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Number of Covid Cases Linked to Olympic Games Not at 58; England Lifts Lockdown Restrictions as New Cases Surge; Alabama Struggles to Lift Its Low Vaccination Rate; At Least 194 People Killed in Germany and Belgium; Shooting Outside Ballpark Sends Fans and Players Scrambling. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: As we countdown to the opening ceremony, the COVID cloud broke over the Olympics, more than 50 cases are now linked to the games, and officials admit they can't guarantee Tokyo 2020 will be risk free.

In England, Freedom Day finally arrives but Boris Johnson urges caution as COVID cases spike.

And Germany's Angela Merkel saw the real devastation caused by flooding and vows to fight climate change.

Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm' Isa Soares and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Hello everyone, a very warm welcome. Happy Monday. With just four days to go until the opening ceremony, and the number of COVID cases linked to the 2020 Olympic games has risen to 58. And this includes American tennis hopeful Cori Gauff who announced on Sunday she was pulling out of the competition.

Coronavirus cases are rising in Japan. And it's raising fears the games, which start on Friday, could turn into a global super spreader event. CNN's Blake Essig joins us now from Tokyo. And Blake, Tokyo is of course dreams -- that the dreams are now trouble free to Friday's opening ceremony. Clearly, as we just outlined being shattered by this rising tally of COVID-19 infections. What is the committee saying in terms of how they're going to put a stop to this? What protocols are being made or changed?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know Isa, things are not exactly going smoothly. 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 who promise that they'll be able to keep these games safe and secure. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MASA TAKAYA, SPOKESMAN, TOKYO 2020: Olympic village is a safe place to stay. We cannot say there will be no positive cases within the Olympic community. Given the situation that we have a massive number of people are, you know, engaged within this project.


ESSIG (on camera): And Isa, you know, when it comes to how they're dealing with these positive cases, so far 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. And anybody that might have been in close contact with those people will enter isolation. There's different lengths of isolation, depending on the close contact, you know, people will be tested to make sure that they don't potentially spread the infection.

But there are a number of people, including members of the British Olympic team and the people who came into contact with the South Africans who tested positive that are right now in isolation. And there's no question that there are difficult times here in Tokyo with cases related to the Olympics piling up as well, as just cases in general surging. And the capital daily cases exceeded the 1,000 mark for five straight days and on Sunday reached its highest daily total in six months.

Now these increases in cases across the board continue to negatively impact public support for the games. It's a reality IOC President Thomas Bach acknowledged over the weekend saying he's aware of the skepticism surrounding the Olympics but hopes the mood will change once the games start in just a few days -- Isa.

SOARES: Let's hope so. And do keep us posted. Blake Essig there for us in Tokyo, thanks very much, Blake.

Well some elite athletes decided not to risk exposure to COVID-19 and pulled out of the games long ago. Earlier CNN asked sports analyst Christine Brennan how this might hurt the games. Take a listen to what she said.


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I think right now the Olympics can weather these losses. In other words the games will move on and the swimming and track and field and so many other sports, gymnastics, of course, with the great Simone Biles. I think that they will be missed but I think the overwhelming headlines will be about the athletes who are here.


Now if this continues even more, if it gets to the point where there are bigger names yet to come, especially like men's basketball and women's basketball, et cetera, then I think you can see this becoming more of a headline. But right now I think the news is important but I don't think it's devastating for the Olympic games.


SOARES: That's Christine Brennan talking to his earlier. Well today is the start of a risky experiment here in England. The country has lifted nearly every remaining social distancing restriction despite the fact that the COVID cases are spiking across the United Kingdom. It's not been a full day and the reopening has already been bumpy starting with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson being forced to self- isolate after coming into contact with the British health secretary who's tested positive for the virus himself.

We'll talk about it with Phil Black who is at Liverpool Street station. Nic Robertson who joins us from Downing Street. So many had been looking forward to this has been called here Freedom Day. But the reality is, as you well know, the infections are rising. All though the link between infections and hospitalizations has been disrupted, it has not been broken. So how is the public critically interpreting the messaging -- Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's still seeing lots of caution here this morning, Isa. I would say there are some people in crowds on trains, et cetera, not wearing masks but they are a minority. I think the overall mood here is one of resignation. As you say, the enthusiastic triumphal return to normal life, well we knew it wasn't going to happen. We knew that sometime ago. Instead there is this resignation which very much fits the Prime Minister Boris Johnson's message of, well if not now, but when? There is no really good time to do this.

But as you say, there are circumstances here that mean significant risks are being taken. We are in the situation where there is variant that is already running hot through the population. A population that has significant but not complete levels of immunity through the vaccination program. What happens when you take all the rules away or most of them away but they're designed to slow the spread of the virus. That's the experiment that's being conducted here and the truth is no one knows for sure.

Some of the forecasts suggest for some it could be pretty grim. Especially for the country's health system. But ultimately the country's own scientific advisors say they don't know how this is going to turn out because it will comes down to people's behavior and how cautiously they now choose to act, given there are no rules telling them precisely what to do -- Isa.

SOARES: And Phil, do stay with us. Let's go to Nic Robertson. And Nic, let's talk about this pandemic. We mentioned there, Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, both contacted by NHS that can trace, asked to self-isolate. But then they said they wouldn't because they were taking part in a daily testing pilot. Then there was a -- I think it was fair to say -- humiliating U-turn. How is that being received by the British public and this confusing messaging that I think that Phil was highlighting there? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think there's a

lot of confusion and a lot of skepticism, caution, as Phil says, is clearly one of the of the factors that's coming through. It feels odd, you know, and down here in the center of London was expecting the streets to be busier today, more people coming back into the city for work. But is still seems relatively quiet.

The idea that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should, over the weekend, announce that they were part of a new program that hadn't been heard about before that would allow them having had that extended contact before the weekend with the health secretary who has got COVID-19 now. That they would be part of this program that would allow them to sort of do some daily testing but to continue working in place essentially.

Within hours of changing their minds on that, I think it's the biggest indication of just how quickly through social media the backlash came. That it was again seen as more privileged taking and exceptions to the rule by the government by Boris Johnson, you know, political manipulations, if you will. Playing the rules of the game to his own advantage. And that's why we're now seeing him following the rules that everyone else in the country, except for the National Health Service, who now have the new qualifications and things they can do to -- if they have been as you say pinged, that they don't have to self- isolate.

And the pinging issue is a big issue. It's a big issue for business. I was at a business just a couple of weeks ago, one of their staff members had tested positive. Everyone on the production line had to come off and get tested. It suspended the working for the day. And this is the broader in the U.K. at the moment. This system whereby if you have been in contact with somebody who has COVID-19 proven, even if you've had two vaccinations, you will still have to remove yourself from society and work for ten days and remain there until you either -- until that ten days is up or, indeed, you have COVID and have to continue isolating longer.


So this is a concern for business that with these high infection rates, business is going to be impacted. Because workers are going to be forced to take time off and businesses cannot afford or are not ready or don't have the people to replace them.

SOARES: Nic Robertson for us outside of 10 Downing Street and Phil Black in London. Thank you very much to you both. You

Now the delta variant is also driving COVID case numbers higher in nearly every U.S. state. Just take a look at this map showing increases week over week. The dark red you can see their indicates states where case numbers are up at least 50 percent. It's well over half the country. Health experts warn that the delta variant is hitting unvaccinated Americans particularly hard. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER U.S. FDA COMMISSIONER: And this virus is so contagious -- this variant is so contagious that is going to infect the majority. That most people will get vaccinated or have been previously infected or they will get this delta variant. And for most people who get this delta variant, is going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital.


SOARES: Well according to data from the CDC, just 48.6 percent of U.S. population was vaccinated as of Sunday.

Now Alabama is tied with Mississippi at the bottom of the U.S. vaccination list. The CDC says Alabama's vaccination rate is not quite 34 percent. Community groups are pushing improved vaccine message but it's still a tough sell. CNN's Natasha Chen has more for you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take it from me. I'm 15 years old. Go get the vaccine.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The effort to get COVID-19 vaccines into arms in Alabama is an uphill battle.

PASTOR CEDRIC HRABOWSKI, GALILEE BAPTIST CHURCH IN FAIRFIELD, ALABAMA: If you had not had your vaccination, then you are part of the problem.

CHEN (voice-over): Pastor Cedric Hrabowski has passed out fliers in his community, but sometimes he meets pushback from people who bring up the infamous Tuskegee experiment. But this pastor tells us it's not a good comparison and he warns --

HRABOWSKI: You can't get your news from social media.

CHEN (voice-over): But the rampant spread of misinformation on social media is the biggest hurdle, according to health officials. Some are buying into false narratives, including people under 30, who are the least vaccinated in Alabama.

Birmingham City schools have been hosting vaccine clinics at their high schools, getting the band to play and cheerleaders to perform. But some members of this pep squad still need a pep talk. Half of these girls told CNN they are too scared to get vaccinated, saying they don't want the actual virus injected into them, which is not how COVID-19 vaccines work.

Instead the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a tiny piece of the virus's genetic sequence to send the body a message to create a specialized protein which prompts our immune system to create antibodies to protect itself against the virus. And just like Snapchat, the message then disappears. Still, mistrust in some African-American communities looms.

DAAGYE HENDRICKS, PRESIDENT, BIRMINGHAM BOARD OF EDUCATION: What I'm hearing is, you know, I'm just not sure. I want to wait a little longer. I want to see how it affects my family and my friends.

CHEN (voice-over): Kennedi Brown and her mother both became infected with the coronavirus, and experience powerful enough to motivate them to get their first vaccine shots on Saturday.

KENNEDI BROWN, HIGHT SCHOOL STUDENT IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: Most of my friends, their parents don't make them do anything, so it's really their choice. But my mom made me come get it.

CHEN (voice-over): Since April first, 529 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama. More than 96 percent of them were unvaccinated. Around 34 percent of people in the state are fully vaccinated. And since peaking in March and April, the number of doses administered has been dropping dramatically. Now, the state has seen another surge, with more than double the new case numbers last week compared to the week before.

In Mobile --

STEVE NORMAND, HEAD COACH, BAKER HIGH SCHOOL: I was counting the hopes that this was -- it was over with.

CHEN (voice-over): The entire Baker High School football team is quarantined.

NORMAND: I think the variants that are out and about are kind of poking around.

CHEN (voice-over): And the first Baptist Church in Spanish Fort announced it would be postponing events and all in-person services are cancelled for the rest of July. People commented on the post asking for prayers for loved ones who have gotten COVID-19.

ANTHONY GARDNER, CEO, ALABAMA REGIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES: Just yesterday, I got a call from my father about my uncle who did not get the vaccine. And guess what? He's in the hospital now.

CHEN (voice-over): Anthony Gardner is the CEO of Alabama Regional Medical Services, even he can't convince all of his family to get vaccinated. But he says he won't give up.

GARDNER: No it's not uphill battle. It's my mission, it's my purpose for being here.

CHEN: Only about a dozen people came through this vaccine clinic in a church on Sunday. An example of the challenge and convincing people across the state to get vaccinated. And t church is set to start condensed in-person services in the beginning of August. But the pastor tells me he will monitor the spread of the virus in the community in the coming weeks to determine whether those plans should be modified.

Natasha Chen, CNN, Fairfield Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SOARES: Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls it terrifying as well as surreal. What else she's saying after visiting one of her country's worst hit flood zones.


Plus, why Haiti's first lady could play a critical role in answering the questions that surrounds her husband's assassination. We'll bring you both those stories after a very short break. You are watching CNN.



ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): It's terrifying. I would say there's no word in the German language to describe this devastation.


SOARES: German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking after touring one of her country's worst hit flood zones. The disaster has killed at least 194 people in Germany and Belgium. The flood waters also impacted Luxemburg and the Netherlands. The military and volunteers are joining efforts to clear vehicles and debris.

In neighboring Belgium, officials say the floods have killed 31 people with 163 missing. Gas leaks and power outages have been hindering cleanup efforts.

Let's get more on this. CNN's Chris Burns is in Belgium, Atika Shubert joins us now from northwest Germany. And Anika, let me start with you. I know German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been touring Schuld, one of the worst-hit areas in Germany. Has her message of solidarity and support helped those on the ground?


What have you been hearing?

ATIKA SHUBERT, JOURNALIST: Well, definitely we've seen a lot of solidarity and community volunteers pitching with the recovery effort.


We were Schuld yesterday and the operation there is massive. I mean, you see volunteer farmers with their backhoes trying to clear the area. Operating alongside armored recovery vehicles from the military. I mean, to be honest, Schuld looks more like a war zone. The kind of thing you would expect to see there. So it's an incredible operation.

And the problem is that all along the Ahr river there are little towns and villages just like Schuld. We're actually in Ahrweiler, which is a little way down the river, and there are several bridges along here that usually connect Ahrweiler to the other communities here. All of the bridges have either been washed out or unusable. You can see behind me that excavator is trying to clear the debris from this partially collapsed bridge. There is only one bridge in this area that connects Ahrweiler.

So this is a critical part of getting a recovery is actually getting this infrastructure back online. The problem is, Merkel has said she promises more financial aid. She promises more help but a lot of local communities aren't seeing that yet. So there is bubbling anger here at the government.

SOARES: And do stay with us, Atika. We're going to bring in Chris who is in Verviers, Belgium. And Chris, you know, it's incredible and heartbreaking, I think it's fair to say at the same time to hear that so many people are still missing. The last number I saw was 163. What can you tell us about the search for survivors?

CHRIS BURNS, JOURNALIST: Isa, the search what I'm hearing from officials who said the search is more like for bodies, at this point. That is very little hope that they're going to find any kind of survivors. We were in Pepinster just yesterday and we were watching as they were digging, looking for survivors, going through the rubble. But they even had to stop. They were hampered by gas leaks. We were evacuated because of that.

So it is quite wrenching, for many people here, also, because of the terror that they lived through. Just across the river here was a woman we talked to and said somebody tapped on her window when she was deep asleep last Thursday night and the water was up to her window. So she ran up to the first floor and alerted her neighbor there, who was actually -- ah, she was in the window a second ago -- and they both went to the second floor to survive the floor.

There's also, Isa, a debate over whether this could have been avoided. And there is an engineer at the University of Liege who says there should be a parliamentary inquiry about this at the Gileppe Dam that is just up the river here, should have released water days ahead because of the weather forecast and that more should have been done to release the water ahead of time.

I also talked to the government official who told me that, no, there wasn't enough time to do it. So there's a debate going on and that professor is calling for a parliamentary inquiry. He said that ministerial heads should roll on this, Isa

SOARES: Yes, clearly simmering anger and frustrations and many questions, I believe, still need to be answered. Chris Burns and Atika Shubert, thank you very much to you both.

Now Pope Francis, let me get that story. Pope Francis said he's keeping the flood victims in his prayers in his first public appearance at the Vatican after 11 day hospital stay. The 84-year-old had part of his colon removed earlier this month. Hundreds cheered as he made his weekly address Sunday in Saint Peter's Square. Along with the flooding, the Pope talks about the unrest in South Africa and Cuba. In a later moment he also urged people to slow down and just enjoy life.


POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Let us put a halt to the frantic running around dictated by our agendas. Let us learn how to take a break. To turn off the mobile phone. To contemplate nature. To regenerate ourselves in dialogue with God.


SOARES: Brazil's president is also recovering after his own hospital stay. Jair Bolsonaro was released Sunday after being treated for an intestinal obstruction. He had been hospitalized in Sao Paulo since Wednesday for complications, he says, were related to a 2018 stabbing. The president had complained of chronic pickups and of abdominal pain before they brought him in. But he did not require surgery.

And still to come right here on the show, a series of shootings across several American cities to the renewed focus on gun violence in the U.S. We'll bring you the details after a short break.


CHURCH: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Three people were injured in a shooting outside the Nationals Park during a baseball game in Washington on Saturday. It caused some frightening moments for fans and players inside the major league stadium. People fled their seats and sought shelter after hearing gunfire during the middle of the sixth inning. Once everything was safe, fans returned to watch the rest of the game between the Nationals and the San Diego Padres. The manager of the Nationals got emotional while talking about the shooting. Take a listen.


DAVE MARTINEZ, MANAGER WASHINGTON NATIONALS: I love this city, you know, this city is my home. It can get crazy. We all know that. And we all want to feel safe. I can tell you that inside this ballpark, I feel safer than ever. I really do. We care about each other. We don't want anybody getting hurt. So like I said, for me, yesterday, I tried to protect as many people as possible.


SOARES: Police say their investigation is ongoing but it appears the shooting involved a dispute between individuals in two vehicles. They did not believe the Washington Nationals, the ballpark, or fans were the target.

We're also following another shooting in D.C. and gun violence across several American cities. CNN's Polo Sandoval has that part of the story for you.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another violent weekend in countries throughout the United States. One of them leaving a community just heart broken and outraged in southeast Washington, D.C., as a 6-year- old, who was supposed to start first grade this fall, was shot and killed from a drive by shooting. And now investigators offering up to $60,000 for any information that leads to arrests and convictions in this case.

Investigators over the weekend identified this little girl as Nya Courtney, an innocent bystander at an intersection when gunshots were fired from a car that drove by. That vehicle actually seen in surveillance video that was released by investigators over the weekend. And in it, you see that car cross that intersection.