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CNN NEWSROOM

Tokyo 2020 Summer Games In Final Hours; Delta Variant Puts Pressure On Florida Children's Hospitals; New Cases Surge In Greece; Scientists Puzzled By U.K. COVID-19 Trend; U.N. Warns Of Potential Unparalleled "Catastrophe" In Afghanistan; Hungary's Viktor Orban Bans Books; U.S. Senate Closer To Passage Of Infrastructure Bill; California Wildfires; Devastating Fires In Athens, Greece; China's Drive To Win Olympic Gold. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired August 8, 2021 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:00]

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KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The United States locks up the lead in the Olympic gold medal count. We'll show you the win that clinched it.

As COVID surges in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of bikers gather in North Dakota. Officials hope this won't turn into another superspreader event.

Some Europeans are showing their vaccine status happily but others are hitting the streets to protest.

Welcome to all of you joining us in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

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BRUNHUBER: As the final competitions of the 2020 Summer Olympics come to an end, a flurry of gold medals put Team USA securely at the top of the medal board. Only a couple hours remain before the closing ceremony at the Tokyo Olympic stadium.

A gold medal win by the U.S. women's volleyball team assured the U.S. athletes would return home with more gold medals and overall medals than any other country.

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BRUNHUBER: Here in the U.S. the Delta variant is driving coronavirus case numbers to their highest levels since February. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. seven-day average is more than 100,000 new cases per day.

This comes as just over 50 percent of U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. And Florida seems to be getting the worst of it. The Sunshine State has the highest number of hospitalizations per capita nationwide, also reporting its highest weekly number of new COVID cases since the pandemic began.

Now despite raging case numbers in his state, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is holding firm, rejecting the idea of a mask mandate in schools. And he's using it as an issue to inflame his supporters in the COVID culture wars.

DeSantis isn't going unchallenged. Two lawsuits have been filed against him over his executive order banning mask mandates. Florida officials are also criticizing lack of transparency on COVID figures.

[04:05:00]

BRUNHUBER: They say the governor's only making the situation worse by poking fun at CDC recommendations.

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MAYOR DAN GELBER (D-FL), MIAMI BEACH, FL: What they did is they took down their dashboard, they started reporting weekly, they don't -- I'm constantly asking for information.

It used to be very forthcoming. And what I typically do and a lot of local mayors and commissions do, is we give it to our residents. When a resident sees that more people are hospitalized in a certain day, that more people are getting infected, when they see other kinds of metrics, they act accordingly.

Being forewarned is being forearmed. But he has -- I think, really just to make a political point, decided that he is going to make fun of this. By the way, his campaign website literally is making fun of the CDC and Fauci.

How can you do that in the middle of a pandemic when you're hoping people will follow, you know, the rules that medical experts ask them to?

This is really pretty outrageous. I think there is no question it is increasing our positivity, our hospitalizations and our deaths.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: So earlier I spoke to Dr. Allison Messina at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida. I asked her about the rise in cases in her state. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ALLISON MESSINA, CHIEF, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JOHNS HOPKINS ALL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: The first thing is the Delta variant is extremely contagious, far more contagious than the variants prior. I think that is a major driver.

The other factor, is too, I think why we have been seeing a lot of patients in our pediatric hospital, is because this is, largely, an epidemic right now of the unvaccinated and, a lot of children are not old enough to get the vaccine. So that is another reason why we're busy.

The other reason, too, is that a lot of the infection prevention strategies that we have been using, earlier in the pandemic, like masking and physical distancing, has gotten a little lax after a summer, where we, actually, saw cases drop.

So if we put all those things together you have a recipe for a very busy season. And even adults are probably not vaccinated to the rate that we would, like although we are getting better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The U.S. is, again, fighting to balance the dangers of the pandemic with the hopes of returning to normal. But despite the Delta variant causing a massive surge nationwide, some 700,000 bikers are gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota, for an annual motorcycle rally. That's far more than last year.

Yet out of last year's smaller crowd, the CDC documented at least 649 new COVID cases as far away as Florida and Maine.

So as the daily caseload grows in the U.S., anger is growing in Europe over new COVID health passes. They're essentially proof someone is vaccinated or had a recent negative COVID test. And some governments are making them mandatory to go to many public places. Barbie Nadeau joins us from Rome.

Let's start in France. It seemed like these were the biggest protests so far.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Over a quarter million people out on the streets across France today. You have to think, if they're protesting the vaccination requirements to enter restaurants, they're probably not vaccinated.

You see from the images, many weren't wearing masks as well. France is battling a fourth wave with new caseloads, 20,000 a day.

This is all about civil liberties, so the people out on the streets, they don't want vaccines to be mandated. By requiring that vaccinations or negative COVID tests to enter a restaurant or museum or something like that, a lot of people see that as an infringement on their rights.

And that's what's bringing people in France out to the streets, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Let's flip ever to where you are, Italy; protests as well and some demonstrators there using very controversial, some say disturbing imagery, to make their point.

NADEAU: That's right. Now the protests in Italy are far, far smaller than what we're seeing in France. But those who are out there are very angry.

We saw very disturbing protesters in Milan, where they were using the Star of David badges to say, you know, claim that they're akin to Holocaust victims, saying they're not vaccinated on these badges. That sort of thing is very disturbing.

We have seen tiny pockets of protests across the country. A lot of restaurant owners here don't like the idea that they have to be the enforcers. They're the ones that have to check the Q code, the green pass, to allow people in. They have to be doing the dirty work when it comes to these vaccine mandates to get inside of restaurants.

But the health authorities here say this is the only way out of it. This is the only way not to have further lockdowns. This is the only way to, you know, stop the spread, by -- if you want to go to a restaurant, you need to have a vaccination.

If you want to go to a museum, you have to be vaccinated. They say that's a small price to pay to not go back to where we were a year ago, Kim?

BRUNHUBER: Some U.S. cities experimenting with similar things here.

[04:10:00]

BRUNHUBER: Barbie Nadeau from Rome, thank you so much.

In Britain, experts have been trying to wrap their heads around a coronavirus trend there. They have expected the number of cases to skyrocket after England's health regulations on July 19th.

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BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Instead, this happened, the seven day average declined.

Is there a lesson for others?

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BRUNHUBER: To explain that, we're joined by Oksana Pyzik, global health expert at University College London.

Great to see you. Thank you for being with us. So what we have seen there in the U.K., case numbers falling after dropping restrictions, especially in the context of that highly contagious Delta variant. It seems totally counterintuitive.

Do we know what's behind this?

OKSANA PYZIK, GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: Well, certainly, I think this has been a good surprise when it comes to COVID. We haven't had too many of those. There has been a lot of bad news in regard to more transmissible, more dangerous variants.

But in this case, I think there are several factors at play. We do know this is a real decline because there are -- the trend usually follows that there are fewer hospitalizations. That appears to be so.

But we also know that there has been, particularly over the summer period, a -- in the U.K., certainly a lack of incentive to get tested in the first place because we don't have the same support systems in place for those who are self-employed, like in other countries. So that has always been a challenge from the start.

And during the holiday period, there was also concerns that perhaps people were avoiding coming forward because of the implication on their holiday plans, particularly of mild cases.

But also what we have seen in the U.K. is, although we have had our Freedom Day and legal requirements for certain behaviors have now been dropped, we have also had many businesses and other -- our health secretary Sajid Javid has come forward and say that indoor places, where it is crowded, on the tube, et cetera, people will be wearing masks.

I think that behavior didn't all of a sudden switch off, where people dropped masks altogether and just threw caution to the wind.

I think in this instance there still has been that behavior element being encouraged, again, in restaurants and in other environments, where -- especially if you ride public transport, that's still a requirement by TFL, by our transport body, even if the government has a separate view.

So I think a lot of these local restrictions continue to have a profound effect. But we are also looking at the vaccine wall holding firm. And I think that's the key thing, is to ensure that that continues and we target the hesitant groups as much as possible to prevent future variants.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, so you mentioned a key thing here is vaccinations because, when we're comparing here, you know, we're looking here in the U.S., we're hoping that we won't see the catastrophic numbers linked to the Delta variant that some are predicting if we don't get those vaccination rates up and that our infection rates will mirror the decline we saw there in the U.K.

But I'm wondering if that's a false hope because our vaccination rates are much lower.

PYZIK: And also it depends on the spread. And there are high -- in the U.S., there are high regions, where the vaccination rate is much lower than other areas. And that in particular means that you can have more aggressive outbreaks in those regions spreading outwards.

So I think all countries need to be really looking at their strategies on vaccination to help where the supply even is available to continue with that.

I think it is also interesting to compare to the most highly vaccinated country in the world, that being Israel, and how they, again, reintroduced face masks because, even with high vaccination coverage, due to Delta, Delta has changed the equation.

So even the most highly vaccinated country in the world isn't throwing all caution to the wind. They're making their risk assessment here and saying, we want to protect those gains made. And the U.S. made a lot of gains but they can quickly be lost, too, if that progress doesn't continue and if some really complicated challenges that are multifactorial, it is -- you need expertise from all disciplines coming into these policies, particularly when we look at why people are shunning the vaccines in the first instance.

[04:15:00]

PYZIK: But I think that is a big clue to how quickly things can change and how our progress made so far isn't permanent.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I'm curious about what you said when you said Delta is changing the equation.

Is the Delta variant itself teaching us anything more about how one models or predicts how diseases spread?

Or is the lesson here basically just a humbling reminder that there is really just so much we really don't know?

PYZIK: Absolutely, I think one of -- the modeling itself in the U.K. revealed there is so much uncertainty and that that should be a humbling experience, that we should be prepared with contingency plans for worst-case scenarios, while also ensuring that we're paving the way forward to ensure that countries can reap as much activity as previously.

And that's a difficult balance to strike. But we have seen that, looking it out as completely zero-sum equation, where it is one or the other. Actually in the U.K. for the longest time, it did cost us more economically and we had one of the highest death rates globally.

So pinning one against the other I think has been a mistake that the WHO and other organizations have highlighted. You know, it doesn't have to be one or the other. We should continue to ensure that we have the appropriate support in place and empowering local health bodies to work with those communities, where the challenges lie.

And really getting the public to understand that the Delta isn't necessarily the worst of the lot yet. It is thus far. But if we don't continue with the recommendations going forward, we could see, again, something much worse than Delta.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, well said. And hopefully we will learn from the experiences there, although the political battles we're having here over masks and vaccinations suggest that is a big challenge. Oksana Pyzik at University College London, thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.

PYZIK: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The Olympic flame will soon be extinguished to mark the end of the 2020 games. We'll take you to Tokyo ahead of the closing ceremony. Plus, Afghanistan is hoping elite soldiers can take back most of a key

city from the Taliban. The battle for Kunduz when we come back. Stay with us.

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[04:20:00]

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BRUNHUBER: We're tracking reports of a major fight underway in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized most of Kunduz city. Local officials said earlier the majority of the city has fallen but not the airport.

Afghanistan's defense ministry says elite Afghan commandos are trying to retake the territory. If Kunduz falls, it will be Afghanistan's third provincial capital loss to the militants. CNN's Clarissa Ward filed this report earlier from Kabul.

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CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly unraveling, which is why you saw the U.S. embassy come out and urge all Americans to leave the country.

This comes on the heels of the Taliban taking control of two provincial capitals. This is a big deal. They are the first but by no means, unfortunately probably the last. At least three other cities are under imminent threat.

We spoke to ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the helped the hospital in Kandahar, who said that in the first six months of this year alone, they saw more than 2,300 weapon-wounded patients.

That's more than double the amount that they saw in the first six months of last year. We also heard from the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan. She warned that if the international community does not act soon, Afghanistan could be a potential catastrophe with few if any parallels this century.

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BRUNHUBER: Now we spoke about Afghanistan with Ashley Jackson. She is the author of a book about life under the Taliban, "Negotiating Survival: Civilian Insurgent Relations in Afghanistan."

We asked her if people in Afghanistan actually support the Taliban or if they're being forced to support their rule or die. Here was her response.

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ASHLEY JACKSON, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF ARMED GROUPS, OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE: I think, as you do in any civil war, it's two Afghanistans. You have people who are predominantly in the cities, who benefited from the international intervention and who have jobs and school. And all the international aid reached them.

You also have people in the countryside who, with all the warlords we empowered after 9/11, went after them. They gave the Taliban an excuse to come back. And it's those people, in the rural areas, that the Taliban now controls, who really, I think, have borne the brunt of the conflict, not only the Taliban violence but U.S.-led airstrikes, night raids.

And they're absolutely exhausted. They have no -- they don't support anyone, they just want a break, they just want peace.

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BRUNHUBER: That was Ashley Jackson at the Overseas Development Institute.

The U.S. is slamming the latest moves by Nicaragua's president to cling onto power. The government of president Daniel Ortega effectively banned another opposition party from running on Friday. And for months, it has been detaining Ortega's political rivals. His wife is also his vice president.

U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken says these latest actions mean Nicaragua's upcoming November election has lost all credibility.

Two prominent and controversial right-wing figures from opposite sides of the Atlantic met this week in Hungary. U.S. TV host Tucker Carlson capped his visit with a speech Saturday, heaping praise on authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban.

Carlson has become the face of U.S. right-wing support for the regime, which has targeted the judiciary, liberals, immigrants, the media and the LGBTQ community. It has also become a touchstone for European nationalists, though Carlson praised as something to which something America should aspire.

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TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: There is a lot I don't know about Hungary.

[04:25:00]

CARLSON: I know a robust political system when I see one. I think America is the greatest country in the world. don't tell me it is freer than Hungary. Because that's a lie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Hungary restricted the sales of LGBTQ-themed books on Friday. It is the first decree related to a law passed in June, which banned from schools materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender reassignment. Thousands of people turned out at Budapest's Pride march last month to

protest against the law. Civil rights groups have also denounced it and the European Commission has brought legal action against it.

Orban has grown increasingly hardline since taking office in 2010. Back in 2013, the parliament changed the constitution to increase his power. The rules limited the powers of constitutional court, one of the few institutions that would stand up to him.

Then came a law that set up courts overseen directly by the justice minister. The regime has systematically dismantled independent media, forcing some outlets to close while packing others with supporters.

These and other moves led European Parliament to sanction Hungary for flouting rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption. Hungary rejects the accusations.

As Tucker Carlson seems to bridge the far right in Europe with the right wing in America, one historian told CNN it is important to highlight what Carlson isn't telling his viewers. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, HISTORIAN: It's so concerning that he's gushing about this autocrat. It's interesting what he's not saying to FOX viewers. He's not saying that Orban, as of 2020, he rules by decree. So he is formally a kind of dictator.

The other thing he's not talking about is the virtual extinction of press freedom. In 2018, over 500 media outlets, quote, "donated" their assets to a foundation run by Orban's allies.

And you couldn't have a private network like FOX that wasn't under government control or an ally. So it's equally revealing what he's not telling FOX viewers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Historian and professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat there.

Tokyo is preparing to hand the Olympic baton over to Paris. We'll have the closing ceremony as the 2020 games wrap up.

And a race against time in California as crews battle one of the largest wildfires in state history. We'll have the latest on their progress just ahead. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: The Tokyo Summer Games are down to their final hours before the Olympic flame is extinguished and everyone goes home. Blake Essig is standing by in Tokyo.

I know organizers are playing things close to the vest about the closing ceremony.

What can you tell us about them?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Kim, look, it ends where it all started at the new national stadium. We don't know much about the closing ceremony. They have been rehearsing all day. Just a few minutes ago we still heard music. And the opening ceremony, starts in less than two hours.

What we do know is that the theme is The World We Share, organizers say the idea being that, even if the world can't be together, we can all share the moment and open the door to a brighter future.

And as we take a step back and reflect on the past two weeks, these Olympic Games have been anything but normal. We knew that would be the case. And here on the ground, it is very much a tale of two cities.

On the one hand, the constant protests in opposition to the games hasn't changed. But at the same time, many people here have tuned in to watch the games on TV and gather for any opportunity to experience the Olympics in person.

If you take a look around behind me, there are hundreds of people that have been streaming in and out around the national stadium, just for the chance to take a picture with the Olympic stadium before the lights go out here in Tokyo.

But rather than a shift in support for the games as a whole, many people I've spoken with throughout these games during the past two weeks said they tuned in specifically to support the athletes who worked so hard to be here.

And even though cases within the Olympic bubble have remained relatively low, health and safety concern does remain a serious concern, especially given the surge in case count here in Tokyo as well as around the country.

Despite a state of emergency order being put in place, medical professionals say people here aren't taking the current crisis seriously. And I'm told that's because of the mixed messaging by the government, asking people to stay home and businesses to close early; at the same time, going ahead with the Olympics.

Japan's prime minister has since come out and said that the Olympics has not resulted in the increase of COVID-19 infections. But medical professionals warn, as a result of the Olympics, increasing the flow of people, that cases could actually triple here in the next couple weeks -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Before I let you go, you've been reporting on these games, nonstop from start to finish.

As they come to a close here, what struck you the most about what you saw firsthand there?

What impressions will stick with you?

ESSIG: You know, Kim, having covered the Olympics once before, in Russia, as well, this was a completely different Olympic experience. I can tell you that. The fact that no spectators were in the stands, the buzz and excitement that typically accompanies the Olympics wasn't here and never was here.

One thing that I will say is that, having had the opportunity to go and sit inside the stadiums while events were taking place, you know, the potential of what Tokyo 2020 could have been, you know, it is really sad, sad that the people of Japan weren't able to be inside the stadium to witness the games in person.

They really -- everything was set up for the games to be a wonderful experience and because of the pandemic, that never happened. Tokyo 2020 will always be remembered, you know, as the pandemic games. And there was so much potential for what could have been.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Still, some great stories came out of these games. Blake Essig in Tokyo, thank you so much.

We want to look at one of the record-breaking athletes to come out of the games. Sprinter Allyson Felix is the most decorated U.S. track and field star in Olympics history, surpassing even the great Carl Lewis. She won her 11th career medal in the women's 4x400 meter relay event on Saturday.

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[04:35:00]

BRUNHUBER: The U.S. Senate is inching closer to passing the massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. After months of furious negotiations, 18 Republican senators joined Democrats to break the filibuster and shut down debate on the bill. Senators are confident it will pass but when is still a bit unclear. CNN's Lauren Fox has the latest from Capitol Hill.

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LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senators are back in Washington over the weekend and they hoped that they would be able to finish this bipartisan infrastructure bill over the weekend.

But we are now seeing senator Bill Hagerty, Republican from the state of Tennessee, is digging in his heels, not allowing this bill to move any faster through the U.S. Senate. He said that he is going to require the Senate to exhaust the entire amount of debate time.

What that means for people back home is that instead of getting this bill passed over the weekend, this debate is going into early next week. That is if they can't get some kind of consensus and convince Hagerty to pull back on his threat. So at this point, this expectation is this bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass. It's a matter of when it passes not if. But it'll take a little bit more times. And after that, Democrats are hoping to move forward with their Democratic-only budget bill. Then, they will have a vote on voting rights legislation.

And then they will depart for the August recess. A lot of moving parts right now but the bipartisan infrastructure bill is going to get pushed off to just a few more days -- on Capitol Hill for CNN, I am Lauren Fox.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, a race against time as crews work to contain the massive Dixie fire currently raging in California. We'll take a closer look at the conditions they're facing right after this. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: California's largest wildfire is growing even bigger as crews struggle to get the flames under control. The Dixie Fire has burned through 700 square miles so far, that's more than twice the size of New York City.

It is now the third largest wildfire in California history. Right now it is only 21 percent contained and that number was 35 percent just two days ago but officials say the fire ha grown significantly since then.

On top of the intense heat and flames, crews are also facing more unpredictable conditions. As wildfire seasons get worse, crews say the fires themselves are getting more erratic. Earlier I spoke with the public information officer for the Dixie Fire's East Zone, Serena Baker, about the conditions crews are facing. Here she is.

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SERENA BAKER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, DIXIE FIRE EAST ZONE: When I first started in the federal government, my boss told me you will never meet a harder working federal employee than someone who is a wildland firefighter.

If you can imagine swinging a Pulaski, which is basically huge blade, and you are scraping, you know, cutting hand lines, scraping all the soil off, all the vegetation off, you're down to bare mineral ground, that's what you need in order to try to create that fire break, to try to, you know, fuel break to try to break that fire from going across.

So it is very challenging work. You know, I've talked to a lot of our hot shot crews and our hand crews and they say that the camaraderie of the team environment and really feeling like the work that they do matters and makes a difference to the American people is really what inspires them to do such challenging work.

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[04:45:00]

BRUNHUBER: Hot air and strong winds are adding fuel to dozens of wildfires in Greece. And fires in Athens have already caused massive devastation. Elinda Labropoulou joins me now from a town just outside the capital city.

I'm struck by the devastation behind you.

What is the latest on the efforts to contain those fires that have been raging for almost a week now?

ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: Well, as you can see the devastation behind me is immense. The good news is that the fire in Athens has practically been put out. But there are fears of the fire rekindling. So authorities are on high alert. They're everywhere.

But citizens returned to their homes. We have spoken to a lot of people, they're trying to put their lives back together, see what remains. And there is great concern about the forest that has burned, this beautiful area that so many people in Greece refer to as the lungs of Athens.

At the same time, big fires continue to burn across the country. Dozens of fires continue to rage, particularly on the island of Evia, Greece's second largest island. And a large part of this island has been already burned.

Citizens have been evacuated and at least 39 villages have been evacuated and it seems to be that people are now heading to the coastal areas. So if they need to get out, they will be moved by boat.

The authorities there are on standby and more than a thousand people have already been moved. And unfortunately, we're hearing that the fire in the Peloponnese, the winds are picking up so things are getting more critical as well.

BRUNHUBER: Not good news there. Elinda Labropoulou in Greece, thank you so much.

The Olympic gold medal count is all important to China. And for a while it was leading the U.S. before being overtaken. We'll look at the intense pressure China places on its athletes to finish first -- when we come back. Stay with us.

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[04:50:00]

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BRUNHUBER: All right, here is the Olympic medal board, now that the final competition in Tokyo just wrapped up. The U.S. is ending the games in the top spot, winning both the most gold medals and the most medals overall. Next is China and host Japan has the third highest gold haul.

Now China probably isn't too happy about being overtaken by the U.S. in the gold medal race. It is a matter of national pride to finish first. And intense pressure is put on athletes to try to achieve that goal. Selina Wang looks at the forces driving China's Olympic efforts.

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SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Again and again, this anthem has been played as China tries to top the Olympic gold medal count at the Tokyo games. Dominating sports across the board, these medals are a symbol of sporting prowess. More importantly for China, of national strength.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things the Olympics does for China, is, first of all to show that the Chinese are able to succeed in something, which the whole world regards as being a premier arena for international performance.

WANG (voice-over): A week before the games, China's director of sports administration, calling on athletes to, quote, "fight for the glory of their country with pride, honor and responsibility."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't know what to say. I'm a little speechless. I took it step by step, one move after the other.

WANG (voice-over): While many athletes have been able to celebrate their success, China is becoming more assertive on a global stage, meaning that the pressure for athletes to take home nothing less than gold has never been higher.

"I feel like I failed the team. I am sorry, everyone," said Leo Suwin (ph) after the mixed doubles table tennis team finished with a silver medal. And the pressure is not just coming from the athletes themselves.

When they lost their badminton gold medal match to Taiwan, users on China's Twitter like platform, Weibo, piled on, with one saying, have they been drugged?

Why did they look like they haven't woken up?

WANG: What does China's success at the Tokyo Olympics mean for China's broader standing on the global stage? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Olympics and sporting success, in general, has become one of the most important markers in terms of China, defining itself in the world. And seeming to show that it has managed to develop itself into a power and a country, that really has a global presence.

[04:55:00]

WANG (voice-over): China's sporting strength, skyrocketing in recent decades. The country's obsession with gold, linked to the nation's narrative of rejuvenation, after centuries of defeat by foreign powers.

The country, actually didn't win its first gold, until 1984. But just 2 dozen years later, China surpassed the U.S. in gold medals, for the first time. Topping the table. While Chinese media focus on the gold medal count, a metric that the official Olympic website uses to determine country rankings, U.S. media emphasized the total medal count, putting the U.S. first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S.-China competition, which, of course, extends to so many areas, is certainly very visible in the way that particular context, the Tokyo Olympics here is being portrayed in China, as well as the rest of the world.

WANG (voice-over): And as China prepares to play host for the upcoming Winter Olympics, it will give the country yet another opportunity to bolster national pride, especially after riding high off of its Tokyo gold rush.

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BRUNHUBER: And finally, there are lots of things you can do in a year. But that is how long it took one American girl to learn to read music, play some of Beethoven's most famous works and win a performance at Carnegie Hall. By the way, she's just 4 years old. Watch this.

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BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Brigitte Xie of Connecticut isn't just the cutest piano prodigy we have seen in a while, she's the youngest winner of the Elite International Music Competition ever. That earned her a spot at Carnegie Hall last year but it was sadly pushed back to this November because of COVID-19.

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BRUNHUBER: Ten years of piano lessons and she's still better than I am. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM in a moment. Please do stay with us.