Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Iranian President May Further Complicate U.S.-Iran Relations; Belarus Building Likely Prison Camp For Dissidents In Forest; Fires Threaten Historic And Tourist Sites In Europe. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 05, 2021 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Amara Walker. It is half past the hour. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

JARRETT: Mississippi and Arkansas facing a dire shortage of ICU beds. Mississippi only has six available left in the entire state. In Arkansas, it's 25.

Meantime, CVS says it will no longer offer the J&J vaccine in its pharmacies. The vaccine has faced concerns over its effectiveness and rare side effects.

WALKER: The Biden administration approving its first arms sale to Taiwan. The $750 million deal is already angering China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province. Some U.S. military officials have warned China could try to invade Taiwan. Beijing has ramped up military drills near the island.

JARRETT: A group of landlords and real estate companies is asking a federal judge in Washington to put a hold on the Biden administration's new eviction moratorium protecting renters. They argue the CDC is acting in bad faith to relieve political pressure on the White House.

WALKER: And just in to CNN, President Biden plans to sign an executive order today that requires 50 percent of all cars sold in the U.S. to be zero-emission by 2030. The president will also announce measures to reverse Trump-era rollbacks of emission standards.

JARRETT: The bipartisan infrastructure package appears to be nearing the home stretch and negotiators believe they are near the end of the amendment process for the bill, setting up its first key test vote by Saturday. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its official estimate of the bill's cost later today.

WALKER: More storms predicted in the revised 2021 Atlantic hurricane outlook. Forecasters are already expecting an above-average season. The number of expected named storms can now increase, up 21. Three to five major hurricanes are anticipated.

JARRETT: Target says it will pay for college for more than 340,000 part-time and full-time workers at select schools. It's also paying for textbooks and fees. Walmart also recently announced tuition assistance to retain and attract workers in this tight job market. Right now, Americans owe $1.6 trillion in student loans.

WALKER: The new host of "JEOPARDY!" could be the show's executive producer. According to Variety, Mike Richards is in advance negotiations to assume the iconic role fronted by Alex Trebek for 36 years. Sony says there are discussions with several candidates.

JARRETT: Seventeen months into this pandemic and we are back where we never wanted to be. The average number of cases is perilously close to 100,000 a day, again. And while the pace of vaccinations has seen some real improvement it's too late to stop this surge of the Delta variant now spreading fast in more than 80 percent of the country. In June, it was just at three percent.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: If you decide to try to run the game clock out, don't try to do it. This virus will find you. It will infect you eventually and we just have to give people that sense.

Now, if that's not enough to motivate people to get vaccinated, then the only other things I think we have are the mandates.


JARRETT: All right, it's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University. Doctor, good morning.

Talk to me about booster shots. The WHO --


JARRETT: -- you know, it wants to put a hold on booster shots. It's for equity reasons, they say. Israel is already doing the booster shots.

Based on all the available evidence that you've seen, is it time for the Biden administration to start getting serious about these third doses for vaccinated people in the U.S., especially we have people who are immunocompromised, people who might have gotten their shots in that first wave five-plus months ago? Or in your mind, should we be waiting for boosters that are perhaps better tailored to these new variants?

REINER: Good morning.

JARRETT: Hi. REINER: I do think it's time for CDC to start laying out a pathway for boosting Americans. Over the last month, there has been a little bit of controversy because one of the vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer, came out with data that suggested that not only were boosters necessary or inevitable but they were moving towards an EUA for a booster shot. So let's have the CDC start to lay out guidance. I want to get this from CDC, not from corporate press releases.

The first group that should be boosted are folks who are immunocompromised, either because of a -- they're getting cancer and chemotherapy or they're an organ transplant recipient on active immunosuppression.

I recently sent a patient to a pharmacy with documented zero antibody response. This is a patient who has had an organ transplant. And multiple pharmacies turned him down -- refused to give him a booster shot.


It's time for the CDC to lay out a plan. And I think you're right. I think it'll be the immunocompromised first, then probably the elderly, then maybe healthcare workers, et cetera.

JARRETT: Well, you see even San Francisco now saying people who had the J&J shot can essentially get a booster of Pfizer or Moderna, which I think is pretty telling.

WALKER: Well, and it's frustrating, too, when you hear about so many vaccines expiring and getting thrown out.


WALKER: So, obviously, there is the supply -- there just needs to be this approval.

And also, Dr. Reiner, when it comes to schools -- I mean, what advice do you have for parents of young children right now, including myself. My daughter is going to be going to school -- to 3-K -- and you have a lot of unvaccinated kids who are heading back into the classrooms because most of them can't get vaccinated. Masks may or may not be happening.

So let's say you lived in Florida, Doctor. Would you send your kid to school right now?

REINER: I would send my kid to school only wearing a mask and I would -- I would hope that the other parents in the school would be responsible as well. Because as has been reported this week, the governor of Florida is preventing local school districts from mandating masks and deciding what's best for their -- for their communities.

Pediatric infections are up. Over the last week, there were 72,000 new pediatric COVID infections reported. That's an increase of about 84 percent over the week before. And pediatric hospitalizations are up as well. There are about 33 pediatric hospitalizations per day now in Florida. We're seeing pediatric hospitals fill in places like Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas.

So throughout the parts of this country where the virus is surging, we're seeing the virus surge in children, most likely because that is the group with the highest percentage of unvaccinated people in this country. No child in the United States under the age of 12 has been vaccinated.

So, my kids are older but if I had children under the age of 12 now going back to school, I would insist that they wear masks in schools, in class all day long.

And I would change our behavior as well. I think -- you know, I would -- my wife and I would probably not eat in a restaurant. Try and limit our exposure outside the hospital -- outside the hospital -- I work in a hospital -- outside the home so as to reduce the likelihood that we would bring the virus home to our kids.

JARRETT: So I'm interested in whether you have changed your own behavior. I know your kids are grown now but even just for yourself and your wife, are you guys eating indoors right now? You live -- I think you live -- you work in D.C., obviously, so it's considered a substantial risk of transmission area. Do you -- do you feel safe indoors at a restaurant? Are you -- do you feel safe getting on an airplane.

Talk to us about how you just assess these risks for yourself.

REINER: Right. So, we're fortunate that we live in Maryland, which has still one of the lowest rates in the United States. D.C. now, as well, has about half the average number of cases per capita as the entire country. So the level of virus in the national capital area is still fairly low.

But at work, for instance, we are starting to see an uptick in cases in the hospital --


REINER: -- although still far below peak levels. I wear an N-95 mask in the hospital. I do not eat in the hospital. I eat on a bench outside.

I'm trying to lower my exposure as well and I'm cognizant of where we go. In stores, I've never stopped wearing masks. So I think that that's the kind of behavior we should probably consider all over the country.

We do still eat in restaurants but I'm carefully watching the rates around the area. And if they spike, we will stop doing that and go back to --

WALKER: But can I ask why you're changing your behavior because you're fully vaccinated and I would imagine your kids who are older are? So what are your concerns?

REINER: So, what we've seen is that even though you're fully vaccinated there is a small but not insignificant risk of acquiring Delta. And even though I feel very confident that the two doses of vaccine that I received will protect me from serious illness, given the choice I'd rather not get infected. And a mask is not much of a burden to me. I wear a mask all the time.

I'll tell you, though, I was vaccinated in December in the first wave.


REINER: And going back to your original question about a booster --


REINER: -- every physician I know is starting to talk about when they are going to get boosted.


REINER: It's on people's minds, particularly people who were vaccinated almost eight months ago.

JARRETT: Yes, it's on people's minds and it seems like it's ripe for fair conversation right now.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner --

REINER: Right.

JARRETT: -- CNN medical analyst. Thank you so much for getting up with us, sir -- appreciate it.

WALKER: Thank you, Doctor.

REINER: My pleasure. Thank you.

WALKER: Well, in about three hours, the new president of Iran will be sworn in. His hardline views will no doubt further complicate relations with the west.


Frederik Pleitgen is live in Tehran with what to expect. Fred, so what is the broader implication of this changing of the guard?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Amara. Well, I think there's going to be pretty big implications.

One of the things that we saw with the current administration -- or the previous administration here in Tehran -- the Hassan Rouhani administration -- is they actually tried to improve ties, for instance, with the United States and with the West. Well, the new president, who is incoming, certainly does not intend to do that at all. In fact, in the past when he was asked if he would ever speak to President Biden, he simply said no.

Now, what the Iranians do intend to do is they say that they are going to have a very dynamic foreign policy and that means they want to project their power here in the region, whether or not the U.S. likes it or not.

In fact, earlier this morning, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps -- he was in Iran's main military port there and he talked about how strong Iran's navy has become in that area, and that they have big capabilities down there.

Of course, you'll recall just a couple of days ago, a tanker was attacked in the -- in the Persian Gulf. Two people were killed. That tanker is Israeli-linked. The Israelis and the U.S. blaming the Iranians. The Iranians saying it's not -- it wasn't them.

However, the Iranians are saying make no mistake, in the greater Middle Eastern region, they project a lot of power and they certainly will continue to do so whether or not the U.S. likes it -- Amara.

WALKER: We'll be watching closely with you, Fred. Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



WALKER: Now to a truly incredible CNN exclusive. Video, testimony, and images obtained for CNN reveal what is likely a prison camp in a forest for dissidents in Belarus. Now, opponents of the regime are fighting back, using sabotage as a protest tactic.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more.


NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): A chilling site -- not from the last century, but last month. A possible prison camp built inside Belarus for political prisoners. CNN obtained this footage of what witnesses said looked like a newly-refurbished camp about an hour's drive from the capital, Minsk.

A new sign saying "Forbidden border, and entry." A three-layer fence electrified, they said. New moving surveillance cameras and reflective screens on the windows of newly-rebuilt barracks. No prisoners yet.

What looked like a soldier inside and regular military patrols who told our witnesses outside to leave. One local talked to them anonymously.

"My friend Sasha (ph), a builder, told me they refurbished this place," he says. "There are three levels of barbed wire and it's electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a military man came up to me and said I can't walk here." The building sits on the vast site of a former Soviet missile storage facility surrounded by forests. The repairs came not only after defecting police officers released secret recordings of senior police discussing the need for prison camps at several sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): The assignment to develop and build a camp -- build a camp, but not for prisoners of war or even the interned. But a camp for the especially sharp-hoofed for resettlement and surround it with barbed wire along the perimeter.

WALSH (on camera): Not surprisingly, CNN hasn't gained access to the interior of the site so we can't definitively say that it is intended for use as a prison camp. But a Western intelligence official I spoke to said that use was, quote, "possible" although they didn't have direct evidence.

WALSH (voice-over): In the current climate, it's tough to imagine what else the camp could be for. Opposition leaders fear its possible use by President Alexander Lukashenko's forces during future protests.

FRANAK VIACORKA, SENIOR ADVISER TO SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: It's not surprising that he's trying to build something like a regular prison camp because the new way for protests will come up anyway. It can be triggered by his statement. It can be triggered by an economic situation, but it will come.

And he understands, and he also wants to be prepared more than less here in 2020. So this is I would not be surprised if such camps are being built.

WALSH (voice-over): Belarusian officials declined to comment and have called the recording about the camps fake news when it was released, saying they followed the law.

These images emerge after a week's long crackdown against remaining independent media inside Belarus and dozens of arrests. Inside Belarus, the protest movement is being persecuted so hard it now holds remote flash mob demonstrations like these filmed by drones. But some of it is finding ways to hit back, CNN has learned.

These are railway saboteurs, apparently in action. They say their operations, the details of which we aren't disclosing, just trigger alarms that stop trains on the tracks, risking nobody's safety but causing traffic to slow down, they say.

We spoke to one organizer. "When our skies are blocked," he said, "we should block the land as well. The main goal is to cause economic damage to the regime because all the delays cause them to pay huge fines."

This action was carried out, they said, on a key route from Russia to the European Union. CNN can't independently confirm it was effective.

WALSH (on camera): If there is an impact on rail traffic it could have great significance outside of Belarus and here in Lithuania because so many goods from the east rely on this network to get to Europe.

WALSH (voice-over): Signs both sides could be adopting new, harsher tactics and what may await fresh protests as the screws tighten.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Vilnius, Lithuania.


JARRETT: Nick, just remarkable reporting. Thank you for that.

Well, extreme heat and wildfires are plaguing much of southern Europe. Greece remains on high alert as it battles fires across the country with temperatures just shy of the highest ever on record.

Elinda Labropoulou is live in Athens. Elinda, this is much of a much broader pattern of extreme weather in Europe recently.


ELINDA LABROPOULOU, CNN JOURNALIST: Yes, you're quite right. Europe has been experiencing extreme heat -- extreme weather conditions for over a week now, at least in the case of Greece. But it's a general pattern. We've seen it in Turkey, we've seen in Italy, and before that we saw the floods in Germany.

It seems that climate change has been affecting Europe more than most of the world. At least that's what the experts here have been telling us.

In the case of Greece, the weather has -- the weather conditions have also brought in this -- these fires. We've had over 200 fires break out in just under three days. As we understand, tremendous efforts are underway to try and protect some of the archaeological sites, popular islands. You know, entire villages are being evacuated. The army is now stepping in to help with the efforts.

And everyone is hoping that the weather temperatures will improve. We expect that to happen towards the end of the week. But until then, several days remain.

People have been going to hospitals with respiratory problems and the situation remains very difficult.

JARRETT: All right, Elinda. Thank you so much for being there for us. Appreciate you staying on top of it.

WALKER: Mexico taking nearly a dozen U.S. gun manufacturers to federal court. The rare lawsuit claims firearms from major brands, like Smith & Wesson, have found their way into the hands of Mexico drug cartels. The complaint argues that homicides in Mexico had been declining in the early 2000s but spiked after gun manufacturers increased production, distribution, and marketing of their military- grade weapons.

No response yet from the gun manufacturers.

JARRETT: OK, good thing Christine isn't here. A dangerous West African banded cobra snake --

WALKER: Oh, wow.

JARRETT: -- is on the loose in Grand Prairie, Texas. Christine does not like snakes. The owner says it somehow escaped from its enclosure and is venomous, obviously.


JARRETT: Local hospitals have been alerted and residents in the area have been warned not to attempt to capture the snake if they see it.

WALKER: Yes, just run the other way. Don't try to capture that, please.

The U.S. men's basketball team rallies from a double-digit deficit to advance to the gold medal game at the Olympics.

JARRETT: Our Coy Wire is in Tokyo with more this morning in his Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Laura and Amara. I hope you like this beautiful sunset I've requested for you here from Tokyo.

After a rough start, including a loss in their opening game, Team USA's bid for a fourth straight gold medal is alive, but it wasn't easy. Australia led by as many as 15 in the first half, but the U.S. went on a run to cut that deficit to three by halftime.

Once again, it was Kevin Durant putting the team on his back, sparking a 20-0 run that started just before the half ended. And they held the Aussies, at one point, without a basket for nearly eight minutes. K.D. finishes with 23 points in a 97-78 win, avenging last month's exhibition loss in Vegas.

The U.S. now plays the winner of Slovenia or France in the gold medal game.

And check this out. American behemoth Ryan Crouser broke the Olympic record not once, not twice, but three times on his way to defending this shot put title. The six-foot-seven 320-pounder saved his best for last with a toss of more than 76 feet. He's the first man for USA Track and Field to win gold here in Tokyo.

He was competing with a heavy heart. That sign there -- his grandfather recently died and it says "Grandpa, we did it -- 2020 Olympic champion."

Check out the reaction from his family and friends back home in Redmond, Oregon when they heard those magical words "gold medalist.

All right, four of the fastest men in America in the 100-meters this year failed to even qualify for a chance to win a medal in the 4x100 relay. They finished sixth in the heat. A botched handoff meant it was over the Americans completely. They haven't medaled in this event since winning silver in Athens in

2004. This is the 10th time since 1995 that the men have mishandled the relay at a world championships or Olympics.

Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis ripping the team on Twitter calling it, quote, "a total embarrassment and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw" -- unquote.

Finally, you expect wipeouts in skateboarding, but not like this one. Australia's Kieran Wooley finishing a big run during qualifying, slid right into a nearby cameraman, knocking him to the ground. Both were OK and they even shared a fist bump showing that there were no hard feelings. Wooley ended up finishing fifth in the final.

What I love about this moment is that athlete right here -- he didn't get upset at that cameraman.


WIRE: He had concern for his health and he went over to make sure he was OK.

JARRETT: Yes, certainly glad to see he's OK.

WALKER: I loved that fist bump, yes, and smiling big. So they were all in good spirits. Nice to see that.

JARRETT: Thanks, Coy.

WALKER: Thank you, Coy.

JARRETT: All right.

Finally this morning, the staff at a waste collection agency in Ohio becoming heroes after a family accidentally threw away an envelope with $25,000 in it while cleaning out their grandmother's house.


The waste company, Republic Services, managed to track down the truck before it hit the landfill and somehow, the workers actually found the envelope in the trash pile.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't believe it. It took minutes and I actually -- I seen it. I said man, that looks just like that. I pulled it off and I opened it up and there was the package inside with the money in it. And they were -- they were so happy I was tearing up.


JARRETT: No word on any reward for that remarkable find, but I think that they deserve one.

WALKER: Yes. Thank goodness they didn't have to dig through that landfill. It would have been quite stinky.

JARRETT: I know. That was a real big pile.

WALKER: Thanks for joining us. I'm Amara Walker.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

On this new day, ICU beds running out in several states as more unvaccinated patients share their regrets from the hospital.

Plus, a debate erupts this morning as world health officials say Americans should not get booster shots until more nations are vaccinated.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And more new evidence shows Donald Trump and his allies blatantly attempted a coup. Now, new calls for him to be charged.

And alone, with defenders, new details.