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Opening Ceremony for Summer Games Just Hours Away; U.S. Vaccination Rates Down to Lowest Point Since January; Florida Governor Adamant About No Mask Mandate as Cases Surge; U.K.,10,000 Key Workers Now Exempt From Self-Isolation; Delta Variant Fuels Surge in Covid-19 Infections Across Asia; Pelosi Looks to Bolster Bipartisan Standing of January 6 Panel; Thousands of Firefighters Battling 80 Blazes in 13 States. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 04:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: The Tokyo Olympic games are set to kick off despite a rise in COVID cases and controversy.

And a new U.N. report reveals a world of growing jihadist threats and winding efforts to stop them.

And Australia set to face off with the United Nations over whether the great barrier reef is this danger. The clash over this natural wonder.

Welcome to everyone watching us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

The long awaited and long delayed summer Olympic games officially begin a few hours from now. But the director of the opening ceremony, well, he won't be running the show. He was abruptly fired yesterday, the fourth Olympics official to be forced out. We are live in Tokyo where the games have already been postponed of course for a year because of the pandemic. And COVID continues to cast a shadow over them.

For the first time, Olympic events will be held without spectators in most venues. And only a fraction of the 11,000 athletes scheduled to play will parade in the opening ceremony. The U.S. will have one of the larger presences with about 200 athletes.

Now as the clock ticks down, COVID cases keep ticking up. About 20 athletes have so far tested positive and been forced to drop out. The Olympic Village has had at least a dozen cases of people testing positive too.

We begin our coverage with Blake Essig joining me live from Tokyo. And despite all of those negatives, the show is going to go on.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, today is the day after a year delay, months of uncertainty and a general population that really doesn't want these games to happen. The open ceremony and official start of the 2020 Olympic games, is just three hours away. And the foot traffic around the national stadium has been constant, everyone is out here camera in hand taking pictures of the stadium here behind me. And that's about as close as they're going to get to being able to be a part of the opening ceremony because no spectators are allowed inside.

I honestly have not seen so many people out walking around since the pandemic began. Of course, that's not great news given the surge in COVID-19 cases, but people have told me that they are out here out of curiosity. Now, we've been talking to people throughout the day to gauge their level of excitement, and generally speaking it is health, safety and surge in cases, not the Olympics, that dominates the conversation, with some saying that it is hard to get excited about these games. I'm even told even though they are happening here in Tokyo, it doesn't really feel like it.

Still the games are already under way and the opening ceremony albeit a subdued affair is set to take place here shortly and when it does, only 950 dignitaries will be inside the 68,000-seat stadium to see it. That includes United States first lady Jill Biden. She arrived in Tokyo yesterday. Now all that being said, despite the surge in COVID- 19 cases in Tokyo, the pandemic is still raging in many parts of the world, but the caldron will be lit later tonight -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Blake, appreciate the coverage. Blake Essig live in Tokyo for us.

Now the White House is adopting a tone of greater urgency over COVID- 19 after cases in the U.S. jumped more than 50 percent since last week. The number of new infections rising or holding steady in just about every single state but one -- as you can see there on the map. President Joe Biden says his COVID team is examining the surge and discussing if new mask recommendations are needed.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We follow the science. It's happening now. All the major scientific operations in this country and the 25-person group we put together are looking at all possibilities of what's happening now. We have a pandemic among the nonvaccinated. Those who are not vaccinated. If you are vaccinated, you are safe.


HOLMES: Vaccination rates are down to their lowest point since January, less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, far from the number needed to reach herd immunity. And there are plenty of vaccines available. The White House also providing more resources to increase vaccination rates.


The administration will inject $100 million into rural health clinics to support vaccine education and outreach efforts. As well as $1.6 billion into testing and mitigation measures. The White House COVID-19 response coordinator said he's confident about the vaccines despite breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We will see some cases among those who are vaccinated as to be expected with any vaccine, these cases are generally mild and oftentimes asymptomatic, which is just more proof that the vaccines work.


HOLMES: The rise of the delta variant has left many people wondering if the U.S. could head for another lockdown just as we've seen in many other countries. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS News that it is not something that he can see happening.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I don't see a lockdown in the future, Norah. Remember when you are dealing with the sharp incline in cases, you are talking about overwhelmingly that is among unvaccinated people.


HOLMES: Now, despite some discussion over whether mask mandates need reviewing, the CDC is not changing its recommendation on masks. Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that the unvaccinated though, they should still wear masks. But if a person is vaccinated, it becomes a personal choice.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what's going on in their local area. So, if you're in an area with a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines, but you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.


HOLMES: Well, Florida is leading the U.S. in new daily coronavirus cases. Racking up an average of nearly 6,500 new infections a day. It is the current U.S. hot spot. But if you listen to the state's governor, who's played down the pandemic since the beginning, it is just a season of illness. And he is shooting down any suggestion that there will be any lockdowns or mask mandates. Leyla Santiago reports.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you're not getting that done in Florida.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Governor Ron DeSantis refusing to back down from his conviction that he's successfully handling COVID in his state.

DESANTIS: I have a 3-year-old son. You got people like Fauci saying he should be muzzled, that you should be throwing masks on these 3-year- old kids. It's totally unacceptable.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): The state is averaging 6,492 cases per day, a figure that has nearly doubled in one week, quadrupled in a month. In just one week from July 15th to July 21st, Florida has 45,449 new cases, and is once again leading the nation in the number of new COVID-19 cases. DeSantis says it's just a seasonal thing.

DESANTIS: We have a summer season here. Just like last year. It started a little later this year. So, you're going to have higher prevalence for the rest of July, probably into August. And then it goes back.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Doctors disagree.

DR. LILIAN ABBO, CHIEF OF INFECTION PREVENTION, JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM: We have a much more contagious variant that we didn't see in December or in April.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): But then there's also this messaging from DeSantis.

DESANTIS: These vaccines make it so that your chance of survival is pretty doggone close to 100 percent.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Which is a far cry from his tone last May.

DESANTIS: Because you've got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York. Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks -- well, hell, we're eight weeks away from that and it hasn't happened. So, we succeeded, and I think people just don't want to recognize it.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): A little less than ten weeks after that press conference, Florida became a global COVID epicenter. Only California, with its larger population, recorded more cases at the time. So, while DeSantis is encouraging vaccines, he's continuing to push back on masks and Dr. Fauci.

His political operation is selling merchandise that reads "Don't Fauci my Florida" and "How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?"

Right now, about 48 percent of Florida residents are vaccinated. And the state is now recording the most new deaths in the country this month. Yet DeSantis stands firm.

DESANTIS: We've never had any mandates in the state of Florida, and we will not have any mandates in the state of Florida.

[04:10:00] SANTIAGO: And when Governor Ron DeSantis said that about the masks, he was met with quite a bit of applause by the supporters surrounding him. You know in 2022, he is up for re-election next year. But plenty out there are wondering if he has his eyes on 2024 for a presidential bid.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, Miami.


HOLMES: The NFL has a new policy for coronavirus outbreaks. The league warns that if a game is canceled and can't be rescheduled because of an outbreak among unvaccinated players, well, that team with the outbreak will forfeit and it will be counted as a loss. Not only that the team with the outbreak will have to pay the expenses of the other team. It's all part of their push to get players and staff vaccinated before the NFL season kicks off. The NFL reports they are seeing an increase in vaccination rates. 14 teams are above the 85 percent threshold now.

And this is an interesting one. Musician Eric Clapton says that he will not perform at venues that require a COVID-19 vaccination for entry. According to a statement posted on the social media account of an anti-vaccine activist, Clapton says that he will not play anywhere that there is a quote, discriminated audience present. In a follow-up e-mail, Clapton said that he is not a COVID denier or anti-vaxxer, he calls it an issue of human rights. Now it is of course important to note, medical professionals say that vaccine is safe, it is effective, and it prevents death and serious illness.

Britain will make some 10,000 key workers exempt from self-isolation to prevent critical shortages in the food chains. This coming after a record number of people across England and Wales were pinged by the NHS test and trace app and told to isolate because they had been in close contact with someone who has COVID.

Nina dos Santos is live in London for us. Tell us about how this is working, who is accepted and who might be in the future?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's all a bit complicated at the moment. What we know is that obviously food supply workers, not necessarily people who stock the shelves inside supermarkets, it's more people who are inside the food depots, also people who will be having to transport food from one part of the country to the next. Those are the types of people who will be exempt from this.

As you said, it's going to be a scheme that at the moment will be in the early stages encompassing about 10,000 workers to try and alleviate acute shortages in the labor supply chain particularly in the food industry but also actually in the fuel sector as well. I mean, even people like the metropolitan police here in London are having to contend with large numbers, and their own staff having to isolate as well, according to reports. So, this is something that is certainly broader than the food sector.

But the government was really concerned in particular about lack of food on shelves and people then panic buying and getting into a kind of vicious cycle. So, the way how it's going to work, is that over the next few days we're going to see this scheme rolled out where for people who have been contacted or pinged as you said and told that they will have to isolate, they're going to be able to go to work but by doing daily testing for seven days instead of having to isolate for ten days which is the current rule.

Now obviously, there are other business leaders from other sectors that say that they want this type of help as well. At the moment this appears to be limited in fashion, it doesn't alleviate the concerns though that many people have across this country, Michael. But you know, the government is having to take these kind of emergency measures at certain pressure points, but the rest of the economy in theory is open and COVID restriction free.

HOLMES: Yes, while the Prime Minister isolates. Nina dos Santos in London, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Now cases are surging in much of Asia fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. South Korea has been battling a new wave of the pandemic and will be extending its toughest social distancing measures in the greater Seoul area for another two weeks. Our Cyril Vanier with more on how South Korea and how other nations in Asia are coping with soaring infections.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lockdown in Indonesia, emergency restrictions in place until July 25th, more than 54,000 new cases were reported Wednesday. The island nation now surpassing India with the most daily infections as the government struggles to vaccinate its population.

Not surprisingly, the delta variant will be the dominant strain over the next few months says the World Health Organization. The highly contagious strain is already in 124 territories. Like in Bangkok, this was the scene there Tuesday. Hundreds of people lining up to get the vaccine at a bus station. No social distancing possible here. Thailand is facing its worst COVID outbreak so far.


BA KYUNG-TAEK, KOREA DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION AGENCY: Currently South Korea is in the middle of the fourth wave and the outbreak of more than 1,000 patients a day continues for more than 15 days.

VANIER (voice-over): This is what hospitals in South Korea have been dealing with. It's also their worst outbreak. The government says it may expand lockdown restrictions in Seoul.

More than 500 flights were canceled at a major airport in eastern China. 17 cleaning workers tested positive for the virus. The city says it is now on a soft lockdown as it tests all of its 9 million residents.

Oxygen cylinders are hard to come by in Myanmar. Patients are being turned away at hospitals due to a bed shortage. The ruling junta reporting a steep rise in cases. This as the country remains in crisis after February's military coup.

Coronavirus misinformation now a big problem in India. One radio station uses the airwaves to raise awareness.

ARCHANA KAPOOR, FOUNDER, RADIO MEWAT: They do put it on itself to communicate to this community that this is a problem, it's a global problem, there is a lot of fake news. Do not follow that.

VANIER (voice-over): Getting ahead of the problem, convincing people to get the vaccine, just as important as tackling the disease itself.

Cyril Vanier, CNN.


HOLMES: The U.S. House investigation into the Capitol riot might soon get a bipartisan boost. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is said to be considering another Republican to serve on the committee.

Also devastating wildfires scorching huge swathes of Western United States and extreme heat and drought only making it worse. Find out when conditions could improve after the break.



HOLMES: The sound of gunshots there in the nation's capital Thursday causing patrons of a popular restaurant to flee. Police are investigating and they say two people were injured in the shooting, adding that the suspect fled the scene in a black Honda Civic with D.C. license plates.

Now the U.S. House panel investigating the Capitol riot might soon get a second Republican, that is despite GOP leadership refusing to put anyone on the Democrat-led committee. Manu Raju with more on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aim for the probe to be more bipartisan.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now despite the blowup between Nancy Pelosi and the House Speaker and the House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy over the January 6 committee that would investigate the attack that happened here in the Capitol on that day, it is still moving ahead. Nancy Pelosi does have eight members, one Republican, that she has named to the post, the Republican Liz Cheney. She believes she says she has a bipartisan quorum regardless of the fact that Kevin McCarthy does not plan to appoint any five members to serve on this committee. They are still moving ahead.

This this could happen in the aftermath of Pelosi taking unprecedented action in rejecting two of McCarthy's picks because she believed those two Congressmen Jim Jordan and Jim Banks would undermine the integrity of the investigation. McCarthy as a result pulled out all of his picks. Now, Pelosi is still considering adding another Republican to this panel. That is Republican Adam Kinzinger. He and Cheney too were the two foremost Trump critics in the entire Republican conference. They were the only two Republicans to vote to create this select committee. Whether she does remains to be seen, but it is actively being discussed.

Now at the same time, she is also considering allowing an outside adviser to come in who is a Republican, Denver Riggleman. Riggleman met with some key staff in the capitol on Thursday. Now the Democrats and Cheney are talking about their game plan for the investigation ahead. Including a hearing next week with Capitol police and D.C. police about their experiences in the Capitol defending the Capitol on January 6.

And then the investigation will take shape in the months ahead. Key staff have already been hired and they plan to lay out their plan about the investigation now that they have the staff, and the personnel expect things to pick up in the months and weeks ahead. But this will almost certainly drag into next year, an election year will control of Congress is at stake and Republicans don't want this discussion to be about January 6th as they try to take back control of the House.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: Right now, dozens of wildfires are burning across the Western United States. The largest fire in the country has consumed nearly 400,000 acres in southern Oregon. Officials say the Bootleg Fire is just 40 percent contained. And to make matters worse, nine people working the fire have been forced to the sidelines after testing positive for COVID-19.

And have a look at this, this is the Tamarack Fire. It's burning along the California/Nevada border. Just have a look at the terrifying scene there the crews had to battle through while fighting this inferno. The fire has burned through more than 50,000 acres, or 20,000 hectares, with just 4 percent contained. It was sparked by lightning on July 4.

Extreme heat and drought are fueling the flames of some of these fires. Let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam. What are you seeing? I think that it is just going to get hotter, isn't it?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you're right. I mean, that's the name of the game, it's summertime, right Michael. But I think Smoky the Bear from the U.S. National Forest Service is on to something here, warning people that there's an extreme fire danger. It was a slogan, something like only you can prevent wildfires, right? Well, he is on to something across central Oregon because it is extremely dry there and he's warned the tourists and the visitors and all the residents that fire conditions are indeed high.

One of the parameters that we often get overlooked is how bad this impacts the quality of the air across the U.S. We've been covering this the past 24 hours or so. Because the smoke from the wildfires over southern Canada and the Western U.S. has drifted. It's gotten caught into the upper levels of the atmosphere, the Jetstream, and drifted eastward.


In fact, here in Atlanta, Georgia where the CNN center is located, there was some kind of haze to the sky tonight with a nearly full moon. That coloring that you see on the TV screen behind me, that is actually the smoke predicted into the weekend that's going to impact much of the Southeastern U.S. even though the major metropolitan areas D.C., to New York and Boston should stay generally haze-free this weekend. It's places like Nashville, Chattanooga into Atlanta that will see that haze.

79 large active fires over the Western U.S. today. We have the potential for dry lightning taking place across Montana into parts of Idaho potentially igniting new additional flames. That's why we have a red flag warning across the area.

But I want to show you what's happening throughout the four corners region. Exceptional drought still ongoing but we're getting much needed relief, but perhaps a bit too much too soon and too quickly. Because flash flood warnings are taking place including the Maricopa County region where Phoenix is located, they've had extremely heavy rainfall within the past six hours or so leading to some localized flash flooding throughout the region. You can see the high-resolution forecast radar imagery lighting up like a Christmas tree. Because frankly there is just a lot of rain in the forecast across the area that has been parched for so long. So when the ground is so dry like this, it doesn't have the ability to absorb the rain and that's why we see the flash flooding occurred across parts of Arizona at the moment -- Michael.

HOLMES: What a combination. Derek, thanks. Derek Van Dam there.

Now search crews are still rescuing people more than three days after deadly flooding in central China. These are actually pictures coming into us live here from Henan Province in China as the rescues continue. There have been survivors trapped in their homes without food, water or electricity. Just have a look at how high the water still is. 33 people have been killed, hundreds more are missing or still stranded. And a lot of people are asking why authorities weren't better prepared after the region got a year's worth of rain in just three days.

We'll be right back.