Return to Transcripts main page


3,000 U.S. Troops to Help with Embassy Drawdown; Health Officials Studying Long COVID in Children; Villages in Evia Coming to Grips with Devastation of Wildfires; National Mourning for at Least 69 People Killed in Fires in Algeria; U.N.: 390K Afghans Displaced This Year; Mexico Reports More Than 24K New COVID Cases Thursday; Samsung Vice Chairman Released on Parole. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, I'm John Vause. Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, a month after 3,000 U.S. troops are ordered out of Afghanistan, the White House is sending 3,000 troops back to Afghanistan.


Security for a possible embassy evacuation as a Taliban closes in on the capital.

While so-called breakthrough infections for those vaccinated for COVID are relatively rare, once infected, the chances of long-haul symptoms are not.

And after 207 days in jail for fraud, stock manipulation, bribery and embezzlement, the heir to the Samsung empire is out on parole. But with two more trials to come, his freedom could be fleeting.

The decision by the White House to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan is not so much a major reversal, but more acknowledgment of a security situation getting worse by the day, and confirmation that U.S. officials have grave concerns about a Taliban offensive which is on a roll and gaining momentum.

Three thousand additional troops will now secure the U.S. embassy in Kabul, where almost all American diplomatic staff are evacuated. Sources tell CNN in the face of a growing Taliban threat, one option being considered is to relocate the embassy to Kabul's airport, allowing for a much faster and safer exit. For now, though, the State Department insists the diplomatic mission will remain open.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation. We expect a drawdown to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Along with a dozen provincial capitals, the third largest city in Afghanistan, Herat is now under Taliban control. And fears are growing the capital of Kabul and the city of Kandahar itself, which has long been a Taliban stronghold, will be next.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has our report.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, things are definitely going from bad to worse. Twelve provincial capitals have now fallen to the Taliban. That's more than a third of Afghanistan's total provincial capitals, and among them, some really key cities.

Herat, the third largest city on the ground. There had been bitter fighting there for weeks. The hopes had been that perhaps along with the help of militias, that the government forces will be able to turn the tide, but now the Taliban has taken that city.

And you also mentioned Kandahar. This is the second largest city in Afghanistan. It's the spiritual sort of stronghold, the birthplace even of the Taliban, and a very strategically important city. And from what we've been able to gather, it is falling imminently.

We spoke to a lawmaker on the ground. He told us that groups of Taliban fighters, 12 to 15 of them, have been penetrating the front line in the western part of the city and causing chaos, essentially firing their weapons outside the governor's house in the central square of Kandahar.

So all indications are that that battle will very soon result in a declaration of that city having fallen to the Taliban. All of which spells out doom and gloom here.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Afghan forces simply are not able to reverse the gains that the Taliban has made on the battlefield. And of course, everybody wondering what happens to the capital city here in Kabul where I am.


VAUSE: CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling was the commanding general of the U.S., Europe and 7th Army. He's with us this hour from Florida.

General Hertling, good to see you. Thank you for coming back.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. MILITARY ANALYST: It's good to be with you, John, as always.

VAUSE: OK. So now, after ordering, what, about 3,000 troops out of Afghanistan, the U.S. is sending 3,000 troops back to Afghanistan. It's to help with the partial evacuation of the embassy in Kabul to secure the airport, help Afghans who assisted U.S. troops get out of the country, as well. Does that mission really need 3,000 troops? HERTLING: I think it does, John. I think it's a lot of prudence in

terms of what might be the potential dangers in and around Kabul. Now, right now, you'd say, Well, why do we need three infantry battalions, three Marines and one infantry guarding something that doesn't seem to be attacked all that greatly.

Well, I think what the secretary of defense really assessed was, the Taliban moves are coming quickly. They are gaining momentum. They may be in Kabul sooner than expected. And even though there have been diplomatic dialogues, with the Taliban to say don't mess with our withdrawal, I think this has taken -- this action is being taken with an extreme amount of precaution.

VAUSE: Well, as for the deployment, whatever you call it, do not call it a combat mission. Here's the Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, at Thursday's briefing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not a combat deployment, because it's insulting for Americans watching this.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: I disagree, Lucas. I don't think it's insulting. And I'm not sure I share that -- that sentiment at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is deploying into Kabul. You're telling me that the marines and the soldiers that are about to strap it on, going to Kabul, that this isn't combat?

KIRBY: Look, what I'm telling you is -- and I've said it before -- they will have the ability to defend themselves. They will be armed. Of course, they're going for a security mission. They're going for a narrowly defined mission to help secure and safeguard the movement of these civilian personnel as well as the movement of special immigrants, that are men and women and their families who are applying under that process. That's the goal.


VAUSE: They're heading into a combat zone. There's the very chance that they will be engaged in some kind of combat if they have authorization. Why not call it a combat deployment?

HERTLING: Yes, well, I think John Kirby, a good friend and colleague of mine, was attempting to thread the envelope there and attempt to say yes, they are going in for a security mission to guard elements that are being withdrawn from Kabul.

You know, truthfully, if you say they are going into combat right now, then that -- that leads to a lot of assumptions that the soldiers are going to hit the ground. They're going to draw weapons. They're going to be firing from fighting positions. They're going to be active in their defensive -- that's not the case right now.

That certainly could be the case if things get bad. And that's exactly what this mission is attempting to prevent. But I also think, John, that it's sending a signal. It's telling the Taliban, don't mess with our withdrawal from Afghanistan. If you do, there will be hell to pay.

So I think it is sending a signal, but it's truthfully not going into heady combat, but John was trying to thread the needle a little bit.

VAUSE: Very much so. We will leave that conversation here for now, but we'll pick it up next hour. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you for being with us. We'll see you again an hour from now.

And here's how quickly the tide has turned enough canister. This is how the country looked April 13. The red indicates Taliban control. That's a key date, because the next day, this happened.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home.


VAUSE: Joe Biden announced on April 14th that U.S. troops would withdraw from Afghanistan. One month later, May 15, U.S. troops were winding down their presence at Bagram Air Base.

One month after that, the Taliban started making serious territorial gains. And it quickly got worse. July 17, the Taliban more than doubled their territory. And that was before provincial capitals began to fall, including this one.

This is what is it's like right now in the streets of Kunduz. Devastation in the wake of the Taliban's advance. And this is what Afghanistan looks like right now.

The speed with which the Taliban has seized territory is stunning. We're just one day shy now of four months since President Biden's announcement. You can see now how much has changed.

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen sums it up this way: "Now President Biden is presiding over a debacle entirely of his own making in Afghanistan, and one that has unfolded more swiftly than even the most dire prognostications."

You'll find more on this on our website at

We have this just in. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third coronavirus shot for some immunocompromised Americans.

The next step advises that the Centers for Disease Control are set to meet Friday to vote on whether to recommend it.

However, the FDA and other health officials agree that the general population does not need boosters yet.

Meantime, new coronavirus diagnoses are up 24 percent this week across the U.S., rising in nearly every single state. Hospital systems are struggling to cope with the huge influx of

patients, but there is a glimmer of hope. The CDC says that now 59 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, meaning people over the age of 12.

We now that even when people are fully vaccinated, they can still come down with COVID; what are called breakthrough infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci says we're still learning about some lingering effects of those infections, referred to as long COVID.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY ND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: Certainly, if you get vaccinated and you get a breakthrough infection, you can get long COVID.

We don't have enough data in that to say if it's the same kind of risk of getting long COVID of others, but it is likely it would be less, because you've got a good deal of protection from your vaccine.

Children can get long COVID, but the incidence of it is significantly lower than in an adult.


VAUSE: Dr. Yvonne Maldonado is a professor of pediatrics specializing in infectious diseases, at Stanford University. Good to have you with us. Thanks for being here.


VAUSE: Well, the other news on the long-haul COVID front has to do with children who are infected with the coronavirus. I'd like you to listen to the director of the CDC in the United States. Here she is.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are examining long COVID in children. And we are seeing long COVID symptoms, mostly fatigue and headache. They appear to be happening at rates lower than they are in adults, in the 2 to 3 percent. But of course, data with Delta and long COVID will need to be followed on differently and longitudinally as we have been with Alpha. So more data to follow on that.


VAUSE: What we're seeing is the number of children infected with COVID, as that continues to rise, so do the number who are experiencing these long-haul symptoms.

So how are children affected differently compared to adults? And how much is known about their long-term prognosis in this?

MALDONADO: Well, unfortunately, remarkably little is really known at this point about the long-term impacts of COVID on adults, but especially in children, because of the low incidence.

And we still are following children. It's really not very common, as you heard Dr. Walensky say. And there are a number of NIH and other funded studies on -- going on to track these children to see how long they may have symptoms, but also looking at their immune systems, to see if their immune systems have been affected by the infection, as well.

VAUSE: Well, in the United States, pregnant women are being urged to go out and get vaccinated. They're being told all three vaccines are safe and effective. Among those saying that is the U.S. surgeon general. Here he is.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: So for the health of the mother, for the health of the developing baby, you know, getting protected from COVID-19 through a vaccine is really one of the most effective things that you can do. And as the CDC said today, it is also very safe.


VAUSE: So explain why the vaccine is safe for an unborn child, and also for a newborn child who receives sort of the vaccine via breastfeeding, but when it comes to authorizing a vaccine for kids under 12, there's obviously some concern about possible risks, which is why it hasn't been authorized yet.

MALDONADO: Well, at this point, I'm not sure that we're concerned about risks. What we're trying to do is document the impact of the vaccine on safety and effectiveness in children.

Whereas we know that thousands of pregnant women have already been vaccinated since the vaccines were approved for emergency use in December of 2020.

And as we know they've been shown to be remarkably safe and effective during that period of time during a pregnant person's gestation and the newborn, as well.

So right now, we're just trying to understand, with the clinical trials in children under 12 in particular, if we can extrapolate the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines that we've seen in the over one-third of a billion doses that have been given to people over 12.

VAUSE: So just explain that a little more, because there was always an impression I had that there were concerns about whether or not there was a risk to kids that wasn't present in adults, and that's why this is taking a little longer. But effectively, you're saying that it's more to do with the effectiveness of the vaccine for under 12s?

MALDONADO: Well, they're trying to measure effectiveness if that's possible, but certainly, the immune effectiveness, that is the ability to amount the immune response in adults would be a good marker, a good start to understand the effectiveness in children.

But the impact of safety is important, as well, because children may respond differently to vaccines. For example, they may be more likely to have immediate fevers or more prolonged flu-like symptoms. We are not expecting that, but we need to track those and see if that is the case or not.

VAUSE: There's a lot of blatantly false information out there when it comes to pregnant women who are being vaccinated for COVID. Some outrageous claims that COVID vaccination almost always ends with a miscarriage when the women is pregnant. It's just not true. So set the record straight here about all that kind of stuff.

MALDONADO: Absolutely. Well, for many, many years, claims about fertility issues with any vaccines, with a number of vaccines, have been popping up through misinformation channels.

But now with social media, it is really much easier to see this misinformation, and individuals may not be able to have access to the correct information.

This particular myth really seems to have arisen by claims from a German scientist that are completely unfounded, that the spike protein is very -- attaches to a protein that is similar to one that is found in the placenta. That is absolutely incorrect. And from that, it really just went viral, that this is going to be affecting fertility, not only in women but now in males, as well.

And none of that is -- is correct at all. And we really fight hard to battle this -- these types of misinformation messages.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, how frustrating is that sort of stuff?

How frustrating is it to deal with that misinformation?

MALDONADO: Oh, it -- I've been a vaccinologist my entire career. And we constantly face this issue.

I think the real concern here is not our frustration, but the frustration of families who really want good information. And we really try to get the information out in as many ways as possible, because people are worried.


It's a new disease, and I think, you know, it's really important, and incumbent on us as providers and public health individuals to really give information.

So that's the frustrating part, to make sure that people get the information that they may be lacking at this point.

VAUSE: Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate your time. It's great to have you.

MALDONADO: It's been a pleasure. VAUSE: Take care.

Well, homes, businesses, livelihoods, all wiped out by wildfires. Villagers who fled the flames, now returning to see what, if anything, is left behind.


VAUSE: On Wednesday, southern Italy hit would could be Europe's all- time hottest temperature, nearly 49 degrees Celsius. That's the result of blistering heat caused by a high-pressure system, which the Italian media are calling Lucifer.

It's been sweeping through the Mediterranean, with fires tearing through Greece, on the left, where thousands have been forced to evacuate; to Algeria, on the right.

Forecasters say, the heat dome is now moving west, towards southern France, Spain, and Portugal.

In Greece, exhausted firefighters have been battling the flames for more than a week now. This is Greece's worst wildfire disaster in decades. It's blamed mostly on climate change.

CNN's Eleni Giokos has our report.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baked for a celebration, now turned to ash. Here, in the village of Rovies in Evia, unimaginable damage. Last week, escaping by sea. Today, counting losses.

ZOI HALASTI, BAKERY OWNER IN ROVIES, GREECE (through translator): We fought all our life, 38 years, to build this business. Huge loss. I don't know how it can be rebuilt. Lots of money needed. Pain, sadness, rage, despair, a mix of emotions.

GIOKOS: I asked her if the prime minister apologizing for any weaknesses in the response meant anything to her.

(on camera): (SPEAKING GREEK)

HALASTI (through translator): He needs to apologize to everyone for what they went through. It's not only us who lost a business. Many people left unemployed. The ecological disaster is huge. One apology isn't enough.

GIOKOS (voice-over): The fire, then moving to a neighboring village, in Emi (ph). Flames engulfed forests and homes. Forty years of work, wiped out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big part of the family as well. This is my family's business. It's where I grew up. It is where I spent my summers, my winters. So this is gone.

GIOKOS (on camera): The damage is extraordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is gone.

GIOKOS: Everything is gone. There's nothing left to save. These were the bikes you were working on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Most of them. Most of them. Some of them are melting beyond repair.


GIOKOS: Spending time with the locals here and hearing their stories, they say that destruction like this could largely have been avoided if help arrived in time. They say they were left to fend for themselves.

(voice-over): Local mayor Giorgos Tsapourniotis says volunteers took on the heavy load.

GIORGOS TSAPOURNIOTIS, MAYOR OF MANTOUDI-LIMNI-AGIA ANNA, GREECE (through translator): The firefighters ordering us to evacuate, but I don't think this is a strategy, people leaving their houses and letting them burn.

Thankfully, many volunteers stayed behind and helped, saving 80 to 90 percent of the houses, while endangering their lives. We didn't have much help on the ground or from the air. We were left to fight this monster fire with water pistols.

GIOKOS: According to the Athens national observatory, about 465 square kilometers have been burned on the island of Evia. It will have a lasting impact on the community here.

Evia produces 80 percent of the country's resin, cultivated from pine trees that need to reach 30 years before they can be harvested. Now gone.

TSAPOURNIOTIS (through translator): More than 3,000 people were dependent on the resin, honey making, livestock, and tourism that is now destroyed.

GIOKOS: Despite the pain and despair, locals cling to any glimmer of hope. She says, it still smells sweet a week later.

Eleni Giokos, CNN, Evia, Greece.


VAUSE: Satellite images show just how much destruction there's been on Evia. August 1 there, before the fires. And here, we see how the island looks 10 days later, with huge burnt-out areas across the middle.

Now, this is a view of all the active fires that are burning across Europe and north Africa. Keep in mind the flames map the location. They're not the size of each wildfire. In Algeria, a period of national mourning is underway for at least 69

lives lost this week in wildfires sweeping across the country. Authorities blame arson and have arrested 22 people, accused of lighting the deadly fires.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more on the desperate attempts to put out the blazes.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As monstrous flames devour all that's in their path, villagers have been desperately trying to confront this fire, grabbing whatever they can find. But their tree branches and water hoses clearly no match for this ruthless inferno.

SI HAMDI KAMEL, ALGERIAN VILLAGER (through translator): We don't have tools. We are trying with what we have to put it out. It will be hard with the wind. We will try with what we have. We can't do anything else. Only try to protect the houses. May God be with us.

KARADSHEH: On the ground, and in the air, it's been a tough fight against some of the worst wildfires in Algeria's history. The country's military was deployed to help evacuate residents and battle a blaze that's claimed dozens of lives and destroyed countless homes and livelihoods.

The smoke that's engulfed many of these hard-to-reach areas has made this an even tougher fight. And near record temperatures from a scorching heat wave are making it almost impossible to try and contain the flames.

HAKIM HADJ, ALGERIAN VILLAGER (through translator): We are watching the fire to prevent it from spreading further, but it seems to be impossible. And now, it has reached our zone. Our olive trees are burning. May God protect, because it is near the village.

KARADSHEH: The government's blaming the fires on arson, deliberate and premeditated. But it is the scale and ferocity of these fires that has left this nation in shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We saw the fire in the morning from a distance, and in 2 minutes, it arrived here. It's unbelievable. We can't understand it at all. Really, we do not understand how this happened. So much fire in one day, it's not normal.

KARADSHEH: But experts have been warning this is likely the new normal, the result of a climate crisis. Severe weather conditions that transform seasonal wildfires into these vicious flames.

From Turkey, to Greece. Italy, and now Algeria. Scientists say the Mediterranean has become a wildfire hot spot, where no creature is spared Mother Nature's wrath.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.


VAUSE: Just days ago, southern Turkey was battling more than 100 forest fires, which had killed at least eight people. And now comes another disaster.

Flash flooding in the northern Black Sea region, with water and debris gushing through streets, and towns, and cities. At least nine people have died, more than 900 forced to evacuate.

The flood damaged the power infrastructure. More than 200 villages are without electricity. Bridges have collapsed, and that's led to a number of road closures.


Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, intense violence has brought (ph) hundreds of thousands of Afghans from their homes this year. And as the Taliban advances, the search for safety grows increasingly dire.

Plus, Mexico has broken its daily COVID case count two days in a row. Why some doctors fear the medical system could soon be pushed to the limit.


VAUSE: The Taliban on the verge of taking control of Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar. Twelve provincial capitals, including Herat, have already fallen to a Taliban advance, which the U.S. has greatly concerned now about the fate of the capital, Kabul.

Intelligence assessments believe the city could be isolated within the next month or two and may collapse in 90 days.

Several thousand U.S. troops have been sent to the Afghan capital to help with the withdrawal of personnel from the American embassy. But the Pentagon insists these forces are not being deployed in a combat role.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has the latest now from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon is sending 3,000 more troops into Afghanistan for a very specific, limited role. It will be about 2,000 Marines and 1,000 soldiers at Hamid Karzai International Airport, what is effectively the international gateway into Kabul, into the capital of Afghanistan, and a key entry and exit point for diplomats, embassy staff.

These troops have a specific role, and that is to secure and assist in the withdrawal of a partial drawdown of the embassy. Only the core diplomatic staff will remain at the embassy in Kabul. As well as to assist in what is now very much an acceleration of the withdrawal of Afghan interpreters who helped the United States, and their families. The process of bringing them out has only just begun, but there is now critical time left, as the Taliban has made sweeping gains across the country, as the U.S. faces what very much looks like very close to a worst-case scenario, with these Taliban advances that are not slowing down at this point.

As for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, that of course, was President Joe Biden's goal. The withdrawal of combat troops, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says, is set to be completed by the end of the month. It's already 95 percent complete, according to U.S. Central Command, which governs the area.

But, as for these 3,000 troops going in to assist in the withdrawal, it's very possible that they stay longer than the end of the month. The Pentagon wouldn't be clear on their timeline for withdrawal.

And because of the situation, there are more troops in the region, ready to stand by. First, 1,000 troops in Qatar that will help with the processing of visas for the Afghan interpreters and their families, trying to get out the country.

And if the situation deteriorates much further, there will be 3,500 soldiers on standby in Kuwait, who could be brought into the country if it requires more assistance and more security.


The Pentagon has made clear that the troops going now are not there in a combat role, but it is, of course, very much a combat zone, depending on very much aware of how fast the situation is deteriorating there.

And that has very much put a sense of urgency on decisions that were made over the course of the last 24 hours and the movement out of the country.

Although the U.S. is using terms like withdrawal and drawdown, Afghans see this as evacuation and abandonment. A blow not only to the morale of Afghan forces that are losing ground very quickly to the Taliban, but to the Afghan people, who have come to rely on the U.S. presence and U.S. support.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, in the Pentagon.


VAUSE: And we have breaking news from Afghanistan, with CNN confirming Kandahar has fallen to the Taliban after a weeks-long siege.

On Wednesday, Taliban fighters appeared to take control of the prison and set free 1,000 inmates. Afghanistan's third biggest city, Herat, fell on Thursday. The militants now control 13 provincial capitals.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes because of this explosion of violence. According to the U.N., almost 400,000 have been displaced inside the country just this year. More than 5 million in total. Many others have fled the country altogether.

Pakistan hosts almost one and a half million Afghan refugees, while some 780,000 are living in Iran. Many of those recently uprooted may have made their way to Kabul in search of safety, but with the Taliban's latest advance, the capital soon may be no safer than any other city.

We have details now from CNN's Michael Holmes.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR (voice-over): Families sleep on the hard ground outside this school in Afghanistan. It may not look like the most comfortable place to rest, but at least for now it is safe, away from the trail of violence left behind by the Taliban's advance.

"Many bombs were dropped on our village," one woman says. "The Taliban came and destroyed everything. We were helpless and had to leave our houses."

One Afghan official in Kunar province, where the school is located, says there are thousands of displaced families in his province alone, trying to escape the fighting, but for some it is too late.

"The Taliban were firing guns next to our house," one man says. "Many bullets came our way. In the end, my wife was killed."

A hospital filled with wounded civilians shows just how pitched the battle is. One patient says, "I was on the side of the street. I was hit by a mortar, and one of my legs was injured."

Some people taking refuge in the country's capital, Kabul, thinking it was one of the safest bets with the Taliban on the move. This man left the besieged city of Lashkar Gah two weeks ago but hopes to return one day.

"If you ask most people in Afghanistan, 99 percent of the people will say the fighting is not the solution," he says. "The only way its peace. And the Afghan people want peace."

A peace that seems more elusive as more civilians are forced from their homes.

Michael Holmes, CNN.


VAUSE: Amid a surge of COVID infections, Israel plans to allow more booster shots by dropping the minimum age of eligibility for a third dose from 60 to 50 years old.

Meantime, the Australian state of New South Wales reported a record number of new infections on Friday. This comes despite lockdowns in much of the state's populated areas.

And another tough day in Mexico, reporting nearly 25,000 new infections, its highest single-day increase since the pandemic began.

Some health officials worry if the trend continues, Mexico's healthcare system could once again be pushed to the brink.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Mexico City and has a closer look at what's driving the surge.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Public COVID-19 testing centers packed in Mexico City as, yet again, the pandemic spirals out of control in Mexico.

This week, yet another new record set: the highest number of cases reported in a single day since this all began. The seven-day average of new cases, about as high as it's ever been. Experts blame loosening restrictions and the Delta variant.

DR. FRANCISCO MORENO SANCHEZ, DIRECTOR, COVID-19 PROGRAM, ABC MEDICAL CENTER: We have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) eight. So the exponential growth is just because you have more severe, more contagious variant.

RIVERS: Multiple doctors told CNN more and more young people in their twenties and thirties are now filling ICU wards across the country. And as beds fill up, once again, to the morgues.

About as many people are dying of COVID each day in Mexico as in the U.S., despite the U.S. population being more than two and a half times larger.

Mexico's testing rate also remains among the worst in the world. Experts say that means the true number of deaths and cases is inevitably far higher.


And yet, life around the country goes on as normal in many places.

SANCHEZ: There is one world in a public hospital and another world outside the hospital. Because you go outside, and it's like nothing is happening.

RIVERS: Part of the reason: continued mixed messaging from the government. Go to the health ministry website, and Mexico City is at red level, The country's highest COVID-19 alert.

But the city's mayor says, no, things aren't that bad, and insists on keeping the city at orange level, a notch below, meaning fewer restrictions are in place.

The good news in all this: a vaccination campaign continues. Just over 21 percent of the country has been fully vaccinated, and more than 40 percent have received a first dose. U.S. and Mexican officials announced the U.S. would donate millions more vaccines to Mexico in the coming weeks, crucial, experts say, in curtailing a pandemic that respects no border.

DR. CARISSA ETIENNE, DIRECTOR, PAN AMERICAN HEALTH ORGANIZATION: But this strategy is also dangerous. There is no path to recovery for any country while its neighbors remain vulnerable and while variants circulate and multiply.

RIVERS: Medical experts have speculated Mexico might follow a similar path to what we saw recently in the U.K.: a huge spike in cases followed by a swift decrease.

But a complicating factor looms. Mexico's millions of schoolchildren head back to the classroom on August 30. Some fear it could keep driving cases higher and push medical systems to their absolute limits.

SANCHEZ: We're now at completely (ph) the use of the time and the stress of having younger people very sick, with young children. We -- I am really frustrated.

RIVERS (on camera): And so with the numbers released by the government on Thursday, that marks two single-day records for coronavirus cases recorded in a 24-hour span.

As of now, hospitalization rates across the country remain at manageable levels, but that doctor you just heard from in that piece told me that, if these numbers continue to go as they have been, continue to rise, that ICU space will begin to run out very quickly.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


VAUSE: The heir to South Korea's Samsung empire is a free man at this hour.

Why are so many people happy that a man convicted of bribery at the highest of levels is now out of jail and on parole.


VAUSE: According to a court filing in the long-running Britney Spears legal battle, her father intends to step down as co-conservator of her estate. Her attorney says that's a vindication for Britney.

Jamie Spears faced enormous public pressure after revelations from his daughter of a history of abuse. He controlled almost every aspect of her life for 13 years, including her financial estate, worth about $60 million.


In the past few hours, one of South Korea's most powerful business tycoons walked out of prison. Lee Jae-yong is vice chairman and de factor leader of the world's largest cell phone maker, Samsung.

He was caught up in an influence-peddling scandal that brought down South Korea's first female president four years ago. But he has now being released on parole, along with hundreds of other prisoners.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Seoul with more on this. It seems it's not without controversy, and his legal troubles are not over yet.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This is just one of the cases that he is facing at this point.

So he's being paroled for this one. This was where he was found guilty of embezzlement and bribery. But there are still two other court cases that are ongoing. So it's not necessarily his last time behind bars. We simply don't know.

Now, there were some supporters outside the detention center at that camp as he came out, calling his name. He apologized to those who were waiting there, saying he was sorry for what had happened.

So now he is a free man. The argument from Samsung have been that the company itself, which is a massive company in this country, and of course, around the world, was unable to make big future investment decisions without the de facto leader. And the other argument was that that would affect the South Korean economy negatively.

But of course, there are those who don't believe that he should have been paroled. The opposition Justice Party, for example, had a statement saying that they are furious to find out that South Korea is a republic of Samsung, saying this decision to parole him was trampling on fairness with a 0.01 percent that don't have to follow the rules.

But he did serve just over 18 months of a 30-month sentence. And as you say, it's not completely over for him. There's a couple of other cases.

There's one about the merger. There was a merger in 2015 that -- that is alleged to have helped him gain control of more of the Samsung empire.

And so certainly, his days in court are not over, but it's not without its controversy. And it is something that we have seen time and time again here in South Korea. When chief executives of big, powerful companies are found guilty of corruption, of embezzlement or bribery, more often than not, they are let out early -- John.

VAUSE: Nice for some. Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks, live for us this hour in Seoul.

We continue to follow breaking news from Afghanistan. CNN confirming that Kandahar fallen to the Taliban after a weeks-long siege. The Taliban now controls 13 provincial capitals, including Herat in the west, which fell on Thursday.

Have a lot more on this breaking news at the top of the hour, but for me, that is this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Stay with us. WORLD SPORT is up after a very short break. See you soon.