Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

COVID Cases Rises In Japan With Games Just Three Days Away; Dow Drops 725 Points Amid Delta Variant Fears; U.S. And Allies Accuse China Of Widespread Cyberattacks; At Least 195 Deaths Confirmed In Germany And Belgium. The Cost Of Climate Change; COVID Cases Rise in Japan with Games Just Three Days Away; Amazon Founder Bezos Set for Suborbital Flight. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired July 20, 2021 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[00:00:30]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm John Vause. And coming up this hour, bursting the Olympic bubble. With the number of COVID infections continue to rise, concerns are growing over pandemic protocols and preventions within the athlete's village.

After setting record highs in recent days, temperatures across the U.K. continue to climb with the first ever extreme heat warning issued for parts of England and Wales.

And on the eve of just Bezos' historic flight on board his Shepard one rocket, the divide is going between those cheering on these billionaires and their journeys into space, and those who would prefer they never come back.

It always seemed to be a question of when not if, but the when is now. The highly contagious Delta variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 worldwide, and with it has come a deadly surge in infections.

All the areas seen here in bright red on this map indicate a 10 to 50 percent increase in cases that includes England were all pandemic restrictions have now been lifted after being in place for more than a year.

But Freedom Day as it was called saw surging infections, warnings of shortages at supermarkets, and the British Prime Minister self- isolating after coming into contact with his COVID positive health secretary.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia continues to be cautious, limiting the annual Hajj to 60,000 fully vaccinated pilgrims.

Meantime, at the Tokyo Olympics, more than 70 COVID tests have returned positive among them is a U.S. gymnast. Still, the COVID advisor to the IOC says the numbers are lower than initially expected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN MCCLOSKEY, OLYMPIC GAMES HEALTH ADVISER: Each layer of filtering is a reduction in the risk for everybody else. And that's what we expect to see. And the numbers we're seeing are actually extremely low. They're probably lower than we expected to see if anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: CNN's Blake Essig is live in Tokyo for us. So, Blake, in the one corner you had the IOC and the Tokyo organizers insisting: no problem, we got this. In the other corner there seems to be countless numbers of public health officials around the world saying no, you don't. I guess we'll find out who is right.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, time will tell, John. With just a few days to go before the start of the Olympics. Well, it could be worse. It's fair to say that things are not exactly going smoothly.

As of today, 71 people involved with the games have tested positive for COVID-19 here in Japan. Most recently that includes two alternates on the U.S. gymnastics team who tested positive while at a pre-Olympic training camp here in Japan both are now in isolation.

Now, out of the 71 positive cases linked to the games, four have come from inside the Olympic Village overall. Olympic officials say out of 22,000 people who have arrived from overseas, only 28 positive cases have come as a result. That's a 0.1 percent positivity rate. The rest of the cases involve Japanese residents.

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

Despite the growing case count, Olympic officials maintain that the games can be held safely and that for the athletes, the Olympic Village is a safe place to stay.

Of course, health and safety concerns remain the primary reason why polls have consistently shown how overwhelmingly unpopular these games are.

And while COVID-19 remains a primary concern for Olympic participants, another big challenge will be dealing with Japan's extreme heat and oppressive humidity. The rainy season here has come and gone and temperatures are now in the 90s and will likely get much hotter in the weeks to come.

Now, organizers are also left scrambling after the me -- the man in charge of composing music for the opening and closing ceremonies Keigo Oyamada resigned after admitting he bullied children with disabilities as a kid. While he had recently apologized for his past actions, calls for his resignation on social media only grew louder.

Olympic officials say Oyamada's music will not be used and they are now considering an alternative option.

John, it's just the latest controversy to impact the Tokyo 2020 games just three days before the opening ceremony.

VAUSE: They got a few problems to deal with, Blake. We'll see what happens. Thank you. Blake Essig there live in Tokyo.

Joining me now from Los Angeles Anne Rimoin professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and thank you for being with us.

ANNE RIMOIN, PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Nice to be here.

VAUSE: OK. The Olympic COVID plan is essentially focused on preventing transmission chains and clusters from forming in the first place. I want you to listen to Masa Takaya with the Tokyo Organising Committee, here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[00:05:10]

MASA TAKAYA, TOKYO 2020 ORGANISING COMMITTEE SPOKESMAN: There will be of course a certain number of positive cases to be found in the lead up to the games.

But once again, the most important thing is the response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: OK, so he said the most important thing is response. But unlike the NBA, Tokyo will not be using real time genomic sequency, which is incredibly precise, it's able to trace the virus as it moves from person to person. So, in terms of response, it would seem they're standing behind?

RIMOIN: Well, you know, it seems to me, John, that this entire -- the conception of how they put together the Olympics is really been short sighted. I really think that it's important to remember we have to be getting in front of this as opposed to constantly chasing behind it. And by not mandating vaccination, they've already created a situation which is very complicated.

Now, of course, mandating vaccination is very complicated as well, but they need to have very rigorous testing in place, real time testing in place. Excellent quarantine.

And I just think that it's a -- it's a very difficult situation that has the potential to become a super spreader event.

VAUSE: Yes, back in May, a group of public health experts, they raised a lot of concerns that these games had a lot of problems with their approach to controlling the pandemic. And one of the -- one of the criticisms was a one size fits all approach to protocols.

So, instead of a tiered risk management, which took into account that, you know, as a general rule, athletes competing inside are more at risk than those who are competing an outside event. There are exceptions, of course, but --

So, explain why that tiered approach is needed, assuming the guidelines have a certain baseline in terms of safety.

RIMOIN: Well, this is a really important point. We all know that based on the data from this last year and a half, that COVID spreads much more easily indoors in indoor settings.

And so, this is a perfect situation where you can have people coming together, vaccinated, unvaccinated, varying levels of exposure, and creating super spreader events inside. Outdoors protocols can be very different.

So, I think that this is a very important point. It's true for everything that we need to think about right now. We know that outdoor settings are much less risky than indoor and in particular for sports.

VAUSE: And well, athletes have been gathering in Tokyo. Nightclubs and bars have been filling up across England. That's despite rising case numbers and pandemic restrictions have been lifted. I want you to listen to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on why. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There comes a point after so many have been vaccinated, when further restrictions no longer prevent hospitalizations and deaths, but simply delay the inevitable.

And so, we have to ask ourselves the question, if not now, when?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: How about when case numbers are falling instead of rising? Would that be a better win?

RIMOIN: I couldn't agree with you more and agree with what Boris Johnson less. I think that it's really important for people to remember that we're seeing cases surge globally right now and that we're at a real inflection point.

We know that this variant is so much more contagious, more than 200 times more contagious than the original, the ancestral strain.

We also know that people shared up to a thousand times more virus than its original strain. So, it is very, very hard to control.

We're seeing cases increase not only here in the United States, but globally. We're also starting to see breakthrough cases as well, that are -- that are very worrisome, not because they indicate a failure of vaccine, vaccine is doing great. It's preventing severe infection, hospitalization and death.

But people can still be part of a transmission chain. So, while we're trying to really push down this virus, we really need to be doing everything that we can so that we can move forward and really start thinking about this fall.

I mean, kids are going to be going back to soon -- to going back to school soon. We need to be starting to think about the kids and how we're going to keep rates down so kids can get back into school safely.

VAUSE: We'll finish up with a poignant warning from the White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's talking about the situation in the U.S., but it applies everywhere. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we don't get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you're going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time.

VAUSE: So, just to be clear, the decisions and the abstinence and stupidity of a few will likely determine the fate of the many.

RIMOIN: That's always the case when it comes to public health. We know that we really need to get in front of it. That's exactly why we've now had mask mandates reinstated here in Los Angeles. We're seeing surging cases, we need to have layers of protection. Layers of protection start with vaccination, the number one thing we can do to stop the spread of disease.

[00:10:07]

RIMOIN: And in addition to that, wearing masks indoors is going to drop spread of this virus significantly. Anything we can do to layer this on is important.

VAUSE: Professor Rimoin, thank you. It's good to see you. Appreciate it.

RIMOIN: My pleasure.

VAUSE: Well, surging COVID cases and fears about the Delta variant are taking a toll on financial markets. Sharp sell off on Wall Street is spilling over into Asian markets. Here are the latest numbers right now, everywhere in the red. Hong Kong down by more than one percent. Every else close to that number as well.

In the U.S., the Dow plunge 725 points on Monday, the worst day since October. Airline and cruise operators took a beating with investors concerned over the strength of the economic recovery.

Mind you, the Dow is up more than 10 percent just this year.

Journalist Manisha Tank is following developments live from Singapore. I guess there's two schools of thoughts here. This is -- you know, this is all to be expected, given the markets have had an almost uninterrupted run out of these record highs, or the negative or the -- you know, the gloomy. This is the start of a major correction.

MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST: Yes. Look, John, we've been having that conversation about the possibility of a major correction since a year ago. What is happening here is you're getting this flip flop that's going on between those who expect economies to recover. And then we start seeing surging Delta variant cases. And we realize that we can't buy into this false sense of security.

And I think that relates back to the conversation you were just having this is this wakeup call that's going on as you see Delta variant cases begin to surge all over the world.

And you wake up to this sort of market reaction that we saw on the U.S. markets overnight here in Asia. And all -- like you said, all the major markets are down.

But also, we have our own homegrown problems here, particularly in Southeast Asia. You only have to look at Indonesia, where there was a sense of complacency around COVID-19. A lot of disinformation was being spread as well. It's a country of 270 million people where actually using mobile phones is very popular, and people were sharing information disinformation, about COVID. And treating it as if it was a regular respiratory illness.

Well, now they're all waking up and realizing that's not the case. And it's a really harrowing situation.

The latest we're hearing from there is that doctors, the highest number of doctors losing their lives to COVID-19. And this is a really sobering number that 114 doctors died between July 1st and July 17th. We know there is such huge pressure on the health system there.

And Indonesia sending out really a call for help. Singapore, for example, the regional partner in ASEAN has answered that call for help. It is sending 500 tons of oxygen to Indonesia to help with the effort.

Something else that we're seeing that's very worrying is the number of cases of COVID-19 amongst the young, amongst children. And this is all very worrying when you connect it back to what expectations are for the world for a global economic recovery. It's putting huge pressure on economies here. This is the biggest economy in Southeast Asia that I'm talking about with Indonesia.

So, we have to bear all of this in mind, of course, U.S. markets very much reacting to some of the factors you discussed in your earlier conversation that the fact that the U.S. is waking up to this high infectious Delta variant. So, we may see more of this to come.

Just to get back to some of the economics of this, those who are in the Treasury market for example, we've seen those yields on the 10- year Treasury note in the U.S. come down below 1.2 percent. It's the first time that's happened since February.

Why is it happening? Because people are more concerned about the Delta variant than they are about inflation now, so just bear that in mind.

VAUSE: Manisha, thank you. We appreciate the analysis and you being with us. Manisha Tank there in Singapore.

Well, the U.S. and its allies are accusing China of using criminal contract hackers to conduct a wide range of cyber-attacks around the world and for profit. Until now, the White House is mostly focused on cybercrimes coming from Russia. But U.S. officials say the cyber-attacks from China are much more closely linked to the communist government in Beijing. We have more now from CNN's Alex Marquardt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An unprecedented global coalition of U.S. allies joining together today publicly warning China about their aggressive cyber-attacks.

The U.S., European Union, NATO and others accusing China of destabilizing behavior, calling them out for malicious attacks that have cost governments and companies billions of dollars.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are actually elevating and taking steps to not only speak out publicly, but certainly take action as it relates to problematic cyber activities from China.

MARQUARDT: Chinese hacking is well documented but the administration accused Chinese intelligence of using criminal contract hackers who engaged in ransomware attacks, cyber enabled extortion, crypto-jacking and rank theft from victims around the world.

JAMES ANDREW LEWIS, CSIS SENIOR V.P. AND DIRECTOR, STRATEGIC TECHNOLOGIES PROGRAM: This is how you change the Chinese and their way of thinking. It's a good first step, it sends a powerful message to Beijing. Of course, they'll have to be follow up.

MARQUARDT: These state backed hackers have enriched themselves in the course of their attacks the administration set and have demanded millions and ransom payments, including a large ransom request to an unnamed U.S. company.

[00:15:07]

MARQUARDT: China was also formally accused of orchestrating the massive hack earlier this year of Microsoft Exchange, which impacted tens of thousands of computers and networks around the world.

The Biden administration says it has raised these actions directly with the Chinese government.

NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Together with our allies, together with our partners, we're not ruling out any additional actions to hold the PRC accountable.

MARQUARDT: The Justice Department unsealed an indictment of four Chinese nationals for an espionage campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities and government entities.

Prosecutors revealed various ways that stolen secrets were passed, including being embedded in photos of a koala and Donald Trump. Those charged allegedly worked for China's Ministry of State Security or MSS. FRED SHEPPARD, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a message to those that are involved in the MSS that going forward, we will charge you, we will make it public and times change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT (on camera): Despite this forceful international condemnation of China, there was nothing concrete in the way of punishment announced on Monday.

It is naming and shaming which can be effective but aside from those indictments by the Justice Department, there was nothing punitive, like the sanctions that we've seen leveled at Russia.

The Biden administration is hoping that this united message will get China to reconsider and if they don't, they could face more action from the U.S. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

VAUSE: And a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington told the Reuters News Agency, denying China ever engages in cyber-attacks or cyber theft and call the accusations irresponsible.

We'll have a short break. When we come back, grief, disbelief and angry accusations in Europe. Hundreds died because they were not warned the floods were coming.

Plus, the coronavirus is shattering dreams of Olympic gold, live to Tokyo for the very latest on the troubled games.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Peru's electoral authority has declared Pedro Castillo president-elect, the left-wing school teacher and union leader from rural Peru called for national unity on Monday while addressing supporters in Lima.

He narrowly won a runoff vote against right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori. The official results were delayed for more than a month because of Fujimori's allegations of voter irregularities.

For her part, Fujimori said she will respect the results of the election but did not walk back her earlier allegations. Castillo and his party has denied any wrongdoing.

The debate over who will lead Haiti in the wake of this month's presidential assassination appears to be over at least for now. Claude Joseph was acting Prime Minister following the death of President Jovenel Moise.

But after days of negotiations, he has agreed to step down and hand power to his rival. Ariel Henry is expected to take over on Tuesday, a key group of international diplomats had been calling for Ariel to be the one to lead until new elections can be held.

[00:20:12] VAUSE: The number of people killed by historic flooding in Western Europe has now reached at least 195. A national day of mourning is being held in Belgium. More than 120 people were listed as missing or unreachable there as of Monday, at least 31 people in Belgium were killed.

And in Germany, the disaster is colliding with politics ahead of elections. CNN Frederik Pleitgen reports on the tough questions being raised about the flood warning systems.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Often heavy lifting equipment is needed to even begin the cleanup.

Yoke Albilo (PH) shows us how high the water rose as the town of Ahrweiler was in inundated, destroying nearly everything he owns.

It all went so fast, he said, only about 15 minutes and the water was almost up to the ceiling here.

One of Yoke Albilo's (PH) neighbors, an elderly lady couldn't get to safety fast enough and was swept away. Her body later found nearby he says.

As the death toll from the massive floods continues to rise, some are asking why weren't there more warnings about the impending disaster.

Both the Belgian and German Weather Services issued severe weather warnings. Still, many were caught off guard.

One thing many people who live here tell us is that they were surprised at how fast the water levels here began to rise, tearing through the embankment, destroying everything in its path and killing scores of people.

Some weather experts say Germany's early warning system simply failed.

KARSTEN BRANDT, DONNERWTTER.DE (through translator): So, meteorologists did warn them. But these warnings were apparently not heard. They were not implemented in measures that one could act or could act sufficiently so that one could protect people.

PLEITGEN: The German government says its main priority right now is helping those affected. The country's interior minister who he visited the flood-stricken areas on Monday says now is not the time to place blame.

HORST SEEHOFER, GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): We shouldn't make unnecessary changes. centralism won't improve anything here. We need certain central units, but the technical assistance agency which is then brought in to offer support, but we do not need a decision-making authority in Berlin.

PLEITGEN: In the most affected areas, people are in no mood to point fingers but rather to offer helping hands. This school class is clearing mud from their headmaster's apartment solidarity is unbroken in the disaster zone. But Germany understands it will have to improve its disaster management to prevent similar loss of life in the future.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN Ahrweiler, Germany.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: The U.K. is the latest European country sounding the alarm about extreme weather this summer. Britain's National Meteorological Service has issued their first ever extreme heat warning. It will be in place through Thursday and cover the Southwest U.K. where temperatures are expected to reach the low 30 Celsius.

London told us hottest temperatures so far this year on Sunday and Monday, the Mercury hitting 31 degrees Celsius.

On the continent, disaster flooding last week is underscoring the terrible toll of failing to act on climate change. That's the view of the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She says the E.U. must step up its efforts as extreme weather becomes more frequent and more intense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: The big picture is clear. We have to do more on climate protection. And we have to do more on climate adaptation. So, be resilient also for those incidents, and we have to act quickly.

From wildfires in the westerns part of the United States to floods in Europe, this northern summer may be given us an early preview of the devastating costs of climate change.

CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir takes a look at the impact it's having.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is becoming more obvious by the year as humanity overheats Earth at a terrifying rate, our planet's atmosphere now holds way too much water in some places, not nearly enough in others.

And from the U.S. to Europe, corners of the so called first world are getting their first taste of what fossil fueled wealth could ultimately cost.

There are so many fires burning out west, there's now a fuel shortage for the planes used to fight them. And there's so much dry vegetation to burn, in part because of the mega drought now covering over 90 percent of the American West. Scientists estimate it will take 10 rainy years to refill reservoirs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just really a bad time to be a Christmas tree farmers, probably the worst year we've ever had. WEIR: But while people from San Diego to Siberia have been praying for rain, Western Europe spent the week praying for it to stop.

[00:25:04]

WEIR: Parts of Belgium, Austria and Germany are reeling understanding water and mud after some of the worst flash floods in memory.

It is horrendous. Angular Merkel said after touring towns and lives crushed by walls of water

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: The German language doesn't really have words for this devastation.

WEIR: When the E.U. released its ambitious climate plan last week, many saw Germany's entrenched manufacturing base as a blocked progress. But now, as elections near, politicians from the Chancellor on down are calling for climate action.

But what will it take to move American politicians in ways that climate marches and strikes have not? Sadly, the data tells us we are about to find out.

RUSSELL VOSE, CHIEF OF CLIMATE MONITORING, NOAA: The last seven years have been the warmest on record, and they really stand out from the record that preceded it.

In fact, to me when I look at them, it almost hints that a bit of an acceleration in the rate of warming we're seeing globally.

WEIR: That's horrifying. And is it safe to say then to flip it in a more alarming way? These were the coldest seven years for the rest of our lives.

VOSE: Well, that's a that's an interesting question. My my line (AUDIO GAP) is not so much making predictions, we tend to look back and -- but having said that, I don't expect 10 years from now that will be cooler than we are today.

If you're a betting (AUDIO GAP) it's probably a safe bet to assume will be warmer in the future, barring say some major volcanic eruption.

WEIR: Which means that in addition to stopping the source of the problem to avoid cascading pain, we must brace for the pain that is already on the way.

Bill Weir, CNN New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ahead here on CNN, just three days until the opening ceremony in Tokyo. A growing number of Olympic athletes are testing positive for COVID-19. A live report and the very latest in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

In Tokyo, the Olympics haven't even started but more than 70 COVID cases are now being linked to officials and athletes at the games, including Kara Eaker, an American gymnast who's now withdrawn.

And with just three days to go, fears are growing that the games will turn into a COVID super spreader event.

All this time, the Olympic organizers continue to insist they will be safe.

CNN's Will Ripley joins us live from Tokyo with more on this. You know, this has -- let's just say we worked out this way but they're obviously a great deal of fear that this is not going to work out like the Olympic organizers hope.

[00:30:09]

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the Olympic organizers, John, are downplaying those fears. They point to the fact that it is still a very low percentage of people who are testing positive when you look at the raw numbers.

More than 22,000 people have arrived here in Tokyo so far. These are foreign visitors. And of those, about three dozen of the cases have been from those foreign visitors.

They were either caught at the airport or caught during the series of COVID tests that athletes are required to take every day. We, as members of the media, are required to take on a regular basis, as well.

So the numbers are still small, but the fact that these cases are popping up in the densely-populated athletes' village, where you have as many as eight people to a small apartment, four people sharing a bathroom, eating, and drinking together with safety setups that are kind of designed for COVID.

What scientists knew about it a year ago? Not for today. Not for the Delta variant. There are growing concerns that the athletes could be putting their health at risk, and I've spoken with some who have had devastating results after catching COVID.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY (voice-over): Even Olympians are not immune from the cruelty of COVID-19. The pandemic striking some of the world's top athletes, including a U.S. gymnast just days before the opening ceremony.

Catching COVID early this year cost Priscilla Lewis more than eight weeks of training. The American-Antiguan high jumper still has trouble breathing.

PRISCILLA LOOMIS, ANTIGUAN-U.S. HIGH JUMPER: Absolutely devastated. I am heartbroken, I'm in healing right now. I'm in mourning. RIPLEY: Loomis says that she ignored doctors' advice and kept

training, but failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

LOOMIS: This was it. This was my final -- this was my final curtain bow.

RIPLEY: British rower Conagh Cousins qualified for the Olympics in March 2020. She came down with a serious case of long COVID, leaving her with chronic fatigue.

CONAGH COUSINS, BRITISH ROWER: I'm struggling to exercise, still. By comparison, I was doing, like, 30, 35 hours of training a week when I was well, and now you can probably do, like, three 20-minute sessions in a week, super lightly.

RIPLEY (on camera): And this is more than a year later?

COUSINS: Yes. I just really struggled with really intense fatigue.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Cousins calls her coronavirus battle an emotional rollercoaster.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are dealing with a disease that we didn't even know how to define a year ago.

RIPLEY: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta says researchers don't fully know why the virus hit some people harder than others.

GUPTA: So, if you're an athlete, you can have symptoms from COVID that last a long time and really impact your performance for a long time, as well.

RIPLEY (on camera): Are these athletes putting themselves at risk if they're coming here?

GUPTA: I think it's really tough to justify bringing 206 countries, states, and territories together in the middle of a pandemic.

RIPLEY (voice-over): A risk Vinesh Phogat is willing to take. The Indian wrestler is a gold medal favorite, No. 1 in her category. She says postponing competition by a year was an even bigger challenge than catching the coronavirus.

VINESH PHOGAT, INDIAN WRESTLER (through translator): I had to start my training again from scratch. It was very difficult.

RIPLEY: Surging cases in Japan and the world mean Olympians won't have fans in the stands, cheering them on. Nobody knows if nearly-empty venues will be enough to stop the Summer Games from becoming a super- spreader event. At Tokyo 2020, not just Olympic dreams, lives are on the line.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: Olympic organizers estimate around 80 percent of the athletes competing here in Tokyo will be vaccinated, and in fact, a U.S. gymnast, Kara Eaker, was fully vaccinated according to her father, which may explain why, even though she tested positive, she's asymptomatic.

Doctors say that people who are vaccinated tend to have far more mild symptoms than those who are not vaccinated, but they can still catch the virus. They can still have no symptoms and carry the virus back home with them.

So, an outbreak inside the Olympic Village of a larger scale could potentially lead to what experts warn would be a nightmare scenario, John, that super-spreader event. But we are certainly not there yet. And it does seem like they're testing people, and they're detecting a small number of cases as they come.

VAUSE: Not there yet. The games are yet to begin. And let's hope we don't get there, but we'll see. Thank you. Will Ripley in Tokyo.

A short break. When we come back, another billionaire in space. In the coming hours, Amazon's Jeff Bezos will be the next to make an historic flight. But are these trips by billionaires really good for all humankind, or ego-driven boondoggles?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:36:53]

VAUSE: The wealthiest person on planet Earth is expected to add another job title to his resume. That would be astronaut.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is set to blast off in eight and a half hours from now on board a rocket built by his company, Blue Origin.

Along for the ride will his brother Mark, as well as the oldest and youngest person ever to travel into space.

As to how to justify spending so much on an 11-minute joyride when there are so many problems on Earth? It's Jeff Bezos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF BEZOS, BLUE ORIGIN FOUNDER: Well, see, they're largely right. We have to do both. You know, we have -- there are lots of problems in the here and now on Earth. We need to work on those. And we always need to look to the future. We've always done that.

We'll be building a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things there. And those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Bezos is the second billionaire to take a jaunt into space recently. Richard Branson beat him by nine days. With more on that, CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien is with us from Harbor Springs in Michigan.

Miles, it's good to see you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Likewise, John.

VAUSE: OK. So here's a bit more from Jeff Bezos explaining why this trip into space -- it's not just good for him. It's good for all of us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEZOS: We're going to have to go out into the solar system, where we have, for all practical purposes, unlimited resources, unlimited energy, unlimited material resources, and we can move -- this isn't going to happen in our lifetimes, but we will move all heavy industry off her. All polluting industry will be off Earth, and Earth will end up zoned residential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: But, you know, here comes the argument, then. That the money would be better spent on Earth, according to a study that was done by Oxfam. "A pandemic profits task on Amazon would yield $11 billion in additional revenue, enough to vaccinate 580 million people around the world."

That's just some of the money they've made from the pandemic. And there's a whole lot here. But isn't this similar to the debate which raged back in the 1960s. I mean, there was why should government be spending so much on rockets when there were so many problems on earth?

O'BRIEN: It is very similar to that argument, right? I mean, you know, I remember having the great opportunity to work with Walter Cronkite on CNN years ago, covering John Glenn's mission on the space shuttle.

And he was reminding me of that discussion in the Sixties. And he said at the time, it would be one thing if we were bundling $100 bills and sending them into space, but the money was spent all on the planet to invest in technology, to invest in people, to engage people in STEM careers.

And so to say that this is a waste of this money, that it's kind of headed out of the ether. It's probably not an accurate statement. And it is true that Jeff Bezos and his company is so rich that he can do both. There's no question.

And I do think, John, when we stop exploring, when we stop pushing the frontier, we've lost something very significant.

VAUSE: I just wonder if there's a bigger issue here, you know, beyond the money and what should be paid for. But, you know, are we essentially, outsourcing our future in space? To be decided by the whims of a few billionaires, if you look at the state of NASA, as well as China, which is pouring billions into their space program. I feel like we've lost control of our destiny, in a way.

[00:40:07] O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, it's -- it's an interesting transition when

you think about it. If you look at any great innovation, frequently, they begin with the government, investing, because it's too early for the private sector to step in.

A great example of this is what we used to call Arpanet and now we call the Internet, which was a government program for scientists to actually share information about defense projects, and building bombs, and so forth. And suddenly, that became something very different that we all use and love right now.

We could talk about GPS as another example of that. The point is, the government steps in and builds things that don't make sense, necessarily, for the private sector in that moment, but as they mature, suddenly, it's like, Oh, wait a minute. We have a business here.

So it's taken a long time in the world of space for a lot of reasons. NASA was kind of in the way of business for a while, but it has finally stepped out of the way.

And now, we're seeing that come to fruition, and we don't really where this leads to. But I think we have to let it develop to see what happens, just like we had to let the Internet develop out of Arpanet.

VAUSE: There does seem to be a growing divide, though, between those who are thrilled by billionaires traveling into space, and those who wish they would just stay there and not come back.

And on that, Change.org has a petition, which is closing in on 200,000 signatures, calling for Bezos not to come back.

As far as his spaceflight goes, is this a pretty basic journey in the grand scheme of things? It's up and down, right? No orbiting the Earth, nothing like that?

O'BRIEN: John. I've got to tell you, it's a gold-plated bungee jump. OK? It's an 11-minute ride, straight up, straight down. He gets a few minutes of weightlessness. He sees the curvature of the Earth, the blackness of the sky, the -- the vivid colors of the planet. Hopefully, he remembers it all in those few minutes.

But in the grand scheme of things, we did this in 1960 with Alan Shepard. So this is not a technological innovation in the sense that we're pushing technology. What we're pushing here is a new market, and what we're pushing is access to doing that thing.

And it's taken 60 years to get to this point, probably longer than we would have expected. But here we are, and I think -- I think it's something worth saying, this is a milestone. And this is, you know, as easy as we all get with these billionaires, paying to give themselves a ride.

A, they paid for it, and better they go first and take the risk than perhaps others.

VAUSE: I'm just wondering if Bezos essentially the Gherman Titov of billionaire astronauts?

O'BRIEN: I, you know -- I -- I think that he deserves a place in history for pushing technology, right? But you know, I can't help but say that you've got to give Elon Musk credit, right?

He's flown 10 astronauts to the International Space Station and has yet to give himself a ticket to ride on one of his own spacecraft. Now, he -- he put himself in line for a ride on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, but he could go tomorrow if we wanted to, and he hasn't.

So, there is a certain amount of ego here, which we have to reckon with. But that is the nature of billionaires, I guess.

VAUSE: And they can do what they want. They don't care what anyone thinks anyway.

O'BRIEN: Exactly right. You have to remember that.

VAUSE: Yes, definitely. Miles, thank you. It's good to see you. It's been a while, so great to have you with us. Take care.

And we'll have full coverage of the Blue Origin launch. It's scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday. If you're watching in Europe, that's 2 p.m. in London.

In case you're wondering, Gherman Titov was the second Russian in space. No one remembers.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. WORLD SPORT is up after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:45:25]

(WORLD SPORT)