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Ukraine Estimates an Additional 50,000 Russian Troops Gathering in Border Region and Crimea; Tehran Blames Israel for Natanz Facility Blackout; Police Fire Tear Gas at Crowds in Second Night of Protests after Minnesota Officer Fatally Shoots Black Man; White House Advisor: U.S. Not Dependent on J&J to Reach Vaccine Goals; Hong Kong Won't Air Oscars for First time Since 1969; Protestors on Streets with Curfews in Effect after Fatal Minnesota Shooting. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired April 13, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN Newsroom live from CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.

Ahead this hour, in the trenches, CNN goes to the frontlines of Ukraine's battle with Russia amid rising tensions at a massive military buildup.

Iran is warning over reprisals after an attack one of its nuclear facilities, which could sink new efforts to revive its nuclear deal with the west.

And another tense night in the United States, in Minnesota, protesters are angry after an unarmed black man was killed at the hands of police.

We begin with a potential new flashpoint in a seven-year long standoff. In the past few weeks, Russian troops and hardware have been massing along Ukraine's border. Ukraine and military and believes 50,000 Russian forces have joined the tens of thousands of Russian- backed separatists already in rebel-held areas. You can see them there in dark red. More than 30,000 Russian troops are already in Crimea.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC, U.N. SPOKESMAN: We're following these developments with concern. Our message to all the actors involved and all relevant actors is to exercise utmost restraint to avoid any actions and rhetoric that would further raise tensions. All outstanding issues should be and need to be addressed through dialogue.


VAUSE: CNN's Matthew Chance traveled with Ukraine's president as he made that visit to the trenches and the frontlines in the east of the country. Here is his exclusive report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): To the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine, the simmering conflict with Russian-backed rebels, once again, the focus of U.S. concern. As tensions with Russia ratcheted higher, CNN has gained this unprecedented access to the Ukrainian president in a carefully planned troop visit flying with him fast and low to avoid ground fire.

It's been a long time now. It's been seven years, this war.


CHANCE: And how are the soldiers? Are they holding up or are they tired of this war?

ZELENSKY: They are tired, of course. Like, hey, man, nearly seven years, it's longer than the Second World War, as you see them, and it's terrible.

CHANCE: Longer than the second with its complex network of dank, muddy trenches, this so-called line of contact in some places just a few dozen yards from the enemy looks more like the First World War.

I mean, we've entered this warren of trenches that have been dug along the frontline. I tell you, I mean, it's like being thrown back to the early 20th century and the great war, because I've not seen anything like this in modern warfare.

But this is modern, the reality of confrontation with Moscow and its proxies.

Is there a chance that the Russians could be planning an invasion?

ZELENSKY: Of course, we know it. Beginning from 2014, we're now at heads. It can be each day, it can be. So they are ready and -- but we are also ready because we are on our lands, on our territory.

CHANCE: This is why Ukraine, the U.S. and the western allies are so alarmed. Amid growing tensions, a dramatic buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea. Cell phone footage has emerged of armored columns, like this one, and of military hardware being transported by rail towards the border.

Ukrainian military officials tell CNN they estimate more than 50,000 Russian troops are now massing. Moscow says it's just an exercise, not a threat.

But back at the line of contact, there's already been a deadly upsurge in sniper fire, more than 20 soldiers killed, say Ukrainian officials, so far this year.


And out here, even the president runs the gauntlet.

We're going to run for it, right?

ZELENSKY: Yes, run.

CHANCE: Okay. All right, come on, let's go.

So we're very close now, aren't we, to the separatists?

ZELENSKY: Yes, that is the open area.

CHANCE: That was amazing. So we've come so close now to the frontline between Ukrainian forces and the Russia-backed separatists that President Zelensky and I just had to run through the open ground to get to this cover, because the situation is so volatile, so potentially dangerous here.

ZELENSKY: Watch your head.

CHANCE: Elected two years ago on a promise of ending this conflict, something he's failed to achieve, President Zelensky says he risks these hot spots, as he calls them, to show his frontline soldiers they have political support.

But what Ukraine really needs, he says, is more assistance from Washington, more weapons, more money, and, crucially, more backing to join NATO, the western military alliance. Supportive words from President Biden, he says, are simply no longer enough.

ZELENSKY: Ukraine needs more than words. That is the second one. The third one --

CHANCE: Can I just ask a follow-up?


CHANCE: You understand, don't you, that if Ukraine were to be given NATO membership, that might make the conflict in this country even worse. It would infuriate Moscow.

ZELENSKY: I can tell you. I can answer you. Maybe you are right but what now is going on, what to do here, what our people do here? They fight. So what can we in the future? I don't know, but we are an independent country and we decide where to be or where not to be. To be or not to be, you remember Shakespeare?

CHANCE: That is, as they say, the question. Rather how much U.S. support can the Ukrainian president now expect in the running drama being played out in this theater of war?

Matthew Chance, CNN, on the frontlines of Eastern Ukraine.


VAUSE: A long-running shadow war between Iran and Israel appears to be heating up. Iran is blaming Israel and warning of revenge for a mysterious weekend explosion at its uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. New, advance centrifuges at the site appeared to being damaged in the blast. This comes as the U.S. and Iran are about to resume indirect talks on Wednesday on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Tehran says the attack is Israel's way of trying to undermine diplomatic efforts.


SAEED KHATIBZADEH, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: The unfortunate event that took place in Natanz and Zionist regime has said multiple times, both now and before, and it can be heard from multiple sources that confirm that the Zionist regime was behind this.

If the goal has been to disrupt the path of sanction relief for the Iranian people, they will definitely not reach this goal and no one will fall into their deceitful trap.


VAUSE: Notable, the U.S. was quick to publicly deny any involvement and is holding a second round of talks with Israel on Tuesday, which will include discussions on Iran.

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with the Israeli prime minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will always defend itself against Iran.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear. I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel. And Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran's aggression and terrorism.


VAUSE: CNN's Fred Pleitgen following all the developments from Berlin.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still unclear how big the damage has been to the Natanz nuclear facility but the Iranians certainly do seem to be very angry about this incident, but also very defiant in its aftermath.

Now, what we're hearing from that of Iran's atomic energy agency is that repair work has already begun on the Natanz facility and that also an emergency power system has been restored as well.

Of course, the Iranians, from the beginning, have said about this incident that there was a power failure. However, they said no one was seriously injured and that no radiation was leaked either.


Meanwhile, Iranian politicians blasting Israel, for instance, Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, saying, quote, Zionists want to take revenge on the Iranian nation for their success, meaning Iran's success, in the course of lifting sanctions. But we will not allow the Zionists and we will take revenge from the Zionists for this action.

Now, the Iranians not saying what exactly that revenge is going to look like, but one of the things that they have said is that Natanz is going to continue operating. And the Iranians have said that they are going to put more advanced centrifuges into Natanz to make it, as they put it, more potent and more effective than it even was before.

Now, of course, all of this comes at a very important juncture as the U.S. and Iran, at least indirectly, are negotiating about trying to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement. The Iranians, of course, have always been saying that they don't want a nuclear weapon. The Israelis say that they, for instance, don't believe that.

But right now, in Vienna, there are negotiations going on to try to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal and try to bring Iran back into full compliance. Both Iran and the United States have said that they want to save the deal. Of course, we do know that the Israelis are vehemently opposed to the nuclear agreement.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.

VAUSE: With us now is Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Karim, thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: Now, in terms of how the attack was actually carried out and how effective it was, New York Times quotes two intelligence officials who say the damage is caused by a large explosion that completely destroyed the independent and heavily protected internal power system that supplies the underground centrifuges that enrich uranium. The explosion had dealt a severe blow to Iran's ability to enrich uranium, could take at least nine months to restore Natanz's production.

So what sort of attack was this? How do you think it was actually carried out? What's the guessing (ph) here, I guess? And if that timeline is correct, nine months before production is back up to where it was, how much of a blow is that Iran's nuclear ambitions, overall?

SADJADPOUR: John, I think this is one of these incidents in which those who know don't talk and those who talk don't know. We will know soon enough in the coming weeks and months what exactly transpired. Initial reports was that it was a cyber attack, then it was reported that it was a physical attack.

As you mentioned, it's been reported that this had set Iran's nuclear uranium enrichment program back nine months. I think we frankly don't know. What we do know is that Iran's nuclear program has once again been penetrated very likely by the Israelis. And this comes just several months after Israel's assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist in November of 2020.

So it just shows how penetrated Iran's nuclear program is. And the fact that Israel is not going to simply sit back and watch the nuclear negotiations with Iran and refrain from taking sabotage itself. VAUSE: With that in mind, those who know aren't talking and those who are talking don't know, I would like you to listen to the head of Iran's nuclear energy. Here he is.


ALI AKBAR SALEHI, HEAD OF IRANIAN ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION: The enemy is gravely mistaken. They are writing reports claiming to have delayed nuclear operations in Natanz by nine months with this action. You will see that in the coming few days, hopefully, a noticeable portion of the sabotage that the enemy had done will be compensated.


VAUSE: Does it matter really at the end of the day if it's days or months before Iran is back to business as usual with its nuclear production and a path for getting back to business as usual? Is there anything else Iran could do in terms of retaliation?

SADJADPOUR: Well, let me answer the second question first, which is what Iran tends to do in terms of retaliation is to go after what I would call self-targets. So they're not necessarily going to try to launch Hezbollah rockets at Israel. But in the past, what Iran has done is to try to go after, for example, Israeli embassies in countries like Thailand, in India, where people aren't necessarily paying attention. So, Iran is not nearly as effective at retaliation as Israel is at sabotage.

In terms of where Iran's nuclear program may be in the coming weeks and months, ultimately, my is that view that Iran is simply trying to -- to the extent they advance the nuclear program, it's not actually advanced at towards getting a nuclear bomb. It's to actually build leverage against the United States in these negotiations in Vienna. So they're really trying to strengthen their hand.

VAUSE: Okay. So with that in mind, here is Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on Monday. Listen to this.


NETANYAHU: In the Middle East, there is no threat that is more serious, more dangerous, more pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran.


Iran continues to support terrorists around the world in five continents, threatening civilians everywhere. Iran has never given up its quest for nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. And Iran consistently and outrageously calls for Israel's annihilation and works towards that goal.


VAUSE: The Israeli media has reported that Israel's security service, the Mossad, was actually behind the attack. So what does that actually all mean? How will this impact those talks in Vienna for viewers in Iran to get back into the 2015 nuclear agreement?

SADJADPOUR: Well, Iran -- one of the tenets of Iran's revolution is opposition to Israel's existence. And Iran's leaders have, in the past, sometimes denied the holocaust. So it's very easy for Benjamin Netanyahu to kind of use the Iranian threat for his domestic political purposes.

Now, my view about the talks in Vienna is that this act of sabotage doesn't really change the fundamentals and that the United States is still committed to reviving the nuclear agreement. The Europeans, the Chinese and Russians are also very much committed to that. And as angry as the Iranians are right now, and as much as Iran may argue that the United States was somehow complicit in this Israeli-acted sabotage, Iran really can't reverse its economic decline absence or removal of U.S. economic sanctions.

VAUSE: Karim, thank you for being with us. I really appreciate it.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Japan's government says, two years from now, waste water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will be released gradually into the ocean. More than 1 million metric tons of contaminated water has been collected on site since the 2011 nuclear disaster. But now, officials say, they're running out of storage space.

The plan is facing heated opposition from Japan's fishing industry. Environmentalists in China and South Korea also have expressed great concerns. But Japan says the water will be treated and meet international safety standards.

For more on this, let's go to CNN's Blake Essig in Tokyo. And, Blake, while this plan may be controversial or unwelcome in the region, it has won the approval of Washington.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORESPONDENT: Well, yes. I mean, look, I mean, there has been a lot of controversy not only locally here but across the region. South Korea and China, as you mentioned, came out today expressing grave concerns for the potential release of this water into the ocean.

But, John, it's official, the Japanese government announced today that they will be releasing the water used to cool the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean in about two years' time.

Now, there has been a lot of pushback, as I had mentioned, from environmental groups and local fisherman. But right now, roughly 1.25 million tons of water is being stored inside 1,000 tanks at the seaside plant. The Japanese government says that three quarters of that water still needs to be re-purified before it would be released into the ocean.

The government and the International Atomic Energy Agency say that there is no harm in potentially releasing this water into the ocean after it's been treated. Now, the water will have been treated using equipment to remove most radionuclides in order to comply with international safety standards.

And I did recently talked to the director general of the IAEA about the potential environmental impact. Here is what he had to say.


RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: Once you start discharging in a controlled manner this water into the ocean, it is not likely we are going to see the sea glowing in purple or green and all fish will be dead and the Pacific Ocean will be killed, of course not. This has been done, as I say, in the North Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, in many parts of the world, and there is no environmental impact, whatsoever.


ESSIG: And perception is reality, John. And here, locally, the perception is that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the water that's surrounded are still a dangerous place. And so there's a lot of hesitation about eating that seafood that's caught off the coast. And so potential reputational damage not only here in Japan but around the region, really, is amplified by the potential releasing of this water in about two years' time.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you. Yes, I guess no long time between now and then. Anything can happen. But it seems this is the plan they have agreed to. Wait for the details. Thank you, Blake Essig there in Tokyo.

Today's breaking on CNN Newsroom when we come back, emotional testimony from the brother of George Floyd in the trial of the former officer charged in his death.

Also, heavy police response in Minnesota, protesters demanding justice after another officer-involved killing of a black man.



VAUSE: For a second night, police in the U.S., in Minnesota, have clashed with protesters Monday. So a crowd gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police headquarters. The police fired tear gas, made a number of arrests and say some protesters were launching bottles, fireworks, bricks and other projectiles.

Demonstrators are demanding justice after an officer fatally shot a young black man during a traffic stop on Sunday. 20-year-old Daunte Wright was unarmed. The officer grabbed her gun instead of her taser in what authorities say was an accidental shooting.

Body camera footage was released on Monday and Officer Kim Potter is a 26-year long veteran in the department and has now been placed on leave. The defense for Derek Chauvin, the man accused of killing George Floyd, expected to begin presenting its case in the next few hours. And testimony on Monday, Philonise Floyd gave emotional testimony about his brother as prosecutors thought to humanize him to the jury.


PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: He just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better.

George, he would always be upon our mom. He was big mama's boy. I cry a lot but George, he loved his name.

That's my oldest brother, George. I miss both of them.


VAUSE: A cardiologist testified that George Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest and his death was preventable, a testimony, which they got a series of medical experts who testified Floyd died because of Chauvin's actions.

COVID-19 cases around the world are on the rise yet again, as the World Health Organization warns vaccines alone are not enough to stop the pandemic. Several countries across Asia and the Middle East are seeing a big jump in cases. And as infections climb eventually, so will deaths. They're up globally for a fourth week.

But the WHO director general says vaccinations along with public health measures can work to stop the rise in the number of cases.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: With a concerted effort to apply public health measures alongside equitable vaccination, we could bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months.

Whether we do or not comes down to the decision and the actions that governments and individuals make every day. The choice is ours.


VAUSE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with cabinet in the coming hours to discuss ways to slow a third wave of the pandemic. She says vaccines must be administered quickly to try and bring this pandemic under control.

Merkel and other regional leaders have called for a brief sharp lockdown as Germany tries to vaccinate more people. The country surpassed 3 million total cases on Monday.

Meantime, in the U.K., shoppers pack the streets of London on Monday braving the cold for a chance to shop in person, get a haircut first time in three months. England's gyms, pubs, salons, are all among the businesses able to open under step two of a COVID roadmap to recovery but not all businesses would be able to adapt to change in consumer habits and the cost of safety requirements.

A British trade group says shops have lost more than $41 billion during lockdowns of the past year.

China's top disease official has made a rare admission about China's own COVID vaccine. He says its efficacy is not high. State media now says though he is walking back to those comments.

Let's go to Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong with more.

So he kind of made this really stunning announcement and dropped it out there, and then when it got picked up, he's like, oh, no, he didn't mean that. It's taken out of context. So what's the deal?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, now, China is in this position where its defending the efficacy of its homegrown vaccines after this top Chinese health official made this rare admission about the relatively low efficacy rates of China's COVID-19 vaccines.

The comments were made over the weekend. They quickly went viral. They were censored in China. And state-run media, they had been pushing an interview with the official which he backtracks on these comments saying that these reports about the admission are, quote, a complete misunderstanding.

Look, this all took place as a result of his comments at a conference in Chengdu for the weekend where Gao Fu, that's the name of the CDC China chief, said that the protection rates of existing vaccines, quote, are not high.

He also laid a series of options to address the problem, like increasing the number of doses, increasing the interval or time between doses, as well as mixing vaccines, mixing mRNA vaccines with the more traditional vaccines made in China.

That option has generated a lot of discussion. There is very little data on mixing vaccines, but clinical trials are underway, including we've discovered a clinical trial underway here in Hong Kong.

I just spoke Dr. Ivan Hung. He is an infectious disease expert at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine. He is currently recruiting a hundred subjects to first take the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA, the messenger RNA vaccine, and then four weeks later, take the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

The purpose of this study is to see whether this option, mixing vaccines would be not just more effective but also more safe. Take a listen.


DR. IVAN HUNG, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: This could be a real goal, of course, as one of the strategies, especially to tackle the variants problem and also to address the issue that some of the individuals who have received the -- perhaps receiving the BioNTech or Sinovac vaccine and then have allergy to that vaccine would like to switch platform for the second dose.


STOUT: Now, Dr. Hung also adds that the trial will be completed by about August-September of this year. But, look, available data shows that China's vaccines, like the ones made by Sinofarm or Sinovac, they do have lower efficacy rates compared to Moderna, compared to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

A new data out from Brazil, in regards to Sinovac, shows that that vaccine has an efficacy rate of 50.7 percent, just above the cutoff rate of 50 percent set out by the World Health Organization. According to the same data set that just came out, it said that if the interval is extended between doses for the Sinovac vaccine, then the efficacy rate would increase to, what, 62.3 percent.

So the options that were laid by the CDC director in China over the weekend are definitely worth exploring. John?

VAUSE: Yes. And everyone is trying to work out how these variants are going to take the vaccines (INAUDIBLE) as China, to be fair. Kristie, thank you, Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong, thank you.

Still to come here, the White House says the vaccination rollout is still on track despite a big fall in supplies from Johnson & Johnson. Details up next.




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.


The White House says an 80 percent drop in supplies of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will not impact overall vaccination goals. Manufacturing problems at one plant in Baltimore are being blamed for the shortage, but current supplies of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are expected to make up for the shortfall.


ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: If you do the math, do the math, there is plenty of supply to continue to vaccinate continue to vaccinate Americans at 3 million per day, and then some. That's not to mention the fact that there are many doses that have already been distributed into states. I think we're in a fortunate position.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Joining me now is Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, chief clinical officer for the Providence Health System. Thank you being back with us, Dr. Compton-Phillips.


VAUSE: OK. I want to start with this small study, which was done in Israel, which found that the variant first detected in South Africa known as B., may be able to evade the Pfizer vaccine with those who had actually been vaccinated with it more likely to get the B. strain. These are called breakthrough infections. It was a small study, and the White House medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, pointed out that the wording, to say the least, was kind of confusing. Here's Doctor Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That number of individuals who were breakthrough infections is not at all incompatible with a 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy. So I don't think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.


VAUSE: The bottom line, though, seems to be that the vaccines, you know, in general sense, are less effective against the variants and especially the South Africa variant.

So out of three of the four major vaccines, Johnson & Johnson did trials in South Africa. It's still got the highest efficacy against B. So are problems with J&J potentially more complicated in just making up for a shortfall of supplies?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I don't know if it's more complicated than making up for a shortfall of supplies. The great thing about the J&J vaccine is not necessarily the impact against variants. It's about the ease of administration and the fact that it's a single dose and that's stable at higher temperatures than other vaccines.

So the fact that J&J has its uses, whether or not it turns out to be more effective for particular variants, it has its uses in getting vaccines into locations that the logistics are more complicated and more challenging.

So I think that we do need to have multiple vaccines: J&J, Moderna, Pfizer. Ideally, in addition, AstraZeneca and other ones on -- on ways. So that we cannot only deal with variants that pop up but also getting vaccines into all parts of the world. Because until we do that, we're not going to be listening.

VAUSE: This is a pandemic which has already exposed the inequities, you know, in many societies from the U.S. and around the world. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as you mentioned, was very effective in, you know, areas like where homeless people live, because it was one and done. They could be vaccinated and move on.

Now that it's out of the system, at least for 80 percent of it, and in many places, it's being pulled away because of side effects -- that seems that once again, you know, we'll see those inequities being played out in real time.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: We will, and we will figure them out. You know, the great news is that here in the states, we're starting to figure this out. We're starting to be able to get vaccines. You know, we've gone from the science of developing the vaccines to working through the scarcity and how do we -- how do we, in a low-resource environment, get the people who need it the most to go first.

And now we're at the social influence phase of the vaccine, that we need to be able to convince all people from all walks of life, whether you're a CEO of a company to a homeless person in the street, to someone that doesn't speak English working in a -- in a farm field somewhere. We've got to solve these logistics. We've got to be able to figure out how to do it. If we can't do it with a one-and-done vaccine, we'll do it with a two-dose vaccine and a minus 70 freezer. And we have the ingenuity and the capacity to figure that out.

VAUSE: Well, after six consecutive weeks now at the beginning of the year, rather, the infections around the world were declined. But now the past 7 weeks consecutively, they've been climbing. This is how the WHO sees it. Listen to this.


MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, COVID-19 TECHNICAL LEAD, WHO: We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now. Last week we had 4.4 million cases. If you look on our website, and you actually look at the epic curve and the trajectory of the pandemic right now, it is growing exponentially.


VAUSE: Yes, it's growing exponentially while at the same time, almost 800 million vaccine doses have been administered globally. You know, almost 90 percent of that in wealthy nations. So how is it that many of those wealthy countries are also seeing a surge in new infections? It just doesn't seem to add up.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Well, again, this is really about the -- the race between the vaccines and the variants, and the people just getting sick and tired of being forced to stay separate, forced to stay apart, forced to wear a mask. But we know that's what works. We -- we know that we can stop outbreaks by doing things like social distancing, masking, and washing your hands.

And nobody wants to do it anymore. We're done. We're declaring victory, but it's too early to declare victory. We have to finish this out. And so that really, I believe, is why we're starting to see surges get ahead of our ability to vaccinate.

VAUSE: With that in mind, we're seeing pubs and restaurants in London and England opening up after months-long lockdowns. People are very excited, enthusiastic to get out and about.

But, you know, there's cold weather on the way. There's concerns that people will be crammed indoors, a lot of them, and they will forget the masks. They'll forget the social distancing.

Is it possible to have a return to our pre-pandemic ways and not see a surge in the number of cases, to you know, extend this pandemic?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Once we get to herd immunity, absolutely we can go back. And that is the reason why we really want to get everybody vaccinated with an effective vaccine on a very, very quick trajectory, right? Because we all want our life back. We all want to go out to clubs, and we all want to get together with families. We all want to celebrate holidays.

But if we do that before we're ready, then we allow the vaccine to rear its ugly head again, and get a toehold, and take us back to right where we don't want to be.

And that's why it's sticking through, actually seeing it to the end of knocking this infection all the way down and not letting it get back out in front of us, is what we have to do, as much as we dislike it. Just got to hang on a little bit longer.

VAUSE: So every time we hear that little bit early, we just delay it that much longer, I guess. Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, thanks. It's been a while. Good to see you.


VAUSE: We'll take a short break. When we come back, Hong Kong's top broadcaster will not air the Oscars for the first time in decades. Why it may have something to do with some of this year's nominees. Maybe a lot to do with these nominees, actually.



VAUSE: There will be no night of nights, no Hollywood back-slapping and navel gazing in Hong Kong this year. For the first time in more than half a century, the Academy Awards will not be televised there.

It's probably just a coincidence, but two of the major nominees are also under a lot of criticism in mainland China. CNN's Will Ripley has more.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This year's Academy Awards off the air in Hong Kong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to need a bigger boat.

RIPLEY: Hollywood's biggest night won't be broadcast in the Chinese territory for the first time since 1968, more than half a century, even with two Hong Kong films nominated.

The city's leading broadcaster, TVB, tells CNN the Oscar blackout is purely a business decision. Political scientist Willy Lam believes it's much bigger than business.

WILLY LAM, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Well, the extent of censorship and self-censorship in Hong Kong for the past few years has been stunning. They do not want to show anything which is considered to be politically incorrect. So that's why they would want to air on the side of caution.

RIPLEY: Caution, he says, over comments made by Beijing-born director, Chloe Zhao. Her film, "Nomadland," nominated for six Oscars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Including Best Picture of the Year.

LAM: Director Zhao, in an interview many years ago, in which she expressed thoughts about the censorship system in China.

RIPLEY: Lam believes China media regulators are also wary of "Do Not Split," an Oscar-nominated documentary about the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

ANDERS HAMMER, DIRECTOR, "DO NOT SPLIT": I'm surprised how fast it's possible to change the city, and now you see all these examples of how these basic human rights, from my point of view, are disappearing.

RIPLEY: Hong Kong has charged dozens of pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers under its draconian national security law, imposed by Beijing last year.

The city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, says the law also applies to the arts, potentially muzzling movie makers in a city once called Hollywood of the East.

(on camera): This is the Avenue of Stars, modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And this is the statue for the Hong Kong Film Awards. Kind of like the Oscars, but only Hong Kong films. This town's movie business peaked about three decades ago.

(voice-over): Martial arts legend Bruce Lee received the Star of the Century Award from the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005, more than 30 years after his untimely death, at 32.

Lee set the stage for another Hong Kong star, Jackie Chan, who took home an honorary Oscar five years ago.

And this year, the first Academy Award nomination for a Hong Kong-born director, for Derek Tsang's film, "Better Days."

The best days of Hong Kong cinema may be over, critics fear, if creative freedom, like the Oscars, is silenced.

Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.

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