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Global COVID Cases Rise; Nuclear Talks Renewed; Israel's President Asks Netanyahu to Form Government; Key Witnesses Testify at Derek Chauvin's Trial; India Reports Its Biggest Daily Jump in COVID Cases; Amnesty International: Pandemic Amplified Decades of Inequalities. Aired 1-1:45a ET

Aired April 7, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Avlon. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, fears of a new coronavirus wave as cases rise around the world. Records are being smashed in several countries.

Indirect diplomacy. The U.S. and Iran trying to bring the nuclear deal back to life while staying out of each other's sight.

And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets the first crack at forming a new government. But that might be easier said than done.


AVLON: For the 6th straight week, the World Health Organization is seeing a rise in COVID cases around the world.

More than 4 million infections were confirmed this past week, along with 71,000 deaths, many of them came from Latin America, especially Brazil, which reported almost 4,200 people dead on Tuesday alone, a new national record.

Neighboring Argentina also saw its highest number of daily infections, topping 20,000 for the first time in the pandemic.

In Peru, doctors and nurses are protesting working conditions as they deal with a second wave of cases. They're demanding more medical supplies, vaccinations, and beds for intensive care units.

Chile, meantime, has postponed elections as it fights its own outbreak. Voters were supposed to choose governors, mayors, and an assembly to rewrite the Constitution this weekend, but the pandemic pushed all that back by five weeks.

The rise in infections is not just limited to Latin America. Southeast Asian countries are seeing the highest increase in cases in a 46 percent surge in deaths. India just reported the highest daily increase in coronavirus cases on Wednesday. South Korea saw the biggest one-day jump since early January. And Bangladesh is reporting record infections.

Let's head to Tokyo now where CNN's Blake Essig stands by.

Blake, Japan, there are worries of a fourth wave.

What is the country doing about it, and how is it impacting Olympic preparations?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You know, John, it is really a twofold factor here. You've got the fact that Japanese health officials feel that these more transmissible variants which are fueling infections across the country, leading to this potential fourth wave, and then we have the state of emergency lifted about two weeks ago at this time when the cherry blossoms were blooming and a lot of people were out and about. The weather is getting nicer, and you had this rise of 39 out of 47 prefectures, since the state of emergency was lifted, are now showing an increase in infection, with Hyogo, Osaka and Miyagi prefecture really leading the charge, showing the most significant rise in infection.

And to your point about the Olympics, the coronavirus, this new potential wave of infection is absolutely playing a role. You've had water polo events scheduled for this weekend postponed, and earlier this week, there was the International Swimming Federation which canceled several events scheduled to take place in Japan over the next the couple of weeks and months because of the fact that there was not a proper plan put in place according to the International Swimming Federation that would protect the health and safety of participants.

And so, trying to move forward with these games which are scheduled to take place in less than 4 months, they are running into a lot of problems and the increase in COVID cases is not going to help.

AVLON: Certainly not. To be sure, the Olympics are a logistically complex process in a good time, and even in non-pandemic times, there are diseases that break out because of the socialization of the athletes in the Olympic Village.

We've had experience over the last year seeing some sporting events contain the virus effectively. The NBA, for example, the Australian Open. What I don't understand is why Japan seems to be resisting requiring athletes for getting vaccinations. What's the answer?

ESSIG: You know, in attending these press conferences with Tokyo 2020 officials, the idea is that they don't want these athletes to skip the line.


It's more of a moral decision to not have athletes jump in front to get vaccines, but look, when you talk about some of these other events around the world and you compare them to the Olympics, the Olympics has the potential to be the super-spreader of all super-spreader events, even without overseas spectators, you're bringing in tens of thousands of people from roughly 200 countries around the world and then you're bringing them all to Japan. So, they potentially bringing whatever they bring with them, you know,

and are intermingling in the athletes' village, which we still have not learned any guidance on how they are planning to keep people away from each other within the athletes' village. All of these people once the games are complete and their events are complete, they're all going back to their home countries and they're going to bring with them whatever it is they might have come into contact with.

So, the question of vaccinations is a good one. I spoke with a doctor just yesterday, a vaccinologist, who said vaccines should be a requirement for the games. It's really one of the only ways to help protect the safety of these athletes when they come here to compete in the games here in just about four months -- John.

AVLON: We'll be talking a lot about it in the coming months. Blake Essig, thank you very much.

All right. Australia's trade minister says the European Union has lifted a block on AstraZeneca vaccines for his country. The E.U. will reportedly send more than 3 million doses. Australia has been helping Papua Guinea with vaccines during a surge in cases there, and it's already sent 8,000 doses and now plans to send 1 million more.


SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I am pleased to hear that the European Union overnight has indicated they are not seeking to restrict these vaccines to Australia. So, I will be pleased as will the minister to write again in parallel to AstraZeneca to seek export licenses for the full amount of the doses.


AVLON: In Europe, only five countries have hit the target of vaccinating 80 percent of the elderly and health care workers by the end of March. Meanwhile, we are expecting European regulators to announce the result of their review of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Several countries have suspended use because of a possible link to rare blood clots.


DR. ROGERIO PINTO DE SA GASAR, W.H.O. DIRECTOR OF REGULATION & PREQUALIFICATION: For the time being, there is no evidence that the benefit risk assessment for the vaccine needs to be changed. We know from the data coming from countries like the U.K. and others that the benefits are really important in terms of reduction of the mortality of populations that are being vaccinated.


AVLON: British health experts are advising adults to keep getting the AstraZeneca vaccine despite another potential setback.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz explains.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Oxford University has paused trials of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine in children pending investigation by the U.K. medicines regulator. One of the members of the Oxford University trial saying there is new concerns about the trial itself, but they are awaiting the review from the U.K. medicines regulator.

Now, the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine has mean a matter of controversy between the E.U. and the U.K. with some nations in the E.U. banning its use in certain age groups. This all comes down to concerns that there may be links between blood clots, severe blood clots, and very rare cases and this Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine.

Just a few days ago, the U.K. confirmed there had been 30 people out of 18 million vaccinated up to March 24th that had exhibited signs of these blood clots. Unfortunately, seven people died, that was what was concerned to be confirmed by health officials to local media.

Now, also, the Europeans Medicines Agency was investigating this, they said that there is a possible but not proven link all of this linking up now, Oxford University saying the trial among a few hundred, children who are part of this trial, there is no concerns about the trial themselves, but they are awaiting review from the U.K. regulatory right now.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


AVLON: Iran says the latest efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreements were constructive and that another meeting is scheduled for Friday. Iran held indirect talks with the U.S. in Vienna on Tuesday. They did not speak face to face but communicated through intermediaries.

Officials are calling the first session a positive step.


ABBAS ARAQCHI, IRANIAN CHIEF NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR: I think it was constructive. It was on the right track. It's too soon to know that it's been successful. That will be known after the work of the working groups.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: These discussions in Vienna, even though we are not meeting directly with the Iranians, as we've said, it's a welcome step and a constructive step and potentially a useful step.


AVLON: Despite the positive response, officials have acknowledged there is still a long way to go before an agreement is reached.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Talks are underway here in the Austrian capital of Vienna to try to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement. Now, the first day of negotiations was described by the Iranian chief negotiator, the deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, as being constructive. That's according to Iranian state media.

But all sides agree making headway is going to be very difficult. One of the reasons for that is these are not direct talks, but indirect talks with negotiators for the United States and Iran not seeing each other face to face. Instead, the Iranians for the most part are negotiating with the remaining nations in the Iran nuclear agreement, and then keeping the United States abreast of what progress is being made and what could possibly happen in the not too distant future.

Now, the two sides are still quite far apart as to what exactly they expect from one another. The Iranians are saying if the United States wants to return to the Iran nuclear agreement, they must abide by it immediately, and that according to the Iranians, meaning immediate sanctions relief.

The U.S., for its part, says before it will take steps, it wants to see the Iranians come back into compliance with all of the protocols of the Iran nuclear agreement. And only then will there be sanctions relief on the part of the U.S.

So, there are still deep gulfs between these two countries. However, one of the things that they can agree on is that both want to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement and try to move forward from there.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Vienna, Austria.


AVLON: Israel's president has asked Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form the next government to break an ongoing deadlock. The prime minister will have up to six weeks to build a coalition with the new government sworn in on Tuesday. But he still doesn't have enough support from lawmakers and the president isn't sure he'll succeed.


REUVEN RIVLIN, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: I've come to my decision according to the map of recommendations, which indicates that Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I've decided to entrust him with the task of forming a government. This is not an easy decision for me, morally and ethically.


AVLON: Let's get more from Yaakov Katz, the editor-in-chief of "The Jerusalem Post".

It's good to see you, sir.

So, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Why did the Israeli president take this step again?

YAAKOV KATZ, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE JERUSALEM POST: I hope it's not because he's insane. John. I think it's --

AVLON: I'm not imply it is, I'm not implying it is.

KATZ: No, no, I'm kidding.

I think the reality is such that ultimately, according to the law here in Israel, the president meets after election with all the party leaders, and here is from them who do they recommend to be the prime minister, to form the governing coalition where you need a majority in parliament of 61 seats to be able to have a ruling government in Israel.

And the majority of people, even though it's short of 61, the majority recommended Benjamin Netanyahu. And therefore, the president's hands were tied. You heard in the speech yesterday the anguish he had and the frustration with doing it again, giving it again to Netanyahu who has failed in three previous elections. The fact that he said I am skeptical there will even be a government after these negotiations are going to take place over the next few weeks, and the fact that Netanyahu was on trial and I recognize the ethical and moral problem with granting someone who's indicted on severe corruption charges the right to form a government.

AVLON: I mean, that's the truly new thing about this particular situation. I mean, polarization can be paralysis, but with the prime minister on trial for corruption, how do you see this ending?

KATZ: Look, Netanyahu's legal troubles have been accompanying him throughout these 4 elections. We knew in the first election in April 2019, that he was under investigation and became indicted. Then the trial began with pretrial hearings and now, on Monday, was the beginning of testimonies and evidence the prosecution is bringing against him happened on the same day the president was meeting with party leaders to hear the recommendations.

You have the split screen moment in Israel where the prime minister is on trial and at the same time people are recommending that the same man who's on trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, be the one to form a government. I think to an extent, Israelis are pretty desensitized by Netanyahu's trial. The fact of the matter is, he got 30 seats in the last election, nearly double the party that came in second. Over 1 million Israelis voted for him.

So, it's not that they think the trial is something they shouldn't be voting for and therefore he doesn't have a right to serve as prime minister.


But it does cause other problems for Israel. Like every decision he makes, is it because it's good for Israel or it's good for his political survival or to help him avoid the trial in the criminal charges against him? That's not a healthy situation for democracy.

AVLON: It certainly isn't. I mean, "The New York Times" had an article heading up this election asking if Israelis democracy is broken. I mean, you've got the prime minister fighting with the jittery branch. You've got the prime mister calling this process an attempted coup.

To what extent is this something that really does paralyze Israeli democracy, and how do you see the path out of this? Where we had inevitably to a fifth election?

KATZ: A fifth election is a definite possibility, I fear that looming the horizon Israel. But I wouldn't say that Israel's democracy is broken. I think we have to look at it differently.

Israel's democracy is actually working. Yes, the prime minister is viciously attacking the judiciary, the law enforcement, the prosecution, the justice ministry, the whole justice system. The fact of the matter is, he's on trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He is not above the law, that's an important statement by the Israeli legal system and Israeli democracy.

And the second thing is, the fact of the matter is he has been able to form a coalition. And, yes we keep on going to elections but we keep election because their Democratic system works.

In other words, if it didn't work, we would have a dictator who were to declare I won even if he didn't win, then I would say you're right, the Democratic system is broken.

But here, we keep on lighten election because democracy is actually working in a full colors and full flare here in Israel.

AVLON: I guess the final question then is can the center hold? With these fractured series of parties, is there a centers coalition that can be formed to restore some stability to the Israeli government?

KATZ: I wish, I hope, but it doesn't look like that possibility exists. Israeli politicians are very much split down this fault line known yes Bibi/no Bibi, right? Do they want Netanyahu? Bibi being his nickname or do they not want Netanyahu?

And it crosses even ideological lines, where you have parties seemingly be ideological lines where you have parties on the right who would seemingly be ideologically aligned with Netanyahu who are against him on a personal level. So, we have -- we don't have identity politics in Israel. We have personality politics.

And therefore, I fear that it would very difficult for Netanyahu to get a government. But one possibility is if he's able to bring in a small Arab party. That's being spoken about a lot, that would support his government, cause you can only get to 59 with parties on the right, that would join him potentially. He would still need to get to 61.

The good news there, is that even though it's not being done for the right reasons, it's being done just for him to be able to form a government. It's good news for Israel because it means the active participation for tonight first-time potentially of Israeli Arabs in our government, that's important. Israeli Arabs are 20 percent of is Israel's population, that's about 2 million people. There are a minority, yes there in parliament but they've never been in a governing coalition.

And that would be a good thing. It would be a good thing for Israel's democracy, for the health of our country, and for the integration of minority into the social and political system.

AVLON: Fascinating. Yaakov Katz, editor in chief of "The Jerusalem Post", thanks for joining us on CNN.

KATZ: Thank you.

AVLON: Now in Russia, to a very different stories are emerging, about the health and treatment of the imprisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny. We're going to have an update.

Plus, a police officer testified to the Chauvin trial Tuesday, we're going to tell you what it says about how Chauvin held George Floyd on the ground.

Stay with us.



AVLON: Nigeria's president said a prison break this on nearly 2,000 inmates escape, was an active terrorist. Authorities said the gunman invaded the site and used explosive to blast open parts of the prison on Monday. Police blame an outlawed secessionist group for the attack, although their leader denies responsibility. Six inmates have returned to the prison, 35 others chose not to leave.

Russia says that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny will get any special treatment in prison. So, any health issues he might have will be addressed according to prison policy. Navalny's complain of several symptoms including fever and a bad cough.

Human rights group Amnesty International warns his life may be in danger.

Here's CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From inside this grim penal colony where Alexei Navalny is languishing, reports are emerging of the Russian opposition figure's failing health. The latest from Navalny unconfirmed by authorities that he's coughing a hard, running a high temperature, and been moved to a sick ward on the prison grounds.

A group of sympathetic doctors has even gathered at the gates demanding access to the jailed Kremlin critic who's complained of a tuberculosis outbreak behind bars.

ANASTASIYA VASILYEVA, DOCTOR AND ALLY OF KREMLIN CRITIC ALEXEY NAVALNY: I'm very troubled about his health, about what could happen with his health. I understand very clearly about some symptoms that he has now, that it can lead to a very severe condition and even death.

CHANCE: But those in power are pushing back on the claims he's at death's door. This closed circuit television footage purports to show Navalny in his prison dorm after complaining of a bad back and lack of sensitivity in his legs. You can see him walking across the room and chatting to a prison guard, suggesting his poor health may have been exaggerated.

There is also this, broadcast on Russian state media, silent video of Navalny fast asleep in bed, recorded by a prison employee during an inspection. The opposition figure has described being woken every hour by guards, tantamount to torture by sleep deprivation, he says.

There's also been an extraordinary access granted to this woman, Maria Butina is the name, once a high-profile prisoner in a U.S. jail after being convicted of conspiracy to be a foreign agent. Now, a reporter on Russian television, comparing Navalny's prison conditions with her own.

You should spend time in an American jail, she screams at him off camera. At least here, it's clean, she says.

It was, of course, Navalny who was taken suddenly ill on a flight from Siberia last year, suspected nerve agent poisoning.

Amid concerns of neurological damage, the opposition leader, who was jailed after recovering and returning to Russia in January, says he is on hunger strike until he gets proper medical care.

But Russian officials are showing no sign of relenting. Navalny's wife says she just got this letter from the penal colony, requesting her husband's passport. Without it, the letter says, he can't be treated in a hospital.

Russia's stubborn bureaucracy now threatening the health of its beleaguered opposition leader.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Pokrov, Russia.


AVLON: A stream of police officers testified against Derek Chauvin, former officer accused of murdering George Floyd. The testimony was especially powerful, from a police instructor who

had trained Chauvin on how to forcefully restrain an uncooperative suspect.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has all the details


PROSECUTOR: What is proportional force?

LT. JOHNNY MERCIL, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT USE-OF-FORCE INSTRUCTOR: Well, you want to use the least amount of force necessary to meet your objectives.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 20 witnesses have been called in the trial for Derek Chauvin. Many of them, officers.

OFFICER NICOLE MACKENZIE, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT MEDICAL SUPORT COORDINATOR: If you don't have a pulse and a person, you will immediately start CPR. Just because they are speaking, doesn't mean they are breathing adequately.

JIMENEZ: But week two of testimonies has largely focused on training.

Police Lieutenant Johnny Mercil is the use of force instructor with the training division at the Minneapolis Police Department.

PROSECUTOR: Sir, is this an MPD-trained neck restraint?


MERCIL: No, sir.

JIMENEZ: Mercil admitted, though, there are scenarios where a knee on the neck does happen in times of aggressive resistance. But --

PROSECUTOR: For example, the subject was under control and handcuffed. Would this be authorized?

MERCIL: I would say no.

JIMENEZ: The defense for Derek Chauvin, pushing the lieutenant to their central argument.

GEORGE FLOYD: I can't breathe.

JIMENEZ: That George Floyd died largely from drugs and his medical history. Asking about drugs and adrenaline, or the lieutenant said could speed up the process of going unconscious from a neck restraint.

MERCIL: The higher your blood rate or your respiration and heart rate is, generally, the faster the neck restraint affects somebody.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And how long, based on your training and experience, does it typically take to render a person unconscious using an neck restraint?

MERCIL: My experience is under 10 seconds

NELSON: Under 10 seconds?

MERCIL: Yes, sir.

JIMENEZ: Lieutenant Mercil is among multiple senior level officers at the Minneapolis Police Department to testify in recent days and topics like the use of force in crisis intervention. The court Tuesday also focused on Chauvin's exact knee placement, which the defense argued was more on Floyd's back at the points.

NELSON: Does this appear to be a problem hold that an officer may apply with his knee?


JIMENEZ: While prosecutors argued the exact placement matters less than what they argue it led to. Especially, since Floyd was already under control.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTOR: You talked about the prone position, in the death itself, being something that could lead to positional asphyxia, is that right?

MERCIL: Yes, sir.

SCHLEICHER: But that risk the increase by the addition of body weight?

MERCIL: Yes sir.

JIMENEZ: And later in the day, the defense returned to one of their central arguments, that a loud crowd was a distraction for Chauvin.

NELSON: Does it make it more difficult to assess a patient?


NELSON: Does it make it more likely that you may miss signs that a patient is experiencing something?


NELSON: Okay, and so the distraction can actually harm the potential care of this patient?


JIMENEZ: The defense plans to bring Officer Nicole Mackenzie back as a witness. Among those, the defense also wants to call Morries Hall, who was in the car with Floyd prior to his arrest. The defense wants to ask him about allegations that he supplied Floyd's with drug and the counterfeit 20-dollar bill. Hall's attorney says he'll invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, against self incrimination. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JIMENEZ (on camera): The final witness called over the course of Tuesday was a police sergeant with the Los Angeles police department, and he was testifying as a use of force expert. The court ended pretty abruptly in the middle of this testimony after a sidebar discussion, so that's where testimony will pick back up when court gets back into sessions Wednesday morning.

Omar Jimenez, CNN, Minneapolis.


AVLON: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. India seeing its biggest daily jump in COVID cases since the start of the pandemic. We're live in New Delhi, after the break.



JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Avlon.

India is reporting nearly 116,000 new infections in a single day. That's the biggest jump since the beginning of the pandemic.

CNN's Vedika Sud is live this hour in New Delhi. Vedika, what is the government saying about these new numbers?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, John.

Another grim day here for us in India. Well, the government says this is a serious cause for concern. They're saying that the infection is spreading faster than it did last year during the first wave. However, the fatalities aren't as bad as last year, at least as of now.

Now, over 58 percent of the cases, they say, are coming from the state of Maharashtra which is the richest state in India and has the financial capital of India, Mumbai, located in it which is again, troubling numbers (INAUDIBLE) for the country.

Also we know that three states are seeing very, very high numbers because of which (ph) there are these special teams that have been sent from the central government to assess the situation in these states.

There was a press conference held yesterday in which the health ministry did go ahead and gave us the numbers and data and here's what they have to say about the present situation in India with the rising cases.


VINOD KUMAR PAUL, INDIA SENIOR GOVERNMENT HEALTH OFFICIAL (through translator): The pandemic has worsened in the country. There is a serious rise in our COVID-19 cases like a wave. You have also noticed and written about the fact that this time, the speed of the spreading infection is faster than that of last year. We should know this.


SUD: Now, a day after that address by the health ministry, we do know that at least three states, at least parts of them are seeing partial lockdowns. As of yesterday, there's been a night curfew in the Indian (ph) territory of Delhi, which has the capital of the country, New Delhi, as part of it. So there is going to be a night curfew until the end of the month.

We know the same is happening in the state of Maharashtra where there will be a night curfew too this month and weekends there will be a complete lockdown in the state.

So there are measures that the government is taking but on the same -- you know, at the same time, you have cases which are also increasing.

And a huge reason for this is also because of the Kumbh Mela that has been going on, you and I have been talking about that, is the biggest religious festival being held in India. And it's also one of the biggest religious festivals across the world. And there are millions of people who are gathering there as I speak with you.

Another reason is those ongoing rallies -- political rallies happening in five states which are going through elections at this point in time, there're different phases in which people are voting.

And at the same point in time, you have politicians from across the parties addressing people and asking them for their support. So you have so many of them gathering at these rallies, venues which is another reason for concern.

But these numbers are really staggering. It's the highest that India has witnessed when it comes to a 24-hour rise ever since the outbreak of the pandemic here in India, John.

AVLON: Vedika Sud live in New Delhi, thank you very much.

All right. A damning new report from a human rights watchdog. It says the pandemic has hit the world's most desperate people especially heard. We've got all the details when we return.



AVLON: The COVID clouds hovering over the global economy may be starting to lift. The International Monetary Fund raised its 2021 global forecast significantly during its latest meetings to 6 percent.

The projection is largely off the back of U.S. President Joe Biden's massive stimulus plan. But the rising tide may not lift all boats.

As the vaccine rollout around the world remains uneven, the countries where COVID persists risk being left behind. "Our social, economic and political systems are broken." That is the damning conclusion of Amnesty International's annual human rights report. The report says that refugees, minorities, and other oppressed people are being especially hard hit by the pandemic. There has been a marked increase in gender based and domestic violence.


AGNES CALLAMARD, SECRETARY GENERAL, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: We found that around the world, COVID-19 has amplified existing inequality, exacerbated existing discrimination and inequality with the poorest people in particular being hit the worst by the COVID or by COVID response.


AVLON: Joining us now is Netsanet Belay. He's the director of Research and Advocacy for Amnesty International. It's good to have you here, sir.

So the focus of this report is the impact of COVID on really opening up a lot of the disparities that already exist in the world and putting pressure on already vulnerable people. What are the biggest changes you've seen in the past year?

NETSANET BELAY, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Thanks so much for having us. A number of patterns we have documented over the past year actually. But the three notable few ones are what we're highlighting which is how the pandemic has exposed and aggravated existing inequalities and discrimination.

And secondly, how a particular viral strain of leaders have actually weaponized COVID pandemic as an excuse to assault fresh attacks from freedom and human rights.

And certainly and of course, most disturbingly, at a time when we needed it most, we saw how national self interest has trumped the national cooperation in the fight against COVID. It's a combination of all this that has led us in a world in a disarray and has actually led to impact on those most marginalized vulnerable amongst us.

AVLON: And do you see things improving when the pandemic begins to ease?

BELAY: At the moment, the signs are not great. And take a look at the situation with respect for instance, for informal (ph) sector workers, you know, across countries we documented from Bangladesh to Egypt. Most of them are left without income, without minimum social protections.

The situation with respect to refugees and migrants is seriously concerning. 2020 has shown us how reckless border closures, deportations from Uganda which has closed its borders stranding over 10,000 refugees in the (INAUDIBLE) border. Or the U.S.-Mexico border actually which has led to deportation of over half a million as at February including the 13,000 unaccompanied children who were stranded as of November.

This is the reality as we see it now. That's why our goal at this point is that government need to do more than just recover from the pandemic. We need a system reboot and restart. Business as usual is what has gotten us here.


AVLON: That's an interesting and important point.

Now, China is singled out for -- in part its catastrophic suppression of information at the outset of COVID but also its treatment of the Uyghurs. How can the country be pressured to change their stance on these people?

BELAY: Yes. Indeed China is one of the many countries that we have seen who have actually used COVID as a distraction to escalate, you know, its crackdown and clampdown on minorities and dissent.

And the reality as we saw it now is that the world's human rights institutions from the Human Rights Council to the Security (ph) Council have failed to respond to such egregious violations happening in the most powerful nations like China and Russia.

And I guess this is a moot point -- this is one of the call that government need to ensure that these bodies established and meant to protect citizens against such attacks are able to operate. It's a political weak (ph) -- these institutions are as strong as what member states enable them to be. That is what is not happening at the moment.

AVLON: Certainly is not.

Finally, what about Alexei Navalny. You know, Amnesty international has been raising awareness of the pressures on him in terms of health at the prison, but also came under some criticism for stripping him of the title "prisoner of conscience" under some pressure. I wonder what the organization feels about that in retrospect.

BELAY: Yes, indeed. I mean at the time, we have acknowledged that our system has failed us which created confusion about his case. But we believe we should not be distracted about that.

The real issue today is that Navalny is subjected to potentially a slow death in prison. He is facing sleep deprivation. He's health is deteriorating. And we have written to -- our inspector general has written as early as two days ago, to President Putin to release him immediately.

And pending his release, to ensure that he has access to independent and specialized medical care. We are extremely concerned about his health at the moment. You know, Navalny represents thousands of other prisoners of conscience and human right defenders languishing in jails in many other countries. And that's what our report currently presents.

AVLON: Netsanet Belay, research and advocacy director for Amnesty International, thank you very much for joining us on CNN.

All right. Rapper turned tech entrepreneur Will.I.Am is definitely aiming at the pandemic haves with his new product -- a nearly $300 smart mask with all the kinds of bells and whistles among other things that includes a dual 3-speed fan, a mechanical air filter, Bluetooth connectivity, and seven hours of battery life. All things you didn't know you need to have in a mask.

The FDA has authorized it for emergency use by the general public and health care professionals. The mask drops on Thursday, just well over a year into the pandemic.

Thanks for watching us on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Avlon.

"LIVING GOLF" is going to start after the break.