Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Your Friday Briefing

Good morning. We’re covering the Olympics, the W.H.O.’s call to further investigate the pandemic’s origins and more flooding destruction in China.

The Olympics open amid fear and controversy

In 1964, the last time Japan hosted the Games, the country was riding high on postwar optimism and economic development. This year, the Games are essentially closed to the public, and many Tokyo residents are fleeing a scorching-hot city that has spent weeks under a state of emergency.

At least 91 people with Olympic credentials have tested positive, including 10 athletes, a rash of cases that raises thorny questions about testing. Only 950 spectators will be at the opening ceremony, which will happen in a stadium that was built for the Olympics and able to hold 68,000.

Tensions go beyond the pandemic and heat. The day before Friday’s opening ceremony, organizers fired its creative director over a 1990s comedic act in which he made fun of the Holocaust. The previous creative director resigned in March over comments about a plus-size woman. Follow along with our live updates here.

Men’s soccer: The Mexican men’s soccer team, which won gold in the 2012 Olympics, thrashed France, 4-1. Brazil trounced Germany, 4-2. Other soccer surprises abounded: Australia beat Argentina, 2-0, and Spain tied Egypt.

Softball: The sport was cut from the Olympic program after the 2008 Beijing Games. It’s back, but fans are frustrated that the sport will play on baseball fields, which are larger. And the top-ranked U.S. team needs all the runs it can get if it’s going for a gold.

Politics: Tommie Smith, the U.S. track star who raised his fist on the medal stand in 1968, weighed in on organizers’ plans to allow some forms of protest from athletes. And although the Games have reached gender parity for the first time, real equality remains far from reach.

In other Olympics news:

Expect South Korea to dominate in archery.

Here are our predictions for who might light the caldron at the opening ceremony.

W.H.O. calls for another inquiry into the pandemic’s origins

Chinese officials said they were shocked and offended by the proposition to further investigate whether the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.

“This plan revealed a lack of respect for common sense and an arrogant attitude toward science,” said Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the Chinese National Health Commission. “We can’t possibly accept such a plan for investigating the origins.”

The dispute exposes a widening rift over the inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, as the “lab leak” idea gains credibility. Some scientists have said earlier dismissals were premature, and the U.S. has joined other governments in pressing China for more information.

Context: In March, a report released after a joint investigation by the W.H.O. and China said it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped from a lab.

Escalation: In recent days, Chinese government spokespeople have reiterated claims — widely dismissed by scientists — that the coronavirus may have escaped from a U.S. military laboratory.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

England dropped virtually all pandemic restrictions, but Scotland has opted for caution, a move that could increase support for independence if cases to the south rise.

Singapore, which wanted to “live normally” with Covid, has reimposed restrictions as cases rise.

Vaccines work, but breakthrough infections can happen, especially with the Delta variant.

Italy will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for things like indoor dining, visiting museums and attending shows.

Flooding continues in central China

On Thursday, waters inundated new areas in Henan Province, and still more rain is in the forecast. The catastrophic floods have killed at least 33 people and displaced 250,000 more so far. At least eight people remained missing, provincial officials said, but those figures appeared to be preliminary at best.

On Thursday, people searched frantically for missing friends and relatives like Yan Yichen, a 12-year-old boy who had gone out to look at the floodwaters. “He never came back,” his grandmother, Cui Yuncai, said, sobbing, when reached by telephone on Thursday.

Latest Updates

In Zhengzhou, subway service remained suspended after flooding that trapped trains in tunnels that filled with water, killing at least 12 people.

European floods: German politicians hoping to replace Angela Merkel flocked to flooded towns. But so far, none have come across as strong leaders.


Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, is trying to build Western opposition to a dictatorship that she says is taking its “last breaths.”

The U.S. House overwhelmingly voted to increase the number of visas available for Afghans who have helped U.S. troops. Canada has yet to produce a plan to repatriate Afghan interpreters, despite promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

NASA released the first detailed map of Mars’s inner workings, analyzing the Red Planet down to its core.

Business News

Amazon will no longer require its customers to resolve legal disputes through arbitration, a significant retreat from a strategy that often helps companies avoid liability.

Mercedes-Benz will entirely shift its focus to electric vehicles by 2025.

Lizards, activists and red tape continue to thwart Elon Musk’s plans to build a Tesla factory outside Berlin.

What Else Is Happening

Scientists made a 3-D map of the inside of a shark’s intricate spiral intestine. It’s extremely cool.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a man who had held off a grizzly bear for days when a helicopter crew changed its course to avoid clouds and saw his SOS.

In Australia, parrots raid garbage cans. A new study examined the clever and complex process they use to get past their biggest obstacle: the lid.

A Morning Read

A children’s book published in Hong Kong portrayed activists as fluffy white sheep and the police as wolves. On Thursday, the police arrested five leaders of the speech therapists’ union behind the book, accusing them of instilling hatred of the government in children.


An Israeli-Palestinian rap battle

Uriya Rosenman, an Israeli Jew who served as an officer in an elite army unit, opens the viral video.

Summer Olympics Essentials

    • Olympics Guide: It’s been an unusual lead-up to this year’s Olympics. Here’s what you need to know about the Games.
    • Athletes: These are the competitors you’ll be hearing a lot about. Pick a few to cheer for!
    • Sports: New sports this year include karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Here’s how every Olympic sport works.
    • Schedule: Mark your calendars for your favorite events to watch.

    “Stop the whining,” he taunts, his body tensed. “You live in clans, fire rifles at weddings. Abuse your animals, steal cars, beat your own women.”

    Sameh Zakout, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, spits his reply: “I am a Palestinian and that’s it, so shut up. I don’t support terror, I’m against violence, but 70 years of occupation — of course there’ll be resistance.”

    So begins “Let’s Talk Straight,” their collaboration, which has garnered more than four million views on social media since May. By shouting each side’s prejudices at each other, Rosenman and Zakout hold a mirror to their shared society and reveal its hypocrisies.

    The conversations haven’t been easy. In early video chats, the men debated 1948, a triumph for Israelis and a tragedy for Palestinians. They spoke about their families, and their family trauma: both displaced, both proud. But it’s necessary, they said, to move past stereotypes and discover their shared humanity.

    Zakout gets the last word in the video. “We both have no other country,” he says, “and this is where the change begins.”


    What to Cook

    Einspänner, in Germany, is hot espresso topped with cool whipped cream. This iced version is more refreshing for warm weather.

    What to Read

    “The Joy of Sweat” busts myths about perspiration, including the one that equates sweating with detoxification.

    What to Watch

    “Eyimofe (This Is My Desire),” is an observant, socialist realist Nigerian feature about two men trying to get to Europe.

    Now Time to Play

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Groups of whales (4 letters).

    And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

    You can find all our puzzles here.

    That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

    P.S. A hidden haiku from a Times list of three quick meditations: “Take a few mindful / steps, paying close attention / to each sensation.”

    The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the multinational investigation into the assassination of Haiti’s president.

    You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

    Source: Read Full Article

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