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Japan Extends State Of Emergency For Tokyo Amid Olympic Games; U.S. Averaging 67,000 New COVID-19 Cases Per Day; CDC Says The Vaccinated Can Spread Delta Variant; Caeleb Dressel Breaks World Record, Wins Gold; Afghan Interpreters Arrive In U.S.; White House Announces New Sanctions On Cuba; Israel To Offer Vaccine Boosters; Israel, U.S. Accuse Iran Of Attacking Tanker; Turkey Wildfires Kill Four; Scarlett Johansson Sues Disney Over Streaming "Black Widow." Aired 5-6a ET

Aired July 31, 2021 - 05:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow, live from Atlanta.

So coming up, U.S. President Joe Biden said he can't rule out more restrictions as the Delta variant fuels a worrying surge in cases. This as some areas are once again running out of ICU beds. We'll bring you an in-depth report out of Texas.

Plus, gymnastics superstar Simone Biles withdraws from two more Olympic events. We'll get the latest from Tokyo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: So hospitals around the U.S. are beginning to strain as the Delta variant affects more and more people. An average of 77,000 new cases are turning up daily and trending higher. Most of these cases are among people who are unvaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control says Delta is as contagious as chicken pox and can cause severe illness. Unlike earlier variants, a single case of Delta has the potential to infect many more people.

Health experts say the unvaccinated are at most risk and right now, that's about half of Americans. And new revelations about the Delta variant have prompted a shift in policy at the CDC and the White House and it's driving the push to get even more Americans vaccinated. Phil Mattingly has more.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new data driving urgent concern and action. Public health officials say the war has changed.

A new CDC study showing the delta COVID-19 variant produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people if they get infected. All as internal agency documents warned it appears to spread as easily as chickenpox.

It was, CDC officials say, a central motivation behind the sudden agency's shift this week to recommend fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in areas of substantial and high transmission.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In those cases, those are rare cases that we have breakthrough infections, we felt it important for people to understand that they have the potential to transmit virus to others.

MATTINGLY: And it's a window into the dangerous evolution of a virus that top government officials thought was nearly under control just weeks ago. The study describing 469 Massachusetts residents infected in the July outbreak in province town, Massachusetts. About 74 percent of those cases had been fully vaccinated.

Researchers finding the viral loads in the infected similar among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the CDC director calling a pivotal discovery. But critically, the new data also underscoring the primary thrust of the administration's response.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's so darn important that everyone get vaccinated.

MATTINGLY: Among the participants in the study, zero died. Only five were hospitalized, making clear that while break-through cases are occurring and transmission is possible, it remains the unvaccinated driving the surge in hospitalizations and deaths around the country.

BIDEN: This is a much different variant than the one we dealt with previously. It is highly transmissible and it is causing a new wave of cases in those who are not vaccinated.

MATTINGLY: It is a driving force behind the sharp White House pivot this week to address the challenge, rolling out a new series of incentives and, for the first time, the requirement that federal workers attest to their vaccination status or face stringent masking and travel restrictions.

BIDEN: With incentives and mandates, we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives.

MATTINGLY: It is a message the White House sought repeatedly once again to drive home on Friday.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We need more people to get vaccinated. That's the answer. We need more people to get vaccinated.

MATTINGLY: Obviously, the concern with the Delta variant very real, tangible at this point. But there may be positive news. White House officials making it clear they've seen more vaccinations across the country day by day, 867,000 vaccinations on Thursday.

And it's an uptick that officials hope will continue, even surge in and of itself as they try and basically address the one thing they believe can put an end to all of this.


MATTINGLY: Or at least contain it compared to where it's been over the last several weeks, getting vaccinated -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: Thanks, Phil, for that.

And more and more American businesses are tired of waiting for their workers to get vaccinated. Disney and Walmart are two of the latest to force the issue, making proof of vaccination a condition of employment. Disney has given its existing workers 60 days to going to the shots. Walmart said all U.S. employees must be vaccinated by the 4th of October.

And the stunning detail from the latest CDC data is the alarming number of recent breakthrough cases of vaccinated people. Of particular interest was a situation in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

Large gatherings there resulted in dozens of vaccinated people becoming infected. Earlier I spoke with Dr. Scott Miscovich, a consultant on national COVID testing. Have a listen to what he had to say.


DR. SCOTT MISCOVICH, FAMILY PHYSICIAN AND NATIONAL CONSULTANT: Well, it really is one of those things that's really shaken us in the medical world right now. Again, that data shows that there was a big group of parties and get-togethers and events up in Provincetown that had people over a two-week period, over 800, become positive.

And we ended up having 74 percent of those individuals were vaccinated. That has really, really shaken us in the medical world.

Now is it that surprising?

No. I think we've talked about it before. The virus has mutated so that it becomes so much more sticky. Those little spikes are so much more solid, that it only a few will jump on and be able to spread the disease. So we're very, very concerned about what's happening. And the CDC has adapted to the mask guidance, which the report has shown.

CURNOW: Because there is this indication that those of us who have been vaccinated could also have a very high viral load and could spread the virus as well.

But at the same time, what we're seeing is that the vaccines are working, despite the study, perhaps indicating concern. The main point is that those who got sick didn't -- those who got infected didn't get as sick as those who weren't vaccinated.

MISCOVICH: Oh, yes, we can't stop emphasizing that. Your chances of dying if you've been vaccinated is just so slim. It is very, very slim. So we want to not have that as something that changes your thoughts to say, well, why get vaccinated.

No, you need to get vaccinated because the people universally that are dying are the individuals who are not vaccinated. So, yes, I think that's very important to notify everyone that, please, please, the answer is to get vaccinated.

Now one of the things that just has really jumped up is that the study that just came out of Ontario, Canada, is very important to us. And it shows that those who were now infected are having twice the chance of dying.

So this is one of the first times since COVID has been with us now, the mutation and the variant, is now more lethal and that is very important now.


We now know that every little droplet that's coming out has over 1,000 times the amount of virus present which also could be the reason why it is just so infective right now.

CURNOW: And what do you make of Pfizer and the suggestion that boosters are necessary?

It shouldn't be any surprises there, should there?

MISCOVICH: No. I concur with that. And I think if you look back at my time over the last probably eight months that I've been speaking to you all, I've been saying that I believe that all of the data shows that boosters will be necessary.

And I have come back and said also that we need to get used to more than likely boosters will be with us for years to come. We may be having our flu shot and our COVID booster as time goes on, which may also try to be tweaked a little bit to identify what is changing as the virus changes across the planet.

Now I know "Nature" (ph) came out today with a standup and saying, is it really fair to the rest of the world that the wealthy nations are going to begin a third vaccine, when we have, what, 2 percent of the underserved countries that haven't had even one vaccine?

Well, that's a decision that we all have to stand up to do. And that is get the world vaccinated. So there's no doubt the world needs to be vaccinated for this to be stopped across our planet.


CURNOW: COVID testing specialist, Dr. Scott Miscovich, speaking to me a little bit earlier.



CURNOW: USA Gymnastics said Simone Biles, arguably the world's greatest gymnast, has just withdrawn from more events at the Tokyo games. Biles said she's been suffering from the twisties, which is basically a mental block that keeps gymnasts from being able to perform moves they've done countless times before.

Coy Wire joins us now live from Tokyo.

Coy, hi. Biles is making sure she is right before she competes again.

COY WIRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Robyn. The woman who is the biggest star coming into the Olympic Games, the athlete everyone wanted to see, now withdrawing from two more events, on the vault and uneven bars.

It comes after she stumbled on the vault earlier here, after posting videos of her struggling at a Friday practice session in Tokyo. Biles said she , quote, "literally not tell up from down. What's even scarier is I have no idea where I am in the air so I also have no idea how I'm going to land or what I'm going to land on," unquote.

The 24-year old said when she's had the twisties in the past, it's taken two or more weeks for them to go away, Robyn. Biles would be have two more events in which she could potentially compete, the women's floor final on Monday and the beam final on Tuesday.

USA Gymnastics released a statement, saying in part, "She will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether she can compete in the finals for floor exercises and balance beam. We remain in awe of Simone, who continues to handle this situation with courage and grace and all of the athletes that have stepped up during these unexpected circumstances."

Robyn, this is likely to last. We'll see if Biles can compete in an Olympic Games. The world is waiting to see if Simone Biles will feel well enough to compete again here in Tokyo.


CURNOW: We're going to stick with Tokyo. It's not only Olympians setting records, sadly; Japan's COVID-19 cases are also hitting record highs as the country battles yet another wave of the virus. Blake Essig joins me live from Tokyo.

Just talk us through what the situation is, healthwise.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Robyn, it's not good.

The fifth wave of infection is continuing to swell in Tokyo and across Japan. In the past hour, we learned Tokyo has once again for a fourth time this week set a new record for the most cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

Japan's prime minister says infections are increasing, spreading faster than ever before. As a result, the state of emergency order was declared for Osaka and several prefectures near Tokyo. The prime minister also extending the current state of emergency here in the capital, until the end of August.

For now the vaccination rate nationwide, remaining relatively low, at about 28 percent. The prime minister is urging people to stay vigilant until vaccines further demonstrate their effectiveness.


YOSHIHIDE SUGA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Vaccinations have had a noticeable effect. But there are still some things that are very worrying. One of them is the rapid increase in the number of infections among the younger generation.


ESSIG: Medical professionals say most cases being reports are of people in their 40s and 50s, who haven't received the vaccine yet. Tokyo's most recent state of emergency order has been in place for about two weeks and has shown little to no success in slowing down this most recent surge in cases.

Japan's top coronavirus adviser says he feels a great sense of danger and that there's barely any prospect that the current outbreak can be reduced because the general public does not share a sense of crisis.


ESSIG: It's seemingly highlighted by the Olympic Games as people gather near venues and on the street like they did to watch the event today.

While infectious disease experts say the Delta variant is fueling the latest spike in cases, some people are saying that the Olympics are also playing a role.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Of course, I think the rise in COVID cases is related to the Olympics. The IOC said it's a parallel universe and it is not related. But I of course, think it is related.


Japan's medical association fears that if the surge of infection continues, the medical system will collapse. According to the head of Japan's doctors' union, who I spoke with the other night, cases could more than triple in the next two weeks, if stricter measures are not put in place -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Certainly, a very sobering warning there. Blake Essig, good to see you, live in Tokyo.

Coming up here in CNN, the first Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to help American troops have landed in the U.S. but thousands are still living in fear of the Taliban.

Plus, Cuba is facing new sanctions from the United States.

But will they have the desired effect?

A report from Havana when we come back.





CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Atlanta.

So the first group of Afghan interpreters that worked alongside American troops have finally arrived in the U.S. It's part of President Joe Biden's vow to not abandon those who helped in America's longest war. But those Afghans are the lucky ones. There's thousands that still remain in danger. Here's Kylie Atwood.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST (voice-over): It's the beginning of an effort to uphold a promise. Those buses are carrying about 200 Afghan interpreters and their families, pulling into U.S. Army base Fort Lee in Virginia, now safe on U.S. soil.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose.

ATWOOD: President Biden welcomed the interpreters home and thanked them for putting their lives on the line alongside U.S. troops in America's longest war.

Those arriving today are part of a group of 700 special immigrant visas or SIV applicants who have completed the majority of their background screening process. It'll be at Fort Lee for about a week, some in temporary housing and hotels.

Securing a medical clearance and getting the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia talked about their arrival.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): We feel particularly supportive and even proud that we could be the initial place of touching soil in the United States as these Afghan SIVs and their family members began and next exciting challenging chapter of opportunity in this country.

ATWOOD: These Afghans were essential to America's efforts on the ground in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

Army Captain Sayre Paine who served in the country described the wartime commodity.

SAYRE PAINE, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN: I'm grateful to anybody that sat in the trenches with me fully knowing the hazards that we faced that more than likely one of us was going to die. And the interpreter was right there with us. And I owe them a duty as much as I owe any soldier that I was with.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Of the 20,000 Afghans in the SIV pipeline, about 10,000 of them have just begun the application process, according to the State Department. Applications can take years to process.

That could be a deadly problem for some, with the Taliban issuing death threats for Afghans who worked with the U.S. and seizing control of the country.

NAYAB, SIV APPLICANT: If I don't get out of Afghanistan, I am counting down my end of life.

ATWOOD: President Biden said these arrivals are just the first of many as the administration works to relocate Afghans out of harm's way. The remaining question is exactly how many Afghans the United States will be able to relocate before the complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in September -- Kylie Atwood, CNN, Fort Lee.


CURNOW: Well, U.S. President Joe Biden is imposing new sanctions on Cuba in response to the Cuba government's crackdown on protesters. Patrick Oppmann has more from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden on Friday, after meeting with representatives of the Cuban American community, announced new sanctions on the Cuban government, putting the national revolutionary police and some of their leadership on the U.S. sanctions list.

It's unclear how much of an impact this will really have because, like previous sanctions issued by the Biden administration, unless these individuals travel to the United States or have access to the United States, which is not believed that they do, it really is more of a symbolic gesture.

All the same, the Biden administration putting Cuban police force, which led the crackdown on protesters, on notice, the Biden administration saying they will continue to look at Cuban official detention and how to provide the Cuban people with an internet that cannot be blocked, it cannot be taken down at the first sign of protest.

Tellingly on Friday as well, despite the widespread international outcry over the harsh crackdown on protesters by the Cuban government, aid has begun to arrive to this island from other countries, including Russia, Vietnam and Nicaragua.

On Friday, we saw the first boat sent by the Mexican government, carrying tons of food and aid. There are countries that, even though Cuba is facing this harsh international outcry, countries around the world say the Cuban government has gone too far in cracking down on protesters.

There are other countries, like the government of Mexico, that say they want to help Cuba and are throwing an economical lifeline to the Cuban government.


OPPMANN: It's unclear how much of a difference this aid will make, as Cuba continues to face a worsening economic situation -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


CURNOW: Thanks, Patrick, for that.

So the U.S. Justice Department now says that former president Donald Trump's tax reforms must be turned over to the House committee investigating them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is applauding that decision, writing in a statement, "Access to former president Trump's tax returns is a matter of national security.

"The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president."

But there has been some pushback. Republican senator Chuck Grassley is criticizing the opinion, saying, quote, "The Office of Legal Counsel is supposed to be a source of thoughtful legal analysis, not a source of political justifications to back up partisan House investigations.

"Troublingly, this new OLC opinion contradicts its own very recent opinion."

Still, ahead, we meet a Texas teen who is ready to get her COVID shot.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you know that today you might be getting the vaccine shot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I was supposed to get it next week but this was a very unexpected surprise, like unexpected.

CURNOW (voice-over): Some in Texas race to get more people vaccinated a hospitalizations and infections soar. The latest coming up.


CURNOW: Plus, more rallies underway against the new pandemic health pass in France. We'll have a live report on that.




CURNOW: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Thanks for joining me, I'm Robyn Curnow.


CURNOW: You are watching CNN.

Many hospitals around America are beginning to strain under surging COVID cases. An average 77,000 new cases are turning up daily and trending higher. Most of these new infections are due to the Delta variant.

And the Centers for Disease Control says Delta is as contagious as chicken pox and can cause severe illness. Unlike earlier variants, a single case of Delta has the potential to infect many more people.

Now the state of Texas is starting to buckle under the weight of COVID, with a spike in both infections and hospitalizations. And several parts of the state are running out of available ICU beds. Our Ed Lavandera has the latest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 10.2. (Speaking Spanish).

LAVANDERA (voice-over): You're probably wondering what this pop-up veterinary clinic just outside of Austin, Texas, has to do with controlling the latest surge of the coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're out here doing COVID vaccinations today.

Have y'all been vaccinated or interested?

LAVANDERA (voice-over): This is what it means when you hear health officials say they're working to meet unvaccinated people, wherever they might be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you change your mind, we're right under there, under the red tent.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Austin public health teams partnered with a group called Emancipet, which provides veterinary care in underserved neighborhoods. These health care workers are looking for people like Camila Fortuna.

LAVANDERA: Did you know today you might be getting the vaccine shot?

CAMILA FORTUNA, STUDENT: No, I was supposed to get it next week. This was very unexpected surprise, like unexpected. LAVANDERA (voice-over): Camila's mother wants her vaccinated before she returns to in-person school. At the same time, another mother and her two daughters sign up for vaccines.



LAVANDERA (voice-over): The race to vaccinate is urgent. Nearly 44 percent of all Texans are fully vaccinated. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state are quickly spiking.

In the last month, hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled to levels not seen since the end of February. And Johns Hopkins University data shows the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has jumped from about 1,500, on July 1st, to more than 7,800 in less than a month.

Despite the troubling trends, governor Greg Abbott is advocating a hands-off approach.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): There's no more time for government mandates. This is time for individual responsibility, period.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Republican governor issued executive orders prohibiting government agencies from requiring vaccines and banning mask mandates, even in schools. Austin mayor Steve Adler said the governor is making it harder to fight the virus resurgence.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D-TX), AUSTIN: Now I fear that the politicization of this issue has rendered it something that we can't recover from.

LAVANDERA: I can't imagine that you were thinking you would be facing this tragedy?

PATRICIA GARCIA, AUNT OF COVID-19 VICTIM: Absolutely not. Coronavirus wrecked my nephew.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Anthony Garcia was 28 years old, a former high school athlete in El Paso, Texas. His aunt, Patricia Garcia, said he was never vaccinated, got sick with COVID-19 at the end of May and, two weeks later, he was dead.

LAVANDERA: What you're describing just sounds awful.

GARCIA: Absolutely. I -- my biggest fear was that he was scared.

LAVANDERA: Do you want Anthony's story to be a wake-up call for people hearing it?

GARCIA: If he had gotten the vaccine, he would still be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a very nervous person, like very nervous.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Camila Fortuna overcame her nervousness and got the vaccine shot. The 13-year-old middle schooler says the vaccine will help her get back to school safely so she can keep chasing her dream of joining the Army and becoming a pilot, so she can travel around the world.

FORTUNA: That's why I want to get vaccinated so, like, I can help the world, that the world can get better. We can go back to normal life. And I also want to be safe. And, yes, that's why I want to get the vaccine.

LAVANDERA: Camila's mother tells us that several days, after getting that first vaccine shot that the young girl is doing great. But there are ominous warning signs that the toll the latest coronavirus surge is putting on the health care system in the state.

Health officials in several regions across the state are reporting an alarmingly low number of available ICU bed space -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


CURNOW: Thanks, Ed, as always, a great report there.

As the U.S. tries to convince vaccine skeptics to get their first shot, Israel is kicking off a campaign to offer booster shots. The president of Israel received his third vaccine dose on Friday.


CURNOW: Booster shots will be given to people over 60 who received two vaccine doses at least five months ago.

A government expert suggested the move after data showed that vaccine efficiency can wane over time. Israel is among the first countries to offer boosters, which might impact decisions elsewhere.

And France is bracing for new protests over its coronavirus health pass. Lawmakers passed a law to promote vaccinations to prove that someone has been vaccinated or had a recent negative test.

And starting next month, the pass will become a must for anyone who wants to go to restaurants, movies or sporting events. Jim Bittermann is there with this and more.

Tell us about this.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the pass. It's basically a (INAUDIBLE) put it on this platform. Whatever, it's got a QR code in the back. And it will be required for a lot of things but beginning on August 9th, basically, if you want to go into a bar, restaurant or cafe and all sorts of other social places, you're going to have to show this when you enter or you may be denied entrance.

Basically, for illustration, it's become kind of an umbrella for all sorts of people angry at the government for one reason for another. This is the third weekend of protests here. There were 160,000 people out last weekend. Police said they're expecting 150,000 people out across the country today.

And there already are some demonstrations. In Paris, for example, there are four demonstrations being planned by diverse groups, everybody from the extreme Left to the extreme Right. And the Yellow Vests are back, joining in on these demonstrations today. So it's kind of an amalgam of issues bringing people together.

And the health pass is a kind of thing imposed by the government and that people can find some sanctuary, saying this is what we're really opposed to. But the fact is, one thing that has to be remembered here is about more than half of the French are now doubly vaccinated.

And more than 60 percent are in fact -- have a single vaccine, vaccination dose. So for them, the health pass is no problem, it's just a question of going online, assembling the forms and putting it on their smartphone -- Robyn.

CURNOW: How significant is all this?

BITTERMANN: Well, I think the government is taking it seriously in the sense that these things have a tendency to build week on week.

On the other hand, the government spokesman said earlier in the week, that kind of pooh-poohed the hole thing, saying a minority of people protesting and certainly the statistics about vaccination and people that have downloaded the passes have indicated he's right about that.

I think in the long term, it's going to basically fade away. But you can't tell. Sometimes, these demonstrations can have a magnitude that nobody anticipates. And that's why I think we're standing by and keeping an eye on this weekend and probably for some time to come.

CURNOW: OK. Jim Bittermann, good to see you there, live in France.

Coming up on CNN, why both the U.S. and Israel say Iran is to blame for the attack on an oil tanker in the Middle East. A live report just ahead on that story.





CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow, live in Atlanta.

Israel and the U.S. are blaming Iran for an attack on an oil tanker that killed two crew members. According to the crew of the Mercer Strait (ph), the drone exploded into its superstructure on Thursday off the coast of Oman. I want to bring in our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

What can you tell us about it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The ship was on its way from Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates. And the crew had called in a distress call because they spotted a drone off the bow of the ship and it has ditched into the sea, apparently.

So when this happened, they already knew the threat existed. One of the people who died on board was a Romanian crew member and the other was a British security operative on board, to try to protect it against piracy and other forms of attack.

What the Israeli foreign minister is saying here is very clearly blaming Iran, saying is this a problem not just for Israel, because the operator, the management operator of this Japanese-owned ship that was sailing under a Liberian flag, Zodiac Maritime, is -- one of the senior figures in that organization is an Israeli billionaire.

So the Israeli perspective is very clearly that this is a strike against Israeli interests. And that's what the foreign minister is referring to when he says Iran is a threat, not just to Israel but to other countries as well, to the world exporting its terrorism.

And we've heard from an Iranian TV channel today, quoting unnamed sources, saying that this was indeed an Iranian drone strike at this ship and, they're saying, in response for an Israeli airstrike in Syria, at a military base in Syria.

So there seems to be a direct connection, in the minds of at least some Iranian broadcasters; certainly, a direct connection in the minds of U.S. and Israeli officials, that Iran was responsible here. And it does point to an escalation in these kinds of attacks that are becoming more frequent -- Robyn.

CURNOW: They certainly are. You've reported on previous ones.

If Iran is involved, what does that tell us about their capabilities and also the strategic nature of why they're doing this, of these specific attacks?

ROBERTSON: Well, the drone strike begs many questions.

Where were the operators of the drone?

Was there a small vessel nearby?

Was it being operated from further away, based on, you know, sophisticated GPS tracking coordinates, you know, very worrying details like that?

But I think, you know, aside from the technical aspect of Iran's capacity and capability to track a ship that it wants to target and to be able to send a drone against it -- and we know how effective and highly targeted their drones have been in targeting a Saudi Arabian oil facility two years ago, although Iran said they weren't responsible for that.

I think the bigger picture here is we're in a sort of a changing dynamic, diplomatic period, that you have a new leadership and a new president coming to be sworn in, in Iran, who is known to be more conservative, more hardline than his predecessor.


ROBERTSON: And you have a United States, which has been a strong military presence in the region, refocusing its intentions to Asia, drawing down troops in Afghanistan, drawing down troops in Iraq.

And there's an underlying message there that potentially Iran picks up on that the United States has less of an interest in the area, although it is two U.S. warships that are escorting the Mercer Strait (ph) support right now.

CURNOW: OK, good to talk to you, thank you, Nic Robertson.

So dead fish are washing up on Florida beaches.

What's causing it?

And is anything being done about it?

We'll have details on that, just ahead.




CURNOW: Well, try to escape a raging wildfire, more than a dozen fires are burning along the Mediterranean coast, Turkey's officials say at least four people have been killed. The fires are so large that smoke was visible on satellite.


CURNOW: Experts say climate change is helping the fires to spread. A number of resorts and dozens of villages have been ordered to evacuate.

And to Florida now, where dead fish are piling up in Tampa Bay. The water there is full of red tide, a toxic algae that blooms and kills marine life and has gotten noticeably worse, as Nick Valencia now reports.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fishing boat Captain Dustin Pack says he's never seen the red tide in Tampa Bay this bad.

DUSTIN PACK, FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN: I hope that it's the worst is behind us in Tampa Bay. Pray that it is but I'm not holding my breath.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The toxic algae blooms which cause fish kills and can be harmful to humans, happen almost every year in and around Florida's coast. But for the lifelong fishermen, this year is different.

PACK: Typically what happens is red tide happens offshore. With currents and tides or wind direction, it can be blown into the beach. What's different about this one is this started inside a Tampa Bay. We have the worst fish kill red tide we've ever had.

VALENCIA (on-camera): Back in the spring, 215 million gallons of wastewater were released into Tampa Bay from this former phosphate plant to relieve pressure on a leaking reservoir. You can see cleanup is still underway. Environmentalist say the disaster that happened at Piney Point is fueling the red tide that we're seeing in Tampa Bay.

Now five organizations are suing the governor, the Acting Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and the owners of Piney Point. They want the plant cleaned up and closed down safely so disasters of this magnitude never happen again.

VALENCIA (voice-over): But Governor Ron DeSantis claims the science is pointing in a different direction.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The scientific consensus is clear, it didn't cause the red tide. The red tide was here.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The governor saying it was Hurricane Elsa in July and not Piney Point's wastewater which led to this year's historic fish kills. Asked if he might be playing politics by not declaring a state of emergency over the red tide in Tampa Bay, DeSantis was defiant.

DESANTIS: How did I politicize red tide? They were the ones who were saying, you're going to declare a state of emergency and so we asked them, why? Well, they didn't know why.

MAYA BURKE, TAMPA BAY ESTUARY PROGRAM: The data are really clear that this algae bloom that was occurring in Tampa Bay started well before Hurricane Elsa passed by.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Maya Burke with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program says, while money made available so far by the governor's office has helped clean up the bay, they need more of it now.

She says not only has the water not looked this bad since the 1970s, before there was a Clean Water Act, but the governor's timeline for what's causing the red tide is way off.

BURKE: What Hurricane Elsa did was it changed the wind patterns and it put all those, you know, thousands of tons of dead fish right up along the Downtown Waterfront in St. Petersburg and it was an assault to the senses.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who just announced her run for governor, things based on the neuro toxin levels in the water, the red tide and fish kills could be a recurring problem in the bay for months.

NIKKI FRIED, FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONER: We saw the emergency, we saw the governor are able to come out there at the very front end of Piney Point. And then he forgot about it and kind of moved on to the next issue. And instead of continuously having resources and support, it got, you know, brushed under the rug.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Back on the water, Pack says some fishermen and guides he knows have had to leave for work elsewhere, while the bay deals with an unprecedented fish kill. Its conservation group, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

PACK: We keep doing that, you know and we keep having these year in and year out. I don't know if we're going to have a bay left. You know, we'll have water here. Nobody's going to want to swim in it. And we want to fish in it.

VALENCIA: According to scientific measurements done by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, an estimated 40 percent of the wastewater from the Piney Point disaster is still in Tampa Bay.

Environmentalists say the red tide here could ultimately get worse before it gets better. We did reach out to the office of governor Ron DeSantis to see if he wanted to clarify his comments as to the cause of the unprecedented red tide. His office did not respond -- Nick Valencia, CNN, Tampa, Florida.


CURNOW: Superhero versus media giant: Disney fires back against a lawsuit filed by one of Marvel's biggest stars. Scarlett Johansson said Disney breached her contract by releasing a film on Disney+ streaming platform and in theaters. Johansson argues her salary was to be partially based on the film's box office haul.

Disney saying the lawsuit has no merit whatsoever, adding "Disney has completely, fully complied with Ms. Johansson's contract and, furthermore, the release of "Black Widow" on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date."


DOMINIC PATTEN, "DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD": They waited a couple of hours. And they came back with a full, I'd say Praetorian Guard, if not more, attack on Scarlett and her lawsuit.


PATTEN: Very, very noticeably not only coming across with her character, comment about her, some would say an attack, as her agent has said Brian Lord (ph) at CA (ph) has said, but also outing her salary of $20 million.

So basically saying you're cold-hearted and you're incredibly well paid, what's your problem?

And that means that this is more than a civil war, this is an all-out DEFCON-1 war. She is going up against the giant, against the empire. And they are going to say simply, as their statement already laid out, which was kind of their defense, without their own filing of a rebuttal, is, we had to do this, circumstances were changing. In so many contracts with people, you will find things like, like act of God type stuff. I'm not quite sure they are going to use the pandemic like that but it's going to be very hard for Scarlett to say, yes, you did change the goalpost.

But you did it in a way that was unfair. They're simply going to say the world's goalposts changed, we had to make a move with it.


CURNOW: So that wraps up this hour of CNN, thanks so much for joining me, I'm Robyn Curnow. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @RobynCurnowCNN. For our U.S. viewers, I'll hand you over to "NEW DAY." For the rest of the world, it's "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER."