We’re covering a U.S. intelligence report on Wuhan officials’ early attempts to hide the coronavirus outbreak from Beijing, Venezuela detaining people thought to have the virus and Japan’s innovative solution to the pandemic’s public restroom problem.
Local Chinese officials hid virus dangers, U.S. officials say
For months, Trump administration officials have been blaming Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party for letting the coronavirus spread.
But a new U.S. intelligence report concludes that top officials in Beijing were in the dark in early January and that it was local officials in Wuhan and in Hubei Province who tried to hide information from central leadership.
The internal report, a consensus of the C.I.A. and other agencies, could lead to a shift in U.S. policy on China and how we talk about the virus’s timeline. It is also consistent with assessments by experts of China’s opaque governance system.
Details: Local officials often withhold information from Beijing for fear of reprisal, current and former American officials say.
Impact: “It makes a huge difference if it was Wuhan or Beijing,” said Michael Pillsbury, a China scholar at the Hudson Institute who informally advises President Trump. It could give American officials a push to try to engage in good-faith negotiations with Beijing, he said.
Related: The Trump administration suspended or terminated three agreements with Hong Kong covering extradition and tax exemptions.
In other developments:
The Philippines largely reopened for business on Wednesday, against the advice of some health experts. Its total caseload — nearly 170,000 confirmed cases, of which 30,000 were reported in the last week — is the highest in Southeast Asia.
South Korea reported 297 new infections on Wednesday, its highest daily rise since March. Kim Gang-lip, a senior health official, warned that new infections in and around Seoul could lead to “massive nationwide transmission.”
Australia signs a vaccine deal
Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed a deal with the drugmaker AstraZeneca to manufacture a coronavirus vaccine and provide it for free to 25 million Australians if clinical trials prove successful.
All Australians would be offered doses, but a medical panel would determine who should get priority. The health minister, Greg Hunt, told Sky News on Wednesday, “Naturally you would be focusing on the most vulnerable, the elderly, health workers, people with disabilities in terms of the speed of roll out, but I think there would be widespread uptake in Australia.”
Victoria: The deal came as an outbreak in the country’s coronavirus hot zone appeared to be easing. The state reported 216 new daily cases and 12 deaths on Wednesday, compared with 222 cases and 17 deaths on Tuesday.
Apple is worth $2 trillion
It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value — and just two more to get to $2 trillion, reaching that milestone on Wednesday, when shares climbed 1.2 percent to $467.78 in morning trading.
Apple is the first U.S. company to reach a $2 trillion valuation, capping a staggering ascent that began during the pandemic and cementing its place as the world’s most valuable public company.
The pandemic has been a bonanza for the tech giants. Stocks of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet have soared since the Federal Reserve announced measures to calm investors in March.
Other tech news: President Trump said late on Tuesday that he would support Oracle buying TikTok, the Chinese-owned viral video app that his administration says must be sold in the coming months to protect American users’ data.
If you have 3 minutes, this is worth it
A pandemic won’t stop rude tourists
In June, two German tourists took a dip in the Grand Canal in Venice. Last month, an Austrian tourist broke the toe of a plaster statue of Napoleon’s sister in a northern Italian museum, and earlier this month, a French tourist used a black felt-tip pen to immortalize her stay in Florence on the city’s famed Ponte Vecchio.
Foreign tourism in Italy has dropped by the double digits this year — delivering a significant blow to the country’s economy — but Italians say that shouldn’t give the tourists license to run amok, and are trying to implement tougher punishments. “We’re not in the Wild West,” one official said.
Here’s what else is happening
U.S. presidential campaign: Democrats formally nominated Joe Biden for president on the second night of the convention (see the highlights). Today, there will be speeches by Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama and Senator Kamala Harris, the vice-presidential nominee.
Chinese diplomacy: A grainy photo showing the Chinese ambassador to Kiribati walking on the backs of 30 people there has heightened concerns about Chinese diplomacy on the Pacific island. He was taking part in a local welcome ceremony, but for some American and Australian officials, it was a sign of Beijing’s domineering approach to relations.
Mali: Military leaders behind the coup that toppled the country’s leaders vowed to hold new elections. The streets of Bamako, the capital, exploded with both jubilation and gunfire after President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his prime minister, Boubou Cissé, were detained.
Snapshot: Above, Venezuelan police officers arrested people for gathering in the street in late July. Nicolás Maduro’s government is detaining thousands to halt the spread of the virus — as well as doctors who question his policy — and marking the homes of people believed to have been infected.
What we’re reading: This Washington Post article about ditching “toxic positivity” and grappling with negative emotions. A good reminder that everything doesn’t have to be OK.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: If you’re tired of tuna, this chickpea salad sandwich is just the thing.
Go: This was supposed to be the year of Raphael. Five hundred years after the Renaissance artist’s death, the museum shows, conferences and lectures have gone virtual.
Watch: These animated series depict the richness and complexities of Black families.
There are endless possibilities for entertaining and nurturing yourself and your family safely. At Home has our full collection of ideas.
And now for the Back Story on …
Iran, a country hit early and hard by the virus, is in the midst of a second wave.
The country’s health ministry announced on Wednesday that it had reached 20,000 deaths from the virus, but health experts inside and outside Iran, and even members of Parliament, suggest that the number may be many times higher. Jonathan Wolfe, who writes our coronavirus newsletter, spoke to Farnaz Fassihi, who covers Iran for The Times.
What’s the situation in Iran?
It’s very bad. The country’s in the thick of a second surge worse than the first one, in March. A majority of provinces, including the capital, are “red zones.” Doctors are saying hospitals and I.C.U. beds are full. Meanwhile, there are some restrictions for public gatherings but, generally, it’s open for business.
Even by the government’s own numbers, cases are on the rise. What happened?
They opened too soon. When the virus first arrived in the country, they closed down for just two weeks during the New Year holiday in mid-March. They didn’t meet any of the benchmarks when they opened. There’s no contact tracing. There’s no quarantine.
What is the mood among Iranians?
In the early months, people were very scared. They were self-isolating and staying home and not sending their kids to school, even when the schools were still open. But I think, as time has passed, like a lot of places, we see that people are getting more reckless.
There’s also a nuanced dynamic. This is a government that for 40 years has told people what to do, how to dress, how to behave — and many people’s mind-set is to always defy what the government says. So now, when the government tells them, “Stay home, wear a mask,” they’re like, “No. We don’t trust you. And you don’t tell us what to do.”
And so for Iran, I think the challenge to contain a pandemic may be greater than other countries because the government is dealing with 70 million people whose default mode is to defy it.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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