Sat. Dec 10th, 2022


The Real News Network

Your Thursday Briefing

7 min read

Fighting the virus in Europe.

By Dani Blum

Good morning.

We’re covering virus restrictions going into force in Europe, China’s blow to Australia’s coal industry and a new Covid comedy.

Lockdowns and vaccines in Europe

Even as vaccines show promise, the coronavirus is continuing to surge across Europe.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was considering whether to bar Britons from gathering for Christmas. On Wednesday, he stuck by his pledge to lift some important restrictions for a few precious days between Dec. 23 and 27. For weeks, British tabloids have speculated darkly that Mr. Johnson would be forced to “cancel Christmas.”

Sweden imposed new restrictions as a second wave of the virus caused cases to spike. While the country previously eschewed lockdowns, fueling criticism of the government, Sweden recalibrated its approach, closing some schools and limiting public gatherings.

Germany started a strict lockdown on Wednesday that will be in place through Jan. 10, after weeks of milder restrictions failed to slow the spread of the virus.

In encouraging news, more than 137,000 people in Britain received the Pfizer vaccine in the first week of the country’s mass inoculation program. Emergency approval for the vaccine in the 27 countries of the European Union could come as early as Monday, when the European Medicines Agency meets.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Almost half of Singapore’s migrant workers, or 152,000 people, were infected with the coronavirus this year, new government data showed. The rest of the population recorded fewer than 4,000 cases.

The U.S. is negotiating a deal with Pfizer to produce tens of millions of additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine. Vaccinations began in the U.S. on Monday.

How China is making Australia rethink coal

China is forcing Australia to accept that the coal era is coming to an end.

After months of restrictions, China now has officially blocked coal imports from Australia, delivering a gut punch just as many countries are rethinking their dependence on a fossil fuel that accelerates the devastation of climate change.

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter and China its second-biggest market after Japan. The stocks of Australian coal companies collapsed this week after the China news hit the markets.

Quotable: “A transition has been forced upon us,” said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute. “It’s hard to see how things will really pick up from here.”

Related: Climate change and its enormous human migrations will transform agriculture and remake the world order — and no country stands to gain more than Russia.

Alibaba and China’s treatment of the Uighurs

One of the world’s most valuable internet companies, Alibaba, could be drawn into the storm of international condemnation surrounding China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities.

Alibaba’s website for its cloud computing business showed how clients could use its software to detect the faces of Uighurs and other members of minority groups within images and videos, according to pages on the site discovered by the surveillance industry publication IPVM and shared with The Times.

It’s not clear whether or how the company’s clients used the detection tool, but potential for troubling use is high. After The Times asked Alibaba about the tool this week, the company edited its website to remove the references to Uighurs and other groups.

Context: The Washington Post reported last week that Huawei had tested software that could alert the police when its surveillance cameras detected Uighur faces. Another Chinese provider, Kingsoft Cloud, posted a now-deleted description on its website of technology that could use facial images to predict “race” and evaluate whether a person was “Uighur” or “not Uighur.”

If you have 12 minutes, this is worth it

The trains behind India’s virus surge

Tens of millions of migrant workers were stranded after Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a national coronavirus lockdown in March. As weeks passed, the workers became so desperate that the government provided emergency trains to carry them back to their home villages. Above, workers in Mumbai waited to board trains in May.

Those trains played a significant role in spreading the virus to almost every corner of the country. India now has the world’s second largest caseload after that of the U.S. Our reporters examined how these trains became contagion zones.

Here’s what else is happening

China moon mission: China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft is set to bring a capsule of rocks and soil from the moon back to Earth. If the mission succeeds, it will be the first new cache of lunar samples since 1976.

Japanese animation studio fire: Prosecutors on Wednesday charged a man with arson and murder in connection with a fire last year that killed 36 people at an animation studio in Kyoto. The man, Shinji Aoba, had a history of mental illness and was severely burned in the fire.

Hong Kong activists: China charged 10 activists with illegal boundary-crossing after they were captured at sea while trying to flee to Taiwan in August. The case has become a focal point for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition.

Pakistan rape law: The government passed a measure ordering the opening of rape crisis centers and allowing chemical castration for men convicted of rape. It also creates special courts that will try rape cases within four months.

Snapshot: Above, actors from “Pandemonium,” a new BBC sitcom on life during the pandemic. The show, which follows a family stuck in a British seaside town after the virus quashes their planned Disneyland vacation, will test whether audiences are ready to laugh about Covid-19.

What we’re reading: This Atlantic article on the four men whose legacies shaped the South China Sea. It’s a gripping narrative about the “ghosts” that haunt the contentious waters, and how their history can impact today’s tensions between the U.S. and China.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: This caramelized shallot pasta is all about the shallots, cooked down in a bath of olive oil to a jammy paste.

Watch: Comedians like Leslie Jones, Chelsea Handler and Hannibal Buress adjusted to the new abnormal this year. Here’s our list of the best comedy of 2020.

Make: Here’s how to prepare your own incense with sandalwood powder, herbs and essential oils.

We’re here to help you tap into the holiday cheer. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do to pass the time while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

How to be a newsletter pro

If you’re reading this, you probably like newsletters. Well, we have good news: There’s still time to make your own to recap 2020. As December winds down, it’s an opportunity to take stock and to let your friends and family know how you’ve been doing. Our reporter offers tips for creating a recap of your year.

Step 1: Tell Your Story

If tales from vacations or group outings are in short supply this year, think of the more local adventures you experienced — like adopting a cat, exploring the city on foot, learning how to cook or taking up the mandolin. If the whole family has something to report, ask each member of the household to contribute a paragraph or two. As for the physical writing, jot your thoughts down in your notes app or a word processing program, like Apple’s Pages or Google Docs. Both of these are free, probably already on your device and run on smartphones, on tablets and in computer web browsers.

Step 2: Add Pictures

Even if travel snaps are in short supply and the 2020 school pictures are Zoom screenshots, browse your photo library for other images to visually document your year. For a year-end family portrait that includes everyone, set the camera timer so the photographer has a few seconds to jump into the frame. Snapshots from your walks around town, outdoor dining with friends, close-ups of the garden flowers and pet photos can capture life as you lived it in 2020, even in a lockdown or quarantine.

Step 3: Design Your Newsletter

Now it’s time to combine your words and pictures into an eye-catching document. If you’ve never created a layout before, most word processing programs include a template gallery you can use as a starting point; Apple’s Pages and Google Docs include templates. In the gallery, choose a template you like and then replace the formatted sample text by highlighting it and writing (or pasting in) your own words. Tap or click in sample images to replace them with photos from your own photo library, or look for a menu option to insert new images.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Dani

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on a sophisticated hacking operation that targeted American agencies.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Rainy month (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Claire Gutierrez, a story editor who has been at The Times Magazine, will become our Great Reads editor.

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