Middle powers tackle diplomatic void
Middle-power countries like Australia and others in Europe and Asia are forging new bonds from what they have learned from the coronavirus pandemic: that the risks of China’s authoritarian government can no longer be denied, and that the U.S. cannot be relied on to lead.
Australia, for example, has become the sudden leader of a push to bolster international institutions, after it called for a World Health Organization inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. Europe has joined the effort.
The call for an investigation infuriated Beijing, which has rejected criticism of its initial response to the coronavirus. The move, indicative of Australia’s greater willingness to confront China, has shaken up global diplomacy.
“For the rules-based international order to mean anything, it needs to be upheld,” said one Australian lawmaker. “If the world doesn’t respond and act now, when will it ever act?”
Looking ahead: The middle-power alliances might be short-lived, but they could also offer an alternative to the dynamic between the world’s two superpowers.
Underreporting the virus toll in Russia
President Vladimir Putin is ending a nationwide “nonworking period” today, claiming success on curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The government has boasted of a low coronavirus mortality rate, confounding researchers who compared it with that of other countries with underfunded health systems.
But new data released by Moscow’s city government on Friday shows that the number of registered deaths there in April exceeded the five-year average for the same period by more than 1,700 — a sharp contrast with the official coronavirus death count of 642.
Scope: Other countries also possibly underreporting are Belarus, whose leader has rejected calls for a lockdown, and Mexico, where officials have recorded three times as many deaths in the capital as the government has acknowledged.
For example, new proposals encourage those unable to work from home to return to their workplaces — but also to avoid public transportation. People will be advised to wear face coverings in some stores and on public transit — but they are not obliged to.
Political leaders in Scotland and Wales have already rejected parts of the strategy.
Some schools may reopen next month. But, with many parents still concerned, there is no guarantee students will actually attend. Even in classrooms for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers that have remained open, the turnout has been low.
Context: Mr. Johnson’s new strategy is notably laissez-faire in balancing health and economic risks, leaving more to personal judgment — reminiscent, critics say, of his approach in the pandemic’s early stages.
If you have some time, this is worth it
Human endurance and the Silk Road
Over the Silk Road’s centuries of history, humanity faced horrors from plague to cholera. Still, the trade route — and spirit of discovery — continued. The stories about the road in the latest Travel issue of T, The Times’s style magazine, were in the works long before the pandemic — but they still hold lessons for the way forward. Above, Zhangye Danxia National Geopark in Gansu.
“Let us find some comfort,” writes Hanya Yanagihara, T’s editor in chief, “in the knowledge that we are preceded by centuries of human endurance, those travelers who remind us that every journey, no matter how difficult, ends with our finding our way back.”
Read the issue here.
Here’s what else is happening
Iran friendly-fire incident: A missile fired Sunday from an Iranian Navy frigate struck another Iranian naval vessel during a military exercise in the Sea of Oman, killing at least 19 sailors — the second time this year that Iran appeared to have fired a deadly missile at the wrong target.
What we’re reading: This widely shared look at the science of coronavirus transmission by an immunology expert, Erin Bromage. “A clear, deep and fascinating roundup of the state of the science,” writes Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: A cozy vegetable-sausage soup. Make up a big pot, brimming with roots and greens from the crisper, for a little bit of comfort.
And now for the Back Story on …
Rising levels of pandemic stress
As shelter-in-place orders drag on, the journalists Francesca Donner and Corinne Purtill had a conversation about the hard-to-ignore rising levels of stress. Below is an edited and condensed excerpt. You can sign up for the In Her Words newsletter here.
Corinne: Hi, Francesca. We’re now — let me check my notes here — about seven and a half years into home quarantine. How are you doing?
Francesca: Well, technically fine. But it’s been well over a month since my kids stopped going to school and I stopped going to the office, and we officially stopped seeing people other than a grocery worker here or there. Not to point out the obvious, but it starts to wear you down. You?
Corinne: Same. On good days, I remember to be grateful that my family is healthy, and we have a safe place to stay. But I still liked it better back when I had all that stuff and I could go wherever I wanted.
Francesca: You can see people starting to unravel. A LeanIn.Org survey out this week suggests women are experiencing stress at up to twice the rate of men. And being under this pressure makes us — women and men — do and say things that, well, we might not normally do. Parents shouting at kids. Adults shouting at each other.
One friend of mine said she threw her husband’s clothes out of the window because he left them on the floor. She said it was extremely cathartic.
Corinne: Oh my God. I think I just snorted my coffee through my nose.
Francesca: Corinne, is there anything you do to manage your stress?
Corinne: I leave my house. On foot. Once a day. It doesn’t really matter where I go. I walk or run, I feel air on my skin, I take a break from doing and just be. You?
Francesca: Hikes with my family. Every day. Rain or shine.
That’s it for this briefing. Enjoy this Little Richard tribute. See you next time.
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was pursued and killed by two white men. No arrests were made until months later.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Mischievous (three letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The New York Times Company will webcast its presentation at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference at 4:10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, or 9:10 p.m. in London, with Mark Thompson, our president and chief executive.