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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
The E.U. has pledged 1 billion Euros ($1.15 billion) in aid for Afghanistan “to avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse,” the bloc’s chief Ursula von der Leyen said at a Group of 20 (G-20) summit focused on the humanitarian and security situations in Afghanistan. Von der Leyen emphasized that these funds will be given to international organizations providing “direct support” for Afghans rather than the Taliban. According to von der Leyen, this aid package constitutes a “moral duty,” particularly for those countries that participated in the mission that hastily withdrew from Afghanistan in August, but it is also likely that E.U. countries are concerned about a surge of Afghan asylum-seekers mirroring that of Syrian refugees in 2015. Al Jazeera reports.
The group of G-20 economies is determined to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, even if it means coordinating efforts with the Taliban, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said yesterday after hosting the emergency summit on Afghanistan. “There has basically been a convergence of views on the need to address the humanitarian emergency,” Draghi told reporters at the end of a video conference, explaining that there was unanimous agreement among the participants about the need to alleviate the crisis. President Biden, “Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi and many European leaders took part in the G-20 conference, however Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not dial in, suggesting differing international positions on the emergency,” Crispian Balmer reports for Reuters.
The State Department reported that “there has been progress on a number of fronts” following meetings between U.S. and Taliban officials in Qatar, particularly with respect to humanitarian assistance. State Department spokesperson Ned Price further noted that there was also engagement by the Taliban with respect to the “shared threat” of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. Jennifer Hansler reports for CNN.
The E.U. pledge of aid goes well beyond what countries had been offering annually in humanitarian support before the Taliban took over and there were no other comparable pledges from other countries participating in the G-20 meeting, including the U.S. However, the current money pledged is still far off what is required to offset the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. A White House statement after yesterday’s G-20 meeting reiterated that “the United States remains committed to working closely with the international community and using diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means to address the situation in Afghanistan and support the Afghan people.” Chico Harlan reports for the Washington Post.
A spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicated that the agency was attempting to establish a logistics hub just outside of Afghanistan to distribute direct aid to internally displaced Afghans. “The UNHCR spokesperson said that the agency planned to conduct three airlifts to scale up supplies to Afghanistan in the coming period,” UN News Centre reports.
The State Department has announced that veteran diplomat Elizabeth Jones will be coming out of retirement to lead the agency’s Afghanistan relocation and resettlement efforts. She is unlikely to engage directly with the Taliban, but rather coordinate with interagency partners, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security and the White House, to relocate people out of Afghanistan, process those individuals in third countries, resettle Afghans in the U.S., and engage with volunteer and veterans groups. Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.
The Taliban have allowed teenage Afghan girls to return to school in several provinces in northern Afghanistan, reflecting cultural differences in that part of the country, but not in Kabul. Even in these northern provinces, not all female students have returned to class as many have fled the city and others simply do not trust assurances from local Taliban officials. Ehsanullah Amiri and Margherita Stancati report for the Wall Street Journal.
As development aid to Afghanistan remains frozen, the economic situation in Afghanistan grows more dire. Many businesses have closed after their owners fled the country, there is little cash flow in the economy, and there has been a sharp increase in prices of necessities such as food. Additionally, even as winter approaches, hundreds of people in Kabul are living in tents. Yogita Limaye reports for BBC News.
There is no clear path for unfreezing Afghan government funds, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has told a conference. Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s position that recognizing the Taliban government was not currently a priority, but international engagement was important. Reuters reports.
Qatar’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation in conflict resolution, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, has said that countries should engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders. Al-Qahtani warned the Global Security Forum in Doha organized by The Soufan Center that isolation of the Taliban could lead to instability and wide-ranging security threat, as happened with al-Qaida previously. Aya Batrawy reports for AP.
JAN. 6 ATTACK
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack “added TikTok to a list of social media companies being scrutinized for their potential involvement in the spread of misinformation” related to the attack. Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) has previously sent letters to other social media and tech giants, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. In the case of TikTok, “Peters is seeking information from TikTok on how the company identifies content that violates its terms of service governing violent extremism, enforcement of community guidelines and information on how the company’s algorithms recommend content,” Allison Pecorin and Luke Barr report for ABC.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6. attack, has said that the committee would move criminal contempt charges against those who fail to comply with subpoenas. Reuters reporting.
According to a U.S. Army study, the Covid-19 pandemic could give China and Russia a strategic military edge over the U.S. given that these authoritarian nations can “devote resources to weapons rather than pandemic relief.” “It is likely that the effects of the pandemic, particularly in the medium-to-long term, will fall relatively evenly among the United States and its two primary adversaries, China and Russia,” the Army report concluded. “However, while we expect that the overall effects will be balanced, it is highly likely that Chinese and Russian public sector technology investment and defense spending— including military modernization — will suffer less, in relative terms, than they will in the United States or among its Western allies. China’s and Russia’s centralization of authority and their focus on security over individual liberty enable these adversaries to maintain their current priorities without having to be responsive to their respective publics by diverting resources to a general recovery,” the Army said. Michael Peck reports for Forbes.
Timothy Broglio, the archbishop of the U.S. military, has said that Catholic troops could refuse the Covid-19 vaccine on religious grounds. “No one should be forced to receive a Covid-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Broglio said. In the past, Broglio has supported President Biden’s vaccine mandate for the military. Myah Ward reports for POLITICO.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The House of Representatives voted 219-206 on party lines to pass a short-term increase in the debt ceiling, which will permit the Treasury to borrow money to pay for the next two months of government spending. President Biden is expected to sign the bill after it narrowly passed the Senate. The bill constitutes “only a temporary reprieve,” setting a new deadline of Dec. 3 to once again hit the debt ceiling. As such, another fight is likely set for December. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently sent a letter to Biden insisting that he would “not be a party to any future effort” to resolve the debt ceiling issue. Sahil Kapur reports for NBC News.
Reversing policies from former President Trump’s administration, the Biden administration recently announced that it would end mass arrests of undocumented immigrants during enforcement operations at U.S. businesses. These work-site raids have long been criticized by immigration advocates for sparking fear among undocumented workers and discouraging them from reporting labor violations lest they face arrest and deportation. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asked for recommendations from the department’s immigration agencies to enforce labor laws while mitigating concerns among undocumented workers. Eileen Sullivan reports for the New York Times.
As President Biden prepares to meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is currently serving as the president of the U.N. Security Council, Biden is weighing sanctions against Ethiopia for launching a major military offensive against the Tigray region. Kenyatta has indicated that he hopes to find a “political solution” with Biden with respect to Ethiopia as he does not believe there is a military solution. “The United States and Kenya have a history of strong partnerships, as both worked together to combat Islamic terrorism,” Alyse Messmer reports for Newsweek.
Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel with the meeting occurring shortly after the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and the two Arab kingdoms of the UAE and Bahrain. Morocco and Sudan also entered into these agreements before former President Trump left office. Even as the Biden administration has rejected much of Trump’s foreign policy agenda, “Biden officials appear somewhat keen on building upon the Abraham Accords.” Although the Biden administration does not seem eager to push the expansion of the Abraham Accords to new countries such as Saudi Arabia, it seems to support the broad concept of the “shrinking” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ishaan Tharoor reports for the Washington Post.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid yesterday, where Lapid called for “the need for an alternative plan to the nuclear agreement,” according to the Israeli embassy. France 24 reports.
Sullivan and Lapid “discussed the current situation in Gaza” and “Sullivan emphasized the importance of practical steps to improve the lives of the Palestinians,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement. The statement also said that Sullivan and Lapid “agreed that the United States and Israel would continue to work closely together to strengthen and expand peaceful relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” and that they “also shared their perspectives on the threat posed by Iran.”
There is “no way” for the U.S. to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem, the Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Saar has said during a public conference. Saar’s comments come ahead of a meeting between Israeli and American diplomats in Washington, D.C. this week, where the issue is likely to be on the agenda. “I spoke with [Prime Minister Naftali Bennett] a couple of times on the issue. We are on the same page and we don’t see differently,” Saar said. “Someone said it’s an electoral commitment. But for us, it’s a generation’s commitment. We will not compromise on this,” he added. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
New cases of the so-called “Havana syndrome,” a mysterious illness with symptoms of headaches, nausea, dizziness, and memory loss, were reported in the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia a week before Blinken is set to visit the country. The State Department is investigating the complaints and Colombia’s intelligence service is also assisting. Lara Jakes reports for the New York Times.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that Russia and the U.S. have failed to make any major progress in a dispute over the size and functioning of their respective embassies and warned that relations between the countries could further worsen. Reuters reports.
Russia has not been invited to attend a 30-country virtual meeting led by the U.S. that is aimed at combating the growing threat of ransomware and other cybercrime, a senior administration official has said. “The meeting will be held over two days, involve six sessions and include topics such as addressing the misuse of virtual currency to launder ransom payments, prosecuting ransomware criminals, using diplomacy to counter ransomware, and helping nations become more resilient to such attacks, the administration official said…‘We are having active discussions with the Russians, but in this particular forum they were not invited to participate,’ the senior administration official said, adding this does not preclude Russia from participating in future events,” Nandita Bose reports for Reuters.
A Russia-led security bloc that includes some countries adjacent or close to Afghanistan will hold military drills near the Afghan border with Tajikistan from Oct. 22 to Oct. 23, Russian state media RIA has reported. “The Collective Security Treaty Organisation includes Tajikistan, which has a lengthy border with Afghanistan, as well as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus,” Reuters reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time as Israeli premier later this month. Bennett will discuss political, security and economic issues, with Iran and its nuclear program top of the agenda. Israel and Russia have long kept the diplomatic door open and operate a military hotline to coordinate air force operations over Syria to avoid clashes. AP reports.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said that Chinese military exercises near Taiwan are targeted at forces promoting the independence of Taiwan and are a “just” move to ensure peace and stability. These remarks came after the four straight days of “mass air force incursions” into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone earlier this month, which prompted Taiwan’s defense minister to declare that military tensions with China are at their worst in forty years. Reuters reports.
William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues in the Wall Street Journal that a successful Chinese invasion of Taiwan has become possible or even likely based on the results of war games conducted by the Pentagon as well as comments made by senior U.S. military officials. While acknowledging that optimists on this issue would argue that “China has more to lose than to gain” from such a military conquest given the likely decline in international trade that would result, Galston emphasizes that it would be difficult for Chinese President Xi Jinping to walk back from the nationalistic current that he has spread throughout China. Galston concludes the piece by emphasizing that the U.S. must take crucial steps to convince Xi that the U.S. is not a declining military power that lacks the means and will to defend Taiwan.
Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis has warned in a Bloomberg editorial that the presence of American troops conducting training exercises in Taiwan, supported by credible news reports, could signal that the U.S. is getting closer to a security guarantee for Taiwan. Although Stavridis expects President Biden to abide by the “one China policy,” he also suggests that Biden will simultaneously work to “increase the cost of invasion” and initiate high-level exchanges of visits between senior officials and strengthen the resolution of allies in the region, especially Australia, India, and Japan. All of this is crucial as experts grow “increasingly uneasy.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, state television has reported. “Xi and Merkel exchanged views on the development of Sino-Europe and China-Germany relations in a friendly manner, it added,” Reuters reports.
NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
North Korea state media has released footage of leader Kim Jong Un smiling and clapping at an exhibition showing off weapons Pyongyang has developed to launch nuclear strikes and soldiers participating in an exhibition intended to showcase the muscular power of the country’s troops. The exhibition included a version of the “hypersonic” missile that Pyongyang tested last month, though analysts have expressed doubts over the weapon’s capabilities. Rachel Pannett reports for the Washington Post.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met his South Korean counterpart, Suh Hoon, yesterday. Sullivan and Suh “both emphasized the important role of the U.S.-ROK [Republic of Korea] alliance as the linchpin of peace, prosperity and security in northeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement. They “called on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to enter into serious and sustained diplomacy towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and Sullivan “stressed the need for the DPRK to refrain from escalatory actions and also reaffirmed U.S. support for inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation,” the statement added. ANI News reports.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the U.N. has ruled in favor of Somalia in a years-long dispute with Kenya on the issue of their maritime border. The ICJ “ruled that Somalia, not Kenya, should control most of the triangle of water in the Indian Ocean over which Kenya has maintained sovereignty since 1979. The area, measuring about 39,000 square miles, is believed to contain deposits of oil and gas and has been a source of tension between the two countries for years.” This ruling threatens to increase tensions between Somalia and Kenya, which could have significant economic and security implications for both countries, particularly in the context of the ongoing military struggle against the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia, a conflict to which Kenya has contributed troops. Notably, however, it is unclear how Somalia will enforce the ICJ ruling as this court does not have enforcement mechanisms and Kenya has previously said it would not recognize the ruling. Rael Ombuor and Rachel Chason report for the Washington Post.
Two senior U.N. officials have been recalled from Ethiopia after audio recordings containing criticisms of senior U.N. officials were released online. In the recording two women who say they work for the U.N., but do not give their names, tell a freelance journalist that some of the top U.N. officials globally are working with forces in the Tigray region in Ethiopia that are fighting Ethiopia’s government. One of the women has been identified by U.N. staff members as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s chief representative in Ethiopia, though an IOM spokesperson refused to confirm this. Maggie Fick reports for Reuters.
South African former President Thabo Mbeki has told the U.N. that its failure to deal with diversity is a root cause of wars. Speaking at a U.N. Security Council meeting on “Diversity, State Building and the Search for Peace,” organized by Kenya, Mbeki listed African countries including Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sudan and the current clashes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region where there was a “centrality of failure properly to manage diversity.” France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, also made some additions to Mbeki’s list. Mbeki added that inequality within and between countries “is too often the result of exclusion on the basis of identity” that becomes institutionalized in governments and in economic relations, leading to “stereotyping and bigotry,” a lack of work for billions of people based on who they are, in turn leading to “a profound sense of grievance and bitterness that populists and demagogues can easily exploit.” Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
Thousands of migrants are facing abuse, including torture, sexual violence, and beatings, at the hands of guards in immigration detention centers in Libya. The Associated Press has reported on conversations it has had with migrants detailing horrifying abuses endured in Libya, as well as the testimonies obtained by Médecins Sans Frontières. Samy Magdy reports for AP.
Sudan’s security service has put a travel ban on members of a task force overseeing the country’s transition to a democracy, government sources have said. The announcement comes as tensions between the military and civilian leaders in Sudan threaten to boil over following an alleged failed coup by troops still loyal to the ousted president Omar al-Bashir last month. Reuters reports.
SOUTH EAST ASIA
Myanmar’s former president, Win Myint, testifying alongside Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto government leader prior to the coup, said that the military tried to force him to give up his power mere hours before the Feb. 1 coup, threatening him with serious harm if he refused. Since the coup, Myanmar has faced significant violence and a severe economic downturn. Win Myint was giving testimony at his trial on charges of incitement, alongside his co-defendant Suu Kyi. Reuters reports.
Win Myint testified that he defied the demand from the military to resign, saying he would “rather die,” his lawyers have said. Grant Peck reports for AP.
The race to replace Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is beginning to heat up in the Philippines after Duterte set aside the notion that he would seek to continue to hold power as Vice President. Among the candidates are serving Vice President Leni Robredo, who has criticized Duterte’s violent drug war for years; Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator of the Philippines who brutally suppressed dissent in the Philippines for nearly two decades; Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, one of the greatest boxers of all time and a supporter of some of the more controversial moves made by Duterte such as his reintroduction of capital punishment; Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, a former actor and the mayor of the Manila who has pitched himself as a unifying candidate; and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Duterte’s pick for Philippine National Police Chief, which left Dela Rosa responsible for enforcing hard-line, anti-drug police strategies. Sammy Westfall reports for the Washington Post.
A new study from Climate Central has found that approximately fifty major coastal cities will need to pursue “unprecedented” adaptation measures in response to rising sea levels that otherwise threaten to engulf their most populated areas. The analysis provided “striking visual contrasts between the world as we know it today and our underwater future” if the planet experiences three degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. Many small island nations risk losing the entirety of their land. John Keefe and Rachel Ramirez report for CNN.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that spending on clean energy would have to be tripled in the next decade to curb climate change. “There is a gross mismatch, and the longer this mismatch persists the greater the risk of further sharp price swings and increased volatility in the future,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said. Tom Wilson reports for the Financial Times.
Using a special computer program to analyze climate change data, a group of scientists reported that about 85% of people have felt the effects of climate change “in the form of coastal flooding, wildfires, and other climate-related events.” Emily Willingham reports for WebMD.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Japan’s ruling party has made an unprecedented pledge to double defense spending, underscoring the nation’s haste to increase its military capabilities to deter China’s military in the disputed East China Sea. “The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) included a goal of spending 2% of GDP – about $100 billion – or more on the military for the first time in its policy platform ahead of a national election this month. Experts don’t expect new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to double spending anytime soon, given Japan’s debt-saddled public finances and a pandemic-stricken economy. But it is a sign that the pacifist nation could over time abandon a commitment to keep military budgets within 1% of GDP – a number that for decades has eased concern at home and abroad about any revival of the militarism that led Japan into World War Two,” Tim Kelly and Ju-min Park report for Reuters.
Éric Zemmour, a far-right author and television pundit who views himself as a defender of France’s Christian civilization (though he himself is Jewish) and channels an anti-establishment campaign similar to former President Trump, has experienced a meteoric rise in political popularity over the last few weeks even as he has not declared his candidacy for France’s presidential elections in April of next year. French President Emmanuel Macron has begun to criticize Zemmour, albeit indirectly, and the far-right Marine Le Pen now “finds herself in the unusual position of being outflanked on the right.” Norimitsu Onishi reports for the New York Times.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said that Turkey will “do what is necessary for its security,” following what Turkey has said is a rise in cross-border attacks by the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) militia. Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan also said on Monday that an attack that Ankara blamed on the YPG that killed two Turkish police was “the final straw” and that Turkey was determined to eliminate threats originating in northern Syria. Reuters reports.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned group Houthis in Yemen has destroyed two explosive-laden boats used in an attempted attack by the group in the Red Sea, Saudi state TV has said. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 44.57 million and has now killed over 716,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 238.80 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.86 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley, and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will announce a new team to study the origins of Covid-19 this week. The team will include specialists in fields like laboratory safety and biosecurity. The WHO seeks to inoculate itself from criticism that its earlier efforts to examine this issue were overly deferential towards China. This team will be unlikely to be able to persuade China to provide evidence about the first infections or open virology labs, bat caves, and wildlife farms that might yield insight on the origins of Covid-19. Benjamin Mueller reports for the New York Times.
The global economic outlook has dimmed in advanced economies due to supply shortages and a lack of workers in many industries, and the gap between rich and poor countries continues to widen, according to the International Monetary Fund in the latest World Economic Outlook report. These economic disparities are rooted in unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines as over 95% of people in low-income countries have not yet been vaccinated. David Malpass, the President of the World Bank, has warned that “progress in reducing extreme poverty has been set back by years — for some, by a decade.” Patricia Cohen and Alan Rappeport report for the New York Times.
The WHO has announced its support for a booster shot for Chinese-made vaccines even as it opposes boosters for other Covid-19 vaccines out of concern for international vaccine supply. This has prompted skepticism of the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccines, which have been used widely not only in China, but in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa in a concerted strategy of vaccine diplomacy by China. Adam Taylor reports for the Washington Post.
President Biden’s proposed Covid-19 vaccine mandate has moved closer to approval as the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration submitted the initial text of the proposed standard to the White House for approval. Amara Omeokwe and Chip Cutter report for the Wall Street Journal.
Even as hundreds of police officers have died from Covid-19, police unions from the U.S. are fighting vaccine mandates. Covid-19 has been “by far the most common cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page with more than four times as many officers dying from the virus as from gunfire during that period. Mitch Smith reports for the New York Times.
Russia hit a new record for daily Covid-19 deaths amid a rapid increase in infections and lagging vaccination rates. This follows a trend this month as Russia has repeatedly hit record daily death tolls. Despite the public health crisis, the Kremlin has rejected any possibility of a nationwide lockdown, leaving it to regional authorities to institute tougher coronavirus restrictions. Al Jazeera reports.
The Biden administration has announced that it plans to ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors from Canada or Mexico beginning in early November. Specifically, fully vaccinated visitors will be permitted to cross U.S. land borders for nonessential reasons. Priscilla Alvarez reports for CNN.
Following a ruling by Judge David Hurd of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, New York health care workers will be allowed to seek religious exemptions from a statewide Covid-19 vaccine mandate. Michael Hill reports for AP.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.