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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Won its First Gold Medal on Sunday; Fans Can't Hide Their Excitement; U.S. Cases Going Up, Vaccination Drops; Missouri's St. Louis County Back to Mask Mandate; U.K. to Impose COVID Passport; Hospitalizations in U.K. Triggered by Mass Gatherings; U.S. Forces Will Continue to Support Afghan Forces. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 26, 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)

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: A very warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares.

Ahead on CNN Newsroom this hour. A gold rush at the Tokyo Olympics after a slow start, the United States nabbed multiple first place finishes including a big win by the men's swim team.

Plus, the Delta variant fueling a surge in COVID cases around the globe. Now, another big U.S. city is responding by once again requiring masks.

And a CNN exclusive. Pakistan's Taliban leader weighs on the massive gains made by the militant group in Afghanistan.

Happy Monday, everyone. The Tokyo Summer Olympics are in full swing despite the pandemic and with a tropical storm on the horizon. Organizers are now adjusting their mask policy on the Olympic podium allowing athletes to take them off for a photo. And the quest for gold is heating up, too.

Let me show you where the medal count -- the medal counts stands at the moment. It could change quickly of course with 21 medal events on Monday. Meanwhile, officials have confirmed at least 153 COVID cases linked to the games so far. One of the new cases was a resident of the Olympic Village bringing the total number of cases from the village to 16.

Now, Japan, as I mention, also bracing for a tropical storm that's expected to bring rain and strong winds this week.

CNN's world sport Patrick Snell in Atlanta. And our Blake Essig joins us live from Tokyo. Let's start with Patrick. And Patrick, let's start with the current medals table and reflect a bit more if we could on that particular win from the team USA perspective.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Yes, thank you so much. Isa, the United States winning its first gold medal on Sunday to get on the board there in the pool in Japan. And since then, there's been steady momentum for team USA. I would say currently -- there you go, that's the snapshot for it -- America has five gold medals, three silver, and five bronze at the moment. That's a total of 12 medals.

Only -- in fact, look at that, only China has more total medals. Well, that leads me nicely into U.S. swimming star, Katie Ledecky, who was in the 400-meter freestyle action this Monday looking to add to her triumph in Rio five years ago, but the world record holder up against a formidable rival in the Australian competitor, Ariarne Titmus.

This, a thrilling contest between these two, but there will be only one winner and it would go the way of the Australian in this eagerly anticipated showdown, Titmus winning gold with a time of three minutes, 56 seconds, 69. But now the second fastest time ever behind the Ledecky is world record of 3, 56, 36.

Ledecky, by the way, a five-time gold medalist, she won silver which is really impressive. She had a time of 3, 57, 36. That's the fourth fastest time ever. Titmus' win giving Australia its second win of the 2020 games and fifth medal overall.

And also, success for Caeleb Dressel and the U.S. men's relay team. They got the (Inaudible) in start. But I do want to get onto this story concerning team Great Britain and Adam Peaty who just powered his way to victory to win gold in the men's 100 meters again. This off the back of his Rio 2016 triumph, 26-year -- 26-year-old from England not just a defending champion, Isa, remember, but also the world record holder in this event swimming a time of 57 seconds, 37. Great Britain's first gold of this games and Peaty's third career Olympic medal overall. And he is now the first British swimmer to successfully defend an Olympic crown. Great, great Monday for him.

Arno Kamminga, of the Netherland silver, and the Italian competitor Nicolo Martinenghi with bronze, so really significant Monday in the pool.

SOARES: Yes. Absolutely. And Peaty saying he hasn't felt this good since 2016. Really amazing scenes, I saw this morning as well on the skateboarding front. And I've never felt so much like an underachiever in my life, Pat.

SNELL: I know the feeling. Yes, it's absolutely incredible what we saw just a short while ago in fact on Monday and another day to savor for the host nation, Japan, once again this in skateboarding. Remember it's only making its Olympic debut at these games this year.

And the women's competition in fact, amazing this, all three competitors on the podium teenagers. Japan's Momiji Nishiya has won gold in the first women's street skateboarding event in Olympic history at, wait for it, 13 years of age, she's one of the youngest gold medal winners in Olympics history ever.

[03:05:02]

The Brazilian Rayssa Leal winning silver, guess her age, 13 as well, would you believe? And Funa Nakayama winning bronze, she's a little bit older, three years older in fact at 16. Nishiya's win giving Japan a six-gold medal of these games and eighth total on Sunday.

Just to reset a marvelous weekend really for the host. Japan's Yuto Horigome winning the first ever Olympic gold medal in skateboarding for his country. That was in the men's. So, just incredible scenes there capping off a wonderful last couple of days for the host nation on this day three. So, back to you.

SOARES: Absolutely. I think at -- I don't know what you were doing at 13 but 13 I think I was reading Charlie (Inaudible). so very much an under --

SNELL: I was -- I was dreaming. I was not so erudite. I was dreaming of trying to be a professional footballer if not a cricketer for the record.

SOARES: Well, there you go. We haven't --we haven't done as well those two ladies.

SNELL: No.

SOARES: Thanks very much.

SNELL: Big failure for me anyway.

SOARES: Patrick Snell. Thanks very much. I want to take you now to blaze -- Blake who joins now from Tokyo. And Blake, as you just heard here from Patrick some really great story lines out of the Olympics, but unfortunately, the COVID cases continue to rise. Give me a sense how this is being handled on the ground and the impact crucially this is having the mood of whether the game has actually shifted that.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: yes, you know, Isa, for months we've talked about how unpopular these games have been with the Japanese people. The reason for that concerns over health and safety. And that hasn't change with cases in Tokyo surging and Olympic-related cases continuing to pile up.

But despite all that since competition began last week it seems like this made for TV event is starting to pique curiosity. IOC official say nearly 70 million people watched the opening ceremony here in Japan. The CEO of Olympic broadcast services says it was the most watched event in Japan over the past decade. And so far, 80 percent of the people in Japan, roughly -- out of the roughly 126 million people that live here have tuned in to watch the games at some point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINORU OMORI, TOKYO SHOPKEEPER (through translator): We were really looking forward to the Olympics, but then it got delayed due to the pandemic. It feels a bit subdued now but the games are now underway. I think people from all over the world can still enjoy the Olympics from their homes by watching TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ESSIG (on camera): And even though the buzz and excitement that is typically associated with the Olympics, it's a far cry from what it normally is here, people are trying to experience the games in any way possible. Proof of that, people line the course to cheer on triathletes as they competed. Now, they weren't supposed to be there, of course. But as you can see that didn't stop large crowds from gathering to catch a glimpse of the Olympic action.

And while it's difficult to know for sure, people here tell us that the support for these games is stronger than what's being let on. They say that that's because some people are afraid to express their excitement given all the negativity surrounding these games. So, while it does seem like support for these games is shifting, Isa, there's no question that it's still a tale of two cities.

SOARES: Blake Essig for us there in Tokyo, thanks very much. I'll speak to you in the next hour or so. Thank you.

Now, experts say the Delta variant is the most prevalent in the U.S. infections as cases spike at an alarming rate. The majority of U.S. saw more than 50 percent increase in new COVID cases. That was last week represented here you can see in a sea of dark red, if we can bring that up for you.

But vaccinations have hardly moved in the same time period. With less than half of all Americans fully vaccinated so far. The former U.S. surgeon general says Americans should expect restrictions to make a comeback if things don't improve. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEROME ADAMS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: More mitigation is coming, whether it's masking or whether it's closures or whether it's your kids having to return to virtual learning, that is coming. And it's coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again. And it's spiraling out of control because we don't have enough people vaccinated.

So, get vaccinate because it helps your neighbors but get vaccinated because it's going to help every single American enjoy the freedoms that we want to return to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOARES (on camera): In the meantime, new modeling projects the U.S. could see up to 4,000 COVID-related deaths per day later this year if conditions worsen. Top health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. needs a course correction. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you look historically at the modeling that has been done over the last 18 months, for the most part it's been pretty accurate. So I'm not so sure it would be the worst-case scenario, but it's not going to be good. We're going in the wrong direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SOARES (on camera): While Missouri is trying to reverse in trend in St. Louis, starting today masks are mandatory in all indoor public areas creating controversy for the local government as well as of course for business owners.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports for you.

[03:10:00]

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: for more than two months people are breathing a sigh of relief for not having to wear a mask, and all of that is changing on Monday for the people here in St. Louis and St. Louis County. We're in the state of Missouri, and this is where the mask mandate will, in fact, take effect.

So, they will have to wear masks for indoor public spaces. That is everyone as well as public transportation, everyone five years old and older, the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated. The only exception will be for those who are eating or drinking at a bar or a public restaurant or those who have a disability who cannot put on or take off their masks. There'll also be a strong recommendation to wear masking outdoors as well.

Now, the mayor, as well as the county executive, says this is for the health and safety, well-being of the people here. There has been an incredible surge in COVID cases recently. The pushback to the mask mandate has been swift.

To the attorney general Eric Schmidt who is running for the GOP nomination of the U.S. Senate was the first to go ahead and be very vocal in his pushback about this tweeting saying, the citizens of St. Louis and St. Louis County are not subjects. They are free people. As their attorney general I'll be filing suit Monday to stop this insanity, framing this as an issue of freedom and not public safety.

The mayor of St. Louis was quick to respond in her own tweet saying, our top priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of the people of St. Louis City and County. Nobody is surprised that the attorney general plans to file yet another frivolous lawsuit to serve his own political ambitions.

In the meantime, you have the restaurant owners, the bartenders and employees and people going out and about who are now stuck in the middle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: Whenever we had the mask mandate, we had to fight a lot of people who didn't want to wear masks. We had a customer pull a gun, we've had customers like threaten to fight and just go crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: City officials later on Monday will hold a press conference to try to explain how this mask mandate will work. In the meantime, the city of St. Louis is undergoing a COVID crisis. A 40 percent increase, a surge in cases just over the last week.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, St. Louis, Missouri.

SOARES: Still to come here on CNN Newsroom, proof of COVID vaccination may soon be required here in the U.K. but only for certain events. We'll bring you the details just ahead.

And French lawmakers back new COVID requirements as the country deals with another wave of infections, both these stories after a very short break. You are watching CNN.

[03:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOARES (on camera): Now the U.K. is considering requiring full proof of vaccination for event with at least 20,000 people. Government sources say the idea is in the early stages but the English Premier League is expected to support the plan.

This comes of course after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticized for calling for proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs in the coming August, that's a few days ago.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us with the latest.

And Salma, let's talk more about this vaccine passport scheme the U.K. government is considering. How controversial critically is this likely to be, and what pressure may the prime minister face politically on this?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, he's already facing that pressure, Isa. The conservative party, those back benchers in his own party already oppose to some of these moves, although this is to be expected, Isa.

Now, this comes on the back, as you said, of nightclubs. Now, the authorities looking at expanding that vaccine passport to include major events, 20,000 people. The first place where this would be rolled out potentially is at football stadiums during the Premier League Games. So that could be coming up in a few weeks' time.

Again, still on the planning phases. But why is this controversial, Isa. I think we have to look at the continent at large to really answer this question. The U.K. is following the suit of other countries like Italy and France that are imposing even tougher measures.

Starting next month, you're going to need a vaccine passport just to go into a restaurant or bar in Italy or France. Over the weekend, the French made themselves known on this. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets opposed to these new rules that are going to go into place. And why is that?

Well, the first reason is one around civil liberties. You can imagine that of course people feeling why should the government be able to impose these rules to be able to hold my health data? The second one, of course, is a question of access, right?

So, a lot of those people who are out protesting in France were members of labor unions and they say that because they are either unwilling or unable or cannot access the vaccine, that might mean that they can't have their jobs, that they can't get pay -- get their jobs in place and be able to take care of their families.

So, a major issue there as well. And finally, of course, Isa, there's a question how much this is pushing the vaccine. I'm going to take the France example, again, after the authorities announced these new measures in just 18 hours, 792,000 injections were given across France. That was a record breaker.

So, for the authorities, they're looking at this and saying this works. It allows the country to resume normal life in some way for those who have been vaccinated, and it encourages those who have yet to get that job to go out and get it, Isa.

SOARES: Yes. And we had Macron as well, didn't he? He didn't really hold back when it comes to people not wanting to get vaccinated.

Salma Abdelaziz, great to see you. I haven't seen you now for a year. So, it's fantastic to see you in your bureau. Thanks very much, Salma.

Well, like Salma was just saying, France is considering similar plans as it battles really a fourth wave of the coronavirus. The French parliament has passed a bill that requires a health pass to enter venues like bars as well as restaurants. The measure also makes the vaccine mandatory for health care workers.

President Emmanuel macron announce the health pass requirement on July the 12. And there was an immediate spike in demand for vaccine appointments as Salma said.

Devi Sridhar is a professor and the chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. She joins me now.

Dr. Devi, great to have you with us. Let's start, if you don't mind, from the U.K. We've seen COVID restrictions being relaxed now here. It's almost, I think it's a week now today. What impact have you seen that this has had in terms of the number of COVID infections and critically, hospitalizations?

[03:19:59]

DEVI SRIDHAR, CHAIR OF GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH: Yes, so the good news is that confirmed COVID cases continue to fall. Though, those are people coming forward to be tested. And on the other side we have an ONS survey that kind of random surveillance being done once a week and that shows infections continue to rise.

We're starting to see an interesting pattern there, a convergence between confirmed cases and also how much infection there is in the communities. Hospitalizations seem to be slowing as well which is really positive. But the other thing to note is although England unlocked fully on Freedom Day, many people didn't really change their behavior on what they were doing and what they were not doing. So, in a way, even though government restrictions, legal restrictions are lifted, people might still behave very similarly to how they did -- how they've been, you know, behaving in the past six months.

SOARES: Yes, that's -- I was trying to get my head around this because we saw a spike in numbers but now in the last kind of five the numbers have started to fall again. Why is this? It's because people haven't changed their way, they used to go about their daily lives? Is it because people are not mingling as much or because it's warmer? What's the reasoning here?

SRIDHAR: Well, I can only offer several hypotheses.

SOARES: Yes.

SRIDHAR: I don't think we have a conclusive answer. And the first is that, that people haven't really changed their behavior.

SOARES: Yes.

SRIDHAR: And the more things are open, they are not using them. So, for example, the restaurants and yoga studios and gyms can now operate at full capacity, they're not actually full because many people aren't choosing to go into those settings.

The second is vaccination. We've seen a very effective vaccination program which means that largely the infections are on the unvaccinated which in Britain are younger people because it's been distributed in age ways. So, if you're in your 20s you've been waiting to get jabbed where if you're over 50 have largely been offered and been vaccinated.

So, we have protection built in, as well as a lot of the spike also in Scotland was due to the Euros and a lot of the partying around football. And since then and you've seen kind of slowly less mixing of people and less of that kind of behaviors in pubs and restaurant and houses that around alcohol that perhaps also accelerated that increase at the start.

SOARES: Yes. And the drop probably is quite hard to tell like you said, given that children off school that they're not mingling as much. That could be potentially one reason.

If you heard my colleague Salma Abdelaziz a few minutes ago she was talking about the U.K. considering a plan for passport, COVID passport. France has introduced one. So, it requires proof of the vaccination kind of major events. If we put politics aside for a moment, doctor, what's your assessment of this? How beneficial is this, do you think?

SRIDHAR: Well, from a public health perspective it's incredibly beneficial because what you're saying is in different settings which are more risky, inherently risky think of nightclubs, you know, indoor conferences, even things like, you know, indoor dining, we know these are settings which have a lot of transmission. So, of course if you make sure that people are doubly vaccinated or

have a negative PCR test, then you are reducing the chance of someone infectious being in those settings. Of course, there are largely ethical and political questions around how we actually start to move this forward into policy and also what that might mean for groups who feel like they are being excluded or forced into a system they don't want to be a part of.

SOARES: And then they probably a way to incentivize younger people to be vaccinated to get their vaccines. I want to show you this tweet and our viewers this tweet. This is from the U.K.'s health secretary who tweeted this on Saturday. He said that people should no longer cower from COVID, if we can show. Please, if you haven't yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from this virus.

Now, he has apologized since. Do you think, doctor, from what you've seen that people have been cowering from COVID?

SRIDHAR: I think it was a really bad choice of words because the people who have been more cautious especially younger people have been looking out for others for 18 months. So adhering to restrictions, being cautious, wearing masks, distancing, doing all the things that are difficult for us to do as humans who just want to get back to normality should be seen as an act of bravery and courage and saying that I'm going to put aside my self-interest for the benefit of the society and for others.

And for him to use that language that people have just been afraid I think is quite abysmal. Which I think he noted himself, which is why he put out an apology. I mean, Britain has lost over 100,000 lives. We have one of the highest deaths per capita in the world. We have been under extensive restrictions. We have a major economic hit. This has been a pretty terrible time for the country. And to kind of put it on people's behavior rather than overall, let's say, a failed government strategy at the start, it's pretty sad. But luckily, he's taken it back and well, good for him for acknowledging that.

SOARES: Dr. Devi Sridhar, I appreciate you putting everything in context for us. Thank you very much. Great to have you on the show.

SRIDHAR: Thank you.

SOARES: Just ahead right here on CNN, the Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban leader speaks exclusively with CNN as he watches a war across the border between Afghan forces and Taliban militants. We'll bring you the live details in a live report with Nic Robertson, next.

[03:25:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOARES (on camera): Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares. And you are watching CNN Newsroom.

Now a top U.S. general says American forces will continue air strikes in Afghanistan to back Afghan forces battling the Taliban. That assurance coming about one month into a nearly all U.S. forces are expected to be out of the country. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: So, we will continue to support the Afghan forces even after that 31 August day. It will generally be from over the horizon and that will be -- that will be a significant change, and then it will be time for the -- for Afghan forces to fight and carry on the battle themselves. We spent a lot of time training them. Now is their moment. Now is the time for that very stern test that I noted earlier they're going to face. I think they have the resources and the capability to actually conduct that fight and win it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOARES (on camera): But there are others who are watching for a Taliban victory in Afghanistan, among them the Pakistani Taliban leader who spoke exclusively to Nic Robertson.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now with the details on that. And Nic, we have seen of course the Taliban you have reported here on CNN, making gains, winning territory on the ground in Afghanistan. What does this mean for the Taliban in Pakistan?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it emboldens them. It makes them think that if their sort of brother organization, if you'd like to call it that -- and they are very much aligned on so many issues and views particularly culturally, particularly religiously -- that if those gains are made in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban, then that is ultimately going to help them.

Now, the questions we put to the leader, he's quite coy in his answers, but he is very clear. And it comes through across all -- across all these answers is that this is a moment where they think they can put their religious imprint on parts of Pakistan.

[03:29:50]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice over): As Afghanistan's Taliban gain ground, so Pakistan's Taliban, the TTP take heart. In his first ever TV interview, their leader, Noor Wali Mehsud, answers questions CNN sent him via intermediaries at an undisclosed location near the Afghan- Pakistan border. The gun at his side, a message of war.

NOOR WALI MEHSUD, LEADER, TEHRIK-I-TALIBAN (through translator): The Afghan Taliban victory is the victory of the entire Muslim people. Our relations are based on brotherhood, sympathy, and Islamic principles.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Mehsud's three predecessors were all killed by U.S. drone strikes for fighting alongside Afghan Taliban targeting U.S. forces. Their bloody record includes the 2009 attack that killed nine people, including seven CIA officers and contractors at a base close to the Pakistan border and massacre of 145 people, mostly children, in a Pakistan school in 2014.

Mehsud became later in 2018 and the U.N. later designated him a global terrorist and added him to the sanction list for his ties to al-Qaeda. Today, he denies those al-Qaeda links and that his group is still fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban.

MEHSUD (through translator): Our fight is only in Pakistan, and we are at war with the Pakistani security forces. We are firmly hoping to take control of the Pakistani tribal border regions and make them independent.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But while Pakistan's army has fought a decades-long counterinsurgency against the TTP in Pakistan, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI and the army, have backed the Afghan Taliban, although they deny it. Now, as the Afghan Taliban win territory, blowback for Pakistan looms.

MICHAEL SEMPLE, PROFESSOR, QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY BELFAST: The risk for Pakistan is that a stronger Afghan Taliban can actually reduce its cooperation with the ISI in controlling the TTP, and it is that which empowers the TTP.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The TTP are already demanding Sharia law, curtailing girls' education.

AYESHA SIDDIQA, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, SOAS SOUTH ASIA INSTITUTE: They would like to implement Sharia in Pakistan, in Pakistan's territories. Already, there is a lot of fear.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): For the past two decades, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been complicated by Pakistan's alleged dual-track approach of support for the U.S. while covertly backing the Afghan Taliban. It is a delicate balance Afghan Taliban gains threaten.

SEMPLE: The TTP are now banking on an Afghan Taliban victory and they are confident that they will be able to continue their fight against Pakistan in the event of the Taliban taking over in Afghanistan.

SIDDIQA: It's Pakistan which will be in greater pain than Afghanistan. It will be threatened much more.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): From his undisclosed location, Mehsud is coy, hinting of the gains that could be coming his way.

MEHSUD (through translator): According to the teaching of Islam, victory of one Muslim is necessarily helpful for another Muslim. But, how the victory of Afghan Taliban will prove helpful for the Pakistani Taliban? Time will tell.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the meantime, despite his denials, expectation is Mehsud's fighters will keep backing the Afghan Taliban.

(on camera): Now, we sent Mehsud about a dozen questions and he answered all of them. At times, it appeared as if he was reading from a prepared script, that they looked to the questions and taking time to go through and give very concise answers.

Unlike a normal interview, of course, there wasn't the opportunity to follow up and push back on some of the assertions that he made. But I think the real concern, you know, for many Pakistanis is, you know, a rise of Taliban influence in Afghanistan means a potential rise of violence for them in Pakistan, which they have experienced before at the hands of Jihadists. Of course, this is -- this is very, very concerning.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SOARES: Nic Robertson there with that exclusive interview. Thanks very much, Nic. We appreciate it.

Coming up right here on "CNN Newsroom," the search for silence. Inside one man's mission to preserve some of the last quiet places on earth. I will explain, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:35:00]

SOARES (on camera): California's largest wildfire is burning out of control. You can see that the Dixie fire has torched nearly 200,000 acres in Northern California. That is almost 81,000 hectares.

Now, it is gaining steam after combining with the second and smaller fire. More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze. The Dixie fire is just one of at least 86 large wildfires burning in the United States right now.

Two popular spots in the Spanish capital are now listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. Madrid's historic Paseo del Prado Boulevard and the El Retiro Park were added to the list on Sunday. The Paseo del Prado dates back to 16th century, boasting important cultural and tourist spots, including, of course, the Prado Museum. El Retiro Park is one of the city's most visited attractions and it is beautiful.

Well, as countries rollback their COVID lockdowns, the world is getting just a tiny little bit louder. More cars in the road and more people in the streets inevitably mean more noise.

Now, one man is making it his mission to preserve the peace as well as quiet of natural spaces. CNN joined him as part of our ongoing green initiative as he sets out to capture sounds of silence in the Minnesota wilderness. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MATT MIKKELSEN, DIRECTOR OF WILDERNESS, QUIET PARKS INTL.: We are losign the ability to listen to nature without noise pollution. For humans, we know that exposure to excessive noise is linked to higher blood pressure, higher at risk of cardiovascular disease, and the antidote to all of that bad stuff is quiet.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): In his search for quiet, Matt Mikkelsen has travelled to some of the most remote wilderness areas in the United States. A sound recorders by trade, he is a volunteer for Quiet Parks International, a grassroots movement that sets out to reclaim calm and protect natural environments from man-made noise.

MIKKELSEN: Noise pollution is present even in some of our deepest wilderness areas and our national parks. If we don't protect these areas from noise pollution, then we are no longer going to be able to listen to them as they were before humans got there.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): With the help of high sensitivity microphones, Matt hopes to capture the soundscapes of Northern Minnesota.

MIKKELSEN (voice-over): We are in superior national forest. We are hearing the looms (ph) this morning. The looms (ph) are really common in this area.

[03:40:00]

MIKKELSEN (voice-over): They make this really beautiful kind of wailing sound that's iconic.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Noise pollution can have a huge impact on wildlife's ability to survive. For the area to be awarded Quiet Park's status, they can't be more than one disturbance every 15 minutes.

MIKKELSEN (voice-over): You can see this kind of low frequency. It's a commercial jet flying really far away. And then down here, these stumps are the sound of a grouse, drumming. Every time the grouse drums, that's its sound signature. When an airplane flies over and the grouse is trying to call, they are competing for space on the frequency spectrum. And so the grouse and the airplane interrupt each other.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It will take months to establish whether areas like boundary waters can receive the Quiet Park's stamp of approval. And right now, Matt and his team are exploring over 260 possible sites worldwide.

MIKKELSEN: Whether you live in New York City or you live out in the middle of the world, you should be able to find quiet if you want it, and we are hoping to be able to bring that opportunity to everyone.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SOARES (on camera): I'm Isa Soares for international viewers. World Sport is next. For everyone else, the news continues in just a moment. Do stay right here.

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[03:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOARES (on camera): Now, special U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 attack on Capitol will hold its first hearing on Tuesday, and (INAUDIBLE) are clearly being drawn. Two Republicans are on the committee.

Adam Kinzinger, an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, will serve along with Liz Cheney, the House Republican leader who speak with Nancy Pelosi, if you remember, obstructing the committee to satisfy her political objectives. And now, there are growing calls within the GOP to have Kinzinger and Cheney removed from other committees in retribution.

CNN's Melanie Zanona has more for what's ahead.

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MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER (on camera): Get ready for an emotional day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. That is when the January 6th Select Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing, featuring the testimony of police officers who responded to the Capitol attack that day.

Several of the officers were beaten, maced, dragged out into the crowd. One of them was crushed in between doorways. So we are expecting it to be very powerful and emotional. We are also expecting video clips and body worn camera footage to be played.

One other thing to now look out for is the presence of two Republicans on the Select Committee who were both appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Liz Cheney was already on the initial roster of this committee. But after Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader, pulled his picks from the panel, Pelosi announced on Sunday that she will be appointing Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican to the committee as well.

Now, Republicans are saying this is just another example of how Pelosi is trying to structure the committee around her own political interests. But Pelosi is making clear she's not worried about what Republicans have to say. Take a listen to what she had to say on NBC this week.

NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The Republicans will say what they will say. Our Select Committee will seek the truth. It's our patriotic duty to do so, and we do not come into our work worried about what the other side -- who has been afraid of this. Maybe the Republicans can't handle the truth, but we have a responsibility to seek it, to find it, and in a way that maintains the confidence of the American people.

ZANONA: So that is just an preview of the battles to come here on Capitol Hill as the Select Committee heats up in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Melanie Zanona, CNN, Capitol Hill.

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SOARES (on camera): Now, a top Chinese diplomat is blaming the U.S. for the country's strained relationship just a couple days after China's foreign minister warned the U.S. to stop boasting its superiority. The point of (INAUDIBLE) comes as America's number two diplomat, Deputy Secretary State Wendy Sherman, is in China for a two day-visit.

Let us get more on this. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is in Hong Kong with more. And Kristie, this is the second top level meeting between the two countries since President Joe Biden took office. What are the expectations here?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Expectations are, frankly, pretty low for this high-stakes summit. This meeting is taking place at a high level in Tianjin between U.S. and China. Ahead of this meeting, U.S. officials said that Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state for the United States, would be seeking guardrails with China in order to better manage competition and to avoid conflicts.

But Wendy Sherman has been getting an earful from Chinese officials, from Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister who through Chinese state- run media has been emphasizing this message that no country is superior to others, and getting an earful from his deputy, Xie Feng, who has been releasing a series of statements this day, rebuking the United States, including statement, we will bring it up for you, in which he blames the United States for the current -- quote -- "stalemate" in relations.

In this statement, Xie Feng says this. "The China-U.S. relationship is now at a stalemate and faces serious difficulties. Fundamentally, it is because some Americans portray China as an imagined enemy." He goes on to say, "We urge the United States to change its highly misguided mindset and dangerous policy" -- unquote.

This meeting that is taking place in Tianjin comes at a time of just deepening tension between the U.S. and China, especially after the last high level meeting that took place in Alaska, which you saw the very public confrontation sort of come to the fore.

Since then, there has been this trading of diplomatic barbs as well as tit for tat sanctions between the U.S. and China, most recently when the U.S. under the Biden administration issued that business advisory on Hong Kong and slapped sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong.

And then in response on Friday, China slapped sanctions on U.S. officials and entities, among them the former U.S. Commerce secretary. Tensions have gotten so high that a number of policy experts and China watchers are saying the likelihood for any significant outcome to come out of Tianjin is very low. Listen to this from Willy Lam.

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WILLY LAM, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Given the fact that both sides have so many things not in common, including mutual imposition of sanctions, accusations of hacking, geopolitical contention in South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang (ph) and Hong Kong, this is not the meeting to resolve differences.

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LU STOUT (on camera): But if talks this day do go well, they could pave the way to a possible Xi-Biden summit that could take place on the side lines of the G20 this October in Italy.

Back to you, Isa.

SOARES: Very strong words from the vice foreign minister there. Thank you, Kristie. Kristie Lu Stout for us in Hong Kong.

Now, U.S. President Joe Biden is welcoming Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, to the White House today. They're expected to announce a shift of focus of approximately 2,500 troops remaining in Iraq.

CNN's international correspondent Arwa Damon joins us now live from Istanbul for more. And Arwa, what should we expect from this meeting today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, our understanding is that the U.S. Military's mission is going to shift from one that was primarily focusing on trying to degrade ISIS's capabilities to one that is going to be what the Americans like to call advice and assist.

So basically, the troops and country will be rebranded. They will no longer be combat forces with a combat mission. Instead, they will be part of this advice and assist units. Now, this is similar to what the U.S. Military did prior to its complete withdrawal back in 2012.

However, and this is something that presumably the Iraqis were really pushing for behind closed doors, was primarily not to have the American forces fully withdraw, because, again, if we look at Iraq's history and how ISIS ended up emerging in that country as the Islamic state of Iraq before moving into Syria and then coming back across the border to take over Mosul and huge swaths of Iraqi territory to become ISIS itself, now they were able to do this effectively on the heels of America's complete withdrawal under the Obama administration.

The U.S. no longer had any military skin in the game, so to speak. And by not having that chip to play, they were not, many would argue, able to put sufficient pressure on then Prime Minister Noori Almaleki whose secretary tendencies aggravated the Sunni population who then in some parts of the country found themselves more willing to support a terrorist organization such as ISIS.

The United States and Iraq both do not want to make that same mistake again because the dynamics in Iraq, these underlying dynamics, have yet to be addressed. The Sunnis still have their own set of grievances.

But also predominantly at this stage, Iran's hand is very strong. Its influence is arguably much more powerful now, extends much deeper into the political and security arena than it did years ago.

And you have the issue of the Iranian-backed Shia militias who are able to effectively implement their own rule of law in some parts of the country. We've been seeing an increasing number of targeted assassinations who many accuse of being carried out by the Shia militias, attacks against U.S. interests.

And so having a U.S. Military presence there, no matter what it is called, many will feel this is beneficial to try to counter balance Iran's influence and also ensure that ISIS, which you'll remember carried out that horrifying attack on a marketplace in Baghdad just before the holy Muslim holiday, that ISIS is not able to regroup and carry out significant attacks or take over control of large parts of the country, Isa.

SOARES (on camera): Some important context there from Arwa Damon. Thanks very much, Arwa. Good to see you.

Now, a memorial concert was held Sunday in Bal Harbour to honor the victims of the Surfside condo collapse.

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SOARES: It's now been a month since the Champlain Towers South building came crashing down in the middle of the night, killing at least 97 people. Authorities believe there's still one victim of the collapse who is yet to be found.

CNN's Boris Sanchez was at the memorial and has more now from Surfside.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It was a solemn and somber evening in near Surfside, Florida on the water just a few blocks away where Champlain Towers South came crashing down one month ago.

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SANCHEZ (on camera): It was very emotional and people in shed tears as the names of the 97 people who were confirmed dead in that tragedy were read aloud. There were songs and hymns and a symphony playing music for the crowd. It was an early step in a long process of closure.

I got to speak with the mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, about that process. Here's some of what he shared with me.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: You know, we've got people's lives in that debris. I mean things as small as diamond rings. I was just talking to a family member who told me her daughter who was just married in January had two rings and described the rings in great detail. So, all of those things have to be found. These people have no closure yet. This is a long process. It is painful. They asked about the psychological support. We have psychological teams here. We're just getting started really.

SANCHEZ (on camera): And there's no question this is going to be a long process of closure. There are still so many questions to answer for that. Investigators are working through right now. I do want to leave you with some of the lyrics from the final song that was sung here on Sunday night both in Hebrew and in English, Surfside, of course, being the home of a large Jewish community. The song is called "Heal Us Now," and some of the lyrics say -- quote -- "We pray for healing of the soul, we pray to once again be whole." Back to you.

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SOARES (on camera): Thanks very much, Boris Sanchez. And that wraps up this hour of "CNN Newsroom." I'm Isa Soares. We will be back in just a moment with more news. Do stay right here with CNN.

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