Church at center of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak faces investigation
Prosecutors are deciding whether to investigate the founder and top leaders of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, whose members account for nearly 60 percent of the country’s more than 3,500 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, on murder and other charges.
Seoul officials asked for the inquiry, accusing the church’s leaders of contributing to South Korea’s rising death toll, now at 18, by failing to provide an accurate list of church members and by interfering with the government’s efforts to fight the outbreak. The church said it was the victim of a witch hunt.
The count: The global total of coronavirus cases has reached more than 87,000 in at least 60 countries. More than 7,000 confirmed cases are outside mainland China, where the outbreak began. Here are the latest updates and maps of the spread.
Around the world: Australia, which has 25 confirmed cases, recorded its first death from the virus — a man who had been a passenger on the Diamond Princess ship. Europe’s infections grew as Italy, the outbreak’s center there, confirmed a total of 1,128 cases and 29 deaths. Iran’s cases rose to 987.
Officials in the U.S. are looking into cases in Washington State, where the country’s first death from the virus was recorded over the weekend, that suggest that the coronavirus may have been spreading in the state for close to six weeks.
Chinese leadership: President Xi Jinping intends to ban the trade in wildlife that scientists believe may have let the coronavirus jump from animals into the human population, according to newly published excerpts from two recent speeches.
Another angle: Older people are among the most vulnerable to the virus. But in Japan, home to the highest proportion of elderly people in the world, officials have maintained strict constraints to testing people for the virus, which may be putting older people in danger.
Economy: As a recession looks more possible, the focus is not to solve for a supply shock, a problem many countries’ economic tools are not that good at solving, but to prevent that initial supply shock from triggering a demand shock.
Here’s what you can do:
It’s worth repeating over and over again: wash your hands, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Also, clean “high touch” surfaces like phone screens.
Keep a distance from people who are coughing or sneezing, if possible, as the virus seems to spread through droplets in the air from a cough or a sneeze.
For an informed guide to the global outbreak, sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter.
New Delhi violence was inevitable, critics say
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was quick to say that the violence that gripped the capital over the past week — when more than 40 people were killed, most of them Muslim — was spontaneous.
But critics had long warned that the increasingly Hindu-nationalist tilt of Mr. Modi’s policies would lead to tragedy. From their perspective, the mob killings were only a matter of time.
Now the question is whether the bloodshed will force Mr. Modi to change course — or if he and his allies will look again to Hindu nationalist sentiment for an increase in support and a distraction from the country’s economic woes.
Background: Critics say that by appointing Hindu nationalists, scrapping the statehood of what had been India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, and passing a citizenship law seen as widely discriminatory against Muslims, Mr. Modi and his allies have slowly chipped away at the country’s secular priorities.
If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it
South Korea’s ‘dirt spoons’
In Seoul, the elevation of one’s apartment above the chaotic and congested streets is a status symbol people pay millions for. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people live semi-underground, something the Oscar-winning hit “Parasite” brought global attention to.
Our reporter and photographer explored the reality behind the film’s portrayal of urban poverty. “They keep going higher and higher, so they won’t have to smell the smell down below,” said 63-year-old Kim Ssang-seok, above, who lives in a basement. “Those living up there must look down on people like me like pigs.”
Here’s what else is happening
Major Turkish moves: The country openly declared war against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, just days after Turkish forces deployed there suffered their worst losses in a single attack in years. And Turkey has ceased trying to block migrants — many of them Syrian refugees — from entering the European Union, prompting Greece to send its army to the border.
U.S. presidential race: Former Vice President Joe Biden got a much needed jolt to his candidacy with 49 percent of the vote in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, after disappointing results in earlier contests. He needs another victory this week, on Super Tuesday.
Boris Johnson: When the British prime minister and his partner announced they were expecting a child, social media responded with a good deal of ribbing, as the exact number of his progeny is somewhat of a mystery. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his 4th, 8th or 17th child,” said one wit on Twitter.
Snapshot: Above, troops firing on Taliban positions outside Taloqan, in northeastern Afghanistan, in October 2001. The country’s war entered a new phase over the weekend after the U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban that laid out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. See photos from the long arc of the war; learn about why it became invisible to much of the public; and read about how Afghans feel right now.
What we’re reading: This investigation by the digital editor of Wired’s British edition. Peter Robins, an editor in our London newsroom, says it “maps a labyrinth of stealth hotels and fake reviews, with implications for anyone who uses Airbnb, or who needs a rental apartment to live in a much-visited city.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: Vegan mapo tofu. “Mushrooms have a lot of umami, the savory taste that also makes Parmesan, soy sauce and red meat taste satisfying,” writes our Food reporter, Julia Moskin, in the Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter. “Along with fermented black beans, they’re the key to this version of the Sichuan standard, and I love this video of a skilled home cook cooking the classic.”
Watch: Elisabeth Moss stars in “The Invisible Man,” an update on the H.G. Wells classic that trades science-fiction shivers for #MeToo horror. It’s a Critic’s Pick.
Smarter Living: When’s the last time you read a car owner manual cover to cover? Probably never. But you should read this cheat sheet to personalize your car and enjoy it more.
And now for the Back Story on …
A flu that recalls 1918
Last week, you might remember that we spoke with Donald McNeil, The Times’s infectious disease reporter, about the coronavirus. This week, we’re circling back with his comments on “The Daily.”
Last week, President Trump tried to calm public fears by likening the coronavirus to the flu. But that comparison may not be a happy one.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about whether I’m being too alarmist or whether I’m being not alarmist enough,” Donald G. McNeil Jr., a veteran science and health reporter for The Times, told The Daily podcast on Wednesday. “And this is alarmist, but I think right now, it’s justified. This one reminds me of what I have read about the 1918 Spanish influenza.”
The 1918 flu was a very big deal. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one-third of the world’s population became infected in 1918 and 1919, causing at least 50 million deaths worldwide. Early indicators are that the coronavirus mortality rate is similar to the 1918 flu, roughly 2 percent.
“The annual flu, in a bad year, has a death rate of around 0.1 percent,” Donald said. “So we’re talking about 20 times as bad.”
“You know, I take some comfort in the fact that 80 percent of the people have a mild disease,” he added, “and that might be me and everybody I love, too. We might all get lucky. But not everybody we know is going to get lucky if this turns into something like 1918.”
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about Joe Biden’s campaign.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Most of the human body (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Book Review is welcoming Elisa Gabbert as its next poetry columnist.