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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Olympic Opening Ceremony Set to Begin, in Pandemic's Shadow; U.S. Strikes Taliban in Support of Afghan Forces; Drought Worsens and Expands in the Northwest; VP Harris Zeroing in on Voting Rights As Her Top Priority. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We have reports from Tokyo, Oregon, Hong Kong, Washington, Beijing and more. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Julia Chatterley, in for Christine Romans. It is Friday, July 23rd. Happy Friday.

JARRETT: Happy Friday. So nice to have you this week. It has been such a treat.

CHATTERLEY: A joy and a pleasure.

JARRETT: All right. We have an Olympic Games coming up like none before, folks. They are about to begin in Tokyo, we are just two hours away from the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics, delayed one year by the pandemic, of course.

And while the next several weeks have with their share of inspiring moments, no question that COVID hangs over these games. Overnight, three new cases were identified in the Olympic Village pushing the total number related to the games to 110, and we've barely begun.

CHATTERLEY: Well, much of what is to come will feel familiar, the competition, the performances, and, of course, the pageantry. But some things will feel very strange especially events staged in venues built for thousands, or even tens of thousands, holding just hundreds, or even completely. Let's bring in our Dr. Sanjay Gupta who is live at the Olympic site in Tokyo for us.

Sanjay, great to have you with us. Good morning.

Just set the scene. It is as Laura mentioned the COVID Olympics and it is being held in a city under a state of emergency.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean the scene is that in many ways it is a tale of two cities. You know, you have excitement and you have anxiety. You have the excitement of the Olympics for sure, but you have the anxiety of the fact that this is the first -- really the first global gathering of this size since the pandemic began.

So, athletes are going to be tested obviously during the Olympics, but the public health officials are being tested as well. And it is challenging. As you point out, it is a state of emergency here, but let me show you the numbers. I don't know if you have a graph that we can put up and show you what's been happening here.

You have these peaks and valleys here in Japan with regard to the COVID numbers, that recent low followed by the peak of May 14th, that was just about a month ago. Over the last month the numbers are going up and that has caused consternation. So, the tale of two cities is the excitement of the Olympics, but if you talk to people on the street here, roughly 8 out of 10, they have some real misgivings about this. They appreciate the Olympics, but they would rather it not be held here at this time given what is going on.

I'll tell you, quickly, guys, I went to a match between the United States and Sweden, the women's soccer match, and that is a very exciting part of these Olympics typically. I don't know if you are seeing any of these images, but there was nobody there. It was incredible.

I mean, these players were playing with some piped in sound and things like that, but a very different feel overall. I talked to one of the doctors who would be responsible for caring for patients if there is a sudden surge, asked him how he felt about things. And listen to how he put it.


GUPTA: Is there a criteria by which you would start to become concerned?

DR. BRIAN MCCLOSKEY, CHAIR OF INDEPENDENT EXPERT PANEL FOR THE IOC: Mostly what we look at is changes in patterns. So if we started to see infection in people who weren't part of the close contact group, if we started to see a rising number of cases, if we started to see the cases doubling more rapidly than we thought. And in particular if we started to see cases appearing in the local population that seemed to be linked back into the village or vice versa.


GUPTA: And that last point is the critical point. They are doing tons of testing. I got tested 96 hours before I left, 72 hours before I left and daily since I've been here.

Same thing is happening in the village. They are contact tracing all those people you were talking about. And they don't see evidence of transmission of people from the village to outside the village. That is what they are really looking for, that would be you been a problem. Thankfully, they are not seeing that as of yet.

JARRETT: Yeah, that is certainly the good news and I'm glad that you are getting tested every day. I imagine that the athletes are getting tested regularly as well. Sanjay, I also want to ask you about another story at the intersection

of COVID in sports, if you will, not about the Olympics. But the NFL now says outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeited games this season. It's pretty big decision.

You've spoken with the NFL's chief medical officer. Do you think that this is an effective way to force people to get vaccinated in the NFL and beyond?


GUPTA: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, we're all learning about this together. So in terms of the effectiveness, if I had to speculate, I would say yes, and just to give context, many teams have already gotten to the threshold of acceptable vaccination.

So, you know, they were already sort of getting there. But this will be a controversial decision. They are not saying that you must get vaccinated. What they are saying is if there is an outbreak among unvaccinated, then you will forfeit and you will also pay the -- you won't receive a salary and you will pay the salaries of everyone affected by this as well.

So, it's a financial penalty of sorts as well. So, it's sort of, you know, more -- not a mandate but sort of saying, hey, look, here's what your life is like if you are vaccinated and here is what your life could be like if you're not vaccinated.


GUPTA: That is how they are sort of approaching it. I think that everyone is sort of trying to figure this out, you know? I think that ultimately it will lead to an increase in vaccination just because it's practical. It's a pragmatic sort of reason for these players to get vaccinated. And it may send a message for the fans as well. So we'll see.

JARRETT: Well, that's certainly the hope, right? Just trying to find as many incentives as possible because if people haven't done it so far, maybe if they are not allowed to go in their favorite sports arena, that might do the trick, because obviously we're not going to have sort of widespread mandates in a place like the United States.

All right. Sanjay, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: You got it.

CHATTERLEY: There is a new front in the war against the Taliban. Overnight, the U.S. military carried out two strikes against the Taliban in support of Afghan forces.

CNN's Anna Coren is just back from a reporting trip to Afghanistan and she joins us live now.

Anna, these just one of a handful of air strikes as U.S. troops pull out. Do you see these strikes as a smart plan longer term, even part of a plan longer term?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Julia, they definitely need U.S. air support. There is no denying that.

And I can give you some breaking news. We know that there is an operation underway right now in Kandahar City. I know it's gone out, warning residents in the 6th and 7th district of Kandahar City to leave their homes. They are expecting more U.S. airstrikes.

You mentioned those two air strikes that happened overnight, this was to take back captured U.S. equipment, equipment the U.S. gave to the Afghans and then was taken by the Taliban. So that was what they were targeting overnight.

The airstrikes this morning, this is obviously happening very close to where the Taliban are encircling, Kandahar one of the biggest cities. This is the spiritual home of the Taliban. And they have been making significant grounds in Kandahar province over the last weeks and months. That area that those airstrikes could be happening close to is where the prison is. And Taliban we know are aiming for that area.

But there have only been about six or seven air strikes in the Americans in the last month and certainly from the Afghan soldiers that we spoke to, Julia, they said that it is not enough. Of course, Afghanistan has an air force, a very miniscule air force. And we have seen time and time again that troops, commandos, have been left, you know, deserted, surrounded by the Taliban, hoping for reinforcements, hoping for airstrikes which they ever came, which meant commandos got slaughtered, troops had to surrender.

This is happening over and over again. So they say that they desperately need that U.S. air support. Whether it will continue after the 31st of August when all U.S. troops are out, I mean combat troops are basically out, these airstrikes are conducted by drones. You know, this is not manned air strikes. It remains to be seen.

But certainly the U.S. is saying that it can go after terrorist targets, al Qaeda targets. But, you know, as I say, Afghan forces say they need the support as well.

CHATTERLEY: Yeah, and the vital question, whether it continues to your point after August.

Anna, thank you and thank you for bringing us the breaking news there too.

JARRETT: Still ahead, raging wildfires, historic drought leaving most of the West a tinderbox. We're going to take you to those along the front lines, next.



JARRETT: This morning, drought conditionings are worsening in the Northwest. More than 95 percent of the West is in some type of drought. More than two-thirds of the area is facing the worst drought in history.

Until last week, Washington state had never suffered a drought this bad. Robust rain has brought some improvement in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

The Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was there yesterday.


DEB HAALAND, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR: Drought doesn't just impact one community. It affects all of us from farmers and ranchers to city dwellers and Indian tribes. We all have a roll to use water wisely, manage our resources with every community in mind.


CHATTERLEY: So that means Arizona is under a flash flood watch and an exceptional drought at the same time.

How can you have both? Well, the ground is so dry, it can't absorb much of the rain. Ninety-nine percent of Utah is in extreme drought and 72 percent of Minnesota is also in a severe drought.

The city of Minneapolis and several surrounding communities are implementing water sprinkling restrictions.

JARRETT: And the gigantic Bootleg Fire in Oregon has now burned at least one-fifth of an special forest side aside to slow the climate crisis. The area that were meant to survive 100 years, removing climate warning carbon from the atmosphere. This is the third largest fire in Oregon since 1900.

The dangerous conditions have forced firefighters to move into safety zones and wait for opportunities to reengage with the fire.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov joins some of those firefighters on the front lines.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Julia, Laura, good morning. We spent the day out with crews that have been battling the Bootleg Fire, they have been clearing trees, digging up containment lines to block the path of the flames. Officials say fire crews and support personnel have made significant progress in containing this fire over the past few days, in part that is because of more favorable weather conditions.

Now, we have seen reduced winds as well as higher humidity which really helped teams improve those fire lines. And we saw firsthand just how dangerous the winds can be in this area. Conditions are so dry that embers from the Bootleg Fire can go flying. They can jump containment lines and start smaller spot fires which can grow into enormous blazes if they're contained.

And that is a lot of the work that we saw when we were out there. As far as containing the bootleg fire, go flying and start smaller spot fires which can grow into enormous blazes if they're not contained.

And that is a lot of the work that we saw when we were out there.

As far as containing the Bootleg Fire, if the weather conditions hold, they are cautiously optimistic but obviously with a blaze this large, the threat is far from over.

Julia, Laura, back to you.


CHATTERLEY: Thanks to Lucy there.

Now, back-to-school shopping could get a failing grade. The National Retail Federation expects shoppers to spend an average of $850 per family on supplies, as more classrooms fully reopen in the fall and demand increases. But supply shortages could cause big problems. High demand is running up against tight inventory and shipping delays.

Shoppers may be used to shortages towards the end of August, but products are expected to be in tight supply any day. The items you need to get your hands on quickly, well, backpack, stationary, sports equipment, laptops and tablets.

And if you're looking for a new pair of Nikes, you may have to act fast. A new report says Nike may run out of sneakers. It sources from Vietnam as coronavirus surges in the region. Two of Nike suppliers have already halted production.

Sneakers, well, trainers in my world. Wow, run and grab them quick. Yes.

JARRETT: All right. Coming up, a new voting rights bill is seen as having little hope on Capitol Hill. But can Vice President Harris help turn the page and push lawmakers to actually get something done?



In just around an hour and a half's time, the Olympic opening ceremony will against all odds proceed as planned before a crowd of hundreds rather than the usual tens of thousands.

CNN's Selina Wang is on the ground in Tokyo for us.

Selina, you've attended protests in the run-up to this. People just frightened it was going to take place. Here we are, this is the day. What are people saying ahead of this?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Julia, it's hard to believe we're finally here after Japan spent years and more than $15 become preparing for these games. And it looks like nothing they had dreamed of.

And I've been talking to residents in the months leading up to this, yesterday and today speaking to residents, and there's still a large feeling of anxiety that the government, that the IOC is putting sport, money, politics ahead of people's life, with only about 20 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

And you can sigh behind me, it is eerily quiet outside of the national stadium and it's going to be virtually empty when this opening ceremony begins. Just around 950 VIP guests allowed this national stadium that seat 68,000 people.

But on the streets around me, there are still crowds. There's a lot of security. But the broader public banned from almost all Olympic events.

And this ceremony, which, Julia, is supposed to be about unity and peace and hope is being overshadowed by a surge in COVID-19 cases in Japan. Now more than 100 COVID cases in this country linked to the Olympic Games. And more and more athletes getting their Olympic dreams dashed before the games even begin.

Now, at least 20 athletes are out of the games because of COVID. And we're only expecting more heartbreaking stories like this to come.

But, Julia, another key point is that Japanese sponsors spent a record of more than $3 billion to support these games. And now their fear is brand damage for being associated with the five rings, because of all of the public opposition here. The CEO of Toyota, which is the biggest Olympic sponsor, is skipping the opening ceremony. They won't be running Olympic-related ads during the Olympic Games, either.

And for Suntory, which is one of the largest beverage makers in Japan, I had an exclusive interview with the CEO, and he told me that he thinks the Olympics are losing its commercial value and that these games should have been postponed yet again -- Julia.

CHATTERLEY: Yeah, but such a tough decision to make, 1-1/2 hours to go. We'll see what it looks like. The opening ceremony coming up.

Selina, great to have you with us. Thank you.

JARRETT: Okay. Back here in the U.S., Vice President Kamala Harris is now making voting rights her top priority. She's hoping for something of a fresh start after that rough trip to Guatemala last month, fending off criticisms from the right and some private spats among her staff spilling out into the press.

Let's bring in White House reporter Jasmine Wright.

Jasmine, good morning to you.

The president has said that the soul of democracy is at stake when it comes to voting rights. But some progressives feel he hasn't been vocal enough.

You know the VP very well, having covered her campaign. So how is she going to change this narrative that the White House simply isn't doing enough on this issue? JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Laura, the vice

president is leaning in, really leaning into this moment, right to prop up the administration's efforts as they look to protect voting rights, even as the path to federal legislation really looks kind of bleak.


So the vice president now is really making this one of her top priorities. We're seeing her do meetings and speeches and roundtables with civil rights leaders and black activists and election workers, all really trying to keep this issue on the front burner, as one official told us.

Now this comes after some summer missteps, including this trip to Guatemala and Mexico where there were some messaging issues around, as well as palace intrigue, inter-office issues. One source tells me that they are starting to fill the roles in her office. And a source told me additionally that they are thinking about maybe potentially adding more communication staffers.

But on voting rights, the vice president is kind of leaning into this carefully crafted push, really kind of mirroring some of the coalition building that she kind of brought to the migration role, really all trying to keep this issue really in the public domain. Now, a source told me that is familiar with the vice president's office, that look, she would be leaning in regardless any of these summer missteps, but it provides her a step opportunity to bounce back and become really one of the public-facing -- front-facing administration officials on this very delicate issue, because folks want to see results.

You know, the civil right activists have appealed to President Biden about trying to end that filibuster. And so we know that these are one of the issue that will take time now from now to the midterm elections and possibly even longer -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Jasmine, we know you'll stay on top of it for us. Appreciate it. Thanks.

CHATTERLEY: OK. Coming up here on EARLY START, overseas, as you were just hearing, we are 90 minutes from the opening ceremony for the COVID-era Tokyo O Olympics. And here in the United States, the unvaccinated are posing a great risk to the unvaccinated.

Stay with us. That's next.