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Africa Suffers Worst Week Since Outbreak Began; Sydney Toughens Lockdown as Delta Variant Spreads; Journey to Olympics Amid COVID Filled with Logistical Hurdles; Man Lost Both Parents in Surfside Condo Collapse. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 9, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Health officials are describing the Delta COVID variant as a ticking time bomb in Africa. The continent saw more than a quarter of a million new cases last week which was, according to the World Health Organization, the worst week for Africa since the pandemic began. But the variant is now present in at least 10 countries where vaccination rates are still low. So the WHO says the outbreak is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Our David McKenzie saw firsthand how those trends translate into a grim reality on the ground. And he joins us now from Johannesburg.

David, the alarm bells are ringing loudly on the continent. So can you give us the big picture and take us through as well what you have been seeing first hand in your reporting?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big picture is very bad, Kim. This is now the worst stage of the pandemic on the African continent. Many countries including here in South Africa dealing with a brutal third wave of the virus driven by the Delta variant.

Now, in terms of what I've been hearing from many doctors and nurses and health professionals is a system overwhelmed, both in the public and the private sector. They are struggling to get people beds. Paramedics are spending up to nine hours trying to find a bed for people. And people are dying while they wait.

And while we've seen these kinds of scenes across the world in the early days of the pandemic and earlier this year, this is now hitting Africa the worst and many say it's because of the Delta variant -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Can you get into that a little bit? Because, you know, this Delta variant seems very different in terms of its effect on Africa than the previous two waves.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. You know, very early on, Kim, we were speaking about how Africa might be badly hit because of, in some places at least a weakened or weak health system. And also just the geography of Africa meant people felt OK, perhaps later on they felt they wouldn't be hit so bad. Well, now we're here and it is being hit bad because the Delta variant is so transmissible. And it means that it's spreading through populations very quickly.

That's why at sites like this like the Discovery Health Vaccination Center in Johannesburg, you're seeing increased numbers of people come. After a very slow start, South Africa is ramping up its vaccine drive substantially. The question is, will it be too late?

That's good news, people can be protected by these two doses of two- dose vaccines by Delta, say scientists, but in large parts of the continent, there is in some places little vaccine drive at all. Less than 1 percent of the population of the continent is vaccinated. And other than masking and lockdowns, and all these things that have disrupted our lives for more than a year, it's vaccines and vaccinations that are the answer, and this continent needs them in a high volume and to be given out at speed -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. And the WHO making that point very strongly.

Thanks so much, David McKenzie with an exclusive from Johannesburg there. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Well, it's been almost 16 months since the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic and now many countries are carrying on with plans to return to normal. England is supposed to lift most of its restrictions in less than two weeks. For starters, restaurants and pubs should have near normal service again, but that will have to be confirmed on July 12th depending on what the data looks like.

Nightclubs in France will reopen Friday night. Now that's the first time since the pandemic took off and took ahold of Europe. And New York which at one point was reporting more cases per day than some countries is about to shut down three mass vaccination sites. Officials say it's because more than 68 percent of adults in New York City have now have had at least one shot.

On the other hand, Sydney, Australia is tightening measures as the Delta variant spreads there. People are now only allowed to shop for essentials alone and can't travel more than a short distance from their home unless absolutely necessary. A lockdown will last until at least July 16th.

CNN producer Angus Watson joins me now live from Sidney for more.

Angus, it's already been, what, two weeks into a hard lockdown in Sidney. It doesn't seem to have slowed the spread.

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: That's right, Kim. Australia has done very well throughout the pandemic with these short, sharp lockdowns to get on top of community transmission as soon as it comes up.

[04:35:08] But this time the government of New South Wales didn't want to lock down the country's largest city, Sydney, until contact tracers told them that the Delta variant had got out of control and a lockdown was necessary.

Now infections persist. Yesterday despite that lockdown, it was the highest day in terms of cases for this outbreak at 44. Now that might not seem like a large number of cases to people around the world, but Australia is pursuing an elimination strategy while it doesn't have enough COVID-19 doses to go around.

Here's what the New South Wales chief health officer, Dr. Kerry Chant, said about that on Friday.


DR. KERRY CHANT, NEW SOUTH WALES CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER: People are looking at countries overseas where they are seeing people go about their work and pleasure in a sort of semi normal way. And I think that is really important to highlight. That's because those countries have got vaccination coverages for their adult population. And in some cases in the child population. That is very different from our situation.


WATSON: Now Australia has vaccinated, fully vaccinated, just over 10 percent of its population, Kim. And that's much lower than many other wealthy countries around the world. Australia's population -- problem, I should say, is both a supply issue and a hesitancy one. Australia had bet big on the AstraZeneca vaccine. It's the only vaccine that's being produced domestically at this point.

But that does carry of course that very slight risk of a blood clot for those who get it. That means that only people over the age of 60 here in Australia are being offered that AstraZeneca shot. The rest of everybody else needs to get the Pfizer. The problem, there are very few Pfizer doses to go around at the moment. Now the government says that it should be getting more shipments in from Pfizer very shortly and hopes to be using that vaccine to the tune of one million doses a week.

As of August, Kim, that is still a very slow rate. The government hopes that they might be able to offer everybody a vaccine by Christmas. Let's see.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much for the update, Angus Watson in Sydney.

Surging coronavirus numbers are causing Seoul, South Korea to raise distancing measures to the highest level. Beginning on Monday private gatherings of more than two people won't be allowed after 6:00 p.m. Most public events will be banned and weddings and funerals can only be attended by family members. South Korean officials say the Delta variant could become the dominant strain by August. The Tokyo Olympic Games are set to kick off just two weeks from now,

but this year many stands will be empty. Organizers have banned fans from attending events held in and around Tokyo because of the spike in COVID cases. And that surge has also led to increased screenings for travelers who will be allowed to attend the games.

CNN's Will Ripley and his team captured the logistical challenges they faced when traveling to Japan.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first thing people ask when I say I'm going to the Summer Olympics, is that still happening? The second thing they ask? Is it safe?

My team and I are traveling to Tokyo to find out. Our journey begins four days before we fly, two tests for COVID-19 96 and 72 hours before departure.

(On-camera): Already there has been tons of paperwork to fill out, lines to wait in just to get to this point.

(Voice-over): We can only go on testing centers approved by the Japanese government.

(On-camera): This is by far the most documentation I've needed just to get on a flight.

(Voice-over): Processing my pile of paperwork takes nearly an hour at the airport.

(On-camera): This is the moment of truth. They're checking my documents. I think I've prepared them correctly. They have now brought in a man in a yukata.


RIPLEY (voice-over): He tells me I need to download an app, fill out an online health questionnaire.

(On-camera): I have never been more grateful to get a boarding pass.

(Voice-over): Only a few dozen passengers on my trip from Taipei to Tokyo. Many airlines are canceling empty flights or suspending service altogether. Athletes from Fiji have to fly on a cargo plane that usually hauls frozen fish. I'm just grateful to have a window seat.

This is my first trip back to Japan since the start of the pandemic. Tokyo's Haneda Airport eerily quiet.

(On-camera): As you can see I don't have much company.

(Voice-over): A handful of passengers, a small army of health workers poring over my paperwork, scanning my QR code, ordering me to spit in a cup.

(On-camera): So gross.

(Voice-over): The first of many daily COVID tests.

Social distancing? Not a problem as I wait for my results.


RIPLEY (on-camera): Negative.

(Voice-over): Being here for the Olympics feels surreal and sad.


Japan invested billions to host the games, banking on a tourism boom. This is not what anyone had in mind.

The pandemic makes you appreciate life's little victories. Like the moment I get my Olympic credentials.

(On-camera): Wow, there it is. It's official.

(Voice-over): I clear customs. And see an old friend. Our longtime Tokyo bureau driver Mr. Okano.

(On-camera): Mr. Okano was the very first face I met in Tokyo.

(Voice-over): As we leave the airport and head to the hotel, it finally feels real. We made it to Japan. The process surprisingly smooth overall. Even as the Japanese capital fights a fresh surge in COVID cases.

Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: All right, coming up, teams search through rubble in Florida hoping to bring closure to families whose loved ones are missing. We'll have the latest from the Surfside condo collapse.

Plus we hear from a man who lost both parents in the disaster. He'll share what he wants the world to know about them, next.


BRUNHUBER: Officials say four more victims were recovered from the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida, raising the confirmed death toll to 64. Seventy-six people are still classified as potentially unaccounted for. Search teams paused for a moment of silence Wednesday just after the painful decision to shift search efforts from rescue to recovery.

Crews are working around the clock to find every last victim. The mayor of Surfside, Florida, says they're all praying for a miracle, but authorities no longer think they might find anyone still alive under the rubble of the collapsed condo. Now they are determined to bring closure for the families. Surfside mayor said he spent time with the team that's identifying the victims and say they told them they're working around the clock to make that happen.



CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA MAYOR: It was moving today to hear a representative from the fire department tell the families at the family meeting this afternoon that the Miami-Dade Fire Department will not stop working until they have gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single one of the families' missing loved ones.

It's what we've said all along and they have stuck to their commitment and I'm very, very thankful for that.


BRUNHUBER: Five more victims were identified Thursday. Of the 64 victims who have been found, 40 have now been positively identified with 39 next of kin notified.

Meanwhile authorities say they are sampling concrete from Champlain Towers North, the collapsed condo's sister tower, for potential salt content that could compromise the building.

Well, some people are now having to cope with a horrific new reality. They have lost loved ones and sometimes their entire families in the blink of an eye.

Randi Kaye spoke with a man who lost both his parents in the condo collapse.


JONATHAN EPSTEIN, LOST BOTH PARENTS IN BUILDING COLLAPSE: Even after 31 years, they were very much in love.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jonathan Epstein's parents were asleep on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South when the building suddenly collapsed. David and Bonnie Epstein lived in Apartment 901.

(On-camera): When did you last speak to your parents?

EPSTEIN: I had actually spoken with my mom about an hour before the building collapsed. We were both night owls. And just really casual kind of late-night text. I think I sent her something funny. That was about, yes, I think that was around like 12:10. And I think the building came down around 1:20.

I sent her a Paul McCartney song that I thought was cool. We bonded over music a lot. So it's just a really quick text.

KAYE: How did you find out what happened with the building?

EPSTEIN: I was about to fall asleep and I saw the CNN alert come across my phone that a building in north Miami had collapsed, and I immediately went to text my mom thinking, you know, there's a million buildings, how could it possibly be theirs, and a message on the iPhone went from blue to green meaning that it hadn't been received.

KAYE (voice-over): Back home in Brooklyn, Jonathan didn't sleep at all that night, then he saw the surveillance video of the collapse.

(On-camera): When you saw that, what was that like for you?

EPSTEIN: It was tough. It was unbelievable. I still -- I'm still struggling to understand this. And you know, I immediately tried to call over and over again. I started following everything on Twitter.

KAYE (voice-over): Desperate for answers, Jonathan called around to hospitals and filed missing persons reports. Like so many other families, he gave a DNA sample. Then last week, detectives knocked on his door.

EPSTEIN: Kind of strange right now, I'm struggling to keep track of the days, but I believe that detectives showed up at my apartment on Thursday or Friday to tell me that my mom had been recovered, her remains had been recovered. And then two days later, that my father had also been found.

KAYE: David Epstein was 58, his wife Bonnie was 56. They'd celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary just two months before the collapse. Together they were enjoying early retirement, spending their days scuba diving, kite surfing and jet skiing in the Florida sunshine. They had a dog too named Chance.

For the last decade and a half, his parents returned to the northeast for the summer in April or May. But not this year. They stayed longer because his father was treating a shoulder injury and their dog was sick. Jonathan is an only child.

(On-camera): How are you doing? And how are you coping?

EPSTEIN: I think denial is helping a little bit or just shock. I don't know how I'm feeling. This is so weird and surreal that it's breaking in slowly. And for the time being, I just want to live in my parents' memory, to live the way that I think they want me to live and to honor their lives. Make up for the time that they lost.

They were just the best. I -- I'm thinking, you know, I'm thinking of what I'm going to say at the funeral now. And I just want to emphasize they were so cool. People would -- you know, when I was younger, my friends would come over and I always felt like they were coming over to hang out with my parents because they were way cooler than I was. And I miss them so much.

KAYE (on-camera): As I noted, Jonathan is an only child but he tells me that he has a great group of friends that he's been able to lean on for support during this time. In fact some of them waited at the family reunification center on his behalf for word on his parents.

[04:50:02] But Jonathan said he will always remember his parents' warm spirit. He said they taught him to be kind to everyone and he hopes to carry that on in their memory.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Surfside, Florida.


BRUNHUBER: Tragic. We'll be right back.


BRUNHUBER: The Phoenix Suns are on the rise, plus Wimbledon's women's finals is set.

Patrick Snell has our "Minute in Sports."

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORTS: But we saw it right here in the United States on Thursday night's game two of basketball's NBA Finals as the Pheonix Suns completed back-to-back wins against Greek superstar Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee out jeweled by the Phoenix Suns led by Devon Booker scoring 31 and the 36-year-old star Chris Paul playing in his first final series in 16 seasons. Suns winning it 118-108. The series going back to Milwaukee next with game three on Sunday.

To England where on Thursday, Ash Barty, the top ranked women's player in the world booking her spot in her first Wimbledon Finals with a straight sets victory over former champion from Germany Angelique Kerber.


She'll face former world number one Karolina Pliskova also through to her first ever Wimbledon final after coming back from a set down to meet second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus who was playing in her first major semi.

It's going to be a busy sporting weekend, I'll tell you, with the Wimbledon Finals, the Euros Finals, the Copa America final and the NBA Finals. And with that, I'm going to send it right back to you.

BRUNHUBER: And in just a few hours from now, the men's semifinals get under way at Wimbledon. Heavy favorite Novak Djokovic is seeking his 20th grand slam title which would tie the record set by Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. Djokovic faces Canadian Denis Shapovalov who has never reached the finals of a major tournament. In the other semifinal, Matteo Berrettini will take on Hubert Hurkacz.

Well, every year some teenage brainiacs gather to puzzle out words specifically how to spell them. It's at the Scripps National Spelling Bee which has been challenging young minds for decades. Well, this year's contestants dealt with such words as ambystoma, nepeta and neroli. It boiled down to 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde from New Orleans and this word.





BRUNHUBER: And for the record, Murraya is a kind of tree. Zaila beat out more than 200 contestants from five countries. She gets a $50,000 cash prize, a trophy and plenty of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She truly is an amazing woman.

Well, that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.