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Israel to Offer Third Vaccine Dose to People Over 60; Cities Consider New Measures to Curb Delta Variant Spread; First Person Sentenced Under Hong Kong National Security Law; Afghan Interpreters Plead to Get Out of Country; U.S. Gymnast Sunisa Lee's Incredible Journey to Gold. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: The "Washington Post" first reported on the new CDC data saying that the agency knows that it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus. Leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.

Now in an effort to fight this extremely transmissible variant, Israel will soon be offering a third shot of a COVID vaccine. It will be giving in the coming days to people over 60 who are fully vaccinated. Elliott Gotkine joins me now from Jerusalem. So, Elliot, U.S. agencies pushed back hard when Pfizer said we might be needing a booster. Saying they didn't have enough data to make that decision yet. Why is Israel going ahead with this booster plan?

ELLIOT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: I think in short, Kim, Israel just doesn't want to take any chances. It's seen a dramatic spike in the number of COVID cases in the country. Over the last few days, we've seen more than 2,000 cases every day. Cast your mind back a month or two, there were fewer than ten case a day on Sunday. So, it doesn't want to take any chances. It's already been a third base to those with a suppressed immune system. About 2,000 people and found that there were adverse effects.

And then on top of that there was a research paper which showed that dialysis patients, two thirds of them, who received a third dose showed that they had more antibodies and then also we had data from Pfizer this week which said that third dose could strongly, in its words, boost the number of antibodies in people receiving a third dose by more than five-fold for those aged 18 to 55 and over 11 fold for those age 65 to 85.

So, for all those reasons Israel felt that it was better to err on the side of caution. It's got thousands more doses arriving in the country in the coming days and actually this third dose campaign has already kicked off. There was some people in Ramat HaSharon, this is a suburb of Tel Aviv, who was the first to receive their third dose.

And then we saw President Herzog who is age 60, so he just slips over the line there. He went on live television to also receive his third dose along with his wife. He said that it's really a good lesson for humankind, the need to protect each other by ensuring that people are vaccinated. And Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister, who is only age 49, so not eligible, he also chimed in saying that Israel will share any data and insights with the world, and he said that we'll win but together.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, it's interesting not without controversy given how many people around the world haven't had a first shot let alone a third. Thanks so much, Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem.

And many in the United States are looking at Israel and wondering if a potential booster dose of the COVID-19 shot is needed. The White House is taking a clear stance saying that it is not needed right now, but if that changes, the U.S. is ready.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Well, let me be clear, this is not the White House, this is the FDA, its scientists, which I think everyone would agree is the gold standard. They are evaluating the data, the clinical trials, laboratory data, taking all the inputs and they will decide when and if Americans need boosters. Right now, they are certain that no Americans need boosters. They have said that. But I will tell you, Wolf, if we do -- if they do decide that Americans need booster, we are ready. We have the supply and people will be able to get a booster shot if it is needed in a fast and efficient manner.


BRUNHUBER: That was Jeff Zients the White House COVID-19 response coordinator speaking with our Wolf Blitzer.

Now other measures to handle the delta variant surge like mask mandates are being reintroduced in many cities across the U.S. Here in Atlanta while they've issued an executive order requiring masks at all indoor public places, so he have a series of reports beginning with Natasha Chen in Georgia.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The city of Atlanta, falls in both Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Areas designated as having high levels of community transmission according to the latest CDC data. This follows the Savannah's mayor's emergency order on Monday also requiring masks indoors. The Mayor Van Johnson said, yes, effectively this punishes the minority of people that are vaccinated due to the in action of majority of people who did not do so.

But Georgia Governor Brian Kemp tweeted yesterday, there would not be any lockdown or statewide mask mandate. Georgia's 7-day rolling average of new cases is at its highest level since early March.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Governor Ron DeSantis is doubling down on his stance when it comes to masks. He does not believe government or cool officials should be requiring students to wear them in the upcoming school year. That said, where I am right now in Broward County, the school board decided to require masks for the upcoming school year given the new CDC guidelines.


Let's move a little further south, Miami-Dade the school board there is also going back to the drawing board after those guidelines came out and they too are reconsidering how they will move forward when it comes to mask policies for the upcoming school year.

We checked in with a handful of districts and many of them sort of echoed that sentiment that they are now trying to figure out how they will move forward with mask policy for the upcoming school year given what the governor is saying, given what the CDC guidelines and what is best for their students.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Despite the rising number of COVID cases, that could not keep this crowd behind me away from Lollapalooza. If ticket holders want to get inside, they will have to follow a few rules. First, if you are vaccinated, you have to show proof. So, bring a printed version of your vaccine card. If you don't have the COVID-19 vaccine, you will be required to obtain a negative COVID test at least 72 hours prior to entry. Some people are concerned events like this will be a super spreader event. The city's top health official said there's always that risk. There is a chance we could see a spike in the number of COVID cases, not only here in Chicago, but across the state. But she said that she feels confident and comfortable because the event is outside.


BRUNHUBER: Parts of the Chinese capital are under lockdown after two new COVID cases cropped up this week. Beijing's first in nearly six months. After Nanjing scrambles to contain a much larger outbreak of the delta variant, authorities say they now know where it came from, an inbound flight from Russia. Nanjing's health commission says the city has recorded 185 infections so far.

And new this hour, the first person convicted under Hong Kong's national security law has just been sentenced. He is getting 9 years in prison for incitement to secession and terrorism. Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong with the details. Kristie, many were watching this first sentence to see how strictly this new national security law will be enforced. What does this tell us?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean this is a very serious penalty here. Look, we just got the news within the last hour, the first person convicted under the national security law has been sentenced to nine years in prison. It was on Tuesday when 24-year-old Tong Ying-kit was found guilty of incitement to secession and guilty of terrorism. He had earlier pleaded not guilty to these charges. His lawyer says that the defense, they do plan to appeal these decisions.

He was arrested on July 1, 2020, just hours after the national security law was first imposed on Hong Kong. And Tong, he drove a motorcycle while holding a flag with a forbidden message on it. Because of the verdict we got earlier this week, that message is now outlawed in China. It said, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times." And he crashed his motorcycle into several riot police officers who were trying to stop him.

Tong Ying-kit was denied bail. He was denied a jury for this trial, that is a significant departure from Hong Kong's previous legal system. And also, the three judges who are presiding over this case were handpicked by Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam. Critics say that this trial and this sentencing is part of a greater crackdown on dissent in the city. Here's Joseph Cheng.


JOSEPH CHENG POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Hong Kong people now realize that people are in a very difficult situation, not only that democracy is beyond our hope, but our very basic freedoms that we cherish are now being compromised.


STOUT (on camera): But top Chinese officials are unwavering in their support for the national security law. They say it brings stability and prosperity to the territory. But within the last year, over 130 people have been arrested under the law -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong, appreciate it.

The U.S. State Department says that it is concerned about the treatment of foreign journalists in China. The BBC has been a recent target with Beijing labeling the network a rumor spreading broadcasting corporation. The U.S. says China's harsh rhetoric promoted through official state media, toward any news it perceives to be critical of PRC policies has provoked negative public sentiment leading to tense in-person confrontations and harassment including online verbal abuse and death threats of journalists simply doing their jobs.

All right, coming up, Afghan interpreters are beginning to be evacuated to the U.S. but thousands more remain living in fear as threats from the Taliban intensify.

Plus, what Sunisa Lee's historic gold medal means for some marginalized Asian American groups in the U.S. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Firefighters in southern Turkey are battling 20 wildfires down from nearly 60 a few days ago. Officials say the blazes have killed at least four people. More than 2,000 farm animals have also died. Dozens of villages have to be ordered to evacuate along the Mediterranean coast.

An overheating planet and surging temperatures are causing the biggest meltdown of the year for Greenland. The amount of ice that liquefied on Tuesday alone would be enough to cover the whole state of Florida and more than 5 centimeters of water. Now this is the third instance of extreme melting on Greenland in the past decade.

An initial group of Afghan interpreters that work alongside U.S. troops is set to arrive in Virginia in the coming hours. It's part of President Biden's vow not to abandon those who helped in America's longest war. But thousands of Afghan nationals are still waiting their turn as they fear deadly retribution from the Taliban. CNN's Kylie Atwood reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I don't go out of Afghanistan, I'm counting down my end of life.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day that the Taliban control surges in Afghanistan, the situation grows more deadly for Afghan interpreters who are trying to flee the country after working alongside U.S. troops and diplomats. Three interpreters who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas to the United States, or SIVs, spoke to CNN and described just how urgently they must get out of the country. Because after years of putting their lives on the line next to U.S. soldiers, the Taliban are hunting them down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely we need to get out of the country. They are looking after us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our future will be dark. They're going to cut our heads too.

ATWOOD (voice-over): He's referring to a recent report of the Taliban, beheading Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops. These Afghans fear for their families as well as themselves. CNN is concealing their identities to keep them safe.


One of them, Nayab is particularly concerned about what will happen to his daughters if the Taliban takeover.

NAYAB: They will destroy the schools and they prevent my girls to go to school.

ATWOOD (voice-over): All three men we spoke with had faced terrifying threats. One of them, Ramish, explained what happened to him earlier this month when the Taliban knocked on his door.

RAMISH: My family hide me and told them, Ramish was gone somewhere. Then, they search at our house, and I was hide inside the oven in my yard. They burned my house. And nothing remained to us. All our materials burned by them.

ATWOOD: They burned your house?

RAMISH: Yes. They burned my house.

ATWOOD (voice-over): After that, Ramish snuck out of his hometown in the middle of the night, embarking on a dangerous journey to Kabul, where the Taliban are not in control.

Army Captain Sayre Paine worked with Ramish in Afghanistan and encouraged him to flee to Kabul under the cloak of darkness.

CAPTAIN SAYRE PAINE, FORMER ARMY (RET.): To me, it's the comrade in arms and the indelible duty to not betray them. You put these people on the tier with your own family.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Pain says the United States could not have done the job on the ground without the interpreters by their side. He feels angry thinking about the ones who may not make it out.

PAINE: To allow and fully know all of these people signing up for this promise -- to come literally to the promised land and to just let it go is a betrayal to those people.

ATWOOD (voice-over): About 20,000 Afghans have applied for SIVs. 700 of them will fly into the United States in the coming weeks and wait at a U.S. military base while their visas are finalized. Yet the total processing time can take years. President Biden has promised --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stand with you just as you stood with us.

ATWOOD (voice-over): But the United States government has not yet laid out a comprehensive plan to get these Afghans out of the country before the complete U.S. troop withdrawal next month.

Due to the urgent and vast nature of this challenge, many individuals like Paine have taken it upon themselves to contribute. Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter living in Virginia set up a nonprofit to help SIVs based on his own experience.

JANIS SHINWARI, FORMER AFGHAN TRANSLATOR: When I came here at the airport, I realized that government has not taken care of us, and I was with my own. And from that time, I thought that I have to build something to help these SIV's when they're coming to the United States, and they don't know anybody.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Earlier this month, he waited at the airport to welcome an Afghan SIV recipient and his family to the United States. Janis's nonprofit paid for their flights. It's an emotional and hopeful scene, but a glance at his phone offers a reality check, hundreds of messages, all Afghans pleading with him to help them get out.

ATWOOD: Each of these Afghan SIV applicants that I spoke with has children. One of them has five children. And I tell you that to underscore the fact that it's not just these 20,000 SIV applicants who are trying to get here because they feel their lives are in jeopardy, it's also their larger families.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Colombia's capital saw new clashes between police and protestors Wednesday. Police say six offices were injured in Bogota, while ten people were arrested including three minors. Colombia was rattled by massive anti-government protests that began in April. Human rights groups say dozens of protestors have been killed by security forces since then, but Colombian officials dispute those numbers.

Coming up, 18-year-old Suni Lee vaulted through hardship, personal tragedy and pain, all on the way to Olympic gold. We'll tell you about it next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: One of Marvel's biggest stars is suing Disney. Scarlett Johansson who plays the superhero "Black Widow" in the movie of the same name, alleges that the company breached her contract. The actress argues she's losing potential box office earnings because her film was released simultaneously on the Disney plus streaming platform and theaters. Disney claims Johansson's lawsuit has no merit whatsoever and releasing it on Disney plus will increase her compensation. The film has made about $318 million worldwide since its release on July 9.

Round one of the annual NBA draft was held Thursday night and there was little doubt who would be the first pick.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: Pick in the 2021 NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons select Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State University.


BRUNHUBER: Well, you just heard if there. Cade Cunningham went first overall to the Detroit Pistons. The 19-year-old freshman guard from Oklahoma State was one of the best players in college basketball last season leading the Cowboys to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Texas native will look to get the Pistons back to their storied success.

You see it there, pure joy in Minnesota, family and friends of U.S. Olympic gymnast Sunisa Lee react as she snags gold in the women's all- around event. The victory means more than just another U.S. medal for Lee's family and for the Hmong community back in the U.S. It's a reflection of their resilience in overcoming hardship and tragedy.


Will Ripley tells us about Sunisa Lee's road to gold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a family of Southeast Asian refugees to Olympic gold for Team USA.

SUNISA LEE, U.S. GYMNAST: It's like it doesn't even feel real.

RIPLEY (voice-over): 18-year-old Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast stepping up when Simone Biles stepped back, taking women's individual all-around gold, win number six in the event for Team USA, tying the former Soviet Union's record.

LEE: This medal would not be possible without my coaches, the medical team, my parents, and it's just so surreal and I haven't even let it sink in yet.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Nearly 6000 miles away in Oakdale, Minnesota, the small Hmong refugee community celebrating big time. Lee's parents fled Laos for the U.S. Her dad says winning gold is the greatest achievement of any Hmong American.

JOHN LEE, SUNISA LEE'S FATHER: All that hard work, all that broken bones, all that time you missed vacation with us. It paid off.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Lee's road to gold tougher than most. In 2019, her father fell

from a ladder, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. In 2020, her aunt and uncle died of COVID-19.

LEE: There is a point in time where I wanted to quit, and I just didn't think I would ever get here including injuries and stuff. So, there are definitely a lot of emotions, but I'm super proud of myself for sticking with it and believing in myself.

RIPLEY (voice-over): And now Suni Lee making Olympic history.

Will Ripley CNN, Tokyo.


SOARES: What a fantastic story there.

I'm Kim Brunhuber at CNN Center in Atlanta. Thank you so much for watching. "EARLY START" is next.