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Gaza Citizens Breathe a Sigh of Relief; U.S. and Other Countries to Help Rebuild Gaza; Story Repeats Itself; Prince William Blames BBC's Deceitful Interview; E.U. Welcomes Vaccinated People; Italy Reflects on the Lessons Learned From COVID; Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Appears To Be Holding; Boko Haram leader Died Blowing Himself Up To Avoid Capture; India Fights Two Infections; Missing People In Mumbai's Coast Due To Cyclone Tauktae; South Korea Grants Conditional Approval For Moderna Vaccine; Argentina Reported 35,000 Plus New COVID-19 Cases And 435 New Deaths; Organizers To Speak Amid Pressure To Call Tokyo Games Off; Dark Side Of The Mystery Box; Animal Cruelty Allegations. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired May 21, 2021 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. And this is CNN Newsroom.

Celebratory fireworks in Gaza after 11 days of fighting and death as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas takes hold.

Princess William and Harry ripped the BBC after an inquiry says it used deceitful methods to secure that 1995 interview they say led to their mother's divorce and death.

And European leaders reach a deal on vaccine passports. Why health officials say you might want to think twice before making any summer holiday plans.

Welcome, everyone.

We are eight hours into a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. And for now, at least it seems to be holding. Both sides have agreed to end 11 days of fighting, thanks to mediation efforts by Egypt and some pressure from the U.S. Israeli air force jets pounded militant targets late into Thursday. The Gaza health ministry run by Hamas reports 232 Palestinians dead since the fighting began last week.

In Israel, 12 people killed by rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. Israel security cabinet unanimously approved the ceasefire. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned he would resume his military campaign if Hamas did not keep its end of the bargain.

U.S. President Joe Biden praising the deal but said that there is still much work to be done.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My conversation with President Netanyahu, I commended him for the decision to bring the current hostilities to a close within less than 11 days.

The United States committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gaza reconstruction efforts. We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the authority, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.



HOLMES (on camera): Now that deal sparks celebrations by Palestinians in Gaza which has suffered the worst punishment at the hands of the Israelis in seven years. Tens of thousands of people have been living for days now in temporary shelters such as schools. Many have lost their homes completely.

Despite the death toll and more than $300 million in property and infrastructure damage Palestinians claiming some measure of victory. And in Israel, many say they are skeptical the ceasefire will even hold.


UNKNOWN: There's a bit of unease about it, however, I don't know what is the story about the long-term solution. The real solution of open and honest communication and I think it's vital for making a significant change instead of putting and creating a Band-Aid solution.

UNKNOWN (through translator): We want to go home. Believe me, I don't want only to celebrate. It is for me as I came back from Mecca after the pilgrimage.


HOLMES (on camera): Journalist Elliott Gotkine is in Ashdod in Israel this hour for us. Elliott, another conflict another ceasefire. The question, what now to at least try to be back here in a few years, which was the cycle we've seen.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: It is a cycle we've seen. And I think right now the focus is on obviously making sure that the ceasefire holds which it is doing. And that it will go on for as long as possible. At the same time there will be a focus as President Biden was intermitting on reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Both the civilian infrastructure and civilian homes, and no doubt Hamas will also be looking to replenish its arsenal and rebuild some of its infrastructure that was destroyed or damaged during the last 11 days.

But in terms of reaching some kind of longer-term solution, I don't think anyone is under any illusions that that is going to be an extremely tall order. the U.S. doesn't even speak to Hamas which they consider a terrorist organization. The Israelis don't speak with Hamas officially either.


And clearly, they are on either side of the table. Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist. And Israel has had in the past and will expect in the future to have to be ready to fight the militants of the Gaza Strip again.

HOLMES: So where does what used to be known as peace process even stand? Israeli politics have moved sharply to the right. Hamas as you point out in firm control in Gaza. The Palestinian authority, weak. The Oslo framework gone essentially. Where do we even start? And where is the will?

GOTKINE: When you put it that way, Michael, it does seem like a disappointing state of affairs. But you know, more rebound Israeli the only word that can be used to adequately describe the so-called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. President Joe Biden has himself of course got plenty of experience at this. Not least when he was vice president and the Obama administration, you know, oversaw talks which eventually went nowhere.

Now, President Biden says that now it could be an opportunity, a genuine opportunity to make progress in these talks. And the U.N. secretary general has also called for, you know, for serious dialog to address the root causes of the conflict. But, you know, really there isn't really any trust between either side. It's not a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. administration and they are still really the only game that counts trying to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together.

And when you have, you know, Hamas entrenched in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority run by Fatah in the West Bank then it's very hard to even, you know, you haven't even got, you know, two parties speak to one another to try to move forward. You've got effectively three parties, none of whom really trust each other. And it seems very hard to see from this point of view how progress can be made even if at some point conversations, talks are held to reach some kind of, you know, final solution to this intractable conflict.

HOLMES: Yes. As depressing as that sounds for people who have covered it for a long time, it sounds absolutely correct. Elliott Gotkine in Ashdod, Israel, thank you.

Now the U.N. secretary general meanwhile, welcoming the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. But he wants more. Antonio Guterres says now is the time for Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations. When have we heard that before? And he's calling for a robust humanitarian aid plan for people living in Gaza.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The fighting has left thousands of Palestinians homeless and forced over 50,000 people to leave their homes and seek shelter in UNRWA schools, mosques, and other places with little access to food, water, hygiene, or health services. I was horrified by reports that nine members of a family were killed in El Shatt refugee camp. If there is hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today.


HOLMES (on camera): Joining me now is CNN political commentator Peter Beinart. He is the author of the Beinart Notebook on

Peter, good to see you. We talk about this before whenever these conflicts bring up they inevitably end, but what doesn't happen is the tackling of the fundamental reasons for why they occur in the first place. I mean, what is your take on that? Are we doomed to repeat?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I fear we are, unless people, as you say, really address these fundamental issues. The United Nations says that Gaza is unlivable for human beings. Two million people under a blockade who can't -- who are basically in an open-air prison. They can't -- they can't move, their goods can't go in and out very easily. There is -- there is not enough water, there is not enough electricity.

Other Palestinians in the West Bank live under military occupation. They're not citizens of the country that controls their lives. They just don't have basic rights like due process and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives.

So, under those circumstances you don't have real peace. You have -- you may have calm for a while but it's just a matter of time and so we have another one of these terrible explosions. Unless you deal with the basic issue which is that millions of people are denied basic freedoms.

HOLMES: The original goal it's worth talking about Gaza, the original goal of the Israeli economic blockade on Gaza was to cripple Hamas after it took over the strip back in 2007, of course that blockade Israeli control as you say of what comes in and what leaves has hurt Gaza civilians immeasurably. But has it weakened Hamas which was the declared aim?

BEINART: No. Blockades are very good at punishing civilian populations. You know, they're not very good at weakening governments. We, are as Americans have been blockading Cuba since the 1960s. The Castro family still in charge there. But we've hurt the Cuban people.


No, in fact, this is ironically it's probably strengthened Hamas. Because it's basically destroyed the independent business class that could've been a rival power center and allow them to completely take control of the -- of the economy. And it's fundamentally just immoral to punish an entire population.

Because the people who are on the ground running Gaza are people who Israel has a problem with. And you know, and Israel has legitimate reasons for having problems with Hamas but this is both an ineffective and an immoral strategy for responding to Hamas as many of Israel's own security officials have actually acknowledged.

HOLMES: What are the odds of a political alternative to Hamas emerging given its iron grip on the strip. And perhaps the convenience of it being a convenient bogeyman for the Israeli government in many ways?

BEINART: Look, Palestinians have to choose their own leaders, you know. Israelis often choose leaders that Palestinians really would not like. And yet it's up to the Israelis to choose Israeli leaders.

Palestinians need to have free elections something that neither Mahmoud Abbas not the Israeli government really wants them to have. And they want -- and they need to -- the only way that they can have legitimate leaders is to elect their leaders.

Now, I hope they don't vote for Hamas. If Hamas uses violence, Israel has the right to defend itself. But the Palestinian political leadership will only be illegitimate if Palestinians can actually choose their leaders. The struggle among Palestinians between Islamic and nationalists is not unique to them. It exists across the Arab world. And you're not actually doing Israel any favors ultimately by making Palestinian leadership illegitimate by making it impossible for Palestinians to actually have a process for freely choosing their own leaders.

HOLMES: We saw the Netanyahu-Biden dynamic in play or what we saw of it publicly at least. I mean, it makes me wonder, you know, is it fair to say that what used to be called the Middle East peace process no longer exists. I mean, and Israeli politically moved to the right. Palestinian divide between Hamas and Gaza are ineffective leaders in the West Bank. You know, are we again in a moment without promising the broader picture of what used to be called the peace process?

BEINART: I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. I mean, one of the most significant things that we saw happen in this most recent conflict was fight -- was conflict in the West Bank in eastern Islam, in Gaza and also in Israel proper where 20 percent of the population are Palestinians. Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel controls all of this territory in some form or another between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one political territory, the chances of partitioning it now in large measure because of relentless Israeli funded settlement growth are really slim to probably none.

And so, we are slowly and painfully moving into a paradigm where people are going to have to talk about the character of this one state that exists between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Is it going to be a state where Jews have basic rights and Palestinians to varying degrees don't? Or is there going to be an effort as difficult as it would be to actually build a country that's based on the principles of equality under the law, the principles of that those of us in America have been fighting for here.

HOLMES: Yes. And of course, that goes without saying that the thing that originally sparked all of this the potential evictions of Palestinians home owners in east Jerusalem is still outstanding. And that's what sort of kick this all off to begin with.

We got to leave it there unfortunately. Peter Beinart, thanks so much as always.

BEINART: Thank you.

HOLMES: Now with the ceasefire holding people on both sides are going to begin picking up the pieces in many ways. The rebuild in Gaza will be especially daunting.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on that.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Since the 10th of May the god of war have smile down upon this lighted land. Air strikes and rocket barrages, artillery and mortar fire. Hundreds of people dead and more than 2,000 wounded. Tens of thousands made homeless.

The current round of hostilities between Gaza and Israel this too shall pass. What shall not pass are the reasons for this conflict played out in places like here Al-Bireh and other villages, towns and cities in the West Bank. In places like Sheikh Jarrah in eastern Jerusalem and indeed, in Gaza itself.

Going back more than a decade, Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian families faced forced eviction has been a constant flash point in Jerusalem even more so today. In Jerusalem, Palestinian residents nearly 40 percent of the population pay taxes, carry Israeli identification cards but among other things can't vote in the national elections.


A new wave of protest has broken out in the West Bank where millions of Palestinians live in limbo crammed into an archipelago of pseudo- autonomous enclaves all ultimately under Israeli military rule.

Since hostilities began Israel has pummeled Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes while Hamas and other factions have fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 but has maintained along with Egypt an effective blockade since 2007 when Hamas took over. Israel controls the birth registry, the airspace and maritime access and much more. This war will change none of that.

TAWFEEQ HADDAD, JERUSALEM RESIDENT: Just like in South Africa this has to end. Palestinians will not be second-class citizens in their homeland or kicked out of their place.

WEDEMAN: When relative calm returns and the world's attention moves on, the petty pace of this conflict will resume from day-to-day. Until once onto the bridge.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Al-Bireh on the West Bank.


HOLMES (on camera): When we come back. British royals rarely speak out. And yet, that is what Prince William is doing right now blaming the BBC for making his parent's relationship worse, and much more.

Also, still to come, the European Union gearing up to launch a vaccine passport program in an effort to jump-start the return to normalcy. Coming up, what travel within the bloc might look like.


HOLMES (on camera): Prince William condemning the BBC over that interview with his mother. The one from back in 1995. It detailed the breakdown of Princess Diana's relationship with Prince Charles. Well, an independent inquiry found journalist Martin Bashir used deceitful methods to secure that blockbuster interview. And that the BBC covered it up.

CNN's Scott McLean is standing by at BBC headquarters for us. Some harsh criticism of the BBC itself and how this was handled. But what's been the fallout from this report?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Michael. Yes, it is pretty widespread especially considering that this report after a many months long investigation comes more than a quarter century after that interview actually aired. Undoubtedly, one of the most consequential, one of most famous interviews in British television history. Princess Diana revealing serious issues in her relationship with Prince Charles. The interview also reflected very poorly on the British royal family.

Now, the independent investigation was carried out by a former judge and it found that the journalist who did the interview, Martin Bashir, had used fake bank statements purporting to show that the British intelligence service, that media were paying members of Princess Diana's inner circle.


Now none of this was true. The bank statements were completely bogus. Mocked up in photoshop, but they succeeded in earning the trust of Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, who ultimately facilitated the meeting between Martin Bashir and Princess Diana which led to that interview.

The report also found that the BBC had covered up things that it knew to be true about how that interview came to me in the first place after the fact. Now the head of the BBC has apologized for its role in what happened, it promised a more personalized apology for the people involved. But still, as you've heard some very raw words from Prince William coming up with a new statement just last night. And here's part of it.


PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC's failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.


MCLEAN (on camera): And Prince Harry's -- or Prince William's brother Prince Harry also came out with a separate statement which he blames his mother's death on what he calls a culture of exploitation in the British press. He wrote in part, quote, "Our mother loss her life because of this and nothing has changed. By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone and uphold the dignity with which she lives her life. Let's remember who she was and what she stood for."

Now, it was last night that the very same BBC program Panorama that aired that interview back in 1995 aired a brand-new expose on how that interview came to be. And in it, they interview Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, and he made this very striking statement. Listen.


EARL CHARLES SPENCER, PRINCESS DIANA'S BROTHER: Well, the irony is that I met Martin Bashir on the 31st of August 1995. Because exactly two years later she died. And I do draw a line between the two events.


MCLEAN (on camera): So the reason that he draw -- draws that line between the two events is because he explains that that interview and the information, the false information that was presented to his sister succeeded in eroding the trust that she had in the people around her and ultimately pushing her, Michael, further away from the royal bubble, you might call it, that might have otherwise protected her in the years that followed.

HOLMES: And you know, Martin Bashir was, I mean, at one time a highly regarded BBC journalist and interviewer. What's happened to him? How has he reacted?

MCLEAN: Yes. Martin Bashir went on to work, do some high-profile work for another network here in Britain, also went on to work in the United States. Come back to the BBC in 2016. Was rehired. He resigned on Monday citing ongoing health issues. He put out a statement where he apologized for those bank statements but he continues to insist that, quote, "they had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in this interview. It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the princess' brave decision to tell her story." His statement goes on to point to the very first paragraph in the 127-

page report, which says that Princess Diana at that point in her life was ready to do or was keen to do some kind of a TV interview. And so, she probably would have done it with any reputable reporter that had earned her trust even without the intervention from Martin Bashir, Michael.

HOLMES: That's just incredible, isn't it? Scott McLean there outside BBC headquarters in London. Thanks.

Travel within Europe may just become a bit easier in time for the northern summer. The European Union says it will start using COVID vaccine passports in July. Allowing unrestricted travel within the block. The certificates will display either a vaccination, a recent negative test, or if someone has immunity based on recovery.


JUAN FERNANDO LOPEZ AGUILAR, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT NEGOTIATOR: You are vaccinated in a member state of the European Union, so the health system of your member state will provide you with a certificate. That is the new role of the game. And that certificate will do. That certificate means that you don't have to PCR every week. Hey, listen, I'm vaccinated. The certificate says so. I was vaccinated. So please let me in.


HOLMES (on camera): Now member states are not allowed to impose additional travel restrictions like quarantines unless it's considered necessary for public health. If they do, they must give 48 hours' notice before their rules take effect.


But even some restrictions are being lifted, the World Health Organization in Europe urging people to avoid international travel. The agency's regional director says there is still concerns that more transmissible variants like the ones first detected in India could pose a risk.


HANS KLUGE, REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Right now, in the face of a continued threats and new uncertainty we need to continue to exercise caution and to rethink or avoid international travel. Vaccines may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you can't be blinded by that light. So, the pandemic is not over yet.


HOLMES (on camera): Some positive news in France where the government says all adults will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 from May the 31st. Calling it a powerful acceleration. France's prime minister said the date is two weeks earlier than originally planned. Right now, around 41 percent of France's adult population has had at least one dose of a vaccine, that's according to the health ministry.

Italy is hosting a virtual G20 health summit today alongside the European Commission. Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi said ahead of the event that it would provide a chance to reflect on lessons learned during the pandemic, as well as how to improve for the future.

CNN's Delia Gallagher is in Rome this morning for us with more on what to expect. So, Delia what's the bigger agenda item?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Michael, the agenda is very broad. They are talking about multilateral cooperation to help avoid future global pandemics. They're expected to sign what they're calling a Rome Declaration of Principles by the end of the day.

But this summit, Michael, has a lot of high expectations riding on it. Not just for future pandemics but for the one that is still going on in many countries around the world. You know, this meeting is happening in a week in which we've heard from Kenya that they are quickly running out of vaccines. The executive director of UNICEF which is responsible for the COVAX distribution in undeveloped countries urging this week richer countries to help out poor countries.

Amnesty International saying the clock is ticking for countries and South America, South Asia, and Africa. So, there is a lot of pressure on this summit. These groups are looking for three things in particular, Michael. One is money. The funding of the ACT accelerator program from the World Health Organization just this year they're expecting an $18.5 million shortfall. Not to mention of course in the years to come.

The other is vaccine sharing which the United States and France have already agreed to but other countries need to sign on to. And the third is the waiving of intellectual property rights and trying to get the pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge and technology with underdeveloped countries.

So, there is an expectation of some concrete action to come out of this summit. We'll have to see by the end of the day if the G20 countries can step up to that. Michael?

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. And whether it's not just a talk fest. Delia Gallagher in Rome, as always, thanks. Good to see you.

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire after 11 days of deadly conflict. For now, that agreement appears to be holding. Just ahead, we'll explain what it took to get to that point.

Plus, the leader of Boko Haram reportedly dead but some news outlets say he's only been wounded. We'll go to Nigeria for the latest in a live report when we come back.


[03:30:00] MICHAEL HOLMES CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): And welcome back to our

viewers all around the world. I am Michael Holmes you are watching CNN Newsroom. No hostilities have been reported between Israel and Hamas since a cease-fire took effect early on Friday. Now this could be the first day in more than a week without the two sides exchanging airstrikes and rockets. But the real challenge is to get beyond a cease-fire and move towards something resembling (inaudible).

We get the latest now from CNN's Nic Robinson, Stadt in Israel.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Under intense international pressure, Israel security cabinet agreeing to an Egyptian brokered ceasefire. Hamas signing up to end of hostilities 2:00 a.m. local. But in a tweet Israel's defense minister warning the reality on the ground will determine whether we resume operations. But in the minutes prior to the agreement, Israeli warplanes still hitting targets in Gaza.

So we are going to try to get ourselves to a safer place here.

Hamas rockets still targeting Israel and not everyone happy with Netanyahu's decision.

Right now the government is having the security cabinet meeting. What are you hoping is going to come out of that meeting?

UNKNOWN: I don't want -- I wanted to stop. I think if we've started it we should end it and go to the end.

ROBERTSON: Earlier in the day Hamas rockets hitting right outside our broadcast location. Also in a nearby town of Ashkelon and Beersheba more than 340 rockets fired according to Israel's defense forces since an overnight pause by Hamas. Israeli airstrikes continued in Gaza too. Targeting, they said, Hamas tunnels, rocket launchers, commander and weapon stores.

U.N. officials in Gaza say more than 70,000 Palestinians have been displaced during the 11 days of fighting and are calling for $38 million in immediate aid to help with essentials. Hundreds of millions more needed they say if the cease-fire takes hold. But the situation according to the U.N. secretary general is dire.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: If there is a hell on earth it is in the lives of children in Gaza today.

ROBERTSON: Even before an end to the attacks Palestinian leaders describing the violence of occupation that has no end in sight.

MOHAMMED SHTAYYEH, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRIME MINISTER: This occupation should end and the suffering of our people in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in west bank, in the refugee camps of Lebanon should also stop immediately. Otherwise it is a cycle of violence.

ROBERTSON: Earlier in the day several European foreign ministers taken to see the sight of a Hamas rocket attack. Their visit not just as friends of Israel but adding to the drumbeat for durable peace. Into the night, not yet clear, if the cease-fire that came into effect at 2:00 a.m. local can actually hold.

Nic Robinson CNN, Ashdod, Israel.


HOLMES (on camera): Now the Nigerian army is investigating reports that the leader of Boko Haram has died. Media agencies across Nigeria claiming he blew himself up to avoid capture. But other international news outlets say he was only badly wounded. CNN's Stephanie Busari is following the story for us from Lagos. So, what do we know about these reports and whether or not they are accurate?

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): We are still waiting, Michael for official confirmation from the Nigerian authorities on whether Shekau has indeed died. And there is some caution understandably on this, because in the past the Nigerian military has declared that Shekau has died only for him to resurface in videos mocking them and (inaudible).


So, it may take some time before we have official confirmation from the authorities on this one. Like you say, local media are reporting widely that Shekau died by blowing himself up when he was after surrender to ISWAP, Islamic State West African Province, a rival extremist faction that broke away from Boko Haram itself in 2016.

Sources close to Boko Haram tell me and this is a very credible source that I've watched for years, tells me that, indeed Shekau has died. And he died on Wednesday evening and when the ISWAP commanders trace him to his (inaudible) forest hideaway and asked him to surrender and plead allegiance to ISWAP, which is of course link to ISIS.

Shekau decided not to do this and blew himself up according to the source. So, what we are hearing, Michael by all indications is that Shekau has died according to sources that we spoke to. But we await confirmation from the authorities.

HOLMES: And Stephanie what would it mean for Boko Haram if Shekau's death is actually confirmed?

BUSARI: Well, I spoke to some intelligence analysts who tell me that Shekau was really the face of Boko Haram. He led the organization for more than 12 years now. A very ruthless and erratic leader who lost the loyalty of some of his top commanders. Some of whom plead allegiance to ISWAP themselves and defected from Boko Haram. So, really they're saying that if Shekau is confirmed dead then this would be the end of an era and an end of Boko Haram as we know it.

HOLMES: Stephanie Busari following these developments for us from Lagos, thanks, Stephanie.

Alright, we'll take a quick break when we come back, India adding one more worry alongside the COVID pandemic. A new infections emerging as a threat as COVID cases grow. We'll have details when we come back.


HOLMES (on camera): Now the Indian Navy is still looking for 26 missing crew members after a barge sank off Mumbai's coast during that recent cyclone there. As of Friday morning, 49 bodies have been recovered. The Indian government launching an investigation into what happened to a number of vessels caught up in the storm with more than 600 people on board.


Some promising news now in the race between the virus and vaccines. The World Health Organization in Europe says, authorized coronavirus vaccines appear to be effective against known variants. That is good news. The agency's original Director saying that COVID cases are declining across much of Europe but he warns now is not the time to be complacent.

He says he is still learning about the variant first identified in India, the more transmissible strain has now been detected in countries all over the world. The regional director urging caution as some countries are seeing pockets of increased transmission which he says could lead to a dangerous resurgence.


HANS KLUGE, WHO REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE: Vaccines may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but you cannot be blinded by that light. The new variant of concern b1617 first identified in India has now been identified in at least 26 countries out of the 53 in the (inaudible) region. From Austria to Greece, Israel to Kurdistan. Most cases have a linked to international travel. But onwards transmission is occurring.


HOLMES (on camera): Now India has just topped 26 million COVID cases total after reporting a daily increase of nearly 260,000. Meanwhile you can add black fungus to the list of challenges facing India. Health authorities say cases of the rare and potentially fatal infections up mounting amongst coronavirus patients and several Indian states facing shortages of the drug use to treat it.

Joining me now CNN's Vedika Sud in New Delhi. Tell us more about this fungus, what it is, how widespread it is?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN PRODUCER (on camera): Well, it could be deadly Michael. And that is the worry at a time when we are already report high cases of COVID-19 and fatalities here in India. So, this is a new challenge that medical experts are facing across the country.

Now black fungus is a fatal infection, it actually does become a host of those people who are low on immunity or have uncontrolled diabetes amongst other illnesses. But since we talk about low immunity, that's how it catches on when it comes to COVID-19 patients especially those who have recovered or are recovering from COVID-19. The loss of eyesight or even removal through surgery of an eye or a

part of the jaw is what happens in extreme cases along with deaths. Now we do know and this is reportable that 3,000 patients across six states have been infected by black fungus. And in the state of (inaudible), or the capital city is Mumbai of that states has already lost 90 people to the black fungus.

There is a shortage of supply of the medicine as well. You have the government coming out and saying, we are ramping up supplies to make sure the shortage is not something that would be a long term challenge for India. And here is what medical experts are saying about the fatality of black fungus.


HERMANT THACKER, BREACH CANDY HOSPITAL: So this is a pretty serious infection. Which was not controlled not treated can have a mortality of anything from 20 percent to 50 percent.


SUD (on camera): Like I said if you don't catch this in time it could turn fatal. Michael?

HOLMES: Meanwhile, what is the latest on the coronavirus case and death numbers in India? And where they headed?

SUD: Well the caseload has come down as you mentioned at the beginning. It's about 269,000 plus at the moment. And ultimately fatalities have gone back to over 4,000. And yesterday, India had reporting less than 4,000 fatalities but yet again, it's going up to over 4,200. It's very early to say that India has already peaked because different states, remember Michael, peak at different times, right now.

While Delhi is number of cases has reduced compared to the last two weeks. And the southern states, it has increased along with the rural areas. Remember 65 percent of India's population reside in rural areas and that is where it is spreading too currently. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi just addressed his constituency, the medical workers in his constituency of (inaudible), and that's when he even got a bit emotional while addressing them through (inaudible) and conference where he did express his condolences to those families who have lost near and dear ones.

So there was an emotional moment there as well while he was addressing them, but a lot of people as we know had lost their lives and continue to do so. The fatality numbers are still high compared to what India has seen in the first wave and over the second wave and that remains a concern, Michael?

HOLMES: Alright. Vedika, thanks. Vedika Sud there in New Delhi for us.

Now black fungus is a serious infection as Vedika was saying, cause by a strain of mold. [03:45:06]

Infections generally occur in people who already have a compromised immune system. It can affect sinuses, brain, lungs and skin causing fever, black lesion and shortness of breath. The mold can live on wet surfaces and can be transmitted by touch. Fear something.

Now boost to South Korea's vaccination efforts, it just granted conditional approval for the Moderna vaccine. The company is still has to submit a final report on clinical trials. But anyone 16 years or older is now eligible to receive a shot. Moderna is South Korea's fourth COVID vaccine approved for use.

And Argentina imposing strict lockdown measures in response to surge in coronavirus case numbers. They go into effect on Saturday, workers who are not considered essential will only be allowed to leave their homes from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Schools, non-essential businesses, and religious establishments will be closed until the end of the month. On Thursday, Argentina reporting nearly 36,000 new COVID-19 cases more than 400 deaths. ICUs in Buena's Aires are becoming overwhelmed.

Rafael Romo looks at one hospital struggling to keep patients alive?


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice over): There is no time to waste. The patient's lungs are about to collapse and he needs to undergo surgery immediately. After the lifesaving procedure -- a heart filled hugged to say thanks. One more life has been saved in the intensive care unit at the Ospital Uniberisidad (inaudible) in Buenos Aires.

It is been a tense morning already, but we must be ready for anything, this ICU doctor says. While the northern hemisphere is gaining ground in the fight against COVID-19. This week, Argentina had consecutive days of record breaking numbers of cases.

Argentina, together with other South American countries like Brazil, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay are among the countries with the highest COVID-19 deaths per capita in the world. Few understands the current health crisis better than this team of doctors and nurses who fight this battle one patient at a time.

Every patient is somebody's child, somebody's parent, Dr. Pablo Pratezi (ph) says with tears in his eyes. O feel their pain, the day goes on with moments of life or death challenges interspersed with small victories.

Like celebrating that a patients skin is not irritated even though he's been able to move on his own for 48 hours. Which gives a lot of credit to the nursing staff. And then there's the joy of saving a life. You see patients walk out of a hospital on their own.

Matias Lorachi (ph), he who credits the ICU staff for serving his life, wrote a letter to express his gratitude calling the team his guardian angels who risk their lives and those of their families to do their job. Today, part of the team is can see their patient for the first time since he left the ICU, but on a video message.

He calls them heroes asked them not to give up because the country depends on them. A message to staff hears with tears in their eyes. The day when you see ability to cry for a patient will be the day we will stop being doctors and nurses, Dr. Pratezi said.

Another 12 hour shift is coming to a close. It is time for the next team to get to the front lines of Argentina's greatest challenge in a generation.

Rafael Romo CNN.


HOLMES (on camera): Now in about three hours from now. Organizers will provide an update about their preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. Calls had been growing ever louder to cancel the games because of the COVID pandemic. But organizers have said the Olympics will be held in a safe way.

And now, they are about to give us more details about their preparations to make that happen. Blake Essig joins me now from Tokyo with more on this. The chorus just gets louder and louder but the organizers seem to determine to go ahead.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You know, Michael there really seems to be two camps here. Olympic organizers and everyone else. Unfortunately for everyone else it's the international Olympic committee that will ultimately decides whether or not to hold these games. Now in response to the growing number of calls to cancel or postponed the games, An IOC spokesperson recently said quote we listened but we won't be guided by public opinion.

While organizers remain confident that they can deliver a safe and secure Olympics, medical professionals, a large majority of the Japanese public and now Japanese companies are casting doubt. A Reuter survey recently -- excuse me released today found almost 70 percent of the nearly 500 Japanese firms that were asked, want the games canceled or postponed.


While it might not mattered, the anti-Olympic sentiment has been giving louder every single day, fueled by fears of increased infection and an already strain medical system. Take a listen.


UNKNOWN: I am against holding the Olympics, because we are under the COVID-19 pandemic and is too big of a risk to hold the Olympics where many will gather in venues. The biggest issue to holding the games is manpower of medical staff. We can't stop regular medical examinations at local clinics like mine. If we do, the medical system will collapse. So we need to protect the hospitals and local clinics. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ESSIG (on camera): Now a big part of the anti-Olympic sentiment stems from the feeling that sport politics and money is being placed ahead of the health safety and wellness of the Japanese people. And if you take a look at what the IOC has said that they are going to go ahead with these games no matter what, you really have to take them for their word. But it seems inevitable that based on what is going on currently here in the country still less than 2 percent of Japanese people are fully vaccinated.

I'm sure those numbers are expected to increase starting next week when vaccination centers open up in Tokyo and Osaka. But currently only medical workers and people over 65 years old are eligible. Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines will also recently approve for use here in Japan. Though medical professional say supply isn't the problem, instead they say it's a lack of manpower, a chaotic reservation and distribution system that is to blame for the slow vaccine rollout.

And while Japan is still dealing with a fourth wave of infection, there is some good news nationwide COVID-19 cases have been going down, the past several days, but the bad news severe cases have once again hit a record high. And hospitals in several prefectures, Michael, including Tokyo are nearly out of bed space. All of this with about two months to go before the games are set to begin.

HOLMES: This seems extraordinary doesn't it? Blake Essig, thanks so much, I appreciate it.

When we come back, a disturbing trend that has seen dead animals turn up in wait for it parcels. CNN goes behind China's mystery box craze. Stay with us we will be right back.


HOLMES (on camera): Now in China a new trend is causing outrage among animal lovers, dubbed the mystery box craze. Consumers blindly order a box that comes with a surprise which could be anything from a toy to a luxury item. But some businesses have taken a step further including pets which all too often as you might imagine has ended in tragedy.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports and a warning to our viewers this piece contains some disturbing images.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Their howls are heartbreaking. But it is the still silent boxes that are most tragic. Dead puppies and kittens in crates, innocent animals, victims of a new craze in China of mystery boxes.

UNKNOWN (through translator): I told the young man selling animal mystery boxes that he was making money at the costs of the lives of those animals.

LU STOUT: Most mystery boxes are innocent to. Consumers make a purchase at a reduced price not knowing what they are going to get.


Usually it's a small toy. Sometimes a limited edition model which can be worth much more than the box price. But increasingly live pets are being advertised by a cheap breed, you might get a pedigree.

PEI SU, DIRECTOR, ACT ASIA: People don't understand the fundamentals. These animals are not products. They are not objects. They have feeling.

LU STOUT: These animals the survivors of a raid by animal rights groups, Love, Home, Animal Rescue Center on a truck owned by a China- based distribution company ZTO express. The company apologized to the public media and customers and promised to suspend the branch and ban live animal shipments.

Authorities in the south western city of (inaudible) suspended the distribution branch and handed down a fine of $12,000. But day's later, state media reported more animals shipped by ZTO were found dead in Soju, a city more than 1,000 miles away. Animal rights activists say, it shows how widespread the problem is.

SU: From a central government to a local government and to a state bureau. We need to work as a team to address these issues to, you know, tighten the regulations and also punished the people who are still carrying on to do such business as well.

LU STOUT: Nobody wants a dead animal in a box turning up at their door. But Animal rights campaigners say Chinese consumers need to be better educated and e-commerce websites need to ban the trade of live animals from their platforms. Until then, compassionate carriers in China are left to look after these mistreated animals.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN.


HOLMES (on camera): Now U.S. officials seized nearly 70 big cats from the fame Tiger King Zoo in Oklahoma. 68 protected lions, tigers and one jaguar were taken as part of a search and seizure warrant for ongoing violation. Officials say the owners Jeff and Lauren Lo, did not provide proper shelter food nor veterinary care for the big cats. The park was made famous last year after the Netflix documentary Tiger King, murder, mayhem and madness.

I am Michael Holmes, thanks for spending part of your day with me follow me on Twitter and Instagram at home CNN. I'll have more CNN Newsroom in just a moment.