province.

And losing the province would be a huge political benefit to the terrorists and, of course, the government would battle. So right now, I see no ships, only hardships.

MCKENZIE: What do you feel about that reputation that private military contractors have in this region?

DYCK: Well, we have that reputation too, good or bad. I don't understand it. We're doing something -- and right now today, we're doing something that nobody else can do or has wanted to do. So use what you've got. And look, if it's not efficient, fire us.


VAUSE: We'll talk with CNN's David McKenzie next hour and find out more about the brutal attacks in Mozambique at our website,

The jury heard emotional and at times heartbreaking testimony on Tuesday from a number of witnesses in the trial of the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest last year. His death was a catalyst for worldwide protests that reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. Demonstrators are still demanding justice.

On Tuesday, six witnesses, one just nine years old, described feelings of horror and fear watching Floyd's final moments.

CNN's Sara Sidner has details. But we have a warning. The images and some of the details in her report are disturbing.



SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Eyewitness Donald Williams took the stand with a remarkable revelation. Telling the jury what he did after witnessing George Floyd's body slump as then officer Derek Chauvin continued pressing his knee down on Floyd's neck.

WILLIAMS: I did call the police -- on the police.

MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTOR: All right. And why did you do that?

WILLIAMS: Because I believed I witnessed a murder.

SIDNER: Williams could not hold back tears as his 9-1-1 dispatch audio played in court.

DISPATCHER (Captioned): 911, what's the address of the emergency?

WILLIAMS (Captioned): Officer 987 kill a citizen in front of a Chicago store. He just pretty much just killed this guy that wasn't resisting arrest. He had his knee on the dude neck the whole time, officer 987.

FRANK: Whose badge, which officer were you referring to?

WILLIAMS: The officer sitting over there.


SIDNER: Late last, year the world saw Williams on the scene when police body camera video was released. The jury has yet to see this video.

WILLIAMS: Y'all murderers, bro. Y'all murderers. (Inaudible) killing himself (ph). I already know it.

SIDNER: In cross-examination, Chauvin's attorney focused some attention the on harsh words Williams used against the officers.

ERIC NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: You called him a tough guy.


NELSON: Those terms grew more and more angry. Would you agree with that?

WILLIAMS: They grew more and more pleading for life.

NELSON: Right. After you called him a bum thirteen times, you called him [bleep] bum?

WILLIAMS: That's what you heard?

NELSON: Did you say that?

WILLIAMS: Is that what you heard?

NELSON: I'm asking you, sir. Did you say that?


WILLIAMS: I'm pretty sure I did. You heard that.

SIDNER: Williams tried to counter the angry black man stereotype instead explaining he was trying to save a life.

But Chauvin's attorney was painting a picture of a scene that created fear in the officers mentioning one officer pushing Williams back.

NELSON: Do you recall saying I dare you to touch me like that. I swear I'll slap the [bleep] out of both of you?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I did. I meant it.

SIDNER: The next witness dissolved into tears for the fear and trauma she continues to experience.

EYEWITNESS D.F. (Voice Over): It's been nights I've stayed up apologizing. And apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.

SIDNER: That is the voice of the teenage bystander who took the video the world saw. She was a minor at the time of the incident.

A picture of her and her cousin was shown on the scene but the court ordered cameras could not show them testifying and only use their audio.

BLACKWELL: What was it about the scene that caused you to come back?

EYE WITNESS D.F. (Voice Over): It wasn't right. He was -- he was suffering. He was in pain.

SIDNER: The jury then heard from the youngest eyewitness who was nine years old.

She needed her memory jogged as to what Chauvin looked like.

FRANK: Okay. How about him?

EYEWITNESS J.R. (Voice Over): Yes.

SIDNER: But she did remember what upset her that day.

EYEWITNESS J.R. (Voice Over): I saw that officer put a knee on the neck on George Floyd. I was sad and kind of mad.

SIDNER: The jury heard from an off-duty firefighter EMT who happened to be on a walk.

This is Genevieve Hanson's 9-1-1 call on May 25th. GENEVIEVE HANSON, WITNESS & FIREFIGHTER (Voice Over, Captioned): I

literally watched police officers not take a pulse and not do anything to save a man. And I am a first responder myself -- and I literally have it on video camera.

SIDNER: Hanson was moved to tears.

HANSON: There was a man named George and I would have -- had I had access to a call similar to that, I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities. And this human was denied that right.


VAUSE: Plus they've had one of the world's fastest vaccine rollouts. Now Serbia is offering shots to foreigners at no cost. More on that. Their secret to success when we return.



VAUSE: Across the Balkans many are making the trip to Serbia to receive a vaccination. Quick planning, early negotiations helped it outperform richer European countries. And now Serbia is actually sharing its stockpile of supplies.

Here's CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An abundance of vaccine doses and a lightning fast rollout, Serbia a non E.U. state is setting the pace in Europe, fully vaccinating people with two doses quicker than any other country on the continent.

Zoran Cakic just got his second shot.

ZORAN CAKIC, BELGRADE RESIDENT: About 10 - 15 minutes.

PLEITGEN (on camera): So it was very easy.

CAKIC: Very easy, very smooth, very fast.

PLEITGEN (voice over): Serbia has so much vaccines they're even offering free shots to foreigners, like Tomas Cupr from the Czech Republic who came here on a work trip and decided to get inoculated as well.

TOMAS CUPR, VACCINE RECIPIENT: Freedom, I guess. Freedom to behave normally again.

PLEITGEN: Serbia's secret, they ordered vaccines early. They ordered a lot and they ordered from various manufacturers -- Chinese, Russian and Western companies.

The country's biggest vaccine center at the Belgrade Fair alone administers around 8,000 doses per days, the center's head says.

ZORAN BEKIC, HEAD, BELGRADE FAIR VACCINATION CENTER: Thanks to authorities in our country we have, I think, much more vaccines than in other parts of Europe.

PLEITGEN: Another key to the fast rollout, an easy to use registration site that cuts down on unnecessary bureaucracy. Serbia's head of e- governing explains.

MIHAILO JOVANOVIC, DIRECTOR OF IT AND E-GOVERNING: Your ID number, name, surname and it is very important to have your email address, mobile phone or fixed one, because we are going to invite you through the SMS and email.

PLEITGEN: Unlike the E.U., which is facing severe vaccine shortages, Serbia is donating vaccine to neighboring countries and allowing their citizens to get vaccinated in Serbia, making the country a regional vaccination hub. Also out of self interest, the prime minister tells me.

ANA BRNABIC, SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: We are also trying to support mostly the region. So our neighboring countries -- North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and (INAUDIBLE) because it's -- I mean we are a small region and if they are not safe, even when we get the collective immunity we are not going to be safe.

PLEITGEN: But like many countries, Serbia is facing rising numbers of new coronavirus infections and has had to put new restrictions in place. The only way out of the pandemic, the government believes, is to keep vaccinating as fast as possible.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- Belgrade, Serbia.


VAUSE: Stay with us here on CNN when the president of Serbia is also tackling about this on "FIRST MOVE", 9:00 a.m. Wednesday in New York, 2:00 p.m. in London.

Well, first there where the warnings for those over 60 to avoid the AstraZeneca vaccine. Now in Germany anyone under 60 are being told not to receive it.

This comes after several rare cases of blood clots were reported even though AstraZeneca has said there is no evidence the vaccine is the cause.

(INAUDIBLE) back to the AstraZeneca vaccine leaves Germany looking for another viable option for a struggling vaccination roll out. So could Russia have the answer? The French government says French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are now considering the use of Russia's Sputnik V, which is still being reviewed by the E.U.'s medical regulating agency. Austria also in talks with Moscow about getting Sputnik V.

Ontario's premier is urging those not to make plans for Easter as cases rise in Canada warning he would not hesitate to lockdown the province.

Health care officials say variants are causing a spike in hospitalization. There appears to be a growing threat to younger people.

CNN's Paula Newton has details.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera) : Canadian health officials describe it as a tight race now between the vaccines and the variants. But doctors across the country say already, it is no contest.

New variants are partly fueling a menacing third wave of the pandemic that is overwhelming hospital.

DR. KASHIF PIRZADA, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: I It's getting pretty alarming here. It's spreading quickly and it is much faster than the last two waves, and the people filling the ICU right now are all in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

NEWTON: Dr. Kashif Pirzada is an emergency physician in Toronto and he re-posted these lung scans to warn younger Canadians about the risk. The one on the left shows healthy lungs, the scan on the right, that of a COVID patient in their 30s, the white splotches fluid buildup because of COVID-19 Leaving an otherwise healthy patient to feel like they are drowning, he says.


DR. PIRZADA: It's hitting younger people harder and faster than before. The variants have changed the game completely.

NEWTON: And Canada's top doctor backs that assessment saying variants are up 64 percent in the last week alone, more than 90 percent of them the B117 variant first detected in the U.K. She says they are contributing to more severe illness.

DR. THERESA TAM, CANADA'S CHIEF PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICER: That's 60 percent increase in risk of hospitalization, 100 percent increase in admissions to ICUs, 60 percent increase in the risk of death. And these severity indicators can be seen across all age groups of the adult population.

NEWTON: British Columbia is now in a three-week circuit breaker lockdown. Variants are spreading quickly even the worrisome P-1 variant first detected in Brazil.

JOHN HORGAN, PREMIER OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Do not blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbors and others who have been working really, really hard making significant sacrifices.

NEWTON: But that sacrifice has led to acute pandemic fatigue. Toronto has been in some form of lockdown now for more than four months. After a vaccine shortage the rollout is finally ramping up in Canada but shots won't be widely available to those under 65 for weeks yet.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We're entering the final stretch of this crisis, we just need to stay strong a little longer.

NEWTON: And especially, Trudeau says, for the Easter holiday, reminding Canadians they need to shake off any pandemic fatigue or the health system's worst days in this pandemic may be yet to come.

Paula Newton, CNN.


VAUSE: Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Egypt's president promising new measures to avoid a repeat of the Suez Canal disaster as that maritime traffic jam starts to clear.

Also new law passed by Beijing making sure patriots govern Hong Kong, but ultimately it means less opposition to the lawmakers elected by the people. More on that in a moment.


VAUSE: In a unanimous vote, China's (INAUDIBLE) parliament has passed a new law that will further restrict democratic opposition in Hong Kong, will reshape the legislature and change how lawmakers and the city's leaders are chosen.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is with us from Hong Kong. Long time coming, not really a surprise here. This all happened just as Beijing predicted.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But this is significant. As predicted China's National People's Congress Standing Committee has formally approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong's electoral system.

As a result, there will be fewer directly elected seats to the legislature. The legislative council will be expanded but the number of directly-elected seats will go down, the number of Beijing-approved seats will go up.


STOUT: And not only that, a new vetting committee will be established to screen candidates for patriotism. And we have learned that a unit, a National Security Law unit at the Hong Kong police force will conduct a national security review of all potential candidates.

All this represents a very new political destiny for Hong Kong.


STOUT (voice over): The political fate of Hong Kong remade by Beijing, the National People's Congress Standing Committee a powerful panel of China's top legislature has amended Hong Kong's basic law to formalize changes on how the city's top leader and legislative council members are elected. A small committee that choose the chief executive will now also select

some lawmakers, reducing the percentage of seats that are directly elected and a new panel will vet candidates for patriotism.

(on camera): What does it mean to be patriot?

HORACE CHEUNG, PRO BEIJING LAWMAKER, DAB PARTY: It means that you love the country. It means that you support one country-two systems especially in the last couple of years. The central government observe that. We are not going on the wide shot (ph) in our electoral system.

STOUT: According to NPC Standing Committee vice chairman Wang Chen, the changes are necessary because of obvious loopholes that caused chaos in Hong Kong.

The events of 2019 were seen as a direct challenge to Beijing. The pro-democracy protests that gripped the city for more than half a year, the involvement of U.S. Lawmakers who voiced support for the protesters, and the massive turnout for pro-democracy candidates at district council elections.

But that Hong Kong is gone. Last June, China imposed the National Security Law which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces making them crimes punishable with up to life in prison.

47 pro-democracy activists including former lawmakers have been charged with subversion, scenes of social unrest and mass protests are over. In June of 2019, a reporter from a mass march when according to organizers, more than one million people marched on the streets of Hong Kong.

(on camera): Under the National Security Law nothing even close has happened since, a slogan has been outlawed, a song has been outlawed in schools, national security curriculum is being rolled out.

This is a new political reality here.

(voice over): Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has pledged to fast-track the electoral changes made in Beijing, and there will likely be little pushback. Hong Kong's pro-democracy leaders are in exile, in prison, or intimidated by the National Security Law.

EMILY LAU, FORMER LAWMAKER, DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Hong Kong has changed beyond recognition. Beijing chose or chooses to clamp down on us, to snuff out opposition voices, which I think is dreadful. And they are going to replace -- especially the pan-democrats and others with what they called Patriots.

STOUT: In less than a year, Hong Kong's political destiny has been dismantled and rebuilt for Patriots to run the city.


STOUT: After the so-called electoral reform plan was made, the British foreign secretary slammed the move, you know, foreign government's especially the United States under both the Trump administration and the Biden administration have condemned China's moves in Hong Kong to undermine the autonomy of the territory here.

But Beijing is unwavering. We heard yesterday in response from the ministry of foreign affairs office here in Hong Kong saying this quote, "No external interference will hamper the success of one country-two systems, any plots to meddle with Hong Kong affairs is doomed to fail, John?

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout for us live in Hong Kong.

To the Suez Canal now which is back open 24/7 trying to clear a backlog of ships which had been waiting to pass for the last couple of days. Egypt's president promising new investment to avoid a repeat of the Ever Given grounding which caused the country as much as $15 million a day in fees.

Canal authority now says it's hoping to have the backlog in three to four days. Experts say global ports will be dealing with the fallout from the Ever Given's grounding for months.

CNN's emerging markets editor John Defterios is live this hour in Abu Dhabi. It seems, you know, the Egyptian government is looking wanting to get this backlog done in about a week or so. Is that possible right now, the pace which we're looking at?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, actually even shorter, John, at the pace that they are keeping, they are defying the naysayers, if you will. Let's just kind of give a tally of where we started and where we are today. We peaked at 422 vessels at this southern and northern entrance and also within the canal itself. And believe it or not by midday today they plan to have 250 vessels having cleared out. So it leaves a balance of around 170 and their target is getting it done by midday Friday. It is entirely doable.

You have to keep in mind also there was a number of vessels kind of trapped within the canal. So that first wave of more than 100 ships are able to clear was rather simple because they were already in the passageway going north and south.


DEFTERIOS: Now Maersk, the largest shipping line was saying it would take what you were suggesting John, six to seven days but we have to consider the knock-on effect here. What we're not seeing is the cost of shipping.

I've spoken to a number of different CEOs in the space and they said that some of the rates for some of the vessels have doubled already.

And then you have this misplacement of the containers that are on the ships themselves, John. They were supposed to be in the facility already and they're coming back for example to Asia. That will cause a lot of dislocation.

I wouldn't say shortages in the world when it comes to consumer products but I would imagine delays is going to be the biggest challenge.

And we see because of the clearance of the ships, John, already, that the price of oil is easing off, there was some pressure on oil in last week by up to 4 or 5 percent but it's coming back down to size because of the clearance by the Egyptians.

VAUSE: Just walk us through how the Egyptians seeing their role in managing the Suez Canal crisis here. Because what we're hearing from Al-Sisi it's almost like a moment of national pride saying how important the Suez Canal is to world trade.

And that was on demonstration over the last week or so. The world tends to see a little bit differently, don't they?

DEFTERIOS: Yes, I think this is the dual parallels of the story of the Ever Given, John. We had President Al-Sisi as you suggested in Ismaliya (ph) near the Suez Canal and saying look, the fact that we could turn this around and get it completed from beginning of the disaster to 10 days, they're getting all dust was cleared -- unprecedented.

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority was saying can you imagine if we had to unload that vessel? Normally, that's what would have taken place. But we rescued this operation with dredgers and bringing in the outside tugboats in time.

That's all true. They did respond very quickly. But a number of different questions are being raised here about the methodology of the canal. And this is the world view is that Al-Sisi has successfully invested $8 billion back in 2015 and 2016 to expand the passageway, create a parallel canal so it can go north and south.

That did work, but he wanted to double the volumes to boost up the revenues for the Egyptian gov. All well and good, except for the fact we have to scale these super ships and they did pass through the canal in the past.

So now it's going down to the safety regulations that are in place. What was the role of the pilots that were on the ship? Are they going to take responsibility for this? Were they advisers. Should they all have tugs that are of this scale? The ultra container ships that are going through from this point forward?

And if there is a ferocious sandstorm like we saw before, do you just hold off and not rush into the canal? A number of questions.

And the final thing I'll raise, let's see how the investigation goes, John, one way or the other. How transparent it will be, the fees or the measures that's taken by the Egyptian government will say a lot about global trade and the relationship and the role that they have managing this super canal, which is a key artery around the world.

VAUSE: Yes. And the other point is that, you know, these ships aren't getting any smaller. So I guess we'll see what happens managing the canal moving forward.

John, thank you. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, the Mafia fugitives who love to cook. Now his goose is cooked because he just couldn't stay off YouTube.

Plus this -- the house, crowded once again as the new Crowded House takes to the stage. And things look almost normal.

We'll talk with Neil Finn and Nick Seymour.



VAUSE: An alleged Mafia fugitive on the run for years has finally been caught in the Caribbean. He wasn't cooking up any new scheme. He was cooking Italian dishes and sharing them on YouTube and that's how police found him.

Here is Patrick Oppmann.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An amateur chef who posted videos of himself cooking on YouTube may have given away more than recipes, Italian police say.

Marc Feren Claude Biart is an alleged fugitive who according to Italian police was involved with drug trafficking between the Netherlands and Italy.

One Italian official said that Biart is one of the most dangerous fugitives that belong to the Endragita (ph) -- a powerful syndicate that is believed to be responsible for about 80 percent of the cocaine that enters Europe.

For the last five years or so, Biart lived a quiet existence, except for a hobby where he posted videos of him and his wife cooking on YouTube. In the videos, you don't see Biart's face, that you can make out some of his distinctive tattoos, police say and that led them to Biart and to his arrest.

Biart was sent back to Italy on Monday to face some of those charges of alleged drug trafficking. CNN was unable to reach any of Biart's attorneys. Police in Italy say that since 2014 Biart has been on the run, and that he may have been able to remain in hiding, if not for his passion for Italian cooking, which he shared with the world.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN -- Havana.


VAUSE: There was a time when people gathered in large numbers, total strangers in close proximity often at night, while on a stage in the distance, musicians would entertain. It looked like this.

(MUSIC) VAUSE: That was Queenstown, New Zealand just a few weeks ago. It seems

being COVID-free as New Zealand is means music and fun and get togethers and fittingly it's Crowded House. More of a Kiwi national treasure than just a musical act which has been packing them in.

Joining us now from Auckland is Neil Finn and Nick Seymour. So guys, thanks you very much for being. We really appreciate it.

NEIL FINN, CROWDED HOUSE: It's lovely to be here.


VAUSE: So Neil, there really seems to be something special about this tour. It's so much like the country which is sort of been waking up from a COVID haze. What was the feeling like from the stage?

FINN: It was every night we did on this 12-show tour of New Zealand felt incredibly special. None more so than the Queenstown show actually and it was a magnificent setting with the mountains behind us.

But everybody well aware of how fortunate we were to be able to gather and have concerts and both the familiarity of it and that we missed it. You know, there has been a yearning through the years. So yes, really special. And a hint of hope for being able to continue on and the rest of the world for us, anyway.

VAUSE: After one concert, the "New Zealand Herald" had a headline, Crowded House cure Auckland's COVID blues with a dose of pure joy.

And here is what that night was like, part of it. Here it is.


VAUSE: Nick to you, Auckland seemed a little rusty, were they. They didn't want to really stand up for, you know, the first hour or so, I think. Did they really botch "Weather With You" (ph)?

SEYMOUR: Botch it?

VAUSE: Yes. The sing-along. The crowd.

FINN: Now, (INAUDIBLE) "Weather with you". We tried to guide them every night, but it's a tricky one. Because we should able to just repeat that. Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you. Over and over but there is a little sort of step off, you know, and Nick tried to guide them through it, half of them want to do it and half of them don't.

VAUSE: And Nick, why didn't they want to get up? They stayed in their seats. Were they a bit rusty?

FINN: The weird thing is the first night, they stay in their seat until halfway through and then went nuts for the second half. The second night, they got up right at the very beginning and then they sort of got a bit tired about halfway through. So you know, then they sat down again.

SEYMOUR: We've covered between the two nights -- New Zealanders are very keen of having a bit each way. You know, you think we can stand up. I'll try it for a while.


FINN: You've got to arrange -- we have to arrange this set in such a way to actually have respite. I mean not like going to church where you're standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down.

But you know when you have a lull in the middle of the set, when you have a couple of ballads or a song that spaces out in a theory (ph) away. There has to be a dynamic in the set. And if chairs are provided, people will seat on them.

VAUSE: One thing about the music Nick, is that it brings back so many different memories for so many different people because (INAUDIBLE) it's been part of so many peoples lives for such a very long time and it brings back different memories for different people.

But having this collective experience when you can re-connect I guess with everybody else around you, in a live performance with a lot of people, it seems to be incredibly special and something which is going to help us I think get through this pandemic and come out the other side. How do you feel about that?

SEYMOUR: Well, you know, the pandemic has obviously canceled the collective consciousness. You know, basically. And I think to rediscover that is part of the human experience, you know, whether you are in our public transit scenario, getting a public transport or going to a sports game or even going to church, you know, going to see a band. The collective yes is a big part of you know, being able to identify who you are and feel comfortable and have confidence.


FINN: But with artists (ph) into all of those in the offices and good things will happen there as well.

VAUSE: I hope so. From your lips to God's ear.

Nick and Neil, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it. And good luck with the rest of the tour to come.

FINN: Got I sign off with a little high. I'm Neil in Auckland, and this is CNN.

VAUSE: Love it, thank you.

FINN: Sorry.

VAUSE: It was great. Thanks, guys.

Nothing to be sorry about. That's it for another hour of CNN NEWSROOM. Please stay with us. We're just getting started.

I'll be back after a very short break.

You are watching CNN.



VAUSE: Live around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause.

Coming up this hour, as the pandemic surges across Europe, leaders in France and Germany.