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Simone Biles Out of Olympic All-Around Competition; Japan Tops Dominican Republic in Baseball Opener; CDC Revises Mask Guidance as Covid Cases Rise Across U.S.; Police Officers Deliver Harrowing Accounts of Attack; Changes May Be Coming to U.K.'s International Travel Restrictions; Heat Wave Strengthening Wildfires in Southern Europe. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2021 - 04:00   ET



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

And just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, American gymnastics star Simone Biles drops out of another Olympic competition. We are live in Tokyo with the latest. Plus --


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're not changing the science. The virus changed and the science evolved with the changing virus.


SOARES: Reversing course, the CDC changes its guidance telling vaccinated Americans to mask up once again.

And gripping testimony from Capitol police officers on the January 6 insurrection, but conservative media are still dismissing the truth like it never happened.

Hello everyone, a very warm welcome. Happy Wednesday. We begin this hour with breaking news. It's just past 5:00 p.m. in Tokyo where another day brings another major decision from America's most decorated gymnast. Simone Biles is pulling out of the all-women's all- around final tomorrow. She withdrew from the team final earlier citing concerns with her mental health. The 24-year-old is the face of the U.S. Olympic team and was a favorite to win even more gold in Tokyo.

Let's get right to Japan for the latest. CNN's Blake Essig is like this hour and Fukushima, but we start with World Sport Coy Wire in Tokyo. And Coy, good morning to you. I mean, we know -- do we know at this stage whether Simone Biles will compete in other events? What are you hearing?

COY WIRE, CNN WORLD SPORT: That's the big question, Isa, that everyone wants to know. Look, Biles is considered the most dominant gymnast of all time. Now she's being crowned a champion by many, has gotten a lot of support for putting her mental health first on the world's biggest stage, Isa.

USA gymnastics releasing a statement saying, quote, Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week's individual event finals. We wholeheartedly support Simone's decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many, unquote.

Now, Isa, she had a disappointing score on the vault during the team final on Tuesday. Biles withdrew herself after that saying she didn't want to hurt her teammate's chances of meddling. She then continued to cheer them on to a silver. And this this is how she described the events though that led up to that competition.


SIMONE BILES, USA GYMNAST: I was just like shaking, could barely nap. I just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out here and have fun and warm up in the back, feeling a little bit better. But then once I came out here, I was like, no, mental is not there. So, I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.


WIRE (on camera): Now, Biles has won every individual all-around competition that she has entered since 2013. She won the floor exercise and vault titles in Rio. But we'll have to wait and see if, Isa, she will be able to defend those crowns next week. Biles has qualified for all four individual events which begin Sunday. The world is waiting to see if she will be OK to go and if she will be able to compete again here in Tokyo.

SOARES: Yes, it's such a brave decision, a courageous decision and of course, as you heard there, she was so gracious in front of her colleagues. Thanks very much, Coy Wire. Do keep us posted on that.

And in less than half an hour, I'll speak with "The Washington Post" sports columnist who wrote about how difficult it is to be the goat or the greatest of all times. That's what Biles is to the sport of gymnastics, and he calls the pressure crippling. We'll have much more on that.


Right now, we want to take you live to Fukushima. A city in Japan where the first baseball game of the Olympics ended just a short time ago. CNN's Blake Essig is right there. And you know Blake, I probably is my ignorance, I had no idea that baseball was at the Olympics, but I can imagine how different it must feel with no crowds.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa, you can be forgiven as baseball has had a really touch and go relationship with the Olympics since baseball first debuted back in 1904, only appearing in 14 out of 27 Olympics since then. But after a 13-year absence, baseball is officially back in the Olympics. Not too long ago, host nation Japan opened up play against the Dominican Republic here at Azuma Stadium behind me, as you can see, the lights are still on but the game is over with Japan winning in dramatic fashion scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 4-3. I can only imagine what that stadium would have sounded like if fans were allowed inside. Of course, nobody was allowed inside, and that's a big disappointment to the people here in Fukushima who were looking forward to highlighting the region's recovery ten years after disaster.


SHOICHI KADOTA, BASEBALL FAN(through translator): We had no option but to accept no spectators in order to protect ourselves from the infection. But I wish children could at least watch the games at the stadium. Why can't they go?


ESSIG (on camera): And baseball was most recently voted out by the International Olympic Committee back in 2004 in part because Major League Baseball refuses to let its players compete. And while people in Japan are disappointed about the decision on spectators, there's also disappointment that big names like Shohei Ohtani and other major leaguers won't be playing in this tournament.

But just the fact that baseball is back is a huge deal in a country that absolutely loves the game. Now softball also made its return to the Olympics after 13 years. Tournament play did open up here in Fukushima last week. And just last night, Japan took home the gold after beating the United States 2-0 in the final held outside of Tokyo. It was a win that was celebrated here in Japan as the country's success really does seem to be playing a big role in shifting the public's perception of these games.

And fortunately for baseball and softball, their return to the Olympics will be short lived as neither will be included when Paris hosts the games in 2024. But for fans, there is some reason to be optimistic as the two sports are likely to be back when Los Angeles hosts in 2028 -- Isa.

SOARES: Blake Essig, thank you very much. Hopefully by then there will be crowds. Thanks, Blake.

Now rising COVID cases across the United States have prompted health officials to revise their mask guidance particularly for those fully vaccinated. The CDC is now urging masks to be worn indoors in public spaces in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission. The agency's director says that even those vaccinated that they could still infect others. America's top infectious disease expert says getting vaccinated is still key. Take a listen.


FAUCI: The fact that you wanted by now wear a mask because we have a situation where if you do get infected, you might spread it to somebody else. Now that's almost the secondary issue. The primary issue of getting vaccinated is to save your own life and prevent you from getting seriously ill. Nothing changed about the science, it was the virus that changed. We're dealing with fundamentally a different virus.


SOARES: Well despite vaccines being widely available in the United States, hesitancy remains an issue -- as you can see there -- with just under half the population fully vaccinated. Officials are hoping to convince more Americans to get the shot.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: What's really important also is to say what has not changed. And what has not changed is that vaccines still work. They still save lives. They still prevent hospitalizations at a remarkably high rate. And that's why 97 percent of people who are hospitalized with COVID right now are unvaccinated. And even those who have unusual breakthrough infections have mild or asymptomatic infections.


SOARES: So, what does it mean for you? CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more on the updated mask guidelines.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question this may feel like a step backwards in terms of now recommending that vaccinated people wear a mask when they are in public indoor spaces. And again, it's vaccinated people. So regardless of vaccination status, everyone should be wearing a mask in those types of settings. There's a few things that have sort of really been driving this.

One is that we know that vaccinations aren't where I think people hoped they would be by this point. We also know that the delta variant is spreading. Back in May when the guidance was originally changed saying you don't need to wear a mask if you are vaccinated indoors anymore, the delta strain was about 1.4 percent. You can see it is now 83 percent. It has become the dominant strain and it is far more contagious.


So much so that someone who is vaccinated and develops one of these infections -- the so-called breakthrough -- maybe they don't have any symptoms or anything, but they could still carry the same viral load as someone who is unvaccinated and infected. Just to be clear, the vaccine is still doing its job because the vaccinated person is not likely to get severely ill, but they could still potentially transmit the virus, that is what is sort of driving some of these changes. Here is how Dr. Rochelle Walensky put it.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: When we examined the rarer breakthrough infections and we look at the amount of virus in those people, it is pretty similar to the amount of virus in unvaccinated people. We are now continuing to follow those clusters to understand the impact of forward transmission of those vaccinated people. But again, I want to reiterate, we believe the vast majority of transmission is occurring in unvaccinated people and through unvaccinated people.

GUPTA: So, what does it mean for you? Again, these are recommendations. These are not mandates but take a look at the map here. If you live in an area of high viral transmission or substantial viral transmission, that's about two-thirds of the country, the recommendation is going to be from the CDC that you wear a mask if you go to a public indoor space. So obviously there is going to be a lot of debate about this in the days and weeks to come. But that is the new guidance from the CDC for now.


SOARES: A lot of red on that map. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting there.

U.S. President Biden is urging Americans to follow the CDC updated guidance as he prepares to lay out the next step in his administration's efforts to boost vaccinations. Now a source says that will include a new requirement for federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated or face regular testing. Meantime at the White House mask requirements have been reinstated indoors as Washington sees a substantial spread of COVID-19.

Well, more than half of all U.S. counties are considered areas of substantial or high COVID transmission. And thus, subject to the new guidelines. Same states like Oregon and Nevada have already incorporated them. In Missouri, St. Louis County council overturned a mask mandate put in place the day before. And Arizona's governor joined other Republicans to slam the change. This is what he said.

Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn't vaccinated. We've passed all of this into law, and it will not change.

One doctor had a message for anti-masking. Take a listen.


DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: I am so sick of this virus filling my emergency department and those of my colleagues around the country. I'm sick of watching sickness, severe illness and death. And to the folks that don't want to put a mask back on for a short period of time until we get these surges understand control, I would ask them, do you live with anyone who is unvaccinated? Do you live with anyone for whom the vaccines might not work perfectly? Do you have kids? Do you have elderly parents? Do you have friends who have cancer or on immunosuppressants? Wear a mask for them for the short term to keep them protected while we try to get this back under control.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SOARES: Meanwhile, the mask debate is heating up in Florida. A group of anti-mask protestors burned a pile of face coverings -- as you see there -- outside a Fort Lauderdale school on Tuesday. The incident forced the board to delay its meeting on back-to-school mask requirements. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also criticizing mask recommendations in schools. The Republican said in a statement he trusts parents to make their own choices when it comes to masking kids.

But his comments come as more children in the United States are contracting the virus. As you can see there on your screen, the American Academy of Pediatrics says more than 38,000 children and teens caught COVID last week. More than 4 million children have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. And kids represent more 14 percent of weekly reported cases.

Now against the backdrop of a bitter partisan divide, the House Select Committee held its first hearing into the January 6 Capitol attack. Republicans have challenged the committee's mission and as well as its makeup. They spent months downplaying the severity of the riot by a pro-Trump mob, even as the Justice Department has charged hundreds of people in connection with it. Four police officers delivered harrowing accounts of violence they faced that day. Manu Raju has more from Capitol Hill. And a warning for you, some of the language in this report is very offensive.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In chilling testimony four police officers offering the most vivid accounts yet of their near death experiences on the front lines of January 6, battling a Trump inspired mob determined to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory.

OFC. HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: There was an attack carried out on January 6 and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.


RAJU: DC Metro police officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and U.S. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell all taking strong exception to the efforts by some Republicans and former President Donald Trump to whitewashing the tragic events of that day.

OFC. MICHAEL FANONE, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room but too many are now are telling me that hell doesn't exist or that hell actually wasn't that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.

RAJU (voice-over): Detailing the brutal injuries they suffered and the struggles they continue to deal with nearly seven months after the attack.

OFC. DANIEL HODGES, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: Directly in front of me a man seized the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask and used it to beat my head against the door. He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck. He never uttered any words I recognized but opted instead for guttural screams. I remember him foaming at the mouth.

RAJU (voice-over): Mincing no words about who was responsible.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): When you think about that and share with us the vivid memory of the cruelty and the violence of the assault that day, and then you hear former President Trump say, quote, it was a loving crowd, there was a lot of love in the crowd, how does that make you feel?

SGT. AQUILINO GONELL, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: It's upsetting. It is a pathetic excuse for his behavior for something that he himself helped to create. This monstrosity. I'm still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us that day. Instead of sending this support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense, he egged them to continue fighting.

RAJU (voice-over): Officer Fanone says he nearly died.

FANONE: They ripped off my badge. They grabbed and stripped me of my radio. They seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects. At one point, I came face-to-face with an attacker who repeatedly lunged for me and attempted to remove my firearm. I heard chanting from some in the crowd, get his gun, and kill him with his own gun. I was aware enough to recognize I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser. I'm sure I was screaming, but I don't think that I could even hear my own voice.

RAJU (voice-over): And Officer Dunn testifying he has never been called the "N" word while in uniform until confronted by the mob.

DUNN: One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled you hear that guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden. And the crowd perhaps around 20 joined in screaming, boo, fucking nigger. No one had ever, ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer.

RAJU (voice-over): The testimony clearly moving the members of the committee.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I never expected today to be quite as emotional for me as it has been. You guys all talked about the affects you have to deal with and you know, you talked about the impact of that day. But you guys won. You guys held.

RAJU (voice-over): Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


SOARES: Well, committee members insist that the insurrection must be investigated because of the serious threat it posed to democracy.


REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): I am a proud American who loves this country and this democracy. But I'm a naturalized citizen who escaped an authoritarian country. And what I saw on that day was inconsistent with that I know America to be. And I think when you heard some of the other members get emotional, it's because it was driven by their love of country and their fear for our future.

CHENEY: If we look the other way, if we accept what happened on January 6, if we accept what people, my colleagues are saying that, you know, we should somehow look at this as a bunch of tourists, they are trying to whitewash it, ignore it. If we go down that path, then we really are abandoning the rule of law and we are abandoning what is one of the most fundamental elements of our Republic which is the peaceful transfer of power.

I think leader McCarthy is continuing to demonstrate that, you know, he views this as some sort of a political game. It's not a game and it's deadly serious when you are taking action to try to divert attention away and distract from an investigation like this one.



SOARES: Well, later this hour, we'll hear from Republican lawmakers on why they oppose the committee's investigation, and why they didn't listen to the police officer's testimony in the first place.

Well former U.S. Navy fighter pilot Jake Ellzey is heading to Washington to represent his Texas district in Congress. The Republican state lawmaker beat rival Susan Wright, despite her endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Wright's husband defeated Ellzey for the seat back in 2018, but Ron Wright died in February after battling cancer and COVID-19.

The man accused of fatally shooting eight people at adult spas in the Atlanta area has been sentenced to life in prison with for chance of patrol. Robert Aaron Long agreed to plead guilty to four counts of murder in the mass shooting spree. He still faces death the penalty for four other killings in Fulton County. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian dissent. And Long told authorities the attacks were not racially motivated, instead blaming a sex addiction.

Now England may soon drop a mandatory quarantine period for some travelers from Europe and the United States, but can the U.K. balance the need for the travel industry along with the health and safety? We will discuss.

Plus, firefighters across southern Europe are bracing to tame wildfires, now a major heatwave threatens to make conditions even worse. We'll bring you both those stories after a very short break. You are watching CNN.



SOARES: Now British news is reporting England may soon reopen its borders to EU and U.S. travelers who are fully vaccinated with no need to quarantine. The report comes as London's Heathrow Airport publicly called on the government to open up travel to vaccinated tourists, allowing the travel industry really to recover from major losses that they have seen during the pandemic.

Scott McLean has the latest from here in London. And Scott, the reality is that foreign travel can be a nightmare. There's so much testing, quarantine, vaccination hoops that you have to jump through. And this critically would be a huge boost for the travel industry.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it absolutely would be because you're right, travel right now is a huge headache. It's a nightmare for a lot of people. The tests can be really expensive. There is rules and regulations around quarantine and vaccination that you have to sort out not only for your own country but the country that you plan on visiting as well.

So, for a lot of people -- at least in the U.K. that's meant staycations. People just choosing not to travel. Case in point, Heathrow Airport said that in the first six months of this year, fewer than 4 million people passed through the airport. While in a normal year, it would take less than three weeks to see that many people pass through. And so, the airport is calling on the government to ditch the expensive and time-consuming PCR test and swap them instead for cheaper and quicker lateral flow antigen tests.

It is also calling on travel corridors for vaccinated Europeans and Americans to allow them to visit without going through the headache of quarantine. That's not such a crazy idea when you look at the data. Vaccination rates are relatively similar across the EU, the U.K. and the U.S. and new cases or the infection rate is also starting to look pretty similar as well.

According to multiple British press outlets, Isa, we know that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering a travel corridor for vaccinated Americans and vaccinated Europeans to be able to visit without the need to quarantine. But that may not be reciprocal. The EU for instance, it already allows Americans to go on holidays there, but Europeans can't go to the United States at all, whether they're vaccinated, whether they quarantine, whether they test. They simply just cannot go.

Even Canada recently announced that it would open up its border for vaccinated Americans and the U.S. said, let's wait until the end of August. From the American's perspective, they are concerned about the delta variant. Though critics would say that the delta variant is already the dominant strain in the United States. There is not a lot you can do to keep it out at this point.

We know that President Biden has been pressed on this issue by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but still nothing has changed. Though yesterday the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that the administration is looking at potentially easing the rules in a limited way -- Isa.

SOARES: Do keep us posted. Scott McLean there. Thanks very much, Scott.

Now wildfires are raging across southern Europe, the Italian island of Sardinia has been hit hard by the blazes, you can see there, with damage. Local officials call unprecedented. Italy has called in reinforcements from France and Greece who have sent four planes to help contain the fires. But a growing heatwave in the region is making, if you can imagine, conditions worse amplifying drought conditions throughout the Mediterranean.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now from Atlanta with more on what Europe can expect this week. And Pedram, we've gone from severe floods just a few weeks ago, to wildfires in Europe. This is very alarming.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And you know, this is the peak season, the climatological peak year for excessive heat across the northern hemisphere. And of course, southern Europe well known for excessive heat, but when you bump in temperatures that are now 10 to 15 degrees in some cases above average for late July, that is saying quite a bit and that's the concern.

You see some of the scenes play out there across portions of Italy here with wildfire conditions. But it's not just Italy. It's across places such as Spain, Portugal into Greece. In fact, you take a look at conditions across Portugal, if we can advance the elements here so we can kind of show you exactly what we're dealing with. Because we know that that is in particular the tinderbox of Europe. Kind of like where California is for the United States where you have the excessive fires in place there, the elements can advance. We kind of show you how much land is typically consumed. Over 130,000 hectares of land consumed every year across places such as Portugal. And unfortunately, it doesn't look like the maps -- oh, there they come. A little delayed but were going to get to them.

You kind of see that comparison especially when you take it into Portugal and compare that to Spain. 80 percent less forest area than Spain, but more area of land consumed. Now when it comes to Europe as a whole, here is the drought coverage across the Balkans, virtually eastward into places such as eastern Turkey and even into northern Iran, significant amount of drought in place and the warnings that have been loaded across this region as a result of it. And once again we have massive dome of high pressure much like the one we saw across the Northwestern region of the United States in late June, where temperatures were into the 110s.

That's exactly what's happening across eastern Europe. Temperatures about 40 to 45 degrees Celsius. That puts it in that range of 105 to 110 degrees. And you'll see that is well above the average where it typically is hot this time of year. So excessive heat on top of the fire conditions.