A coronavirus variant raises fears
Countries across Asia and Europe are racing to bar travelers from Britain, as the U.K. struggles to contain an outbreak of what officials said was a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
Hong Kong closed its borders to travelers from Britain on Monday, banning all passenger flights from the country starting at midnight. The restrictions will be extended for the first time to include Hong Kong residents, as well as transit passengers who spent more than two hours in Britain over the past two weeks.
France imposed a 48-hour suspension of freight transit across the English Channel, leaving thousands of truck drivers stranded in their vehicles. Saudi Arabia announced a one-week ban on all international travel. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands also announced restrictions on travel. Beyond the European Union, Canada, India, Iran, Israel and Russia were among the places issuing their own restrictions.
The science on the new coronavirus variant is still developing. But experts say it will take years — not months — for the virus to evolve enough to render new vaccines impotent. The European Union’s drug authority, the European Medicines Agency, authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday. The agency is expected to give its decision on the Moderna vaccine authorization request on Jan. 6.
‘The whole city was dark’: China rations electricity
Officials in China are scrambling to restrict electricity use this winter, telling residents not to use electric stoves and extinguishing lights on buildings and billboards.
The country’s rapid economic recovery from the pandemic and unexpectedly frigid temperatures sent demand for power surging. Officials in at least three provinces — with more than 150 million residents — issued orders limiting energy use, warning of potential coal shortages.
In Yiwu, home to the world’s largest wholesale market, residents complained the streets were so dark they could not drive.
Long-term impact: These drastic measures point to potential problems ahead for China’s climate goals. President Xi Jinping vowed to make China carbon-neutral by 2060, but the country still draws nearly 70 percent of its power from fossil fuels. Those energy sources have helped propel China’s recovery.
Diplomacy: Coastal areas of China depend on imported coal, including imports from Australia that were recently banned. But officials denied that the ban was responsible for the current energy squeeze.
A brazen police shooting in the Philippines
A video of a police officer fatally shooting a woman and her adult son is inciting anger at the Philippine government, and at a police force that critics say uses violence with impunity.
In the video, an off-duty officer in the northern province of Tarlac is shown in a heated exchange with two neighbors about the use of a homemade noisemaker, telling them: “I will finish you now.” He is then seen raising his handgun and shooting the neighbors in the head at point-blank range.
Reaction: The video quickly circulated on messaging apps, on social media and in the local news media, and prompted two hashtags on Twitter, #StopTheKillingPH and #PulisAngTerorista, or “the police are terrorists.”
Context: The International Criminal Court said last week there was evidence that the Philippines National Police committed crimes against humanity as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
Quotable: “When those who swear to execute the laws goad and inspire law enforcers with guarantees of impunity and even a pat on the back, you create monsters in our midst ready to go berserk anytime, anywhere for a variety of reasons and circumstances,” said Edre Olalia, who heads the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.
If you have 7 minutes, this is worth it
China’s changing views on mental health
The pandemic has forced China to confront the taboo subject of mental health, derided as a bourgeois delusion under Mao. Even today, discrimination persists, and many people with mental illnesses are shunned, hidden at home or confined in institutions.
But after the coronavirus outbreak, that attitude has become increasingly untenable. At the height of China’s outbreak, more than a third of people around the country experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia or acute stress, a nationwide survey found. Our journalists looked at how the conversation around mental health is changing.
Here’s what else is happening
Extremism in Germany: Neo-Nazis have burrowed into the ranks of German police departments, with evidence of far-right officer chat groups and death threats sent from police computers. “We have a problem with far-right extremism,” the interior minister of Germany’s most populous state said. “If we don’t deal with it, it will grow.”
Nepal: The country’s president dissolved the lower house of Parliament at the request of the prime minister and announced a general election in April and May, more than a year ahead of schedule. Opposition parties and even some members of his own party criticized the move.
Snapshot: Above, coronavirus patients in Kabul. For many in Afghanistan, Covid-19 is an afterthought, and people go about their daily lives as if the virus never existed. “We live in a country with serious threats of war and poverty,” a health ministry spokesman said. “Covid can’t compete.”
What we’re reading: A Reuters investigation following a family’s decision to leave Hong Kong. It shows the pain of those who feel their homeland has been lost, and hints at the change the territory could face if so many emigrate.
Now, a break from the news
Blursday. The passage of time itself became seemingly unreliable this year, as some days felt like a week while some months flew by in an instant. The Washington Post even started a newsletter called “What Day Is It?”
Doomscrolling. The catchall, platform-agnostic term for consuming bad news or information that stresses you out — yet being unable to stop.
Virtual happy hour. The early weeks of lockdown, like the virus itself, were novel. As people searched for new ways to stay entertained and hold on to some semblance of normalcy from home, virtual happy hours became the event du jour. The wine — and quarantinis — flowed as heavily as the video-call invites.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
Melina Delkic helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
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