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Partisan Divide Deepens over Masking Even as Cases Rise; U.S Report Says, China may Be Expanding Its Nuclear Arsenal; 19-Year-Old Woman Aims to Set Aviation Records. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 02:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome to all of you watching us from around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber: This is CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead, an emotional day of competition in Japan with multiple records set in the pool, the triumphs, the heartbreaks, and how the sweltering heat is affecting the athletes, the Delta variants spreading to even more countries and driving a surge in cases in Southeast Asia.

And I'll speak to a journalist who says her government hacked and tracked her using spyware meant to target terrorists.

The focus on athlete's mental health at the Tokyo Olympics is expanding to include concerns for their physical safety. The city is sweltering in a hot and humid summer with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius and some competitors are struggling as a result. In Tennis, Spain's Paolo Badosa left the court in a wheelchair after retiring from her quarterfinal match. She says she had a heat stroke and couldn't continue.

And Russian Daniil Medvedev sparred with the umpire over the heat asking who would take responsibility if he died on the court. Olympic organizers say they're addressing athletes' concerns.


KIT MCCONNELL, IOC SPORTING DIRECTOR: In terms of the tennis if we take a step back around obviously a lot of the competition schedule has been built, where possible depending on the -- on the sport to accommodate the -- avoid the hottest parts of the day, but that's not possible with every sport.


BRUNHUBER: While there's plenty of relief from the heat in the pool and gold medals too for the U.S., China and Australia. CNN World Sport anchor Patrick Snell joins us now Patrick. Well let's start in the pool.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: There is so much going on in the Aquatic Center. Thank you, Kim. Yes, and world records and Olympic records as well. Great stuff particularly to go name is U.S. superstar Caeleb Dressel who won the 100-meter freestyle final with a time of 47.02 seconds. That in itself, an Olympic record. Great achievement for the 24-year-old. His first individual Olympic gold medal.

He previously earned three relay goals including the men's four by 100-meter freestyle relay. That was earlier in these games. Australia's Kyle Chalmers taking the silver medal while the Russian swimmer Kliment Kolesnikov winning bronze. Dressel by the way, this was really, really powerful to observe. He got really emotional afterwards Kim, and we're going to bring you more on this spectacular trend for him involving his family.

He's from Florida originally. That's going to be in later editions of watersport. Now, another golden moment for Team USA as Dressel (INAUDIBLE) Bobby Fink producing a wonderful performance to win gold. The 21-year-old still a senior at the University of Florida here in the U.S. in his very first Olympics as well just powering his later victory in the 800-meter freestyle/ Really, really impressive late search for him.

IT really did shock the Italian swimmer Gregorio Paltrinieri who'd actually led for much of that race. This by the way, the first time for a men's 800-freestyle at an Olympic Games. And China ceiling a gold medal finish. This was in the women's four by 200-meter freestyle relay. Finishing with a time of seven minutes, 40.33 seconds. Breaking the world. Mark China with a leading 14th gold medal at that point.

Frustrations though, for the U.S. anchored by their superstar Katie Ledecky. America almost catching up with their rivals but falling short in the end and winning silver. Australia with the bronze. But a busy, busy Thursday in full swing there in Japan today.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. All right. Let's pivot to gymnastics and we've heard from Simone Biles, what she's saying?

SNELL: Yes, she has spoken out via social media on this Thursday, Kim. And his significance, big question is, will she compete again at these games? Biles, will she be returning to competition just to reset for our viewers worldwide she withdrew from the individual all-around competition scheduled for later on today to focus on our mental health athletes continuing. This has been great to see because athletes just continuing to rally around in support of her.

She took to social media as I say Thursday, this message of thanks from the 24-year-old. The outpouring of love and support I've received has made me realize I am more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. On Wednesday, Biles appearing in person to show her support for America's men's gymnastics team. Her withdrawal coming after she stepped away from a team competition on Tuesday saying she wants to protect both her body and her mind.

Goes without saying, Kim, that we do wish the four-time Olympic Gold Medalist all the very best at this very challenging time for her.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely and great to see such an outpouring of support from around the world. All right. Thank you so much. Appreciate that.


BRUNHUBER: We're going to bring in Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri to see if the athletes have any cooler weather in their future. Pedram, they're saying this could be the hottest Olympic games ever, really taking a toll on the athletes.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, the combination of the heat and humidity really the problem here too, Kim. When you're factoring in, of course, these athletes are as in shape as you get as prepared for extreme conditions. But your body really can't adapt to humidities that are close to 100 percent temperatures that are well into the 30s, making it feel much warmer.

And here's what it looks like across Tokyo. Again, into the lower 30s on Friday warms up to 32 degrees may not seem that excessive, if you're tuned in from an air conditioned building or maybe even going out for a jog in these sort of temperatures. But performing on a, say, tennis court becomes a significant different challenge for these players. And of course, we're just on the heels of a tropical system moving out of this region in the last couple of days.

So humidity kind of vamps up here over the next couple of days. Notice this about 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. See that increased to about 70 percent. That's the lowest we'll see it across Tokyo. And that is why a lot of these matches again tennis in particular have been moved into the afternoon hours where the humidities are expected to be a little bit lower than earlier on. It's the morning hours where they rise close to 100 percent.

And then you look at a tennis setup in particular, we know asphalt and concrete that makes up what the courts are made of here across the Olympics venues in Tokyo. Those temperatures for the players can be five to 10 degrees warmer. Once again why tennis players you often see them complain maybe a little bit more than other athletes because it is indeed warmer for them at the ground level.

And again, they're competing at a high level with these extreme temperatures. Now here we go. The official observations of what it will feel like outside, 33 maybe 34 degrees, plenty warm once again and then when your body gets this hot sweating becomes your most efficient coolant and can remove well over 20 percent of your body's heat away from your body, that's under dry and conditions and dry environments.

Because humidity of course allows that moisture to sit on your skin your body cannot evaporate easily cool that off of your skin and bring your core temperature down to a safe value. But you'll continue to sweat and doing so leads losing additional sodium and potassium and alters the chemicals in your blood and makes it that much more dangerous and fluid loss of course, impacts with vital conditions very quickly.

And anytime your core temperature gets above 39 degrees, that is when heatstroke becomes a primary concern. Heat exhaustion, a lot of us have dealt with this but try playing tennis at an Olympic level with humidities as high as they are, temperatures as high as they are, Kim, and heatstroke becomes a very, very serious concern for these players.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. All right. Thanks so much for them, Pedram Javaheri. Appreciate. Well, it's not just the heat and humidity posing a threat to athletes, COVID infections in the Japanese capital have broken records for two days in a row. So let's go to CNN's Blake Essig who's live in Tokyo. And Blake, there are reports of a square among Australia's track and field team. What do we know?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, you know, Kim, those athletes are actually in isolation. We don't know a whole lot of information about whether they're considered close contacts or not, but we know they're in isolation currently undergoing testing procedures. For months, we've talked about the potential for a nightmare scenario, that with tens of thousands of people coming to Japan for more than 200 countries and territories around the world that these Olympic Games could turn into an Olympic sized super spreader event.

Now it's still early but at this point, daily testing, contact tracing and strict COVID-19 countermeasures put in place by Olympic organizers have proven effective since the beginning of July, 198 games-related infections have been reported. That includes 24 positive cases from inside the Olympic village with at least 28 athletes being ruled out after testing positive, either here in Japan or before entering the country.

And as we talked about earlier, we did learn today that members of Australia's track and field team are in isolation after someone from Team USA track and field team tested positive. Again, officials didn't say whether these athletes from Australia are considered close contacts, but they are undergoing testing procedures. And there's no official word on how long there'll be an isolation.

While Olympic-related cases remain low. The same can't be said for cases in Japan nationwide. For the first time since the pandemic began, the daily case count has exceeded 9000 and just yesterday, nearly 3200 cases were reported in Tokyo as the highest daily total for the Capitol ever recorded. Take a listen.


MASA TAKAYA, TOKYO 2020 SPOKESMAN (through translator): As a city resident myself, and as an organizer, my heart hurts that case numbers are rising.


ESSIG: Despite a fourth state of emergency order being put in place, the infection rate continues to climb and there are serious concern for a medical system that's already strained. Now, under the current state of emergency measures relied mainly on asking restaurants that serve alcohol to shut their doors and close by 8:00 p.m. But with the Olympics underway the mood has been shifting and many people are ignoring requests to stay indoors. [02:10:08]

ESSIG: Instead venturing out to look at Olympic venues. As a result, Japan's top coronavirus adviser has urged the government to send out a strong message to people warning about the potential strain on the healthcare system. He said the greatest danger is the fact that the general public does not share a sense of crisis, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Now let's pivot back to that other danger to the athletes and that's the heat. What are the Olympic organizers doing to help the athletes deal with all that heat and humidity?

ESSIG: Yes. You know, there's no question that the heat is impacting these athletes at the Olympic Games to help deal with the heat Olympic organizers have changed the competition format, specifically for tennis and providing athletes with special cooling tents, ice bags and hoses blowing cool air. They're also keeping a constant supply of drinks and medical personnel on standby just in case anybody comes down with symptoms that might result from, you know, result into heat stroke or other heat-related issues.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Blake Essig. Appreciate it. The World Health Organization says COVID cases worldwide were up by eight percent last week. About 3.8 million new infections includes a surge in cases in Asia that's being largely attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong. Kristie, bring us up to speed on the situation there.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, fueled by the Delta variant COVID-19 continues to tighten its grip across the Asia Pacific region including Thailand. Thailand this day reporting a record number of new daily coronavirus cases. Over 17,000 new cases of the virus. It also reported a record number of daily deaths this day amid the surge of infection officials in Thailand are in the process of converting a cargo warehouse in an airport in Bangkok into a COVID-19 field hospital with 1800 beds.

This has turned into a COVID-19 horror story unfolding not only in Thailand, but across the region.


STOUT (voice-over): He collapsed and died on a Bangkok back street. A 54-year-old motorcycle taxi driver suffering from COVID-19. He didn't know until it was too late. His niece tell CNN.

CHONLADA U-TARASAI, NIECE OF COVID-19 VICTIM (through translator): I was speechless when I saw those photos. I was shocked. I was looking for the answer as to why my uncle had to die in such a way. Why did he have to die on the street like that? How did Thailand come to this point?

STOUT: Thailand's capital is known as a regional healthcare hub, a destination for high quality care. And now makeshift COVID wards are necessary. The government will repurpose train carriages to isolate positive patients. Nationwide cases climb still over 16,000 announced on Wednesday, and faith in the country's unelected leaders is faltering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm not 100 percent confident in this government. They're so slow which has led to a lot of people dying. A lot of people have been infected now. I want them to do better.

STOUT: No faith at all. The neighbor in Myanmar, we're a COVID emergency has compounded a violent military coup, a bare bones healthcare system before the army stole power in February. Now, doctors in hiding as cases spike. Frightened of a hunter that is arrested several doctors for treating COVID-19 patients independently and murdered close to 1000 civilians. The United Nation says including 18 in health facilities.

The U.N. must act immediately to halt the military junta's attacks, harassment and detentions in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis. Said Thomas Andrews, U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. Neighboring China worried about its porous borders with countries like Myanmar, while it fights a new outbreak in the city of Nanjing. Local authorities putting social distancing restrictions back in place, closing indoor venues like cinemas and gyms.

Delta confounding countries used to seeing suppression tactics work. Cases mount in Sydney, Australia, despite a lockdown in place for five weeks now. The measures are costing millions of dollars each day but must be extended for another month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's got to be other ways. There has to be other ways.

STOUT: Vaccination, the only real way out of the pandemic, a fact not lost on the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which is now vaccinated 90 percent of its population according to UNICEF. A beacon of hope in a hard-hit region.


STOUT: Bhutan is a very rare ray of light in a region that has been utterly just damaged by this Delta variant. Cases continue to rise and Vietnam, you know, once a pandemic success story Vietnam is now reporting daily COVID-19 cases, they're surpassing 6000 every day for seven consecutive days.


STOUT: And authorities are looking to further tighten pandemic restrictions. Back to you, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Kristie Lu Stout. Appreciate it. England is loosening one COVID restriction to try to revive its tourism industry. Beginning Monday the country will allow fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and United States to avoid quarantine. Airlines welcomed the move, but said more is needed to recover from the collapse demand. Scott McLean has details from Heathrow Airport. SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the last 16 months, it has been an absolute pain for foreigners to travel to the U.K. and so for the most part, they've stayed away. Heathrow Airport has seen a small fraction of its usual foot traffic and tourist hotspots have been sorely lacking in tourists. To get to the U.K. and back and Americans today would have to take five tests quarantine for at least five days and spend easily north of $200 on tests alone, even if they're fully vaccinated.

By contrast, that same traveler could go to most European countries with relative ease. And as a result, tourist dollars have gone there. The U.K. is trying to correct that imbalance. So as of Monday, it's allowing fully vaccinated travelers from the E.U. and from the U.S. to enter without quarantining. Just to test before they fly and a test two days after they arrived. The CEO of Heathrow Airport says this announcement will be a big boost for the travel industry and for his airport.


JOHN HOLLAND-KAYE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HEATHROW AIRPORT: Well, this has taken the numbers of markets that we serve about 20 percent of our pre-pandemic levels to about 65 percent. So this is transformational for us. And so we're all set up here to welcome passengers back. We've opened three of our four terminals. All of our colleagues are back and the shops are open. And we're just looking forward to welcoming Americans back here to United Kingdom.


MCLEAN: Now Holland-Kaye says one of the hang ups with allowing Americans that there is no universal uniform way to show that you've been vaccinated. Many Americans will be presenting paper cards to show they've been vaccinated others will show Q.R. codes on state run apps. But don't expect to travel privileges to the reciprocal. The U.S. is still not allowing any foreigners to enter unless they're permanent residents.

The White House insists that it's to keep the Delta variant out though critics say it's too late. It's already the dominant strain. Scott McLean, CNN, London.




BRUNHUBER: A rare show of public discontent in Cuba has reportedly led to hundreds of arrests. We'll have the latest from Havana just ahead.

And Tanzania's president is working to reverse the government's anti- vaccination stance. Coming up. Her message to COVID vaccine skeptics. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: In the coming hours, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a vaccine mandate for all federal workers and contractors as he lays out the next steps in the fight against COVID-19. A source says workers would be required to get the shot or submit to regular testing. Now the move comes as the president is urging all Americans to get vaccinated with the Delta variant fueling a surge in cases across the U.S.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We still have a lot of people not vaccinated. The pandemic we have now as a pandemic, the unvaccinated So please, please, please, please, if you're not vaccinated, protect yourself the children out there. It's important.


BRUNHUBER: But despite the President's plea, a new survey shows 46 percent of far-right Republicans refuse to get vaccinated which is up from 31 percent in March.

Now across the Middle East, several countries are announcing a significant surge in new COVID cases. Among them, Iraq and Turkey. The Turkish health ministry reported more than 22,000 new cases Wednesday. A three-month daily high. The country has recorded more than 5-1/2 million cases overall. And in Iraq new daily infections top 13,000 on Wednesday, marking the third straight day of record highs.

Lebanon is also seeing a rise in cases and on Wednesday recorded more than a thousand new COVID infections for a second straight day. The increase is putting a strain on hospitals which are already struggling with power cuts, limited staff and medicine shortages.


FIRASS ABIAD, DIRECTOR, RAFIC HARIRI UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL (through translator): In some days, were forced to ask the patient's relatives to go and try to find the medicine from another hospital or pharmacy.

It could be catastrophic if this rise in coronavirus numbers lead to a spike like we saw at the start of the year. Because the hospital definitely can't handle this burden.


BRUNHUBER: In Africa, many countries are battling a third wave of the virus. Senegal's health system is feeling the pressure as cases rise. Its Health Ministry says hospitals in the nation's capital are nearing capacity and healthcare workers are facing burnout. Less than two percent of Senegal's population is fully vaccinated. Leaving some healthcare workers calling for a more coordinated approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. MAOODOU MBODJI, COORDINATOR, COVID-19 RESUSCITATION SERVICE (through translator): Our reception capacities are currently at their maximum. Now the ball is in the court of the authorities and the population. Barrier measures and vaccination must be carried out and the authorities must also decide on the strategy to be adopted to face this pandemic.


BRUNHUBER: Now, while health officials stress vaccines are the way out of the pandemic, vaccination rates across Africa remain extremely low. But now some countries are hoping to change that. CNN's Larry Madowo looks at how one nation is changing its stance from COVID denial to embracing vaccines.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tanzanian authorities are learning that if you downplay and deny COVID-19 for so long, it has long lasting effects because it seeds into the community and those distrust in vaccines. That is why President Samia Suluhu Hassan had to be vaccinated on live television to reassure Tanzanians that vaccines are safe. And at 61 she has had other vaccines in her system and she's still alive.

And she has responsibilities that she will not put at risk. Because her predecessor, President John Pombe Magufuli was one of the most prominent denies of COVID-19 on the African continent. And even though he officially died of heart disease, there are people who believe that he died of COVID-19. And that is what this statement from his successor is so powerful.


SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN, TANZANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): A lot of people depend on me as a mother, wife, grandmother, President and commander-in-chief. So I'm doing this to show the public that as their president, I'm a shepherd. I wouldn't get vaccinated if it was dangerous. I'm doing this on my own free will.


MADOWO: Tanzania is only vaccinating frontline workers, anybody with a terminal illness and people aged over 50 at this time, it still needs enough shots for everybody in the population of almost 16 million and President Samia Suluhu Hassan say she had ordered more vaccines through the African Union. The health ministry says the country is in the middle of a third wave but it is difficult to tell how many people have had COVID, how many people have recovered or how many people have died because it is still not releasing regular data.

But Tanzania at least now has a vaccination program. Eritrea and Burundi still the outliers in Africa. Larry Madowo, CNN, Nairobi.

BRUNHUBER: Bolivia and Nicaragua are the latest countries to pledge humanitarian aid to Cuba in response to the new U.S. sanctions. Mexico and Russia have also promised or delivered aid. The U.S. sanctions specifically target an elite Cuban security unit known as the black berets for their alleged repression of recent protests. CNN's Patrick Oppman is in Havana with the latest.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The largest protests since Fidel Castro's revolution swept Cuba.


OPPMAN: The Cuban government quickly struck back. Carrying out mass arrests. Some protesters were forcibly detained as they chanted Patria Y Vida or homeland in life. The song that has become the anthem of frustration with the communist states. One of those arrested was photographer Anyelo Troya who filmed a part of the music video for Patria Y Vida in Havana. Less than two weeks after the protests, Troya was tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. His mother says he told the court he did nothing wrong.

He said how was this just when I haven't even seen a lawyer and I'm innocent he says. Immediately one of the police in civilian clothes came in handcuffed him. I said my love be calm you're not alone.

The Cuban Government refuses to say how many people have been arrested or face trial for taking part in the unprecedented protests. An activist group put the number at almost 700. Government maintains those arrested or detained for attacking police. Like in this video, we're protesters pelt cars with rocks, and not just for challenging the rule of the Communist Party. The only political party allowed on the island.

Having different opinions including political one these doesn't constitute a crime. He says. Thinking differently, questioning what's going on to demonstrate is not a crime. It's a right. But on the streets of Cuba elite Special Forces commandos, known as the black berets, were recently placed on the sanctions list by the Biden administration for alleged acts of repression, prevent further protests from breaking out.

Many of the relatives of the people who arrested would not talk to us on camera. They were too afraid. But some did tell us that their loved ones had done nothing other than peacefully demonstrate, or simply record and upload videos of the historic protests as they took place.

Odette Hernandez was arrested days after the protests her relatives say, for posting this video of the demonstrations to Facebook that have now been viewed over 100,000 times. Among the charges she and her husband face is instigation of delinquency. Odette's cousin spoke to several people who around Odette during the protests and told us their accounts from his home in Paris.

They weren't violent, they didn't throw rocks at anyone he says. Then special troops came to get them at their home. The commander unit with many police.

Many of Cuba's top artists have criticized the government crackdown and called for an amnesty for nonviolent protesters. Amidst the mass trial, some signs of leniency as a day after we visited his home photographer Anyelo Troya was released on house arrest while awaiting appeal. The government here though, says it has only just begun to prosecute those who broke the law. As all of Cuba seemingly holds its breath and waits to see what comes next.

Patrick Oppman, CNN Havana.


BRUNHUBER: All right. Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. Athletes coping with stress. We'll hear from three Olympic gold medalists on how they deal with pressure.



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN NEWSROOM: Women's gymnastics takes center stage in Tokyo in the coming hours, as the women compete for all-around gold. The American Simone Biles won't be among them, pulling out over mental health concerns.

CNN's Will Ripley reports on how athletes deal with the pressure of the competition.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Mental health at the front and center of the Olympics. Team USA's star gymnast on the sidelines indefinitely, Simone Biles saying she must protect her body and mind.

A frightening mid air mental block at Tuesdays finals, a disoriented Biles bailing out in the middle of a complicated vault move.

SHANNON MILLER, U.S. OLYMPICS GYMNATICS GOLD MEDALIST: It is a stunning move. I think, as a gymnast, if you are getting lost in the air, if you are not kind of mentally aware of where you are, that is a really big problem, it can have devastating results.

RIPLEY: Biles backing out of the all around competition on Thursday, the GOAT garnering praise from fellow athletes and celebrities.

ALY RAISMAN, BILES' FORMER TEAMMATE: I also just want to remind people that Simone Biles is human, and every athlete, no matter how successful they are, every athlete has good days and bad.

RIPLEY: The International Olympic Committee agrees, admitting more can be done to protect athlete's mental health.

MARK ADAMS, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPICS COMMITTEE SPOKESMAN: Are we doing enough? I hope so, I think so. But like everyone in the world, we can do more on this issue.

RIPLEY: Other Olympians sharing tips on tuning out the noise. Australian swimmer and gold medalist Ariarne Titmus deleting social media from her phone. ARIARNE TITMUS, AUSTRALIAN OLYMPICS SWIMMING GOLD MEDALIST: As much as messages from everyone is really beautiful, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. So I just try to not read anything because I think that adds external pressure.

RIPLEY: For the world's top athletes, mindfulness matters.

Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: Billions of dollars that courts ruled was stolen from Equatorial Guinea are one step closer to making their way back to the country. On Wednesday, the top French appeals court upheld a verdict against the African country's vice president, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, he was handed a three-year suspended sentence in absentia for embezzling tens of millions of dollars. His luxury assets in France will now be sold with the proceeds going back to Equatorial Guinea. Some transparency groups say that should send a big message.


SARA BRIMBEUF, TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL: It sends a very strong signal to other foreign leaders who might be potentially interested in investing dirty money in French real estate or in opening bank accounts or such. We are hoping that it will influence France's neighbors and the European Union so that other similar court decisions can be reached.

In order to generate a snowball effect, a robust anti-corruption mechanism and a better prevention of money laundering in France, and most importantly, throughout Europe.


BRUNHUBER: And the vice president denies any wrongdoing.

In the U.S., the CDC new mask guidance is firing up an old partisan divide with many Republicans choosing politics over science, even as the delta variant fuels a new surge of COVID cases. CNN's Brian Todd has the details.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That's how Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying, quote, he's such a moron, slamming the GOP minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, of his tweet against new calls for mask- wearing, saying it's, quote, not a decision based on science but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.

On the first day of that new mask requirement for the House, at least 24 Republicans seen openly defying the order, including Congresswoman Lauren Boebert.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): We know science is real. TODD: A witness tells CNN Boebert threw a mask back at a House staffer when she was offered one while for the House floor without a mask. Boebert's office says she simply slid the mask back across the table.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: The Republicans see this as politically to their advantage. They want to fight back against these mask rules, they think it shows that Pelosi is being heavy-handed.


TODD: The new CDC and Biden administration guidelines asking Americans to wear masks indoors, in any areas of high COVID transmission we're not even a day old when they became heavily embroiled in politics. Former President Donald Trump issuing a statement against mask-wearing, saying, quote, don't surrender to COVID, don't go back.

ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We are back into a situation where we are letting politics guide public health as opposed to science guiding public health.

TODD: The political mask wars extend to Florida, where protesters burned masks outside a school board meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time this mask off this symbol of tyranny.

TODD: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state is among the national leaders in new COVID cases, is opposed to new CDC guidelines, saying all children in schools should wear masks.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They need to be able to be kids. They need them to be able breathe. It is terribly uncomfortable for them to do it.

TODD: One analyst says, while politicians like Lauren Boebert may not be a household name across the country, their resistance to mask- wearing can have a real impact.

HULSE: Seeing her say, no, we're not going to do it, people look at that and say, well, we don't have to either. They are mainly trying to appeal to this -- the part of their constituencies who think that this is all a conspiracy against them by the Democrats, to impose their will on them.

TODD: And an epidemiologist has a warning tonight about America making mask-wearing political again.

RIMOIN: We are going to see the same thing that we saw last year, when politics got in the way of public health. We're going to see the virus win.


TODD (on camera): Anne Rimoin and other public health experts say part of the problem is that mask guidance is no longer all encompassing. It instead requires every Americans to look up whether they need a mask, depending on a map of transmission there is in their area.

Another problem, according to a psychologist who spoke to CNN, it is asking a lot of everyone when you keep moving the finish line on the pandemic.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

BRUNHUBER: Wildfires are burning in countries around the world, destroying property and putting thousands of lives at risk. But some are daring to stand against the elements to save their homes.

Plus, researchers send out a warning about how fast China's nuclear arsenal could be growing. We will talk about that and what the satellite images show.

Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia got underway in Switzerland on Wednesday on one of the few issues where they apparently see eye to eye. In political limbo, it is called strategic stability dialogue. In layman's terms, it is avoiding a war, trying to lower the tensions between the two nuclear rivals and lay the groundwork for future arms control.


The two top negotiators greeted each other with an elbow bump instead of a conventional handshake. And as Kylie Atwood reports, the talks got off to a good start.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Now, the State Department called the U.S. talks with Russia over strategic stability both professional and substantive. And, frankly, this is one of those rare topics that the U.S. and Russia both see it as in their interest to discuss with the other country, because both countries are working on things that the other one feels threatened by.

On the Russian side, they are building up their military might in the Arctic. They are also working on an unmanned torpedo powered by a nuclear reactor. That is something that the U.S. is looking at. On the U.S. side, they are also working on nuclear projects that Russia has their eyes on.

So there is a certain level of interest in terms of sitting down, putting their cards on the table and seeing if they can come to any broad ranging agreement in terms of reining it in and bringing controls onto these programs.

There are still questions, however, as to if these strategic stability talks will also include other topics, potentially in the space arena, the space race, or when it comes to cyber and potential attacks on nuclear command and control in the cyberspace. That has yet to be determined. The State Department said that the working groups in these strategic stability talks will be defined and laid out in their next meeting.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Washington.

BRUNHUBER: A new study warns China may be ramping up its nuclear capabilities. The Federation of American Scientist says China is building a new field of missiles silos in its western deserts. It was spotted by satellites. And it's the second apparent missile base identified this month. A report says, together, the two sites mark the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever.

CNN has reached out to China's foreign and defense ministries for comment, but there has been no reply. The U.S. State Department calls the apparent build-up deeply concerning.

Jeffrey Lewis is a Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Thank you so much for being with us.

So, just to start off, give us a picture of the two new silo construction sites in China, where they are, relative in the country, what do they look like, how do we find them?

JEFFREY LEWIS, PROFESSOR, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Sure. Well, first of all, they are both enormous on the order of 700 square miles. They are in a desert interior of the country, far away from large, populated centers. And these large networks of roads, these kind of grid patterns, and at the end of each of these roads, there is a big -- basically looks like a bouncy house where we are the Chinese are digging silos. And so there is 120 of them at the site we found and there are 110 at the other site.

So, what really stands out about them is just that there are these vast areas of construction, really, in the middle of nowhere.

BRUNHUBER: I mean, China has been slowly building up its nuclear capability, but it has not been at the forefront of the nuclear arms race, so why this seemingly sudden nuclear expansion now, if indeed it is that? I mean, the construction isn't very sneaky, as you have pointed out, it is in plain sight. Are they just sending a message here or is there more to it?

LEWIS: Well, I think one thing to keep in mind is that even if they put missiles in all of these silos, they still would not have as many missiles as the United States does. So Chinese numbers are getting bigger and they're big for them, but they are still quite small compared to what we have, for example, in the United States. And as I say, it is possible that it will be a smaller number of missiles.

I really think that this is kind of the beginning of a new arms race. For decades now, the Chinese have complained now that the United States has much bigger numbers, that we have been modernizing our forces, that we're deploying missile defenses, all of which, they think is designed to prevent them from having what they would call a retaliatory capability. If we were to attack them, they want to know they can hit us back, and they're afraid that we are taking that away from them.

So what I see them doing is frankly just building their way back to the capability that they think they had 20 years ago.

BRUNHUBER: So what does the Biden administration do then? What should the response be? Does what we are seeing give more sort of impetus to going more towards what the Trump administration was trying to do, which was to get China in with Russia in terms of the nuclear treaty together, and how realistic is that?

LEWIS: Well, the first thing I would say is it makes no sense to try it at arms race (ph). Building silos is cheap. And so the Chinese are always going to be able to build silos quicker than were able to build missiles that we want to destroy these. So, that is a losing game.

What we do have to do is talk to them. I'm someone who thinks that the Trump administration, the broad outline to what they were saying were pretty good, that, yes, we should engage the Chinese in some kind of negotiation in order to head off his arms race.


But like a lot of many things with the Trump administration, when you scratch the surface a little bit, I don't think the execution was all that great. I'm not sure they were sincere about getting a deal.

I think at the end of the day, if we want to talk to the Chinese about limiting their offensive forces, we will probably have to talk not just about limiting our offensive forces but also the defensive forces we're building, because from their perspective, those are sort of all part of the same equation.

BRUNHUBER: You mean, our missile shields, for example?

LEWIS: Yes, that is exactly it. We look at it as a shield, like it's defensive. But if you're the Chinese, what it really looks like it's designed, is that if we surprise attack them with our missiles they may only have one or two missiles that survives, and that missile shield will mop up their basic retaliation at the end.

So, we look at them as missile defense but they see those missiles as part of what they think as a U.S. offensive strategy, so like we have to talk about that whether we like it or not.

BRUNHUBER: Finally, before we go, there's been a lot of talk about the intersection of cyber war and real war. Other day, President Biden said if we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it's going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence. In that context, we're usually talking about Russia, but how likely is that threat to come from China, do you think?

LEWIS: Well, China has the same kinds of cyber capabilities that Russia and the United States have. And so, you know, when I look at this, whether it's silos or cyber capabilities, what I see is that we are now three very technologically sophisticated powers who have real differences. And so, we have all of these tools to make mayhem but the real question for me is are we are going to have the wisdom to find a way to avoid using them.

BRUNHUBER: That's a great question and a great place to end it. Thank you so much, Jeffrey Lewis, we really appreciate you joining us.

LEWIS: It was a pleasure.

BRUNHUBER: Peru's fifth president in less than five years has now been sworn in. Pedro Castillo is a left-leaning political novice elected with a razor thin majority. We have more now from Stefano Pozzebon.

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: 51-year-old in a former schoolteacher Pedro Castillo was sworn in as Peru's new president on Wednesday in a ceremony that was attended by the leaders of several Latin American countries who gathered (INAUDIBLE) to congratulate the new president.

Castillo attended the ceremony wearing a traditional straw hat from his own region of Cajamarca, a reference to his popular rural roots. It's the first time our country will be governed by a farmer, he said.

In his speech, Castillo also said his government will continue its fight against COVID-19 and try to vaccinate 100 percent of the country's population against the virus. He announced his intention to draw reforms to Peru's constitution. He stunned the attendees saying he would not live in the presidential palace named after a Spanish conquistador from the 16th century in Lima. This is a break with tradition.

But many challenges lie ahead of the new leader. With little experience in government and a thin majority in Congress, Castillo is the fifth Peruvian president in less than five years. And the task to complete his mandate and pass all the ambitious reforms he set out to is daunting.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.

BRUNHUBER: Low humidity and high winds in Turkey are creating the perfect conditions to feed wildfires currently ripping through the southern part of the country. Residents of Antalya have been forced to leave their homes as firefighters use aircrafts, helicopters, bulldozers and more to stop the fire from advancing. At least one person has died, an 82-year-old who died at home in the area where residents were told to evacuate.

Another man who shot this video says he went into town for a short trip and was met with a wall of flames when he tried to return home. One of the rescued drivers in critical condition after crashing his water truck.

And right now, the largest wildfire in California is ravaging the northern part of the state. The Dixie fire has grown to more 89,000 hectares. And with less than a quarter of it contained, some locals are determined to stand their ground against the blaze.

We have more now from Camila Bernal.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As the flames from the Dixie fire burn out of control --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They picked up some heat signals.

BERNAL: -- authorities issued evacuation orders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why they evacuated on 47th.

BERNAL: But while many of the more than 16,000 under these orders have left --



BERNAL: -- others like Jason Ackley are choosing to stay.

ACKLEY: And we have got sprinklers.

BERNAL: His wife and son have already evacuated. But instead, he and his brother are working on their own fire line.

ACKLEY: We're really trying to take the fuel down so we can't get up into the crown of the trees and stuff.

BERNAL: The fire getting within a quarter mile of the property.

ACKLEY: It was a big scare but this is everything, this is all we have. This is what we fight for. I mean, if we don't have this, where are we going to go?

BERNAL: The almost 218,000-acre fire has already destroyed almost 40 structures, and over 10,000 others are at risk.


BERNAL: People here in Indian Falls had enough time to evacuate, but when they come back in a week or so, this is what they are going to find. If you look at this home here, the only thing left standing is the staircase. Two of the cars were left here in the driveway. Of course, they are completely destroyed. If you look here, it's just a piece of what used to be the rim of this car.

Firefighters telling me they were here until the very end, trying to save as many homes as possible but it just became too dangerous.

The Dixie fire is California's largest wildfire this year and the 14th largest in state history. With severe drought conditions continuing across the western U.S., wildfires becoming larger and more frequent.

BAKER: We are seeing that wild land fires in California are growing in size, complexity and frequency. BERNAL: It's something that Ackley acknowledges. He knows he's putting his life on the line, but instead points to managing the forest, and says it's what he will do until the very end.

ACKLEY: When we see the red lights and the guys getting ready to go, I mean, we will turn the sprinklers on and we will make our last- minute prayer and see what we can do. But, at that point, we're going to stand here together. We've already decided that from day one.


BERNAL (on camera): And these firefighters, brave men and women, are spending about 12 hours here at base camp in the tents that you see behind me, and then they're spending another 12 hours in the middle of the smoke, in the middle of the flames, doing everything they can to stop this fire.

The Dixie fire is being described to me as a sleepy, stubborn fire, but they're expecting it to essentially wake up as weather conditions change. It's making it more dangerous, not just for the firefighters, but, of course, for the people who are under evacuation orders and are still choosing to stay.

Camila Bernal, CNN, Quincy, California.

BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, a teenage pilot sets out to prove women can do anything regardless of age, including set world records. We will have that story after the break. Please, stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: UNESCO has added 33 new sites to its list of world heritage sites. Because of the pandemic, the UNESCO committee didn't meet last year, so members are reviewing nominations from 2020 and 2021.

Among the two dozen spots that are confirmed are India's ancient city of Dholavira, in Central Africa, Gabon's Ivindo National Park, Nice, the winter resort town on the French Reviera, and in Jordan, the ancient agricultural town of As-Salt.


And we have more information on the full list of the sites on

While the young Belgian pilot may get to see some of those sights on what could be a he record-breaking trip. The 19-year-old is set to become the youngest woman to make a sole flight all round the world next month.

Now, to some it may seem daunting but she says it's all about leveling the playing field. Here's her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRUNHUBER (voice over): In a bid to level the playing field for women in aviation, a 19-year-old is taking charge. Zara Rutherford may be young but she is ready to soar off on an almost 30,000-nautical mile solo flight circling the globe. If she succeeds, this Belgian British national will become the youngest woman ever to fly solo around the world and the youngest person ever to do it in a microlight airplane.

ZARA RUTHERFORD, PILOT: So, growing up, I didn't really see many female pilots or female computer scientists. Those are two of my passion, and it's quite discouraging when there's no one that can relates to you that does any of these things. So then I wanted to fly around the world. Hopefully, we have other girls see me and think, I would love to fly one day too.

BRUNHUBER: Rutherford will be flying a customized Shark Ultralight, which is one of the sponsors of her flight.

The route will begin in Brussels, taking her across the Atlantic, over Greenland and the Americas, traveling as far south as Columbia and Venezuela. She will then turn north towards the Bering Strait, where she will cross into Russia, and fly over South and Southeast Asia, then across Africa and the Middle East before returning home.

She says the journey should take two or three months. Her mission, to close the gender gap in aviation.

RUTHERFORD: There is a difference in aviation between men and women. There's a lot less women in aviation. Commercial pilots, 5 percent are women, which is ridiculously small.

BRUNHUBER: Rutherford takes after her parents, both of whom are pilots. Her mother, Beatrice de Smet, says she's nervous but proud.

BEATRICE DE SMET, ZARA'S MOTHER: When she first told me about it, my heart skipped a beat. It took me a bit of time to digest. And now I am so proud and fully, fully behind her. But as I said, mixed feelings.

BRUNHUBER: Rutherford hopes this trip can inspire other girls to follow her path both in life and in the air.


BRUNHUBER (on camera): And, of course, we wish her the best of luck.

I'm Kim Brunhuber. I will be back with more CNN Newsroom in just a moment. Please do stay with us.