Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Taliban Takes Tenth City in Afghanistan; International Community Must Act to Save Afghanistan; Algerians Struggle to Contain Wildfires; Tropical Depression Poured Heavy Rain to Dominican Republic; Mexican Anchor Remain Consistent with Her Job; Omar al- Bashir Faces ICC; Kathy Hochul Ready to Govern New York. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 03:00   ET

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


[03:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to all of you watching us from around the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. And I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Just ahead, U.S. intelligence paints a worrying picture for Kabul. Afghanistan's capital city in danger of falling to the Taliban in the near future.

Algerian's take matters into their own hands to put out deadly wildfires ripping through the country.

And largely virus free New Zealand lays out plans to reopen its borders after months of isolation.

Word is just coming into CNN that the Taliban have taken a tenth provincial capital, the strategic city of Ghazni. Local officials say the city fell a few hours ago after what he described as long and intense fighting. Ghazni is south of the capital Kabul.

The Taliban's relentless offensive across Afghanistan is racing urgent concerns about how long the capital can hold out. U.S. intelligence assessments now indicate the militants could surround Kabul in the next 30 days and possibly captured in 90.

The Taliban seizure of northern areas is triggering alarms because the region is considered essential to the defense of Kabul. the U.N. says almost 390,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year, many have headed for the relative safely of Kabul and are living in city parks.

Nick Paton Walsh is in London with the latest. So, Nick, yet another provincial capital reportedly falling. How important is this development? What's the latest there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I have to tell you, Kim, I am absolutely stunned to hear the news of Ghazni. It is the second key city for us to hear in just under a week to fall to the Taliban and a total of 10 provincial capitals. A pace of collapse of government security that I don't think anybody thought was possible.

Yes, it was certainly predicted that the Taliban onslaught would see some success in areas. But this pace is quite extraordinary. I am also too, I think alarmed by the consistently changing U.S. government assessment of how bad it could get for Kabul.

I mean, that had been considered possibly, obviously the seat of the Afghan government, possibly something that could be vulnerable in months now to suggest that it could be encircled within 30 to 60 days. Entirely realistic given the pace of change of territory in the major cities around it of which Ghazni is certainly one. But that is in itself quite startling.

Some possible good news in this for the Afghan government, and if you look at some of the cities where they have forces like Herat, possibly Lashkar Gah and Helmand too and Kandahar, they seem able to still keep control on some of those towns. But the news from Kandahar and even from Lashkar Gah is not good.

Kandahar yesterday saw a massive prison break. There were about a thousand people coming out of that prison there which will significantly change the balance on the ground there certainly.

So, I have to say, every morning I'm quite amazed at how fast this is going. And sadly, too, how the U.S. is, as it said it would be, being reduced to a bystander here. But a lot of questions are going to be asked inside Kabul after the military strategy going forward. And particularly what can be done to change it or mean that it's more effective in defending the capital, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Well, since you raised the Biden administration, they've been sticking to their guns, saying they have, you know, no regrets about the decision to pull out. And it's up to Afghans to fight for their country.

WALSH: Yes. I mean, the rationale of leaving is that you are leaving, essentially. So, it would be very difficult for the Biden administration to say we didn't see any strategic point in trying to continue doing the same thing indefinitely for the next few years, that hasn't work.

That said, they're essentially, they put the plank of what they decided to do is to see what would happen. And this is, I think what most believed would happen. The rhetoric so far, is that they will stand by their Afghan allies. Well, there may be increasingly less of those to stick by in the months ahead as we see the territory they hold certainly crumble. And they will continue to implement air strikes it seems certainly until September, but that's not changing the balance on the ground as we currently see.

And so, you are seeing this interestingly enough, even from the president, Joe Biden himself, this repetition the same talking points we've been hearing for decades, about how the Afghan Security Forces are able to do their job. I mean, on paper, you would think, yes, with the trillion-dollar spent as Joe Biden said, $300,000 in number over 20 years. They should be able to, but they're not.

And many people who have been on the ground over the past 10 years will tell you that the Afghan police and conventional army are often ramshackle and fall apart when it comes to continual combat against the ideological parts of the Taliban.

[03:05:01]

There are commandos who are extremely effective but they are limited in number. So instead, now, we have a U.S. embassy tweeting out without evidence or examples, that there are in continued reports of Afghan military being executed when they surrender to the Taliban. I should say, without evidence, in that particular tweet. I'm sure during the day they might seek to provide that, although there have been previous cases reported of such instances elsewhere.

And the U.S. now continuing with diplomacy, its main negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar, talking to the Taliban again in the same way he's been doing for years, but now, essentially, just trying to ask them if they'll slow down the offensive.

There is really one unanswerable question here, Kim, and that is whether the Taliban feel they can or want to move into the capital city. Six million people, very anti- insurgency, it could be a very nasty fight, unless of course they somehow manage to negotiate its fall or decide to surround it and waited out. That's the big question for the months ahead, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. All right. Thank you so much for that, Nick Paton Walsh in London.

Well, my next guest is the author of "Negotiating Survival: Civilian Insurgent Relations in Afghanistan." Ashley Jackson is also the co- director at the Center for Soviet armed group at the Overseas Development Institute, and she joins us via Skype from Oslo, Norway.

Thanks so much for being with us here on this.

I mean, as we just heard there are many experts in and outside of the country who have been surprised at the speed and effectiveness of the Taliban offensive and how quickly the Afghan forces seem to be crumbling. Has momentum become a weapon in of itself? The perception that the Taliban is winning and over running the country, that their victory is inevitable. Is that leading to that very reality?

ASHLEY JACKSON, AUTHOR, NEGOTIATING SURVIVAL: Yes, I think there is a momentum here, which is self-perpetuating. And it's also scaring civilians, scaring government officials, they are seeing these cities fall, you know, in the space of a week. You know, it's been a huge advance, and I think that kind of propaganda for the Taliban is invaluable. And it's terrifying civilians.

But as you say, I mean, people seem like they were surprised, they shouldn't have been, the Taliban has been laying the groundwork for this month, if not years. And I don't, you know, I think it's surprising that it's coming before the U.S. completed its withdrawal. But even U.S. security and intelligence assessment -- assessments have been telling us this is likely for months.

BRUNHUBER: All right. So, we got word today a tenth provincial capital possibly falling. The Afghan government, you know, has been trying to minimize the perception of these losses. It's claims it can retake the districts fallen to the Taliban. But even if they can, which, isn't it, given considering what we've been seeing so far. The evidence seems to suggest that they can't hold any of the territory they were to recapture, is that right?

JACKSON: Yes, I think, you know, just to be clear, when the Taliban swept through these districts last month and the proceeding weeks, they captured more than 200 of Afghanistan's 400 districts. The government isn't getting this back, nine, 10 cities in the past week or so. They're not getting those back.

Now there were -- these cities were large towns, really, honestly. They are low hanging fruits for the Taliban. But what the Taliban is trying to do is to stretch the government, stretch the Afghan Security Forces who are really reliant on these special forces that have been shuttling between city and city and trying to hold the lines and reinforce really exhausted Afghan army in troops.

But the Taliban strategy is sadly working. I think what you are also seeing is a lack of political leadership on the Taliban side. A lot of these Afghan forces are fighting with their lives obviously, they are fighting fiercely, but you can't do that if you don't have fuel if you don't have supplies if you don't air support, if you don't have a real strategy to work to. And that is the missing piece.

BRUNHUBER: So, you said the Taliban is seizing sort of the low hanging fruit. So that leaves the inevitable question, could Kabul fall? And you've written that the Taliban is likely to return to power in some form, in your words.

But given what we are seeing now, how likely is a return to what we saw in the 90s with the Taliban basically in control of the capital, and essentially the country?

JACKSON: Well, the issue is that even if the Taliban can take Kabul, even if they can take these larger cities that they are leading laying siege to, Mazar, Herad, Kandahar, then what? In 1990s the Taliban swept through the country in a matter of months. But not only, you know, did they orchestrate this kind of draconian social policies, restrictions on women. They were a disaster when it came to governing.

You know, there was a famine, they couldn't pay salaries, there were international (Inaudible). They didn't really know they were doing. Right?

[03:09:59]

These were former mujahideen and mullahs not prepared for governments and probably a little bit better prepared now. But the Afghan government budget is 80 percent international aid. Is that going to stay if there is a new Taliban government? Or once the common enemy leaves international forces can they unite? A lot of questions here that are unanswered.

BRUNHUBER: So, the Biden administration keeps urging the Afghan government and the Taliban to negotiate. And months ago, you wrote that the negotiated settlement was necessary to protect gains made to help Afghan women and girls.

And you went on to say that. when they gain a greater share of power, they'll have far less incentive to compromise, meaning the Taliban. But is it too late given how much power the Taliban already have accrued; it seems they have little incentive to compromise now?

JACKSON: It's never too late. I've been really stunned not by the Taliban's advanced but by the inaction of the international community. There are a number of things you can do just to stop killing. I mean, that's the priority right now, to avert the worst suffering.

The U.N. could send a fact-finding mission. There could be a special session of the Human Rights Commission. The Afghan independent human rights commission has been calling for these measures for months, because they saw what was coming. Nothing has happened.

I think you do need pressure on the Taliban to negotiate. But, you know, when they are winning on the battlefield, they are unlikely to see any point really in engaging the Afghan government.

So, the international community really has to come together with a strategy. And right now, we are seeing diplomatic tweets and all sorts of things. But we are not seeing real action to help Afghans. And I think it's really contributing to the sense of abandonment that you feel amongst my Afghan friends and colleagues.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Well, it's a disturbing situation there, we'll have to leave it there. Ashley Jackson, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us. We really appreciate it.

The death toll from some of the most destructive wildfires in Algeria's history has jumped to 69. The president has declared the days of national mourning.

CNN's correspondent Jomana Karadsheh is tracking developments live this hour from Istanbul. So, they're getting some international help to fight these fires. Is it helping? What's the latest there?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kim, they have been really struggling to try and contain these fires, according to Algerian state media. They're talking about more than 100 wildfires since Monday, mostly in the northern part of the country. Impacting 16 provinces and these have really hit villages, forests, mountainous areas and many of these hard to reach areas.

And what has made the battle against the blazes so much harder for them to is the heat wave that is impacting the country, 47, 48 degrees Celsius in the shade, according to state media. These are record temperatures that have been recorded in the past couple of days.

Now we have seen soldiers deployed to the region to assist with the firefighting effort. More than 28 soldiers killed so far in, as a result of these wildfires. We've seen firefighter civilians, really trying desperately to combat these flames using whatever they can find, tree branches, filling up buckets to try and extinguish the flames, to save their homes and their livelihoods. But it's been tough.

As you mentioned, the government said it's not going to spare an effort to try and control the fires. They have reached out to the European allies; they say that they have managed to reach an agreement with the E.U. Two firefighting planes will be deployed today.

We've also heard from the French president, Emmanuel Macron saying that France is also deploying firefighting planes to assist in this fight. The government, Kim, says that these fires are the result of arson, pretty much. They are still investigating, but we heard several officials including the prime minister and others coming out and saying that this was deliberate, that this was premeditated criminal acts.

And while, you know, we've spoken to experts here in Turkey, CNN has spoken to experts as we've seen these wild fires rage in different parts of the Mediterranean. While most of these fires, Kim, really are started by people. These are man-made fires. Whether intentional or not is a different case.

But what we are seeing right now, the scale, the ferocity of these fires, this is what scientists say is a result of climate change. And this could possibly now be the new normal. Scientists are warning this Mediterranean region, as we have seen these fires in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Italy in recent days in recent weeks that this region is now becoming a wildfire hotspot, Kim.

[03:15:10]

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Jomana Karadsheh in Istanbul.

And as Jomana mention, southern Italy is scorching as well as 77-year- old man in Calabria was killed trying to save his animals from fire. With more than 100 fires burning in the region, local officials are urging residents to evacuate. And a town in Sicily unofficially broke Europe's all-time heat record, just shy of 49 degrees Celsius, 120 Fahrenheit on Wednesday.

The mayor of the town on the Greek island of Evia says they are able to see the sun for the first time in days. Thick smoke from persistent wildfires is starting to clear as firefighters slowly gain control. At least three people have been killed and hundreds left homeless.

Tourism and agriculture businesses are said to be facing extinction but now the fire emergency has spread to other parts of the country.

Well, tropical storm Fred has weakened to a tropical depression as it dumps heavy rain on parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The system is moving towards Cuba's northern coast with Florida in its sights.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more from Havana.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred continues to turn through the Caribbean, causing heavy flooding in the Dominican Republic. Streets are full of water there as Fred continues to pour down rain on the Dominican Republic. And it's expected to impact Haiti and then as it continues westward, eventually reach Cuba and also caused heavy rain, bring heavy rain to the Bahamas.

In Cuba, there is a lot of concern because it is expected to go up the entire north coast, just about the entire north coast of the island. And in Cuba over previous storms all the same, people have to evacuate from low lying areas, coast areas that can flood.

And during a pandemic, we have seen that causes people they have to go into shelters, to travel across the island and be in close proximity. And that will invariably lead to higher numbers of coronavirus. And that comes as Cuba is seeing some of the highest numbers over the last several weeks of the entire pandemic.

So, officials are concerned that this will continue to make a bad situation worse. As well, if it does lead to power outages. It was power outages that were one of the sparks that caused unusual protests. Unprecedented protests in Cuba in July, so if power is out here as a result of the storm for an extended period of time, that could cause more discontent. The kind of discontent we saw that lead people to go into the streets and say that they want better living conditions and freedom.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Let's bring in meteorologist Pedram Javaheri with the latest. Pedram, you've been tracking Fred. Where is it headed?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it is headed westward. Very good models and consensus on where this system will end up in the next several days. Very good agreement that you don't often see with the sort of systems. And it is right now centered over portions of Hispaniola.

Really important to note, elevations here rise to over 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters. So, it takes 37 U.S. states, they don't have the mountains as high as this region of the ocean does. So, we're watching an area here that's kind of beginning to shred the system apart.

That is excellent news. It is raining quite heavily across this area. There are tropical storm watches across the eastern shores there. And also, the southern shores of the island of Cuba.

So, watching that carefully as the system approaches, because sea surface temperatures are very warm, very conducive to systems staying strong. You'll notice temps into the 30s, some areas middle 30s. Twenty-eight is the number we look for to sustain a tropical system.

So that threshold easily met so the mountains here really are going to play a role on where the system ends up. And remember when I told you there, a very good consensus, Kim, on where the system ends up. Look at the model guidance, look how tightly packed it is the next several days.

We think this system almost certainly will want to stay right along the shores of northern Cuba. Kind of parallel the coast through at least Saturday, and then by Sunday there are some variabilities between where the system could end up. Some models want to push it towards the west, others towards the east.

They are gradually beginning to come into better agreement that this will hug the western coast of Florida. So that is what we're watching carefully.

Now we do know there's other factors at play here. There is wind shear or winds above the storms that are trying to break it apart. And they carried here in the blueish kind of green contours. That is kind of what is ahead of this storm system. That is why we think this will not have what it takes to get up to a hurricane strength. We hope that is the case.

You notice, with hurricanes they like to be vertically stacked. They like winds to be evenly distributed. With wind sheers winds are going at different speeds and different altitudes they break systems apart. And that is what we have ahead of us. So at least with this system it looks like a potential outcome here could be for the better for this first storm to weaken as oppose to strengthen. Kim?

[03:20:07]

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Let's hope so. All right. Thanks so much, Pedram Javaheri. I appreciate it.

In northern Turkey, four people have been killed in flash floods along the Black Sea coast. Heavy rain has caused flooding that has destroyed homes and damaged roads and bridges. Three provinces are impacted and nearly 300 villages are facing power outages. More than 600 people have been rescued and evacuated. Some of them plucked from rooftops by helicopters.

Turkey's interior minister says some hospitals may have to be evacuated as well, with floodwaters reaching nearly four meters high.

A Mexican TV anchor is caught in the crosshairs of a powerful drug cartel. Now the nation's president is stepping into guarantee the journalists' safety. That's ahead.

And a leader of accused of genocide finally may face trial. We'll tell you about a major development in the quest for justice more than a decade in the making.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRUNHUBER: Mexico's president says he'll protect a prominent TV anchor who has been threatened by a notorious drug cartel. Azucena Uresti said on her newscast she would keep doing her job.

She's been covering cartel violence for her channel.

Matt Rivers has more from Mexico City.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of Mexico's most powerful criminal groups the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, has directly threaten an extremely prominent journalist here in Mexico by the name of Azucena Uresti. She works as an anchor hosting a show for Milenio, a pretty big channel and media group here.

It was earlier this week that this criminal group posted a video that circulated widely on social media, where they directly threaten the life of Uresti.

With one of the group's leader saying in this video that CNN cannot independently confirm its authenticity -- but in this video this alleged leader says quote, "I assure you that if you continue talking about me, Azucena Uresti, wherever you are, I'll get you and I will make you eat your words even if they accuse me of femicide because you don't know me."

Uresti did respond to this video on her own show. Here's a little bit of what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AZUCENA URESTI, ANCHOR, MILENIO (through translator): I have joined the federal system of protection from the government. I repeat, our work will continue to be based on the truth and with the intention of providing information on the reality of the country like ours.

And also, as has happened on other occasions, I express my solidarity and support to hundreds of colleagues who are still threatened, or who have had to leave their areas but who keep on showing the value of information in their love for this profession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIVERS (on camera): And you hear her there talking about the threats that other journalists here in Mexico face.

[03:25:01]

This is one of the most dangerous places in the entire world to be a journalist. Mexican journalist here routinely risks their lives just doing their jobs. According to the committee to protect journalists, since the beginning of 2020, 13 journalists have been killed here in Mexico. Going back 10 years, 76 journalists according to the committee to protect journalist have been killed here in Mexico.

It is an incredibly dangerous job. And what we're seeing with Uresti is a high-profile example of the threats that journalist face here every day.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City. BRUNHUBER: It's now looking much more likely that the former leader

of Sudan will stand trial for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan's new government has just taken a big step toward sending Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to answer for atrocities in Darfur more than a decade ago.

CNN's Scott McLean has the story.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is already locked up in Sudan after being convicted for corruption in 2019 and is also facing trial there for the 1989 coup that brought him to power for the next 30 years.

The indictments against him in The Hague pertain specifically to the Darfur conflict in the mid-2000s, which killed hundreds of thousands and displaced well over two million. There are 10 charges in total covering war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Al-Bashir specifically is accused of directing Arab militias to put down non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur who were attempting an insurrection. But in the process, those militias also targeted innocent civilians and prevented aid that was desperately needed like food and medicine from getting in.

In February last year, Sudan which is now run by a military transitional government promised it would hand over Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court. And now, the foreign minister is making good on that by signing on to the Rome Statute, which allows the former formal handover of Al-Bashir to take place.

One of his lawyers told CNN that the government's decision to hand him over to the ICC is a conspiracy. And warn that if he is extradited to The Hague it will be a disaster for Sudan. He also indicated that there are legal steps that the defense can take to drag out the process. And so, it is not clear when that handover could take place or how many others might go with him.

Scott McLean, CNN, Nairobi.

BRUNHUBER: Voting is underway in what's expected to be a neck and neck presidential race in Zambia. President Edgar Lungu is fighting to keep his job as he faces the challenge from businessman Hakainde Hichilema.

The economy is expected to be at the front and center of the race. The unemployment rate hit a 10-year high last year and Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt during the pandemic. Political violence is escalating ahead of the vote including a recent killing of two ruling party supporters.

Well, for the first time, we're hearing at length from the woman poised to become New York's first female governor. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will replace Andrew Cuomo following his resignation over multiple sexual harassment allegations.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has this report. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHY HOCHUL, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: Our will work has already begun.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Kathy Hochul ready to become the 57th governor of the state of New York and the first woman in that role.

HOCHUL: I will fight like hell for you every single day, like I've always done and always will.

GINGRAS: The 62-year-old speaking publicly to New Yorkers in her first news conference since Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday. Promising a different kind of leadership.

HOCHUL: No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.

GINGRAS: Immediately setting herself apart from Cuomo.

HOCHUL: I think it's very clear that the governor and I have not been close. No one is named -- who is named as anything -- doing anything unethical on report will remain in my administration.

GINGRAS: The longtime Democrat assumes the role in less than two weeks. And she's no stranger to politics, holding offices from the U.S. House of Representatives to county clerk, the transition to governing a state of about 20 million people coming at a challenging time. With the pandemic, Hochul says, being top priorities.

HOCHUL: I'm going to be working with the communities where the rates are higher, the infection and the vaccination rates are lower. And to come up with a very strategic approach to target that and make sure we overcome the hesitation and worries.

GINGRAS: With 16 months left in the term when she takes over, Hochul tells CNN in a one-on-one interview, she plans to stick around.

UNKNOWN: We understand you formed a political team. Does this mean you're going to seek a full term in 2022?

HOCHUL: Yes, it's not the time to talk politics. But I am prepared to run for reelection and begin the process as soon as we get everything under control in the state.

GINGRAS: Cuomo said he would step aside after mounting calls for him to resign based on the attorney general's report which found he sexually harassed multiple women, claims he denies. The governor expressing confidence in his successor Tuesday.

[03:30:06]

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor, is smart and confident.

This transition must be seamless.

GINGRAS: Hochul says, she's intent on leaving the controversies surrounding Cuomo behind, but she will be coming into the Governor's mansion with a conflict of interest. Her husband is general counsel, senior vice president and secretary of the Buffalo Base Hospitality and Gaming Company, Delaware North and could be impacted by his wife's call being made from the executive office.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): I have a recusal policy in place as a Lieutenant Governor.

GINGRAS: So that's the same place?

HOCHUL: Will re-examine that to see if there's anything that would change with my responsibilities is changing.

GINGRAS (on camera): And in a one-on-one interview with the Lieutenant Governor, I asked her if she thought the governor should be impeached or if his resignation was enough? She really declined to answer saying that she would not get involved with the decision of lawmakers, but had full confidence in them. We know that the Judiciary Committee will be meeting on Monday to discuss what their next steps might be. And we're told through a source that all things are on the table.

Brynn Gingras, CNN, in Albany, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): All right, still to come. Reopening to the world, New Zealand says it will slowly reopen its borders again starting next year. We will have the details in a lice report ahead.

Plus, how the coronavirus pandemic has created a shortage of undertakers in one of the world's most populous countries. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRUNHUBER: All right we are going to take a deeper dive now into how COVID is affecting one region of the world, the Western Pacific. The WHO says the number of cases increased by 19 percent over the past week and the number of deaths was up by almost 50 percent. So while countries across Southeast Asia struggle amid the pandemic, New Zealand has escaped the worst of it after closing its borders last year, but today the Prime Minister unveiled plans for a phase reopening, with ramped up vaccinations being the first step.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND: We cannot keep border restrictions on forever. Border closures were only ever a temporary measure I order to keep COVID out before a vaccine was developed and administered. So long as the scientific isn't shows we can safely transition from a border defense to the individual armor of the vaccine, then that is the direction that we will go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Journalist Manisha Tank joins us now from Singapore. So, Manisha, the country is opening up and not quite throwing the doors wide open.

[03:35:00]

MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST (on camera): Yeah. You're absolutely right. Not throwing the doors wide open and going very softly, softly towards a reopening early next year. And even when it does, New Zealand has been very clear that vaccinated individuals from low risk countries won't have to do quarantines anymore but it will still be the case for those coming from high-risk countries, even if they're vaccinated, will still need to do some form of managed quarantine, which is independently managed. They can do it in their own facilities.

And I think that's really important because right now we still don't know which countries are going to be on that list. That is certainly a table that will keep on moving. But yes, Jacinda Ardern, we heard from her just then, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, she has very much outlined the fact that the country has been keeping an eye on what has been happening outside its borders and has been learning some lessons. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARDERN: We're not in a position to fully reopen just yet. When we move we will be careful and deliberate because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible. Watching could see us in the situation that many countries are finding themselves in, where after some periods of case numbers falling due to vaccination are finding them rise again, after relaxing their settings and opening their borders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TANK: That was the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. And Kim, let us just remind ourselves of how exceptional that her policy has been, in terms of keeping COVID outside the borders. Just 2,500 cases since the pandemic began.

BRUNHUBER: Alright. Seems like the opposite situation in Australia. Yet another lockdown, what's the latest there?

TANK: Yeah, so now we've heard that the capital, Canberra, we'll see a lockdown for the next seven days. It has already started, I'm just checking the time in Australia. It has already started and this is because of the detection of one case of COVID-19, the first case they have seen their in a year. It's a very different situation though over in New South Wales. A different state with Sydney at the helm, where we've seen soaring cases and that has certainly been cause for concern for other states in Australia.

Take South Australia for example that sent a number of athletes more than 60 of them to the Olympics in Tokyo, along with a major Australian cohort of more than 400 athletes, but some of those returning to south Australia had been told that despite that they have done a quarantine of 14 days in Sydney, they now have to do another 14 days going back to south Australia.

And Australia's Olympic Committee is not happy about it, they are saying that this is cruel and unfair for these athletes, given everything that they have just contributed. But also, just in terms of their mental well-being, being in such isolation for such a period of time, but I think it really does illustrate for you the deep concern in Australia, in particular states about keeping COVID-19 and the Delta variant in particular under control.

BRUNHUBER: Absolutely. Alright, thanks so much, Manisha Tank. I appreciate it.

So as the Delta variant fuels a rapid surge of COVID cases in the U.S., more Americans are rolling up their sleeves to get a vaccine. On Wednesday the CDC says the number of fully vaccinated adults has climbed to just over 61 percent. And when it comes to the total U.S. population, just over half are fully vaccinated.

And the U.S. Surgeon General says COVID vaccines for children under the age of 12 could be available by the end of this year. But already more vulnerable children are heading back to school and more are getting sick and going to the hospital.

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNKNOWN: Knock, knock.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A children's hospital in Missouri. And sitting on the couch is Angel Baker, a mother who has gone through a horrifying week. Her 14 year old daughter, Marionna, tested positive for COVID, got very sick and was put on oxygen for five days and just as her daughter has received excellent treatment here at the Cardinal Glennon Childrens Hospital in St. Louis.

UNKNOWN: It might make you cough, but that's what we want.

That was a good one. Oh, I warned you.

TUCHMAN: Marionna and her mother live about 150 miles away in southern Missouri. She started feeling ill at home, it quickly got worse.

UNKNOWN: I was scared, I was panicking. Monday, August the 2nd, I decided to take her to urgent care because she told me she couldn't breathe.

TUCHMAN: The decision was made for Marionna to be transported by ambulance to this Glenonn Childrens Hospital. But Marionna was like a nightmare.

ANGEL BAKER, MARIONNA'S MOTHER: It was really scary.

TUCHMAN: When you saw her struggling to breathe with the oxygen, what was going through your mind?

BAKER: Just praying, asking God to bring her back, keep her safe.

TUCHMAN: Were you afraid she wasn't going to make it?

BAKER: Yes sir.

TUCHMAN: The 40-year-old mother says she received the COVID vaccine but says her daughter did not.

Why didn't she get vaccs?

BAKER: I don't know. I left it up to her. And she decided she didn't want to get vaccinated.

[03:40:03]

TUCHMAN: I don't mean to make you feel badly, because you've gone through so much. But my guess is, and I'm making an educated guess, that she wished you insisted upon her getting vaccinated.

BAKER: Yes

TUCHMAN: They are currently children as young as two-years-old in the pediatric intensive care unit and the regular patient room at this hospital. Of course, children under 12 cannot get the vaccine. Last year at this time, doctors here say, the typical numbers of children with COVID coming into the emergency room have a daily basis were zero, or one or two. Now they say that daily number is usually 11, 12 or 13.

Dr. Wail Hayajneh is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

WAIL HAYAJNEH, DOCTOR, CARDINAL GLENNON CHILDRENS HOSPITAL: We are seeing more severe cases, more cases in ICU. And I'm seeing more cases that require longer durations of a treatment in the hospital.

TUCHMAN: Dr. Aline Tanios is a Surgical Unit Medical Director here.

ALINE TANIOS, SURGICAL UNIT MEDICAL DIRECTOR, CARDINAL GLENNON CHILDRENS HOSPITAL: It's agonizing sometimes, especially when you see some of these sick -- some of these kids spiraling down before they head to the ICU.

TUCHMAN: How many children who are ill with COVID in this hospital have gotten the vaccine also?

TANIOS: None.

TUCHMAN: Marionna has turned the corner and is looking forward to recuperating at home and then being well enough to start her life as a high school freshman. She left us with this message. MARIONNA BAKER, COVID PATIENT: Get a vaccine so you won't have to be

in the hospital. I can't breathe.

TUCHMAN: And her mother has one too.

BAKER: Please, parents, get vaccinated and get your kids vaccinated. It's real, don't let no school, no Governor -- or nothing. It is real.

TUCHMAN: They are certainly wonderful people who work in this hospital, but it's a sad and solemn place to be. And that's why the news I'm about to tell you is very nice. Marionna has been released from the hospital, she's back home recuperating with her mother by her side. She's supposed to go to high school a bit for Monday but she won't be able to go to school just yet. But her mother is hoping she is healthy enough to attend school perhaps before the end of September.

One more interesting note. Marionna has a 12-year-old sister, who also had gotten her vaccine, her mother Angel, was here by Marionna's side at this hospital but drove (inaudible) more than two hours to their hometown in southern Missouri and took her younger daughter to get her vaccination.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, in St. Louis, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The World Health Organization is conducting new trials on three different anti-inflammatory drugs as possible treatments for COVID-19. The solidarity plush trial will study the potential medicines in 52 countries. Among the drugs to be tested is one for malaria, one taken orally to fight different forms of cancer, and one to treat immune system disorders like Crohn's disease. The first trials conducted by the WHO last year found four different drugs weren't effective against COVID-19, including hydroxychloroquine.

Well the great Lionel Messi says PSG is the best place for him to be, as he outlines his ambitions in Paris and CNN sits down with the Barcelona legend after the break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[03:45:00]

BRUNHUBER: The deal is done and Messi mania is spreading across Paris. Long lines formed outside Paris Saint-Germain flagship store Wednesday with fans eager to buy Lionel Messi's new number 30 kit. And is not cheap. Men's jersey sells for almost $200. PSG's social media accounts are also gaining tons of new followers. A former Barcelona star was officially unveiled at a news conference, Wednesday, and says he believes PSG is the ideal place for him to win a fifth Champions League title. He sat down with "World Sports," Amanda Davies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN WORLD SPORTS (on camera): So, a new chapter begins for Lionel Messi here in Paris and Paris Saint-Germain here at the park des France. It such been such a whirlwind few days for the 34- year-old. There have been people here telling me they can't quite believe the move has happened and happened so fast. So, perhaps it's no surprise that the man himself admitted he is still trying to process and put into words.

DAVIES: Congratulations. Lovely to see you. We have seen you this week go through the whole range of emotions. Can you even begin to sum up the last few days?

LIONEL MESSI, PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN FORWARD (through translator): Well, the truth is hard to put into words. But I've had to live through this week. It was really difficult what happened with Barcelona, saying farewell after being there my whole life in one place. And after three days, without forgetting what happened, everything changed. I was living with a lot of doubt, a lot of nerves, a lot of anticipation that this would happen. And well, a lot of excitement and desire to get started.

It was a really special arrival, the welcome from the people who welcomed me, who came out onto the streets. I'm very excited to start this new era that I am going to live. And I am ready to start my new life here in Paris.

DAVIES: You have one league title. You have one Champions League titles. But this is new to you. Are you ready for life as the new guy in the dressing room?

MESSI (through translator): Yes, honestly, I'm aware of my background and the objective this club has. Fighting for a while to win a Champions League and it came close these last few years. For me, on a personal level, I would love to win another Champions League, like I've said in previous years. And I think I've come to the ideal place that is ready for that.

We have the same goals. The club has got impressive players, one of the best squads in the world. And God willing, we can achieve that goal which Paris want so much, I want so much, and hopefully we can enjoy it with the people of Paris too.

DAVIES: What is the aim? What is success for you here?

MESSI (through translator): Well, honestly, I live day-to-day. I think about enjoying the dressing room where there's a lot of guys I know. I have friends there who are, like I said, among the best in the world. I know them and being able to enjoy playing with them, to be able to achieve the goals that the club has. Doing it all in a relaxed way and going slowly. I'd love to be able to keep winning titles and to do it here in France to fight for everything. I think those are the objectives, and hopefully it happens.

DAVIES: Have you allowed yourself to contemplate the prospect of PSG against Barcelona in the Champions League?

MESSI (through translator): Well, it could happen. It would be strange for me if it happens. On the one hand, it would be special going back to my home with a different shirt on. But we will see what happens in the future and if it does, we will enjoy it as well.

DAVIES (on camera): There have been fans queuing up desperate to get their hands on the new 30 Messi jersey already. We got a sneak peek as he came out wearing one for a kick about with his children after all his commitments had been done. But if there was hype around today, just imagine what it is going to be like when he takes to the field properly for his debut in a few weeks' time. Amanda Davies, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[03:50:28]

BRUNHUBER: Anger is growing in Canada after what officials call an unjust conviction of a Canadian businessman in China. Ahead, why that case may have everything to do with the arrest of a Huawei executive in Vancouver.

Plus, actors have pulled off one of the biggest cryptocurrency heist ever. So why have they started giving the money back? Well, we'll explain after the break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRUNHUBER: China is now firing back at Canada for what it calls double standards after Canadian officials slammed Beijing for its prosecution of two Canadian citizens. There's been outrage in Canada after China sentence Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison on espionage charges. His case, along with that of another Canadian citizen, is seen as a countermeasure by China after the arrest of a Huawei executive in Vancouver three years ago. CNN's Paula Newton has details from Ottawa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Certainly troubling events not just for Michael Spavor, but also Michael Kovrig who is also been found guilty of espionage, his sentence yet to come down. This is the case of the two Michaels, both Canadian citizens who have been detained in China. Really since Meng Wanzhou, Huawei executive, the daughter of the founder of Huawei was detained in Canada on an extradition request from the United States. And by all accounts, this is really all interconnected.

Now certainly, Canada condemned this latest sentencing as unjust and completely unacceptable. The Foreign Minister going as far to say it was a mock trial and saying that this was arbitrary detention and that it was in the interest of all countries to make sure that China does not get away with this. What is crucial here though is that Canada's foreign minister says there are what he describes as intense discussions behind the scenes to try and come to a resolution. Take a listen.

MARC GARNEAU, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I can assure you and you heard President Biden comment back in February, that the detention of the two Michaels is completely unjustified, that they were treating them as though they were American citizens and that they were working with us to try to find a solution for the release of the two Michaels. And I can't go to into any further details, but those intense discussions continue.

NEWTON: What is interesting here is that these negotiations involve the United States. It will depend on what the U.S. Justice Department decides. What they want to do with Meng Wanzhou that is all connected to the case. So, the two Michaels, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who Canada says have been basically detained for no reason at all with no transparency to the trial and no evidence. It is those intense negotiations on which everything hinges right now.

Remember, the calls have been louder to boycott the winter Olympics in China if these kinds of issues go any further. It is realistic that in the coming weeks or months, perhaps we will see some kind of negotiated resolution. Paula Newton, CNN, Ottawa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[03:55:09]

BRUNHUBER: Instagram has unveiled a new feature to block racist and other unwanted offensive comments. It's called Limits and it can filter direct messages and lockdown and account when facing a flood of nasty comments. The head of Instagram wrote, "We hope these new features will protect people from seeing abusive content whether it's racist, sexist, homophobic or any other type of abuse. None of which have any place on Instagram."

Hackers who pulled off one of the biggest ever cryptocurrency thefts have returned a large portion of the money. In this week the finance platform Poly Network asked the hackers to give back what they stole, some $600 million worth of cryptocurrency. So far, they've returned about 260 million. CNN's Clare Sebastian has more on the theft and the return.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know exactly why the speculation that perhaps it could've been an inside job. Perhaps this was a white hat hacker attempting to make a point. Chain Analysis, which is a block chain data platform, they've actually published some messages that were exchange, some of the Q and A with the hacker through Ethereum transaction notes.

And they say that this person, this entity is saying that they did the hack for fun, as a challenge. That they wanted to get in there and expose these vulnerabilities before an insider did it and exploited this. I mean, sort of shed some light on this mystery, but there are still a lot that we don't know about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Some cybersecurity experts say the theft was notice early and the money was tracked, making it impossible for the hacker to safely withdraw the money. JetBlue is making its first push into European skies. On Wednesday,

the U.S. discount airline flew from JFK airport in New York to Heathrow in London for as little as $202 for a one way ticket. JetBlue plans to begin flying from Boston to London within the year. It's also scheduling flights to London Gatwick Airport starting in September.

Well, thank you so much for joining us. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back with more news after a quick break. Please do stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)