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Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

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We’re covering threats of virus resurgence around the world, and the convictions of top pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong.

Experts around the world are reminding people that despite hope from Covid-19 vaccinations and a clearer path forward, it is much too soon to let down our guard.

In Hungary, despite the country having one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates in the world, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that his government will not tighten restrictions and is determined to continue moving to reopen society. There were 302 deaths on Wednesday, the highest there since the start of the pandemic.

The U.S., where some states are in crisis mode, is a study in contrasts. In Michigan, a major hotspot, more than 2,200 Covid-19 patients statewide are hospitalized, a figure that has more than doubled since the beginning of March. And yet officials are relaxing mask rules and other measures to get the virus under control.

“Looking at numbers yesterday felt like a gut punch,” said a Michigan epidemiologist. “We’re going to have to go through this surge, and all this hard work again to get the numbers down.”

So far, Japan has mustered little more than expressions of “grave concern” about the fate of the Uyghur Muslims, hundreds of thousands of whom have been detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang region.

It is the only member of the Group of 7 nations that did not participate in coordinated sanctions against China over the abuse. But that appears to be changing, as views toward China harden among the Japanese public. Lawmakers are increasingly calling on the government to take a tougher line on China, and the country’s Uyghur community, about 3,000 people, has been more vocal.

If Japan were to fully join the effort to compel China to end abuses there, it would add a crucial Asian voice to what has otherwise been a Western campaign.

Hesitations: China is a critical market for Japanese exports, and the economy has struggled greatly over the past year. The Japanese retail company Muji, which has more than 200 stores in mainland China, recently declared that it would continue to use cotton from Xinjiang despite accusations of forced labor there.

Raising awareness: Halmat Rozi, a Uyghur living in Japan, invited Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, to surreptitiously record an intimidating phone call he received from a Chinese security official. The footage was broadcast to millions of viewers.


Seven of Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democracy leaders were found guilty on Thursday of unauthorized assembly, a verdict seen by their supporters as a severe assault on civil liberties in the territory.

The defendants were some of the city’s most prominent and internationally recognized activists: Martin Lee, a barrister known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong; Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper; and Margaret Ng, a respected barrister and columnist. They, along with four others, were convicted of participating in and organizing an unauthorized march in 2019.

Severe penalties would send a strong message about how the courts may rule in several other trials this year on similar charges of illegal assembly.

Details: They each face up to five years in prison. Sentences will be handed down on April 16. The case centered on a rally on Aug. 18, 2019, during which protesters marched toward the city’s business district. While there was no violence and minimal disorder, prosecutors argued that the march violated Hong Kong’s public order ordinance.

The crackdown: More than 2,400 people have been charged since Hong Kong authorities set out to quash the pro-democracy movement following protests in 2019, which had posed the greatest challenge to Beijing’s rule in decades.

There is one silver lining to visiting an art museum during a pandemic: The absence of crowds lets you appreciate the art in new ways. Our critic communed with van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” and wrote: “I got to do the kind of prolonged, thoughtful looking it takes to really make a painting come alive.”

Hiroko Tabuchi, one of our Climate reporters, wrote in our Climate Forward newsletter about the intersection between climate justice and Anti-Asian discrimination, which we are sharing with you here.

A wave of violence against Asians and Asian-Americans in recent weeks has cast a light on a segment of the American population that has frequently been absent from conversations on racial injustice — and on climate and the environment.

That means vulnerable communities may not be getting the attention they need to address longstanding environmental concerns.

Asian-Americans tend to live in neighborhoods that suffer disproportionately from air pollution, and are likely to be exposed to more carcinogens. (I wrote last year about a Laotian community in Richmond, Calif., that has long dealt with the dangers of living in the shadow of a giant oil refinery and was grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.)

Native Pacific Islanders, too, have suffered from pesticide exposure and health hazards from waste sites located in their communities, and also are on the forefront of dealing with the effects of climate change. (We recently spoke to Haunani Kane, a Native Hawaiian woman who is leading a climate vulnerability assessment on the effects of sea level rise on the Pacific islands.)

In an incident this week, a 65-year-old Filipino woman in New York City was viciously attacked in New York. It’s difficult to focus on issues like climate change when you feel immediate hatred around you.

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Brussels Police Disperse April Fool’s Music Festival Crowd

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The police used water cannons and pepper spray to disperse a crowd of hundreds that had gathered in a park for a hoax April Fool’s Day music festival on Thursday, defying Covid-19 restrictions.

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Amber is a sports enthusiast who loves indulging in occasional football matches. She is a passionate journalist who flaunts a perfect hold over the English language. She currently caters his skills for the sports section of PoliticSay.

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Alabama to Open Vaccination to People 16 and Older

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“I ask, I plead with you, don’t give up the progress we have all fought so hard to achieve,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

Alabama’s current set of restrictions, including a requirement to wear masks in public, expires on April 9, adding tension to a continuing battle between governors anxious to get their states open again, and the C.D.C. and Biden administration who continue to ask for patience. Several states have already dropped mask mandates.

“Please, this is not politics — reinstate the mandate,” Mr. Biden said Monday about the easing of restrictions nationwide, adding, “The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”

Almost three million people are being vaccinated across the country per day, according to the seven-day average released by the C.D.C. on Friday. But only about 25 percent of Alabama’s total population has received one shot of a vaccine, below the national average of 31 percent, according to the agency.

Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are tied as the states with the smallest percentage of people who have received at least one shot.

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As U.S. Shots Near 3 Million Daily, Experts Warn of Complacency

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As President Biden enters the homestretch of his first 100 days in office, the general declines in new virus cases, deaths and hospitalizations since January offer signs of hope for a weary nation.

But the average number of new cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks, and federal health officials say that complacency about the coronavirus could bring on another severe wave of infections.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an emotional plea to Americans this week. “But right now I’m scared.”

On the positive side, nearly a third of the people in the United States have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. As of early Saturday morning, nearly three million people on average were receiving a shot every day, up from about two million in early March.

The rising vaccination rate has prompted some state officials to accelerate their rollout schedules. This week, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut expanded access to people 16 and older, several days ahead of schedule. And Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado opened universal eligibility about two weeks earlier than planned.

“No more having to sort out if you’re in or if you’re out,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health Services in Wisconsin, where anyone 16 or older will be eligible for a vaccine as of Monday. “It’s time to just move forward and get everybody with a shot in their arm.”

In another promising development, federal health officials said on Friday that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel “at low risk to themselves” within the United States and abroad.

But these days, most signs of hope are offset by peril.

Over the past week, there has been an average of 64,730 cases per day, an increase of 19 percent from two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. New deaths on average have declined, but they are still hovering around 900 a day. More than 960 were reported on Friday alone.

The C.D.C. predicted this week that the number of new Covid-19 cases per week in the United States would “remain stable or have an uncertain trend” over the next four weeks, and that weekly case numbers could be as high as about 700,000 even in late April.

Cases are already increasing significantly in many states, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, as variants spread and some governors relax mask mandates and other restrictions. Dr. Walensky said this week that if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, the nation could face a potential fourth wave.

Michigan, one of the worst-hit states, is reporting nearly 6,000 cases a day — up from about 1,000 a day in late February — even though half of its residents over 65 are now fully vaccinated.

And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said that new variants were aggravating the state’s caseload, even as vaccinations picked up.

“We have to understand that we are in a battle,” he said.

As if to underscore how fragile the nation’s recovery is, a quintessential American ritual — the start of the baseball season — has already faced a virus-related delay.

Major League Baseball officials said on Friday that the league had found only five positive cases in more than 14,000 tests of league personnel. But because four of those people were Washington Nationals players, the team’s Opening Day game against the New York Mets was postponed, and then the team’s full three-game weekend series.

“It’s one of those things that brings it to light that we’re not through it yet,” Brian Snitker, the Atlanta Braves manager, told The Associated Press. “We’re still fighting this.”

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