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Delta Variant Now In 132 Countries; U.S. Hospitalizations Triple Due To Delta Variant; Israel Rolls Out Vaccine Boosters; U.K. Analysis Shows New Variants Could Beat Current Vaccines; Australia's Battle With COVID-19; Mexico Delivers Humanitarian Aid To Havana. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 1, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers here, in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN, I am Robyn Curnow, live in Atlanta.

Coming, up growing danger ahead. The coronavirus Delta variant, is causing an alarming spike in cases, worldwide.

And, the threat of more resistant variants, increases.

Only one chance left in Tokyo. Top gymnast Simone Biles withdraws from another event.

And then later, mass trials are underway in Cuba, following historic protests against the country's government.


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

CURNOW: Good to have you with me this hour.

The Delta variant, is again, sending COVID numbers soaring in the U.S. Hospitalizations across the country have tripled, in the past month. But most of these new patients, are unvaccinated. Total global cases, you can see here, are approaching 200 million people, since the pandemic began. With more than 4 million people, dying.

The head of the World Health Organization, says that the Delta variant is overwhelming clinics and hospitals, worldwide.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Much of this increase is being driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has now been detected in at least 132 countries. Hard- won gains are in jeopardy or being lost. And health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: Governments, around the world, are responding to the Delta surge with greater restrictions and lockdowns. Sometimes, provoking bitter backlashes, as Phil Black now reports. Phil?


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Delta variant: three words repeated in almost every language in almost every country in the world. More than 1.5 years after the novel coronavirus was first detected in China, there's an alarming new outbreak in the country, spreading rapidly.

China's returning to its strict methods of containment, mass testing and locking down infected areas to try to extinguish the latest outbreak. This restrictive approach has been successful in China.

But in other places around the world, rumblings over coronavirus measures are spilling out into the streets, like in France, which is instituting mandatory vaccinations for health workers and health passes to enter bars and restaurants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm sick of the killing freedom measures of this government. And for me, the health pass is one measure too many.

BLACK (voice-over): There have been similar protests across Europe, a bitter divide in the United States over getting vaccinated and growing resentment in parts of Australia over lockdowns.

But despite recent protests, the Australian government says restrictions will continue where required. Brisbane is the latest city, along with other areas in the state of Queensland, to undergo a snap lockdown. Some people are stocking up before staying home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very important, unfortunately, in this sort of situation but I guess, you know, we don't want to end up like New South Wales, so hit hard, fast now and hoping we don't see that happen here.

BLACK (voice-over): Emphasizing that vaccines are the best way out, the World Health Organization warns, the world is at risk of losing its hard-won gains against the virus, a backsliding that is evident in countries that were once relatively successful in curbing COVID-19.

Thailand and Malaysia are experiencing surges of disease and, on Saturday, reported record high daily infection numbers.

India was slowly recovering from being a previous epicenter of the virus. It's now imposing new lockdowns in some states, where cases are once again rising. And experts warn another wave could hit soon if vaccinations don't pick up pace.

The highly transmissible Delta variant has changed the world's understanding of the pandemic, leaving countries scrambling to adapt to this far more formidable version of the virus -- Phil Black, CNN, Essex, England.


CURNOW: In the United States, the Delta variant is causing a dangerous rise in cases and hospitalizations. Take a look at this map.

Nearly every state is seeing more new cases in the past week compared to the week before. President Joe Biden said, "In all probability," tougher restrictions would have to be implemented.


CURNOW: Officials expect the situation to worsen as long as large segments of the country remain unvaccinated. While there's been an uptick in recent days, the Centers for Disease Control said, as of Friday, only 49 percent of the population was fully vaccinated. So far short of what's needed for herd immunity.

Many fully vaccinated people are wondering if they can get infected by the Delta variant. The short answer is, not likely.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6,300 vaccinated Americans have become infected so far and need to be hospitalized. That's out of more than 160 million total vaccinations. The CDC says most breakthrough cases were among people who are 65 or older.

Meanwhile Israel is kicking off what its prime minister calls a pioneering move for COVID vaccinations. The nation will provide booster shots for residents over 60 who are already fully vaccinated.

President Isaac Herzog was first in line to get his booster on Friday. Few countries have offered booster shots so far. Hadas Gold joins us now live from Jerusalem, with that story.

Hadas, hi, great to see you. I know here in the U.S., some agencies pushed back hard when Pfizer said they might need a booster shot, saying they don't have enough data to make that decision in the U.S.

Why is Israel going ahead with this booster plan?

What's the plan behind that?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The prime minister, Naftali Bennett, when he made this announcement that anyone over the age of 60 who received their second dose of the vaccine more than five months ago will be eligible to receive the third booster shot was citing data from the Israeli health ministry, which showed what they are worried about, a decline in the vaccine efficacy over time.

Part of this data show that for those people who received their second dose of the vaccine by the end of January, that the vaccine effectiveness against infection could drop to as low as 16 percent.

Now those people were still very well protected against severe illness, something in the 86 percent range. But that is the data that the prime minister said caused their coronavirus cabinet to make the decision to offer these third booster shots.

Now they are trying to get more than 1 million of these shots in arms over the next 10 days in this population over the age of 60. And according to Israeli media, already tens of thousands have signed up for those booster appointments already today.

As you noted, as part of this effort to get people out there to show that it's safe to get this booster shot, Israeli president Isaac Herzog was the first to get this shot. Also former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife, Sarah, also received a booster shot.

There has been debate over offering the booster, as you noted, Israel is doing this ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendation to get a third booster shot, something that Israel usually follows the FDA on these types of rules.

But prime minister Bennett said they decided that it was worth it to try this booster shot and they fully recognize Israel is becoming a test case, a study for the rest of the world on what will happen with these booster shots.

In fact, prime minister Bennett tweeted he has been in contact and spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to Joe Biden, about the situation, because clearly it is going to be watched by the rest of the world to see if this will help curb the rising infections that Israel is seeing, like the rest of the world, as a result of this Delta variant.

CURNOW: Hadas Gold, thanks so much for that, live from Jerusalem.


CURNOW: I want to talk more about this booster shot campaign. We're joined by Ran Balicer, chair of Israel's COVID-19 national experts advisory team in Tel Aviv.

Good to see you, sir. You heard our reporter there lay out the facts. Israel certainly leading the way on booster shots.

Why has this decision been taken?

Is it a race against time?

Or a natural consequence of any vaccine effort?

RAN BALICER, CHAIR, ISRAEL'S COVID-19 NATIONAL EXPERTS ADVISORY TEAM: I think this is the unique circumstances we have in Israel, which are on par basically. First and foremost, the fact that in Israel we completed the vast majority of our vaccination back in January.

So right now we're in the position in which the vast majority of our elderly has been -- have been vaccinated five to six months ago. And this time that has elapsed is bringing to a peak the phenomenon of waning immunity to the level that it exists.

The second point that we have to take is, right now, Delta variant, alongside with this waning immunity, is causing a continuously escalating surge that occurs both in vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

The fact of the matter is that, for us at this point, breakthrough infections are not an exception but, actually, majority over daily infections actually take place among those vaccinated. Some of it is expected because, among adults, for instance, over 80 percent of the population are vaccinated and have been vaccinated for a while.


BALICER: This is the fact, we have a surge and increase, continuous increase in the rate of severe cases. So we can't stand in the sidelines, we have to take action. Even if we don't have clear studies as to the exact effectiveness of the third dose, we are now embarking on this.

CURNOW: Your audio is a little shaky but I'm going to keep on going. I really do want to ask you a lot of questions because, as Hadas Gold was saying, Israel is essentially a test case. You're ahead of much of the world. It is important for everybody to understand what's going on where you are.

So at the moment, it's plus-60s who are getting this booster.

Are you expecting to give this booster to the rest of the population pretty soon, too?

BALICER: This is not right now in the planning. We will have this campaign for the elderly, where the vast majority of the severe cases now occur. About two-thirds of our severe cases take place these days among vaccinated people above the age of 60. So naturally that is our focus.

Once we collect the data and assess what was the impact of vaccinating this group, we could consider the future steps.

CURNOW: OK, that's important to note. Also, I know that Israel just signed a deal with the Moderna shot, in addition to having Pfizer. Both, of course, are mRNA jabs.

Are you going to allow folks to mix it up; if they've had Pfizer for the first two shots, are you giving them Moderna as the third shot?

How interchangeable are they and how closely are you watching this?

BALICER: For now, our policy is to provide the same vaccine in every shot that is provided, which means that the third shot for everyone who got the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be a third booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine. We do not expect to have this mixing take place anytime soon.

CURNOW: With the test case that is going on, as we've explained, what have you learned, particularly about this latest information about vaccinated people getting sick and their ability to spread the virus as well, with their viral load almost being the same as if they were unvaccinated?

Is this about vaccine efficacy waning or is it something else?

BALICER: It is very difficult to tease out the effect of the Delta strain by itself and its evasion capacity with the effect of waning immunity since the vast majority of those vaccinated in Israel have been vaccinated five to six months ago.

So teasing out which one of the two has which component is difficult. But the final common outcome is that, right now in Israel, we have many breakthrough infections in young and older population alike. And we do see severe cases among those older vaccinated individuals that have contracted COVID-19.

And so since these numbers are significant, we don't have any other option, basically, but to offer them a third booster dose for those elderly in order to bring them, perhaps, back to the level of protection they've had in February, in March, when it was enough to curb the surge altogether, when we were facing the Alpha strain.

CURNOW: Ran Balicer, thank you for joining us. Appreciate you sharing this important information. Have a good day.

BALICER: Thank you.


CURNOW: So despite current COVID vaccines being very effective against variants, as we've been talking about, these experts are fearing that that might not always be the case, of course.

So new analysis by a group of British scientists indicates that, eventually, a COVID variant could evade current vaccines. And while the analysis is not peer reviewed as of yet, its content is alarming.

Scientists write that it is unlikely that the virus will be eradicated and that it's almost certain a variant eventually will emerge that leads to current vaccine failure.

So I want to go to Salma Abdelaziz in London for more.

What can you tell us?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is a paper that was published Friday by the Scientific Advisory Group, the group that guides policy here for the British government. This is not yet peer reviewed. This is theoretical.

But what it does lay out is a few scenarios, in which the vaccines are able to evade -- rather, the virus is able to evade the vaccines. Now these scientists, this paper, says that is very likely to happen.

They are particularly concerned about variants mixing with each other, recombination between variants, that's what the paper said. That is of particular concern.


ABDELAZIZ: They said, as for the scenario that this virus would become like the common cold or something less deadly, that is not likely to happen in the short term, although it is a realistic possibility in the long term.

So bottom line, what these scientists are saying is we're going to have to live with the virus for a long time and it's going to continue to mutate and to change and it may very well, in those mutations and changes, become more able to evade the vaccines.

The good news here is that scientists are already prepared for this. Scientists have already been looking into booster shots, as you heard from that previous segment in your program. Israel is already administering its first booster shots.

So there is an expectation that this was going to happen, that two doses of the vaccine or one dose of the vaccine, whatever you've had, that might not be the end of the story for you. There could be a few more years, in which more vaccines are being administered.

The other thing to point out in this paper is the recommendations that these scientists gave. Their recommendations to governments were to do as much as possible to limit the variants and to limit the growth of these variants because of that possibility of variants combining and creating a virus that can evade the vaccine.

So think about restrictions like limiting travel, restrictions in programs to encourage people to get vaccinated, all of that now so critical to trying to limit the ability of this virus to evade the vaccine.

CURNOW: OK, live in London, Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much.

Coming up, it is day nine of the Tokyo Olympics. And Japan is recording more new coronavirus cases than ever. We'll talk about what's behind the jump there.

Also, unvaccinated and remorseful: a desperate warning from inside a Louisiana COVID ward. Why more and more patients say they don't want anyone else to be in their situation.





CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow. It is day nine of the Tokyo Olympics. We're learning that Simone Biles will be sitting out another event. Tennis is wrapping up and we'll be seeing plenty of athletic field events.

All this as Japan is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. On Saturday, the country recorded more than 12,000 new infections, its highest single-day increase since the pandemic started. Joining me, Blake Essig in Tokyo, "CNN SPORT's" Andy Scholes in Atlanta.

Andy, first, what's the latest with Simone Biles?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORT CORRESPONDENT: We now wait to see if Biles is even going to end up competing at these Olympic Games. She decided not to do the individual all-around, then vault and bars.

Biles has now pulled out of the floor exercise final as well due to mental health. Biles says she's dealing with a case of the twisties, which is a word gymnasts use to describe a mental block they can't shake, which causes them to get lost in the air while trying to do moves they've done thousands and thousands of times.

USA Gymnastics made the announcement on Twitter, saying, Simone has withdrawn from the event final for floor and will make a decision on beam later this week. Either way, we're all behind you, Simone.

Biles came into Tokyo, these games, as the face of Team USA with hopes of winning six gold medals. The only event left for her now would be that beam final on Tuesday. And if the same timeline continues, we should find out if she's going to compete in that event by tomorrow.



CURNOW: Blake, I want to come to you. There's been a lot of worry, a lot of concern, about this COVID surge and the positivity rates we're seeing where you are right now.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Tokyo and across Japan, cases are increasing and spreading faster than ever. In perspective, this past week, Japan reported a record high case count nationwide three times. And here in Tokyo they set a benchmark four different times.

As a result, Japan's prime minister has declared an extended state of emergency order for several prefectures across the country, including Tokyo. He also urged people to stay indoors, remain vigilant and watch the Olympics on TV.

While cases have been rising outside of the Olympic bubble, inside, cases have remained relatively low. Only 259 cases involving people related to the Olympics have been reported so far since July.

Earlier today, Tokyo 2020 officials made it a point to come out and say that the Olympics is not behind the recent surge in cases, denying that the games have created a flow of people. But as you walk around the streets of Tokyo and attend various Olympic events, it's clear that that's not completely true.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I have been watching the Olympic competitions on TV from home because the events in Tokyo can't have spectators.

But I really wanted to get a feel for the Olympic spirit. So I came here. My friends were, also, posting photos on Instagram of themselves by the Olympic rings. So I wanted to take some, too.


ESSIG: Now this is what it looked like on the streets lining the triathlon mixed relay on Saturday, thousands of people shoulder to shoulder, lining the route to catch a glimpse of some Olympic action. Of course, they weren't supposed to be there.

Outside of the national stadium, like the woman that you just heard, hundreds of people are constantly streaming in and out for the chance to take a picture next to the Olympic rings.

Just today I attended the BMX freestyle inside the venue, fairly empty; on the outside, during the hottest part of the day, this is what it looked like. Hundreds of meters away, hundreds of fans lining a bridge just to catch a glimpse of the Olympic action, even though COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

So even though Olympic related cases remain low, it's hard to argue that the Olympics being held hasn't increased the flow of people. What impact that has on infections is yet to be seen.

CURNOW: OK, Blake Essig, thanks so much, live in Tokyo. Glad you got to see some events as well.

So Australia has avoided more protests against lockdown, COVID lockdowns in Sydney, for now. Next, a police show of force dissuades demonstrators from hitting the streets.

Plus Mexico delivering food and medical supplies to Cuba, despite new sanctions by the U.S. What the president of Mexico has to say about that.





CURNOW: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Atlanta. It's 31 minutes past the hour. You are watching CNN.

The global battle to end the COVID pandemic is facing even more challenges. The highly contagious Delta variant continues to pick up speed all across the globe.

Let me show you this map from the World Health Organization, which highlights countries reporting a variant right now. But perhaps more disturbing, U.K. scientists now warn it's almost certain a COVID variant will emerge that will beat the current vaccines available for use.

The analysis, which was published by the U.K. government's official scientific advisory group and the findings have not been peer reviewed, that's important to note. They say the best way to reduce the chances of a vaccine-resistant variant forming is to reduce transmission as much as possible right now.

Meanwhile Australia is being hit hard by existing COVID variants. Its most populous state, New South Wales, has just recorded 239 new cases, matching the daily record set on Thursday. Now a strict lockdown led to violent rallies in Sydney last weekend. But as Michael Holmes reported, police have gotten ahead of the protesters.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A perfect Saturday afternoon in Sydney, Australia. But no wedding at St. Mary's Cathedral, no children in the park. Instead, police and soldiers enforcing a strict lockdown, a lockdown that, after 5 weeks, is not stopping the spread of COVID-19.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It definitely is circulating in the younger community, I want to stress that of the 210 locally acquired cases, two thirds, 138 cases, were people under the age of 40 years old.

HOLMES (voice-over): All roads into the city center, cut off on Saturday. Police avoiding a repeat of the violence that broke out at an anti lockdown protest one week ago. Frustration boiling over as Sydney's lockdown stretches on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at the modeling at the current rate of growth, the number of daily cases this time next month, it's truly frightening. It's in the many thousands a day.

HOLMES (voice-over): As the highly transmissible Delta variant threatens a dangerously undervaccinated population, the city of Brisbane began another snap lockdown on Saturday. Across the country, more breakouts and more lockdowns are inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only about 40 percent of the people under 70 in Sydney are fully vaccinated. Now we've really got to change that. That's a really frightening figure.

HOLMES (voice-over): That means strict social distancing measures will remain a fact of life, at least until the end of the year, when prime minister Scott Morrison hopes 70 percent of the eligible adult population will be fully vaccinated. The government pleading with Australians to get protected.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: So if you get vaccinated, there will be special rules that apply to you.


Because if you vaccinated you present less of a public health risk. You are less likely to get the virus. You're less likely to transmit it. You're less likely to get a serious illness and be hospitalized and you are less likely to die.

HOLMES (voice-over): Less than 15 percent of Australians over 16 are fully vaccinated, forcing Morrison to apologize for not getting the job done or even underway sooner.


HOLMES (voice-over): And meaning that living with COVID is not an option.

The authorities now left with little choice but to enforce harsh measures no longer necessary in some other parts of the world -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


CURNOW: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a whopping 97 percent of those hospitalized in the U.S. are unvaccinated. Louisiana has picked up its vaccination pace but it's too late to stop its current jump in new infections.

One Baton Rouge hospital is seeing the number of patients with COVID increase rapidly. Most there had the chance to get a vaccine but they did not. And now they are very, very sick and very regretful, as Miguel Marquez now reports.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aimee Matzen struggles to breathe.

MARQUEZ: What does it feel like to have COVID?

AIMEE MATZEN, COVID-19 PATIENT: Exhausting, extremely frustrating, tiring. And the fact that I am here now, I am furious with myself.


MATZEN: Because I was not vaccinated.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Not anti-vaccine, she says she just didn't get around to it. The 44-year old is now one of dozens of COVID-19 patients in Baton Rouge's Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Her oxygen low, her doctor says she might need a ventilator.

MATZEN: I just don't want anyone else winding up like me, especially when the vaccine is so easy to get now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Delta variant now prevalent in the Bayou State. Not only is it enormously infectious --


But that viral load doesn't just mean I'm going to spread it to more people, it also measure that when I inhale somebody else's breath, I am getting a massive amount of virus.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is spreading everywhere, in cities and rural areas.

O'NEAL: There's nowhere safe. If you're interacting in this community, you should be vaccinated and you should have a mask on because we are inundated with COVID.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Ronnie Smith, 47, says he thinks he got it from a friend outdoors -- outdoors at a barbecue. He was planning to get the vaccine when COVID-19 got him.

RONNIE SMITH, COVID-19 PATIENT: About two days after the event, it just, like -- I had a -- I went down on the floor and I couldn't get up.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Nurses here say they've watched the number of critically ill patients grow rapidly. Some anti-vaccination patients still in denial that COVID-19 is real.

MORGAN BABIN, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Some people insist that we're lying to them about their COVID-positive diagnosis.

MARQUEZ: Even sick people?

BABIN: Even sick people.

MARQUEZ: Who need oxygen, who might be on their way to death --



MARQUEZ: -- are still denying they have COVID?

BABIN: Yes, I have patients who deny that they have COVID all the way up to intubation.

MARQUEZ: What do they think they have?

BABIN: They think that they have a cold.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Carsyn Baker, only 21, has a kidney condition. Her doctor has advised against getting vaccinated for now. She thinks she picked up the coronavirus while in a screened-in porch across the room from someone else who had it.

MARQUEZ: What does that tell you about how easy it is to pick this variant up?

CARSYN BAKER, COVID-19 PATIENT: Yes, it just kind of sucks because people like myself with an autoimmune disease, you really can't go anywhere now because just everybody's getting sick. And it just doesn't matter what you do. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Laurie Douglass has been in nursing for 35

years. The last year, her hardest. Frustration with sickness, death and the unvaccinated at a boiling point.

LAURIE DOUGLASS, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Sometimes praying isn't enough and yell at Jesus if I need to. It's head-shaking, teeth-grinding, knees tight, standing up, just wanting to scream from the hilltops frustrating.

MARQUEZ: So a couple of things: health officials say, while there are a lot of people who are just not ever going to get the vaccine, there is a broad swath that are persuadable and to keep working on them.

The other question is, where are they on this current surge?

It is hard to say where they are, they say, because they are so busy. But other hospitals in the region have crunched the numbers and looked at it. And they believe that it will be late September before they see the crest of this current surge.

The worry there is, it will be right in time for autumn and for winter, when a whole new surge can begin -- Back to you.


CURNOW: Miguel Marquez, thanks for that.

So Cuba saw mass protests against the government several weeks ago. Now the regime is convicting some of those protesters in hasty trials. A report from Havana is next.





CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Humanitarian aid has begun arriving in Cuba after the U.S. announced it would impose fresh sanctions.


CURNOW: This Mexican naval ship arrived in Havana Friday, one of two ships the Cuban neighbor is sending, with food and medical supplies and it's also coming from Russia and Bolivia.

The Cuban government faced international condemnation after its harsh crackdown on citizens who complained of shortages. But Mexico's president has criticized the U.S.' economic sanctions on Cuba. Mass trials are already under way in Cuba for those anti-government protesters from three weeks ago.

Many have already resulted in hasty convictions, as Patrick Oppmann explains.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the largest protest since Fidel Castro's revolution swept Cuba, the Cuban government quickly struck back, carrying out mass arrests. Some protesters were forcibly detained as they chanted, "Patria y Vida" or homeland and life, the song that has become the anthem of frustration with the communist state.

One of those arrested was photographer, Anyelo Troya, who filmed part of this 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 is this just when I haven't even seen a lawyer? And I am 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 protest. An activist group put the number at almost 700. The government maintains those arrested are detained for attacking police, like in this video where protesters (inaudible) 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 ones doesn't constitute a crime, he says.


OPPMANN (voice-over): 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 commandoes, known as the Black Berets, were recently placed on the sanctions list by the Biden administration for alleged acts of repression prevent for the protest from breaking out.

Many of the relatives of the people who are arrested would not talk to us on camera. They were too afraid. But some did tell us that their loved ones did 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 relative 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 were around Odette during the protest and told us their accounts from his home in Paris.

They weren't violent. They did not throw rocks at anyone, he says. Then special troops came to get them at their home, a commanded unit with many police. Many of Cuba's top artists have criticized the government crackdown and called for amnesty for nonviolent protesters.

Amidst the mass trials, 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 hold its breath and wait to see what comes next -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


CURNOW: From pandemic changes to history-making firsts, it's been an Olympics like no other in more ways than one. We'll break down some of the biggest moments from the games so far -- coming up.






EMMA MCKEON, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: It's kind of just stunning, I think, because it only just finished an hour ago or something. But it does mean a lot to me, it means a lot to the team I've got behind me, because they've put in just as much hard work as I have.

And I'm looking forward to celebrating a little bit with them. Yes, just -- it's overwhelming, knowing how much hard work me (sic) and everyone else has put into this.


CURNOW: That was Australia's Emma McKeon after shattering another record at the Tokyo Olympics. She's become the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single games. She's also the first woman to notch that many medals in any sport in almost 70 years.

McKeon clinched her latest medal in the women's medley relay, where she and her teammates also set a new Olympic record. Before that, she broke her own Olympic record in the 50-meter freestyle.

Wow, what an extraordinary achievement.

While every Olympics brings its share of record-breaking feats and those stunning upsets, some of this year's most memorable moments have happened off the medal podium.

Joining me to break down some of the highlights, sports columnist for "The Washington Post" Barry Svrluga in Tokyo.

Hi. Lovely to see you. These Olympics, they were delayed, deeply unpopular, now executed in very unusual conditions.

How has it been in Japan so far?

BARRY SVRLUGA, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think, despite all the hand-wringing and worrying beforehand, the hope was that, when the games actually began, that athletes would lift them to the heights that we normally see.

That's been true in terms of the sporting competition across the board. But it is a very, very strange environment here.

I was at the swimming this morning, where, as you mentioned, Emma McKeon made history, as did other athletes there. That concluded a week-long meet, in which these athletes performed before no fans. They had to rely on their teammates in the stands to create any sort of atmosphere.

It was almost like being at a high school meet or something like that because there was no -- there's 18,000 seats there and no one filling them. That's kind of, in a way, defining the games, a pandemic games, so far.

CURNOW: That must be so strange. You don't really get that sense of emptiness when you're watching it on TV, I suppose. So it must be -- you've really got to lift yourself in a different way if you're one of the athletes.

The Olympics, as you know, as we all know, are about human endeavor. They have been since ancient times, the agony and the ecstasy.

For you, what performances have really stood out so far for this meeting of global athletes?

SVRLUGA: Well, there's so many, really. You can go across is board. One that sticks out to me as an American was Lydia Jacobi, a 17-year old, out of nowhere in the pool in the 100-meter breaststroke. She's from a tiny town in Alaska, 2,700 people. That's kind of the story that you wait for at the Olympics.

The unexpected happens from a performer that you hadn't heard of five minutes before. Then you're really kind of enthralled in the overjoyed emotions that pour out at that time.

But there's also been tons of moments for the home country. The host always gets some sort of boost, even if there isn't a crowd here. So if you think of the men's all-around gymnastics, Yui Ohashi in swimming, Japanese champion Daiki Hashimoto in the men's all-around in gymnastics.

You wonder what those moments would have been like, had a home crowd been able to be behind them and have that anthem play in a full arena.

CURNOW: Simone Biles: in many ways, at least on CNN and I think overall, has been the lead story for the Olympics the whole week so far. All this focus on someone who has not actually performed yet. Her message about mental health is obviously important and groundbreaking.

But what does it also say about these games that so much focus has gone on an athlete who's not yet performed?

[03:55:00] CURNOW: And how has that impacted her teammates and perhaps other at heats who are out there, no matter how much they support her?

SVRLUGA: I think in the very narrow focus, her teammates, the night she could not compete in the women's all-around -- in the team gymnastics competition, they lifted themselves. They got together and they won a silver medal in a moment where the greatest gymnast on the planet all of a sudden says, I can't do this.

So that was, in a very micro level, very impressive that those three women, many of whom didn't think they were going to be competing that night on certain apparatuses, came through and won silver.

I think what can be simultaneously true is, you can admire Simone Biles for recognizing her weakness in the moment, the pressure she felt in the moment, the danger she was putting herself in, in the moment and stepping aside, having the courage to step aside and also admire some of the traits we see from the athletes, that are a little more traditional.

They have pushed through adversity. They have doubted themselves in the middle of the week, then come through with a medal-winning performance. I think of Katie Ledecky, the great American swimmer, who, for the first time in her Olympic career, lost the race, did not medal in the 200 freestyle.

She bounced back and won two more golds and a silver in a relay because she was able to gather herself and persevere. So I think you can admire both qualities.

CURNOW: In many ways that's the thing about the Olympics, isn't it?

It's about resilience, it's about picking yourself up, it's about how you deal with weakness and losing, as much as how you deal with winning. Thank you so much. Enjoy the days ahead and what else comes out of the next week, Harry Svrluga from "The Washington Post" in Tokyo, appreciate you joining us here on CNN.

SVRLUGA: Thanks, Robyn.

CURNOW: I'm Robyn Curnow. Thank you for your company. Be back in just a moment for more on CNN.