Covid-19, Boris Johnson, U.S. Troops: Your Thursday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the rising pandemic death toll in the U.S., Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s climate change plans and the stenches of Europe.

The U.S. passed another grim milestone on Wednesday, hitting 250,000 coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other country worldwide. The number is expected to keep climbing steeply, with experts predicting a forthcoming daily toll of 2,000 or more deaths.

There have been more than 11.5 million cases in the country, up from some 6.9 million on Sept. 22, according to a New York Times database.

Public health experts cited the lack of a national strategy as a primary reason for the country’s high caseload and death toll. Instead, a patchwork of state-by-state measures is being put in place to combat the virus crisis.

There is a slender silver lining: The rising cases have hastened the testing of vaccines that could eventually end the pandemic and have allowed the drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna to accelerate the testing of their vaccines, which both appear to be very effective at preventing Covid-19.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Police officers broke up an organized protest by coronavirus deniers, vaccine skeptics and right-wing extremists in Berlin on Wednesday as lawmakers passed legislation meant to undergird the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

  • France became the first country in Europe to pass two million detected cases of coronavirus infection this week, but the authorities expressed optimism that lockdown measures were starting to slow the spread of the virus.

  • Jordan, which was commended worldwide for its early efforts to counter the pandemic, has now become one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, along with Lebanon and Iran.

Britain on Wednesday took steps to address some of the country’s largest remaining sources of greenhouse gas emissions, announcing plans to end the sale of new gas and diesel cars within a decade and change the way people heat their homes.

These measures may foreshadow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s effort to put pressure on other countries to reduce their emissions in the run-up to major climate negotiations Britain will host next year. They could also indicate a common cause for Britain and the U.S., as Mr. Johnson prepares for the incoming Biden administration.

Climate activists cast the announcement as Britain’s most ambitious step to protect the planet since it decided to end the use of coal five years ago, but they questioned whether the level of investment would be sufficient.

The effects of burning fossil fuels: Immense volcanic eruptions ignited oil and coal deposits in Siberia, eventually leading to mass extinction in the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying” event, scientists have found.

An elite American-trained commando force could fall apart if President Trump withdraws U.S. troops from Somalia, as he is expected to do, leaving the country vulnerable to the Shabab and other terrorist groups.

Following the Pentagon’s announcement on Tuesday that the U.S. will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the acting defense secretary is expected to approve plans to remove most, if not all, of the more than 700 American troops in Somalia conducting training and counterterrorism missions.

Context: The U.S. military presence has been heavily focused on training, equipping and supporting the elite 850-soldier Somali unit. The plan would be to shift duties to U.S. forces in Djibouti and Kenya, allowing those stations to carry out strikes against the Shabab.

Israeli strikes on Syria: Israel said the strikes early Wednesday were aimed at Iranian targets in Syria. They were carried out just hours before a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart to commemorate a new, U.S.-brokered normalization deal.

Before a panel of Swiss arbitrators this month, six Russian athletes made an emotional appeal: Please do not punish us for something we had no part in. Above, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russia was banned from the competition but its flag still flew.

In the fight to lift Russia’s four-year ban from international sports over doping, Russia put its athletes in a starring role. If the country succeeds in overturning its ban, the effort to make it pay the price for brazen cheating will be seen to have failed.

Flooding in the Philippines: Over the past two weeks, torrential rains and back-to-back typhoons have killed up to 70 people, leaving dozens of towns in Cagayan Province under water.

Migrant crisis: The Greek authorities have charged an Afghan man in the death of his 6-year-old son as the two tried to reach the country by sea. Human rights groups say the move sets a worrying precedent and is part of a strategy to dissuade migrants from trying to travel to the country.

Birmingham bombings: The police have arrested a man in Northern Ireland in connection with the notorious bombing of two pubs in England almost a half-century ago, in which 21 people died.

Boeing: The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared the way for the 737 Max to resume flying, 20 months after it was grounded after two fatal crashes were blamed on faulty software and a host of company and government failures.

Snapshot: Armenian villagers filming a burning house before leaving Kelbajar, Azerbaijan, above. In this dispatch from the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, our reporter describes the devastating aftermath as Armenians flee what they consider their historical lands.

The stenches of Europe: A project announced this week and funded by the E.U. will catalog and recreate the scents of Europe, in all their smelly wonder, from the 16th century to the early 20th century.

Lives Lived: The British writer Jill Paton Walsh, whose novel, “Knowledge of Angels,” is said to be the first self-published book to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, has died at 83.

What we’re reading: This Grub Street ode to the lox sherpa of New York City. Adam Pasick, our editorial director of newsletters, calls it a “tragic and utterly gripping obituary.”

Cook: Kaddu, a sweet and sour butternut squash dish, is an ode to earthy, maple-y fenugreek, a staple spice of Indian cooking.

Watch: The director Steve McQueen’s ambitious anthology series for Amazon and the BBC about Black life in Britain. “I needed to understand myself, where I came from,” he said.

Grow: Harvest your own microgreens. This crop requires little patience and exhibits blessedly minimal rebellion.

Need to fill your evening? Have a look at our At Home collection for ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

With the release of Barack Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land,” the National Book Awards and the Booker Prize, capped by the release of The Times’s annual Notable Books list, our editors and critics on the Books desk are stepping it up a notch or two this week. Pamela Paul, the editor of The Book Review, and Andrew LaVallee, a deputy editor on the desk, talked about this busy time.

How are things in the publishing world in general this year?

Andrew: It’s been insane. We’re covering both the business and the cultural dimensions of the publishing world, which has been grappling with not only the pandemic, but greater interest and intensity around diversity and issues of racial and social justice.

Pamela: This political cycle has also been incredibly intense with books, going back to the “Fire and Fury” book by Michael Wolff in 2018. There’s just been book after book embargoed out of Washington. This year alone we had books by John Bolton, Bob Woodward and Mary Trump.

How long have you been working on compiling the lists?

Pamela: Both the 100 Notable Books and the 10 Best Books are yearlong processes. Book Review editors start meeting as a team in January, and then by August we’re having hour-and-a-half-long meetings every few weeks to pare back the contenders. Then we make the final choice with a ballot vote that often goes to a runoff, which it did this year.

Is the field less competitive this year?

Pamela: Relative to the rest of the cultural world, books are doing quite well, actually. Unlike film, theater and TV, the book world didn’t get interrupted midstream. A lot of books had their publication dates delayed, but most came out this year as planned, just a little bit later.

Are there any clear favorites?

Pamela: There hasn’t been a lot of crossover between the shortlists and longlists that have come out from other institutions thus far. There’s only been one book that was on both the Booker Prize list and the National Book Award finalist list, which is Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.” It doesn’t feel like there’s a coalescing around one particular title.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. Until tomorrow.

— Natasha

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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