South Korea faces ‘biggest ever’ wave
As other countries prepare to roll out vaccinations, South Korea is grappling with its biggest wave of coronavirus infections yet.
South Korea’s daily number of new cases was once as low as two per day. That number soared to 682 on Thursday, with health officials warning it could reach record highs in coming days. On Wednesday, 686 new cases were reported, the highest daily count since Feb. 29.
And vaccines are not coming until March — which is when the first batch from companies like AstraZeneca and Pfizer is set to arrive. The country says it has secured enough to inoculate roughly 86 percent of the population. “We must exert all we can, considering this is our last hurdle” before vaccines and treatments, President Moon Jae-in said.
Context: South Korea has been hit by four waves of infections since January. But the latest is by far the hardest to control, health officials said. Previous waves were traceable, but the current one spread through small clusters in nursing homes, bars, factories and other places. A disease control official called it “our biggest ever coronavirus crisis” because it was “steady and nationwide.”
How bad will this fire season get in Australia?
After last year’s catastrophic wildfires, the first major blaze in this wildfire season is underway and Australians are wondering what the rest of the season will bring.
Evacuation orders were issued on Monday for a fire that has blackened roughly half of Fraser Island, an idyllic getaway north of Brisbane renowned for golden beaches and lush biodiversity.
It’s a brutal reminder to Australians that in their country, which is fire-prone and vulnerable to climate change, the risk of record-setting infernos never goes way — it only increases each year.
Quotable: “The fires of last year were unprecedented, but they are no longer that way,” a fire expert said. “Now that we’ve had those fires, they have to be part of the planning.”
Related: California’s epic wildfires in 2020 took deadly aim at the state’s most beloved trees. Countless ancient redwoods, hundreds of giant sequoias and more than one million Joshua trees perished.
Beirut port explosion charges are a first step
The Lebanese judge investigating the huge explosion in the port of Beirut charged the acting prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers with negligence, a significant step toward holding the top levels of power accountable in the August blast that killed 200.
The judge, Fadi Sawan, filed new charges of neglect and carelessness against the four men and plans to question them as suspects next week.
Response: Mr. Diab denied the allegations in a statement on Thursday, saying that “his hands are clean,” and suggesting that the judge did not have the authority to charge a prime minister. Another of the newly charged men, Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, denied the allegations on Twitter.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
Fleeing Ethiopians tell of massacres
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have sought safety in Sudan after Ethiopia’s prime minister declared war on the Tigray region. In their accounts to Times journalists, the Tigrayans described being caught between indiscriminate military shelling and a campaign of killing, rape and looting by government-allied ethnic militias. Above, an Ethiopian refugee last week with his children in Hamdayet, Sudan, the first stop for new arrivals after crossing the border.
“I didn’t expect in our life that our government would kill us,” said Ashenafi Hailu, 24, who was nearly killed by a group of militia members. “I am frightened so much. I am not sleeping at night.”
Here’s what else is happening
China retweet: The Twitter account of the Chinese Embassy in the United States on Wednesday shared a post by President Trump falsely claiming that the Democrats “cheated” in the election, only to backtrack, undo the retweet hours later and claim its account was hacked.
Brexit: Amid little progress in negotiations between Britain and the E.U., the European Commission published contingency measures on Thursday to help prepare for a possible no-deal Brexit. The measures would keep current regulations in place for air and road travel for six months.
Afghan journalist killings: Gunmen attacked Malalai Maiwand, a well-known 26-year-old TV and radio journalist, in Jalalabad. There has been a string of targeted killings of high-profile people in the country.
Snapshot: Above, a cache of gold coins from the reign of Henry VIII found by gardeners weeding their yard — it’s among the more than 47,000 archaeological finds reported in England and Wales this year as people turn to lockdown gardening.
Cook: Let’s bake some cookies. Here are 28 of our most-loved Christmas cookie recipes.
Watch: The documentary “Assassins” tries to explain how two women caused the death of the North Korean leader’s half brother.
Listen: Taylor Swift is releasing a surprise second album entirely written and recorded in quarantine. “Evermore,” her ninth studio album, will arrive on Friday.
Do: Can eating kiwis help you get better sleep? A growing body of research suggests that the foods you eat can affect how well you sleep.
Try something new. Our At Home collection has ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
The case against Facebook
The U.S. government and more than 40 U.S. states sued Facebook on Wednesday for illegally crushing competitors and demanded the company undo its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Shira Ovide, our On Tech writer broke down what’s next.
What’s the argument from the government and from Facebook?
Shira: Trying to reduce competition by purchasing rivals is an explicit violation of America’s antitrust laws. The tricky thing, however, is that the government had given Facebook permission to buy Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014. Facebook’s argument is that it’s unfair for government officials to try a do-over now.
How will the lawsuits affect people who use Facebook?
Lawsuits like this might take years to resolve. Anything dramatic — like a government-imposed rewinding of the WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions — might not happen for years, if ever. Your experience with Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger won’t suddenly be different tomorrow.
Why is this happening now?
Some government officials had tough words for Facebook. But they left off one important point: They are suing Facebook only after years of their failures to restrain its power and because there is now political will to do so.
What’s changing now is that elected officials and other people in government are united in their hatred of America’s tech superpowers and more willing to do unusual things to address concerns over the “same bubbly caldron of concerns over the power and consumer harms of the biggest tech companies,” Cecilia Kang, our technology reporter, told me.
Will this hold Facebook back?
It is possible that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple or even Microsoft could alter their behavior because they’re bogged down by court cases or worried about looking like bullies. Companies fearful of unwanted scrutiny could also change things we like about their products and services.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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