Good morning. We’re covering Covid-19 protests in Thailand, political changes in Japan and the end of Jimmy Lai’s media company in Hong Kong.
Thais protest Covid failures
Demonstrations against the government’s bungled response to the pandemic have become a daily event, and crackdowns are growing more aggressive.
In August, at least 10 demonstrations were broken up with force. One demonstrator lost vision in his eye. A 15-year-old boy was shot and is now in intensive care, although the police have denied firing live ammunition. Hundreds have been arrested for sedition.
The anger is fierce. This year, more than 12,000 people have died of Covid-19, compared to fewer than 100 last year. The economy has been ravaged, with tourism all but nonexistent and manufacturing slowed.
Opposition lawmakers in Parliament also tried to pass a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, although that effort failed on Saturday.
Vaccines: This summer’s vaccine rollout, already late, was further hampered by manufacturing delays. Only about 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, and social inequalities have let the young rich leapfrog ahead of older, poorer people.
Context: Not long ago, Thailand was seen as a virus-containing wonder. Now, it has become yet another example of how authoritarian hubris and a lack of government accountability have fueled the pandemic.
Quotable: “Sometimes I think, one tear gas canister could buy six to eight doses of a good-quality vaccine,” said Nipapon Somnoi, the mother of the 15-year-old boy.
In other developments:
Suga’s abrupt decision came after he had spent days trying to salvage his historically unpopular administration, battered by Japan’s struggles with the coronavirus. The country took months to ramp up its vaccination program, leaving the population weary with continued economic restrictions and Suga’s approval rating below 30 percent.
Now, Suga’s decision has thrown Japan into deep political uncertainty. He announced his decision just two weeks before the party leadership race is set to begin on Sept. 17, which will likely determine the next prime minister.
Legacy: Suga, 72, had been a behind-the-scenes operator in the governing Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics for decades. A deeply uncharismatic leader, he struggled to connect with citizens and often looked uncomfortable in public.
Context: His departure raises the prospect of a return to the revolving-door leadership that once characterized the top office of the world’s third-largest economy.
Unfree media in Hong Kong
Jimmy Lai’s media company, Next Digital, said on Sunday that a crackdown had left it with no way to operate. The company, which published criticism of China for decades, is taking steps to shut down.
In a statement, the company’s board of directors called for the liquidation of the company and said that they had resigned. Lai, the founder and controlling shareholder, is in jail on charges that include violating the national security law that has stifled Hong Kong’s once-freewheeling press.
Context: Its flagship newspaper, Apple Daily, was the leading pro-democracy voice in the Hong Kong media. In June, officials froze some of the company’s bank accounts, forcing it to close.
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Four centuries after they were hunted to extinction in Scotland for their fur, beavers are back. But some farmers — frustrated by dams that flood their fields — have obtained permits to kill the otherwise protected animals, setting off outrage among conservationists.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Black surfers ride the waves
Although surfing derives from Polynesians who settled Hawaii, and different African cultures have centuries-old practices of wave-riding, white men have long dominated the sport in the U.S.
That’s all changing. Now, a new generation of Black surfers and activists are competing professionally, building on the efforts and achievements of a few surfers who started building a formal community in the 1970s.
And the surf industry is taking note. Popular brands are providing sponsorships, equipment and other support to Black surfers and organizations.
Of course, Black people surf for the joy of the sport, the same reason as anyone else. But sometimes, they organize paddle-outs together as protests, or to mourn victims of police violence. And often, Black surfers describe a profound sense of healing in an ocean that their ancestors may have traversed as enslaved people.
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