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Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

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The West African nation of Ghana received the first major shipment of Covid-19 vaccines under a global sharing program aimed at making vaccine access more equal. Ghana and other West African countries will begin vaccinations in the coming days, officials said.

The program, called Covax, has a goal of delivering two billion free doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries this year, which officials said would make it the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.

Context: Many public health officials have criticized the unequal distribution of vaccines as wealthy nations have bought up tens of millions of doses for their populations. At least 44.5 million Americans, for instance, have already received a shot. The Ghana shipment of 600,000 doses covers just 1 percent of the population.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has called for Europe and the U.S. to send up to 5 percent of their vaccine supplies to developing nations. The doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine sent to Ghana were produced by the Serum Institute of India.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19, and may reduce the spread of the virus by those who have been vaccinated, according to new analyses by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which could authorize the vaccine in the U.S. as early as Saturday.

  • Deaths in Japan fell for the first time in more than a decade, a jarring contrast to the huge tolls suffered by many countries. Data suggests that measures taken to control the virus may have also curbed the spread of other illnesses.

  • Israel has pledged to give spare coronavirus vaccines to some foreign allies, reigniting a debate about its responsibilities to Palestinians living under its occupation.


New curriculum guidelines unveiled by Hong Kong’s government have an ambitious aim: to use history to instill in the city’s youngest residents a deep affinity for and loyalty to mainland China.

The new lesson plans are part of a vast campaign to teach future generations a curated lesson about Hong Kong’s past. The effort by the government also includes a $100 million project to write a 66-volume chronicle of the city.

Critics say the new curriculum guidelines are a misleading and dystopian campaign to shape young minds and turn history into pro-China propaganda.

Context: When antigovernment protests swept Hong Kong in 2019, pro-Beijing officials blamed the education system for promoting liberal values. Since then, Beijing has imposed a strict set of restrictions on the city in its efforts to quash dissent.


Syria’s economic meltdown has hobbled the reconstruction of destroyed cities, impoverished the population and left many struggling to get enough food. And President Bashar al-Assad has offered few solutions.

In a private meeting with Syrian journalists last month, Mr. al-Assad blamed a range of forces for Syria’s woes, including world capitalism and “brainwashing” by social media. But he offered no concrete steps to stem the crisis.

As the 10-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war looms, the economy is worse than at any time since the war began. The meeting offered a rare, unvarnished look at a leader who seemed out of touch.

Related: A German court convicted a former officer in the Syrian secret police of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, in a case hailed as a landmark by rights groups.

The global market for Japanese anime reached an estimated $24 billion by 2019, and the pandemic has only increased demand. But many of the workers who help create the shows make as little as $200 a month, and under grueling working conditions. Above, Tokyo’s Akihabara district, a center of anime culture.

Studios can pay low wages because there are so many young people passionate about anime who want to work in the business. “There are a lot of artists out there who are amazing,” said a translator who works in the industry, so the studios “have a lot of cannon fodder.”

Tiger Woods: The golfer was “awake, responsive and recovering” after surgery for injuries to his right leg sustained in a single-car crash. He was said to have been driving at a “greater speed than normal” when the crash occurred.

China women: A divorce court ordered a man to pay his wife more than $7,700 in compensation for the housework she did during their marriage. The landmark decision prompted a fierce debate, with many saying the sum was inadequate.

Australia: A woman filed a formal police report against a former government employee who she said raped her in 2019. Since she went public, three other women have come forward about the same man.

Israel: A memoir by the daughter of Amos Oz, one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, who died in 2018, has shocked the country with allegations of physical and emotional abuse. Other family members have defended him.

From Opinion: Our video team was able to produce a short film from inside a Covid-19 ward in Arizona, thanks to nurses who wore body cameras and who spoke candidly about the trauma and burnout of battling the pandemic.

Snapshot: Above, Pete Lee, a filmmaker, directs a shoot in Texas over Zoom while in quarantine in Taipei, Taiwan. He is one of many air travelers around the world who have found themselves enduring mundane hotel quarantines because of government restrictions.

What we’re reading: The Polk Awards, the prestigious journalism honors, announced its winners, which were dominated by work about the pandemic. You can read some of the winning stories here.

Cook: This easy, crispy fried rice gets a lot of its brawny richness from just a small amount of bacon, while the cabbage lends sweetness.

Read:Klara and the Sun,” Kazuo Ishiguro’s eighth novel, is narrated by Klara, a humanoid machine who has come to act as a companion for 14-year-old Josie.

Do: Exercise vs. diet? A new study finds that what we eat may be more important than how much we move when it comes to fighting obesity.

We can help you unwind. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

By many measures, Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican reggaeton performer, is the world’s biggest pop star. And he’s part of a larger shift: the diversification of pop stardom. A realm that’s historically been dominated by English-speaking acts — like the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey — no longer is.

“A growing number of the biggest pop stars in the world are from outside the traditional capitals of the continental U.S. and U.K.,” Lucas Shaw of Bloomberg writes. According to Bloomberg’s most recent Pop Star Power rankings — based on album sales, digital streams, YouTube views and more — five of the 25 biggest current pop stars are from Puerto Rico. Another seven are from Colombia, India or South Korea. YouTube is another place where English-speaking acts are losing their dominance, as Tim Ingham writes in Rolling Stone.

In part, the trend reflects the global popularity of Latin music like reggaeton, and of Korean music, notably K-pop. The band BTS, for example, held a two-day online concert event in October that sold nearly a million tickets across almost 200 countries, Variety reported.

The trend also reflects the growth of the world’s consumer markets, like India’s. When we checked the YouTube ranking yesterday, six of the top 10 artists on YouTube’s global charts were from India; the others were from Puerto Rico, Colombia or South Korea.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Jillian


Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. Sanam Yar wrote the Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@politicsay.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is the second of two episodes on Covid in New York’s nursing homes.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Wild party, slangily (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Top executives at The Times are calling for more workplace diversity following a report based on interviews with more than 400 employees.

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Belgian artist’s ‘portable oasis’ offers COVID protection — and fresh air

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When governments around Europe told people to create a “bubble” to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a “portable oasis” – a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

“It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly,” Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his "Portable Oasis" in Brussels, Belgium.
Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his “Portable Oasis” in Brussels, Belgium.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting,” he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops – mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions – encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his "Portable Oasis"  more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his “Portable Oasis” more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don’t know, but it’s a good idea,” Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his “Portable Oasis” while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.

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Chad’s longtime president Idriss Déby dies after fight against rebels

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President Idriss Déby died from wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels.

Chad President Idriss Déby — who ruled the central African country for over 30 years — died Tuesday of wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels, the military announced.

The stunning announcement on national media came just hours after officials had declared the 68-year-old the winner of the April 11 election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.

The military said Déby had taken “the heroic lead in combat operations against terrorists who had come from Libya.”

After being wounded in battle, he then was taken to the capital, Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.

“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their attachment to peace, to stability and to national cohesion,” Agouma said.

Chad President Idriss Deby
A supporter carries a picture of Chad President Idriss Deby during a Peace Process rally in Darfur.
REUTERS

An 18-month transitional council will be led by the late president’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the military said, as it imposed a nightly 6 p.m. curfew.

Déby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses.

Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
AFP via Getty Images

He had survived several armed rebellions over the years and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by a group calling itself the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in Libya before crossing into Chad on April 11.

President of Chad Idriss Deby
Deby first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre.
EPA

Déby was a major French ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa, hosting the base for the French military Operation Barkhane and providing forces to the peacekeeping effort in Mali.

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Big rise in numbers of migrant children on Mexico-US border

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The American space agency has successfully flown a small helicopter on Mars.

The drone, called Ingenuity, was airborne for less than a minute, but Nasa is celebrating what represents the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world.

Confirmation came via a satellite at Mars which relayed the chopper’s data back to Earth.

The space agency is promising more adventurous flights in the days ahead.

Ingenuity will be commanded to fly higher and further as engineers seek to test the limits of the technology.

The rotorcraft was carried to Mars in the belly of Nasa’s Perseverance Rover, which touched down in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet in February.

Graphic

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said a delighted MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is.”

This is a reference to Wilbur and Orville Wright who conducted the first powered, controlled aircraft flight here on Earth in 1903.

Ingenuity even carries a small swatch of fabric from one of the wings of Flyer 1, the aircraft that made that historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, more than 117 years ago.

Shadowimage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH
image captionThe chopper saw its own shadow in its navigation images
Navigation photoimage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH
image captionThis navigation image was acquired with the chopper’s feet just off the surface

There were cheers in the JPL control centre as the first photos of the flight arrived back on Earth. In the background, MiMi Aung could be heard saying: “It’s real!”

To claps from her colleagues, she tore up the contingency speech to have been used in the event of failure.

media captionMoment Nasa reacts to successful Ingenuity flight

The demonstration saw the Mars-copter rise to just over 3m, hover, swivel 96 degrees, hover some more, and then set down. In all, it managed almost 40 seconds of flight, from take-off to landing.

Getting airborne on the Red Planet is not easy. The atmosphere is very thin, just 1% of the density here at Earth. This gives the blades on a rotorcraft very little to bite into to gain lift.

There’s help from the lower gravity at Mars, but still – it takes a lot of work to get up off the ground.

media captionHow this Nasa helicopter made history on Mars

Ingenuity was therefore made extremely light and given the power (a peak power of 350 watts) to turn those blades extremely fast – at over 2,500 revolutions per minute for this particular flight.

Control was autonomous. The distance to Mars – currently just under 300 million km – means radio signals take minutes to traverse the intervening space. Flying by joystick is simply out of the question.

Asked whether she was surprised the flight had worked, MiMi Aung said: “No, I’m not. We really had nailed the equations, the models and the verification here on Earth in our laboratory tests. So, it then became a question of: have we chosen the right materials to build Ingenuity, to survive the space environment, to survive the Mars environment?

“We’ve gone from ‘theory says you can’ to really now having done it. It’s a major first for the human race,” she told BBC News.

Ingenuity has two cameras onboard. A black-and-white camera that points down to the ground, which is used for navigation, and a high-resolution colour camera that looks out to the horizon.

Sample navigation images sent back to Earth revealed the helicopter’s shadow on the floor of the crater as it came back in to land.

The Perseverance rover was watching and snapping away from a distance of 65m. Its full-sequence video can be seen at the top of this page.

Selfie of helicopter and roverimage copyrightNasa
image captionA selfie of the Ingenuity helicopter and the Perseverance rover

Nasa has announced that the “airstrip” in Jezero where Perseverance dropped off Ingenuity for its demonstration will henceforth be known as the “Wright Brothers Field”.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations’ civil aviation agency – has also presented Nasa and the US Federal Aviation Administration with an official ICAO designator: IGY.

“India Golf Yankee, with the call sign ‘Ingenuity’, and those details will be officially included in the next edition of ICAO’s designators for aircraft, operating agencies, aeronautical authorities and services,” explained Håvard Grip, the Mars helicopter’s chief pilot at JPL.

Monday’s successful maiden outing means that a further four flights will be attempted over the coming days, with the first of these occurring as early as Thursday. Each succeeding flight will build on what has gone before.

“What we’re talking about here is going higher, going further, going faster, stretching the capabilities of the helicopter in those ways,” Dr Grip explained.

“We’re putting the pedal down and going for it,” added Dr Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of science at Nasa.

Wright Brothers
image captionThe Wright Brothers’ first successful flight lasted 12 seconds

The hope is this initial demonstration could eventually transform how we explore some distant worlds.

Drones might be used to scout ahead for future rovers, and even astronauts once they eventually get to Mars.

Michael Watkins, JPL director, said: “What the Ingenuity team has done is given us the third dimension; they’ve freed us from the surface now forever in planetary exploration, so that we can now make a combination of driving on the surface and sampling the surface, doing reconnaissance, and even scientific experimentation on inaccessible places for a rover. This is exactly the way we build the future.”

Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, said ideas for larger helicopters were already being discussed.

“We are thinking of things in the 25-30kg class of vehicles, and those vehicles would carry maybe about 4kg of science instruments,” he told reporters.

Nasa has already approved a helicopter mission to Titan, the big moon of Saturn. Dragonfly, as the mission is known, should arrive at Titan in the mid-2030s. It will be easier to fly on this moon given its very thick atmosphere.

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