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Dreams Crushed by COVID-19; From Full Packed Stadium to Bare Venue; Spectators Watch While in Self-Isolation; Pingdemic Affects Food Supply in Britain; Italy Imposed Green Pass Rule; Bolsonaro Supporters Leaving Him Over Poor Performance; Tokyo 2020 Will Officially Begin as COVID Looms; Australia Pushes Back on Possible In Danger Rating; Floods and Wildfires Bring Climate Crisis into Focus; Global Threat of Terror; U.S. Sanctions Parts of Cuban Regime Following Protests; Surfer is Stoked as Watery Sport Makes Its Olympic Debut. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL HOLMES CNN ANCHOR (on camera): The Tokyo Olympics will officially begin in a few hours from now. CNN covering all angles of the games from competitions to COVID.

Plus, our Will Ripley gives you a bird's-eye view of the venues, the hotels, and the host city.

And the pingdemic in the U.K. We'll explain what it is and how is affecting Britons.

Hello, and welcome to all of our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. And this is CNN Newsroom.

Well, the long-awaited and long delayed summer Olympic Games officially begin just four hours from now. But the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020 won't have its director. He was abruptly fired. In fact, he was the 4th Olympics official to be forced out.

Now we are live in Tokyo where the games have already been postponed for a year because of the pandemic and COVID still casting a shadow over them. For the first time, the Olympic events will be held mostly without spectators. Only a fraction of the 11,000 athletes scheduled to partake in the games will be parading in the opening ceremony.

And that's because new cases in Japan are spiking again to alarming levels. About 20 athletes so far are testing positive and being forced to drop out.

We'll talk a bit about that with Don Riddell in a moment.

At least a dozen people at the Olympic Village testing positive after they arrived in Japan. Let's begin our coverage with Blake Essig, though, in Tokyo. Blake,

despite all of this, it's about to get underway. What are you discerning in terms of atmosphere or lack thereof?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Michael, what's interesting, you know, today really is the first day where the bus and the excitement that has not existed, at least around the stadium kind of does. You can kind of see people streaming up and down the street as they are wanting to inch closer because they are curious about what's happening outside of the stadium with the opening ceremony scheduled for just a few hours.

But after a one-year delay, months of uncertainty and a general population that doesn't want to happen, the opening ceremony official start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is now just four hours away.

And as I mentioned, the foot traffic around the stadium is significant, it's something that I honestly have not seen, you know, since the pandemic began. You know, seeing this many people out and about which honestly isn't great news given the recent surge in cases.

But people here have told us that they are here out of curiosity. Now, we've been talking to people throughout the day to gauge their level of excitement, and generally speaking, it's health safety and surge in cases not the Olympics that dominates the conversation. With some saying that it's hard to get excited about these games.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: Given the marathon is in Hokkaido and the events are being held without spectators, the Olympics feels far away. So that's a shame.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ESSIG (on camera): Now still, Olympic competition is already underway. The opening ceremony albeit scaled back version is set to take place here in just a few hours. For athletes, typically, the opening ceremony is a huge deal. But this year given the circumstances only a fraction of the people will be participating.

I recently spoke to Tony Azevedo, a five-time Olympian and silver medalist water polo player who told me that participating in this opening -- the ceremony is just absolutely amazing, the greatest feeling in the world. But if he was completing this year, he wouldn't be taking part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY AZEVEDO, FIVE-TIME U.S. OLYMPIAN: It would be very different. I mean, you can't -- you can't intermingle or meet your other athletes. You are still going to be on your feet walking, and there is not the thousands of fans in the stands. Like, I'm just giving you my -- if it's me there's no way I'm going, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP) ESSIG (on camera): The national stadium behind me can hold 68,000

people, Michael, but only 950 VIP's will be there in person to see the opening ceremonies take place tonight.

HOLMES: All right. Blake, good to see you there. Blake Essig in Tokyo for us, I appreciate that.

Now for more on the athletes vying for Olympic gold, CNN world sports Don Riddell joins me now. Great to have you here on set on, Don.

You know, we've been talking about this, too. It's hard to imagine as an athlete, you spent four years training, preparing, travel to the games, and then if you don't have symptoms you test positive. It's over.

[03:05:04]

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It's a nightmare, isn't it? I mean, sport is full of disappointment. That's one of things that makes this so compelling to the viewers and the fans who were watching it. But this situation for these poor athletes who have tested positive seems particularly cruel.

We now have what, 110 games related positive cases, 21 athletes, 10 tested positive before they even got on the plane. Eleven actually got there, get into Japan and tested positive. And they're in this awful situation now where they have to isolate in their hotels for seven days. They can't even speak to the media during that time.

And then there's a cab right to the airport and they're out of there. And that's their Olympics. So that's the reality for these athletes. Coco Gauff, the young American tennis sensation is one of them and one can only imagine with the virus clearly now circulating in the village that there may be others.

HOLMES: And so many of these people, I mean these athletes that they get one shot. And that's it.

RIDDELL: Right.

HOLMES: And two weeks in a hotel room and go home. My goodness, I can't imagine. We have yet to see the opening ceremony but there have already been some events. What you've been seeing in terms of result?

RIDDELL: Yes. Quite a few. Some of the competitions and tournaments have got underway. We actually saw an Olympic record set a couple of hours ago in the archery, An San from South Korea shooting a 680 which is breaking a scoring record which has stood since 1996 when the games are here in Atlanta.

The soccer tournaments are underway. Huge game on Thursday between Brazil the defending champions and Germany who they beat in the final in Rio. I actually saw that in a packed stadium five years ago the beaten four-two with a hat-trick from Richarlison, the Everton striker scoring three goals in half an hour. So, that was exciting. Of course, all of these events happening in empty stadiums which is just absolutely devastating. But I get -- we're used to that, right, and then --

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: I was going to say we're almost used to that.

RIDDELL: We've seen plenty of it. But it's still at the Olympics because this is the pinnacle of, you know, sport, sports events and sports tournaments. But we are really looking forward to the sport now that this thing actually is underway after all the waiting. And I think there is going to be a lot to look forward to. Let's see what Simone Biles can do.

HOLMES: Yes.

RIDDELL: Can she continue dominating and reinventing the sport of gymnastics? Novak Djokovic if he wins in tennis, he'll head to the U.S. Open trying to pull off the golden slam --

HOLMES: Yes.

RIDDELL: -- which will be extraordinary. Who is going to be the next Usain Bolt? We'll soon see and some new sports as well, so a lot to look forward to.

HOLMES: Yes. In fact, I'm looking forward to the surfing, although Japan is not known for its great breaks, but we'll see. We'll see.

RIDDELL: Maybe they'll win.

HOLMES: Exactly.

RIDDELL: All right.

HOLMES: Good to see you, Don. Thanks for that. Don Riddell.

Now Olympic historian Philip Barker joins me now via Skype from Tokyo. Good to see you, Philip. You have a unique perspective on the COVID impacts on these games. You have been told to isolate as a quote, "close contact despite being fully vaccinated," having multiple negative tests.

As a sports guy, it must be pretty weird to be at these games especially stuck in a hotel room.

PHILIP BARKER, OLYMPIC HISTORIAN INSIDE THE GAMES: Yes, it is. I won't be at the opening ceremonies. And I shall be doing what people did in 1964 watching on color television when the games were last year. That was the new thing. So, I'm going to be sitting in my hotel room.

I did see the lighting of the torch that the journey that started back in March 2020 in person down in ancient Olympia. So it feels like completing a journey but it's going to be very, very weird. The actual flame arrived in Tokyo today. Kankuro Nakamura, a kabuki actor lit the cauldron in the center of town.

But that almost surreal because it wasn't a torch relay that you would know with people actually running. They were walking to pass it to one another. They did one of these approved poses that were carefully choreographed. And then the cauldron burned and of course it will make its way to the stadium tonight.

HOLMES: You are a historian of these, of games. I mean, in the context of Olympic history, has there ever been anything to compare to what we are seeing here with these games?

BARKER: I don't think so. I mean, the early games were very disorganized. The 1916 games never took place. They were supposed to be in Berlin, the First World War paid to that. And of course, 1940 which was to have been in Tokyo originally was eventually canceled because of the Second World War, same with 1944.

But nothing of this magnitude actually postponing the games and then having it the following year with as almost saying an empty stadium with only journalists and a few VIPs looking on. What they are doing is they are piping in sound like some of the football that we saw in some of the other sport.

They've got artificial sound which Thomas Bach. The International Olympic Committee president has called the vibe of the world. Now, how that's precisely going to work I don't know. It divides opinion anyways. People don't like the artificially of it.

[03:10:01]

HOLMES: Yes. And I doubt there has been a game that's been more unpopular with the local population as well. I mean, one thing that's grown over the history of the Olympics is the sheer amount of money involved and things like television broadcast rights, and so on. Do you think that has a negative effect on decisions made for Tokyo in that there was simply too much money at stake to cancel?

BARKER: Well, as they used to say in one old television program, you might say that. I couldn't possibly comment but I will anyway. Of course, television is the major source of income for the International Olympic Committee. It funds all that they do. And therefore, clearly, that is going to be a factor.

I mean, that is why the opening ceremony really goes ahead tonight. It's a television event. It's aimed for the world. You have the parade of nations every country that's watching will be looking out for their athletes as they come in. And there are some flag bearers even.

Tomas Satoransky of the Chicago Bulls with Petra Kvitova both doing it for the Czech Republic, I should say. And the height difference between those two is about 20 centimeters. So that will be interesting when they have it. Patty Mills from the NBA, he is one of the flag- bearers for Australia.

HOLMES: Yes. BARKER: So, a few -- and Brazil will only actually be sending four delegates into the arena. They were a host nation last time with a massive team. But Bruno Rezende and Ketleyn Quadros, Rezende from volleyball, Quadros from judo, they are coming in and only two officials with them because of the COVID outbreak. And I'm sure a lot of teams will actually do that.

HOLMES: Yes.

BARKER: Some of them have to change their flag-bearer because they couldn't get a flight that fitted with the regulations for arriving 48 hours before just so that they can be checked over.

HOLMES: So many changes. I mean, one other thing, you know, talking about money there, I think it's $15 billion Japan has spent on this. It used to be a massive boon for a country, a city to host the games. But you know, Brisbane had no competition for its bid. Could we be headed for a time with the IOC pretty much has to ask our country to host rather than bidding that this been in the past? I mean, the cost is so huge, the return so nebulous. What's the tangible upside to hosting?

BARKER: Well, this is the thing. They are encouraging. I mean, Los Angeles set back the trend. In 1978, they were unopposed as host and they actually staged the games without building any new venues. I mean, it did help that they had the Los Angeles Coliseum. Pretty much they put bunting around everywhere. It made it look nice for the television cameras but their capital across on venues were very, very small.

And Brisbane, of course, with the goalpost because both cities have staged the commonwealth games. You'd like to think that they would put those in place. What didn't happen here in Tokyo of course, was that the old stadium from 1964 they went down and demolished that. And we've got a fantastic new stadium but at great cost for these games. And that was a big expense for them. And they could have perhaps simply used decoration to make the old stadium look good for television. But they didn't.

HOLMES: Yes. And really quick, Philip. I mean, you've traveled there, you are an expert on the games, you love the stuff. Are you going to get out of the hotel room?

BARKER: I hope so on Monday. And I hope to see the flame. The flame is going to be on display in the waterfront. But we've got refugee team coming in tonight behind the host of the first nation of Greece, so that will be a big moment. And then, of course, when the Japanese come in at the end, that's going to be a big moment as well for the television viewers.

It's just that they're not going to have that marvelous acclaim from the home crowd. That expectation we saw in Sydney, London, and everywhere else.

HOLMES: Yes.

BARKER: So, these are going to be ghost games.

HOLMES: It's a -- yes, it's a shame but it is a television event. I'm glad you are going to get out of the hotel room. Philip Barker, a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much.

BARKER: Thank you.

HOLMES: And you can follow the games with CNN's coverage on our web site instantaneous. Just point your browser to cmm.com/olympics.

Quick break here on the program. When we come back, a helicopter ride over the Olympic stadium as the final hours' countdown to the opening ceremony. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Almost 70,000 seats in that stadium, nearly all of them empty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[03:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES (on camera): Welcome back. Just in. Britain is planning to make some 10,000 key workers exempt from self- isolation. And the reason is to keep the food chain moving and prevent critical shortages. They'll have to be able to provide a proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Now, all of this coming after a record number of people across England and Wales were pinged by the NHS test and trace app and told to self- isolate because they've been in close contact with someone who has COVID. Now some staff who may test negative have been isolating instead of showing up to work at vital businesses such as supermarket depots and food manufacturing sites.

Now this comes as COVID cases soar across the U.K. more than a quarter million people testing positive for COVID from July 8th through 14. Now that's the highest weekly number of new infections since January.

Nina dos Santos is joining me now from London. So, Nina, good to see you. Tell us more about the pingdemic, how it's working and these exemptions for some. What about others?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Michael. Well, that's the big next question that they are going to have to deal with. But the immediate pressure point for the government was to try and curtail this issue with, and control this issue with the supply chains and the food sector. This, after certain products have started to run out.

A number of big supermarket chain had said that they are having to put on thousands of temporary workers to cover that shortfall in the labor market caused, as you said, this so-called pingdemic, as it's being dubbed.

The fact that more than 600,000 people now across this country are having to isolate as per yesterday's figures because they have been contacted either by the NHS test and trace team via the telephone where they have been pinged by the app that they might have downloaded saying that they have been in contact with somebody who has COVID-19.

But now as we know, they are going to be able to test for several days rather than have to spend 10 days in isolation. That will be releasing about 10,000 workers into the food supply chain, but the reality is this many business leaders are saying this is nowhere near enough. As you can imagine, there are very limited help for other type of sectors and there is shortfalls in the labor market the way up to even, for instance, the police force, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. I guess meanwhile, you know, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking a real risk with this sort of reopening, the dropping of restrictions. He is sort of still plowing ahead with a no restriction summer. Big risk.

DOS SANTOS: It is, indeed. But also, he himself is isolating, by the way.

HOLMES: Yes.

DOS SANTOS: We have an ironic situation here in the U.K. where the most senior members of government, the prime minister, the chancellor of the exchequer, even the health secretary are currently spending this week in isolation drafting policies that will allow millions of people across the U.K. to roam free without masks despite surge in COVID case numbers whilst they themselves are in isolation because COVID appears to be so prevalent that they've been in contact with somebody who has had it.

[03:19:55]

And ditto for the leader of the opposition who went into isolation just a couple of days ago after one of his children contracted COVID. So, on the one hand, anecdotally, for many Britons there's a confusing situation here. People are living their lives as though COVID doesn't exist. They are able to remove over the last vestiges of COVID restrictions.

But when you look at the amount of people who are currently having to isolate, those number are growing. The numbers of people who were hospitalized by COVID-19 are just earlier this week because the most serious we've seen since back in March.

And the infection rate still following that trajectory that the health secretary warned about. It's around about 50,000 and the government, remember, warn that it could hit 100,000 throughout the course of August on a daily infection rate.

So, it's really a tale of two countries here in England. Remember that Scotland, Ireland and other parts of the U.K. they have a slightly more cautious approach to opening up their economies. And what we're really talking about is the lion's share of the country which is England. Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, absolutely. Good to see you, Nina. Thanks for that. Nina dos Santos in London for us.

Now Italy and Israel are fighting a surge of cases of the Delta variant with green passes that will bar people who are not vaccinated from public venues. The Israeli prime minister plans to reinstate them in about a week pending formal approval from the government. The passes would apply to everything from synagogues to sporting events, to tourist sites, and Italy planning to make the green pass mandatory in two weeks.

Journalist John Allen with the details.

JOHN ALLEN, JOURNALIST: Italy is facing a worrying rise in COVID cases. The government announced some 5,000 new cases today, that's double the weekly total -- or the daily total, rather, of just a week ago. In response, the government has announced the beginning of August 6, a green pass will become mandatory for accessing most indoor venues in the country.

So, bars, restaurants, concert halls, sports stadiums, swimming pools, gyms, basically anyplace people gather indoors. So, to give you an example of how this is going to work, if you want to go out to a restaurant, like the one I am standing in front of, if you want to eat outside, and frankly, most Italians do during the summer, you're fine.

But if you want to go in, you are going to have to have the green pass. And that is proof that you've been vaccinated or proof of a negative COVID test within the last 48 hours. Or proof that you have COVID and recovered within the last 6 months.

And you know, in terms of what the agenda is here, what the government is trying to achieve, I think they've made it clear as humanly possible. Health minister Roberto Speranza today said today that the effort here can be expressed like this. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated.

Reporting for CNN from Rome, this is John Allen.

HOLMES: YouTube has pulled 15 videos from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's channel. The social media company says the videos violate its COVID-19 medical misinformation policy by promoting unproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine. And by saying masks aren't affective.

Since the start of the pandemic, President Bolsonaro has downplayed the pandemic even when he got infected. And Brazil, of course, is being one of the world's hardest hit countries reporting tens of thousands of new cases each day and more than 1,000 daily deaths.

And as Brazil's coronavirus death toll mounts, more people are losing faith in President Bolsonaro to handle the crisis. His popularity has been plummeting and he's losing some of his most ardent fans.

Isa Soares reports. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One of President Jair Bolsonaro's most enthusiastic supporters Ana Claudia Graf thought the right-wing leader would be Brazil's savior.

ANA CLAUDIA GRAF, FORMER BOLSONARO SUPPORTER (through translator): He appeared to us as a man who defended the fight against corruption, who defended the family institution, who said he would never allow cronyism that it would be a different government. I really believed in this thing that was sold to me. I went all in, I fought for it to happen.

SOARES: But two and a half years after Bolsonaro swept power, this former fan is full of regret.

GRAF (through translator): It was a mistake. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

SOARES: Tired of corruption allegations devastated by Brazil's COVID death toll, she's become a full-time political activist, demanding her president's impeachment.

GRAF (through translator): I will not shut up. I will fight. I will fight until I take this man out of power.

[03:24:59]

SOARES: Graf is one of many to lose faith in the country's leader, putting pressure on Bolsonaro ahead of presidential elections next year. The president's disapproval rating is at an all-time high. For the first time since he took office more than half of voters now support impeachment proceedings. At issue, his handling of the COVID pandemic.

UNKNOWN (through translator): There are more than half a million people dead.

SOARES: Bolsonaro's skeptic of lockdowns, masks, and vaccines once dismissed the virus as a little flu. It's now claimed more than half a million lives in Brazil, the world's second highest death toll. He faces a major Senate investigation.

JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (through translator): I won't answer to these kinds of people under no circumstances.

SOARES: The government is also been rocked by corruption allegations over the purchase of COVID vaccines, damaging the image of a president who promised to root up graft. As anger rises on the streets, former allies turned their backs on the president, disillusioned with a man who swept their party to power.

NICOLINO BOZZELLA JUNIOR, BRAZILIAN FEDERAL CONGRESSMAN (through translator): We really imagined that he was tough, that he was honest, and he was going to fight for everything that was wrong in the republic. But in the end, it turned out to be nothing like that. SOARES: Junior Bozzella is a federal congressman from Bolsonaro's

former party, the PSL. He is backing a fresh impeachment request that has support from lawmakers, from the left and right

BOZZELLA JUNIOR (through translator): Every day that he is in power advances the process of corruption, he's bleeding the public office and at the time of pandemic, he is not giving a damn. Shrugging his shoulders and making fun, mocking death and the lives of Brazilians.

SOARES: But Bolsonaro's critics worry he may not accept defeat next year.

BOLSONARO (through translator): I will hand over the presidential sash to whoever wins the election cleanly. Not with fraud.

SOARES: At a recent bike rally, these Bolsonaristas stand firm, saying their president is a scapegoat fighting to change the country for the better.

UNKNOWN (through translator): They will invent anything that's an excuse. Everything that happens is Bolsonaro's fault.

UNKNOWN (through translator): He's being bullied, abused, suffocated, and even so, we are seeing him do things others haven't been able to do in 30 years.

SOARES: The question now, how long Brazil will stand behind its populist leader.

Isa Soares, CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES (on camera): Quick break here on the program. When we come back on CNN Newsroom, just hours away from seeing what an Olympics without fans will look like. Our Will Ripley tours the Tokyo skyline to see what it takes to host an Olympic Games.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: Some 18,000 athletes and officials will be staying in those buildings down there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Plus, the great debate over the Great Barrier Reef. Why Australia and the U.N. have very different ideas about how to protect a natural wonder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. We are live in Tokyo with the Olympic Games getting underway. Welcome back to "CNN Newsroom." I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Now, after a year-long delay, it is the final sprint to the Olympics in Japan. In less than four hours, Tokyo 2020 will officially begin. Less than thousand VIPs will take part in the opening ceremony. And fans, well, they're just not going to be there, sign the coronavirus is still looming large at these Olympics.

Cases have been surging across Japan. Tokyo is reporting its highest daily infections since January. And more athletes are watching their Olympic dream slip away as they test positive for the virus.

Let's get straight back to Tokyo, where CNN's Will Ripley joins me now live this hour. Will, you've got a unique view of a city both kicking off an Olympic Games and dealing with a COVID surge.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is an Olympics that is so different than anything that we've ever seen before, Michael. And one of the things that make it different is this bubble, this bubble that athletes are in, this bubble the journalists are supposed to be in, and you really get a sense of how difficult it is to maintain that bubble when you take to the skies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY (voice-over): Taking off, it really hits you, hosting the Tokyo 2020 summer games is a massive logistical challenge.

(On camera): This is one of the biggest cities in the world. Every single direction you look in, the skyline is never-ending.

(Voice-over): One building really stands out: Tokyo's $1.5 billion Olympic stadium.

(On camera): Right now, we are flying over the center piece of Tokyo 2020. All those 70,000 seats in that stadium, nearly all of them empty.

(Voice-over): The Olympics first ever spectator ban, a dramatically scaled down opening ceremony. Organizers say only about 950 VIPs attending, including U.S. first lady Jill Biden. We get a closer look on the ground.

(On camera): This is as close as most Japanese are able to get to their Olympic stadium. Police have shut down surrounding roads and even fenced off the perimeter.

(Voice-over): For everyday folks, this is their only shot at seeing the Olympics up close.

(On camera): Public opinion polls showed Japanese overwhelmingly don't want the games to go forward, but you wouldn't know it looking at these long lines of people who are waiting to take selfies in front of the Olympic rings.

UNKNOWN (through translator): I'm worried about the Olympic bubble. It's not perfect. But I want to cheer on the athletes.

RIPLEY (voice-over): That bubble, to protect athletes from COVID 19. A small but growing number of athletes are testing positive, even inside the Olympic village.

POPPY STARR OLSEN, AUSTRALIAN SKATEBOARDER: So excited to go to Tokyo but I'm also, like, terrified to fly all the way there and then test positive.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Athletes are tested for COVID daily, asked to arrive five days before competing and leave two days after. From above, you can see how packed it is.

(On camera): Some 18,000 athletes and officials will be staying in those buildings down there. You can see a lot of their national flags on the sides.

(Voice-over): Most of the Olympic venues are here in Tokyo. Japan invested billions only to have fake crowd noise echoing through all those empty stands.

(On camera): This is going to be an Olympics like none other. And the world is watching. They want to see if Japan can pull this off in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a state of emergency without the Olympic starting into a super spreader event.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

RIPLEY (on camera): You know, I lived in Japan for a number of years. It was my first posting for CNN. I've never had the chance to fly above this beautiful city in a helicopter. Truly was magnificent to see it from above.

It is just a shame that down below, things are so difficult right now with the cases, the highest level since January, and even where now that the man who sold the Olympics to the Japanese people, the former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, won't be attending the opening ceremony this evening, Michael.

HOLMES: Yeah, it is -- it is going to be so different. I mean, when you -- you've been on the city for a while. You know the city very well. Has COVID sort of taken over the narrative completely? I mean, do you get a sense of any hope for these games, at least for the locals?

RIPLEY: You know, at least in the lead up to the Olympics, I think COVID has most certainly taken over the narrative, and really it took over the narrative back in March of 2020 when the games were postponed for the first time in Olympic history.

[03:34:59]

RIPLEY: This opening ceremony tonight could be an opportunity to reset that narrative. If you can see the joy through all of these difficulties, if in the competitions the athletes are having fun, if people can get into the sport, then perhaps there is hope for these games, as long as the case numbers don't continue to explode or as long as you don't have a major outbreak amongst the athletes because the athlete numbers are still pretty low.

But if a big name is knocked out of contention because of COVID, that would be catastrophic. That is why you see teams like the U.S. gymnastics team with Simone Biles choosing to stay out of the village, at hotels where they think that they can control the athletes' safety a bit better.

But it really is going to come down to the athletes themselves who are going to pour their hearts into the competition, and hopefully the world can get on board and we can start to talk about the things we like to talk about the Olympics.

Plus, you know, it is also a green Olympics, Michael. I mean, they have, like, self-driving buses here, the recycled cardboard beds. I mean, come on, why are we talking more about that?

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: I agree. Get out there. You're the correspondent. Do it.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Will Ripley, good to see you, my friend. Thanks for that.

He walked into that one, didn't he? You can count on CNN for instant coverage of the games on our website. Head to cnn.com/olympics.

UNESCO scheduled to vote today on whether to officially label the Great Barrier Reef as in danger. Australia strongly opposed to the move, which could threaten the site's world heritage status.

To explain that seeming contradiction, CNN's Anna Coren is following the developments live from Hong Kong. The reef has been in peril from climate change for a long time now. What would a classification mean for the reef and what is the Australian government's bewildering, in some ways, position?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, Michael. UNESCO wanted to list it in danger back in 2014. The Australian government fought it. They said that they would bring in all these measures to improve water quality, stop the pollution pouring into the reef.

Fast forward to the last few years, we know that there have been three massive bleachings of the coral reef in the last five years. So UNESCO has taken upon itself to involve itself in climate change and is now demanding that the Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, the largest living infrastructure in the world, can be seen from space, is listed as in danger.

The government, the Australian government, has been fighting this fiercely. They sent their environment minister, Sussan Ley, on an eight-day trip around the world to lobby committee members on UNESCO, to vote with them, which is to delay this decision until 2023. I mean, this is really just kicking the issue down the road.

If you listen to the Australian press, Michael, they will say that the Australian government has got the numbers, they have enough countries on site to swing the vote their way. Not everyone is convinced. The vote will happen in the next few hours. If it goes to a secret ballot, then it will be pushed out until tomorrow. So we won't know a decision until then.

But, Michael, I spoke to Professor Terry Hughes, who has basically given his life to, you know, studying the Great Barrier Reef, the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, which basically is like the Amazon of the ocean. You know, it is this rainforest under the water.

He says it is in decline, you know. That it will continue to be in decline and that it needs something -- you know, government, and this listing to start to try and, I guess, you know, help it -- help it take the steps to recover.

But, he said, if nothing is done, then you should go and see the reef as soon as possible, because soon, it won't be there.

HOLMES: What a horrible thought. Anna, good to see you. Thanks for the report there. Anna Coren in Hong Kong.

Search crews still hard at work more than three days after deadly flooding in Central China. Some survivors have been trapped in their homes without food, water or electricity. The flooding, killing at least 33 people. Hundreds are more stranded all across Henan province. Many want to know why authorities weren't better prepared after the region got a year's worth of rain in just three days.

Well, from flooding to another alarming extreme. Raging wildfires are engulfing parts of the Western United States. The largest wildfire in the country is now approaching 400,000 acres in Southern Oregon. That is more than 160,000 hectares. Officials say the bootleg fire is now 40 percent contained.

[03:40:00]

HOLMES (on camera): And this is the Tamarack fire that is burning along the California-Nevada border. Have a look at that terrifying scene there as crews battle through to fight the inferno. The fire charred through more than 50,000 acres, around 20,000 hectares, just four percent contained. Let us show you these massive plumes of smoke and the eerie red sky. This is in Nevada. The Tamarack blaze was sparked by lightning on July the 4th.

Meanwhile, G20 environment and energy ministers are discussing the climate crisis in Naples, Italy. But a source tells CNN, they are at an impasse over a commitment to contain global warming. There's also a concern that wealthy countries are not meeting their target of providing $100 billion a year to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANS TIMMERMANS, EUROPEAN UNION CLIMATE POLICY CHIEF: All industrialized nations have responsibility to put the money on the table that was promised to the developing world, which is $100 billion a year. We need to work on that. We make good on our promise. The European Union does. And I hope it can convince the others, first and foremost, the Americans to do the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES (on camera): Thousands of flag-waving protesters outside the royal palace of Naples had a similar message for wealthy countries at now to end the poverty and seriously address the climate crisis.

Mindy Lubber is president and CEO of Ceres. It is a non-profit that shows investors and corporations how to factor sustainability risks like climate change into what they do and how they invest. Earlier, we spoke about the urgency of combatting climate change given the extreme weather events the world is already seeing.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MINDY LUBBER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CERES: Things that used to be called 100-year storms, meaning they happened every hundred years, are happening every year. The floods in Germany, the drought, and the heat waves in Canada, the fires in the United States of America, these things are costing the countries billions of dollars, lives are being lost, and we are going to see more and more of that every day.

It is not easy to take on this issue, but it will be thousands of times more difficult if we don't take it on. If we think about what our kids are going to face, as soon as 2015, we are not talking about hundreds and hundreds of years from now, we are delivering a world to our kids and an economy to our future.

That absolutely can't work if we don't stop climate change now, because at some point, as science tells us, we've got about 10 years to mitigate and to bring down our emission substantially. At some point, it gets too bad, too difficult to meet those goals of the Paris climate agreement, which says we got to get to 1.5-degree world.

HOLMES: Yeah. And spending money on the preparation and mitigation now is not money wasted. It is a lot cheaper than rebuilding every time. I want to quickly ask you, too, about -- because it is so important -- the human aspects of all of this.

I mean, we are already seeing climate refugees. We are seeing force migration because of rising waters, various calamities, food scarcity, and so on. It could lead to conflict as well.

LUBBER: You have put your finger exactly on it. This is not -- it is not just a planetary issue, although the planet is everything. It really will determine whether or not we are able to grow the food we need, whether or not people can live in low-lying countries, whether there are going to be more floods and more storms. Think about the political unrest of the last year where people didn't like immigration from one country to another. The climate problem will make the immigration problems of now look small. We will see hundreds of millions of people being displaced.

We got to make sure we built a world where they are not being displaced and we are not ruining our economy and we are not ruining truly the lives of our kids. The urgency of now is incredible. Tomorrow, when the G7 leaders meet, they need to act, they need to be specific, and they need to put dollars on the table.

HOLMES: The thing that always strikes me, it is not like we have been warned for, like, decades. I wish we had more time, Mindy, but we don't. Mindy Lubber, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

LUBBER: Great. Thank you.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): A quick break here on the program. When we come back, a resilient and expanding threat of terror. Where the United Nations says al-Qaeda and ISIS are gaining ground and what is behind their increasing activity. You're watching "CNN Newsroom." We will be right back.

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[03:45:00]

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HOLMES: Welcome back. From Afghanistan to Somalia. Efforts to combat terror groups linked with ISIS and al-Qaeda have been winding down. A new report from the United Nations warns that is part of why Jihadists are flourishing. Another is COVID.

Nic Robertson explains the expanding threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): COVID-19, travel, and other restrictions have kept international Islamist terror threats at bay, a new U.N. reveals, but it hasn't killed the threat.

EDMUND FITTON-BROWN, U.N. MONITORING TEAM COORDINATOR: One of the things we highlight in the report that just come out is the possibility that the relaxation of lockdowns might mean that some pre- planned attacks can then take place.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The report, 20 years after al-Qaeda's horrific 9/11 attacks, reveals a world of growing Jihadist threats and waning efforts to counter them.

From Somalia in East Africa where U.S. forces backing the government left this year, al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab, is spreading its brand of violence south into Kenya. Other al-Qaeda affiliates are making gains through the Sahel region of Africa, too.

Meanwhile, in Central and West Africa, ISIS is strengthening, crossing borders for Mali into Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, and from Nigeria into Cameroon.

In Nigeria, the death of an al-Qaeda-affiliated leader, as ISIS- affiliated fighters surrounded him, likely makes the ISIS affiliate the biggest outside of Syria.

FITTON-BROWN: Part of the vision of these regional structures is that these will enable them to increase the (INAUDIBLE) of their global network and ultimately to mount a more affective threat, in particular, in the west.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Another risk gaining momentum, the birthplace of the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan.

Although it is too soon for the report to conclude the impact of the Taliban's recent gains and the U.S. drawdown, one member state estimates ISIS, who claimed the rocket attack narrowly missing Afghan leaders.

Attending prayers in the capital on Tuesday to have 500 to 1,500 fighters and be focusing at the capital, Kabul. And al-Qaeda, who U.S. forces chased from the country after 9/11, now have a presence in at least 15 of the country's 34 provinces, fighting alongside the Taliban, and appear to be counting on a military victory.

FITTON-BROWN: That gives them time in which to stabilize, to continue to use Afghanistan as a platform, and then in the longer term to review whether it is possible to use it as a platform also for international attacks.

[03:50:00]

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Twenty years on from the 9/11 attacks, al- Qaeda's then number two, now its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is thought to be unwell. His expected replacement, Saif al-Adel, report says, is in Iran, likely assessing if Afghanistan is safe for his return.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): The U.S. imposes new sanctions on parts of the Cuban regime following massive protests in the island nation. U.S. President Joe Biden says the sanctions are just beginning. And now Havana has responded. CNN's Patrick Oppmann with the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration slapped new sanction on Cuba and Cuban officials aren't wasting any time, firing back. On Thursday, President Biden announced there will be sanctions on Cuba's defense minister and special brigade of Cuban troops. These are special force troops. They dressed all black. They are known as the Black Wasps (ph) there, highly trained and highly armed.

The Cuban government has sent them in the streets, something you usually don't see here, to deter protesters from again going out and calling for liberty, calling for change, and calling for better conditions and less shortages.

The Cuban government doesn't seem like they are going to be deterred at any way by these new sanctions. Cuba's foreign minister tweeting out that the U.S. should sanction itself for all the police violence that takes place in the United States, he said.

So, while the Biden administration is certainly hoping that sanctions and threats of more sanctions could force the Cuban government to allow these protests (INAUDIBLE), already, the Cuban government is saying they won't have any impact.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): Coming up here on "CNN Newsroom," surfing making its Olympic debut in Tokyo. We will talk to one young athlete who went from just wanting to impress her brothers to going for gold. We will be right back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLINE MARKS, U.S. OLYMPIC SURFER: I just got to an age where I like I just really want to impress my brothers and I really want them to think I was cool.

[03:55:00]

MARKS: And I think they thought surfing was the coolest thing ever. So I was, like, well, I'm going to have to surf in order for them to think I'm cool. And that's like why I started surfing, then I totally fell in love with it.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: You are one of six kids. So what is it been like for you to have your family right there with you during this incredible time?

MARKS: That's a huge reason why it is so special because I get to share it with people that I love the most. It is like the coolest thing ever. You know, surfing is something I love the most and my family and the people I love the most, so it's cool to, you know, share both of that with them. Yeah, I'm super grateful for them. I definitely wouldn't be where I am without them. So, it's pretty awesome.

(INAUDIBLE) represent my country and it is so exciting. You know, it is the Olympics. It is a thing that brings the whole entire world together. I think that is so incredible and it is something different than I've ever experienced, something different than any surfers ever experienced, and it's just such an honor to be on the U.S.A. team and to be one of the first surfers ever to be there. It is incredible.

WIRE: How special would it be for you to be up on that podium and have a metal put around your neck?

MARKS: That's seriously dream come true. That's like, you know, it gives me goose bumps, and that's like obviously the goal going into Tokyo. You want a medal around your neck. You want to go for gold and give it your all.

I want to show how unique our sport is. You know, we rely on Mother Nature and we rely on the winds, the tides and the -- you know, it kind of like the moods on a day. I think that is so unique from any other sport.

The feeling I get when I stand up on that wave, in the ocean, it is like so joyful and it is so therapeutic. It is such an open canvas. No one can really tell you what to do on the way. It is kind of like painting a picture like everyone has to do different style.

WIRE: You are 19 years old. How have you balanced school, training, competing, but all of that while still just trying to be a teenager?

MARKS: I don't really like thinking like that. It's more of like, oh, I'm just living my dream. This is everything I want to be doing. I'm travelling the world. I'm surfing (INAUDIBLE). I'm surfing in the best place in the world. I am living the best life ever.

So I don't really even think of it as like, oh, I'm missing prom or I'm missing homecoming. I don't even care. I'm totally living my dream and this is the best life ever. Yeah, it is super fun.

(LAUGHTER)

WIRE: So have you been able to get an education? I know it's not conventional.

MARKS: I've been home schooled since I'm in 5th grade, and I did this just online school program. I actually graduated high school last year. So, we actually do have a lot of time on the road. Obviously, we are surfing and doing things like that, but there are some downtimes to do school. I think it is better than being on my phone.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): Coy Wire reporting there. Thank you for watching this hour. I will be back with more "CNN Newsroom" after the break.

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