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President Biden Expected to Brief the Country This Afternoon on the Fight Against the Pandemic; Officials in Japan Expect COVID Infections to Spike During the Olympic Games; As the U.S. Withdraws All Remaining Troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban Advances. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden will brief the country this afternoon on the fight against the pandemic and the ongoing effort to get more Americans vaccinated. This is new information out of Israel, has focused on the efficacy of vaccines against the Delta variant.

We should be clear on the big picture numbers here in terms of preventing severe illness and hospitalization the vaccines remain very effective against the Delta variant. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

Elizabeth, break down the numbers as we know them.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I am about to show you to numbers. I want to preface this that this is -- they have the Israeli ministry of health is not given the science behind this.

They haven't given any kind of a study or anything; they've just given these numbers. But I'm going to give you two numbers and I want you to focus on the second one. So first the first one, 64 percent effective.

This vaccine appears -- Pfizer appears to be 64 percent effective at preventing infection in Israel now. Now that the Delta variant is the predominant variant. It's only 64 percent effective. That is much less than the effect efficacy against other strains of COVID.

But again, the second number is the more important one. It is 93 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. In other words, 93 percent effective at keeping you from getting very sick.

Vaccine researcher, Dr. Paul Offit says the purpose of vaccines is to keep you out of the hospital and out of the morgue. If you get infected but you don't have symptoms or you get infected and you're a little bit sick and you miss a day or two of work, that is not a big deal. You're not at risk of losing your life. That is not a huge deal. It keeps you from ending up in the hospital or ending up dead and that is what matters and that's why it's so important for people to get vaccinated. Jim?

SCIUTTO: The -- the concern, of course, and this is the way pathogens work, right, but that the coronavirus, you know, it -- it changes so that it can out smart not just the human body but the vaccine. And I guess the concern is the more it's able to spread in unvaccinated areas, it can change more.

COHEN: That's right. Viruses are wildly (ph) little creatures and they can learn how to outsmart its host. It can learn how to -- try to -- or try to learn how to outsmart a vaccine. And here's the important part, the more the virus spreads, the more it goes from person to person to person the more it learns how to be smart.

It's sort of like playing a sport; you play it long enough you're going to get better at it. So what we need to do is to give this virus less of a chance to get smart, don't let it got from person to person.

And that's why we all need to get vaccinated. People who are choosing not to get vaccinated -- and I say that because in the U.S. people have a choice, the vaccines free, it's available, it's out there even in the most remote areas of the country.

If you choose not to get vaccinated you're putting your life at risk, you're putting other people's life at risk and you're giving the virus a chance to get smart, why would you do that?

SCIUTTO: Protect yourself and others.

COHEN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, we can keep saying and we will because it's important. Well, a church camp in Texas has lead to a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected now more than 125 adults and children.

In late June, the pastor Clear Creek Community Church says more than 400 people were exposed during a summer camp for teens. This is outside Galveston County. And while the children did not leave the camp grounds -- camp grounds during that time; they of course had contact with counselors.

And once everyone left the camp, hundreds more people were then exposed. Galveston County health officials are now working with church leaders to trace potential contacts.

Well, there are new signs that Afghanistan is on the verge of, well, just going back to the Taliban it seems as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. There are reports of looting at the recently vacated Bagram Airbase outside Kabul. We're going to be live in Kabul next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Well, this morning as the U.S. withdraws all its remaining troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban are advancing and that advance appears to be accelerating. As a result, Afghan officials say that more than 1,000 Afghan Army soldiers and officers have fled the battle field. They crossed over out of Afghanistan into neighboring Tajikistan.


And about an hour north of Kabul, Bagram Airbase now sits quiet after the final U.S. troops left last week, the Afghan government is trying to figure out how to use that sprawling complex. And it is big. CNN's Anna Coren, she is at Bagram Airbase this morning.

Anna, some Afghan soldiers say they only found out the Americans were leaving that same day?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: After the Americans left, we spoke to the brigadier who's in charge of Bagram Airbase and he said he was given orders on Thursday night to secure the area. And as you mentioned, it is a huge compound.

You know two airstrips two miles long and absolutely huge facility, which I should mention houses both Americans -- or did house Americans and Afghans. The planes took off and it was only after the U.S. and NATO forces left Bagram that they were told that the Americans had left.

And as one military official told us, it was like an old friend leaving without saying goodbye. Look, there are some concerns about what the Afghans are going to do, whether they can keep this huge area safe and secure. Obviously there's Taliban in that area and that is also target, it's a strategic target.

There is also a prison inside Bagram Airbase. We weren't given access to that but its part of the military police division. There are about 5,000 prisoners inside and they're mainly terrorist, members of Al- Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban. There's only a few hundred criminals. There's some foreign prisoners in there from Pakistan, Chechnya, the Middle East.

But the concern is that perhaps the Taliban will target this prison within the compound and try and break these prisoners out. Now when we put that question to the brigadier, he seemed to think that that was not going to happen, that he has this secure, they've been looking after these prisoners now for many years.

But obviously without the safety blanket of the Americans being there, it does raise concerns and you mentioned, you know, the offensives that the Taliban are launching around the country, particularly in the north and the northeast.

And yes, 1,000 troops fled over into Tajikistan, the Taliban wanting to claim those border post, control what is coming in from those central Asian nations, control the highways and basically choke Afghanistan. That is obviously their plan. But look, we haven't seen Afghan forces

mobilize a real counter attack as yet. However, we hear that the planning is underway.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching Anna Coren in Kabul. Thanks very much.

Joining me is retired U.S. Army Colonel Chris Kolenda. He's the former senior advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Defense Department. But he's also the only American who have fought the Taliban in combat and engaged in high level diplomacy.

Good to have you on this morning. I wonder, as you watch, given your experience with Afghanistan, the fall of some of these rural districts to the Taliban and frankly, the retreat of U.S. trained Afghan forces, is it a matter of time, in your view, before the Taliban takes the whole country over, including the cities?

COL. CHRIS KOLENDA, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER ON AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, DEFENSE DEPT.: Jim, really appreciate you having me on this morning. I mean like a lot of people who spend a lot of time on the ground in Afghanistan.

I spent probably close to four years on the ground. I -- you know I struggle with the situation. I see it one way in my head and another way in my heart. And I'd be happy to let you know what I mean by that.

SCIUTTO: Tell me, in terms of -- I imagine you're saying what's right, whether to stay or to go.

KOLENDA: Well, yes, that's exactly right. And my head says that I agree 100 percent with President Biden. It -- our presence wasn't doing any good there any longer and it was actually counterproductive in many in ways.

And so my head says this is the right thing to do. At some point you've got to step away and you got to let the -- the Afghan government needs -- you know needs to step up.

On the -- on the other hand, in my heart, you know my heart breaks for the continued suffering that you see here. I remember a meeting I had with an Afghan elder named Haji Abrihim (ph), he's from the -- from the Afghan south.

And just looking into his eyes, you could see the pain and the sorrow and the -- and the suffering from what at that point was 35 years of war. And at the same time you just see the hope -- the hope for future, the joy and -- and you just want to do everything you can to help. And -- but we'd done what we could and now it's time for the Afghan government to --



SCIUTTO: Let me -- let me ask you this -- and I get that argument. You had the alternate view Mark Milley and others expressed. You might call it the finger in the dam, right, and I think he even described it in those terms that a small U.S. presence, perhaps 3 to 5,000 could have kept that finger in the dam in terms of not just back up for Afghan forces but also support on the ground for counter terror missions, which are far easier to run when you have that intelligence gathering but also search and rescue and so on capability inside the country rather than outside the country.

Not 100,000 troops or more as prior but a small contingent, would that have made sense in your view?

KOLENDA: Well there's -- Jim, there's no guarantee that doing the same things over and over again are going to get you the same results. And what we have seen in Afghanistan is we've tried doing the same thing over and over again for about 20 years.

And the Afghan government military was pretty much the same. The Taliban, I mean as pain -- as much as it pains me to say this, the Taliban have been more innovative diplomatically, politically, militarily.

And so what you've seen is while we're trying to do the same things over and over again, the Taliban are getting better and the result is a degrading security situation and the Afghan government being less and less able to cope with it.

SCIUTTO: Is the U.S. in danger now of a Saigon moment, I meant a helicopter on the roof top of the U.S. embassy. We know that the evacuation plans are prepared. We do know that there are several hundred U.S. forces remaining on the ground with a very finite mission of protecting U.S. diplomats in the embassy compound itself.

But is that a danger that Americans -- that the Biden administration need to prepare for?

KOLENDA: I think it was a bigger danger when we had 2,500 or a 3,500 troops in country where you would see this sort of mass exodus out of Bagram Airbase. And I think that was your Saigon 75, the closest analogy.

Now, I think what is happening is you're going to get one of two outcomes. Either the Afghan government and security forces are going to -- going to collapse due to the corruption and the -- and the leadership problems.

And then the whole thing may fall to the Taliban. And I hope it doesn't create a massive conflict inside the capital itself. The other scenario is that the Afghan government finally rallies. The -- the troops that are still together rally and they begin to fight the Taliban to a stalemate. And once you get that stalemate is when productive peace talks are going to happen.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. We'll be watching loosely. I have spoken to U.S. veterans on the ground there who have described their Afghan counterparts as being brave in battle.

Colonel Chris Kolenda, thanks so much for your service and thanks for joining us this morning.

KOLENDA: Thank you very much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, officials in Japan say they expect COVID infections to spike during the Olympic Games. What could be done to limit the spread? We're going to be live in Tokyo next.



SCIUTTO: Well, a third Olympic athlete, a member of Serbia's rowing team, has tested positive for COVID after landing in Tokyo. This is likely just the beginning of new cases that will be reported at thousands of athletes, officials, spectators arrive for the games that are now set to begin in less than three weeks. Delayed of course from last year.

CNN's Selina Wang is in Tokyo. Selina, are city officials prepared if there is an outbreak in the Olympic community leading up to the games?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, many medical experts here do not think they are prepared. You even have Japan's government advisors warning that the Olympics could lead to an explosion of cases here in Japan and push the medical system here past its brink.

You already have COVID-19 cases rebounding here in Tokyo, numbering in hundreds per day but experts say that could reach thousands per day in just a matter of weeks. And residents here, Jim, are frustrated with the way the government has handled the pandemic.

And that was reflected in the Tokyo city elections this past weekend in which the ruling party failed to win as many seats as expected and also failed to win a majority with its allied party, which is seen as a major blow to the prime minister.

People here are also frustrated with just how slow the vaccination role out has been, still less than 15 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and people here, many of them feel that these Olympics are putting people's health and lives at risk.

You even have the president of Japan's Olympic committee saying that it is impossible to completely shut out COVID-19, so it's all about risk mitigation. And Olympic participants do have to abide by a very long list of rules that includes social distancing, daily testing, contact tracing.

But even with all those rules you had two members of the Ugandan Olympic delegation testing positive for COVID upon arrival. This is even though the entire team was fully vaccinated and tested negative before departure.

Now among the other mitigation rules, spectators from abroad are banned from these games but Jim, local spectators are currently allowed up to 10,000 per venue. [10:55:04]

But as we see COVID-19 cases continue to rise per day, here in Tokyo, government -- the government may decide to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency restrictions, which could result in a reduction of the number of people allowed at Olympic venues, it could even be reduced to no spectators, which is what Japan's top COVID-19 advisor had advised. Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right, we'll be watching closely. Selina Wang, thanks so much. And thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. "At this Hour" with Boris Sanchez starts after a quick break