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Latest on Controversies Surrounding the Olympics; Biden on When children Under Twelve May Get Vaccine; UK PM Accused of Being "Super Spreader" of Confusion; Opening Ceremony for Once-Postpones Games Set for Friday; Swedish Pole Vaulter Has Gold Medal Hopes; New York Ocean Giants; More than 2.6 Million Hectares Burned in Siberia; Surfing, Skateboarding to Make Olympic Debut. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 01:00   ET

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


[01:00:44]

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this year, the hits just keep coming for Tokyo 2020.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, the artistic director has been fired for making anti-Semitic jokes.

CNN's exclusively town hall, U.S. president talks vaccines for children, mask mandates for schools and returning to the classroom.

An invasion of the dust devil sweeping across the soccer field in Bolivia, as players and spectators scramble to get out of its path.

(MUSIC)

VAUSE: On the eve of what was already one of the most peculiar Summer Olympics in the modern era, the director of the open ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, has been fired. He is a stand up comedian by trade, reportedly joked about the Holocaust as part of his standup routine. And earlier this week, the music director was forced to resign after admitting he had bully disabled children while he was at school. And in March, the executive creative director was forced out among controversies as well.

All this raising the question, what will 950 dignitaries actually invited to the opening ceremony get to see. Well, fighter jets made a practice run on Thursday, sky writing the Olympic rings over Tokyo. But on the ground below, excitement, enthusiasm, anticipation, all in very short supply. When asked by liberal public opinion polls, a majority want the games to be canceled.

Now, mostly because of COVID numbers which continue to surge, and with Tokyo under a state of emergency, almost all spectators have effectively been banned from the venues. And while many athletes already tested positive and already withdrawn, including seven who tested positive after arriving in Japan. CNN correspondents are across the world right now covering the Olympics as well as the pandemic. We begin our coverage, though, with CNN's Blake Essig in Tokyo.

So, Blake, one of the details I heard about the creative director who is basically fired, and now where is that now leave the opening ceremony?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you know, John, not an ideal time to have to fire your creative director just the day before the opening ceremony is set to take place. Obviously, the circumstances surrounding his dismissal warrant his dismissal.

So, you know, unlike, earlier this week when the composer who was removed for bullying disabled classmates as a kid when he was removed, they said he they would not use his music in the opening ceremonies. We didn't get the same comment I guess this time from Olympic organizers as far as potentially having to overhaul this opening ceremony that is supposed to take place tomorrow night.

Now, the number of positive COVID-19 cases for people involved with the Olympics continue to pile up. That number is currently at 91 with four new cases confirmed in the Olympic Village bringing that total up to 8. It's a clear sign that the Olympic Village bubble has in fact been punctured.

Yesterday, Tokyo recorded its 6th highest daily case count since the pandemic began. It's the highest daily case total since January. Now, athletes who are worried about we're catching COVID-19 are being considered a close contact with someone who tests positive, essentially ending their Olympic Dream before it had a chance to start.

It's a cruel situation that is already played out for 5 members of Team USA and 13 athletes from around the rest of the world.

One of those is Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs who tested positive in Tokyo. She took to social media to say that she's heartbroken. She says she did everything in her power to prevent the scenario, and took all the precautions. Sadly, there's no question that this story will likely repeat itself in the days and weeks to come. While COVID-19 concerns remain, Olympic competition is already underway, with five women's football teams taking a knee to stand up against racism and for human rights.

Now in April, the ban preventing athletes from demonstrating at the games was upheld by the International Olympic Committee, and when asked about the demonstrations yesterday, IOC President Thomas Bach said kneeling ahead of the matches is allowed and did not violate the rules against protesting. That being said, Olympic social media pages haven't posted any images showing these demonstrations.

[01:05:04]

Now, as we talked about earlier, one piece of video that was released by the IOC offered a bit of sneak peek at what is in store for tomorrow, and aside from that controversy, we're starting to get a better idea of what this opening ceremony is going to look like. One thing that we do know is that it will be a celebration like nothing we've ever seen before. Of course, Japan will put on a show but only 950 VIPs will be there to see it inside a 68,000 seat stadium. And we still don't know how many athletes will take place in the ceremony, but if they're representation from India is any indication, participation will be limited.

India, media is reporting that out of 127 athletes making up the team, only six, John, will take part in the opening ceremony.

VAUSE: Wow.

Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there live in Tokyo, appreciate it.

Dr. Kenji Shibuya is the director of the COVID vaccination center in the city of Soma, Japan. He has also served as a senior adviser to the head of the World Health Organization, and he is with us now from Fukushima.

Dr. Shibuya thank you for being with us.

DR. KENJI SHIBUYA, DIRECTOR, SOMA COVID VACCINATION MEDICAL CENTER: My pleasure.

VAUSE: Well, games organizers have created a sort of, you know, security bubble, health bubble around the Olympic Village, if you like. The theory being that what happens outside the bubble stays outside the bubble.

In recent days so, more than 70 people, including about seven athletes inside the bubble have tested positive for the coronavirus.

So, is that number high enough to indicate there is a major problem with the pandemic protocols which are currently in place?

SHIBUYA: I think the number will be -- will be increased in due course. And yes, the organizing committee told us repeatedly that bubble system will ensure the safe and secure Olympics. But in reality, lots of supporting staff, delegates are freely going out and going back. So, effectively, I think there seems to be quite a few holes in the bubble system.

VAUSE: Is it an easy fix do you think or have they got some real issues here?

SHIBUYA: I think it's a little challenging to fix this at this stage.

VAUSE: Yes, it seems many of the safety recommendations which are in place for the Village were a lot more relevant maybe 18 months ago at the beginning of the pandemic. Recommending, you know, reduced capacity, a dining room tables from six to four, people are using plexiglass and splash guards throughout the Village.

But now we know that aerial transmission is one of the main ways the virus spreads. And that hasn't been considered for getting the ventilation system, for example. And it seems like the IOC are they fighting the last war as opposed to the one which is in front of them right now?

SHIBUYA: Absolutely, because to me, the fundamental opponent has been a complete lack of open, transparent and a scientific discussion on the condition under which the Olympic could be held in a safe and secure manner. Including ventilation, mass testing, requirement for vaccination.

So, these kind of essential sign spaced measures are not fully implemented.

VAUSE: Yes, we're also looking at the next Olympics, the Winter Olympics. It's 28 weeks now until Beijing. And the IOC clearly does not want to repeat of the empty stadiums that we're seeing in Tokyo.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUAN ANTONIO SAMARANCH JR., HEAD OF IOC COORDINATION COMMISSION: We want to have within the limits that the Chinese and international health authorities might mark, we need and we want to have spectators. We would like to have international community there. We would like to have the opportunity for everybody to enjoy the hospitality and enjoy the great Chinese offers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Like I said, we're about 28 weeks away. What are the chances the Winter Games will be spared those tough restrictions which are already in place right now for the Tokyo Olympics?

SHIBUYA: Yes, I think we should learn from the lessons but on top of that, the global community should try to suppress the, you know, pandemic as soon as possible in a collaborative manner.

VAUSE: Right. So, basically, this pandemic is going to be with us for a while and it's not going to go away in 28 weeks. So essentially, Beijing will face similar if not greater challenges?

SHIBUYA: Yes, but I think with vaccination effort, and a potential, you know, testing and scientific measures, I think it will be possible to hold the Olympics with spectators because China has a track record to suppress the transmission. And I think there are some lessons out on the Tokyo Olympics, how best to, you know, welcome to the guest, and make sure that the Olympics will be held in a safe and secure manner.

VAUSE: Well, the director general of the WHO is in Tokyo on Wednesday. He publicly declared overwhelming support for the games.

[01:10:01]

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The world needs now more than ever, a celebration of hope. The celebrations may be more muted this year. But the message of hope is all the more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Even the doctors in Japan call for the cancellation of the games, public health officials of the world over have expressed serious concerns. And in the past, the WHO has been accused of a conflict of interest when it comes to the IOC and the Olympic Games. Would have been better if maybe that ringing endorsement was perhaps a little more muted?

SHIBUYA: Well, I think it depends because the WHO has a responsibility to suppress the transmission globally. And so, I think it is important for the WHO to be optimistic and also convey the message that we need a global collaboration.

VAUSE: Fair enough. OK. Well, Dr. Kenji Shibuya will leave it right there. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

SHIBUYA: My pleasure. Thank you.

VAUSE: Just 5 of 42 Olympic venues will allow spectators to attend, and even those 5 will be limited to 15 percent capacity. Which means that stadium is built for tens of thousands of fans will be empty. No cheering, no buzz, no excitement, just recorded crowd noise playing of the loudspeakers.

As CNN's Selina Wang reports, many Olympic sponsors now think that the games are losing investment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Olympics, normally a golden opportunity to boost corporate image. This year, the fear is brand damage because of intense opposition to the games in Japan, after Japanese sponsors spent a record $3 million to be associated with the 5 rings, COVID-19 cases are surging. Spectators, largely banned, while the Japanese public just 20 percent of them fully vaccinated are urged to stay at home during the games. Sponsor plans are falling flat.

And at the top of Tokyo Skytree, world's tallest broadcasting tower. It's one of many Japanese Olympic sponsors that it had to cancel or scale back promotional events due to the games.

We were planning to hold events for the Olympics but because of COVID it's not the right time to hold a festival he tells me. We have canceled events, a viewing site and torch relay through our viewing spot.

Toyota, a top Olympic sponsor, is not airing Olympic related TV commercials. The editorial board of another sponsor, Asahi-Shimbun newspaper called for a cancellation in May.

There is a little Olympic spirit in the host city. Tokyo is in a state of emergency and alcohol is banned from restaurants. A CEO of Suntory, one of Japan's biggest beverage makers, says the economic loss from no spectators will be enormous.

TAKESHI NIINAMI, CEO, SUNTORY: I expected people from abroad to visit restaurants and bars where they sell our products, and to promote those brands. We have a plan to open couple of bars and restaurants only for our products sponsored by us. But we canceled that.

WANG: Do you think that these games could still boost international businesses for Japanese countries?

NIINAMI: More and more, I don't think so. I think that the Olympics have been losing its value.

WANG: Do you think the game should have been postponed?

NIINAMI: Considering the current rollout of vaccines in this country, two months from now should be the ideal timing.

WANG: According to Robert Maes, a sports marketing executive in Japan, several sponsors were pushing for the Olympics to be delayed.

ROBERT MAES, SPORTS MARKETING EXECUTIVE: Sponsors were paying a lot of money, but basically the return is very limited. You've got the five rings, then you have what used to be attached to Olympics, which is the spirit of sport, the pleasure, the youth, the sparkling ideas of sports. But that is all gone now.

WANG: But sponsor Asics is staying optimistic, as the official outfitter for the Japanese team in volunteers, opening this experience center in Central Tokyo, showing us design on the back to the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Although there will be no spectators in the games, we are sure many people will experience the atmosphere of the Olympics through media like TV he says.

Some experts say it's too early to say how brands will be impacted.

MICHAEL PAYNE, FORMER IOC MARKETING DIRECTOR: There's no point of sugarcoating. You know, this is not an ideal situation. Sponsors have been able to hit their short term gain? No. Will he be able to hit the long term gain? It's still possible.

WANG: And all that depends on whether the games are held safely, without turning into a super-spreader event.

Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Still to come here. Another pandemic high for daily COVID in South Korea. The government considering expanding restrictions already in place in Seoul.

[01:15:00]

Also ahead, Britain's opposition leader calls the prime minister a super-spreader of sorts while both of them remain in isolation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: On current trends, the number of COVID infections worldwide should reach 200 million within three weeks. That would be 8 million more new cases, mostly because of a highly contagious delta variant, relaxed public health measures and vaccine inequity.

For now, Indonesia, UK, Brazil, India and the U.S. are seeing the biggest increases in new cases. South Korea has set another pandemic high for daily COVID infections, breaking the record which was set just a day earlier. The surging numbers again driven by the delta variant and a low vaccination rate, just 13 percent are fully vaccinated.

On Wednesday, officials recorded more than 1,800 new COVID cases.

Manisha Tank following all of this for us from Singapore. She joins us now live.

There is something of a disparity of what we are seeing across Asia, when it comes to places like Singapore and Indonesia, but there's one thing in common, in those numbers are going up.

MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST: Yeah, that is sadly the big commonality amongst all of these countries, John, and as you already indicated, that's because the delta variant is very much making itself known in this part of the world. But there are lots of news lines coming out of Asia these days. Let me up you up you update you on the latest.

Australia, let's start there for the Asia Pacific region. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison is apologizing for the slow vaccine rollout. That really is important because that is one of the big news stories coming out of this region. One, which is the vaccination and what is happening with it, and the other is testing.

So, just dealing with vaccination, apologies for the slow rollout, and this as at least half of the population in Australia remains under some sort of lockdown.

Let's hop over to Malaysia, and in Malaysia, we have the government just this week talk about how it wants to ramp up the number of vaccinations. It is has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, yet still, we saw very ominous headlines this morning than 199 deaths were reported. This is a new high, high since the pandemic began for a daily death toll from a country for Malaysia specifically. With the government indicating that the rollout of 400 vaccines per day, they would like to see that raised to 500,000 vaccines per day. So, you know, very much a trajectory for Malaysia that they want to get things moving through vaccination program. Different story in Indonesia, where daily cases are running at tens of

thousands every day. You mentioned Indonesia just a moment ago, the government has come out to say that it is going to ramp up its test and trace program, with test, trace, and effectively quarantine, isolate. Those who will be tested wherever COVID-19 is detected, those people go straight to some sort of quarantine facility, because they really need to get it under control.

[01:20:03]

I am sitting in Singapore. It's a new day. It's a new set of restrictions. We have also seen a spike in cases, and I think Singapore is a real example of even if you have one of the best systems in the world, at the moment, we have a very high vaccination rate, 71 percent of the population have at least one jab. Right now, 48 percent of the country have had two, but even then, we have clusters that we need to get under control, John.

VAUSE: Manisha, thank you. Yeah, Manisha Tank there live for us in Singapore.

Well, U.S. President Joe Biden is calling on Americans who are still not vaccinated to do so. He's warned that not getting the vaccine is likely to underline progress made against the pandemic.

At a CNN town hall on Wednesday, said that approval for vaccines for children under 12 will take a while longer, but there could soon be an update on mask guidance in schools.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The CDC is going to say that what we should do is that everyone over the age -- under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask at school, that's probably what's going to happen. Secondly, those over the age of 12 who are able to get vaccinated, if you're vaccinated you shouldn't wear a mask, if you aren't vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.

So it's going to get a little tight in terms of well, a moment dad being honest in that Johnny did or did not get vaccinated. That's going to raise questions. But I think what's going to happen, is you're going to see this is going to work out that people are going to know in the community. Everybody knows in a community whether or not Johnny really did get the vaccination when he's 15 or 17 years old. So I think it's a matter of community responsibility and I think you're going to see it work through.

DON LEMON, CCNN HOST: Let me ask you -- let me follow up on that question. When will children under 12 be able to get vaccinated?

BIDEN: Soon, I believe.

Now look, one of the things I committed to do when I got elected, I said --

LEMON: How soon is soon, Mr. President?

BIDEN: Let me finish the question -- the answer. Soon, in the sense that I did not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: And so they are doing their examinations now, they're testing, out and making the decision now. When they are ready, when they have done all the scientific that needs to be done to determine -- children ages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 they all in fact have different make ups. They are developing, they are trying to figure out whether or not there's a vaccination will affect one child that is at such an age and not another child. That's underway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: In case you missed Wednesday's town hall with the U.S. president, you can watch the full replay over at CNN.com.

The British prime minister is accused of being a super-spreader of confusion over COVID rules. The leader of the Labour Party called out Boris Johnson's rules on isolation rules and passport vaccination. On Monday, Johnson suggested critical workers should be exempt, but the very next day, Downing Street reiterated that everyone should be isolated if, they are potentially close to the virus.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos picks up the story.

Here's a report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Westminster, members of the British parliament had their chance to hold a last question and answer session with Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, before the summer recess. However, Mr. Johnson wasn't able to be present at this event because he's been in isolation at the weekend at his country retreat. The prime ministerial county retreat in Buckingham is known s Chequers.

This after both he and his second senior most member of the government, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, were told they had to isolate after having been in contact with the health secretary who himself came down with COVID just on the eve of the country lifting the last vestiges of COVID restrictions.

Well, despite that, the infection rate remains extremely high at about 45,000 infections a day, and the death toll from COVID has gone all the way back to level seen last March. All of this -- the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer who was present for prime minister's question time on Wednesday to accuse Boris Johnson of being a super- spreader of confusion.

But then in an interesting twist, Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, himself had to spend the afternoon and the next week or so in isolation himself after one of his children tested positive for COVID.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, in Westminster, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, Boris Johnson also facing backlash from within his own party over his plans to make COVID 19 vaccine passports mandatory.

In neighboring France, though, hundreds of gathered in Paris on Wednesday to protests new health passes for everyone, and mandatory vaccinations to health workers. Visitors to museums, movie theaters, swimming pools must now show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They want to force us into getting vaccinated at all costs.

[01:25:00]

No, no, no. I have lost my job, I'm 48 years old. I won't start a professional retraining. I don't have enough strength anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They can fire me, I don't care. Us who don't want to be vaccinated, they can fire us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Well, despite those sentiments, since Mr. Macron's health pass announcement 10 days ago, 4.3 million people have made appointments to get their first shot of the COVID vaccine.

CNN European affairs commentator Thomas joins us now from Los Angeles.

Good to see you, Dominic. It's been a while.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Great to be here, John

VAUSE: OK. So, here is the British prime minister, as far back as Monday, Freedom Day, saying he's not really a big fan of requiring a COVID passport. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't want to get into a situation where people are asked to produce papers to go anywhere and enjoying the pleasures of what they do. But we have to make sure, that's why I certainly don't want to see passports for the pubs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: In January, his vaccine minister was even more adamant, tweeting: we have no plans to introduce vaccine passports, to which vaccination rate, goes on, no one has been given or will be required to have a vaccine passport.

Apart from the classic Boris U-turn or flip-flop, why the sudden change of course here? And what is the fallout from all of this?

THOMAS: Yeah. I mean, it's really quite remarkable John. I think that conventional wisdom would have at that if you don't declare victory on a battle or a war, and declare Freedom Day until you've really generally conquered the enemy, which to paraphrase Boris Johnson's metaphorical language and the sort of the militarization is a long way from over.

I think the easiest answer to your question is simply the numbers -- the numbers are absolutely out of control, rising to levels that we haven't seen for over 6 months, particularly in England.

And the opposition and the criticism that's coming even from within his own party, this perception that are certain rules to that apply to some and not to others, the fact that he promised freedom, and the inconsistency in his messaging. And I also think that the genuine critique of this is that the lockdown measures that he is talking about and the passport restrictions down the road are down the road, and people are asking, why not right now when we have the same situation yet again spinning out of control?

VAUSE: Yeah, essentially we have seen some deep push backs in opposition to these passports. Singer/songwriter Eric Clapton, for example, he's among those pushing back against these COVID passes. In a brief statement, he wrote that after the prime minister's stand on COVID passports, quote, I feel that I should make an announcement on my own. I wish to will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience present, unless there is provision made for all people to attend, I reserve the right to cancel the show.

And in France where a health pass is needed to visit the Eiffel Tower now as well as museums, soon will be required for restaurants and movie theaters, there's widespread protests there.

So, what precisely is at the heart of the resistance to a COVID passport? How deep does it run?

THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, John, this is a continuation of a sort of a product of this general confusion. I think it's all the more problematic when you have public figures like Eric Clapton, who, let's face it, has a long-standing record of being opposed to lockdown measures and is an anti-vaxxer. And I don't think it's concerned about the question of discrimination.

And this kind of speech is extremely damaging in this situation, compounded by the fact that there is widespread misconception that those who are vaccinated are completely safe, so therefore why can't we just leave the unvaccinated alone. When in fact scientists are actually telling us that there's so much that is not known about this process when it comes to variants, and what we do know that is we don't want hospitals to be overwhelmed. We don't want children to be negatively impacted by all of this. And so, when it gets to sort of how deep this question is running, I

think that there is a growing majority of people who are sick and tired of these lockdown measures of COVID and so on, I want this to be over with. Given the fact that this is been politicized and been so divisive from the very beginning, there is still a group of people passing on a whole range of measures, including the question of individual rights as a way to fuel this kind of politicized divisiveness as characterized by the response to COVID from the very beginning.

VAUSE: Well, here's one -- this could be a turning factor in all of this. "The Mirror" newspaper in Ireland reporting, Premier League in talks with fans to require fans COVID-19 passports for next season. That could be real game-changer.

One way or another, some sort of documentation like this will be needed to return to what we considered normal daily life, referring to the soccer.

[01:29:47]

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, John, there's a problem and the authorities have identified it. It's the slowdown in vaccination. Or it is the inadequate measures they have put into place to make sure that people get vaccinated. And they have a solution to this.

Now, it's really important to underscore that in the U.K. and in France, just to take two examples, the only people that are absolutely required, mandated to be vaccinated. Or in the French case, to demonstrate a negative PCR test, are health care workers or workers working -- people working with the elderly.

When it comes down to the west, it is a public health issue. No one is being forced to be vaccinated. But if you want to participate in civil society, in civil life, attend gatherings, attend social events, public transportation and so on, then you need to be vaccinated.

It is a contract with society here. And the authorities have a responsibility and they're being asked to implement these particular measures.

And I think that at the end of the day, there is nothing new about being vaccinated. There's nothing new about there being rules and regulations that govern the ways in which people live together.

This is a public health issue. And the authorities are responsible for responding to this.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Dominic, thank you. Dominic Thomas there with some good analysis and insight into what's going on there in Europe. Appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Well, right now in Tokyo, athletes are pursuing their Olympic dreams and among them a freshman pole vaulter nicknamed Mondo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARMAND "MONDO" DUPLANTIS, OLYMPIC POLE VAULTER: I want to go for sure. I feel like, you know, the dreams I had as a child, you know, of course being on the podium would be -- would be great and everything. But I want to go there and I want to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: We'll have more on his journey to the Summer Games and the family legacy he hopes to uphold.

Also ahead rising temperatures and years of drought bringing wildfires to what is usually one of the coldest places on earth.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

After a pandemic postponement, protests and calls for cancelation, the Tokyo Olympics now just one day away.

About 950 dignitaries are expected to attend Friday's opening ceremony. But the creative director has been abruptly sacked, reportedly because he made anti-Semitic jokes as part of his comedy routine years ago.

Meantime, more than a dozen athletes have dropped out of the competition after testing positive for COVID-19. Seven of them tested positive after already arriving in Japan.

The head of the IOC says these games are only happening because the people did not give up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS BACH, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The games will also highlight the, you know, perseverance of the Japanese people and the perseverance of the international community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[01:34:59]

VAUSE: I'm joined now by CNN World Sport's Don Riddell. So Don, you know, was it the perseverance of the Japanese people or the persistence of the IOC basically ramming this event, making sure it happened no matter what?

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Now, that is a very loaded question, John.

Yes. I mean it is no secret that the Japanese population was not in favor of these Olympics. But they do now seem to be happening. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Friday. But the action is already underway. Actually on Wednesday, we had numerous events kicking off.

And we had a lot of women's football players making names for themselves without even actually having to kick a ball. We saw no less than five women's teams all taking a knee before those games.

Those teams -- Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand, the U.S.A. and Sweden -- all taking a knee before kicking off their opening matches at the Tokyo Olympics. A show of solidarity and standing up, so to speak, for human rights.

Famously, Olympic athletes are not allowed to protest, but the IOC president Thomas Bach said that this action did not break any Olympic rules.

We had a huge upset when the games actually kicked off. The U.S.A., who are the reigning world champions and the dominant force in women's football globally, they were beaten 3-nil by Sweden.

The American star Megan Rapinoe saying simply, we got bopped, 44 game unbeaten streak ended here for the American team. They are the four- time Olympic champions.

They are not out of this tournament. They still got a couple of games to play. They can take themselves out of the hole. But they are in the hole for sure, after just one game.

We saw history as well in the game between Brazil and China -- good win for Brazil. They beat the Chinese 5-nil. Marta, the Brazilian legend scored twice in this match. She has now scored in five different Olympic tournaments, which is just an extraordinary feat.

And her teammate Formiga has now played in seven different Olympic Games. She made her Olympic debut all the way back in Athens in 1996, and she has now played in every women's Olympic soccer tournament, the women's football began in '96 in Athens.

The action will continue today on Thursday. It's already halfway through the day in Japan. So the action has already resumed.

And the man are going to be taking the field in the football tournament today. Really, really big games kickoff, it's going to be Brazil, the defending champions against Germany. That is actually a repeat of the final in Rio five years ago.

I was there at that match, John. It was an incredible occasion. Brazil won it on penalties, but the place was absolutely packed at the Maracana Stadium. It was a fabulous win for the Brazilian team in front of their own fans.

Of course, it's going to feel very, very different in Tokyo right now, because the stadiums are empty.

Back to you. VAUSE: Yes. Absolutely.

Still, it's going to be very hot for everyone there.

Don, thank you. Don Riddell with the latest there on the Olympics. Thanks, Don.

Well, one athlete hoping to reach new heights at the Summer Games is pole vaulter, Armand "Mondo" Duplantis. He is already the world record holder but this will be his first Olympics. And he is aiming to win gold for Sweden and the defend the family legacy.

Here's CNN's World Sport's Patrick Snell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT CORRESPONDENT: Armand "Mondo" Duplantis has been scaling new heights ever since he was 3, in his own back garden in Louisiana. A remarkable journey and one this 21-year-old can't wait to continue.

DUPLANTIS: For me, it's going to be my first Olympics. And I just want to go out there and do it.

I felt like I was so ready last year in 2020. Then when it got postponed -- it just feels like it's been ages. And I feel like I'm so ready for it. And I really just want to go out there and compete.

Whether it's fans, whether we have a, you know, lockdowns village, I don't really care. I just want to go out there and I want to -- experience a childhood dream of min.

SNELL: Duplantis, who represents his mother's homeland, Sweden, is a record breaker too. He jumped 6.17 meters in Poland early last year, before then clearing 6.18 in Scotland a week later.

His sights now though firmly trained now on Tokyo.

DUPLANTIS: I want to go for sure. I feel like, you know, the dreams I had as a child, you know, of course, being on the podium, would be great and everything. But I want to go there and I want to win.

And I feel like if I do it, I say the world when I go out there and I perform in a way that, you know, I think I should and I should come out on the top of the podium and actually have that gold medal around my neck.

SNELL: Have you seen it. Have you dreamt it. Have you visualized it?

DUPLANTIS: Yes. And it's -- not just in my mind quite a bit for sure, especially, you know, there's tough trainings early in the mornings, stuff where you don't feel like getting up. That little flash -- that gold medal flashed through your mind, and that's just enough motivation for sure to get up and get rolling through your day.

[01:39:58] SNELL: Duplantis has been tipped as the athlete to potentially one day take over the mantle of the legendary Usain Bolt. Though his clear path now is one influenced by his idol, Ukrainian great, Sergey Bubka.

DUPLANTIS: Sergey was a barrier breaker. He did things that people didn't think were possible. And I think that is so important for sports and for everybody just mentally because, especially pole vault is such a mental sport. And there are so many barriers that you have to get past.

And for me growing up, I just -- I always had this mentality that if this person can do it then I can do it as well. And for me competition is so important.

And just to see the things that fulfill achievement, for me to try to go out there every day and kind of run-up on this -- I mean, I thank him for the motivation.

SNELL: And speaking of motivation, Duplantis comes from the ultimate sporting family. His parents both distinguished former athletes, his siblings, as Mondo puts it, crazy competitive.

DUPLANTIS: -- were just, they were just hard to come by. And you really have to go out there and compete no matter what stupid little thing you were doing. So it made me tough. It made me tough. It made me learn to really enjoy competition.

And you know, I had such a good environment growing up that, you know, I really just -- you know, I'm so thankful to my family. And I'm so thankful to my siblings. I know I wouldn't be I mean I mean if they look up to him.

SNELL: So now, as Tokyo 2020, finally beckons, Mondo's thoughts returned to his childhood in Louisiana -- that special place called home where dreams and ambition are nurtured..

DUPLANTIS: I want to dominate and I want to be the best ever lived. I've always kind of had that mentality ever since I was just a little kid jumping in my backyard. So I would say that's what I want to -- want to be remembered as at the end of my career.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Thanks to CNN's Patrick Snell for that report.

We'll take a short break.

When we come back, big mammals, big city -- whale sightings are on the rise in the big Apple. We will show you.

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VAUSE: Now to CNN's initiative, "Call To Earth" to promote a more sustainable future. And that includes protecting wildlife, even where you would least expect it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New York's waterways may be best known for skyline views and crowded shipping lanes. Yet these busy waters also harbor a rich community of marine mammals.

Local whale species include the iconic humpback, fin whales and the endangered North Atlantic right whale. These photographs captured thanks to a multi-year aerial survey, conducted by Tetra Tech, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

HOWARD ROSENBAUM, SCIENTIST, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY: Right off of our shores, you know, in less than the average distance that a New Yorker or someone from the tri-state area would commute, these great whales are here.

[01:44:48]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wildlife Conservation Society scientist Howard Rosenbaum studies the whale population here in the New York Bight, the area between Long Island and the New Jersey coast island. His mission, to use the latest research methods to protect the whales.

ROSENBAUM: This is one of the busiest urban waterways on the planet. And they face threats such as, you know, impact from shipping which could include ship strikes or ocean noise, incidental entanglement in fishing gear.

These areas in the New York Bight, along the East Coast, you know, under this administration, are slated for extensive renewable energy development which the planet needs.

We just want to make sure that it is done with the best environmental and management practices possible, so that wildlife and renewable energy can coexist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In partnership with Norwegian company Equinor, which has a major offshore wind project in New York and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the WCS has deployed two acoustic buoys to detect whale calls in real time.

ROSENBAUM: If you can imagine, when a whale vocalizes in the New York Bight, like for example a North Atlantic right whale, we can actually detect those animals.

I can get an alert on my cell phone. And when that happens, at a certain level right now, the National Oceanic, Atmospheric Administration is requesting ships to slow down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the future, Rosenbaum says this alert system could be used to mandate boat slowdowns, or to directly alert developers and shippers to the presence of whales so that they can pause noisy or potentially harmful activity.

ROSENBAUM: It's a great tool and a great use of the technology that we can begin to use and harness the power of that to help better protect whales. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rosenbaum's team also takes and analyzes genetic samples from the whales in order to understand more about how this population connects to others like how they feed and breed.

ROSENBAUM: We're also trying some new work which is called environmental DNA or eDNA. And with that we're actually able to detect whale presence and what they are eating, just by collecting a water sample.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By combining information from genetic and acoustic research the scientists aim to understand a lot more about the whales and their behavior to find practical solutions to the challenges facing these New York ocean giants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And we'll continue to showcase inspirational environmental stories like that one as part of our initiative here at CNN.

And let us know what you are doing to answer the call with hashtag #CalltoEarth.

You're watching CNN. And we'll be right back in just a moment.

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VAUSE: Russia's military has been sent to fight wildfires in one of the coldest places on earth. More than 2.5 million hectares have burned in Siberia so far this year.

CNN's Kim Brunhuber reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From high above, Russian military aircraft dumped hundreds of tons of water on the angry flames below. They are in a battle against wildfires that are ravaging northeastern Siberia.

In an area more accustomed to arctic temperatures, residents are facing enormous blazes and thawing land that has been frozen for centuries.

[01:49:50]

BRUNHUBER: Rising temperatures and suffocating smoke are driving residents and firefighters to dig trenches to keep the fire away from their homes and fields, but the smog has already covered over 50 settlements disrupting daily life.

The situation is particularly dire for the elderly and COVID-19 patients. Many are feeling hopeless and scared.

ELENA VOLGINA, NGORNIY DISTRICT RESIDENT (through translator): It's frightening. Smoke every day, just every day. Only today we have a little sun. BRUNHUBER: Abnormally high temperatures, drought and strong winds have

worsened the spread of the fire, according to media reports.

People in northeastern Siberia rely on these forests. When it burns, verdant woods turn into swamps and the flammable, dry undergrowth releases long stored carbon into the air.

SERGEI SHOIGU, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): The fire hazard situation has sharply worsened almost all over the country due to the abnormal heat. The situation in (INAUDIBLE) is the most difficult.

BRUNHUBER: So far, flames have ripped through hundreds of thousands of hectares of Russian forest. Firefighters on the ground and in the air are trying to extinguish the blazes and stop them from spreading but a thick smoke cuts off visibility.

RUSLAN TUMERBULATOV, PARACHUTIST-FIREFIGHTER (through translator): Fire is massive. We extinguish it in one place and ignites in another. It is very hot weather.

The wind is still strong fanning the fire quickly but we are coping.

BRUNHUBER: What is one of the coldest places on earth has now become one of the fastest warming regions. Scientists say that while occasional forest fires are natural, forests in North America and Russia are burning at unprecedented rates.

MARK PARRINGTON, SR. SCIENTIST, COPERNICUS ATMOSPHERE MONITORING SERVICE: What's common to these fires in Russia and also in North America is that right now they are really recurring in places where there are heat wave conditions, there are long-standing drought conditions. And these things all feed into what we call the flammability of the field.

BRUNHUBER: As a changing climate wreaks havoc, another population has been forced to reckon with a warming world.

Kim Brunhuber, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Let's go to Derek Van Dam, CNN meteorologist, with more on the situation with the global -- these rising temperatures and what we can expect.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Kim was talking about how the arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. Well, the Arctic Monitoring Program, we just summarized some of their findings here.

They found actually that the arctic has warmed three times as fast as the global average temperature. That was between -- basically a 50- year period 1971 to 2019. So that is a hot spot for global climate change in the northern half of our planet.

Now, this is amongst the backdrop of several areas of the world that have wildfires burning out of control. Siberia you saw just a moment ago. The western U.S., 78 large active fires ongoing throughout that area, including the 4th largest wildfire in Oregon's state history.

We're talking over 160,000 hectares burn only 38 percent containment, which is good because they are starting to make some grounds on this fire.

The weather has turned slightly cooler, the winds have dropped, so there has been some improvement, but nonetheless, there is still a significant amount of smoke billowing from these forest fires including the Bootleg fire across central Oregon.

And why am I showing a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Well, it's because it's shrouded in clouds from the smoke over the western parts of the U.S. and southern California.

It gets lofted into the upper levels of the atmosphere, transported across continents and impact places like the East Coast.

The good news is the East Coast is going to clear out today. The bad news is that the forest fires still are billowing that smoke. And that's going to help create hazy conditions and also dangerous conditions for people from Minneapolis all the way to Chicago and Indianapolis.

In fact, if you just look at the size of combustible -- combustion particles such as smoke and the pollution that we emit from our vehicles, it's about 2.5 microns in diameter.

That is significantly smaller than the diameter of your human hair. So it has the ability to lodge itself deep within our lungs. That's why people with respiratory problems have issues with smog and smoke.

You can see the poor air quality across much of the U.S. We are at our highest level of weather -- I should say wildfire alert level across the Western U.S. in over a decade, John.

VAUSE: Yes. And that smog is so fine it can make it through most of those face masks that people wear, so it's a real problem.

VAN DAM: That's correct.

VAUSE: Derek, thank you.

VAN DAM: All right.

VAUSE: Appreciate it.

Well, from fire to floods to this. It's a dust devil. It is a problem in Bolivia. Players were caught by surprise as it rolled in during a local football match on Tuesday. No reports of anyone being hurt or if there is any damage as well. The dust devil will roll in, pick up debris and dust, they're often mistaken for tornadoes.

Well, these Tokyo games will be unlike any Olympics of the modern era. Along with all the pandemic restrictions and a year-long delay, there will be two new events making their Olympic debut on Sunday -- surfing and skateboarding.

[01:54:54]

VAUSE: CNN's Blake Essig spoke with members of an underground skateboarding crew.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At Triangle Park in Osaka, creativity is king. Here it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, or how much (INAUDIBLE) you take. It's all about innovation and self expression.

CHOPPER, SKATEBOARDER FROM OSAKA DAGGERS (through translator): People should feel free when they skateboard. It's better if there are no rules.

ESSIG: For more than 30 years, this park has been home to Japan's underground skateboard scene, the birthplace of alternative skate and a diverse group of skaters known around the globe is the Osaka Daggers.

Taichiro Nakamura, better known as Chopper, is considered by many as its father. He's been skateboarding on the streets of Osaka since he was a teenager.

CHOPPER: Skateboarding represents freedom and diversity for me, so I'm trying to inspire younger people to value those ideas too. We want to foster an environment where everyone is free to express their own unique style.

ESSIG (on camera): The Osaka Daggers are not a team, but instead a culture, a pioneering group that was once considered nothing more than rebels and misfits now represents the foundation of skateboarding here in Japan.

(voice over): A foundation that Daisuke Hayakawa, coach of the Japanese Olympic skateboard team says will, in a sense, be on display when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut at the games here in Tokyo.

DAISUKE HAYAKAWA, COACH, JAPANESE OLYMPIC SKATEBOARDING TEAM (through translator): At the Olympics, people will be able to see how skaters express their creativity and ideas through skateboarding. Well, skateboarding became a Olympic sport, it's important to remember the culture around it.

ESSIG: A culture that could become more widely accepted as the sport goes mainstream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the future is bright for skateboarding.

ESSIG: Back in Osaka, while Olympics have already had a big influence on shifting perceptions around skateboarding, these skaters say acceptance and change remains a constant struggle as speeding here is still technically against city rules.

CHOPPER: From the outside it looks like this park belongs to young people, but when we skateboard here, the police always come.

ESSIG: But that hasn't stopped Chopper and his crew from doing what they love at Triangle Park, and just down the street at the indoor skate park Sharing the passion and culture embedded in their DNA with the next generation.

HOKUTO YONEMURA, SKATEBOARDER (through translator): I started skateboarding when I was 3. I think it's A really fun sport.

ESSIG: Hokuto Yonemura at 9 years old is the youngest Osaka Dagger, a talented skater, with big aspirations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I want to make it to the Olympics, because I really want to win the gold medal.

ESSIG: A dream starting this year that could become a reality as sport and culture collide for the world to see.

Blake Essig, CNN -- Osaka.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well, thank you for watching. I'm John Vause.

After a short break, CNN NEWSROOM continues with Kim Brunhuber at the anchor desk.

[01:58:06]

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