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Belarusian Olympian Seeking Asylum Now Heading to Vienna; Simone Biles Reveals Her Aunt Died During Olympics; Sydney McLaughlin Shatters 400M Hurdles World Record; Wuhan Confirms Current Outbreak Linked to Delta Variant; Official Probe Remains Stalled One Year after Disaster in Beirut; Maine Church Tries to Prevent Renewed COVID Rules. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: A Belarusian Olympian seeking political asylum is now on route to Austria. The sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya left Tokyo hours ago on a Vienna-bound flight. It was originally thought she would fly to Warsaw after Poland offered her a humanitarian visa. But it's now unclear where she will ultimately end up. Timanovskaya says that she's feared for her life after she was ordered to return to Minsk on Sunday after criticizing Belarusian team bosses. Olympic authorities say a disciplinary commission will examine how she was treated and hear from Belarusian officials

To Tokyo now and a surprising revelation from American gymnast Simone Biles after she won bronze in the women's balance beam on Tuesday. She announced that her aunt passed away several days ago.

Meanwhile the competitions roll on and today spectators will be allowed at the men's team pursuit cycling event. The competition is set to begin next hour with a round of a thousand fans watching in person.

And CNN's Blake Essig is standing by live outside the Velodrome south of Tokyo. But first let's go to World Sport anchor Patrick Snell. Good to see you, Patrick. An incredible comeback of course for Simone Biles. But also, some sad news revealed. What is the latest on all of this?

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Hi Rosemary, great to see you to. This concerning the four-time Olympic gold medalist who -- just to reset for our viewers internationally -- won bronze on the balance beam on Tuesday, but then revealing afterwards her aunt passed away unexpectedly three days ago. Now having pulled out of a number of events in Tokyo to protect her mental health, this was Biles' last chance to compete at the summer games. The 24-year-old though conceding that her expectations on her return to action were not that high.


SIMONE BILES, FINISHES TOKYO GAMES WITH TWO MEDALS: I'm pretty happy. I wasn't expecting to medal. I just came out here and just tried to do a good beam set. I switched my dismount last minute all because of everything going on. But to have these two next to me, I must say they did absolute amazing, and I watched them train so hard. So, they are definitely deserving of one and two. And so just to have one more important to compete at the Olympics meant the world to me.


SNELL (on camera): Well, Biles also revealing she had to be medically evaluated daily by doctors and have two sessions as well with a sport psychologist before elaborating more on the passing of her aunt.

Saying: That was something I wasn't expecting to happen at the Olympic games either. So, at the end of the day, you have to be a little bit more mindful of what you say online because you have no idea of what these athletes are going through as well as in their sports.

Biles revealing a short while ago she is also leaving Tokyo with a full heart.

All right, well elsewhere, the stain of the golden moment for the host nation to tell you about, Rosemary. This in the women's skateboarding support Sakura Yosozumi who's 19 years of age winning gold. And Kokona Hiraki at 12 years of age, yes, I'll say it again, at 12 years of age winning silver. Sky Brown of Team GBH, 13, winning bronze.

Elsewhere, America's women's basketball team the six-time defending Olympic champs, booking their spot in the semis beating Australia. The U.S. who plays Serbia next have won gold in every Olympic, since right here in fact in Atlanta in 1996. They currently have a 53-game win streak in Olympic play.

And for the second day in a row, a 400-meter hurdles Olympic final, we had it all. We had the thrilling finale, two athletes breaking what was a previous world record, this time in the women's race as America's Sydney McLaughlin breaking the world record to win gold in a time of 51.46 seconds. That beat the mark that she set in late June.


Meantime her compatriot Dalilah Muhammed winning silver in a time of 51.58 seconds. A time that would have surpassed McLaughlin's mark from June.

And reflections on Jamaica -- what a story here. The country has much to celebrate after Elaine Thompson-Herah completed a historic double, double adding a 200 meters gold medal to the 100 meters crown just as she did at Rio in 2016. Not only did she finish first in Tuesday's final, but she was well ahead of her rivals crossing that line in 21.5.3 seconds, the second fastest ever time in this event.

And I do want to squeeze this one in, Rosemary, world record holder in pole vaulting. Mondo Duplantis celebrating a gold medal after the 21- year-old American born Swede soaring to over 6.20 meters on his very first attempt at that height. The overwhelming favorite who came close to setting another world record delighted to get the job done and realize his childhood dream. This Rosemary, the athlete who grew up in Louisiana with a specially equipped pole-vaulting pit in his own backyard. What a great story. As I send it back to you.

CHURCH: And so many great stories. It has really been incredible.

SNELL: They keep on coming, don't they?

CHURCH: They do, don't they?

SNELL: Yes, they really do.

CHURCH: Thank you as always, Patrick. Appreciate it.

All right, let's bring in Blake Essig now. And Blake, finally some fans in the stands. What is going on and how long might this last?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Rosemary, since the Olympics started, you know, I've had the opportunity as a member of the media to attend several events and I will tell you, it is such a surreal experience to be inside these venues with nobody else inside. But today, that all changed as I was joined by several hundred very polite fans this the Izu Velodrome. This arena right behind me.

It is only one of five Olympic venues allowing limited spectators across the country. And the only venue that is enclosed allowing spectators. Now that's because this prefecture has no state of emergency declared. As a result, fans filled the 3,600-seat arena, everyone was wearing masks, clapped to cheer on the athletes and for the most part seemed to maintain a social distance. Now this is an incredibly rare experience at these games given the ban on spectators at 97 percent of events and 88 percent of Olympic venues.

And even though the number of fans that showed up was limited, there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere. People inside recognized the rare opportunity that they had being among the lucky few to get a ticket to an event where spectators were allowed. And while acknowledging these games have had their issues, just being able to be in there so close to these world class athletes and watch them compete instead of watching on TV, made people feel like these Olympic games are really happening.

And there are only three prefectures where events are being held across the country that aren't under a state of emergency and decided to allow a limited number of spectators. Shizuoka, where I am right now, is one of them. And in those prefectures venues are only allowed to be filled to half capacity and not exceed 10,000 people.

But today the total number of people who actually showed up was a fraction of the possible 1,800 people that could have been in here and that is because tens of thousands of people who had tickets to the events where spectators were allowed, have asked for refunds and officials say those tickets were not resold -- Rosemary.

All right, Blake Essig bringing us the latest on that. Many thanks.

In China, the delta variant outbreak has reached Wuhan, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it's prompting citywide COVID tests as authorities scramble to contain Wuhan's first reported local infections in more than a year.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us now from Hong Kong. She's been monitoring this. Good to see you, Kristie. So why is China struggling to contain this COVID-19 outbreak after doing so well at the start of the pandemic?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, it has everything to do with the highly contagious nature of the delta variant and also according to Yanzhong Huang and other experts, he's with the council of foreign relations, the fact that China needs more effective vaccines. The delta outbreak in China is growing and it's causing alarms with scenes of panic buying -- you can see it on your screen there -- in Wuhan. Of course, that was the city where the coronavirus first emerged, and the delta variant has been detected there. It first emerged on Monday when seven migrant workers became infected with COVID-19.

Earlier today China announced 71 new locally transmitted cases of the virus. This is the highest daily tally for China in six months. And the fact that the virus has been able to spread to 26 different cities and 16 provinces across the country in the last two weeks is generating a lot of concern. Sweeping pandemic restrictions are now in place. Millions of people are in lockdown in various cities across China.


Mass testing campaigns are under way in places like Wuhan, Nanjing, as well as Hangzhou. That was a city that recently had to deal with the catastrophic floods in the central part of China. And sweeping travel restrictions are also in place across the country. China, it appears is throwing its entire pandemic playbook at the delta variant. Will it work, will it contain the variant? Listen to this.


BEN COWLING, PROFESSOR AND HEAD OF DIVISION OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND BIOSTATISTICS HONG KONG UNIVERSITY: China can use its playbook again, it worked successfully for the last year. The things they can do in China maybe can't be done elsewhere. They can use the mass testing, the lockdowns, the quarantines to get delta under control. But it may take a little longer than previous outbreaks have taken.


STOUT (on camera): The delta outbreak could jeopardize China's travel plans -- it's very lucrative domestic travel and tourism industry for the upcoming Golden Week holiday that takes place on October 1, that's two months away. And also, starting today, the Beijing Olympic Games are only six months away -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: We'll see what happens. We'll be watching very closely as you will I'm sure. Kristie Lu Stout joining us from Hong Kong. Well, coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM, new calls for justice in Beirut

one year after the deadly blast at the city's port. Many want to know why there are still no answers. Back with that in a moment.


CHURCH: Just into CNN, Taliban are taking responsibility for a car bombing in Afghanistan's capital. Sirens sounded after the explosion near the heavily fortified green zone in Kabul. The bombing appeared to target the acting defense minister. He and his family were unharmed. But eight civilians were killed along with four attackers.


The bombing comes during the militant's push toward several major cities. Hours later there was another explosion near a defense facility in Kabul. Police say two civilians were injured. There's been no claim of responsibility.

Remembering those who lost their lives in a massive explosion a year ago today in Beirut. And for those whose loved ones are among the thousands who were killed and wounded, for the hundreds of thousands who were left homeless by a blast so powerful it was felt almost 250 kilometers away in Cypress.

The official investigation has stalled, but there are now new calls for answers, justice and accountability. And our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins me now live from Beirut. So, Ben, one year after this deadly blast in Beirut, how much have things changed and what impact has this had on people's lives?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it has had a huge impact on people's lives keeping in mind of course that in addition to the more than 200 dead and 6,000 wounded, almost 300,000 people lost their homes as a result of the blast.

The port is right behind me. That's where hangar 12 was where the ammonium nitrate, at least 2,750 tons of it exploded at 6:08 on Tuesday, the fourth of August. And it's hard to understate just how close Beirut is to the port. Within a mile's radius of where the explosion happened, 100,000 people used to live.

Now if you look around this neighborhood, there has been -- there have been repairs done. Some houses have been rebuilt. But others, no. In some areas you walk down the street you would think that the blast happened a week ago. The government has been largely absent in the effort to rebuild this part of Beirut. The donor community is very hesitant to channel any money through the Lebanese government given its long history of corruption and graft.

As far as the investigation goes, we're already on the second judge who is trying to get senior officials to answer questions, but many of them are hiding behind parliamentary immunity, professional immunity, and the feeling is that this investigation is going nowhere at this point. Now, there are calls for some sort of international investigation or

perhaps involvement in the ongoing investigation to try to move it forward. And the feeling is if it is going to continue at its current rate with its current limited resources and staff, that this investigation like so many into previous assassinations and bombings in Lebanon is going nowhere -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is very sad, very frustrating. Ben Wedeman joining us live from Beirut, many thanks.

And CNN's "CONNECT THE WORLD" will bring you stories of dignity, courage and hope as the people of Lebanon mark one year since the port explosion. Join Becky Anderson for our special report today at 6 p.m. in Beirut, 4 p.m. in London.

Still ahead, packed pews and not a pandemic precaution in sight. We will take you inside one church in the state of Maine that's so opposed to COVID rules they took their case to the Supreme Court.



CHURCH: As the delta variant fuels a surge in COVID cases across the U.S., many states are reintroducing mask rules and other precautions. But one church in Maine is having none of it. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this church, just outside of Bangor, Maine, there's a prevailing feeling that the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic is exaggerated, and that politicians have no business restricting what takes place in this evangelical, nondenominational Christian congregation. Ken Graves is the pastor of the Calvary Chapel of Central Maine.

KEN GRAVES, PASTOR, CALVARY CHAPEL OF CENTRAL MAINE: We don't need the governor to manage our risk for us. We can do that ourselves.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): So, his church asked -- turns out unsuccessfully -- for the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state of Maine from reinstating and enforcing any future COVID restrictions. Graves claims as in person church outreach to those who are suicidal, addicted to drugs, or just average Sunday attendees is essential. And limitations are unconstitutional.

GRAVES: You know, most of us are going to die? Heart disease is going to take out most of us. Should the government be in charge of your diet?

TUCHMAN: If I have heart disease, I'm sitting here next to you and I breathe on you. I'm not going to give you heart disease.

GRAVES: Right.

TUCHMAN: If I'm infected with COVID-19, I can and you could die from it.

GRAVES: Right.

TUCHMAN: Isn't there a big difference?


GRAVES: I don't think there's a big difference. Big -- the difference is between those two, is it heart disease kills women and more people. The risk is far greater --

TUCHMAN: But if you have it, you can give it to me by sitting next to me. If you have COVID-19 and here we are both out of masks?

GRAVES: Right.

TUCHMAN: You could give it me.

GRAVES: Right.

TUCHMAN: You don't think that's different.

GRAVES: No, I don't think it's different.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): In the beginning of the COVID outbreak, this church did follow some of the state restrictions, but ultimately decided to no longer do so. There are now no restrictions here. Maine has done better than almost all states and fighting the virus, but it could all change because of the delta variant.


The congregants we talked to what no changes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel safer being here where I know my attorney is in heaven, no matter what when my death happens or how it happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think by any means a state should ever have a role in curtailing religion.

TUCHMAN: Can I ask you, have you been vaccinated?


TUCHMAN: Any plans to?


TUCHMAN: Have you gotten COVID?

GRAVES: I'm pretty sure I haven't ever been tested.

TUCHMAN: Have you been vaccinated?


TUCHMAN: How come?

GRAVES: No, I've not been vaccinated.


GRAVES: I have more confidence in my immune system than in this experimental protocol.

TUCHMAN: Why do you have confidence in your immune system? How do you know it's -- you're not going to spread it to someone else, and they could die from it?

GRAVES: Well, that's true of the so-called vaccine. That that's the word now is that --


TUCHMAN: With all due respect, it's not so-called vaccine. This is an amazing vaccine. This has basically stopped the pandemic in its tracks. Now we're getting a surge because so many people, with all due respect, like yourself, haven't got unvaccinated.


TUCHMAN: So, you have this Delta variant that's now spread again. And here we are almost back in the same situation. It's a shame. Just get the shot.


TUCHMAN: That's not how you feel?

GRAVES: No, I really do not have confidence in the shot.

TUCHMAN: The pastor does say that any congregant who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus has requested not to come to church. But if they do show up, they won't be kicked out.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): He also says he is not planning to close his church doors again. Even with this denial from the U.S. Supreme Court.

TUCHMAN: There's no part of you that doubts what you're saying.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Orrington, Maine.


CHURCH: Incredible, isn't it.

Well, in in the latest pandemic travel news, Royal Caribbean says its entire fleet of cruise ships will be sailing by spring of next year. The cruise line says it has COVID safety measures in place and all crew and guests must be fully vaccinated or take multiple COVID tests throughout their trip. Thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Be sure to

connect with me on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN, have yourselves a wonderful day.