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Djokovic Tests Positive for COVID-19 After Hosting Tournament; Russia Marks 75th Anniversary of Victory Day; Voting Briefly Extended in Kentucky Senate Primary; Pandemic, Protests Reshape U.S. Political Races; Trump Makes Unfounded Claims About Mail-In Voting; Inside One of China's Biggest Testing Sites. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 24, 2020 - 04:30   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The top-ranked male tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic has tested positive for coronavirus along with his wife. This after he organized a charity event and played in a series of tennis matches where social distancing guidelines were pretty much ignored.

So let's get reaction from the sporting world and for that we turn to CNN World Sports Alex Thomas. Good to see you, Alex. So reaction has been swift and harsh. What are his fellow players saying about this?

ALEX THOMAS, CNN WORLD SPORT: Rosemary, I think the overall reaction is, A, they hope everybody who tests positive gets better. But also, B, how could they not see this coming. This is Novak Djokovic, a 17- time grand slam titles winner, an intelligent guy, a generous guy and to give him a Laureus World Sports Awards last year alongside his wife Jelena, who's also tested positive. And he always speaks so well. He's an engaging guy.

But he's got some curious views. Certainly, he's expressing some anti- vaccination views down the years, especially this year when that was thought to be one of the measures, they might have to put in place for players to go to the U.S. open. Which might be the first grand slam tournament of the year due to start at the end of August.

But here we are, as you saw from that video a second ago, they were in a disco dancing together, hugging together, taking photo calls close together. Forget about one meter or two-meter social distancing rules they went out the window. Yes, Croatia where this exhibition event was held, they have low numbers but many top players were this exhibition event was being held have a low number of coronavirus measures but there are players from all over the world there. Including top stars like Alex Zverev, and Grigor Dimitrov -- Dimitrov the one who tested positive to start with -- calling off the tournament in Croatia last week. The controversy will tennis player Nick Kyrgios called bone headed, while adding he hopes everyone gets well. Andy Murray a three- time grand slam winner himself and former Olympic champion was slightly more diplomatic. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY MURPHY, THREE-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: I've seen some people have said that, you know maybe, this sort of puts the U.S. open in doubt which it may well do, but the measures and the protocols that they have in place so far is completely different than what was going on in Serbia and Croatia. And, obviously, they'll be no bans for a star and you know, I think all the players now will be extremely aware that we can all be affected by this and you know, coronavirus doesn't care who they are or what we do. And we need to, you know we need to respect, we need to respect and respect the rules.


THOMAS: Murray far too diplomatic and sensible to have ranted at Djokovic. But you can clearly hear there that he was hinting that this outbreak positive test could threaten the U.S. open coming back as the tennis looks to get back on its feet like lots of major sports. So much lost revenue over the weeks and months of lockdown in various countries, Rosemary. And because it's Djokovic, it's very interesting. He's President of the player's council. He was instrumental in ousting popular ATP chairman Chris Kermode last year.


Many now questioning his position of authority in the game. And it's all been a very frustrating year for him on the court because he's not got on it when he could've possibly got those grand slam titles really to overtake Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to be the most successful men's player of all time.

CHURCH: Yes, it is a shock to a lot of people. Alex Thomas bringing us the very latest on that from London. Appreciate it.

Well, major league baseball is set to return in about one month's time after the coronavirus and bitter negotiations delayed the season's opening. The league and players association announced Tuesday they have agreed to play a truncated regular season of 60 games. That's about 100 games fewer than normal. The players have accepted the league's new health and safety protocols to get back on the field. But at least a dozen players and staff in the league have tested positive for coronavirus in recent days. The latest being members of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Well, Russia is observing the 75th anniversary of victory day commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. President Vladimir Putin opened the celebration by speaking to the crowds in Moscow before a military parade. Just a week before the nation votes on whether to remain its constitution allowing Mr. Putin to possibly extend his presidency to 2036.

CNN's Matthew Chance is following these developments from London. He joins us now live. Good to see you, Matthew. So what impact has the pandemic had on the staging of this parade and of course what safety measures have been put in place for it? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's

had a pretty profound impact. Because normally it's May 9th that the victory day parade is held and it's been delayed up until today. And so, that was as a direct result of the pandemic in Russia which is, of course, the third worst affected country in terms of infections in the world after Brazil and the United States.

Back when they were practicing for the May 9th parade as many as 400 soldiers became infected with coronavirus. As that really underlined how severe the pandemic had become in Russia and it led the authorities to take that difficult decision to delay the victory day parade until June the 24th and they've held it now despite the fact the pandemic continues to rage across Russia.

It's stabilized a little bit but we're still seeing 7,000 or so new infections every day, about 1,000 of those in Moscow where this main parade is being held. In terms of what measures are being implemented to try to protect the participants, well, the soldiers taking part and there are 13,000 of them have been held in quarantine for two weeks before this event. The VIP guests who have been invited into Red Square as onlookers to see the march pass and the military equipment file past. They've all been tested we're told by officials for coronavirus.

And the veterans, some of whom who are in their 90s who actually fought in the Second World War, but they've also have been held in a quarantine at a health resort outside of Moscow. There's also social distancing been implemented. You know, several of the seats, you know, every other seat or so is left vacant in the stands and the soldiers are marching at a greater distance from each other than they normally would.

But, again, it's the political context of this rally, of this parade that's most important. It's just a week from now, as you mentioned, before a nationwide vote is being held that could extend Vladimir Putin's power up until 2036. And I think there's been some criticism this has been an event that's been staged to rally patriotism ahead of that vote so that Vladimir Putin who has got historically low approval ratings at the moment for him can get a better outcome in that ballot.

CHURCH: And, Matthew, what is the likely outcome? What are the numbers showing?

CHANCE: Well, I mean as ever in Russia when you look at opinion polls, they more often than not show an overwhelming majority in support of the authorities and specifically in support of Vladimir Putin. I mentioned that his approval ratings are at historic loss but they're still hovering around 59 percent which in the West, of course, would be considered very good indeed. It certainly much higher, for instance, than the U.S. President is experiencing at the moment.

But Vladimir Putin is used to approval ratings in the high 80. And so, it's been a big knock from his high point several years ago to the situation that he's in now. But for all intents and purposes the expectation is that when this vote happens on July 1st, it will be a victory for the authorities, the constitutional amendments will be passed, and Vladimir Putin will be entitled to a further two terms, two six year terms as Russian President when this current term ends in 2024.


Meaning that he could be President until 2036 in theory.

CHURCH: Extraordinary isn't it. Matthew Chance joining us live from London. Many thanks.

And still to come, we take you straight to Kentucky where fears about the coronavirus have reduced the number of polling places leading to scenes like this. We'll have the details coming up.

Plus the U.S. President has made it clear he doesn't support mail in voting even in these extraordinary times. But he keeps changing his story about why he's opposed. We'll have that in a moment.


CHURCH: People banging on the doors, wanting to vote. That was the scene Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky. A reckoning on racism and police brutality has electrified the Senate primary race there. Voting was briefly extended to let them cast their ballot. Traffic had made them late. The half hour extension came at the conclusion of mostly smooth primaries in Kentucky and New York.

Well, votes in both states were largely conducted by mail due to fears about the coronavirus pandemic. And we will be monitoring those votes in the coming days and will make those projections as soon as we can. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On that much, Democrats agree. But as voters cast ballots in Kentucky, they're divided over what kind of Democrat that should be.


ZELENY: Amy McGrath is the favorite of the Washington party establishment, but the decision is now in the hands of Kentucky voters.

STATE REP. CHARLES BOOKER (D-KY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: We're going to win this race.

ZELENY: But State Representative Charles Booker insisting that a progressive candidate stands a better chance of defeating Mitch McConnell.


BOOKER: There is a mountain that's blocking your progress and that mountain is Mitch McConnell. ZELENY: On another day of voting in America, a national reckoning on race is being felt across the political landscape with establishment figures suddenly on edge. The Senate primary in Kentucky and a congressional one in New York are the latest signs the ideological tug of war is still very much alive inside the Democratic Party.


ZELENY: Jamaal Bowman, a Bronx middle school principal, mounting a challenge today against Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's been in office for three decades.

Protests over racial justice and police brutality are now a central part of political reality too. In Kentucky, Booker's candidacy gained momentum after joining the protests rising up against the killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an EMT, in March.

BOOKER: I think people are more aware of how interconnected we are. I think they're more ready to receive the truth that injustice is pervasive and that structural racism is real.

ZELENY: And Bowman getting a far more serious look after Engel was caught on a hot mic at a New York press conference addressing protests following the death of George Floyd.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care.

ZELENY: But Bowman and Booker won the backing of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and are pushing the Democratic Party for bolder change.

Engel is supported by Hillary Clinton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and McGrath by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

While the primary campaigns end, voting in the age of pandemic requires patience.

(on camera): Here in Kentucky the Secretary of State tells me there are record number of primary voters largely because of vote by mail and absentee balloting. In the age of the coronavirus pandemic that is essential election experts say to participation. Of course it is an open question, how many of those methods will be available to voters across the country? President Trump is railing against absentee balloting and vote by mail. Democrats say it's essential.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Louisville, Kentucky.


CHURCH: And U.S. President Donald Trump launched a new attack on mail in voting. Making a series of false assertions to suggestion the 2020 elections will be corrupted by fraud. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country, and we cannot let this happen. They want it to happen so badly.


CHURCH: The President has been advancing untrue claims about mail in balloting for months. CNN's Brian Todd is gathering the facts.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems to be President Trump's conspiracy du jour, his recurring claims about voter fraud in this year's election, specifically fraud with ballots that are mailed in.

TRUMP: When you do all mail-in voting ballots, you're asking for fraud. People steal them out of mailboxes. People print them and then they sign them and they give them in and people don't even know when they're double counted.

TODD: In one barrage of tweets this week, Trump pounded on the idea. Mail-in ballots will lead to rigged election. Millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries and others. It will be the scandal of our times.

Trump's attorney general had the same talking points on FOX Business.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right now, a foreign country could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots and be very hard for us to detect.

TODD: But William Barr himself said he hasn't looked into it and he's offered no evidence to back up the claim.

CNN has done multiple fact checks on the theories of widespread mail voter fraud and we found no evidence that any of it is true. The Federal Election Commission and independent experts back us up.

MICHAEL MCDONALD, UNITED STATES ELECTION PROJECT: It's miniscule versus the number of ballots that have been cast.

TODD: Experts tell us committing mail voter fraud on mass scale in the U.S. is exceedingly difficult. Each county in America, almost every precinct, has different styles of ballots, they say. So fraudsters would have to duplicate them perfectly. And if a foreign country tried to inject counterfeit mail-in ballots, safeguards in place would nail them.

MCDONALD: The election officials themselves are printing bar codes on the ballots and the envelopes and to making sure that the ballots are going out to the proper voters, voters are signing those return envelopes, so there's some signature verification that's going on, on the election official's end.

TODD: About a quarter of American voters cast ballots absentee by mail in 2016. President Trump has voted by mail as has Vice President Pence, Attorney General Barr, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. With coronavirus still a major health threat, experts say the percentage of those mailing in votes could go way up this year and should, to be safer. So, why does the president keep harping on the conspiracy?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that President Trump and A.G. Barr are fixated on voter fraud as a distraction.


In the past, we've heard the president make comments that if you expand the franchise and have more people voting, that he believes it will minimize the chances of a Republican being elected.

TODD (on camera): But the President does not seem to have the backing of some top members of his own party for his conspiracy theory. CNN spoke with several Republican Senators including those in top leadership positions. None of them said they agreed with the President's comments about mail-in voting.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come, we take you inside one of China's biggest coronavirus testing sites as the government grapples to contain a recent outbreak. We're back in just a moment.


CHURCH: China's health commission reported seven new cases of COVID- 19 in Beijing, Tuesday. The lowest number since an outbreak emerged from a food market last week. The government has imposed a soft lockdown on the capital. And in to ensure the outbreak remains contained authorities are ramping up their testing.

CNN's David Culver goes inside a facility in Beijing that's testing thousands of people daily.



DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in China you're looking at one of many mass testing sites that have been set up particularly within Beijing. This is following the wholesale food cluster outbreak that happened more than a week ago. They say it's now one control but they are continuing testing in massive numbers.

And you've got here 19 rows set up. This is for 19 different communities that feed into this one massive testing site. Once people have registered, they are taken across this little way here into these lines. And let me show you where they end up. It's almost like getting in rides at an amusement park. You're getting in line there if you will. I'll show you, follow me over here. And this is where the actual testing is done. It takes about 30 seconds. They've got about 100 staff members that work on two-hour shifts. And there they do the throat swab. They then take that sample and they'll put it in a refrigerator, and then move on to the next person.

Usually it takes just a few days' time to get the results back and most people are only notified if they have a positive result. You can see over here this is where the staff will take off all of their PPE, all of their protective equipment and they'll throw it away. It's in a safe separate area. And the other staff that are about ready to come on shift they get changed, suited up and go through a sanitation procedure in a separate facility to then keep this going really from 9:00 in the morning the until 10:00 at night. In three days' time that this has been operating they've done about 20,000 tests.

This was built overnight. So they pop up relatively quickly. They will keep it going for as long as they need to within here in Beijing and they say as of now they feel like they're on a good path in keeping this most recent cluster outbreak under control. But they are saying complacency is what they are trying to avoid with all of this.

David Culver, CNN, Beijing.


CHURCH: And thanks so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have a great day.