Virus surges in South Korea as doctors strike
Officials reported 441 new cases on Thursday, the country’s highest daily total since early March. The government said it was facing two great obstacles in fighting the coronavirus: doctors on strike and churches obstructing epidemiological efforts.
South Korea has reported three-digit daily jumps in infections since Aug. 14. Many have been traced to churches, and come as doctors are on strike over plans to overhaul the medical work force. Hospitals in Seoul reported bottlenecks because of the strike. The National Assembly came to a halt with more than a dozen lawmakers in self-isolation after contact with a journalist who tested positive.
Health officials have described the outbreak over the past two weeks as the country’s biggest since the start of the pandemic, and said tougher restrictions were likely. Such measures could hurt the already struggling economy.
Related: South Korea’s central bank sharply downgraded its growth outlook, forecasting a 1.3 percent contraction in 2020. That would be its worst performance since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.
In other developments:
India recorded its highest single-day increase with 75,760 new coronavirus cases as it ramps up testing, raising the country’s total virus tally to over 3.3 million.
Face masks will be required in all public places in Paris starting Friday morning as France grapples with a surge in virus cases.
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s most prominent English-language newspaper, is preparing to lay off more than half its staff because of financial problems aggravated by the pandemic.
Researchers are working on a second wave of vaccines that they say could be cheaper and more potent than the first.
Putin warns protesters in Belarus
President Vladimir Putin of Russia said he had ordered the creation of a special reserve force of officers at the request of Belarus’s authoritarian leader. He said the force will not be used “unless the situation gets out of control.”
It is the first time that the Kremlin has laid out its view of the huge demonstrations that have shaken Belarus for more than two weeks with calls for President Aleksandr Lukashenko to step down.
“We are certainly not indifferent to what is happening there,” Mr. Putin said in an interview with Russian state television on Thursday.
A warning to the West: Mr. Putin’s warning that Russia could intervene to restore order, said Nina Khrushcheva, a Russia expert at the New School in New York, signaled less “full-throated support for Lukashenko than a message to the West: If you keep pushing on Belarus, you will have another Ukraine on your hands.”
Rising tension over the South China Sea
China fired a barrage of medium-range missiles across considerable distances into the disputed waters — a move aimed at demonstrating its strategic dominance, a U.S. defense official said.
The launches on Wednesday punctuated a series of military exercises that China has conducted this month as relations between Beijing and Washington are in a free fall.
Last month, the U.S. last deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, in the waters China claims. The State Department has declared China’s claims illegal. The Trump administration this week, for the first time, placed sanctions on Chinese companies in connection with the territorial dispute.
Details: A Chinese defense ministry spokesman did not mention the missiles but confirmed that China had carried out long-planned drills over an area that stretched to the Spratlys, the disputed islands in the South China Sea. “The above exercises are not directed at any country,” he said.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
An exodus of Lebanon’s best and brightest
The young volunteers working to clean up Beirut after the huge explosion this month are no strangers to the struggle for a better Lebanon. Mostly in their 20s and 30s, and well educated yet underemployed, they were the same ones protesting for change before the blast.
But, few say they want to stay in their country to see whether that change will come. An exodus now seems inevitable. “Yesterday I woke up thinking, ‘I can go to the airport immediately, tell them I’m not coming to work. Go to the airport, fly to Turkey, see what happens,’” one political organizer and cleanup volunteer said.
Here’s what else is happening
TikTok: Walmart said it was teaming up with Microsoft on a potential bid for the popular Chinese-owned video app. It came as the company’s chief executive, Kevin Mayer, resigned after just four months.
Christchurch massacre trial: Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 Muslims at two mosques last year, was the first criminal in New Zealand ever sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for release. Upon hearing there would be no possibility of parole, many victims in the courtroom smiled through tears.
U.S. presidential campaign: Republicans used the third night of their convention to amplify warnings about violence and lawlessness as a city in Wisconsin was rocked by unrest set off by the police shooting of a Black man. Watch our video summary of the highlights.
Snapshot: Above, wreckage from Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, La. The Category 4 storm pounded the coasts of Louisiana and Texas as it made landfall on Thursday. With winds of 150 miles per hour, it was among the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S.
What we’re reading: This National Geographic article on why walking is the ideal pandemic activity. “Of course, walking is good for your health. This is a reminder about the benefits for the mind,” writes Carole Landry, from the Briefings team.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: These simple frosted sugar cookies are just the thing to share distantly — or hoard all for yourself.
Watch: “Made in Bangladesh” follows a group of garment factory workers in Dhaka as they take steps to form a union after one of their own is killed in a fire.
Read: Mariah Carey’s tell-all and several deep dives into Cold War espionage are among the 15 new books to watch for.
At Home has more ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
A pandemic reporter’s job: Covering the future
Donald G. McNeil Jr., our infectious diseases reporter, has covered AIDS, Ebola, SARS, bird flu — pretty much every pandemic. He wrote about reporting on the coronavirus crisis and trying to gauge what will happen next. Here’s an excerpt.
I’m used to my colleagues coming up to me when an outbreak threatens to reach U.S. shores, clutching my arm and asking quietly: “So, how bad is it? Are we all going to die?”
“Yes,” I always answer. Then I pause, and say: “But not of Ebola” — or whatever they’re worried about.
This was the first time I couldn’t do that. I had to say: “No, not all of us. But someone you know might. Be careful.”
The story is now so complex that keeping up with it is nearly impossible. I feel as if I conduct interviews, read studies, and watch TV day and night, just trying to follow shutdowns, school openings, vaccines, treatments, mask battles and what’s happening in Sweden, Hong Kong and New Zealand. You can’t deduce what might happen here without knowing what has worked elsewhere and calculating whether we can do the same thing — or if we’re just too stubborn and too polarized.
My editors found my early prognostications pretty bleak. I’ve been called everything from Mr. Doom ’n’ Gloom to Cassandra to “the Eeyore of the moment.” And there’s no way I can prove I have the facts right — because they don’t exist yet.
When enough time has passed to put some facts on the ground, I have sometimes found that, when I have erred, it was because the scientists I interviewed weren’t pessimistic enough.
So why do we do it? Because our readers are desperate to know. Prediction is an imperfect art. Viruses mutate, and people do the unexpected. But we’re trying.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Melissa Clark provided the recipe, and Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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