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Deadly Violence Between Hamas and IDF is Worst in Years; Indian Government Revamping Parliament as COVID Cases Surge; U.K. Health Secretary: Vaccines May Work Against Indian Variant; Some Latin Americans Flock to the U.S. for Vaccines; San Marino Selling COVID Vaccines to Tourists; Opposition to the Olympic Games Grows as Coronavirus Cases Spread. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Air strikes destroyed several homes in Gaza Sunday. Palestinian health officials say nearly 200 people have been killed in the past week, including 58 children. And the flair up of violence in Gaza and Israel is the deadliest in years. CNN's Nic Robertson looks back at the past week of fighting.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): First, Hamas' rockets reaching Jerusalem, followed by Israel's fast response pounding Gaza.

A week of accelerated warfare later fear, death, suffering on both sides. Gazans toll significantly higher as it has been in previous such confrontations. Different this time militant sophisticated heat seeking weapons and Hamas' rockets, more of them reaching farther from Gaza at a greater intensity than ever before, cutting deeper into Israel's sense of safety. Also different, sudden open confrontation between Israel's Arabs and Jews catching Israel by surprise.

DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: We haven't not seen this kind of internal conflict where the real social fabric of the country is being stressed.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the West Bank generational Palestinian anger ignited by Gazans suffering resulting in deadly confrontation with Israeli police.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: If you combine all of that together it is a very different situation than what we have seen in the past.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Before the first rocket fired, a perfect storm brewing -- planned Palestinian evictions in Jerusalem, the collective Palestinian pain raising tensions, worsened by heavy-handed Israeli police tactics at Islam's third holiest site during Islam's holiest week that Hamas exploited. All against the background of political stagnation and increasing polarization. MARTIN INDYK FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Over the last 10 years we've seen a swing in Israel to the right and that pendulum is still being swung further to the right. And that has enabled this kind of chauvinistic extremism to gain a greater grip and that has evolved into the Palestinians.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Both sides now under increasing American pressure to end the conflict.

ROSS: The real question is going to be do the Israelis feel that they have exacted enough of a price on Hamas? And is Hamas ready to end this?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Saturday night, Hamas signaled they are ready unilaterally stopping rocket attacks on Tel Aviv for two hours. Netanyahu whose political prospects to hold on to the premiership rose over the past week seems less willing. Sunday, the deadliest day of the week in Gaza.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We are trying to degrade Hamas' terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it will take some time. I hope it won't take long, but it is not immediate.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But with international pressure mounting, too, just possible this Gaza conflict won't go a second week. The problems that caused it, however, have no resolution in sight.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Ashdod, Israel.


CHURCH: The at least two people are dead following the collapse of bleachers at the synagogue in the West Bank. And we're going to show you the moment it happened, but, first, we want to warn you, you may find it disturbing. Israeli emergency services say more than 100 people were injured. They were there gathering for a Jewish holiday. These images give you a sense of the wreckage once everyone was able to get out. The bleacher collapse comes just over two weeks after 45 people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival at Israel's Mount Meron.

Well India has reported a significant drop in daily COVID cases with numbers below 300,000 for the first time in nearly a month. The daily death toll is still topping 4,000, and rural India is seeing a surge in new cases. Despite this growing crisis, India's ruling party is continuing the construction of a controversial project to revamp the Indian Parliament building. CNN Vedika Sud has more.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): December of last year, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi lays the foundation storm for the new parliament. A grand and ambitious project to replace the current building constructed during the era of British rule by 2022.


But on the same day, India recorded almost 30,000 new COVID cases with worst to come. Where they said the people of India will construct this new parliament building together.

But many in India now questioning the government's extensive efforts to revamp this three kilometer long stretch from the doorstep of the president's house in New Delhi to Rajpath, the King's Avenue where India holds its annual Republic Day celebrations.

SUD: The area of this redevelopment project will cover over the next couple of years is equal to the size of almost 100 football fields.

SUD (voice-over): The ongoing construction has become increasingly controversial at a time where India has shattered global records, repeatedly crossing 400,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 while running short on vaccines.

MIHIR SHARMA, ECONOMIST: You can't be building a wonderful, new imperial capital when you are also claiming that you don't have enough money to buy vaccines and get them free to everyone.

SUD (voice-over): A staggering $2.7 billion of taxpayers money will be used for the Central Vista project, which will also include a new home for India's prime minister and vice president. The opposition Congress Party claims this money could be spent instead to inoculate almost 620 million people.

SUD: CNN reached out to two government ministers and three leaders from Prime Minister Modi's political party, the BJP, to comment on the controversial Central Vista project. They declined to speak to us.

SUD (voice-over): India's minister for housing development, Hardeep Singh Puri, recently defended the project, saying despite the cost the government will allocate twice the amount for vaccinations. But this failed to cut ties with opposition party.

MAHUA MOITRA, ALL INDIA TRINAMOOL CONGRESS MP: You have vaccinated 3 percent of your population. It is irrelevant, completely irrelevant as to how much money you have allocated for it. The question is, is it enough?

SUD (voice-over): The Indian government is already under pressure for allegedly mishandling the virus. Constructing a new seat of power at a time as sensitive as this could add to the existing public anger.

Vedika Sud, CNN, Delhi.


CHURCH: Well much of Britain can now reopen for business starting today. You can grab a pint at the pub, go to the movies, or even dine at a restaurant indoors. All under the latest lifting of lockdown measures for England, Scotland, and Wales. Meantime, the British health secretary says new data shows vaccines may be effective against the Indian variant now the dominant strain in parts of the U.K. CNN Phil Black joins me now live from Essex with more on this. Good to

see you Phil. So the successful vaccination rollout has allowed the U.K. to further ease COVID restrictions and now this news on the Indian variant. What more are you learning?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So a happy day, Rosemary, but not a celebration. So much missed freedoms are back, even hugging. We can embrace each other once again. But the advice is use the freedoms carefully. Assess the risk, think about it, and make responsible decisions. This's a much greater emphasis now on personal responsibility.

And emotions today, I think, are complicated even furthered by the concerns over the new variant detected in India, which is now here, and we are told spreading quickly. although case numbers at the moment are still quite low. The concern is that it could be significantly more transmissible. And if that is the case, well for a country that still has an advanced vaccination program, not everyone is protected. And that vaccines aren't perfect. So therefore it is possible to once see a surge in cases and perhaps pressure on the health system. So lot of ifs and coulds there.

The U.K. has vaccinated around 69 percent of the adult population. That's how many are protected by at least one dose and half of that is protected by two doses. So there's a lot that has been done but still work to do. And it's in that remaining jab that there is a potential vulnerability, that's what the government fears. So for the next few weeks, it's going to be watching closely to see what the new variant does. Hoping that it can keep case rates manageable through continuing vaccines, through testing, tracing, isolating, in the hope that you can then reach a point where so much of the population is vaccinated that the U.K. then can proceed with the next step in unlocking restrictions.


That is potentially just five weeks away. That is when England, in particular, hopes to return to something very much like a normal way of life. So there is a great deal at stake that it really depends on just how this variant behaves in the coming weeks.

There is some comforting news as you say, in that some of the evidence suggests the new variant, but it is still -- the vaccines are still effective against it. So for that reason the government will be hopeful that it can somehow maintain the status of unlocking the country while at the same time dealing with the variant, the concern that it is more transmissible -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, very important. Phil Black joining us live from Essex, England, many thanks.

Well coming up, a shortage of vaccines in Peru means vaccine tourists are flying north. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHURCH: Well the coronavirus vaccine is rolling out very slowly in much of Latin America, but those who have money and visas are traveling to the United States to get their shot. That's causing controversy in the U.S. and also in their home countries. Rafael Romo has more.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He leaves before dawn carrying two suitcases for the long trip. After hugging his family, Elber Estella (ph) is off to the airport. The Peruvian business owner from Lima is travelling to Seattle. This is not just any trip, he says, but a life or death decision.

Our political environment means our government is unable to fulfil its duty and that's why I have made this decision, Estella (ph) says. His goal is spending a month in Seattle, just enough time to get both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

His wife, Ursula (ph), who's also traveling to the United States but later, says she only has enough time to get the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine.


The vaccination has been very slow in our country, and we have decided we can't wait any longer. We were seeing many cases around us and the intensive care units are overwhelmed, which means you can die, she said.

Together, they have spent $2,200 to have three members of their family, including their 18-year-old daughter, fly to Seattle for a COVID-19 shot. Elber (ph) arrives first.

This is not about the American dream, he says, upon arriving. This is about the vaccine dream.

ROMO: Just like this Peruvian family, many in Latin America who are tired of waiting and have the means to do it are traveling to the United States to get coronavirus vaccine. Florida imposed ID restrictions in January due to a sharp increase in the number of foreigners seeking a COVID-19 shot in the Sunshine State.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You have people that lived here six months. That's fine. They use the hospitals here. They pay taxes. But to just kind of come in from another country or whatever, you know, we don't support that and we're not going to allow that.

ROMO (voice-over): But Suzanna Milano (ph), an Argentinian PR specialist who was spending time in Florida, says her country's passport was sufficient identification to get the shot.

They didn't ask for anything else, she said. In fact, so many people from Argentina are traveling to Florida. But according to this travel expert, the price for a ticket from Buenos Aires to Miami rose from an average of $800 in May of 2019 to approximately $2,700 this month. According to Argentina's state-run carrier, in the first quarter of this year, their four Miami-bound weekly flights were at about half capacity. Now, its six weekly flights are at 70 percent capacity.

In Latin America, traveling to get a shot has become a wedge issue between the haves and the have-nots. The Peruvian health minister has been critical of those who travel, seeing it reflects his country's inequality.

But Elber Estella (ph) says it is not about money or social class but about taking care of his family.

The minister is not going to feed my children or take care of my business if I'm no longer around, he says.

At long last, Estella (ph) gets his first shot. And now, he says, he anxiously waits for the rest of his family to do the same.

Rafael Romo, CNN.


CHURCH: Well coming up, the Olympics are coming to Tokyo in July. And a lot of people are very unhappy about that. We'll explain in a live report.



CHURCH: If you're a tourist in San Marino, today is the first day you're eligible to buy doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. A small country surrounded by Italy started its vaccine tourism campaign as a way to use an extra 20,000 doses. Two shots will cost you about $60 and they come with specific rules on how long you stay in the country.

CNN's Delia Gallagher joins me now from Rome with more on this. Good to see you Delia. So how likely is it that tourists will jump at this offer to buy Russia's COVID vaccine?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Rosemary, I was just speaking to an official from the San Marino government this morning, because this is the first day that they've opened up bookings online. He tells me they've already had bookings from countries like China, the Philippines, Dubai, the U.K., Ireland, France, and Switzerland. And so, there is obviously interest in this.

You know, Rosemary, San Marino is a tiny country. It's got about 35,000 residents. And even after allocating vaccines for all of their residents, they found themselves with 20,000 extra doses. They then decided to open it up to tourists. Now there is a hitch. Which is, A, you've got to be able to get to San Marino. And you've also got to book three nights in a hotel in San Marino in order to get your first jab and for them to monitor you after wards. And you've got to be able to go back to San Marino after 21 days to get your second jab. So you've got to have a lot of time on your hands in order to take

advantage of this offer. And of course San Marino uses the Sputnik vaccine. Even though they are in Europe, but they are not part of the European Union. So they are not bound by the EU guidelines which, at the moment, has not approved Sputnik for use.

So all of those things considered, Rosemary, still it's clear that there are people who are happy to combine a vacation with their vaccinations. The official in San Marino tells me they will be starting Monday of next week to vaccinate tourists -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Vaccine tourism, something new. Delia Gallagher joining us live from Rome, many thanks.

Well the Tokyo Olympics are approaching fast but Japan still doesn't have its coronavirus outbreak under control. Many in the country are saying it's too dangerous to host the games right now and they are raising their voices to get their message across.

And Selina Wang joins us now live from Tokyo. So Selina, protests against Japan holding the Olympics. They'll get underway soon. People are gathering there behind you, of course. How many people are expected overall to turn out and could this perhaps change minds?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, I was speaking to organizers and they said because of the stormy weather that is expected to be starting in just a couple of hours, they're expecting less than 100 people, but as you say, the protest doesn't start for another hour. But there's already a group of people forming behind me. They're holding signs calling for the Olympics to be cancelled.

I just spoke to one of the participants of the protest and he's holding a "cancel the Olympics sign" in both Japanese and English, and he tells me that because of all of the suffering that's happening around the world and in Japan, he said it is just not the time for Japan to be hosting the Olympics. He also said there is no hope, in his mind, that Japan is going to be able to protect the people of Japan.


Now this really reflects the growing, broadening frustration among the people here. According to local polls, the majority of the population in Japan thinks that these games should be cancelled. Should not be held this year. In fact, an online petition calling for the games to be cancelled brought more than 350,000 signatures in just nine days. And it's not just the broader population. You have high profile leaders, including athletes and corporate leaders who are speaking out, as well, including Toyota, which is a top Olympic sponsor.

In fact, just on Friday, I sat down with the CEO of Rakuten, this is the tech and ecommerce giant in Japan, and he tells me that Japan hosting the Olympics amounts to a suicide mission. Not only that, but you had a doctor's unit in Japan urging the government to cancel saying that it is impossible to hold a safe and secure Olympics when Japan is struggling to deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases with large swaths of the country are under a state of emergency and when only about 1 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated.

So we are just now 10 weeks away from the Olympics and each day the number of voices coming out asking the government to reconsider the games is only growing --Rosemary.

CHURCH: We'll keep an eye on this. Selena Wang joining us live from Tokyo, many thanks.

Well the New York Yankees are dealing with a COVID crisis. Nine members of the baseball team, the coaching, and support staff, have tested positive for COVID after being vaccinated. They have all received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only one of the nine has shown symptoms and those were mild. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says that shows the vaccine is working.

And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is coming up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a wonderful day.