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COVID-19 Most Worrisome in South America; Regulators Say AstraZeneca Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Risks; White House "Disturbed" by Reports of Navalny's Worsening Health; Taiwan: Would Fight to End Against China; First-Hand Look of Restoration at Notre Dame Cathedral; Former Florida Tax Collector at Center of GOP Congressman's Legal Troubles; Florida Governor Bans Businesses from Requiring 'Vaccine Passports'; Biden to Announce New Executive Actions on Guns. Aired 12- 12:45a ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Avlon.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, the highest one day death toll in the world where the president says there's still no lockdown coming and many wonder just how bad will things get in Brazil.

Sedition was nipped in the bud. Jordan's king breaks his silence about a royal feud that some worried would imperil the stability of the country.

And a rare look inside Notre Dame and the painstaking work being done to rebuild the devastated cathedral.


AVLON: We begin with a new grim pronouncement from health experts, nowhere are COVID-19 infections more worrisome than in South America. That's the word from the head of the Pan American Health Organization and Brazil is the new epicenter of the pandemic, where scientists predict its latest surge could be worse than the one in the U.S. back in January.

A slow vaccine rollout and a dismissive response from president Bolsonaro were both to blame.


JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are not going to accept this policy of staying at home, of closing everything down. This virus will not go. This virus like others, is here to stay and will remain for a lifetime, it is practically possible to eradicate it.

What are we going to do until then?


AVLON: And now, Brazil is reporting its first case of a highly contagious variant first identified in South Africa. CNN's Shasta Darlington reports.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The COVID crisis isn't letting up in Brazil, after recording the deadliest month since the pandemic began in March, the numbers continue to rise this week. Tuesday saw a record number of deaths and Wednesday was just behind with more than 3,800 people killed by COVID-19.

As well as the second highest number of daily new cases, over 92,000. ICU occupancy in almost all states at or above 80 percent yet only 8.5 percent of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

A new and more contagious variant has fueled this latest surge. According to a report, only a national lockdown with a minimum duration of two weeks could curb the rapid spread of coronavirus cases across the country. But the president, Jair Bolsonaro, repeated again he would never implement a nationwide lockdown.

He warned that the virus is here to stay and staying home is not a solution -- Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.


AVLON: That crisis in Brazil is on full display at a field hospital, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Doctors say the temporary facility is pushed to its limit with some wards at full capacity. The hospital inside a gymnasium is admitting up to 50 patients a day. One doctor says there aren't enough beds and supplies to go around.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have difficulties due to lack of resources. Sometimes there's a lack of beds, medicines for sedation. The most serious difficulty I've seen recently is that not only elderly patients arrive but also many young patients, 30, 21, 26, 29 years old. They have been the patients with the most severe cases. This isn't good.


AVLON: The pandemic has pushed nearly 17 million Brazilians into poverty this year alone. Rio de Janeiro think tanks says its country's poverty rate has tripled in the first quarter of 2021. About 13 percent of the population are living on less than $44 a month.

Millions of people were benefiting from emergency government aid but it expired at the end of last year. Plans are in the works for another aid package later this month. COVID cases in parts of Colombia have also doubled in the past week

but the government is literally going to great lengths to vaccinate vulnerable people in the Amazon region. Getting there is just the first step. Some of the remote communities are accessible only by air or river. Then health care workers have to account for native languages, cultural differences and skepticism about the vaccine.


AVLON: Here in the in the U.S., the COVID variant first found in the U.K. is now the dominant strain of the virus. Studies suggest, it's more contagious than the original strain and possibly more lethal.

Meanwhile, the daily number of deaths in the U.S. is down 22 percent over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. The CDC director says that's mainly thanks to vaccinations. Almost 20 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. All 50 states have committed to making vaccines available to every adult by April 19th.

India's worst hit state, Maharashtra, is facing a vaccine shortage as the country deals with a new surge from COVID infections. In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, cases are up 50 percent, compared to the previous week. CNN's Blake Essig is live this hour in Tokyo with more -- Blake.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, here in Japan, the case count has reached its highest point in two months, more than 3,000 cases recorded today. In Osaka prefecture, they account for nearly a third of those cases. As of yesterday the governor of Osaka has declared a medical emergency because hospital bed occupancy rates are nearing 70 percent.

The torch relay that was supposed to be held on public streets next week has been canceled and will now held behind closed doors. All that being said, Japan is far from the only country in the region seeing an uptick in cases.


ESSIG (voice-over): In a part of the world which first to bear the brunt of COVID-19, pandemic fatigue, virus variants and vaccine rollout seemingly moving at a snail's pace, three factors Dr. Jerome Kim, the head of the U.N. organization promoting vaccination and its development, says will likely continue to cause problems across Asia Pacific.

DR. JEROME KIM, INTERNATIONAL VACCINE INSTITUTE: If you can't control the pandemic and you don't have access to vaccine, you are going to be in a situation we are in, in the spring of 2020, with hospitals being full with people being denied admission and people dying at home.

ESSIG (voice-over): It's a grim reality that many countries in the region could face in the days and weeks to come. The Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, most of Japan and South Korea are all seeing their daily case counts moving in the wrong direction. As for India, they just reported more than 115,000 new infections;

that's the most new cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last couple of weeks, the situation is becoming from bad to worse and is serious cause for concern.

ESSIG (voice-over): In the Philippines, the president spokesperson said the spread of more infectious coronavirus variants came as a surprise. More than 24 million people in and around Manila had been living under lockdown for more than a week, as cases continued to surge.

Infections have been on the rise almost daily since mid February; the result: many hospitals are overwhelmed and nonessential workers fearful of what extended lockdown might mean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It will be more difficult when we don't have jobs, because we don't have the money to feed our family.

ESSIG (voice-over): While case counts are on the rise in several countries throughout Asia Pacific, vaccines are not as readily available as in countries like the U.K. and U.S. Doctor Kim explains why.

KIM: I think countries were a little late to enter the queue for vaccine purchases. I mean, to some extent in Korea and Japan, it's because there weren't as many cases and they wanted perhaps to know the vaccines were working or which vaccines are safe.

ESSIG (voice-over): Japan has fully vaccinated about 2 tenths of a percent of its population. The Philippines and South Korea, even less than that. In India, the vaccine factory of the world is still at less than 1 percent.

But it's not all bad news across the Asia Pacific region. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam, the new average daily case count has remained extremely low.

And in New Zealand and Australia, the count is low enough that they will resume operating in a quarantine free travel corridor between the two countries, later this month.


ESSIG: The World Health Organization believes the latest surge in the region is really driven by measures by governments, being reduced, allowing more people to gather and, after 15 months of living with coronavirus here in this region, the messaging according to Dr. Kim as well as the WHO, needs to change just simply touting the idea of personal hygiene and social distancing seems to be losing its edge, John.

AVLON: Blake Essig, reporting live from Tokyo, thank you very much, Blake. All right, new reviews of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine echo what

experts have been saying all along, that the shot is safe and effective and its benefits exceeds the risk.


AVLON: However, this week's findings are more nuanced and include some significant caveats. E.U. and British regulators did confirm a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots. The European Medicines Agency says it should be listed as a rare side effect but stopped short of calling for the vaccine to be used in a more limited manner.

The British medical authorities say those under 30 are at slightly higher risk of developing blood clots and recommend they take alternative vaccines while insisting that clots are, quote, "vanishingly rare."


WEI SHEN LIM, U.K. JOINT CENTRE ON VACCINATION AND IMMUNIZATION: This is an extremely rare adverse event, we do not know for sure that it's related to one vaccine or not yet. It may also be relevant to some other vaccine. It may not even be related to a vaccine, it may be related to COVID itself.

We are unsure and the advice we're giving is really based very much on protecting the population and working on a principle that safety is our biggest concern.


AVLON: AstraZeneca says it will update its product information, on possible side effects. Nearly 200 million people have received the vaccine worldwide. But these safety concerns are the latest headache for AstraZeneca and a series of missteps may have tarnished its reputation. CNN's Anna Stewart explains.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It felt a little like an Academy Award acceptance speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say that it's been a really great privilege.

STEWART (voice-over): AstraZeneca, with its Oxford partner, developed one of the first COVID-19 vaccines deemed safe and effective by regulators around the world. It's cheaper than the vaccine developed by Pfizer BioNTech and it can be stored safely at higher temperatures.

Yet in many ways, this vaccine has been a drag on AstraZeneca's reputation. Initially there were questions on its trial data. Unusually the initial phase III results suggested a half a dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose weeks apart was more effective in preventing disease than two full doses. Days later, the company admitted the half dose had been administered

by error and was later dropped from the trial altogether.

PAUL HUNTER, NORWICH MEDICAL SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA: I do not believe this half dose, full dose story. It didn't ring right to me. Subsequent papers from Oxford AstraZeneca group have shown the gap that was making the difference and not the half dose, which everybody was getting, the Oxford AstraZeneca group, was getting very excited about.

STEWART (voice-over): There are also questions about whether the vaccine should be used for older age groups. French president Emmanuel Macron described the vaccine as quasi-ineffective in a press briefing. But hours later --

EMER COOKE, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: It's a real pleasure to be here and to announce the third positive opinion for the authorization of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

STEWART (voice-over): Europe's medicines regulator, the EMA, approved its use; however, some damage was done to public trust.

FEDERICO SANTI, EURASIA GROUP: More skepticism of that particular vaccine has been fostered in the public, which could make it more difficult for European countries to ramp up to the extent they need to, to catch up with the U.K.

STEWART (voice-over): The race was on to see how quickly the vaccine could be made and delivered. In January, AstraZeneca announced its supply to the E.U. would be lower than forecast at least initially.

This sparked anger among some E.U. leaders, who claimed AstraZeneca was wrongly prioritizing supplies to other countries and delaying fulfillment of E.U. contracts. That led the E.U. to implement strict vaccine export controls.

URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: Companies have to honor their contract to the European Union before they export other regions of the world.

STEWART (voice-over): More recently there are concerns over the vaccine safety, following reports of people developing rare blood clots after at least one dose, leading some countries to restrict the vaccine, at least for now, to older groups only.

A causal link is possible, according to new guidance from the E.U. and the U.K.'s medicines regulators. Both say the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh the risks, although in the U.K. those under the age of 30 will be offered an alternative vaccine, given their risk from COVID-19 is lower.

There is the added factor, that there are other vaccines on the market that haven't had as many headlines to their name.

STEWART: We have multiple companies producing or trying to.

Is this partly a case of winners and losers?

MARK RITSON, "MARKETING WEEK": The game of branding is always relative, you're always compared to the other alternatives in the market. And that means unfortunately, that there will be those perceived to be better and those perceived to be weaker, winners and losers.


STEWART (voice-over): Currently, AstraZeneca appears to be on a losing streak -- Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


AVLON: In the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, a new video has sparked a debate over what George Floyd said about drugs during his arrest. The interpretation is crucial, as the defense argues his drug use is to blame while prosecutors say he died at the hands or knees of the former Minneapolis police officer. CNN's Omar Jimenez has the details.


JUDGE PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY COURTHOUSE: Sergeant, just a reminder, you're still under oath.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today's testimony, more cops taking the stand against former Officer Derek Chauvin.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: In your opinion, does defendant's use of force during that time period need to be reasonable within the entire time period?


JIMENEZ: Sergeant Jody Stiger from the Los Angele Police Department was called by prosecutors as a use of force expert and testified, like others have, the force Derek Chauvin used on George Floyd was excessive.

STIGER: He was in a calm position, he was handcuffed, he was not attempting to resist and he was not attempting to assault the officers, kick, punch, or anything of that nature.


JIMENEZ: But Chauvin's attorney during cross examination focused on what could have happened, specifically one of their central arguments that the growing crowd became a perceived threat and distracted Chauvin.

NELSON: And when someone starts threatening you, it's a possible -- possibility that an officer can view that as a potential deadly assault is about to happen. That's what they're trained?


NELSON: That's what they're trained.

SCHLEICHER: The defendant --

JIMENEZ: But during prosecutor questioning.

STIGER: I did not perceive them as being a threat.

SCHLEICHER: And why is that?

STIGER: Because they were merely filming and they were -- most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd.

JIMENEZ: The defense also moved to show there were points where Chauvin's knee may not have been on the neck but on some portions of the shoulder. Prosecutors called the placement irrelevant.

SCHLEICHER: Is the risk related to the pressure on the neck or the pressure on the body?

STIGER: The pressure on the body. Any additional pressure on the body complicates breathing more so than if there was no pressure at all.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): In a final portion of the day, forensic experts testified about drugs found in the police squad car as well as Floyd's vehicle, including illicit drugs in pill form.

MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTOR: And what were the results of the testing?


FRANK: Are you able at the BCA lab to quantify how much methamphetamine or fentanyl are in those pills?

GILES: For methamphetamine, yes. For fentanyl, no.

JIMENEZ: We do know, based on the autopsy, that some of those drugs were found in George Floyd's system. What's really important here is the jurors were able to hear what was found at the scene and in the vehicles for the first time. They're the ones that really matter in this.

Based on reports we've gotten from inside the court, it does seem this week there's been a bit more difficult to give their full attention, when you compare this week's expert testimony with last week's more emotional testimony.

Nonetheless, they do still seem to be taking notes, even conferring with one another at points. And they all paid attention over the course of Wednesday during that exchange about whether George Floyd actually said, "I ate too many drugs" or not -- Omar Jimenez, CNN, Minneapolis.

(END VIDEOTAPE) AVLON: Straight ahead, the White House is demanding that Russia release the jailed critic Alexei Navalny, after reports that his health is further deteriorating. Coming up we'll have an update on his condition.

And a family drama with global implications. The king of Jordan speaks out for the first time about an alleged plot within the palace. We will tell you what he said.





AVLON: Violence is escalating in Northern Ireland. Protesters set a hijacked bus on fire and attacked police with stones in a pro British area of Belfast. Dozens of officers have been injured in recent days in ongoing outbreaks of violence.

It comes with growing tensions over Northern Ireland's Brexit protocol and frustrations over the decision not to charge members of Sinn Fein for allegedly breaking COVID restrictions. The U.K. and Irish prime ministers have both condemned the violence.

The White House says it's disturbed that reports of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's health is deteriorating. His lawyer says he's dealing with two hernias and is losing feeling in both hands. Still, he remains on a hunger strike. The White House is demanding his immediate release and sent this message to Moscow.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We urge Russian authorities to take all necessary actions to ensure his safety and health. So long as he is in prison, the Russian government is responsible for his health and well-being.


AVLON: Matthew Chance has the latest on the state of Navalny's health.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a couple of things that stand out to me as being most concerning.

First of all, he's got all these minor health issues, which we keep itemizing. But there's generally a background picture there that's really concerning. He was poisoned with a military grade nerve agent last August.

And so there's a possibility, obviously you need a medical professional to look at this, but there's a possibility this could be linked to neurological damage. That's the concern that's been expressed by people close to Alexei Navalny, his legal team, his medical team, his supporters.

That's one of the reasons why they want a specialist to go into that and give him a thorough examination.

The other thing that I think is really concerning is the Kremlin and the Russian authorities in general do not appear to be taking his medical condition seriously at all. First of all they are downplaying it, releasing video on state television showing him walking across his dormitory. Showing him sleeping soundly in his bed at night, whereas previously he complained he was woken every night. And that was tantamount to torture.

So there's a campaign on Russian state media, to say, look, it's not as bad as he's making out, it's being exaggerated. I think that's very concerning. The authorities are just not taking it seriously.

In terms of what's the Kremlin is going to do about it, are they going to respond to these international calls for Alexei Navalny to be treated better and to be released?

The likelihood is that they're not. They previously said that this is not an issue for the international community, it's not an issue for the Kremlin, it's purely in the hands of the prison authorities. Alexei Navalny, as far as they're concerned, is a criminal. And he's being treated, they say, just like any other convict would in Russia.


CHANCE (voice-over): These appeals for mercy by the West, to Russia, to the Kremlin, to let him go free, I think they're probably going to fall on deaf ears -- Matthew Chance, CNN.


AVLON: Jordan's king has broken silence about the royal family drama there, calling it the most painful episode in his over two decade reign. Reports of an alleged plot to destabilize the country involving King Abdullah's half brother, Prince Hamzah, a claim that he's denied.

The monarch insists that the plan has been cut short. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time since the royal crisis erupted in Jordan, over the weekend, people heard from their monarch addressing the nation in a letter to the people, reassuring them that their country is stable, that it's secure.

He said that, quote, "The sedition has been nipped in the bud."

And he said, "The challenge over the past few days was not the most difficult or dangerous to the stability of our nation. But to me, it was the most painful. Sedition came from within and from outside our home and nothing compares to my shock, pain and anger as a brother and the head of the Hashemite family."

There he is, referring to what the government has called an alleged plot, accusing his half brother, the former crown prince, Prince Hamzah, and other individuals in the country, of working with foreign entities, plotting to destabilize the country.

Prince Hamzah has denied that, saying he's not part of a foreign conspiracy. Over the past few days here, there's been a lot of speculation about the whereabouts of Prince Hamzah and what happened to him after those dramatic videos over the weekend in which he essentially said that he was -- effectively under house arrest.

And we heard from the king tonight, saying that Prince Hamzah was in his home, with his family and he said, quote, "under my care."

It's not entirely clear what that means. But what the king made clear is that his decision was to deal with Prince Hamzah in this situation as a family matter. His uncle had been delegated to mediate and deal with it.

When it comes to the rest of this case, to the investigation, that, he says, is ongoing and it's going to be dealt with through the country's judiciary. And he promised that it is going to be fair and transparent.

Even after hearing from their monarch, Jordanians still have a lot of questions about the events of the past few days that really sent shockwaves across this country and beyond. But the message has been clear from the leadership of Jordan. They want to put this behind them. They want to close this chapter and try and restore the image of this country that is known for its stability and its united royal family -- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Amman.


AVLON: China's flexing its military muscle around Taiwan. But Taiwan says it's not going to be pushed around. Ahead, its warning to Beijing.


AVLON: The Biden administration says it will give more than $200 million in renewed financial support to the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency. The U.S. says it will provide economic development, humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. It will also offer help with COVID-19 recovery efforts.


Now, the move reverses a 2018 decision by the Trump administration to stop almost all U.S. support.

The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and the U.N. is denouncing this decision, calling activities by the U.N. body, quote, "anti-Israel" and "anti-Semitic" in nature.

China has been stepping up its military presence around Taiwan, sending fighter jets and conducting military exercises nearby. And now, Taiwan is warning Beijing that it could fight to the very end if China ever attacks the island.


JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Our defense ministry is very determined, in defending ourselves. We are willing to defend ourselves, and it is without any question. And we will fight the war if we need to fight a war. And if we need to, you know -- to defend ourselves to the very last day, we will defend ourselves to the very last day.


AVLON: Now, Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, even though the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades. The U.S. is voicing its concern over China's activities and pledging to support Taiwan against any aggression.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid. We think and we know that it contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region, as well.

The United States maintains the capacity to resist -- to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.


AVLON: Josh Rogin is a "Washington Post" columnist and CNN political analyst. He's also the author of book "Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century." He joins us from Washington.

Josh, great to have you, as always. I want you to shed some light on this increased military presence and Chinese military drills in the vicinity of Taiwan that have really ramped up in recent weeks.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's really clear that the Chinese government is testing the Biden administration and the Taiwanese government at the same time by increasing its aggression, vis-a-vis the Taiwanese Strait on a range of platforms. They're increasing their military exercises, their political interference, their cyber hacking. They're trying to see if they can get away with it.

And the Biden administration is trying to take a very reasoned approach by responding but not overreacting. And the idea is to deter Beijing from believing that it can take Taiwan, without significant resistance from the west. Right now, we're in a testing period, and Beijing is putting the Biden administration to that test. AVLON: And there is increased international pressure, and the Biden

administration tried to play a convening role in terms of sanctioning China for the -- the repression of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang province. It is the subject of a massive new article in "The New Yorker."

Also notable today is that the -- several Chinese state leaders have called reports, factual reports about the oppression there, "the biggest lie of the century," which seems premature, among other things.

What's your take on the escalation of pressure on China from these camps?

ROGIN: Well, it's clear that Beijing is feeling the pain of the international condemnation and the rising sanctions in response to its mass atrocities in Xinjiang, which the United States, and the European Union, and the Canadian government have now officially called it a genocide. And that genocide means a partial but intentional reduction of the population of Uyghur Muslims in that area, through other things, mass internment camps. OK?

So, you know, the Chinese reaction has been to double down and to accuse all of its critics of lying. But that's not going to work. That's not going to stop the international outrage.

And now the Chinese government is expanding its response to punish any western companies that dare to object to the fact that forced labor is used in Xinjiang, and that the shoes that you wear, and the -- the hair that is sold in our shops, may have been picked by slave labor and may have been taken from people in internment camps.

Those are tough issues to deal with. But right now, the Chinese government is not dealing with them; they're lashing out. They're attacking anyone who raises them, including companies. And that shows that they're feeling the pressure, but it also shows that they have no intention of changing their practices quite yet.

AVLON: Well, it's a struggle truth, between lies -- between truth and lies. But it's also a real measure of how much the Biden administration is going to emphasize human rights and make that central to their foreign policy. Would have you seen in their statements to date?

ROGIN: You know, it's clear that they're not going to back down on this issue, I think because there's bipartisan support for this in Congress and because the American people are now more aware of what's going on in China than they ever were before.

In other words, people don't like it when they -- their companies use forced slave labor. And we know that the stories are true, because there are survivors, and those survivors are telling their stories all over the world.

So as the evidence mounts, the western governments will be under more pressure to do more, and the Chinese will be under more pressure to stop the atrocities. But we're not there yet. Right now, the atrocities continue, and the pressure has only made the Chinese angry. It hasn't made them rethink their policies.

AVLON: Before we go, I want to get your take on the deal, $400 billion deal just set up the other week between China and Iran. Because I think it speaks to the way that China can flex its muscles and defy the international community. What's your take on the long-term implications of that deal?

ROGIN: Well, it's clear that battle lines are being drawn between free and open democratic societies and the authoritarian regimes, including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. It's -- it's not exactly a cold war, but it's moving towards more of a system of alliances.

And it's natural that, as the west gets its act together, and that is Europe and the United States and our Asian partners begin to stand together against what we see as a Chinese challenge to the global order that we built and that we believe in, that the authoritarians are going to try to form their own alliance.

The problem is that China is deeply skeptical of Iran, and the Iranian government is deeply skeptical of China. And it's the nature of these regimes to distrust each other, for good reason. But they'll try to at least cooperate in order to push back against what the west is doing, but what the west is doing is only going to continue, because the Biden administration has been very -- made it very clear.

They see this as a battle for our values, including human rights, national security, public health, prosperity, the rule of law, against what the Chinese/Iranian model is putting forward, which is an authoritarianism that's run by digital surveillance and mass repression. And that's the competition that's shaping up. That's the competition that will define our generation.

AVLON: Josh Rogin, thank you very much, as always.

ROGIN: Thank you.

AVLON: Still ahead, 800 years old and mere minutes from total destruction. Two years after the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, an inside look at how restoration work is coming along.



AVLON: It's been almost two years since that massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and rebuilding it could take many more years. Much of the focus has been on reconstructing the church's spire, which famously collapsed during the blaze.

Our Melissa Bell was given the opportunity to see how the work's going so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Its vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, and elaborate columns. As you can see on these images shot by CNN, so much of what makes Notre Dame one of the world's most exquisite gothic wonders, stands tall. Almost miraculously.

The construction of the cathedral may have taken 182 years from when it began in 1163. It took the fire of 2019 a matter of hours to compromise its stability. The work of the last two years has been all about ensuring that the cathedral stayed upright.

JEAN-LOUIS GEORGELIN, NOTRE DAME RECONSTRUCTION CHIEF: We want to be sure the structure is solid. That's why we take a lot of measures to consolidate. We don't want to make reconstruction without being reassured.

BELL (on camera): Here you can see the iconic North Tower that, at one point, had been threatened by the flames on the night of the fire. In the end, they were put out before it could collapse.

But this was where the most devastating part of the fire took place. It was here that the famous Notre Dame spire once stood.

(voice-over): As the world watched, the spire, which had been under renovation, collapsed, breaking through the vaulted ceiling, which then crashed into the nave. The scaffolding that had surrounded it, 40,000 tubes of metal now twisted into the structure, then had to be carefully picked through and removed.

General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who's in charge of the renovations, gave CNN a rare tour.

GEORGELIN: This is the place where the spire collapsed, you know? This is the center of the drama.

BELL: The general then shows us the exact spot where the spire first came crashing through. Here, the vaulted ceiling is held up by wooden pillars, each weighing a ton and a half.

They ensure, explains the project manager, that if the stones give way for whatever reason -- bad weather, A tremor, or shock -- that the wooden support beams will keep the structure standing.

Now that the scaffolding for the renovations is ready, General Georgelin says that the work of rebuilding Notre Dame's vaulted ceiling and its spire will begin before the end of the year.

(on camera): This is the central part of the nave, where the great majority of reconstruction is going to have to take place, since it's here that the spire collapsed, bringing down the stone structure with it.

Elsewhere, what's really remarkable is how intact the structure is. These stones, that had stood for more than eight centuries, almost exactly as they were. (voice-over): Outside, too, the cathedral's iconic gothic facade

stands as a testament to construction that has proven as sturdy as it is delicate.

Cathedral officials say that almost a billion dollars have been raised through donations from 150 countries so far. A reminder of the place that Notre Dame has, not just in the history of France, but in the hearts of so many all around the world.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


AVLON: Fascinating.

All right. I'm John Avlon. I'll be back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. WORLD SPORT, that's next.