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U.S. Vaccinations Now Up to About 700,000 Per Day; Florida Becomes Latest COVID-19 Epicenter in U.S.; Florida Governor Bans Mask Mandates in Schools; Hard Lockdowns Imposed on Australia's Three Largest Cities; New Travel Restrictions, Quarantines in China as Cases Rise; IOC Revokes Accreditation of Two Belarusian Coaches; Greek Prime Minister: County Faces Critical Situation as Fires Burn; Greenville Falls Victim to Fast-Moving Blaze. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 6, 2021 - 04:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: A new warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while coronavirus vaccines do work, fully vaccinated people who get a breakthrough infection can pass it on.

Florida emerges as the new U.S. COVID hot spot. Its surge has the state leading the nation in new adult and child hospitalizations due to the virus.

Wildfires raging in Greece, and as weather conditions worsen, firefighters are in around the clock battle to protect ancient sites.

Welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

As the delta variant drives a global surge in new infections, the urgency of vaccination finally appears to be sinking in for many Americans. U.S. health officials say daily vaccinations are back up to where they were seven weeks ago averaging about 700,000 per day. Just under half of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated but is still far short of so-called herd immunity, generally considered to be at least 70 percent.

New cases in the U.S. are now averaging about 98,000 per day, the highest in six months and we're learning more about so-called breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated. Although extremely rare, the CDC says vaccinated people are contagious if they get the virus. That's why the agency suddenly updated its mask guidance last week. Here is what the head of the CDC told CNN.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Our vaccines are working exceptionally well, they continue to work well for delta with regard to severe illness and death, they prevent it. But what they can't do anymore is prevent transmission. So, if you are going home to somebody who has not been vaccinated, to somebody who can't get vaccinated, somebody who might be immune suppressed or a little bit frail, somebody who has co-morbidities that put them at high risk, I would suggest you wear a mask in public indoor settings.


The U.S. could soon join the wealthy countries forging ahead with COVID booster shots. A White House official says the Food and Drug Administration is working on a national strategy to be revealed in a few weeks. The U.S. hasn't yet recommended booster shots for the already vaccinated. The head of the World Health Organization asked countries to hold off on boosters until at least the end the September to get more vaccines to poorer countries first, but Israel, Germany and France and the U.K. appear to be disregarding that request.

Moderna says its COVID vaccine remains highly effective six months after it goes into people's arms. The company says it's vaccine is 93 percent effective according to a final analysis of phase 3 trials, but the data do not include efficacy against the delta variant. The company expects to complete its application for a full FDA approval this month.

Well former vaccine skeptic who is now fighting for his life with COVID has a message for others from his ICU bed. Travis Campbell wasn't vaccinated when he contracted the virus. Last night he spoke with CNN's Don Lemon from the hospital and urge others to get a vaccine. Now he's struggling to speak, so you'll have to listen closely.


TRAVIS CAMPBELL, COVID PATIENT: Please don't wait. Don't procrastinate. The delta variant is stronger and faster, and it attacks those who are not vaccinated or have more medical conditions. I don't want to bury -- a person arthritis can be attacked three times faster and harder. And it's not hard to -- you got to turn all this around. If you're prepared not to take the vaccination, then your friends will carry your body at your funeral.


BRUNHUBER: So, despite plenty of access to vaccines, only about half the Florida's 22 million residents are fully vaccinated. Hospitalizations there are soaring and cases are spiking back up to levels not seen since January and there's no sign the situation will improve anytime soon. CNN's Leyla Santiago explains from Miami.



LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida, the latest epicenter in the COVID-19 surge, hospitals are filling up.

CARLOS MIGOYA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM: On July 1. Jackson was treating 66 COVID positive impatience in our hospitals. As of noon today, that number is 320. A 385 percent increase in just over a month.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Cases are on the rise.

MAYOR JERRY DEMINGS (D), ORANGE COUNTY FLORIDA: Within the metro Orlando area, we're seeing a significant surge and new cases. Nearly 1,000 new cases are being reported daily.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): High transmission in nearly every county. The state leading the nation and the number of adults and children admitted to the hospital. One in five U.S. cases now found in Florida as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a record breaking spike in hospitalizations. And the governor, well, he says --

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Why don't you do your job? Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): A political jab aimed at President Joe Biden after --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're not going to help, at least get out of the way. The people are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): The governor is standing by his executive order, threatening to cut funding to school districts that mandate masks, a popular decision among his base.

JERRY DEMINGS, MAYOR OF ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: This is the same that just last year did put mandates in place that restricted businesses and did a number of things in that regard. The only thing that has changed now is his polling amongst his base.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Some Florida school districts are now grappling with ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the upcoming school year, just days away for some.

TINA CERTAIN, ALACHUA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: We're weighing out the financial impact. And we're not dismissing that because we cannot operate without state funds. But at the same time, we really need to provide a safe working and learning environment for our students.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): In Alachua County public schools, students must wear masks for at least the first two weeks unless they have a doctor's note. In Broward County, schools are mandating masks. In Duval County, parents will have to opt out if they don't want their child wearing a mask, requiring more time and paperwork.

In a letter to the governor the Leon County Superintendent pleads to not allow pride or politics to cloud our better judgment in protecting Florida's youngest students.

LILA HARTLEY, WANTS MASK MANDATES AT HER SCHOOL: It feels like they're not taking the precautions to keep students who can't get vaccinated for can still get sick, safe.

SANTIAGO: Leyla Santiago, CNN, Miami.


BRUNHUBER: The governor of Hawaii says state workers must be vaccinated by August 16th or else get regular COVID tests. The announcement comes on the same day the state set a single day record for new coronavirus cases. The governor said the new rules are a matter of urgency.


GOV. DAVID IGE (D-HI) The number of cases and hospitalizations are all trending up, dramatically. The highly contagious delta variant creates a big risk of infection especially for members of our community who are not vaccinated. Based on the current conditions, I must take action to protect public health and overt unmanageable strains on our health care.


BRUNHUBER: A new poll finds that most Americans are in favor of new masking recommendations. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 61 percent say the CDC's recommendation that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people living in areas with high rates of COVID-19 transmission wear masks indoors is a good idea. Just 34 percent said it is a bad idea. They also found more than 50 percent of Americans say the CDC's recommendation that all public-school students, staff and teachers wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status is a good idea.

Well, despite Australia's early success in the pandemic after imposing strict lockdowns, the tough measures didn't stop the delta variant from slipping through. New South Wales just reported two straight days of record new cases. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us from Hong Kong. Kristie, more lockdowns in a country that's frankly sick of them. Take us through why authorities feel this is necessary yet again.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's because of a reason that we heard in a press conference in the last hour. We heard from the chief medical officer of Australia, he said this has turned into a pandemic of the unvaccinated, unquote. Lockdowns are now in place in Sydney, in Brisbane, in Melbourne, and the three biggest cities in Australia.

Over 60 percent of the population of Australia now have to stay at home. The state of Victoria has entered its sixth lockdown since the start of the pandemic.


That triggered some angry anti-lockdown rallies that took place in the state capitol of Melbourne. But the worst affected is Sydney. Sydney and New South Wales earlier today reporting 291 new locally transmitted cases of the virus. This is the highest daily tally on record. So how did it come to this? Especially in a country that has been hailed as a pandemic success story. I want you to listen to this, from the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University in Melbourne.


CATHERINE BENNETT, CHAIR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY: The methods we used so successfully to keep returning to COVID zero in Australia, while we were trying to roll out our vaccine program, have now been defeated by this variant. It just moves too quickly for that normal test trace isolated approach to actually be effective. Even with the lockdowns in place, like in Sydney, we're still just seeing the case numbers roll on because we can't completely get ahead of the virus to close those outbreaks down.


STOUT (on camera): Now disease experts say that there are two factors driving this surge of the delta variant across Australia. One, is the highly contagious nature of the delta variant. In fact, Catherine Bennett described it as being slippery in nature. It has the qualities to be able to evade and to slip past once established and once effective pandemic restrictions in protocols, but also, a slow pace of vaccination. As we heard from the chief medical officer of Australia earlier today, just in the last hour, saying about 21 percent of the total population of Australia over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated but thankfully the pace is picking up. We also learned that 1.2 million additional doses have been administered in the last seven days -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, some good news there. Thanks so much, Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And China is struggling to deal with new outbreaks fueled by the delta variant. Entire cities are under lockdown and officials are enforcing new quarantine requirements for people traveling from areas with rising infections. Steven Jiang joins me from Beijing. So, Steven, those stringent lockdowns just an example I guess of how seriously the Chinese government is taking these latest outbreaks even though in absolute numbers they aren't actually that massive.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That's right. The latest figure we got from the government was 101 new locally confirmed cases recorded on Thursday. This obviously pales in comparison to what we are seeing in many other parts of the world. But in this country, they hadn't seen this level of infection for months. That's why across the country you see local authorities really are conducting multiple rounds of mass testing and extensive contact tracing whenever they see just a handful of cases emerge in their jurisdictions. And increasingly they are reintroducing draconian lockdown measures, as you mentioned, targeting not just neighborhoods but also entire cities.

Now of course, city wide lockdowns are considered in smaller cities. But of course, small is a relative term. The reality is millions of Chinese people are now again confined to their homes and sometimes ill prepared. And also, across the country authorities are really introducing a very stringent travel restrictions in the middle of the peak summer travel season. And we are also starting to hear from educational authorities that the

new school year, the start of the new school year could be delayed, especially in so-called higher medium risk areas across the country. There are some 200 such locations across China including two right here will Beijing, I think that is why I just received an email from my daughter's school that the start of their school year will be delayed by two weeks.

So, nightmare for many parents, but also a reflection of the enormous costs associated with the government's approach of zero-tolerance towards local transmitted cases despite growing questions about its long-term sustainability. But Kim, so far, no indication they're going to change course because from their perspective, it's been working well both politically and economically -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, regardless of the cost. All right, thanks so much, Steven Jiang in Beijing.

The Belarusian Olympian who fled her country is speaking out from her new home. And her coaches are now in trouble with Olympic authorities. We're live in Tokyo with the details

Plus, dozens of wildfires are ripping through Greece scorching everything in their path The Prime Minister's new warning just after the break, stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: It's day 14 of the summer Olympics and athletes are aiming for gold in 11 sports including a full slate of track and field events. The women's football gold medal match between Canada and Sweden has been moved to later in the day over concerns about the heat. On the hard court the U.S. women's basketball team beat Serbia to reach their seventh straight Olympic gold medal game. And they'll face either Japan or France.

China, the U.S. and Japan are leading in the gold metal count so far with the U.S. ahead in total medals.

The Belarusian Olympian who sought political asylum says she feels happy and safe in Poland. The sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya received a humanitarian visa from Polish authorities after Belarusian team bosses tried to force her to return home against her wishes. Well, those coaches have now lost their Olympic accreditations and have been kicked out of the Olympic Village. CNN's Blake Essig is tracking this live from Tokyo. So Blake, take us through why are those coaches being expelled now?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim, we learned about it in a tweet earlier today, the IOC announced that its removing and canceling the accreditation of these two Belarusian coaches for their roles in the alleged forcible removal of Kristina Timanovskaya from the Olympic Village. This all happened last Sunday, the sprinter was supposed to be

preparing to make her Olympic debut in the women's 200-meter sprint. Instead, the 24-year-old posted a video to social media pleading for help. She said she was removed from competition given one hour to pack her things in order to fly back to Minsk immediately.

Now this all happened after she criticized her coaches a few days earlier on social media for being included on a list to run an event which she hadn't prepared for.


While at the airport, the sprinter asked Japanese police for protection and has since flown to Poland after being offered a humanitarian visa, fearing that if she returned to Belarus, she would likely be arrested. Here's what she had to say once she arrived in Poland.


KRISTINA TIMANOVSKAYA, BELARUSIAN ATHLETE (through translator): My parents looking at all this concluded that upon my return home, I'd either face a psychiatric unit or prison. We know such situations do happen in our country. That's why my grandmother called me and told me please do not come back to Belarus, it's not safe for you here. I think it would be safer for you if you seek some sort of political asylum and either stay in Tokyo or travel somewhere in Europe, but not to Belarus.


ESSIG (on camera): Now Timanovskaya says she now feels safe and protected in Poland, but also saddened that she was not allowed to compete in these Olympic games. According to a statement released by the Belarusian Olympic Committee, the sprinter was removed from competition due to her emotional and psychological state, but that's a claim that Timanovskaya denies. IOC officials say that a disciplinary commission has been set up to look into the circumstances around this incident and will give these Belarusian coaches a chance to tell their side of the story. But for now, Kim, they have been removed from the Olympic Village.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Blake Essig in Tokyo.

Evacuations are under way in parts of Greece as firefighters battle dozens of wildfires. Days of intense heat are fueling the flames. Six regions have been placed on red alert for extreme fire hazard. The Prime Minister is now warning that the country is facing an extremely critical situation saying the high temperatures have turned the country into a powder keg. Journalist Elinda Labropoulou is covering these fires for us from Athens. So, Elinda, take us through this. Are they making any progress?

ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: Well, they are making some progress. Some of the fires have been put out, but the problem is that some have been rekindling and then we have new fires. And today in particular it's the first day that in this extended heatwave that Greece has been experiencing that the winds are picking up. And we all understand how dangerous this is under the circumstances.

Where I'm standing now, it's one of the areas that were most affected, the northern suburbs of Athens. It's a very green area, as you can see, all around me there's immense devastation, the forest has been completely burned down, houses have been destroyed. And people have been left homeless. I've spoken to plenty of the residents here, they are all still in shock about what has been happening.

There are other fires as well burning in Greece, there is a huge fire on the island of Evia. It's an island that's very popular with both tourists and locals as well. And there, people have been evacuated by boat. What you have to understand is that there is almost breaking news I would call it every half hour, every one hour, about a new fire breaking out. It's what we're experiencing in Greece is just unprecedented.

BRUNHUBER: Well, that background behind you quite striking there to see the extent of the damage, see the houses burnt and everything there. So, to get to the cause of all this, the Greek Prime Minister I was reading saying humans are to blame here both indirectly with climate change but also more directly. Explain this, if you could.

LABROPOULOU: Well, there seems to be a lot of speculation on how is it possible to have so many fires break out at the same time and in very much the same areas. Of course, the mix of really high temperatures that we have been experiencing in Greece for nearly a week now in an extended heatwave, a heatwave that we haven't experienced for the last four decades. Greece has never had scorching temperatures like this for four decades, so certainly that is a factor. But it is just the timing of some of these fires raises a lot of questions. Authorities are looking to see if arson may be behind some of these fires. But of course, it's still early days to be able to tell.

BRUNHUBER: All right, Elinda Labropoulou in Athens, thanks so much.

Well, a state of emergency has been declared in parts of Northern California as wildfires burn across the state. The measure covers the counties in Nevada, Placer and Siskiyou. The governor says fires in those counties have collectively burned tens of thousands of acres, destroyed homes and forced residents to evacuate. Extreme drought and high temperatures are fueling a record-breaking fire year in California.

And one of the largest wildfires in California history is gaining ground forcing more people to flee their homes. The Dixie Fire is spreading so fast at one point it burned the equivalent of 24 city blocks every minute. The fire has reduced just about all of the historic gold rush town to ashes. What you are seeing there that's what's left of Greenville. Car, businesses and homes all burnt to the ground. Officials say four people are still missing.


Let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Derek, what you're seeing there, I remember seeing that same scene in Paradise a couple years ago, those devastating fires there. What's the latest?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's also hard, Kim, to actually comprehend that the same type of natural disasters unfolding on two different continents in such a ferocious way. We've what is taking place in Greece, Turkey, basically southeast Europe and what is happening on the western portions of the United States in North America.

But let's start in Greece because the fire visuals coming out of the northern suburbs of the capital there in Athens is just incredible. Since Sunday, they have burned over 6,000 hectares of acreage so far. And this is incredible because in 2020, the entire fire season only burnt 10,400 hectares. So really just puts this particular season in context because we still have several months to go of the dry hot summer, typical fire season weather months.

You can see temperatures there -- as the reporter just mentioned -- have been excruciatingly hot, in fact, well above average. Were talking 10 degrees Celsius above average if not more. Doesn't look like the heat going to relax much anytime soon. Lots of red on this map, located right across the Mediterranean.

And she also mentioned the winds. Today that will be a factor, west to northwesterly wind especially across the southwestern portions of Greece could gust over 60 to 70 kilometers per hour helping fan and fuel some of those additional fire flare-ups. No rain in this forecast either. In fact, clear overhead, the seven day forecast for Athens is dry and sunny, not what you want to see with the fires unfolding.

Well, we take you to North America, unfortunately Greenville, the town that has been devastated by the Dixie Fire, that tore through this particular area. At one period we're taking Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, it burned or scorched over 44,000 acres in a 12- hour period. That is equivalent to the size of Washington, D.C. it now makes it the sixth largest wildfire in California state history with over 360,000 acres burned so far. This is an incredibly rampant fire set amongst the backdrop of several, in fact dozens of wildfires burning out of control over the Western U.S. -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, appreciate it.

U.S. President Joe Biden is tackling the climate crisis with a new executive order. The White House announced on Thursday a goal that 50 percent of vehicles sold in America by 2030 will be electric. Biden even told U.S. automakers he wants to be the first person to drive an electric version of his favorite sports car. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see that sucker over there? Zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds. It's all electric. I tell you what, and I want to say publicly, I have a commitment from Mary when they make the first electric Corvette, I get to drive it. Right, Mary? You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: And then the president wasted no time taking a lap around the White House in an electric jeep.

All right, go to sleep should we look it up while I don't know because you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Just ahead, investigating the January 6 U.S. Capitol riots and paying tribute to the police officers who fought off the insurrection.

Plus, Iran has sworn in an ultra conservative president whose hardline positions may have major implications for the West. We'll have the latest from Tehran ahead on CNN, stay with us.