Rising concern that coronavirus will slip world’s net
The number of reported coronavirus cases stood at more than 68,500, with nearly 1,700 deaths, including a man in Taiwan with no history of travel to mainland China. Here’s the latest.
Though the pace of increase has slowed, there are new fears of global transmission after an 83-year-old American woman tested positive for the coronavirus in Malaysia. She was one of more than 1,000 passengers who left a cruise ship last week in Cambodia and traveled onward to other destinations.
In Japan, some American passengers are being evacuated from another cruise ship that now has 355 confirmed coronavirus cases. Canada and Hong Kong say they will also evacuate their nationals from the ship, and Australia is sending an expert to weigh options.
Officials in Hawaii are racing to find people who may have had contact with a tourist couple who tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home to Japan.
In China: Placing himself in the middle of questions about the government’s response, President Xi Jinping said in a new speech that he took charge of the outbreak in early January, nearly two weeks before he first spoke publicly about it and when the government was still saying human-to-human spread seemed unlikely.
A Mao-style containment has imposed lockdowns of varying strictness on at least 760 million people, according to our analysis, a major blow to the world’s second largest economy.
Another angle: Although there are only a handful of known cases in the U.S., the outbreak has some Asian-Americans feeling an unnerving public scrutiny for just sneezing.
Adjusting to life in a fire-scarred Australia
The wildfires that ravaged the country are changing what it means to be Australian.
“In a land usually associated with relaxed optimism, anxiety and trauma have taken hold,” our Sydney bureau chief writes in an analysis. And summers are only set to get hotter and smokier, promising humming air filters and children kept indoors.
As Australians stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, our bureau chief asks, will a conservative government skeptical of climate change follow?
On the ground: Fires are still burning south and west of New South Wales. In total, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated.
Behind U.S.-Iran clash: months of misjudgments
A nine-month period that shook up the already tense relationship between the two countries began with the Trump administration’s escalation of sanctions and ended with Washington and Tehran in a direct military confrontation.
Our reporters traced the path to last month’s violent standoff, finding a story of miscalculations by both sides.
What’s next? “The chess match continues,” our reporters write. The Senate tried to constrain President Trump, voting last week to require that he seek congressional authorization before taking further military action against Iran. But the measure lacked the support needed to override a promised veto.
Another player: Once based in Iraq, a secretive group of celibate Iranian dissidents — the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Jihadists — gave our reporter a tour of their new home in Albania.
Sri Lankan army chief banned from U.S.
The U.S. imposed an entry bar on Sri Lanka’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, citing his alleged involvement in war crimes during the final stages of the country’s civil war.
The ban is the first significant international penalty against Sri Lanka since it brought the 26-year civil war to a bloody close against Tamil Tiger militants in 2009. Some 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed during the war, and thousands who surrendered to General Silva’s division disappeared.
Sri Lanka’s government condemned the U.S. measure and said there were “no substantiated or proven allegations” against General Silva, but rights groups and some in the country applauded the move.
Looking ahead: The American penalty may spur other countries to impose similar measures, or raise pressure on Sri Lanka to pursue its own war crimes tribunals — though there are signs that the country is taking an illiberal turn under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
If you have 8 minutes, this is worth it
A vital river runs low
The lower Mekong, which runs through five countries and serves as a lifeline for 60 million people, was one of the world’s few remaining free rivers until a Thai-funded dam started operations in November. Now the river is choked, residents told our reporter, and some parts are reduced to a trickle.
“Our nets are almost empty,” a fisherman in Thailand said. “Maybe our way of life on the river is finished.”
Here’s what else is happening
U.S. Justice Department: More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and justice officials called on Attorney General William Barr to step down and some current prosecutors are expressing concerns about political interference in light of his intervention in the case involving Roger Stone, a friend of President Trump’s.
U.S.-China trade: As the Trump administration considers whether to block transactions between U.S. and Chinese firms and otherwise restrict technology exports to China, some big U.S. tech firms are warning that tougher rules could be disastrous for their business, locking them out of world markets.
Snapshot: Above, flooding in Tenbury Wells, England. More than half a month’s worth of rain fell in one day as a “weather bomb” brought chaos to parts of England, Wales and Scotland.
Michael Bloomberg: As he eyed a presidential run, the billionaire and former New York mayor ramped up his charitable giving. His money created an unmatched empire of influence.
What we’re reading: This essay by the writer and critic Paraic O’Donnell in The Irish Times. Steven Erlanger, our diplomatic correspondent in Europe, describes it as a “moving, sometimes angry contemplation of a life slowly destroyed by M.S., bringing thoughts of how gardens are born in destruction, and how this progressive disease moves with the seasons.”
Now, a break from the news
Neil MacFarquhar, our national correspondent who wrote the story, previously served as the Times bureau chief in Moscow. We talked with him in the following conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You wrote that one Sputnik station shares a frequency with a smaller jazz station in Kansas City. What’s it like to be listening to Charlie Parker one minute, and propaganda the next?
You get roughly, “This is Radio Sputnik, broadcasting live from Washington D.C., the capital of the divided states of America.”
The station that has the Sputnik frequency is fairly strong, while the station broadcasting jazz is relatively weak. If you’re by the more powerful transmitter, you get Radio Sputnik
Is this kind of propaganda relatively unprecedented in U.S.-Russian relations?
It depends on your interpretation of “propaganda.” There have previously been radio broadcasts of foreign- owned and financed radio stations into the United States.
But part of the change is the MORE SOUR mood between the two capitals. Under Putin, there has been a much more concerted effort to undermine Western institutions.
The Facebook campaigns focused on the 2016 election and other things we’ve heard about were direct attempts to influence specific groups of people, so it was more manipulative. This is much more subtle. It’s not old-school propaganda, it’s American hosts — before they got to Sputnik they were fairly down on the United States from the left or right — trying to paint the U.S. as damaged goods.
Is it jarring compared to other radio stations on the dial?
It’s talk radio, so they’re riffing off of headlines about impeachment, Kobe Bryant, coronavirus, that kind of thing. The bureau chief in Washington says they’d like to have a station in New York but the cost is bigger than their budget allows.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Adam Pasick, on the briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
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