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Regulators Say AstraZeneca Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Risks; COVID-19 Fatigue, Variants Challenge Asia Pacific; U.K. Variant Now Dominant in the U.S.; Myanmar Crisis; Tension between Iran and Israel after Ships Attacked; White House "Disturbed" by Reports of Navalny's Worsening Health; Video Sparks Debate about George Floyd's Drug Use, IMF Suggests Some Nations Consider "Solidarity" Taxes. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Paula Newton and Atlanta, in this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, there's a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots but health officials say the vaccine remains safe and effective.

In Brazil, a new COVID surge leaves hospitals feeling like what one doctor calls a battlefield.

And new worries about Russian dissident Alexei Navalny's health. Now the White House is sending a message to Moscow.

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NEWTON: Updated reviews of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine echo what experts have been saying all along, that the shot is safe and effective and its benefits outweigh the risks.

However, this week's findings are more nuanced and include some significant caveats. Even 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 using a more limited manner.

The British medical authorities say those under 30 are at slightly higher risk. Melissa Bell is following all the latest developments from Paris.

Melissa, another day, we've got another AstraZeneca controversy. Let's see first, with the substance of what the regulators have, said that there is this link between blood clots. And yet of course, they reaffirmed the fact that this vaccine is still safe. All of this must be shaking confidence in the vaccine. How is Europe proposing to handle this now?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, in a way, that will be far more coordinated than it should, be that's where we see, every time this issue comes out. If you remember a couple of weeks, ago back in March, country after country announced they were suspending it over the fears.

The European Medicines Agency said, look, the risks are outweighed by the benefits. And you should carry on. This was the conclusion of their investigation. What they agreed, on with the press conference at the same time as the U.K. regulator, was that there is a possible link.

AstraZeneca now updating its information, said it recommended that it should list it as very rare side effects, these unusual blood clots. AstraZeneca then changing that. I think it's important to remember the context in numbers which are also in the press conferences yesterday.

When you look at the number of cases, incidents that were investigated by the European Medicines Agency, we're talking a total of 86 cases, of which 18 ended in fatalities. But out of 25 million people, across the European economic area in the United Kingdom, who have had AstraZeneca vaccine, I think it's important to remember, they are extremely rare.

But as you say it's all about confidence. And it isn't simply that the advice now indicates that there is a possible link, even if it is very rare, that's also the advice has been changing.

Here in Europe, we've seen the national health agencies, which have to give their advice on this after the European Medicines Agency gives its initially, saying that back in January, when it had been approved, country after country announced they would only be giving the vaccine to younger populations.

Then there was a move in country after country, the vaccine rollout was suspended altogether, over fears of blood clots. Now we're seeing is country after, country that's already the case in French and Germany, even now Italy and Spain following suit as well, announcing that in fact the AstraZeneca vaccine will only be given to older populations.

I think it's that change and advice that has proved so confusing and it will no doubt do nothing for vaccine hesitancy here in Europe, which was already a problem, even before this all began.

NEWTON: And a vaccine that not just Europe, most of the world is now counting on, Melissa Bell in Paris, I appreciate. It

For the second day in a row South Korea is reporting its largest daily jump in COVID cases. It's one of the many countries in the Pacific region to struggling to keep this virus under control. CNN's Blake Essig is live in Tokyo.

I know you've been tracking this for a few days, now as we see that surge through Asia, I can hear the echo of the WHO officials, who said that the virus variants are just getting started now.

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NEWTON: We see the effects of that in the Asia, don't we?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, you're absolutely right. The long list of countries, really struggling right now to stop the surge of coronavirus variants. When you talk about South Korea, Japan and the Philippines, health officials in those countries have all come out, believing that variants are what's driving the surge in cases here in Japan, Osaka specifically.

One-third of the cases reported in the country, just today, are in Osaka prefecture. Because of that, a medical emergency has been declared, because hospital beds are filling up. The torch relay was removed from the public streets. It's supposed to take place next week. It will be held behind closed doors.

But variants across the region aren't the only thing that's fueling the surge. The WHO recently came out and said that government reactions, as far as measures, loosening those measures, have also played a role, allowing people together.

As I mentioned before the, cherry blossom festivals in different parts of Asia, have been taking place, people have been getting together, which has been fueling the ability of the virus to spread more rapidly.

And so, as you look at everything across the board, it's also an issue of messaging. The head of the U.N. organization promoting vaccination and its development, he recently told me that simply telling people to wear masks, washing hands, staying socially distanced, is no longer cutting it.

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DR. JEROME KIM, INTERNATIONAL VACCINE INSTITUTE: Like many things, using the same messages over and over, you get to a point where you're not paying attention to them anymore. And to some extent, with countries throughout the region and throughout the world need to do, is reinvent the messages, really emphasize around the science.

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ESSIG: Paula, the risk is that hospital beds are going to fill up, as I mentioned. In Osaka, 70 percent are already full. In the Philippines, in some cases, hospitals are not able to take any critically ill patients, because they're already full.

NEWTON: Again, pandemic fatigue. The messaging, you mentioned it, really, in countries, are held up as models in the first and second waves of this pandemic. Thanks so much for the update. We appreciate it.

The grim new pronouncement from health experts, nowhere are COVID-19 infections more worrisome, than in South Africa -- pardon me -- in South America. That's from the head of the Pan American Health Organization. Brazil is the new epicenter of the pandemic, where scientists predict its latest surge could be even worse, than the one here in the U.S. back in January.

A slow vaccine rollout and a dismissive response, from the president are both to blame.

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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?

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NEWTON: More sobering news, Brazil is reporting a highly contagious variant first identified in South Africa. That's troubling news for countries whose hospitals and ICUs are being overrun.

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DR. MIGUEL NICOLELIS, DUKE UNIVERSITY: One of my best friends told me that it's like being in Stalingrad in World War II, where you have supplies going down, you're surrounded by the enemy, people are dying left and right and you have to make decisions every minute, who's going to make it and who is going to get an ICU bed and rest and who cannot do it.

So it's taking a huge toll on the health professionals here. And it's escalating to a level -- and I agree with my friend, it's a battlefield.

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NEWTON: You're going to want to hear more of that. In the next hour, I will talk at length with Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, in Brazil, including what he thinks the country must do now to get the COVID outbreak under control.

COVID cases meantime in parts of Colombia have doubled in the last week but the government is literally going to great lengths to vaccinate vulnerable indigenous communities in the Amazon region.

Getting there is, of course, the first step. Some of the remote communities are accessible only by air or river. Health care workers then have to account for native languages, cultural differences and, of course, skepticism about the vaccine.

Here in the United States, meantime, the COVID variant first found in the U.K., is now the dominant strain of the virus.

[02:10:00] NEWTON: Studies suggest it's more contagious than the original strain and likely more lethal.

In the meantime the number of daily deaths in the United States is down 22 percent over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. The CDC director said it's mainly thanks to vaccinations.

Nearly 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.

Still ahead, a family drama with global implications. The king of Jordan speaks out for the very first time of an alleged plot within the palace.

And the White House demands Russia release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after a report says health is deteriorating further. We will have an update on his condition.

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NEWTON: Violence is escalating in Northern Ireland. Protesters have set cars on fire and attacked police in a pro British area of Belfast. Officers have been injured in recent days amid ongoing outbreaks of violence.

It comes amid 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 condemned the violence.

An activist group says nearly 600 people have died in Myanmar since the military launched a crackdown on anti-coup protesters. Some of the victims were honored in this candlelight vigil at a local temple.

It was held right before dawn so the protesters could avoid confrontation with security forces. But later, several demonstrators marched in the streets to denounce the military takeover.

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NEWTON: The junta is still defending its actions, saying the protests are, quote, "country destroying movements."

Jordan's king has broken his silence about the royal family drama unfolding there, following reports of alleged plot to destabilize the country involving King Abdullah's half brother, Hamzah. Jomana Karadsheh joins us now.

The king speaking up here. What he said was somewhat peculiar.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People have been waiting to hear from the king. To the disappointment of some, it was in the form of a letter to the people, not a televised address.

He tried to reassure people that their country is safe and stable.

He said, "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.

So many people don't feel they got the answers about what really happened. But it's clear they want to close this chapter. It's been damaging for the royal family's image.

NEWTON: Damaging and destabilizing, key in the days and weeks ahead. Jomana Karadsheh, appreciate it.

The Biden administration says it will give over $200 million to the U.N.'s Palestinian Refugee Agency. The U.S. says it will provide economic development and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people and will offer help with COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The move reverses a decision by the Trump administration to stop almost all U.S. support. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. is denouncing the new decision, calling it "anti-Israel" and anti- Semitic in nature.

Iran's foreign minister says an Iranian commercial ship was damaged after an attack in the Red Sea. So far no casualties reported and no one has claimed responsibility but it is the latest in a series of attacks on commercial ships from Iran and Israel. The countries previously blamed each other, described as a shadow war at sea.

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NEWTON: CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller joins me now from Washington.

Very good to see you and I'm hoping you can help us frame this -- in terms of the United States and its significance. Remembering of course, Trump is no longer in the White House. Israel knows that, Iran knows that.

Are we seeing the character of this proxy war, which as you pointed out many times, has been going on for a long time, are we seeing the character of this change now that Biden is in the White House?

And what does this incident have to do with it?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The new ingredient, I suspect, is the Biden administration's willingness to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, also known as the JCPOA, assuming the Iranians are ready to return to compliance.

[02:20:00]

MILLER: You have this process underway, very low-key, in Vienna. But the shadow war, not so much a shadow war anymore, the Israelis informed the United States this morning, at 7:30 on Tuesday they had attacked the Iranian cargo vessel, which I think is deployed as a military asset in the Red Sea, damaged it.

This ship presumably was there for an antipiracy mission. And number of intelligence organizations and sources say it was deployed as a floating command post for the Revolutionary Guard. This is part of a tit-for-tat shadow cold war/hot war, not only in Syria between Iran and Israel but in the Mediterranean.

And the Israelis are determined to curb Iranian influence and several years ago started attacking Iranian oil-bound ships for Syria, the proceeds of which would be used to supply Hezbollah with weapons. So the Israelis have been extremely active. The Iranians have retaliated against Israeli cargo vessels.

So far, there hasn't been a dramatic escalation and I think it's still in the interest of both countries not to push this too far.

NEWTON: And Israel does not feel like anything has to change on that level because Biden is in the White House right now?

MILLER: I think Trump created a certain zone of immunity for the Israelis. They essentially were able to do most of everything they wanted and it supplemented the Trump maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

The Israelis are still, regardless of who sits in the White House, are going to continue their war by proxy. The Iranians will continue theirs.

The question is, if this is left to drift and deteriorate, can we imagine a more serious escalation?

That is part of the issue and part of the reason why the administration seems to believe that it has to move back into some sort of diplomatic process with Iran.

NEWTON: Right, but that original deal from 2015. It's not 2015 anymore. There were many criticisms of the deal, even in 2015. Many fell it did not put any kind of restraint on Iran, not the kind that Israel was looking for.

Do you see any kind of deal, if it comes to fruition, changing Iran's posture in the Middle East?

MILLER: Paradoxically, I think if the Iranians get back into the JCPOA, in an effort to demonstrate the Iran nuclear agreement, to demonstrate that they haven't been domesticated and they're not somehow a client of the U.S., you're going to actually see Iranian efforts to expand their influence in the region, paradoxically, going to increase.

I think we have to accept the fact that this relationship between the U.S. and Iran is not going to be transformational. We're not going to talk about embassies. It's not an opening to China. This is highly transactional.

And Iran is going to keep its other arenas, the ballistic missile program and its effort to expand its activities in the region, whether or not it gets into the JCPOA or whether or not it doesn't.

NEWTON: Such an important perspective there, given the talks going on in Vienna right now. Before I let you go, the United States going ahead with Palestinian aid once again.

What's the significance of that?

MILLER: I think it's an effort to course correct from the Trump administration. The Trump administration grew very close to Israel in the last four years. They also went to war, metaphorically speaking, with the Palestinians.

They canceled aid, withdrew from the United Nations Refugee Works Administration. They downgraded their channels of communication with the Palestinian Authority. They closed the PLO mission in Washington, D.C.

This is a useful course correction. There needs to be reform, there's no question. But it does provide very important educational, social and medical services to millions of Palestinians. And I think the administration did the right thing.

NEWTON: Yes, and we will continue to follow that story as well. Aaron David Miller, it's good to see you. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Paula, you, too. Take care.

NEWTON: Growing calls for the release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as his lawyers say the Kremlin critic's health is deteriorating. An update on his condition next.

Plus George Floyd's own words are coming into question as lawyers present differing interpretations of what he said about drugs during his arrest.

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NEWTON: The White House says it's disturbed by reports the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's health is deteriorating. Alexei's lawyers say he's dealing with two hernias and is losing feeling in both hands. Still he remains on a hunger strike. The White House demanding his immediate release and sends this message to Moscow.

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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.

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

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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.

[02:30:00]

CHANCE: 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.

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.

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NEWTON: Britain is pledging nearly $60 million to a new program for Hong Kongers with British national overseas passports, who are looking to relocate to the U.K.

The money will fund 12 welcome hubs across the U.K., plus an online pack with info on things like registering with a doctor or a school. The U.K. says up to 153,000 holders and their dependents could take up the British offer in its first year alone.

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

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

SGT. JODY STIGER, HIRED PROSECUTION EXPERT ON USE OF FORCE: Yes, sir.

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? STIGER: Yes.

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.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Officers --

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?

STIGER: Yes.

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?

BREAHNA GILES, FORENSIC SCIENTIST, MINNESOTA BUREAU OF CRIMINAL APPREHENSION: The tablets contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

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.

[02:35:00]

JIMENEZ: 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.

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NEWTON: Still ahead here on CNN, in many ways, it can feel like a tale of 2 pandemics. Some businesses have closed up shop, others have boomed.

How do we bridge the gap between the rich and the poor?

The International Monetary Fund has an idea. And we will tell you about it.

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NEWTON: Recovering COVID-19 will likely be the biggest economic challenge of the coming years and a truly global one. The IMF is suggesting that some countries put special solidarity taxes so, called on those who can afford them, to help level the playing field. John Defterios is in Abu Dhabi to help us parse our way through this.

It's good to see you, John.

Is this part of a wider effort to introduce global taxes in the post pandemic world?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: We've always talked about the fact that it's going to be very painful after the pandemic. And you can see some of the ideas that are coming forward here.

It's almost as if the IMF can provide the political cover for governments around the world, saying that we had inequalities before and now they've gotten much worse and this is the best way to close the gap, by adding taxes to those who can afford it. Let's take a listen.

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VITOR GASPAR, IMF FISCAL AFFAIRS (through translator): Pre-existing inequalities have made COVID-19 worse. But at the same time, COVID-19 has aggravated inequalities. Such a vicious circle, threatens to open a seismic crack in the social fabric.

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DEFTERIOS: There's a couple of different forms here. You can do with higher income taxes on individuals of the top bracket, of course. And they're suggesting the same thing.

[02:40:00]

DEFTERIOS: A temporary corporate levy on corporations and their profits, particularly overseas.

I do remember this, in 1991, with the German reunification tax, to pay for the redevelopment, Eastern Germany and the generous exchange rate they gave to the neighbors from Western Germany, for those coming in from East Germany going forward as well.

NEWTON: And, of course, the success of that speaks for itself. I want to ask about the U.S. Treasury Janet Yellen, she wants to harmonize corporate tax rates, around the world. At times it's a race to the bottom, because some countries feel they are more competitive that way.

Is her idea building momentum?

DEFTERIOS: Surprisingly so. It's amazing how fast this is moving. They want to take a vote in July. I think it was Churchill who said, never let a good crisis go to waste. And I think that's the spirit of the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

The U.S. has set that's 28 percent level, to pay for the $2 trillion infrastructure fund that they want to put forward, here but they're also trying to get this to be the global tax rate. It's getting support from other G7 countries, like Italy, in France.

It will create a problem for states like Ireland that likes the tax competition; Singapore, Hong Kong, there's other tax havens around the world. So you may meet some resistance.

But I'm surprised, because of COVID-19, that the international players are rallying around the OECD and using it as their vehicle, to raise taxes to levels so you don't have tax competition. Not the spirit of capitalism but I think it's a special circumstance and are trying to harmonize the tax system around the world.

NEWTON: It's exactly like you said, seize the opportunity. John Defterios, thanks so much.

The Hubble telescope has captured a rare cosmic spectacle twice within just a few months. You're looking at two pairs of quasars. They're intense beacons of light powered by supermassive black holes. I'm having a look at this now.

They're so bright, they extend light beyond their own galaxy. Let's think about this for a minute. The quasars are so close, that if we observe them from Earth, they would look like one object. Think about that. Wow.

This artist impression imagines what they would look like in more detail. Quasars are on a collision course, circling in an ever tighter orbit. Within a few million years they will smash into each other, creating even larger black holes. I don't know about you folks but that certainly blew my mind. It's amazing.

I'm Paula Newton, will be back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. "WORLD SPORT" is next.