Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

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The Real News Network

Your Tuesday Briefing

6 min read

A lengthy outage for Facebook and its apps

Facebook and its family of apps, including Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, were inaccessible for over five hours yesterday, taking out a vital communications platform used by billions and showcasing just how dependent the world has become on a company that is under intense scrutiny.

The impact of the shutdown was far-reaching and severe, leading to unexpected domino effects such as people not being able to log into shopping websites or sign into their smart TVs, thermostats and other internet-connected devices.

In some countries, like Myanmar and India, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, distribute political messaging and conduct business.

Explanation: Hours later, Facebook blamed the outage on changes to the underlying internet infrastructure that coordinates the traffic between its data centers. That interrupted communications and cascaded to other data centers, “bringing our services to a halt,” the company said.

News from Washington: Separately, Facebook yesterday filed a motion to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s revised antitrust lawsuit against the company, saying the agency’s complaint still lacked evidence.

New Zealand abandons its ‘Covid-zero’ strategy

Seven weeks into a wearying lockdown, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, yesterday acknowledged an end to the elimination strategy that had given the country one of the lowest rates of Covid cases and deaths in the world, and had allowed its people to live without restrictions during most of the pandemic.

“We’re transitioning from our current strategy into a new way of doing things,” Ardern said. “With Delta, the return to zero is incredibly difficult, and our restrictions alone are not enough to achieve that quickly. In fact, for this outbreak, it’s clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases.”

The city of Auckland, where the outbreak is concentrated, will remain in lockdown for as long as the next two months, epidemiologists say, while the country continues its vaccination efforts. A 79 percent of people 12 and older have received at least one dose, and 48 percent have received two doses, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

At risk: Auckland’s outbreak has been complicated by low vaccination rates and rising cases among vulnerable people, including those in temporary housing. “We should have recognized the entrenched transmission in marginalized and deprived groups,” said Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago. “That’s what basically sustained the outbreak.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Britain streamlined England’s restrictions on international travel into and out of the country and eased testing and quarantine rules for fully vaccinated arrivals.

The European Medicines Agency said that a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be given to healthy adults.

Phuket, a resort island in Thailand where vaccinated people who test negative for the coronavirus can roam freely, is starting to see some life return to its tourism industry.

Johnson & Johnson plans to seek U.S. authorization for a booster shot.

Venice tries tracking its tourists

A tourist-weary Venice is taking drastic new measures to track visitors, including using hundreds of surveillance cameras and buying the cellphone data of unsuspecting tourists to aid in crowd control, in what the city’s mayor described as a bid at creating a more livable city.

The city plans to install long-debated gates at key entry points next summer. Day-trippers will have to book ahead and pay a fee, and some may be turned away if too many people want to come. But some Venetians see the plans as dystopian, and perhaps a ploy to attract wealthier tourists who may be discouraged by the crowds.

Quotable: “It’s like declaring once and for all that Venice is not a city, but a museum,” said Giorgio Santuzzo, who works as a photographer and artist in the city.

THE LATEST NEWS

News From Europe

Britain is bracing for a challenging winter amid growing pressure from rising transport costs, labor shortages and commodity costs. Military personnel began driving fuel tankers yesterday as the government stepped up efforts to tackle a shortage of truck drivers.

Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist known for a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad that was widely condemned by Muslims, was killed in a car crash that the police said was an accident.

Voters in Rome rejected the re-election bid of Virginia Raggi, the city’s mayor who swept into power five years ago promising change. A runoff between the two leading candidates will take place later this month.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right prime minister, has spent millions cultivating allies such as Mike Pence, the former U.S. vice president, and lobbying in Washington.

Around the World

In the strongest signal yet that the U.S. will maintain its combative economic approach toward China, officials from the Biden administration said it would not immediately lift tariffs on Chinese goods. Above, the Yangshan container port in Shanghai.

Nearly 100,000 people are missing in Mexico, a crushing testament to the inability of government after government to stop the bloodshed caused by a drug war and bring criminals to justice.

The cost of oil, natural gas and coal has climbed rapidly in recent months. Oil companies and OPEC are reluctant to produce more because they worry prices will drop.

The Biden administration yesterday reversed a contentious policy set under Donald Trump that barred organizations that provided abortion referrals from receiving federal family-planning money.

What Else Is Happening

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their work on how heat, cold and touch can initiate signals in the nervous system.

William Shatner, the actor best known for his role as Captain James Kirk in “Star Trek,” is scheduled for a mid-October trip on the rocket built by Blue Origin, the private space company owned by Jeff Bezos. Shatner, 90, will become the oldest person to fly to space.

A Morning Read

Urban transportation is central to the effort to slow climate change — and it can’t be done by just switching to electric cars. Several cities including Bogotá, Colombia, above, are starting to electrify mass transit.

ARTS AND IDEAS

How old is the Maltese?

There is little doubt that there were little white lap dogs 2,000 years ago. The question is whether the modern Maltese breed is directly descended from the pets Romans scratched behind the ears, writes James Gorman for The Times.

All dogs derive from the first dogs, just as all humans can trace their ancestry to the first Homo sapiens. But the notion of breeding animals toward an aesthetic and closing the breeding line dates back only to the mid-19th century, in Britain. “I don’t care whether you’re talking about a pug or a New Guinea singing dog or a basenji,” said Greger Larson, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Oxford. Breeds, by definition, are recent.

That said, people have bred dogs to chase animals or herd sheep or race for far longer. One such lineage, call it Maltese-adjacent, might be defined as “really small dogs with short legs and they require a lot of attention and people are in love with them,” Dr. Larson said.

That lineage was certainly around in ancient Rome — even if they bear no real genetic similarity to the Maltese in your life today.

Read more about the back story of a much-loved dog.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

This hearty bean minestrone puts seasonal vegetables on show.

What to Read

In “Major Labels,” Kelefa Sanneh considers the past 50 years of music, writing appreciatively about everything from R&B to “bro country.”

Virtual Travel

Immerse yourself in the “Garden of Eden” home of a colorful, endangered bird.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: It follows “North” or “South” to make a country name (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. The Times won the top prize in the Visual Storytelling category at the Gerald Loeb Awards.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about how ivermectin, a drug used to treat livestock, became the unproven Covid medication of choice for some of those reluctant to receive vaccines.

You can reach Natasha and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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