Your Friday Briefing
We’re covering China’s “zero Covid” strategy and a rural-urban divide ahead of Japan’s elections.
An epidemic prevention and control staff member in Beijing.Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock
Why China is still chasing Zero Covid
A recent outbreak of 240 coronavirus cases in China led to the lockdown of Lanzhou, a city of four million, as well as several smaller cities and parts of Beijing. Roughly 10,000 tourists are trapped in Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, after the emergence of cases led to a lockdown.
The no-holds-barred responses are emblematic of the country’s “zero Covid” policy. China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began, a source of national pride for many.
But China is now the only country still chasing full eradication. The rest of the world is reopening, including New Zealand and Australia, which once embraced zero tolerance.
Experts have warned that the approach is unsustainable. China may find itself increasingly isolated, diplomatically and economically, at a time when global public opinion is hardening against it. And rebounds have taken a long time for other places.
What’s next: For now, the strategy appears to enjoy public support, though some officials have cautiously broached the idea of loosening restrictions; the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently proposed opening up when the vaccination rate reaches 85 percent.
Challenges: China’s economic growth is slowing, and domestic travel fell below last year’s levels during a recent holiday.
Related: Athletes at the Winter Olympics in Beijing will be able to skip quarantine if they are fully vaccinated, the city’s organizers said, a signal that China is willing to ease some restrictions to ensure that teams make it to the Games in February.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
South Korea is moving ahead with its reopening plans despite rising case numbers.
New Zealand will halve its hotel quarantine time for travelers to one week.
China hurries to burn more coal
Desperate to ease electricity shortages ahead of winter, China is opening up new coal production exceeding what all of Western Europe mines in a year, at a tremendous cost to the global effort to fight climate change.
The campaign has unleashed a flurry of activity in China’s coal country, Shanxi Province. The region mined nearly a billion tons of coal last year, making up only about a quarter of China’s overall output, but still twice as much as the U.S. The goal nationwide is to produce 220 million metric tons a year of extra coal, a 6 percent increase from last year.
China is already by far the world’s largest coal producer. The additional production will help short-term growth, but it could impose a long-term cost on the Chinese economy. And it comes as world leaders are set to converge in Glasgow for a crucial climate summit, for which China did not boost climate targets.
Details: China’s extra coal by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point, a climate researcher said, adding, “let’s hope it’s just a temporary measure to mitigate the current energy crisis.”
Safety: Rapid expansion also means more risks for coal miners. China’s National Mine Safety Administration said on Oct. 21 that 10 accidents had left 18 workers dead in the preceding four weeks.
Oil producers: Executives at the world’s biggest oil and gas companies are testifying before U.S. lawmakers over allegations that the companies for years downplayed the role that fossil fuels have in global warming.
Japan’s rural-urban divide shows in the election
In Japan, rural votes count for more than urban ones.
Less-populated areas often get more attention from politicians and access to aid. As voters prepare to select members of Parliament in a national election on Sunday, that divide shows.
This structure plays to the advantage of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It is likely to win, aided by the strength of a base in rural areas showered with taxpayer money.
Critics say the dynamic has skewed Japan’s politics and domestic priorities. Rural voters skew older and lean conservative, and they tend to elect politicians who maintain the status quo. But the counterargument is that rural communities otherwise would decline further.
Chizu: The village in Japan’s least populated province explains a lot about the country’s politics. Its population has dwindled to 6,600, close to half of them elderly. But it is represented by a Parliament heavyweight, and government funding has allowed for improvements like a new library, new nursing schools and government-subsidized small businesses.
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A Morning Read
An image of the American actor B.J. Novak’s face appears on products around the world — face paint in Uruguay, electric razors in China, knee-length ponchos in Europe. The actor, known for his role on “The Office,” doesn’t know why, and he is probably not getting paid for it. “I am too amused to do anything about it,” he said recently.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The Covid exposure excuse
Last winter, Trysta Barwig was burned out.
She was overwhelmed by her job as a program manager, and she was traveling too often for work. She needed a break. So when Barwig’s boss asked her to pack her bags again, she used what had become her go-to excuse: a Covid exposure.
“I figured this would be easier to tell my boss than having to answer a million follow-up questions of why I couldn’t go,” Barwig, 31, said. “He was very supportive and excused me from traveling for work.”
As holidays lurk around the corner, plans are picking up in some parts of the world. And so too is social anxiety among those who are naturally introverted or who might be feeling a little rusty.
Some people have started lying about Covid exposure, figuring it’s the one way out of plans that few will argue with. Others have been using the lie all along.
For anyone who wants to avoid doing something, one psychologist said, “The Covid excuse seems tailor-made: It’s timely, prominent and appears driven by an altruistic concern for your friends, co-workers or strangers’ health.”
But those making use of it frequently should be cautious; experts say it might become harder to socialize in the long run.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
This easy slow-cooker lasagna is satisfying in all the ways that matter.
What to Read
Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s new book, “Churchill’s Shadow,” is a withering assessment of Winston Churchill, Britain’s iconic World War II leader.
What to Listen To
A rising singer, a jazz-choral amalgam, a quartet meditation and standards by Brahms and Chopin are among the highlights of recent classical recordings.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Come up (five letters).
And here is today’s Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina
P.S. Talmon Smith joined the Business desk as an economics reporter.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing.
You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].