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Concern Grows Over Rapid Spread of Delta Variant; China Surpasses 1 Billion Vaccine Doses Administered; China: Delta COVID-19 Variant Linked to Airport Restaurant Worker; First Look Inside Olympic and Paralympic Village; Hard-liner Raisi Will Take Office in Iran; Bennett to World Leaders: 'Wake Up' on Nuclear Deal; Biden Warned Putin of Consequences if Navalny Dies in Prison; Suspect Charged with Murder of American Student in Russia; First U.S. Trial Cruise Launches to Test COVID Measures. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired June 21, 2021 - 00:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: More transmissible, and extremely worrying. The world grapples with the Delta variant of the coronavirus as vaccination rates are still low across the globe.


Inside the Olympic Village. We'll give you a firsthand look at where some of the world's top athletes are staying and what makes their accommodations in Japan so unique.

And voting underway in Ethiopia this hour, as the country is in turmoil and looks to its future. But there's already skepticism about how free and fair this election will be.

Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the world, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates or where vaccines are even yet to reach. Now, that is particularly concerning to health officials, since scientists say the Delta variant is more transmissible and causes more serious illness.

And according to the World Health Organization, it has now surfaced in at least 80 countries. In the U.S., a worrying twist is declining vaccination rates, leading to health authorities sounding the alarm about the increase in cases caused by the Delta variant.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It doesn't necessarily appear more pathogenic, meaning more dangerous, but it's infecting people more easily, and it's starting to become very prevalent in the U.K. and communities that are unvaccinated. So kids, for example, young people, seem to be the population that's spreading it in the United Kingdom. And when we look across the United States, we see wide variance in

terms of vaccination rates. Some states, like Vermont or Connecticut, have very high vaccination rates above 80 percent. Other states are struggling to get to 50 percent.


HOLMES: Now, populations with a heavy vaccine skepticism, or a lack of access to the shots, are especially concerning to global health experts. The Delta variant spreading fast throughout these communities as health officials are pulling out all stops in an effort to control it.


HOLMES (voice-over): Aggressive and infectious. That's the way Moscow's mayor describes a coronavirus variant spreading through the city. Health officials in Moscow reported more than 9,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the highest daily figure for the city since the pandemic began.

hat from the city's mayor, who says the Delta variant, first identified in India, is responsible for nearly 90 percent of new infections.

SERGEI SOBYANIN, MOSCOW MAYOR: The situation in Moscow, with the spread of COVID-19 disease, is rapidly deteriorating. And the dynamics are quite unexpected, since more than 60 percent of Muscovites have either been ill or vaccinated.

HOLMES: The Kremlin says the vaccinations are critical to protect against the variant's spread, but many Russians are still hesitant to get the Sputnik vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're afraid of getting sick, but we did not get vaccinated, because we are also afraid of that.

HOLMES: The WHO says Moscow is just one of several places where the Delta variant is thriving. And, with so many people across the world still unvaccinated, there's plenty of opportunity for it to circulate even more.

SOUMYA SWAMINATHAN, WHO CHIEF SCIENTIST: The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant, globally, because of its significantly increased transmissibility.

HOLMES: One WHO official says Africa is particularly vulnerable because of a lack of vaccine. The Delta variant has been detected in at least 14 countries on the continent.

But even countries that have had success with their vaccination programs are being inundated with new cases. More than 46 percent of the population in the U.K. is fully vaccinated, but COVID-19 infections are increasing there once again, the Delta variant fueling the rise.

A similar spike in Indonesia, where authorities in one district giving live chickens as an incentive to older residents to get the shots.

Countries around the world trying everything they can to catch up to this fast-moving virus.


HOLMES: Now, at least 38 people connected to a flight from Johannesburg to the Chinese city of Shenzhen have that highly- transmissible Delta variant. That's according to Chinese authorities.

That flight arrived on June 10. Shenzhen also found two locally- transmitted cases on Thursday, one of which was a vaccinated restaurant worker at the airport.


More than 400 flights from Shenzhen were canceled on Monday, but officials won't confirm to CNN the cause of the mass cancellations. All of this coming a day after China announced it had administered one billion vaccine doses and counting,

For more, let's bring in CNN's Steven Jiang in Beijing. I guess, Steven, of course, China's, let's call it, top-down political system allows leaders to push its citizens in ways that the west can't, but a remarkable achievement nonetheless. How do they do it?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Michael, I think you just hit the nail on the head there. This one-party system, this top-down power structure, has allowed the authorities here to make things happen when they want to.

Now, technically, vaccination is still voluntary, but if you're in any way associated with the government, whether or not you work for a government agency, or one of the thousands of state-owned enterprises, or a public institution, then you're pretty much compelled to take the shots.

And we have also learned from talking to people and also reading state media reports, social media posts that, in some cases, for example, authorities are now not only exerting pressure on people themselves, but also, through their families in some locations. Parents, having been told, for example, if they don't get vaccinated, their children are not allowed to go to school.

But in other cases, as you mentioned in the previous piece, authorities also offering incentives, handing out freebies to people who get vaccinated, like cooking oil, eggs, and also, a chance to win a free iPhone, for example. So it's really a combination of tactics.

But when you look at this billion-dose mark, it's worth noting the context. China actually has a pretty stuttering rollout of its vaccination program.

In late March, it reached its first million doses. And that's actually two weeks behind the U.S. But since then, their pace was picked up significantly. Their last 100 million doses, completed within five days before this

billion-dose mark. Now, that, of course, is something a lot of people are paying attention to.

But when you look at a population of more than 1.4 billion people, on a doses per hundred residents scale, they're still behind the U.S., although they're catching up fast.

But that's also a lie. Even experts here has been quoted as saying, given the population size, they need at least 2 billion doses before they can even start talking about herd immunity.

So that -- they still have a long way to go, especially considering there's a lot of lingering vaccine hesitation among the population here, as well -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Fascinating stuff.

And real quick, what is the situation in terms of variant spread and outbreaks in China?

JIANG: That's right. You just mentioned the latest cluster in Shenzhen. And that really actually started in the province of Guangdong about a month ago.

And as you mentioned, most of these new, locally-transmitted cases are of the Delta variant, which is why the authorities are very alarmed. They, of course, have taken a page from their familiar playbook of multiple rounds of mass testing, extensive contact tracing, and targeted lockdowns.

And in the case of Shenzhen, because that -- one of the cases was an airport worker. That, obviously, has also resulted in not only these flight cancellations, but also the authorities requiring anyone departing anyone departing from Shenzhen to locations outside of Guangdong, to present a negative result from within 48 hours of departure.

So they are especially paying attention to arrivals because of that flight from Johannesburg, saying they're not letting their guard down, in terms of detecting and handling these cases from international passengers -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Great wrap up there. Steven, thanks. Steven Jiang in Beijing for us.

Now, with just over a month ago before the Tokyo Olympics kickoff, organizers facing more hurdles. On Saturday, a coach with Uganda's team became one of the first to test positive for COVID upon arrival in Japan.

Ugandan officials say the coach has no symptoms, but still, it underscores the challenges facing organizers as they move forward with the games, despite widespread concerns about the pandemic.

Now, teams landing in Japan are going to find an Olympic Village that is uniquely set up for their safety. Plexiglass barriers, mask requirements, a fever clinic, all signs of an Olympics like no other.

CNN's Selina Wang takes us inside.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Olympic Village, a city within a city, built for the world's best athletes. For the Tokyo games, thousands of Olympians from more than 200 countries will be living here, preparing for the defining moment of their sporting careers.

(voice-over): Normally a place for partying and celebration, this year it's going to be an antisocial sanitized bubble, full of COVID testing, health centers, and staying far apart from one another.

At the athlete's Village Plaza, there is everything the Olympians will need. Cafe, bank, Internet, hair salon, and much, much more.

Normally, a place for athletes to hang out, mix, and mingle. Instead, there are signs everywhere, reminding people to wear their masks and socially distance themselves.


(on camera): But the majority in Japan still don't want the Olympics to happen. Actually, a protest is ongoing, right behind me, as they debut the Olympic Village to the press.

There are 3,800 rooms in these 21 buildings to house the athletes. This is a replica of the athletes' room. Athletes have to share the room, which some public health experts say increases the risk of spreading COVID.

The Olympians are also going to be sleeping on beds made out of cardboard, recyclable. But don't worry. They're extremely sturdy and can hold more than 400 pounds.

(voice-over): Athletes are contact traced, and tested for COVID every day. If they test positive for COVID, they have to come to this fever clinic to get tested again.

If that COVID test comes back positive yet again, they then have to take dedicated transport to an isolation facility outside of this Olympic Village, and they will lose their chance to compete.

(on camera): They are only allowing two-thirds of capacity here at the dining hall, normally, a place for meeting and chatting. Instead, athletes are asked to dine alone, separated by plastic barriers, and to leave as soon as they're finished eating after wiping down their seats.

In the athletes' gym, they will have to keep their mask on at all times and that are separated by these barriers.

Athletes can only arrive five days before the competition and have to leave within two. Now, condoms will still be passed out, per tradition, but they're only given as athletes are leaving the village.

It cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build all this. After the games, they'll be turned into residential apartments. But before that, this is going to house athletes for an Olympics like no other.

Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


HOLMES: One question still facing Olympic organizers: whether to allow spectators during the games. And CNN's Blake Essig joins me now from Tokyo with more on that.

Pretty much all the experts have been saying, bad idea, don't do it. Where does it all stand right now in terms of a decision?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Michael, for months, we have known that foreign spectators won't be attending the Summer Olympics here in Tokyo. And in just a few hours, we expect to learn the fate of domestic spectators.

A five-party meeting of Olympic organizers is scheduled for this afternoon, where they'll decide whether or not local fans will be allowed to attend. And if they are, how many?

Now, just last week, Japan's top coronavirus adviser said that staging the Olympics without spectators is desirable, and the best option to limit the spread of infection.

But around that same time, the government said that, as a general rule, 10,000 spectators would be allowed to attend sporting events, but only in areas where a state of emergency isn't in effect.

Now, it's worth noting, Michael, right now, that in Tokyo and several other prefectures, there's a quasi-state of emergency in effect until July 11. That's just two weeks before the Olympic Games are set to begin.

Now, if there is a state of emergency in place at the time of the Olympic Games, the number of fans allowed would be reduced to 5,000, or half the capacity of the venue, whichever is lower.

And despite the possibility for a reduced number of fans, infectious disease experts continue to warn that allowing any domestic spectators to attend the Olympics will lead to a spike in cases.

In fact, projections recently released by Kyo (ph) University and the National Institute of Infectious Disease show that Tokyo could see an additional 10,000 COVID-19 cases, if the games are held both spectators, versus none at all.

Because of the pandemic, over the weekend, Tokyo's governor announced that all live Olympic public viewing events will be canceled. The decision comes following a lot of criticism from the public that included a petition signed by more than 110,000 people, calling for events like this to be canceled. Instead, the six planned locations in Tokyo will be used as

vaccination sites. And while the vaccination rate in Japan is speeding up, Michael, still, only about seven percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

HOLMES: I want to ask you real quick, the games, of course, as we've been discussing it with you for weeks, months now, have been deeply unpopular in Japan. But we've got about a month to go. Olympic teams are starting to show up. The games are going ahead, of course. Has sentiment on the ground changed at all?

ESSIG: You know, Michael, what's interesting is that concerns surrounding health and safety haven't changed. And that has been the primary cause of the games being so deeply unpopular amongst the general population.

But just over the past couple of weeks, as we mentioned, as these athletes from other countries have started to show up, Olympic officials have shown up, and we've continued to hear the same thing from the Japanese government, as well as Olympic organizers. That these games are going ahead no matter what.

You're certain to get the idea that there's a level of acceptance that, no matter what, even though the general public continues to call for these games to be canceled or postponed, that these games are happening, no matter what. And there's just -- they just need to be accepted. You just have to accept it.


HOLMES: Yes, exactly. It will happen. Blake Essig, in Tokyo, thanks for that. Appreciate it.

Now, in Italy, more signs of progress in the battle against COVID-19. Starting today, all but one of Italy's regions can drop most of their coronavirus restrictions.

They're now designated as white zones, since cases are falling and the areas are low risk.

And here's a closer look at Italy's progress. Infections spiked last November, but the 7-day average of new cases has fallen dramatically, as we see in that graph. This is according to Johns Hopkins data. Now, starting today Italy will require all travelers from the U.K. to take a COVID test and quarantine for five days. The move coming amid concerns over the spread of that Delta variant in the U.K.

Now, COVID-19 has earned the nickname the forever virus, as some experts say there isn't a way to completely get rid of it due to shortages of vaccines, new super variants, as we've been discussing, and rising vaccine hesitancy.

Some say the future of the -- the future of the world runs the risk of living 2020 all over again.

Now, to discuss this, I'm joined by Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine with Scripps Research. Good to see you again, Doctor.

And let's talk about this. In some parts of the world, we're returning to a semblance of normality, but is it fair to say that, in the months and years ahead, we're just going to have to accept COVID is something the world has to manage rather than defeat?

ERIC TOPOL, PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR MEDICINE, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Right, Michael. Well, good to be with you again.

It is true that we're looking at the so-called endemic status. That is we're going to have this virus around for years to come. But the good thing is we know we can contain it. We know we can get it down to less than one case, or 100,000 people, throughout the world.

We have the tools to do that. We just have to execute. And hopefully, over the next year, year and a half, we'll get this under global containment, not just in specific countries.

HOLMES: Yes. Do you think the changes in government and medical thinking and strategy, which have to happen going forward in terms of adapting to what the virus will become for the world? Does it need to be treated tactically like, say, polio or smallpox in terms of management?

TOPOL: Yes, I think that's a really important point and question, Michael. Because we haven't really done that. That is, we haven't been getting the vaccines to the places in greatest need.

And also, the types of vaccines are not all created equal. They're all very good at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths. But some of them are far better in blocking transmission chains, which is what you want to turn to when you start to see a major outbreak in a country.

So for example, right now in South America, COVID is raging, unlike any other part of the world, but we are not doing what we should be doing and getting very effective vaccines to the places in need.

So it's nice that we're trying to get vaccines distributed more and have less nationalism, but we have to be more directive about where they are needed so we can basically put out fires like we've seen done very effectively in certain countries already.

HOLMES: Yes. It's such an important point. I mean, many of these low- and middle-income countries are reporting, and according to some estimates, they won't have enough vaccines to inoculate even their at- risk populations until 2023, which is pretty stunning.

I mean, do you think there's enough of an understanding of the fact that low vaccination rates and poor pace of distribution around the world, particularly those poorer nations, is an issue not just for those countries but for every country?

TOPOL: Absolutely. Your point can't be emphasized enough. But we're not using all our tools. Like, for example, if we could get rapid antigen tests, which should cost pennies. You know, these paper strips that people could tell whether they're infectious, and get that distributed throughout the world freely. This would help people to know not to mix. You know, not to go to places where they could actually promote spread.

So we have things in the tool box that we're not using, but we have to face the issue that you're highlighting, which is we're not near the end here. This Delta variant is not the last variant we're going to see unless we achieve containment. And we are not even close on a global basis.

HOLMES: Great point and well put. I wanted to get this in, too. You know, as you know well, before COVID-19 emerged, there were many who sounded the alarm about the risk of a pandemic, how unprepared the world was. And of course, we're seeing what's happened.

Are you worried at all that as a normality returns of sorts, lessons about preparedness and response won't have been learned, that mistakes borne of complacency could be made again?

TOPOL: Yes, I'm so glad you asked that, too. Because we have a problem whereby our public health, as emphasized in that "Foreign Affairs" article you alluded to, we have a problem our public health resources are not matching up to the need.


So once you achieve containment like we're starting to get to in the U.S., this is a time to have contact tracing really get done right, get testing done so that you find where an outbreak is just getting started somewhere.

So you don't have any room for complacency. You actually want to get more aggressive and, you know, track everything. Our genomic surveillance in most of the world, with few country exceptions, is subpar, in fact grossly inadequate.

So all of these things that we can do to get our arms around it so that, when we get to a point when we're starting to get containment, that we keep it that way. It's not good if it only lasts for a week or two.

We've seen now countries that are keeping long-term containment, weeks or months after having been in rough shape. So it can be done, but we have to really work at it.

HOLMES: Great points. Always good to speak with you, Doctor. Dr. Eric Topol, thanks so much.

TOPOL: Thank you.

HOLMES: Now with the new hardline president set to take power, there are more questions about what happens next with the Iran nuclear deal. We'll hear from Ebrahim Raisi in the coming hours.

Also still to come on the program, the polls are open in what Ethiopia's government calls the country's first free and fair election. But with parts of the country ravaged by war and unable to vote, many skeptics have their doubts about that.


HOLMES: Welcome back. International negotiators in Vienna report they are closer to an agreement with Iranian officials to restore a nuclear deal that it hasn't been reached yet.

A sixth round of talks wrapped up Sunday. Russia's representatives said there was a chance of a rival at a final point and discussions by mid-July. Negotiators will now consult with their capitals ahead of the next round.

Meanwhile, Iran's incoming president will hold his first news conference in the hours ahead. Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi will take office in early August.

Fred Pleitgen reports Raisi's election comes at a critical moment for Iran, both at home and abroad.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The transition of power here in Iran already appears to be starting after the presidential election, which of course, is one that many people say is very important and possibly pivotal for this country. Moving around on a trajectory for more towards the conservative powers here in this country.

And the president-elect, the very conservative Ebrahim Raisi, he's set to hold his first international press conference on Monday. Now, he's expected to take questions both from Iranian journalists and international journalists, as well. And he's also expected to outline some of the agenda, both the domestic and in foreign policy.


As far as the policy for Iran is concerned, of course, by far the biggest issue here is the struggling economy of the country, because Iran is still very much suffering from crippling sanctions mostly put in place by the Trump administration; and a lot of people are looking for economic reprieve.

Raisi in the past has favored what the Iranian power structures called a resistance economy, which means making Iran as self-sufficient as possible and not dependent on foreign direct investment.

The other big question, of course, is going to be what are the foreign policy initiatives going to be so far, at least as far as relations with the U.S. is concerned? Ebrahim Raisi has always been for a very tough line, a strong stance towards Washington.

And the other big question is going to be what about the Iran nuclear agreement? Now, we've heard from a senior member of Iran's governing elite that the Iran nuclear agreement -- the supreme leader of the country, who is, of course, the main authority here in Iran, has signed onto that, and he wants the Iran nuclear agreement to come back into full force and the U.S. to get back into the agreement for Iran to come back into full compliance. Of course, those negotiations still very much ongoing.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


HOLMES: The Iran nuclear deal is a key concern in Israel and new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has a warning for world leaders before they negotiate with Iran's new president. Hadas Gold with that.


HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Naftali Bennett spent part of his first cabinet meeting as prime minister on Sunday warning world leaders against Ebrahim Raisi, calling him the hangman of Tehran, a reference to Raisi's role in a bloody crackdown on dissidents in Iran.

Although there is a new government in Israel, most mainstream politicians agree when it comes to Iran on any -- and on any sort of return to the Iranian nuclear deal.

Although this new government may choose to go about displaying their disagreement slightly differently than former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was famous for his very public displays of disagreement with the Iranian nuclear deal, especially when it came to the United States' position on it.

Naftali Bennett on Sunday saying in that cabinet meeting that this is the last chance for the world powers to wake up before turning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they are doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers.

So what, if anything, will change between Israel and Iran now that Israel has a new government and Iran has a new president? Well, for one thing, analysts here think that there may be a rush to try to complete the Iranian nuclear deal before Raisi formally takes over as president, something the government says they are very much against.

On the other hand, having a new hardline president with such belligerent rhetoric could actually serve Israel's interest as Israel tries to mobilize the international community against Iran, essentially giving Israel the ability to say to other world leaders you can't really negotiate with these guys. You cannot really trust them, especially when it comes to a nuclear agreement or potentially them being able to obtain a nuclear weapon.

So essentially while there is a new government in Israel and a new president in Iran, don't expect much to change between the two countries.

Hadas Gold, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Polls opened just over an hour ago in Ethiopia for what the government calls the country's first free and fair election after decades of oppressive rule.

But many skeptics have their doubts about that, due to Ethiopia's economic disparities and the ongoing war in the Tigray region. Here's the scene in the capital, Addis Ababa. Some major parties boycotting the election over alleged intimidation by security forces.

More than a 5th of constituencies say they are delaying voting for various reasons, including voter registration issues, simmering ethnic violence and that conflict in Tigray.

A second round of voting will take place in September.

Now Ethiopia's electoral board says more candidates are running this time than any previous election. Voters casting their ballots in both regional and general elections. They will elect 547 members of parliament choosing from 46 parties.

Now, of the 109 million citizens in Ethiopia, about 37 million are registered voters. Members of opposition parties, meanwhile, have been jailed, making Prime Minister a leading candidate in the field of mostly smaller ethnically-based parties.

Now, also, as I mentioned, this election is marred by violence in the country's Tigray region. The data has been set for when they will be able to vote there. The United Nations have said some 350,000 people face famine in Tigray.

The U.N. warning against any potential violence around Ethiopia's elections, a spokesman releasing a statement noting the challenging political and security environment saying this quote, the secretary general calls on all stakeholders to refrain from any acts of violence or incitement. The secretary general encourages leaders and participants in the elections to promote social cohesion and to reject hate speech.

Now, it goes on to stress that any electoral dispute should be resolved through dialog and established legal challenges.

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, an American student studying in Russia found dead. A suspect now charged charged with her murder. We'll have the latest on that.

Also, the U.S. is now getting ready to slam Russia with new sanctions over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. How this could affect an already fragile relationship between the two nations.

All that and more when we come back.



HOLMES; Welcome back to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The United States and Russia are taking another small step to try to improve relations between the 2 countries. The Russian ambassador has returned to Washington and the U.S. Ambassador is expected to be back in Moscow in the coming days.

Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to send both ambassadors back to their posts during their meeting last week. Although the Geneva summit was an effort to frosty thaw frosty relation, the Biden administration is already preparing to hit Russia with more sanctions over the poisoning of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

CNN's Arlette Saenz with the latest details.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is preparing a fresh wave of sanctions against Russia as it looks to take a stronger response to the country in the wake of the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

This would be the second round of sanctions the U.S. has imposed after back in March, the U.S. and the European Union worked together on that first wave of sanctions against Russia.

And the White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, previewed a bit of the thinking behind the next upcoming wave of sanctions. Take a listen.

JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We are preparing another package of sanctions to apply in this case, as well. We've shown all along the way that we're not going to pull our punches, whether it's on SolarWinds or election interference or Navalny when it comes to responding to Russia's harmful activities.

SAENZ: Now, this comes just days after president Biden sat down face to face with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and he warns there would be dire consequences for Russia if Navalny were to die while in prison. Now, there is no timeline for when this next wave of sanctions will actually take place, but the president is facing pressure even from Democratic lawmakers to act soon.

Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.



HOLMES: Russian authorities, meanwhile, have charged a suspect with the murder of an American student. The 34-year-old former Marine went missing last week, her body found on Saturday.

Salma Abdelaziz has more now from London.


are coming to light about the murder of an American student in Russia. The victim is 34-year-old Catherine Serou, she was studying at a state university and Russia.

And according to a local city court that is investigating Serou's murder, the suspect, a man who's been charged with her murder, picked Catherine Serou up at about 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday, June 15th. The two were in that vehicle for about an hour when the man stopped in a wooded area, and that suspect identified only as "P" by this local city court. "P" began to repeatedly hit Serou with his fist. He stabbed her at least twice with a knife he was carrying. Serou tragically died of her injuries at the scene.

We also understand from Russian officials that this suspect, did have a previous record. He'd been convicted repeatedly of grave crimes. The U.S. embassy also confirming Serou's death, extending their condolences to her family.

U.S. embassy officials say they're doing everything they can to support the investigation by local authorities. The last person Serou was in touch with was her mother, and that's according to Russia's main investigative committee.

They say Serou texted her mother on Tuesday evening about getting in that unidentified vehicle with that unknown man. What happened next is that Serou was reported missing, and days later, her body was tragically found in that wooded area.

Absolutely horrific news, particularly for her mom back home in the United States. Her mother, Becky Serou, has spoken to "The Daily Beast." She says her daughter was a tough woman. She had served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan. She'd survived combat.

She said her daughter was creative, kind, intelligent. She said her daughter enjoyed studying in Russia. That she sold her apartment in 2019 in California to fund her studies in Russia. And that her daughter's plan had been to come back to the United States and work as an immigration lawyer.

Now, of course, her life tragically cut short and her mother searching for answers.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


HOLMES: We'll take a quick break now. When we come back, for the first time since the pandemic began, a cruise ship has set sail from the U.S. Why this voyage is a test one of the industry's plans for a return to normal.

Also, astronauts spent more than six hours outside the International Space Station. We'll have details on their mission when we come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back. Ready to set sail and return to normal. Just hours ago, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas cruise ship set sail on a trial cruise to test new safety measures. It is the first cruise ship to disembark from a U.S. port since the pandemic began.

But a new court ruling could mean some rough waters for the industry. Here's CNN's Leyla Santiago with more.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About 600 passengers on board the Freedom of the Seas for a simulated voyage. That's basically part of a trial run for Royal Caribbean to test its safety protocols. It's a requirement from the CDC, if the cruise line wants to avoid requiring 95 percent of passengers to be vaccinated.

We all know the cruise industry has had a bit of a tough year. For about 15 months they have been on pause.

And it's a big deal here in Florida, because the cruise industry pumps $8.5 billion into the economy here and supports 154,000 jobs. So for this simulated voyage, Royal Caribbean is turning to its employees. So everyone on board has been fully vaccinated and works for Royal Caribbean.

I had a chance to talk to a few of them, and we talked about why they decided to get on board and some of their concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I needed to get out. I'm vaccinated. I haven't -- you know, I've been very healthy. I'm very healthy, thank God. And I just need to get out and see my friends and see my work family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm feeling very excited overall. I'm just apprehensive, not because of the cruise, just because I have not packed for a trip in a long time. So I kind of forgot.

SANTIAGO: In a bit of a development, remember back in April, Governor Ron DeSantis sued CDC over its requirements. And on Friday, a judge ruled that, come July 18, the CDC cannot require cruise lines to follow their new rules.

So you have the ports, the cruise line, as well as the industry as a whole wading through the 124-page decision and trying to make sense of what that means for future voyages and passengers.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, Miami.


HOLMES: Well, the International Space Station is getting a power boost. A team of French and American astronauts working on the installation of some new solar panels on Sunday.

NASA says the spacewalk lasted six hours and 28 minutes. The new solar rays will upgrade the previous panels, which had been in place for 20 years now.

Now, talk about a lucky break. Have a look at this unbelievable video after a storm in Georgia. A woman rescued after a huge oak tree and power lines crushed her car. Have a look at that.

She was driving early in the morning when her tree fell and trapped her inside. Oh, my goodness.

According to CNN affiliate WSP, rescuers were able to pull the driver out, get her to a local hospital. They say the tree barely missed her head, luckily. And get this, when you look at that, a few minor injuries.

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Thanks for watching, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @HolmesCNN. WORLD SPORT coming up next with Don Riddell.