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Growing Numbers of Athletes Have Tested Positive for COVID-19; Infrastructure Push on Rock Ground as Key Senate Test Vote Looms; Havana Syndrome Worsens, Hits U.S. Diplomats in Vienna. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy has today off.

Four days from the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games and there is a growing, though still small number of athletes testing positive for coronavirus. Four have tested positive among the 11,000 athletes from 200 countries expected to compete there but we should note, of course, not all of them have yet arrived in Japan. Some are getting positive COVID tests before they leave home. Among this group is U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff, says she's not going. In all, more than 61 COVID cases linked to the Tokyo games.

For the fifth consecutive day, the city of Tokyo as well reported more than 1,000 new infections, this just yesterday. Unlike in years' past, there will be no crowds cheering on the athletes. The city is under a state of emergency as well, until August 22nd, that after the games are over.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta is in Tokyo live with us this morning. We just got an update in numbers, Sanjay. So now, it is 61 cases linked to the Olympics. I should note, 33 are from residents of Japan, 28 from people connected to the Olympics, including athletes here.

Based on those numbers so far and the size of the overall group coming into Tokyo, is that a concerning percentage at this point?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is still seems like it is relatively rare, these type of infections. We don't know what percentage of those people you just listed there have been vaccinated or not. Vaccines are not mandatory here, Jim, as well.

One thing I will say, just as point of reference, in the United States, pretty much if you've been vaccinated, you're not getting tested unless you go to something like this. I had to get tested 96 hours, again, at 24 hours, I got tested again when I landed here. My point is we may see more infections, a higher breakthrough infection rate than we have previously known, but I don't know that that means people are going to be getting sick or seriously ill, which is obviously the big question.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So how concerned should we be about the effect on the games of the cases reported so far?

GUPTA: I think the majority of the effect will probably be more in terms of the impact of the quarantines and the isolation. So, the situation is this. Someone tests positive, let's say. They're surprised, right? I've been vaccinated and I feel fine, they test positive, they're now going to go into isolation. That's obviously going to take them out of the games.

What is the contact tracing like for them? How many members of the team may potentially go into quarantine as a result of that, or other people they've come in contact with? That is going to be the big impact, Jim.

It is a public health sort of thing, obviously trying to figure this all out, but also just the logistics of it. We talked to the people trying to put it all together and here is how they explained it to us.


GUPTA (voice over): Last year, these stadiums sat empty as Tokyo 2020 was officially postponed. Many people assume the games simply wouldn't happen.

BRIAN MCCLOSKEY, LEADING HEALTH ADVISER, OLYMPIC GAMES: He had no idea what was coming in terms of COVID.

GUPTA: Postponing the Olympics again was no longer an option due international sports schedule. So it was up to Dr. Brian McCloskey, Chair of an independent panel advising the International Olympic Committee on COVID-19 countermeasures to figure out how to hold the games in 2021.

Was it just going to be inevitable that the games would happen, you just have to figure out how to do it as safely as possible?

MCCLOSKEY: It was possible that it could be canceled completely and that was always part of our thinking, that we can only do this if we are satisfied that we could do it safely and securely.

GUPTA: While we have seen other sports make it through seasons or tournaments safely with little interruption, the Olympics bring a unique challenge. More than 11,000 athletes representing 206 different countries and states and territories will descend on an island nation that is currently fighting to keep the virus at bay.

What is the risk of doing an event like this in the middle of a pandemic to the citizens of Japan, citizens that live in that area?

[10:05:04] MCCLOSKEY: Since we first realize that coronavirus is going to be an issue for the games, we're trying to maximize the separation between the international visitors coming in and the athletes and team officials under local population.

GUPTA: This is why all spectators, both local and from abroad, have already been banned in Tokyo. And athletes movements will mostly be confined here to the Olympic Village.

Beyond that strategy, McCloskey said the rest comes down to the pillars of public health.

MCCLOSKEY: Social distancing, physical distancing, wearing your mask and hand hygiene, they are always the fundamental core of what we knew would reduce the risk of COVID during the games. And then we started to layer on top of that the testing strategy that we might have.

GUPTA: But that has not stopped the concern from both locals and other health experts, like epidemiologist Michael Osterholm.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: One of the things that has been a concern is that they really planned this Olympics around the concept of hygiene theater.

GUPTA: To him, the organizers are missing a fundamental point.

OSTERHOLM: Originally, the plans were set up counting on this being largely a respiratory droplet, i.e., it falls within three to six feet of the individual who might be infected, when, in fact, as we know now, the primary means for transmission is actually through airborne transmission, aerosols, things that float in the air, like cigarette smoke.

GUPTA: So he thinks things like plexiglass completely missed the mark but masks are even more important. Right now, the IOC playbook states that a face mask must be worn at all times except when training, competing, eating, drinking, sleeping or during interviews. But there is no specification for what type of mask should be worn.

OSTERHOLM: We already know the limit of protection that cloth mask play versus N-95s. They've provided no clear directions. They should be recommending the N-95 respirators.

GUPTA: Vaccines are also another crucial tool against COVID, but they are not required. Why? Well, requiring them could create an uneven playing field.

MCCLOSKEY: We were fairly confident that we would have a vaccine by now but we also knew if we had one, it wouldn't be equally available around the world, it wouldn't necessarily be in good supply.

GUTPA: Still, the IOC estimates more than 80 percent of residents of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated. But that is still not cleared the metaphorical cloud continuing to hang over the city as the world waits to see how this global event will fair in the face of a pandemic. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (on camera): (INAUDIBLE) about 12 percent of Japanese citizens fully vaccinated, so lower vaccination rates than you see on the side of the screen, the United States, for example, closer to 50 percent. And that is been a level of concern here. I mean, people (INAUDIBLE) about the Olympics, as you might imagine, Jim, but they did these polls and 80 percent of people polled here in Japan said that they would have preferred that the Olympics not happen here because of what is happening with the pandemic.

SCIUTTO: So, you bring up the U.S., right, and, yes, the U.S. does have a higher vaccination rate, that's key, but we are seeing outbreaks particularly in low vaccination areas. Tell us about the relevance of what you're going to be watching in Tokyo in terms of the delta variant as perhaps a test case, right, for how it might spread here.

GUPTA: That is a really -- it's a really good point, Jim. So I think there is a couple of things that are going to be put to the test. We know the vaccines are very protective even against the delta variant in terms of preventing people from getting hospitalized and dying. I think there are going to be two questions. What about more mild illness? Are people getting not sick enough to go to the hospital but still getting symptoms that are significant after vaccination because they are exposed to the delta variant? That's a possibility.

And also, just recently, new data shows that if you have (INAUDIBLE) an infection as opposed to -- compared to the original event, you may have a thousand times the viral load in your body.

Now, again, people aren't getting really, really sick but will that make them more contagious, will we see more transmission events? Those are going to be questions that people are going to try and answer here.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, it's so good to have you there. We know you'll be watching closely. Thanks very much.

Well, Dr. Fauci, he is going to join CNN live next hour to weigh in with his answers and concerns for athletes ahead of the Olympics, as well as the effect of the delta variant here in the U.S. Please do stay tuned.

And next hour, President Biden is set to speak on the growing economy and the importance of reaching a deal finally on infrastructure. Still a lot of work to be done, it may sound familiar to you. In Congress, ahead of a key procedural vote deadline set for Wednesday.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju on Capitol Hill this morning.

Manu, you've been covering this for a while.

[10:10:00] Is a deal going to happen? I mean, we've been talking about it for a thousand years, seems like they have the 60 votes and the ten Republicans, is that still a reality?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know yet, because those negotiations have happened all throughout the weekend. Remember what they initially agreed on. It was a bare bones outline. The president came out of the White House, then a bipartisan group of senators rallied behind it. That was not the details that we need for legislation to actually pass Congress. They've been negotiating the detailed legislative text for weeks and they still don't have a deal about how to pay for this package. Those negotiations happened all throughout the week.

This proposal, about $1.2 billion over eight years, about $600 billion roughly in new spending over the next five years. What they're trying to do is finance that package, that roughly $600 billion fully paid for, things that would not raise taxes because Republicans say that is off the table, things that would not raise fees, like increasing the gas tax, which Democrats don't want.

But there are other things that they've struggled to come to an agreement on. One of those was increased IRS enforcement. Democrats have pushed that. There had been conservative revolt over that. That has been dropped. So, as a result, they've been trying to figure out alternative ways to pay for that package.

But, Jim, that is just one of two tracks to get Joe Biden's agenda through. There is also the larger, $3.5 trillion proposal that would expand the social safety net that is central to Joe Biden's agenda. What Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, wants is an agreement from all 50 Democrats by Wednesday that they would agreed to move forward with that process.

That agreement still is not there yet because a number of moderates are still concerned about the details and they want more details about that. So this all sets up a critical few days here, do they get 60 votes to advance the bipartisan deal and can they get all 50 Democrats on board. Not yet there. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, thank you very much.

I'm pleased to be joined now by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Senator Cardin serves as chairman of the Small Business Committee and the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, certainly involved in these negotiations. Senator, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Jim, it is good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So, we got a date on Wednesday, a vote will be a test of GOP support for this. If this Wednesday deadline passes, is it time for Democrats and the president to move on to reconciliation?

CARDIN: Well, Jim, first, it was a very busy weekend. There were a lot of conversations taking place about many of the moving pieces in both of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and as well as reconciliation budget agreement. And I think progress is being made.

We'll be patient, but understand, the clock is ticking. There is only a certain number of days that remain even after an agreement is completely agreed to on the bipartisan package, it's going to take time on the Senate floor.

So we have to see the bill shortly. I don't know whether Wednesday is in stone. But I can tell you this, we don't have that much more time remaining.

SCIUTTO: You tried it seems like a thousand different ways to pay for it. It started with raising corporate taxes, taking back some of the cuts that happened in 2017, that went off the table. There was talk of gas tax, that went off the table. There was talk even of giving the IRS just more money to chase down tax cheats and get -- be able to collect existing taxes now, Republicans saying they don't want that.

So what -- I mean, what is still on the table to pay for this?

CARDIN: Well, as the bipartisan outline originally pointed out, we do have some unencumbered funds that can be reprogrammed. There is an issue --

SCIUTTO: But not enough.

CARDIN: -- of the growth --

SCIUTTO: Not enough for the price tag.

CARDIN: No, not enough. No, it is going to be a combination of different things. Look, that is probably the most difficult challenge we'll be dealing with the offsets. And, quite frankly, there is a lot of uncollected taxes that are out there. We had a hearing in our Senate Finance Committee that the annual shortfall is close to a trillion dollars a year.

So I think we are missing a point by looking at the IRS and not giving them the tools they need to fully collect the current tax liabilities.

SCIUTTO: Do you understand why Republicans, even some of the moderate ones who were on board for the bipartisan deal, don't want to give the IRS more resources to go after uncollected taxes?

CARDIN: For the life of me, I really can't figure that one out. I know Senator Portman well, the two of us have worked on IRS reform together. We both know that if the IRS had the tools that they needed, that they could collect a lot more taxes, particularly from those who are using tax gimmicks to avoid their true tax liability.

So I think it is unfortunate. I think this is an avenue that if it is not in the bipartisan package, it will be in budget reconciliation.

SCIUTTO: With some, you know, frustration, admission of some frustration, I have read and asked questions for weeks, months now about the clock is ticking and about negotiations are going on, we're making progress, but we haven't gotten there. [10:15:02]

So I just want to ask the question again, and I know you want to hold out hope for a bipartisan agreement at this vote on Wednesday. But if that yet one more marker day passes, are you and your colleagues ready to say, okay, we tried, we got to do this alone? Go it alone, do it through reconciliation, you only need 50 votes plus one?

CARDIN: We got to get this package done. There really -- it must move forward. We are still very hopeful that it will first start with a bipartisan infrastructure vote. We think we can get there. We think that helps us in getting the budget reconciliation bill done. So we're going to move on both tracks. But at end of the day, we have to pass the infrastructure bill.

SCIUTTO: Okay. And just time-wise, do you know beyond this week?

CARDIN: Well, I think we have this work period which takes us through the first week in August. As I said, it is going to take time on the Senate floor even after an agreement is reached. So I don't think Wednesday is a magic day that we can't go beyond. I think Senator Schumer recognized if we don't have deadlines, we're not going to get things done.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Okay, we'll see what the final one is. Senator Ben Cardin, always good to have you on the program.

CARDIN: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, be sure to watch President Biden. He's going to join Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall, airs live Wednesday, 8:00 P.M. Eastern only on CNN.

We have breaking news to the Dow Jones Industrial Average watching down sharply this morning, close to 800 points. CNN Business Lead Writer Matt Egan joins me now.

Matt, it looks like this is focused on the delta variant, right, concerns that perhaps the reopening won't now happen as broadly and quickly as hoped.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Yes, Jim, that is exactly right. COVID fears are definitely back on Wall Street, as you can see, the Dow down nearly 800 points, more than 2 percent. And what we've seen is that investors are getting out of some of those stocks that have done so well because of the reopening.

So we've seen airline stocks, JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta all down sharply, Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean, they are tumbling. And while investors are getting out of risky stocks, they're putting money in ultra safe government bonds. That has sent treasury yields down to levels that we haven't seen since earlier this year, another sign of real nervousness.

Now, Jim, we have to remember that markets are up big. They're still up big this year. They're up massively from last year. And that is because of all of this optimism about the economy. In some ways, though, markets have been priced for perfection and the concern is that this delta variant, which has been described as COVID on steroids, is going to slow down that recovery.

I don't think there is any fears of another recession or anything like that, but it may not be -- the economy may not be as strong as people had hoped.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, though, because on the flipside, they have been concerned about rising inflation and, therefore, interest rates, but if bond prices are going up, yields are going down, that portends a lower interest rate future, does it not?

EGAN: Yes, that is right. There is a bit of a disconnect because even though inflation fears have been on the rise, we haven't really seen that play out all that much in the treasury market. And to your point though, to whatever except that the delta variant actually slows down the recovery, that would actually ease those inflation concerns.

SCIUTTO: There you go, always good to have explain it. Matt Egan, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch the market closely, of course, this morning.

Still to come this hour, the mysterious health attacks targeting American diplomats overseas, perhaps even here in the U.S. seems to be getting worse. It is called the Havana syndrome. It struck again. We have new CNN reporting coming up.

Plus, escalating violence and a worsening human rights situation in Belarus. Now, the opposition leader has been forced to leave her country in exile leaving behind her husband who is in prison. She will join me to talk about the threat to her, her husband and what the country is asking from the Biden administration.



SCIUTTO: Developing and, frankly, concerning news out of Vienna, Austria, today. CNN has learned that nearly two dozen U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers and other government personnel have now reported symptoms of mysterious health incidents, these incidents similar to what we know as Havana syndrome.

CNN's Kylie Atwood here with more. I mean, this is a remarkable number of people, right, and in a place where you and I were just talking considered relatively safe from this kind of thing, Vienna.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, right. And so you talk to U.S. diplomats who are just hearing about these reported potential incidents through the press and they're concerned about where they can safely serve.

So this new news demonstrates that these alleged attacks weren't just happening in one concentrated group in Havana, Cuba, but there is also now this other group of U.S. diplomats, intelligence officials and other government -- U.S. government officials in Vienna who have also apparently been attacked.

Now, they're experiencing symptoms similar to those who were -- came under this Havana attack. And I just want to remind those folks what those are. We don't know what is causing this but these are folks coming down with extreme nausea.


They have vertigo suddenly after never having vertigo their whole life. They have some trouble remembering things. And some of the folks that I've talked to experienced traumatic brain injury. So this is serious.

And the point here with these new cases, about two dozen as we said, is that the Biden administration has said this is front and center for them. But this demonstrates that this isn't something that's in the rearview mirror, this is ongoing and it is a really tremendous effort.

I want to read just what the state department spokesperson said about this, quote, in coordination with partners across the U.S. government, we're vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incident among the U.S. embassy Vienna, community or wherever they are reported.

So they're doubling down, saying they're looking into this but there is still a lot more questions than there are answers about what the heck is going on here and who is doing this.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and other places. I mean, even questions about one perhaps on U.S. soil too.

ATWOOD: Right.

SCIUTTO: It's -- well, I feel for these people because the symptoms are horrible. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much for staying on top of it.

Ahead, there is escalating violence in Belarus. The leader of the opposition is in Washington now asking the Biden administration for help after she had to flee her country even though she won the presidential election. She joins me live on set, next.