Good morning. We’re covering the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, a new lockdown in Australia and an exodus of pro-democracy officials in Hong Kong.
Afghanistan falls to the Taliban
The insurgents met little resistance as they entered Kabul. The capital devolved into panic and confusion. Inmates broke out of the main prison and Afghans made a mad dash to banks. Thousands crammed into the civilian domestic terminal at the airport, desperately seeking flights out. Here are pictures.
Insurgents and Afghan officials assured residents that there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
But the U.S. raced to evacuate diplomats and civilians in helicopter after helicopter. A core group of diplomats were moved from the embassy to a compound at the international airport.
Women: “If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” Wahida Sadeqi, 17, said. The group will likely strip women of their rights and crack down on education for girls. On Sunday, in Kabul’s city center, people painted over posters of women at beauty salons, apparently preparing for a fundamentalist takeover.
A new lockdown around Sydney
Officials in New South Wales announced statewide stay-at-home orders, which will be in effect for at least a week, as the Delta variant fuels outbreaks. On Saturday, the state recorded 466 new cases, its highest daily total of the pandemic.
The virus has spread from Sydney to nearby towns and vulnerable Aboriginal communities. Officials blame city residents who violated a seven-week-long lockdown.
Now, Sydney residents will need a permit to travel outside the city. Some schools will close. Travel for exercise and essential shopping will be limited to five kilometers from home. And officials increased fines for violations that include lying to contact tracers.
Vaccines: Vaccination rates are increasing, as community members join grass-roots efforts to accelerate immunity. At the current pace, 70 percent of Australia’s population older than 16 will have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by Sept. 25.
In other developments:
Hong Kong opposition resigns
In 2019, pro-democracy politicians won nearly 90 percent of seats in local council elections, inspiring hopes of change. Now, fear of retaliation from Beijing has driven more than half of them to quit.
District councilors are the lowest rung of elected official and only entered the political limelight amid widespread protests. Day-to-day, they handle unglamorous tasks such as dealing with pest infestations, overflowing trash and illegal parking.
But Beijing has since trained its attention on the councilors after they took on outsize importance two years ago. Now, the councilors said, they were alarmed by the government’s plans to impose a new loyalty oath. They also fear reports that perceived violations could leave them imprisoned, barred from politics or bankrupted.
Quotable: “Before, we had a lot of hope and anticipation,” said Zoe Chow, an elected district official who resigned in July. “Now, it feels like our hands and feet are tied.”
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Montenegro spent almost $1 billion on a Chinese-built highway that peters out in the middle of largely uninhabited woods. Its government now owes Beijing debts that total more than a third of Montenegro’s annual budget.
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- 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.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- 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. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. 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. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. 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.
The Tokyo Olympics ended on a celebratory note and the Paralympics start next week, but Japan is still struggling. Coronavirus infections are at a high, and just 36 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. To get a sense of the post-Games mood, we spoke to Motoko Rich, our Tokyo bureau chief.
What’s life like in Tokyo right now?
There is a sense of cognitive dissonance. In the morning when I watch the news, commentators talk about an increasingly urgent sense of crisis. But the streets and trains are fairly busy. People are going to work in offices and eating lunch in restaurants, drinking coffee in cafes and shopping in stores, though nearly everyone wears a mask.
Polls found that the Japanese public did not support these Olympics at the start. Did people warm to them?
Once the Games started, public sentiment softened. There were still protests throughout the Games. But for many, it seems the drama of the Games diverted people’s attention away from their pre-Olympics anxiety.
What do you think will be the legacy of this year’s Games?
I am guessing there will be a reckoning for the entire Olympic movement about the cost and sacrifices of serving as a host city. An increasing number of countries are pulling out of bidding for the Games. And with both the likelihood of future pandemics and the reality of climate change hovering over everything we do, those forces are inevitably going to shape future Games.
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