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England Lifts Lockdown Restrictions as New Cases Surge; COVID Cases Rise in Japan with Olympics Just Days Away; At Least 189 People Killed in Germany and Belgium; Catholic Shrine Opens Doors to Victims of Flooding; Brazil Struggles to Root Out Illegal Mining in Amazon; U.S. Diplomats in Austria Reporting Signs of Mystery Illness. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 00:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. Appreciate your company, I'm Michael Holmes.


Coming up on the program, urging caution. England lifts all restrictions on social contact as daily COVID cases rise and all while the prime minister is in self-isolation.

With four days to go until the Olympic Games, several athletes isolating, while others pull out.

And seeing the destruction firsthand. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, pledges support for flood-ravaged residents, saying more must be done to battle climate change.

England is starting a very risky experiment today. It's just lifted nearly every remaining social distancing restriction, despite the fact that COVID cases are spiking yet again.

Now, that means that mask-wearing mandates are over, and shops, restaurants and sports venues can open at full capacity.

Now, there are a few exceptions. London's mayor says face coverings will still be required on public transport, but by and large, life could start to look a lot it like it did before the pandemic.

Now, this is all happening, though, with infections surging in the U.K., about 50,000 new cases a day. Still, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he's convinced vaccines stop enough serious disease to take a risk.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We don't do it now, we've got to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it. So this is the right moment, but we've got to do it cautiously. We've got to remember that this virus is, sadly, still out there. Cases are rising. You can see the extreme contagiousness of the -- of the Delta variant.


HOLMES: Now, critics say lifting lockdown restrictions right now is too dangerous a gamble and that the ripple effects could spread well beyond the U.K.

CNN's Phil Black reports.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.K.'s prime minister has long promised a vaccine-fueled irreversible journey to an inevitable destination.

JOHNSON: We're now traveling on a one-way road to freedom.

BLACK: Newspapers enthusiastically gave that journey's end an obvious name: Freedom Day. Now, it's here, but it doesn't feel very free.

JOHNSON: This pandemic is not over. This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family.

BLACK: The Delta variant changed everything. After months of steeply declining cases, this highly-transmissible mutation is now swamping the U.K. with an accelerating wave of infections. The government is lifting restrictions anyway.

DR. CHRIS WHITTY, ENGLAND'S CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: There is quite a strong view that -- that, by many people, including myself, actually, that going in the summer has some advantages.

BLACK: Advantages like reduced seasonal pressure on hospitals, and with schools out, reduced spread among students. But the plan has many expert critics, who use words like "reckless" and "unethical."

DR. DEEPTI GURDASANI, CLINICAL EPIDEMIOLOGIST, QUEEN MARY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: All the models show that there will be millions of cases over the summer, and that there will be 1,000 to 2,000 daily hospitalizations over the summer.

BLACK: The government is also aware of another ominous warning, from its own scientific advisers that points to the possibility of dire consequences for the whole world.

The combination of high prevalence and high levels of vaccination, creates the conditions in which an immune escape variant is most likely to emerge. The likelihood that it's happening is unknown. They're talking about a variant that's better at beating back vaccines.

RAVI GUPTA, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE: Considering high levels of infection are only going to drive further mutation of the virus and potential further problems down the line, in other words, even less vaccine efficacy against mutated aversions of the virus. We know that there's a significant risk of this happening from what we've seen in the last six months. BLACK: The government hopes most people will follow its new message.

Yes, the rules are going away, but please, do not change your behavior. One of its own advisers on behavioral science says that's messy and inconsistent.

SUSAN MICHIE, DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR BEHAVIOUR CHANGE, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON: This kind of mixed messaging is really damaging. We've had it previously in the pandemic. And people want clear guidance. They want leadership. And they want clear, concise, and coherent messages.


BLACK: This is an unprecedented experiment, a desperate bid for freedom. Its success or failure will be measured in lives and suffering.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Now, complicating matters further, the British health secretary has tested positive for the virus and so now, both the prime minister, and chancellor of the exchequer are in isolation after coming in contact with it.

Originally, Downing Street said they would not isolate but take part in a daily contact-tracing pilot program. But then there was a huge public backlash and a change of plan.

Now, amid what some newspapers are calling chaos at Downing Street. The prime minister says everyone should stick to the same rules, after being exposed to the virus.

For more on all of this, I'm joined by Dominic Thomas, CNN European affairs commentator.

Good to see you, Dominic. When we look at this decision to lift the restrictions for England, there's this irony of the prime minister having to spend so-called Freedom Day in isolation because of that contact. I mean, it speaks to the leadership issues and mixed messaging. Enough for the first time.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATORS: It's not, Michael. You're absolutely right. Throughout this process, it's as if the government has had rules and regulations in place, but those rules and regulations have been there for other people.

We saw this during travel lockdown measures, and now we see it with this sort of two-track mechanism that Boris Johnson was trying to invoke. And of course, the last thing you want, beyond, you know, the much required, and much needed consistency and trust, in order to get the British people to follow the rules and regulations and to continue to be cautious, it's consistency.

And they should not be backtracking and should not be making U-turns at this particular moment. What's interesting, of course, is that the political cost to him of these U-terms has not been that great.

But as everybody pointed out, in the lead-up to our discussion here, part of this is really mitigated by the relative success of the vaccine rollout. That invariably, you can't help but think that the high expectations of the British people will, once again, be dashed once the reality of them -- of the COVID spread sets in again.

HOLMES: Yes. I mean, just the imagery of getting VIP treatment that others weren't getting.

I mean, there are, clearly, risks that are political, in terms of managing lockdown fatigue, mixing with the health priorities, with the Delta variant surging. I mean, it is a risky move. Some would call it reckless. I mean, you say there's not much of a political cost. Could there be, though? Why isn't there?

THOMAS: Well, I think that there can be, and this is why we see this tremendous concern, you know, internationally. You know, what we've learned over the past 18 months, is that one goes with what you know. Which is social distancing measures. You know, mask-wearing, restricting contact, restricting circulation, and so on.

And the last thing you want, and this is something that Boris Johnson played around with, you know, initially, with the whole question of herd immunity is going down this sort of uncharted path, into this sort of new ground and territory.

And this, of course, is going to be a tremendous concern. One just has to look at the evidence. I mean, the numbers are out of control. The new NHS app has pinged over the 500,000 people, just in the past 10 days. We've gone all the way back to COVID numbers that were in the U.K. back in January.

And as you pointed out, the newly-appointed health secretary has COVID, and now the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer find themselves going into quarantine. And that alone, all the other hundreds of thousands of other people that have been exposed to this virus because of the relaxed conditions in the U.K. at the moment.

HOLMES: The U.K. has gotten it wrong on strategy before, multiple times, in fact, throughout this pandemic. And this could go outside England's borders, too, if it does lead to super-spreader situations, which brings me to, you had more than 100,000 people marching in France this weekend, pushing back on the crackdown there. What are the political calculations, then, for other European governments?

THOMAS: Yes. Well, it's a really, you know, great point, and I think it's also important to come back on what you just mentioned, which is that this is Freedom Day for England. Right? That even Scotland, Wales, and northern Ireland are going down a different path. They're being more cautious.

But when it comes to the European Union, the European Union has been in conversations and have been implementing measures for the past few weeks. They have to do with health passes that are primarily focused on movement of people across European borders, travel, tourism, visits, and so on; that many nation states -- France, Greece, Italy, for example -- are also now exploring with domestic, with internal issues and policies that are going to require certain categories of workers to be vaccinated and certain individuals and groups to be able to demonstrate that they've either been vaccinated, or that they've had recent negative PCR tests in order to access certain forms of transportation, leisure, entertainment sites.


So, we find here authorities, and what we saw in France, and of course, in France, with the elections coming up in spring of next year, these issues and questions have been politicized. That you have the governments trying to balance not just business with health concerns but business, health concerns, and individual rights.

And this is also proving to be highly divisive. Ultimately, the authorities are going down the road of saying that the vaccines are working. They're protecting certain categories of people, and it is our responsibility to protect those individuals against those that are refusing to follow health protocols or refusing to be vaccinated.

And I think that that's a compelling argument that, nevertheless, one which will continue to prove divisive and will be instrumentalized by different political parties.

HOLMES: Yes. Indeed. Dominic, thanks. Dominic Thomas, appreciate it.

Well, the Delta variant isn't just driving up new infection numbers in the U.K. Europe and the Americas also watching case counts climb. You can see all that red on the map there.

Last week, the WHO said global COVID deaths have gone back up after declining for nine consecutive weeks.

Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. He joins me now from La Jolla in California.

Good to see you again, Doctor. I just want to start with this situation in England. I mean, the U.K. government, as we're just discussing, has gotten it wrong before on strategy. This dropping of precautions is an experiment. We sort of see what happens.

There are some who suggested as even reckless, or dangerous. What's your view?

ERIC TOPOL, CARDIOLOGIST AND PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR MEDICINE, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Well, first, it's good to be with you, Michael. As far as what's going on in the U.K., I mean, I think it is important to underscore, there's some 30 million people there that are still either without vaccination or only partially vaccinated.

And so there are a potential danger for this Delta variant, which is such a super-spreader variant. So, you know, I think what we saw in the Netherlands, in the past week, when they reopened, and with the Delta variant, I hope that doesn't replicate in the U.K. because that would be a very unfortunate situation to see so much spread. Even though, Michael, as we well know, it's much less tied to deaths and hospitalizations. There still are a lot of cases, long COVID, and also some hospitalizations and deaths. So nothing that we'd want to see.

HOLMES: Yes. Exactly. And you and I have discussed long COVID before.

In the U.S., when you look at some areas like L.A. County reinstituting mask mandates as cases there rise again, do you think doing away with those sorts of precautions was premature? Particularly because there are still so many unvaccinated people?

TOPOL: Absolutely. I think L.A. County was wise, with a marked case increase now. In spite of being above the average in the United States for vaccination, which is still not as good as the U.K., Israel, and some other countries.

So the problem here is that we are now appreciating, finally, how big an issue the Delta variant is. How fast it can spread the exponential rise. So masks should be used widely, among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

You know, this is something that is a protection that will aid. It can't hurt. And so, you know, unfortunately, we have states that are refusing, that are outlawing mask mandates. Can you believe that?

So this is the problem, is we know what would help, but we have a lot of resistance and we have, unfortunately, like around the world, this pandemic fatigue.

HOLMES: Yes. When 99 percent of deaths are unvaccinated people, you really think that message would get through.

I did want to touch on something else. We did a segment on the program yesterday on how Africa is facing a dire threat because of a lack of vaccines on offer.

I know your concern is that the Delta variant rages on. It is really becoming a tale of two pandemics: the heavily-vaccinated western world reopening, while deaths across Africa and Asia are soaring to new highs.

TOPOL: Absolutely. What's going on, in particularly southern Africa, but throughout the whole continent, is just dreadful. Again, we invoke the Delta variant there and is spreading, you know, so quickly.

And without the hospital resources, without the vaccinations, without the international U.S. support, this is going, really, unmitigated, and it's just going to get worse.


HOLMES: It really is. It is atrocious when, I mean, there are some estimates saying that the wealthy nations will have an excess of two billion doses of vaccine. Africa can't get any.

We'll leave it there, unfortunately. Dr. Eric Topol, always good to see you. Thanks so much. TOPOL: Same here. Thanks, Michael.

HOLMES: With just days to go until the opening ceremonies, the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the 2020 Olympic Games is now up to 58, and that includes American tennis hopeful, Coco Gauff, who announced on Sunday that she was pulling out of the competition.

Coronavirus cases rising in Japan. And that is raising fears the games, which start this Friday, could turn into a super-spreader event and a global one at that.

CNN's Blake Essig joins me now, live from Tokyo. Blake, the games just a few days away, the COVID case numbers just keep going up.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael. Just last week, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said that the risk of COVID-19 spreading because of the Olympics is zero.

But a growing number of cases are increasingly testing Olympic organizers, assurances that they'll be able to keep the games safe and secure.

So far, as you mentioned, 58 people involved with the games have tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan, with the first cases being reported over the weekend from inside the Olympic Village. That included two players and a video analyst from South Africa's football team.

Now, there's also a growing list of athletes and Olympic-related personnel who had been forced into isolation after being considered close contacts with people who tested positive.

The most recent include six athletes and two staff member from the British Olympic team who came into contact with someone who tested positive on their flight into Japan.

Positive -- positive cases have come from athletes, coaches, contractors, delegation members from various countries. It's important to remember, even though the Olympic organizers estimate 80 percent of people living inside the Olympic Village will be vaccinated, and only about 20 percent of Japan's population has been fully vaccinated. And that means that a lot of the people living here will be vulnerable.

If these Olympic games do turn into a super-spreader event. There's no question that these are difficult times in Tokyo. Cases related to the Olympics are piling up daily. And generally speaking, continue to surge among the Japanese people here in the capital.

Daily cases have exceeded the 1,000 mark for five straight days, and Sunday reached its highest daily total in six months. And Michael, the increase in cases across the board continues to negatively impact the results for these games.

HOLMES: And really quick, before we let you go, we've heard a lot about opposition to the games in Tokyo, but you've been in Fukushima for a few days. What are people outside of Tokyo saying about the Olympics?

ESSIG: You know, spending time in Fukushima, having the chance to talk to people who live there, who on the front end, were really excited about the opportunity, hosting several events in the prefecture to highlight, you know, part of area's recovered. There's still a long way to go and some of those areas that were impacted by the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster back in March of 2011.

But, you know, these people that were living there were very excited about the opportunity to have people come in to show off what Fukushima stands for and represents ten years after disaster.

So there's a lot of disappointment. You know, again, they're excited that the event is being held there, but recognize that, given the current circumstances, that it's just not realistic.

But, you know, more than anything, Michael, it's the economic impact. They were really looking forward to having people come in to help increase that economic impact, a boon for the economy. It's just not going to happen.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes, indeed. That's a fascinating aspect of this.

Blake, good to see you. Blake Essig in Tokyo. Appreciate it.

Quick break. When we come back, Angela Merkel says she almost doesn't have words to describe it. What Germany's chancellor is saying about all that damage after visiting one of her country's worst-hit flood zones.

And in the skies above the Amazon rain forest, the Brazilian military is trying and struggling to root out illegal gold mining. Still to come, the fight to protect the vital land and the people who live there. We'll be right back.




ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I have come here today, especially to Schuld, together with the state premier, in order to make clear that we from the government want to have a proper assessment of this. I have to say that this is a real situation. It is horrendous. The German language doesn't really have words for this devastation.


HOLMES: German chancellor Angela Merkel, they are speaking after touring one of her country's worst-hit flood zones. The disaster killed at least 189 people from Germany and Belgium. The floodwaters also impacting Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Ms. Merkel is promising rapid aid and says Germany must accelerate the fight against climate change.

So far, Germany accounts for most of those killed in the floods. Lives and livelihoods swept away in an instant. But in the wake of the disaster, communities are banding together to help their neighbors.

CNN's Sam Kiley reports from North Rhine-Westphalia.


SAM KILEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A business ruined. Slung away almost as quickly as it was washed away.

Flash flooding engulfed Tui's Vietnamese restaurant, Pho '68. Her father filmed the rising waters in Euskirchen. It's one of the many towns engulfed by floods that have killed at least 158 people across western Germany.

TUI, OWNER, PHO '68 RESTAURANT: A lot of friends, they have restaurants, houses, and they're completely destroyed. I have a lot of friends there and which are near the water, and their houses are not standing.

KILEY: Tui's restaurant had only been open two weeks, since the most recent COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Now, she's dependent on friends and former diners to help clean up. The violence of the flood is visible everywhere.

(on camera): The disaster that engulfed this town was not the result of a swollen river bursting its banks, it was the result of flash flooding of a massive amount of rainfall coming in an incredibly short period of time and created torrents that swept through these streets, often this high.

(voice-over): Swollen rivers drained the floods, eventually. But looming over the area has been the future of the Steinbachtal Dam. Parts of it collapsed. And several villages below evacuated.

Engineers were rushed in to bring its levels down before it burst. Scenes like this and much worse are being repeated across western Germany and in neighboring Belgium. Unseasonal rainfall has also hit the Netherlands and Austria and the Czech Republic.

While many are grieving, there is an energetic sense of community, as cleaning up starts.

STEFAN, LOCAL VOLUNTEER: I don't know from who -- where the generators come from, where all the pumps come from. I don't know the people around here, but everybody is helping each other.

KILEY: The costs of this disaster are almost incalculable. But there will be a reckoning when the history of what happened here comes to be written amid the climate change crisis. It's likely to say this was a warning.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Euskirchen.


HOLMES: Now, in neighboring Belgium, the death toll has reached 31, and the national crisis center says 163 people are still missing. Officials say impacted areas are, quote, "out of imminent danger."


And now the focus is on search and cleanup operations. Now, in this moment of crisis, people in Belgium, too, are coming together and lending each other a helping hand.

Al Goodman has more from one Catholic shrine that has been turned into a shelter.


AL GOODMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lunchtime at a Roman Catholic shrine in Belgium. The diners in need of a miracle, forced out of their homes by the devastating floods in eastern Belgium.

The shrine of Our Lady of Banneux dates to the 1930s and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year. But it's the first time since World War II that they're helping people of other faiths.

(on camera): The shrine opening its doors to victims of the flooding is an example of what's been happening in western Europe. People here seem to realize the magnitude of the disaster and are responding in kind.

(voice-over): The vicar says they've provided food and lodging for 130 people since the floods began. Eighty more are expected this week from various faiths. He says the Virgin Mary will be pleased.

LEO PALM, RECTOR, SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF BANNEUX: She says, Well, I have a new kind of servant to welcome. I'm not sure that they will pray a lot. But they are really welcome here in this place.

GOODMAN: This man says he's grateful for the help his family is home right next to the river. He was most worried about the kids.

MARC CREME, FLOOD VICTIM (through translator): The basement is two meters tall, and it rose one meter in the room above that. We were above in the bedrooms. It was all around us.

GOODMAN: The damage left little doubt about the scale of the danger. The response from the shrine: an article of faith. As Belgium prepares for a national day of mourning on Tuesday.

Al Goodman, CNN, Banneux, Belgium.


HOLMES: Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, one of the most important rituals in Islam is scaled back for a second straight year because of COVID. We'll have a look at changes for this year's harsh pilgrimage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now, tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims gathered in Mecca this weekend for the second Hajj of the pandemic era. Only 60,000 Saudi residents are allowed to take part in this year's pilgrimage, and they must be vaccinated against COVID-19.


Now, before the pandemic, more than two million Muslims from around the world attended each year. The annual pilgrimage is one of Islam's most important traditions. It concludes with the Eid al-Adha celebrations which start on Tuesday.

And for more on how countries are handling pandemic precautions during the holiday, I'm joined by CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And, a lot of concern, Kristie, about Indonesia and how it's becoming the region's new COVID epicenter.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Indonesia is battling a surge of COVID-19 infection, and it looks like the peak is likely yet to come, with Eid Al-Adha celebrations beginning this week.

For weeks now, Indonesia, the fourth most populous country has been reporting thousands of new daily coronavirus cases. Hundreds of new deaths every day as it struggles with this highly-contagious Delta variant, and it is now reporting a record number of doctors in Indonesia are dying of the virus.

In the first two weeks of July, 114 Indonesia -- Indonesian doctors have died from COVID-19. This despite the fact that 95 percent of healthcare workers in Indonesia have been inoculated. This has prompted officials in the country to announce that they plan to use the Moderna vaccine as a booster shot to China's Sinovac vaccine.

Look, this is a health crisis in Indonesia. Indonesia has replaced India as the epicenter of the pandemic here in Asia, and families across Indonesia are suffering. Take a listen to this from Dino Satria of Save the Children in Indonesia.


DINO SATRIA, SAVE THE CHILDREN INDONESIA: We are very hopeful when the health system is on the verge of collapse. And also, the government is putting more -- more restrictions right now. But of course, it helps with trying to control the infection. But also pushes more families and children into poverty.

I'm worrying that this is -- We're not seeing the peak yet. So -- so it's going to take longer, and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will take longer than anyone can anticipate. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: There are fears that this week's Eid Al-Adha celebrations will spark another explosion of cases of the coronavirus in Indonesia. And right now, officials are still weighing whether or not to extend pandemic restrictions.

Pandemic restrictions are in place, including work-from-home orders, and the closure of shopping malls that those curbs are set to expire tomorrow. And that is when Eid Al-Adha begins.

Back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong, appreciate it. Thanks.

Now, Brazil's president is out of the hospital after being treated for an intestinal obstruction. Jair Bolsonaro had been in the hospital in Sao Palo since Wednesday, for complications he says related to a 2018 stabbing.

The president had complained of chronic hiccups and abdominal pain before they brought him in but did not require surgery.

Now, Mr. Bolsonaro is under growing pressure from indigenous people to do more about illegal gold mining. Members of one tribe in the Amazon say the president's pro-development stance, saying anti-indigenous rhetoric has turned the rainforest into a battleground.

Isa Soares with our exclusive interview.


ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under the cover of the dense Amazonian jungle, the Yanomami indigenous tribe in Brazil step up for battle.

But theirs is as much a rallying cry as it is a cry for help. The approximately 27,000 Yanomami is under attack by an elusive but old enemy, wildcat miners with a thirst for gold and a hand for destruction.

With only bows and spears as their defense, they need to protect the river banks, and their villages from boats like this one. Illegal gold miners exploiting and destroying the rivers and land, and in doing so, intimidating and firing at the Yanomami.

In May of this year, a half-hour shootout between the miners and the Yanomami was caught on camera. Women and children are seen desperately running for cover as a speedboat of gold miners fires as it passes.

With the violence on the rise, the federal police and the army have been sent in to investigate these deadly clashes that have left four dead, including two indigenous children.

Fernando, one of the Yanomami's community leaders, has been telling us what they've been doing for months now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The problem is the miners who pass here at night. There are always a lot of them.

SOARES: The entire community has been put to work, converting paddles into weapons, bamboo into spears.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is a spear. This one pierces quickly. You will die fast. It goes through everything. This one, made from bamboo, has venom, lots of venom.

SOARES: They say they've had no choice but to step up these last few years, under a populist president who promises space to develop, some would say, exploit the rainforest for his resources. Naturally, they're furious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Bolsonaro, you are ignorant! You let these people walk into our land and threaten the Yanomami! These people have come and killed us. We want you to remove them quickly.

SOARES: With 30 percent of the land in the hands of illegal gold miners, their plea is clear and loud. Get the miners out.

All they ever wanted, they say, is to protect the children and their already vulnerable way of life. Their very existence as the guardians of the Amazon.

From above, the challenge is made clear. The Yanomami reserve and its 24 million acres of it sits deep in the dense Amazonian jungle. Finding miners, an estimated 20,000 of them here, becomes a game of cat and mouse.

This boat knows what's circling above, and speeds away from the authorities. But the police persist and follow the trail back to the station. They spot an opening.


GRAPHIC: Federal police. Federal police. Come here!

SOARES: This is as much about catching criminals as it is understanding how they work, who pays them, and funds the devastation.


GRAPHIC: Where is the gun?


GRAPHIC: I don't have one.


GRAPHIC: It seems he only brought the ammunition.


GRAPHIC: I don't touch other people's bags.

SORES: The women, often used as cooks, pay for their journey in gold in advance, but the gold rush is not what they imagined, and they struggle to pay it back.


GRAPHIC: How did you come?


GRAPHIC: By canoe, I paid 4 grams.


GRAPHIC: What's a gram worth here?


GRAPHIC: Two hundred forty (47 USD).

SOARES: Miners, too, become disillusioned, as that dream of striking it rich fails to materialize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I've been here for three months. I came here, because they told us it was good. It would be good. But until now, we haven't seen any gains.

SOARES: Yet the destruction is clear for all to see. Their very presence of razing the pine forest, their thirst for gold contaminating rivers with mud and mercury.

The police go deeper and find several wooden barges full of heavy machinery to search for gold.


GRAPHIC: You see the diving suit? One of them stays below the water, pushing the sand inside the hose.

SOARES: The police know this is a losing battle. There's too many miners, and the area is too vast to patrol. So all they can do is slow them down by destroying their equipment.

This isn't a solution the Yanomami have been pleading for, but until President Bolsonaro changes his environmental policies. The Yanomami tribes will continue to fall on deaf ears. And this burden of riches, the lungs of the world risks falling with it.

Isa Soares, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Now in response to CNN's reporting, the Brazilian government says it is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

It also says the alleged violations by illegal miners in the Yanomami indigenous land are being investigated by federal authorities in multiple operations. We'll see what, if anything, comes of those investigations.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back from CNN NEWSROOM, U.S. diplomats in Vienna reporting disturbing health incidents that have alarming similarities to mystery illness first seen in Cuba. We'll have the latest when we come back.



HOLMES: Well, we first saw it in Cuba five years ago, while now authorities in Austria are investigating alarming health incidents in about two dozen U.S. personnel.

Sources say some of these people had been flown out of Vienna to receive medical assistance in the U.S. CNN's Nic Robertson with more.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: So, symptoms are sounding very much like the Havana syndrome symptoms experienced by diplomats, intelligence officials in Cuba.

And what the State Department is saying at the moment is -- and this is what they put in a statement. "In coordination with our partners across the U.S. government, we are vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incidents among U.S. embassy Vienna community or wherever they are reported."

So, this is a concern. Vienna is not an adversary. Cuba you could say maybe it was. Vienna, Austria, is an ally of the United States. There is a history, of course, going back to the cold war of spies and counter spies in the city, because it was so close to the former Soviet Union.

But this is a different time and place. The Austrian authorities say they are taking this very seriously. They're concerned of take and care of the welfare, they say, of whomever they are hosting, diplomats and their families. And they say right now they are working on a joint solution.

It's not clear what they mean by joint solution. Because at the moment, it appears the situation in Vienna is such that it's been very hard to try to pinpoint the exact source of the problem.

Again, this is what they experienced in Cuba and other places where there have been these incidents of Havana syndrome.

But this is very significant now. "The New Yorker" reporting up to a couple of dozen U.S. embassy staff, diplomats, intelligence officials, affected since President Biden came to office earlier this year.

So, this, a big issue for the Austrian authorities and clearly for the United States.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


HOLMES: Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @HolmesCNN. Do stay tuned for WORLD SPORT. I'll see you in about 15 minutes.