Thursday, 23 Sep 2021

Your Wednesday Briefing

Upsets and exits at the Olympics

Simone Biles left the women’s gymnastics final at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday because, as the weight of expectations loomed over her, she wasn’t in the right place mentally to compete, she said. Biles had faltered on a vault and walked off the mat, all but ensuring Russia would take the gold.

In a major upset, Naomi Osaka lost in less than an hour to the 42nd-ranked player in the world, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. Her surprise defeat was met with a backlash on Japanese social media, with some questioning her right to represent the country at all. Here’s a look at some of the other biggest upsets so far.

The U.S. women’s soccer team had a scoreless draw with Australia — good enough to propel the team to the tournament’s knockout round next week. The country’s top-ranked softball team, however, was beaten by Japan, 2-0, for the gold medal.

The upshot: Which country is doing best in the Tokyo Olympics? It might depend on whom you ask — and how the medals are counted. Here are the latest updates.

Critic’s notebook: From the sidelines, Jill Biden broke with recent sartorial customs on her first solo trip, revealing some of the key values that may define her time in the East Wing.

Vaccinations and the virus surge in Spain

After a slow start, Spain’s Covid-19 vaccination program is one of the most advanced in Europe, with just over 55 percent of its population fully vaccinated. At the same time, the country is experiencing a worrying surge, averaging more than 25,000 daily new cases and prompting the reintroduction of nighttime curfews and other restrictions.

Though Spain took until mid-February to fully vaccinate its first million residents, the country is now most likely on track to have vaccinated 70 percent of Spaniards by late August. Nearly two-thirds of new infections in recent weeks have been among people under 40.

Unlike some of its European neighbors, Spain opted not to delay second shots, instead giving second doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the recommended time, 21 days after the initial dose. As a result, it has relatively few partly vaccinated people at any given time.

Travel advisories: The U.S. State Department warned Americans on Monday to avoid traveling to Spain. Germany took a similar step last week, classifying Spain as a high-incidence country and requiring unvaccinated travelers arriving from there to quarantine for five days.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

New coronavirus cases have declined for six days in a row in Britain, baffling scientists. Separately, the government’s three-tier approach to determining travel restrictions is drawing ire from Britons and the industry alike.

The top U.S. health agency recommended that people vaccinated for the coronavirus wear masks indoors in areas of the country experiencing new outbreaks.

The gap between rich and poor countries is widening amid the pandemic, with low vaccination rates in emerging economies leading to a lopsided global recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Frustrated by the prospect of a new surge in the U.S., many Americans are blaming the unvaccinated, as irritation and fear give way to anger.

China targets families of Uyghur whistle blowers

As Beijing has intensified its crackdown in Xinjiang, in western China, more Uyghurs living abroad have spoken out about mass internment camps and abuse. But increasingly their families stuck at home are paying the price, and in some cases going to prison for decades or longer.

The Communist Party has long treated the relatives of dissidents as guilty by association and used them to pressure and punish outspoken family members. With the Uyghurs, the authorities seem to be applying this tactic with unusual, and increasing, severity. There is little recourse to challenge such prosecutions.

Quotable: “People are not only suffering there, they are not only being indoctrinated there, not only being tortured, they are actually dying,” said Abduweli Ayup, whose family members have been targeted in retaliation for his activism. “And the Chinese government is using this death, using these threats to make us silent, to make us lose our hope.”


Other Big Stories

A Hong Kong protester, Tong Ying-kit, was convicted in the first trial prosecuted under the tough security law imposed by China. He may face life in prison. More than 60 others are awaiting trial on charges brought under the law.

Days after their president staged a power grab, many Tunisians are banking on the hope that things cannot get much worse.

Police officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot told Congress they suffered violence, racism and hostility as an angry mob beat them, crushed them and gave them electric shocks. House Republican leaders dismissed the inquiry as a partisan ploy.

News From Europe

At least one person was dead, 16 workers were injured and four more were missing after an explosion at a waste disposal plant in Leverkusen, Germany. Federal authorities declared the area an “extreme threat.”

The singer Bono’s climate-focused private equity fund is now the biggest of its kind in the world. The fund, TPG Rise Climate, announced that it had raised $5.4 billion, and it could get bigger by the time it closes in the fourth quarter.

What Else Is Happening

North and South Korea have reopened ​military and other diplomatic hotlines after a hiatus of nearly 14 months. The North said it wanted to improve ties “as early as possible” amid a deepening economic crisis.

A standoff near a long-disputed state border in India left at least five police officers dead and dozens of civilians injured.

Why are India and the U.S. sparring over a $110 million Mumbai mansion?

A Morning Watch

In 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell made an astounding discovery that changed astronomy forever — pulsars. But as a young woman in science, her role was overlooked, and her male thesis supervisor and another senior colleague subsequently received the Nobel Prize for it.

“The popular press were certainly putting me in the little girl, sexually attractive role. I barely rated as a scientist,” she says in this short film from our Op-Docs series. “It was dreadful.”


Driving a car on the moon

Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are the NASA lunar missions that tend to be remembered most vividly. But at the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15 this week, space enthusiasts, historians and authors are giving the lunar rover its due as one of the most enduring symbols of the American moon exploration program.

Foldable, durable, battery-powered and built by Boeing and General Motors, the vehicle is seen by some as making the last three missions into the crowning achievement of the Apollo era.

The rover’s exposed chassis, umbrella-like antenna and wire wheels meant it looked like no car on Earth, yet its connection to the American auto industry and the nation’s love affair with the automobile captivated public attention.

Though moon buggies had been imagined for years, driving a car on the moon is more complicated than it sounds. The rover had to weigh less than 500 pounds, but bear twice that in cargo. On the moon, it had to operate in temperature swings of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit between sunlight and shade; withstand abrasive lunar dust and micro-meteoroids traveling faster than bullets; and cover a sharp, rugged surface that contained mountains, craters, loose gravel and powder.

Read more about the greatest road trip of all time here.


What to Cook

This fiery, aromatic Indian grilled chicken is coated in cracked whole spices before roasting.

What to Watch

Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s “The Pursuit of Love,” set in 1930s England, explores expectations for women then and now.

Try a Microadventure

How to find a sense of awe and discover a miraculous world right outside your door.

What to Listen to

“Stand for Myself,” the forthcoming album from the English powerhouse singer and songwriter Yola, draws from Americana, disco and pop.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: The missing letters in “_orporat_ b_sse_” (four letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s all for today’s briefing. I’m away until Aug. 9, but you’ll be in capable hands. Until then. — Natasha

P.S. David Halbfinger, our former Jerusalem bureau chief, will be the next politics editor.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about vaccine mandates.

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

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