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Taiwan Train Derails In Tunnel; Ethiopian Soldiers Appear To Have Carried Out Executions In Tigray; Airstrikes Continue In Myanmar's Northern State; Easter In Europe: Lockdowns , Curfews And Closures; Uruguay In Measures To Stop Virus Transfer From Brazil At Its Borders; At Least 36 Killed in Taiwan Train Derailment; Prosecutors to Resume Case against Ex-Officer Chauvin; H&M, Nike, Other Brands Face Boycott in China; Ontario Shuts Down for at Least a Month over Variants; Inside BioNTech's New Vaccine Production Factory; Study Amazon Rainforest Now Emits More Greenhouse Gases than it Absorbs. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 2, 2021 - 01:00   ET



VOICE OVER: This is CNN Breaking News.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Breaking news right now. Rescue teams in Taiwan desperately searching the side of a train derailment. Dozens are confirmed dead and many more might be trapped in the wreckage.

Hello, and welcome to our viewers all around the world.' I'm Michael Holmes, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Let's get the latest on all of this now.

Ivan Watson following developments for us live from Hong Kong.

What more do you know, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's clearly a dramatic rescue effort underway after this deadly train derailment that basically took place within a tunnel in eastern Taiwan.

It's a train line that was running from New Taipei down to the south to Taitung and it seems to have taken place in a tunnel to the north of the city of Hualien.

And we've seen images of the train there partially in the tunnel, partially out of it. And some of the survivors actually able to walk out of the tunnel and emerge from the train.

But at the same time Taiwan's state-owned central news agency has been reporting, Michael, that there are quote, multiple persons with no vital signs.

And we've been getting slightly conflicting statistics coming from the Taiwan railway administration as to the number of people killed in this accident.

According to one number that was published, as many as 36 people feared dead but also some conflicting numbers, perhaps 26 people feared dead.

Either way it is a terrible accident that has taken place at the beginning of a long holiday weekend there on a Taroko express train line.

This is a train that can operate at speeds up to 130 kilometers an hour so if it was at full speed while entering that tunnel, you can just imagine the sheer force behind it.

And we are hearing from the state news agency as well as from the railway administration, that a number of the cars are severely impacted which would make trying to extricate survivors from the accident all the more difficult. Also within the confines of a railway tunnel as well.

The president of the country has issued orders to help with the rescue efforts and to mobilize crews to the scene.

And from the images that we've have seen, Michael, this does seem to be a mountainous area farther away from the city where these rescue efforts would have to be underway. So clearly, an unfolding situation.

And this is believed to have occurred at 9 30 a.m. local time, less than four hours ago to give you a indication of how recent this was and how the situation is clearly still unfolding, Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Ivan Watson there in Hong Kong keeping an eye on this for us. And we'll check back in with you as developments come in as developments come in. Ivan Watson, thanks.

Now after months of denial, Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed admitted last week that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea have been fighting with his federal sources in the Tigray region, their target members of the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

Mr. Abiy admitting what eyewitnesses and victims have been saying for a long time now. That Eritrean soldiers were responsible for atrocities in Tigray despite Eritrean denials.

Well, now CNN in collaboration with Amnesty International has investigated what is a gruesome video circulating on social media that shows Ethiopian soldiers carrying out extrajudicial executions of unarmed man.

We do warn you the video you're about to watch is disturbing.

Here's CNN's Nima Elbagir.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are watching footage filmed by a soldier turned whistleblower, now in hiding.

This video was obtained by a pro-Tigray media organization based in the U.S. The vide you're watching will show these Ethiopian soldiers execute these men. A war crime.

The Ethiopian government has waged war against Tigray's ousted regional leaders for the last five months with the help of neighboring Eritrea.


Ethiopia has implied the atrocities in Tigray are mainly Eritrea's doing. That's not true, and here's why.

We know these are Ethiopian soldiers because of the Ethiopian flag on their shoulders here and here. Examining details of the stitching, color and camouflage patterns, military uniforms confirmed to us that the uniforms match those of the Ethiopian Army.

In addition, the soldiers are speaking Amharic, the official language of the Ethiopian federal army, distinct from the local language.

We also know the location by analyzing the video and geolocating the footage. We know it's in central Tigray by the mountain range and terrain just south of the city of Aksum.

This model developed by Amnesty International then verifies that location through spatial analysis. You can see the mountain range matches the footage.

The captives were moved from where you saw them sitting to here, 1.7 kilometers away.

We know that because the video was tracked and mapped and key geographical features were matched on the basis of a high-resolution satellite image of the site.

By pinpointing the location, CNN was able to speak to local villagers who confirmed their family members were dragged away by Ethiopian soldiers and have not been seen since. Some believe their loved ones are in this video.

You can hear soldiers asking the whistleblower to come closer.

UNKNOWN (Translated, Captioned): Why don't you get close and film the execution of these.

ELBAGIR: The wording here is important, "execution." This is premeditated. They've rounded up these men to kill them.

We must warn you what you're about to see is horrifying.

UNKNOWN (Captioned): Walk them down there, shoot him in the back of his head.

ELBAGIR: Shoot them in the head, he says. And they do. Look at the left of your screen. The man shoots. We paused the video

just before his victim falls to the ground. And again, another soldier raises his weapon towards the man in the white scarf.

The video cuts out but the next scene tells you what happened to him, to all of them. The soldiers continue to shoot making sure there are no survivors.

What you are witnessing is an extrajudicial execution. We counted at least 34 young men at the beginning of this video. All are now presumed dead, their bodies casually flung over the ridge. No attempt to hide what has been done here, no apparent fear of consequences.

Their actions are so appalling, we could only show individual frames from the video.

But it doesn't stop here. You can hear someone saying check that one, that one is not dead kill him or I will come. The same soldier moves further along the ridge and shoots from close range as other soldiers watch on.

Much of the region remains under Ethiopian government blackout but CNN and Amnesty International were able to speak to local villages and family members who told us that at least 39 men remain missing from the village.

One man was able to watch the video and confirmed to us that his brother is among the dead depicted here.

Family members continue to search for their loved ones but have been unable to reach this remote area. Their wish to respectfully bury their dead will go unheeded.

ELBAGIR (Voice Over): Nima Elbagir, CNN London.


HOLMES: And Ethiopian officials did not respond to our request for comment. For more on this story, do visit our website

Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar are having to adjust to another challenge. This time Myanmar's military junta has ordered telecom companies to shut down wireless service.

Now that is unlikely to stop protesters who have been marching determinedly for weeks now against the February 1st coup.

Security forces are responding with live ammunition and the arrests under the cover of dark. And they are targeting one ethnic group with airstrikes.

Anna Coren with the latest.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Despite Myanmar's military announcing a month-long ceasefire, CNN can confirm that airstrikes were carried out in Karen state in the country's east close to the Thai border.

It comes following days of airstrikes in the region which have left many dead and forced thousands to flee to neighboring Thailand.


And we have just obtained some extremely disturbing video, the aftermath of one of those airstrikes carried out on March 30th on a gold mine which shows dismembered bodies strewn across the ground with multiple fires still burning.

Well, this was filmed by the Karen National Union which is the political arm of the armed ethnic group in Karen state.

This week has seen a sharp escalation in a conflict that has plagued the country for decades with multiple ethnic groups fighting for autonomy.

They're now being dragged into the civil unrest that kicked off in Myanmar two months ago when the military staged a coup arresting Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader.

The protests against the coup have been relentless, despite military firing on its own people. So far more than 530 civilians have been killed according to the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners.

The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar has warned the U.N. Security Council security council of an imminent bloodbath and the risk of civil war. She's calling on the international community to act.

Well, China has ruled out sanctions against Myanmar saying it will only aggravate tension. The U.S. is urging China to act.

The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency staff and their families to leave the country.

75-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi whose party, the National League for Democracy, which was returned to power in a landslide in elections late last year has not been seen in person since her arrest on the first of February.

But her lawyer said that they saw her via videolink and she appeared in good health.

She also has been charged with another crime. The latest one is for violating the country's colonial era official Secrets Act taking the number of charges that she's facing to five.

We're also expecting communications in Myanmar via wireless devices to be shut down by the military making contact with activists and protesters inside the country extremely difficult.

COREN (On Camera): Anna Coren, CNN, Hong Kong.


HOLMES: Marc Rubin is a regional emergency advisor for UNICEF and joins me now from Bangkok.

Mr. Rubin, thanks so much. NGOs have been raising some very specific concerns about the plight of children in Myanmar. The secretary general for Children and Armed Conflict spoke of her alarm over the issue.

What are your main concerns right now for the welfare of the children in the country?

MARC RUBIN, UNICEF REGIONAL EMERGENCY ADVISER: Well, there are immediate concern about the safety and security of children. And so far, we have at least 44 children, 39 boys and five girls, who have reportedly been killed while countless others have been seriously injured.

They're also very concerned about the recent attacks, aerial bombardment attacks, against villages in the Kachin state where thousands have now been deplaced (ph) and we know about one young child also been killed by aerial bombardment.

So we have this immediate concern about the imminent concern about the security of those children.

In addition, I think nationwide, you can imagine that this -- all the social services are seriously disrupted. So for -- give you an example.

More than a million children right now need immediate vaccination. So not only they are being -- violation has been happening in violence but also broad scale risks in epidemics and others.

HOLMES: Right. And even attacks on hospitals and schools as well. There's been at least three cases of children shot and killed by the security forces in their own homes.

Is there evidence that you've seen that the military is actually targeting children?

RUBIN: Well, the military is targeting the civilian population and among the civilian population there are children.

I think this example of blatant violent -- violations of rights, of the seven-year old girl in Mandalay was shot in her house while sitting on their father's lap, is absolutely outrageous.

So they are targeting civilians and basically children are suffering through this.

HOLMES: There have been numerous calls, of course, throughout for the world to take action, meaningful action, on this and the broader violence against civilians.

What options would you like to see taken? Cutting off the country financially, International Criminal Court referral?

The International Security Council has been its usual impotent self with the permanent members not wanting to forcefully act. What would you like to see?

RUBIN: The secretary general and the special envoy are doing their best to rally around a coherent response to this crisis.


For a humanitarian organization, for the United Nations team in the country and our partners what is very important is to at least achieve some kind of cessation of the violence, to have access to the most affected areas in the country.

Before the crisis you had more than a million people who were needing humanitarian assistance already but now you can imagine it's going to be much more.

So cessation of the violence immediately to at least allow for access to the most needy people.

HOLMES: And that's an important point. So many people were any before all of this started.

The deaths and injuries to children is one thing, a horrific thing. But speak to the impact on the mental health on children as this continues, something that always affects children in conflicts?

RUBIN: It's right. This is sometimes overlooked but psychosocial and mental health is the cornerstone of what humanitarian assistance should also be.

So there are thousands of children first who haven't gone to school for more than a year now due to the COVID and 12 million are basically likely not to go back if the situation continues.

For those children already the safety and the safety of the classroom is jeopardized. You can imagine that with also military occupying tens (ph) of schools, it is also a big issue.

So look, UNICEF and partners are setting up help lines, availing professional counselors also providing legal aid but that really is only a measure that need to be expanded very rapidly.

HOLMES: Yes. Need groups like yours and others on the ground and in contact. And we didn't even talk about those who are -- those children who are also in detention which is a whole other issue here too.


HOLMES: Marc Rubin with UNICEF. Really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

RUBIN: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: A ferry carrying 1,200 people who escaped an Islamist attack in Mozambique has now arrived in the port city of Pemba. Thousands fled the violence after ISIS-linked insurgents laid siege to

the city of Palma last week. Those who escaped said there were many people killed, hundreds missing.

The attack appears to have targeted foreign workers in the district near natural gas projects worth an estimated $60 billion.

Lockdowns, curfews, and closures. Europe is preparing for another major holiday under heavy restrictions. What can and cannot be done this Easter weekend.

Plus the paramedics who treated George Floyd testified in the murder trial of the former police officer, Derek Chauvin. What they saw when they arrived on the scene.

We'll be right back.



HOLMES: The World Health Organization is calling Europe's vaccine rollout unacceptably slow as the region battles a new flare-up of coronavirus infections.

Twenty-seven countries under full or partial lockdown and those restrictions mean millions of the European faithful are facing another somber Easter weekend.


Inside the famed Notre Dame cathedral, a Holy Week mass is nearly empty as Catholic leaders across Paris prepare for another Easter in a pandemic.

This weekend France enters a third lockdown restricting movement, limiting domestic travel and continuing curfews.

In the Vatican, a similar pandemic holiday is ahead. Easter crowds won't throng St. Peter's Square this year, instead Pope France will hold a sparse mass in the basilica as the Vatican follows Italy's nationwide lockdown.

They are among millions of Europeans bracing for a somber Easter weekend as governments try to control rising infections while vaccinations sputter across the E.U.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel walked back plans to extend a national lockdown through Easter but she issued a public appeal.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (Through Translator): It should be a quiet Easter with those closest to you with very reduced contact.

I urge you to refrain from all non-essential travel and that we uphold all the rules.


HOLMES: Though a hard lockdown was averted, national curbs on social contact and gatherings remain as the country battles a third wave of new cases.

Amid restrictions at home, tens of thousands of Germans planned Easter getaways in the sun flocking to the Spanish island of Majorca.

But Spaniards themselves can't do the same. While much of the country remains open, travel between regions is largely banned.

Social events are also limited during Holy Week. On Sunday, worshippers can attend Church but most large Easter celebrations are canceled.

So too in the U.K., residents there will spend Easter under a second phase of lockdown. But easing restrictions are offering renewed optimism.


HOLMES: Performing a streaming good Friday performance, Britain's Royal Opera chorus hopes to greet audiences in May.


WILLIAM SPAULDING, CHORUS DIRECTOR, ROYAL OPERA CHORUS: It's only -- about the springtime and celebrating the coming out of lockdown. And luckily, we got a little bit of sun. And it's about greeting Easter time and greeting the world after lockdown.


HOLMES: Glimmers of hope for a new future as another pandemic holiday comes to pass across Europe.


HOLMES: Well, the pandemic is hitting Brazil so hard right now, its biggest city is rushing to empty old graves in order to make room for new COVID-19 fatalities.

Sao Paulo city hall registered a record number of daily burials this week and the country currently accounts for around a quarter of daily deaths worldwide. It's more than any other nation at the moment.

The virus is also taking a crushing toll on the economy and on health care workers.

Now none of this is lost on Bolivia which is just next door. It is closing its borders with Brazil for a week to try to contain the spread of infections.

Shasta Darlington with an update on the crisis from Sao Paulo. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brazil registered the deadliest month yet from the coronavirus pandemic with over 66,500 people dying in March, more than double the previous record.

The crisis shows no sign of letting up with 625 cities warning they'll run out of oxygen over the next week and 15 of Brazil's 26 states reporting ICU occupancy over 90 percent as a surge of new infections cripples hospitals.

While Brazil has started a vaccine program, the roll out has suffered from delays and political infighting. So far only 8.4 percent of the population has received a first dose.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to rage against isolation and lockdown measures.

This week, the president announced the biggest cabinet shakeup since taking office amid criticism over his handling of the pandemic.

Six ministers were out on Monday and on Tuesday, the commanders of three branches of the armed forces were let go. The reshuffling an indication of how much pressure Bolsonaro is under as COVID-19 continues to ravage the country.

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



HOLMES: Brazil will have another weapon against the virus in its arsenal, health regulators there approving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use.

And the health ministry has signed a contract with the company for 38 million doses. They're set to be delivered between August and November.

Brazil has now authorized the use of at least four COVID vaccines.

Meanwhile Brazil's COVID crisis spilling into neighboring countries. Parts of Uruguay taking action after the variant first found in Brazil made its way across the border.

Rafael Romo with that story.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rivera, Uruguay, population 65,000. Stores in this normally busy border town are now shut down.

President Luis Lacalle Pou last week decreed the closing of all border free shops due to an alarming spike in coronavirus deaths, cases, and hospitalizations.

Schools and most government services are also shut down and Rivera is once again for the second time since the beginning of the pandemic a coronavirus hot spot in Uruguay.

Rivera's across the border from Santano do Livramento, Brazil, a city of 76,000 that is also facing a COVID-19 crisis.

The Santano do Livramento general hospital director says they are now fully devoted to treating COVID-19 patients operating at 106 percent capacity which means some infected people are being treated in tents.

On the Uruguayan side, the director of the intensive care unit at a local hospital says the Brazilian coronavirus crisis made Rivera the COVID-19 gate into Uruguay.

We're very limited in our ability to treat patients the way we should, he says.

Officials believe the constant flow of people across the border on holiday travel have created the perfect COVID-19 transnational storm.

The P1 variant that originated in Brazil has now been found in Rivera which is also a destination for saqueledos (ph), Brazilian merchants who buy products in Uruguay to resell in their country.

There are 10,000 people from Rivera who live on the Brazilian side and as many Brazilians who live on the Uruguayan side according to Rivera mayor, Richard Sandler.

We are now trying to generate the health barrier, Mayor Sandler says.

His goal is giving half the population in Rivera the first COVID-19 shot within the next few weeks and getting one out of five residents fully vaccinated.

The challenge is that the Brazilian side would have to make a similar effort to achieve herd immunity and defeat a virus that knows no borders.

ROMO (Voice Over): Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


HOLMES: And now to Chile which reported its most daily cases ever on Thursday bringing its total to more than a million. And that, in turn, is leading to new border closures and an expanded national curfew.

Journalist Stefano Pozzebon with those details.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The coronavirus pandemic is far from over in South America.

And on Thursday, Chile reported it crossed the landmark figure of over one million registered COVID-19 cases. Over 20,000 Chileans lost their lives due to COVID-19. Confronted by this resurgence of the virus, Chilean authorities

decided to impose a total shut down of the borders to both Chilean nationals and foreigners for the entire month of April.

Equally, a curfew starting 9:00 p.m. would be imposed in Chile from Monday. And this comes despite the fact that Chile had one of the most successful COVID vaccination campaigns.

But threatened with the resurgence of the virus and with the Chilean winter fast approaching, the authorities decided to take shelter to try to curb the spread of the virus.

And Chile is not the only Latin American nation shutting the border, Bolivia has also announced a partial closure of the border with Brazil to try prevent the spread of Brazilian variants into the country.

POZZEBON (On Camera): For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


HOLMES: Now you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

When we come back, George Floyd's girlfriend takes the stand in the murder trial of former police officer, Derek Chauvin. Her emotional testimony when we come back.



HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

And we have been following breaking news out of eastern Taiwan where a busy holiday weekend is off to a tragic start. A train derailment inside a tunnel killing at least 36 people. Rescuers still working to free dozens of passengers stuck in the wreckage.

Government officials say that more than 60 people have been taken to various hospitals and Reuters sites the Central News Agency reporting the train went off the rails when it hit a truck that slid into its path.

Prosecutors will call their next witness in the coming hours in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin charged in the death of George Floyd.

CNN's Omar Jimenez reporting on Thursday's dramatic testimony.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The moments when paramedics arrived and George Floyd appeared unresponsive in May 2020 are coming into clear focus. An audio played in court Derek Chauvin is heard on the phone describing what had just happened. DEREK CHAUVIN, FORMER POLICE OFFICER: I had to hold the guy down. He

was -- he was going crazy, wouldn't go -- and I have to go in a moment -- wouldn't go in the back of the squad.

JIMENEZ: He was talking to the supervising police sergeant on duty at the time, David Ploeger.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTOR: Do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?


SCHLEICHER: What is it?

PLOEGER: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers they could have ended their restraint.

SCHLEICHER: And that was after he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resisting.

PLOEGER: Correct.

JIMENEZ: Paramedics Seth Bravinder and Derek Smith responded to the scene and arrived to an unresponsive Floyd.

Smith, seen here checking Floyd for vitals.

DEREK SMITH, PARAMEDIC: They're non-detectable.

ERIN ELDRIDGE, MINNESOTA ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: And what did his condition appear to be to you overall?

SMITH: In lay terms I thought he was dead.

JIMENEZ: The check-in began while now former officer Derek Chauvin still had his knee on Floyd's neck before Bravinder stepped in.

ELDRIDGE: What were you attempting to do at that point in time?

SETH BRAVINDER, PARAMEDIC: Have the officer move.

ELDRIDGE: And why did you need the officer to move?

BRAVINDER: So we could move the patient because he was -- I guess limp would be the best description.

JIMENEZ: Bravinder testified the cardiac monitor showed Floyd's heart had flatlined.

BRAVINDER: (INAUDIBLE) -- the heart isn't really doing anything at that moment.

JIMENEZ: During cross examination the defense asks about whether overdosed patients can regain consciousness and be aggressive.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Have you personally seen that happen? BRAVINDER: Yes.

JIMENEZ: But testimony Thursday also touched on who George Floyd was before May 2020.


COURTNEY ROSS, GEORGE FLOYD'S GIRLFRIEND: He loved playing sports with like neighborhood kids.

JIMENEZ: Courtney Ross, George Floyd's girlfriend of three years took the stand. The first testimony heard from someone who knew Floyd.

ROSS: We love to eat a lot because I love to eat a lot. He was a big man and it took -- you know, it took a lot of energy to keep him going and he loved food. And so did I. It was fun. It was an adventure always with him.

JIMENEZ: But while emotional throughout she testified their relationship also included addiction to opioids.

ROSS: Classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids.

SCHLEICHER: Well did he have sports injuries that he complained of?

ROSS: Yes. His neck. From his neck to his shoulder blade and down to his lower back.

JIMENEZ: The defense for Derek Chauvin is trying to make the case it was drugs in George Floyd's system that killed him not Chauvin's knee to the neck.

So when it was their turn to question Ross they asked about an emergency trip to the hospital Floyd had just two months before his death.

NELSON: You later learned that that was due to an overdose.

ROSS: Yes?

SCHLEICHER: Objection.

NELSON: And did you learn what that -- what caused that overdose?


NELSON: At that time frame did you learn that Mr. Floyd was taking anything other than opioids?


NELSON: You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?


JIMENEZ: She testified days before he died Floyd was using again but never complained of shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

SCHLEICHER: Had Mr. Floyd been an active person physically?

ROSS: Yes. He's very active.

JIMENEZ (on camera): And over the course of this week with testimony, we've had these different puzzle pieces come together to paint a clear picture of what happened on May 25, 2020.

We're expected to pick things back up Friday with a brand-new witness. And while the identity isn't quite known, we do know at some point in the future, current Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo is expected to testify along with the Hennepin County medical examiner and even potentially members of George Floyd's family.

So that process continues with day 5 Friday in what is expected to be a shortened day of testimony.

Omar Jimenez, CNN -- Minneapolis, Minnesota.


HOLMES: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, Chinese consumers outraged against western apparel brands as they call out alleged forced labor in China's Xinjiang region.

We'll discuss when we come back.



HOLMES: Chinese consumers are boycotting H&M, Nike and other western brands. Now, those companies say they're concerned about allegations of forced labor in China's Xinjiang region. Much of the world says those are human rights violations, China says they are lies.

Selina Wang reports.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Here goes the H and here goes the M -- across China, H&M logos and billboards are getting kicked off advertising frames. Scratched off the wall and even covered in red cloth amid a sudden consumer boycott.

The logo is now a symbol of shame in China. Its products have also disappeared from Chinese e-commerce platforms. CNN's search for H&M on Alibaba and JD's (ph) apps yield no results.

The Swedish company is just the latest target of Chinese patriotic fury whipped up by the government.

It all started after a group linked to the Communist Party re-posted a six-month-old statement from H&M saying it was deeply concerned over reports of forced labor and cotton production in China's far western region of Xinjiang. The company in September said it would stop sourcing cotton from the region where the U.S. has accused Beijing of committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. These are allegations Beijing has strongly denied.

The Communist Youth League criticized H&M for spreading rumors to boycott Xinjiang cotton while also trying to make a profit in China. Posts on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo with the hashtag I support Xinjiang cotton have been viewed more than seven billion times.

Within hours, the fury spread to Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Puma, Converse and others. As social media users and state media dug up their old corporate statements expressing concerns about forced labor reports and Xinjiang, dozens of Chinese celebrities publicly announced they would cut ties or end promotional partnerships with these foreign brands.

They rushed to defend Beijing's policies and Xinjiang even several of Chinese top Uyghur stars. The outrage spreading to the streets of Beijing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We should boycott them and let them know that China is not a country to be trifled with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I will resist any brand that has any bad comments about our motherland.

WANG: Xinjiang produces one-fifth of the world's cotton and nearly 90 percent of China's cotton annually. In January, the U.S. banned imports of cotton imports from the region over forced labor concerns.

Beijing's campaign against foreign retail brands just days after the U.S., E.U. and U.K. sanctioned several Chinese officials over their alleged role in the crackdown in Xinjiang.

(on camera): Beijing has leveraged the country's massive consumer base for political purposes in the past. What is the ultimate aim here?

JAMES MCGREGOR, CHAIRMAN, APCO GREATER CHINA REGION: I think China is feeling threatened by all of these sanctions and has decided to just hit back as strongly as they can to try to get these companies to influence their governments to kind of tone down and back off.

WANG (voice over): But analysts project that the drop in sales will be temporary for the targeted brands with H&M likely suffering the most. Other brands like Nike and Adidas who sponsor Chinese sports teams are still available on Chinese e-commerce.

(on camera): Here in Japan retail store Muji said that it will continue to source cotton from Xinjiang and that it's conducted due diligence on its supply chain.

(voice over): In fact it's even advertising products made with Xinjiang cotton on its Web site.

(on camera): But experts say it is impossible to conduct accurate due diligence on supply chains in Xinjiang and that the only way to ensure that our brand is not complicit in forced labor is to cut ties. But not all consumers have the same concerns.

(voice over): "It doesn't affect my shopping. I trust Muji's products and quality. My house is filled with their products," she tells me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as long as they continue to hold this current policy I might think twice to shop in their stores.

WANG: As tensions between China and countries around the world intensify, brands will increasingly be forced to pick a side.

Selina Wang, CNN -- Tokyo.


HOLMES: Paul Argenti is a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College and joins me now from Hanover in New Hampshire. Professor thanks for your time.

Let's discuss. For corporations I guess, you know, there is the pressure from the west to take a stand on human rights, while if they do they are risking blow back from China. How thin is the tightrope companies have to walk in China?

PAUL ARGENTI, PROFESSOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: It's very, very thin, Michael. In fact threading that needle is one of the hardest things that I think multinationals have to do especially companies like Nike where, you know, it's like 25 percent of their business is in China.


ARGENTI: I think what you have to do is try to balance the values that exist in your company as a whole. And figure out are you really able to continue to do business in China with the kinds of abuses that we are seeing with the Uyghurs and so forth?

HOLMES: Right. To that point, I guess, how does anyone hold China accountable on issues like human rights in a meaningful way when in a way the whole world is economically dependent on them to some extent? I mean does China have the world over a barrel?

ARGENTI: I don't think so. I wouldn't give them that much power. I mean let's just look at Nike as an example. They're a major sponsor of the Olympics in Beijing which is just a couple of years away, right.

And I think if Nike really wanted to stand up to China without actually allowing them to lose face they could work out a way to do that. That would probably be helpful.

But what they cannot do is pretend that they care about human rights on the one hand and then totally disregard what's going on in terms of the issues in that region in China. You just can't do that.

I mean today you have to be accountable globally for what you do. And if you have a value system you have to live up to it no matter you are in the world.

HOLMES: I guess to that point I mean even if companies take a stand, I mean, how effective has it been for China to say as it does, you know, you are lying. This isn't happening. It is fake news.

I mean so far that strategy seems to work, doesn't it? I mean what are the consequences?

ARGENTI: I think -- I mean the consequences in China are a boycott which is what we're seeing they do or they cancel your directions to your stores as in the case of H&M.

But let's take a look at the way the NBA handled it because I thought the NBA did a pretty good job of supporting that general manager who spoke out about Hong Kong. And, you know, it isn't like China stopped doing business with the NBA. You have to be a little bit careful because -- and by the way this is just true of doing business Asia in general as you probably know. You don't want them to lose face.

But on the other hand you also need to show that you are in a powerful position and that you can stand up to them. and I think that this is something that companies need to learn how to do if they want to continue to do business in China.

HOLMES: Yes, I guess the old saying, you know, it is just business comes to mind. I mean for some companies does it boil down to that? I mean what is right for business as opposed to doing what is right, full stop? I mean at the end of the day, CEOs are accountable shareholders and their companies' bottom lines, right?

ARGENTI: You know, this isn't 1975. This is the 21st century. And I think, you know, if we only existed for the benefit of shareholders as we did in the 70s, we'd have to have a different world than the one we live in.

You are equally accountable to your employees, your customers and all the people that are going to focus on what you are doing, whether you are in Georgia having to deal with the government's laws there, or in China.

And you're going to get the kind of pressure that will force you to make a decision about what the right thing is to do. And making money cannot be the only thing that you focus on anymore. If only it were that simple.

HOLMES: Well, I suppose in a way that is good news. I was reading nearly two-thirds of global consumers say that they will buy or they boycott a brand because of its stance on social or political issues. That was a survey conducted Edelman (ph) back in 2018.

I mean it's always going to be in the back of the minds of CEOs whether it is China, or whether it's the U.S. states restricting voting. That comes up, doesn't it?

ARGENTI: It does. You know, on the other hand I just want to caution you about statistics like that because I like to say people talk thin and eat fat. you know, they have a diet but eat a big Mac. But one of the things that we have to realize is that consumers are really much more concerned than they used to be in the past. And much more important, your employees are going to pressure you in ways that you never thought of before.

HOLMES: Yes. And I guess we are seeing that in the U.S. for sure.

Professor Paul Argenti, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

ARGENTI: Thank you Michael.

The Amazon rain forest is changing and people are mostly to blame.

When we come back our meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us with some worrying details.



HOLMES: Officials in Ontario, Canada say they're fighting a new enemy -- dangerous, fast-spreading COVID-19 variants. Now, the province which includes the country's most populous city, Toronto, has models showing the variants increasing at alarming rates. And it could be weeks before new cases and hospitalizations ease up so it is taking emergency action.

CNN's Paula Newton with details.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The province of Ontario in Canada now announcing an emergency break or shut down for at least the month of April. At issue are menacing variants that continue to spread throughout the province and really the concern is the amount of hospitalizations and ICU admissions among younger people.

The province already saying that ICU capacity is at a historic high already. At this point they say they cannot afford for cases to continue to increase. And Canada's top doctor has also indicated that most of Canada is now in what they are calling a third resurgence.

Now, while about 15 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the vaccine rollout is far too slow in Canada at this point in time to try and mitigate any of the hospitalizations or ICU admissions that would happen in this so called third wave.

Paula Newton, CNN -- Atlanta.


HOLMES: Pfizer and BioNTech have a global goal of producing 2.5 billion vaccines by the end of this year and one billion of those might come from BioNTech's new plant. Frederik Pleitgen gives us an exclusive look inside.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the heart of BioNTech's production -- a bioreactor that produces mRNA, the building block for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

VALESKA SCHILLING, HEAD OF PRODUCTION, BIONTECH MARBURG: So we're starting our work with manufacturing of the drug substance. This is a biochemical process that happens basically in every cell. But here we have stripped it through our bio reactor and this takes roughly one day, one to two days.

PLEITGEN: Valeska Schilling is the head of production at BioNTech's new plant in Marburg, Germany that was just certified by the European Medicines Agency and she tells me the staff are already ramping up production.

SCHILLING: We all have friends. We have family. We have, you know, a lot of people that are affected by this pandemic situation. And we all want to come out. So we are very happy that we can actively do something against a situation we're living.

PLEITGEN: The bioreactor is operated in a special clean room. It might not look huge but can produce enough mRNA for about eight million doses every two days BioNTech says.

The company hopes to produce a billion doses within a year at this plant alone. Vaccine that is badly needed.

(on camera): Right now there's massive demand for vaccines against the novel coronavirus, much more than there is supply around the world. That is why it is so important for plants like this one to not only get up and running but to get up and running at full speed as fast as possible.

(voice over): While countries like the U.S., the U.K. and Israel are vaccinating their populations quickly, the E.U. and much of the rest of the world are suffering from severe vaccine shortage. That is despite the fact that so far BioNTech and Pfizer have exceeded the amount of vaccine they promised to deliver.

But the company's co-founder telling CNN they are constantly trying to increase production.

OZTEM TURECI, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, BIONTECH: This is new technology you cannot just repurpose a vaccine facility which are there and you can also not train people very fast so we are working and turning every stone basically to upscale and roll out our capacities.

PLEITGEN: And the company hopes to further pick up the pace with sites like this getting into full swing.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN -- Marburg, Germany.


HOLMES: Now the world's largest tropical rainforest now emits more greenhouse gases than it absorbs. The Amazon usually known, of course, for its capacity to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but new research shows that climate change and deforestation is changing that.


HOLMES: Experts say that instead, the rainforest is now a likely contributor to the warming of the planet.

Let's bring in meteorologist, Derek Van Dam. This is -- I mean it's tragic stuff, the lungs of the planet, not so lungy (ph) anymore.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the lungs are coughing quite literally --


VAN DAM: -- and struggling to breathe.

This new report showing some very damning evidence that's showing now that the Amazon Basin is now a carbon sink versus -- or excuse me, a carbon source versus what it has been, a carbon sink.

So basically what we are saying is the rising temperatures, the increasing drought we've seen across the area, the overwhelming deforestation there -- this is preventing the ability of the Amazon to absorb more than it's emitting. So it's really interesting to see.

I just want to remind our viewers here that we live in a living, breathing planet. You can see the sources of vegetation as it changes through the course of a 12-month cycle.

You focus in on Central and South America where the Amazon basin is located you can see an overwhelming amount of green here. So we have this deforestation, the increasing drought and the rise in temperatures with global warming.

But it's not just the carbon dioxide that is playing a role here. There is a much larger picture at play that this latest study focuses in on and that is the other greenhouse gases. The warming, trapping gases around our planet like nitric oxide as well as methane thanks to deforestation as well as agricultural and specific land-clearing uses.

Now, you can see how important tropical rain forests are. They regulate our global temperatures across the planet but the Amazon rainforest is considered the lungs of our planet because 20 percent of the world's oxygen is created right there.

But just since 2002 right to 2019, we have destroyed roughly the size of the country of France in equivalent in terms of square kilometers of rainforest from the Brazilian area.

You can see since 2002 the global rainforest across the planet. 50 percent of that deforestation has occurred within the Amazon. So something that is obviously happening here.

The larger picture? Not just the carbon dioxide but the nitrous oxide and the methane that is being emitted is a significant contributor to this global greenhouse gas that I keep referring to.

The carbon source now, we are now releasing more of these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the Amazon has previously absorbed, Michael.

HOLMES: Very, very troubling. Not a good sign.

Derek Van Dam appreciate it. Thanks so much.

And I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

I'll be right back with more CNN NEWSROOM in a moment.