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Rebels Reject Ethiopian Government's Ceasefire Offer; Russia Faces Record COVID Deaths, Low Vaccination Rates; IFRC: Indonesia At Risk Of "COVID-19 Catastrophe"; 12 People Confirmed Dead, 149 Still Unaccounted For; U.S. Could Finish Afghanistan Withdrawal Within Days; North Korean Officials Fired after Grave COVID Incident. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 02:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, everyone. You're watching another hour of CNN NEWSROOM with me, John Vause. And coming up, the conflicts in Tigray.

After months of calls to end the fighting, Tigray rebels say the Ethiopian government ceasefire declaration is a joke.

Indonesia is now in the grip of the Delta variant nightmare. New records almost daily for infections. Oxygen in short supply, hospitals maxed out, patients turned away. The Red Cross warning the country teetering on the edge of catastrophe.

And at that high rise collapse in Florida, the search efforts are dangerous, painful, and slow, but rescuers are still holding out hope.

Rebels in Ethiopia's Tigray region are rejecting the government's unilateral declaration of a ceasefire, bringing fears of more violence.

VAUSE (voice-over): In a surprise reversal, the Ethiopian military withdrew from the regional capital on Monday, and people in the northern town of Shire celebrate the departure of government-allied Eritrean forces.

A spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front calls the truth a joke, and rebels are promising to force the army and its allies out of the region.

It's difficult to know what's happening there right now, because telephone and Internet services have been cut. Thousands of people have been killed in this brutal eight-month long war. Millions are being displaced, thousands are facing -- hundreds of thousands are facing starvation. The U.N. says desperately needed aid is not getting through.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESPERSON FOR UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Humanitarian operations have been constrained in the past few days due to the ongoing fighting. We're still -- we're ready to resume full operations, pending security and access assessment.

As to the new conditions on the ground, we, along with our partners are looking at options to scale up the humanitarian relief operations in light of what we find following the assessment.


VAUSE (on camera): A little earlier, I spoke with journalist Simon Marks, he's been reporting extensively from Ethiopia. I began by asking him about the timing of this ceasefire announcement.


SIMON MARKS, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, FEATURE STORY NEWS: It's important to note that in the past seven to 10 days, the forces on the Tigray side of the dispute have really escalated their offensive.

They went from conducting a guerilla style war where they were making sporadic attacks on Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in rural areas to conducting an offensive against key divisions that the Ethiopians had presence in the Tigray region. And there seems to have had quite a huge impact on the state of the conflict.

Whereby, the Tigrayans gained a lot of territory, they claimed to have taken a fair amount of heavy machinery and mechanized equipment. And very, very quickly in the days following Ethiopia's national election on the 21st of June, they managed to actually come back into the regional capital Mekelle, which fell on November the 28th.

VAUSE: So, basically, the momentum rather was with the Tigrayan forces. This is also, at the moment, is a slow moving humanitarian crisis in that region. I want you to listen to the assessment, which we're getting from the World Health Organization. Here it is.


TARIK JASAREVIC, SPOKESMAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The risk of communicable and vaccine preventable diseases spreading due to lack of food, clean water, safe shelter, and access to health care is very real. And all these factors combined, literally a recipe for a larger epidemics.


VAUSE: Is there a best case worst case scenario here? Or is it just simply the only scenario is just the worst? What do you think will happen?

MARKS: Well, you know, the hunger situation and the spread -- and the risk of the spread of disease is very real in the Tigray region. You know, it's been eight months since this conflict began. And, you know, Tigray -- the Tigray region does not produce enough food by itself to feed its population.

We're now entering the rainy season where farmers plant it's absolutely clearly they need to get crops into the ground.

So, we know the U.S. -- USAID, the Agency for International Development has serve as nearly a million people in a state of famine. U.N. put that figure slightly lower. You know, 350,000.

But it's very clear from people on the ground, from reporters I've spoken to, from U.N. officials that there is severe malnutrition that is widespread.


MARKS: And you know, the humanitarian actors haven't really had that access to get in off the main roads into villages and supply the food that's needed. So, it's -- we've been saying this for months, but you know, people are dying of starvation as we speak.

VAUSE: This is shaping up to be the world's worst famine. I was reading since Somalia about a decade ago. How much worse has been made by the use of starvation as a weapon of war?

MARKS: Well, you know, this is an extremely sensitive issue, you know, the Ethiopian government, you know, completely denies this framing, right? That, that has been used as a weapon of war.

You know, they say that they have sent many tons of food aid, they've organized vehicles and convoys. They claim that, I think, there's been three rounds, they say that has -- that has supposedly reached Tigray region.

There is, you know, a lack of evidence that this food has reached the millions that the Ethiopian government claimed to have been fed. You know, I do think the Ethiopian government have put some effort into it. The conditions on the ground, though, with the military, and the existence of Eritrean troops and Amhara militia manning checkpoints just not letting convoys through, has just impeded this effort. And the Ethiopian government, I imagined know that.

And, you know, yesterday or the day before, whenever they put that statement out, did recognize that for the first time, you know, in eight months that access for aid workers and food distribution is difficult. And that was the reasoning they gave for that ceasefire.

VAUSE: What -- you're seeing official with U.S. department of state was taking questions from lawmakers on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. And he had this warning for Ethiopia and Eritrea. Here it is.


ROBERT GODEC, ACTING UNITED STATES ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: The government's announcement of a cessation of hostilities does not result in improvements and the situation continues to worsen. Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions.


VAUSE: OK, so, what precisely could the U.S. do that would be the most effective course of action here?

MARKS: Well, they've already implemented a series of sanctions, you know, both economic, and travel sanctions against key officials. But those -- that they could escalate those -- they could be more economic sanctions against Eritrea, and they could targets, you know, specific businesses, specific people.

There are those -- that there was a lot of funding for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that Ethiopia is waiting for as part of that programs, which is also linked to that -- to their debt relief, actually at an international level.

So you know, all of these things could be prevented from coming to Ethiopia, which could squeeze them economically. And those leavers remain, both in the US. .and Europe. And I think other countries are being urged to implement their own sanctions if things don't, don't, don't, don't change quickly.

I mean, one thing just to add very quickly, you know, the ceasefire is very edgy right now. And the Tigrayans announced senior officials I spoke to yesterday did say that they would continue to sort of, you know, mop up, as they said, the remnants of the enemy. They would go after Ethiopian units and Eritreans still based in the Tigray region.

And then, there's this whole issue of huge swathes of the region being annexed to the neighboring Amhara region. And it remains to be seen if the conflict will just continue as the Tigrayans continue their offensive to regain land, push out the Eritreans.

So, you know that we're going to see this in the coming days whether the violence continues or not.


VAUSE: Well, the Delta variant of the coronavirus may be the dominant strain now in the United States. Data from a private lab which identifies variance claims Delta is responsible for about 40 percent of new U.S. cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (INAUDIBLE) says Delta accounted for that 26 percent of new infections in two weeks leading up to June 19th. This highly transmissible variant is fueling a surge in cases worldwide.

Most notably countries with low vaccination rates. Russia, Australia, Indonesia, all struggling to contain a spike in cases and or deaths.

Meantime, mixed messages from the CDC and the WHO, on whether vaccinated people should wear face masks. And that's causing some confusion. Here is CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It really depends at, you know, in some ways if you're vaccinated or unvaccinated in terms of your overall risk.


GUPTA: So, if you are vaccinated, the idea is that you're far less likely to become sick, far less likely to be hospitalized or die. The reason you're hearing about masking coming back is basically still to try and slow down the spread of what is clearly a more transmissible variant, the Delta variant.

VAUSE: Well, Russia was the first country to authorize a COVID vaccine. It happened in record time last year. But the vaccination rate remains incredibly low, only around 11 percent.

And reports its worst COVID death numbers so far. And that has the Kremlin issuing strict guidelines as CNN's Matthew Chance reports.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Russia is, of course, witnessing a powerful third wave of coronavirus infections with daily death rates across the country reaching record highs.

CHANCE (voice-over): More than 650 people dying of COVID over the past 24 hours, according to official figures. Russia is of course the country that was the first to register a COVID vaccine for public use back in August last year.

Recent data from the manufacturers about the efficacy of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V indicates that it's less effective against the new Delta variants of the virus, which was first identified in India.

But the bigger problem is that vaccination rates among skeptical Russians have been stubbornly low, just 11 percent or so of the population have had a job so far, fueling that worrying increase in infections, now running at the highest levels since the pandemic began.

With a low rates of vaccination have now forced the Russian government to introduce strict new guidelines, making vaccination mandatory for some categories of workers. Anyone for instance, in public facing jobs like hospitality or transport, or catering. Have been told they must be vaccinated by the middle of July.

CHANCE (on camera): Vaccination, the Kremlin insists is still voluntary in Russia. But Russians who refused the jab may now lose their jobs. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

VAUSE: But a new COVID outbreak around Sydney has grown to more than 160 cases. Australia's largest cities under a two week long lockdown to try and slow the spread.

CNN producer Angus Watson live in Sydney with more on this. And this lockdown is now spreading. We're looking at Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Sydney. And now, we're talking Alice Springs and the area around Uluru. So clearly, there's a lot of concern about the spread of this virus, and hopefully, you know, non-pharmaceutical interventions, as they say, will slow it.

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: That's right, john, there is a lot of concern about the Delta variant that's causing these cases across the country. And lockdowns is one of the weapons in the arsenal of authorities were across cities, across the country, as you mentioned, they're trying to get on top of the spread by limiting people's movements. That's working to an extent.

But the Delta variant is so virulent that authorities today are saying they're seeing an almost 100 percent knock on rate for a person giving it to other people within their homes, within those very, very close contacts. That's where a lot of the new cases across the country are coming from as people are forced to isolate with the variant. They're giving it to their family.

So, authorities have that in their arsenal, because John, at the moment, the vaccination rate here in Australia is very low, just creeping above seven percent at the moment, John.

VAUSE: The situation with these -- the vaccination rate in Australia is were about 20 million adults, we're looking at just a small fraction, about 5 million or so have actually received a vaccine.

But the message coming from officials and from various government officials there is confusing and hasn't really helped things.

WATSON: That's right. There's states that administer their own health systems. And there's the federal government, which is organizing the importation and the distribution of vaccines.

We've got the AstraZeneca vaccine that's being made domestically, and we've got imported vials of the Pfizer vaccine. And there's a bit of confusion among in the community as to who should get which vaccine, particularly states, including Queensland and West Australia now as saying they don't want young people to get that AstraZeneca vaccine because of the very rare chance of a blood clot linked to that vaccine.

The federal government saying that you can go out and get that if you're a young person and you've had a chat with your G.P. to make sure it's safe, John. So, we're hearing very different things from very different experts across the country.

VAUSE: Yes, we'll, like 12 million Australians now under some kind of lockdown order, it's quite a lot for that country. Angus, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

Still to come, Indonesia's hospitals near capacity as COVID cases surge and vaccines just cannot come quick enough. We'll hear from an expert on what the country needs most to avoid a COVID catastrophe.


VAUSE: Also, yet, another day of record high temperatures in Western Canada, where there are now concerns that the scorching heat could be linked to a sudden spike in the number of deaths.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: International Red Cross and Red Crescent is warning that Indonesia is on the brink of a catastrophe. A surge in new cases has been dominated by the Delta variant, first detected in India. And just like India, Indonesia is now reporting rubble case numbers in recent days, with a number of new infections reaching 20,000.

Hospitals now being forced to turn patients away with what some have died waiting to be admitted to a hospital in the capital Jakarta, where isolation beds are at 93 percent occupancy.

Public panic has sent demand for oxygen to skyrocket, and with that prices have nearly tripled in places. Creating more strain on hospitals and staff, and it's causing some oxygen suppliers to worry now about looming shortages.


ERVAN KAUTSAR, OXYGEN SHOP OWNER (through translator): Oxygen cylinders are getting harder to find since the distributor is running out of stock. The oxygen supplies at the moment are still fine, but it's being restricted as demand keeps increasing. I'm afraid if it keeps in high demand, we'll be running out of oxygen too.


VAUSE: And the government is counting on vaccinations to slow the outbreak. But so far, less than five percent of the country is actually fully vaccinated.

And for more on this, I'm joined by Jan Gelfand, head of the delegation for Indonesia with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.

Thank you for being with us, sir. You know, week ago, Indonesia recorded a new high in daily COVID infections just over 14-1/2 thousand. The official number for Tuesday now about 20,000 new cases. You can see that spike there right at the end, shooting very high.

This surge is being driven by the Delta variant. In most hospitals are maxed out, patients being turned away. If the government is having the vaccine -- vaccinate its way out of this crisis. How does that work in a country where about five percent have been fully vaccinated, and most were given the Chinese made Sinovac, which just doesn't seem to be effective against the Delta variant?


Yes, in your introduction, and just in your questions, you answered a whole number of issues, you know, numbers have increased substantively, and some of those numbers are very worrisome.

I just add one statistic that what we're finding is that over 50 percent are, in some cases, 90 percent outside of Jakarta and the --in Java, the nine out of 10 people that are -- that are tested are positive. So, this is becoming, you know, a very large concern.

I would point out that -- and as you already mentioned the logistics to get to people that are in remote areas, in 18,000 Islands, is not an easy thing to do. But I would point out also that the government so far, they -- you know, each day is vaccinating about 1.3 million people, which is quite a feat in and of itself.


GELFAND: There are different kinds of vaccines that they're using, the Sinovac being one of them. But it's a -- it's not an easy job when you have 275 million people, and there are still some vaccine hesitancy. People are tired just like in everywhere else in the world.

And so, yes, it's a -- it's a critical situation here, and steps are being taken. We hope, certainly by the Red Cross and Red Crescent to help, at one point, try to alleviate it because what you have to do just as globally is you have to increase the vaccinations and make sure that people are taking care of themselves and following protocols.

VAUSE: Yes, the government has imposed some pandemic restrictions. There, Jakarta opted for social restrictions targeting so-called red zones, religious activities, at least some of them were banned. Schools and bars have been closed at times, offices and restaurants are required to operate at what 25 percent capacity, those red zones for two weeks at a time, I think.

But there if when no national lockdown, and reporting from the Australian Financial Review has this. "Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he will not shift from micro neighbourhood-level restrictions in place to a micro -- macro lockdown. Instead, he's doubling down on vaccination. But supply is an issue."

Yes, one of the things is that the Sinovac vaccine doesn't seem to work very well. So, can Indonesia escape India's fate without some kind of national intervention like a nationwide lockdown?

GELFAND: Well, a couple of points, I think it's important to understand that Sinovac, much like other vaccinations is there to protect you. It doesn't mean that like there was an article in and that many health workers were testing positive, and they had already been received two doses of Sinovac. But they were either asymptomatic or they were not, you know, having strong symptoms in any way, and this happens with most of the vaccines, but it doesn't mean that they're not contagious.

So, you know, we're of the view with the Red Cross Red Crescent than any vaccinations better than no vaccination.

The other thing is trying to find the balance between keeping people in countries where you have a large informal economy, where on the one case, you want to -- one hand, you want to keep people healthy, on the other hand, you know, if people don't go out and work that day, then they and their families may not eat that night. I'm getting, you know, reports from our own staff in the Red Cross from friends, from colleagues from another organizations, where up to five members of their families have tested positive.

Where do they even isolate when, you know, a family's in or, you know, don't have the resources that others may have. They have to find that kind of a balance in order to be -- to take care of people because your health also goes down if you're not eating properly.

So, that's one of the things that the Red Cross is doing is trying to make sure that people are taking care of themselves or eating properly and so forth, while they're -- while maintaining, you know, protocols. And it's an -- it's a very difficult balancing act.

VAUSE: Well, Brazil is suspending a deal to purchase two or 20 million doses of an Indian made COVID vaccine. The decision comes amid an ongoing investigation into accusations of irregularities in that $300 million contract.

Members of the inquiry say the cost of the vaccines is much higher than previously estimated. CNN has reached out to the Indian firm of Biotech, but is yet to receive a response. Brazil's health minister says the suspension will not compromise the country's vaccine rollout.

Well, with nearly 6,000 new confirmed COVID cases on Tuesday, Mexico is another country which appears to be in a high stakes race: vaccinations versus the variants. And there are now concerns any progress which has been made in recent months could be wiped out.

CNN's Rafael Romo has details from Mexico City.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, these Mexicans are attending the concert.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is something cool.

ROMO: And even though some say it's very cool, the reality is that this is far from normal. For starters, it's a driving concert and everybody must stay in their designated area. And while not everyone is in compliance, masks are required.

This is liberating. Safety measures are such that I feel comfortable and I'm very excited because if there's something I missed during the pandemic, it was going to concerts, this woman says, adding that she's already vaccinated, and so, are all her friends.

Drive-in concerts are part of Mexico's new reality an attempt to revive the economy.

ARMANDO CALVILLO, CONCERT PROMOTER: We will open more venues, more facilities, because government is doing the right things. Now, the vaccines are doing good, there's a good rhythm of vaccines every day. ROMO: Mexico's health department announced last week, so far, the country has received more than 51 million vaccine doses to date. But so far, only around 20 percent of people who are eligible have been fully vaccinated in the nation of 127 million.

The Capitol with a more capable health system than rural Mexico has been significantly better than the rest of the country at getting people vaccinated.


ROMO (on camera): Here in Mexico City, roughly a third of the eligible population, meaning people 18 and older is fully vaccinated, according to figures from the local health department.

After vaccinating healthcare and essential workers, authorities implemented a vaccination schedule by age, starting with the elderly.

ROMO (voice-over): The challenge is that new variants of the virus could pose a serious risk, especially for the unvaccinated.

Mexico's COVID czar reported a nine percent weekly increase in cases, but said it's too early to tell whether this is the beginning of a trend.

ROMO (on camera): When do you expect to reach herd immunity here in Mexico?

ROMO (voice-over): By the end of the year, more or less, we expect to be close to 70 percent of people vaccinated which would give us some guarantee of reaching herd immunity, this local health official says.

Asked how Mexico has done in terms of dealing with the pandemic, some people back at the concert given unequivocal thumbs down.

And yet, for the first time in many months, they have the option of getting out. And that by itself is recent enough to dance with joy. Rafael Romo, CNN, Mexico City.


VAUSE: Officials in Canada are linking a historic heat wave to a sudden spike in the number of deaths. While the 200 people have died in British Columbia in the past five days, a far higher toll than normal.

Canada shattered its all-time record high for third straight day on Tuesday, in a village in the country's worst temperatures reached 121 degrees Fahrenheit, an over 49 degrees Celsius.

And Pedram Javahaveri joins us now with the latest forecast there and how long this heat wave will continue. And I'm guessing it's going to be a long time.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: It is. Yes, you know, depends on your definition of the heat wave. (CROSSTALK)


JAVAHERI: It's going to be well above average, not to this historic value of saying upper 40s, but still going to be into the middle 30s which is well above average for this time of year.

But you notice, John, across the Pacific Northwest, of course, into Canada, these temperatures have steadily risen and climbed into historic territory. In fact, three consecutive days now Canada breaks its all-time hottest national temperature.

As you noted, then you kind of compare this to what's happened across the Middle East. You take the Mitribah, Kuwait, well known for excessive heat. Tuesday's high, 49.6. There is British Columbia.

In fact, the top 10 hottest temperatures on our planet, nine of them were either in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq. Number 10 right there in British Columbia. Really speaks to what is happening in an area that is not accustomed to it.

And I've got to talk about this because the human body does an incredible job cooling itself off, it's evolved to do so via sweating. Sweating, removes about 22 percent of your body's heat away from the skin.

But when it's as humid as it has been across the northwestern areas of United States and into Canada, this evaporative cooling does not take place. So, the sweat essentially sits on your skin, your body continues to sweat, and you continue losing fluids. And once this happens, of course, your core temperature can begin to rise, the potassium and sodium concentrations in your blood are also altered, which then alters your heartbeat. And that is what leads to rapid onset of fatalities with excessive heat, especially ones that lasts for so many days.

And that's the concern here because it has been so humid, John, that this sort of pattern has not allowed people's bodies to naturally remove that heat away from the skin.

Again, it is going to cool off just a little bit, but still well above average.

VAUSE: Yes. Pedram, thank you. Appreciate that.

VAUSE (voice-over): But more warning signs of severe structural problems in that South Florida building which collapse. We'll tell you what residents knew and who failed to act, in the moment.

And after claiming zero COVID cases in the pandemic, North Korea now reporting a grave incident related to the virus. Detail, still to come.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN NEWSROOM: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN Newsroom with me, John Vause.

The body of another victim has been pulled from the rubble of the Champlain Towers in South Florida, bringing the death toll to 12 with 149 others still unaccounted for.

Workers are navigating dangerous conditions, including debris falling from the part of the building which is still standing.

the U.S. president, Joe Biden, will visit Surfside on Thursday to meet with families as well as first responders. One Israeli expert says he's never worked on a more difficult site, but he is hopeful survivors will still be found.


COL. GOLAN VACH, COMMANDER, ISRAELI NATIONAL RESCUE UNIT: This building collapsed very badly, if I can use this word, because it collapsed into itself. And all the bedrooms that we are looking for, because the people sleep in bedrooms are under four or five meters of concrete. So, this is what they are doing right now, penetrating the concrete.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So you think there's still -- realistically, it is day six. There's still hope you'll find, God willing, somebody alive?

VACH: To one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone. After one week, it's minor, very much.


VAUSE: At least three lawsuits have been filed so far in connection with this collapse. And now we've learned there were more red flags that this building was a disaster waiting to happen.

Here is CNN's Drew Griffin.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As more lawsuits are being filed across South Florida in the deadly collapse of the Champlain Tower South condominium, there're more evidence residents, engineers and condo board knew their building was deteriorating.

A letter emailed April 9th, just three months ago, from the Condominium Association Board president warned the observable damage, such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since initial inspection. That initial inspection in 2018, just three years ago, had determined failed waterproofing was causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below the pool deck and entrance drive. It led to a major assessment, $15 million to repair years of damage.

ERICK DE MOURA, CHAMPLAIN TOWER SOUTH RESIDENT: There were leaks in the garage, there were cracks on balconies. So, yes, you need money to fix it, you know? But, unfortunately, it is late.

GRIFFIN: Erick de Moura told CNN he received the letter in April, outlining how the concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive, roof repairs had to be incorporated. The letter was helping homeowners to understand their share of the assessment, anywhere from $80,000 for a one bedroom condo, up to $336,000 for the penthouse unit.

The bigger question remains, why the maintenance on the building had been deferred for so long and how and why no one foresaw the potential for collapse almost unheard of in a modern U.S. building.

JOEL FIGUEROA-VALLINES, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, SEP ENGINEERS: It is extremely rare for a structure that's been standing for 40 years to all of a sudden collapse in this way. But I'm sure that, forensically, we structural engineers will figure out what happened and we'll get to the bottom of it.

GRIFFIN: Records show a Surfside building official had reviewed the 2018 report detailing major structural damage yet told residents that it appears the building is in very good shape. The records made public show no sense of urgency to launch repairs as the Homeowners Association took three years to review inspections, hire engineers and begin assessments to start work.


An attorney for the condo board cautions patience.

DONNA DIMAGGIO BERGER, ATTORNEY, CHAMPLAIN TOWER SOUTH CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION: There's other buildings out there with engineering reports as they near their 40-year certification that reveal more drastic spalling and pitting, delamination, rebar corrosion. We need to figure out what were all of the factors that went into making this building fall.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


VAUSE: Well, German troops have now finished their total drawdown from Afghanistan and end an almost two decades' long deployment. They only had the 2second largest contingent of troops after the U.S. And now, America's longest ever war could be officially over within days with the troop withdrawal well ahead of schedule.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has details from the Pentagon.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan could be complete in a matter of days, according to U.S. officials, making this a critical week for President Joe Biden and his promise for his pledge to end America's longest war in Afghanistan.

The completion of withdrawal, and pending as it is, comes as the top general in Afghanistan warns the country could devolve in a civil war as the Taliban makes significant gains in the countryside.

Even after the withdrawal is complete, there will be U.S. troops that remain in the country for two purposes. First, to protect the U.S. embassy there. The Biden administration made clear it wants diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and an embassy in the country.

And, second, troops may remain there to help protect Kabul International Airport. It will be the Turkish military leading that mission, but the U.S. could support them. Kabul International Airport is a critical step for diplomacy because diplomats need to get in and out to their embassies, and that is why that is so important.

Up to 1000 U.S. troops could remain in the country for those missions, though a defense official says the member may be 650 for both of those goals.

The Biden administration is made it clear it will not change its mind and is determined to complete the withdrawal of U.S. forces of Afghanistan even as President Biden has acknowledged there will be a difficult road ahead for the country.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is focusing on its goalpost withdrawal and that is protecting the U.S. embassy there and building a new different bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, one that focuses on providing financial support for the Afghan military instead of support on the ground.

That doesn't mean that all the questions about Afghanistan have been answered. There are still significant questions about what the U.S. will do about Afghan interpreters and their families who may be removed from Afghanistan in the thousands for their own protection.

And then, of course, the question of how the U.S. will conduct counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, that's a question of what's called here, over the horizon capabilities, still an open question the Pentagon is working on.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, in the Pentagon.

VAUSE: Israel has now opened its first embassy on the Arabian Peninsula with a ceremony on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. And Prime Minister Yair Lapid will open a consulate in Dubai in the coming hours. The two countries established formal ties last year, they're being called on all countries in the region to, quote, come talk to us.

So, is North Korea facing a COVID crisis? Kim Jong-un has reportedly hired several high-ranking officials after a grave incident related to the pandemic. Details on that in a moment.



VAUSE: Several high-ranking officials in North Korea have been fired by Kim Jong-un after a, quote, grave incident related to the COVID-19 pandemic. State media reports Kim accused the officials of neglecting their duties and creating a crisis for the country.

CNN's Will Ripley in Taiwan joins us now with more.

This comes after, what, about a week or so ago when there was a submission of essentially food shortages or looming food shortages in the country and security. And now, they're firing the officials because of the situation created a great crisis because of the pandemic. It says that something is going on. Do we know what it is?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know because there are so few foreign diplomats and NGO workers remaining in the country. It's arguably more isolated now than it has been in many decades, possibly ever, at least in modern memory, John.

And something definitely unusual is happening. There have been a couple of different state media reports that have been eyebrow- raising. They have that interview that they playing on North Korean state T.V. where they were interviewing people who are in tears talking about Kim Jong-un's visible weight loss, saying he looked gaunt. I wouldn't -- a lot of people wouldn't necessarily say he looks gaunt but he certainly has physically lost a lot of weight.

North Korea has self-proclaimed its food crisis and now you have -- they have self-proclaimed a COVID crisis. They said a grave incident related to quarantine negligence and ignorance incompetent and irresponsibility by party officials has led to this COVID-related crisis.

But, of course, as is often the case with North Korean media, John, they don't specify exactly what is going on. So we don't know if there has been some sort of an outbreak or some other sort of incident related to COVID that would cause a crisis.

But what we do know is that COVID-19 is a matter of national security for North Korea. Any outbreak could be devastating, could be catastrophic for that country, which has such a dilapidated health care system. And no foreign vaccines have arrived. North Korea has been very low on the COVAX vaccine distribution priority list because, for more than a year, they publicly stated repeatedly that they had not a single case of COVID-19.

So is this not a change in messaging? Is this an excuse to purge top officials? Because when you say they're fired in North Korea, that could mean a number of things. It could mean they are fired and reassigned. It could mean a reeducation camp. It could even mean a firing squad, depending on the severity of the events is. But, certainly, the warning was quite harsh.

And, frankly, it's all guesswork, John, because until North Korean media releases more details, and, of course, the details and want the world to know, everybody has just kind of left to try to put together the puzzle pieces.

VAUSE: Very quickly, these officials likely to be scapegoats here for what essentially is a crisis? RIPLEY: I'll tell you how it works in North Korea. Sometimes you are accused of something you're not really necessarily presented with evidence, it's just that somebody said you did this, and then it's assumes that you did it, if that person is a higher rank than you and your tried and prosecuted pretty quickly. That's the legal system in North Korea in a nutshell.

VAUSE: This is coming from the most senior guy in the country, so I guess that's that then, right?

RIPLEY: Yes, exactly.

VAUSE: Will Ripley there, been to North Korea many, many times with good insight to the country, I appreciate it. Will, thank you.

And thank you for watching CNN Newsroom. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. World Sport is up next after a short break and I'll see you tomorrow.