Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

Your Monday Briefing

Good morning. We’re covering the Taliban’s rapid advance, the end of the Olympics and the Delta variant’s surge across Asia.

The Taliban seize three more Afghan cities

Three cities fell to the insurgent group on Sunday, a staggering advance as government forces struggled to hold the line.

The fighters captured Kunduz, a major commercial hub in the north, and then took two nearby capitals, Sar-i-Pul and Taliqan. Since Friday, two other provincial capitals — Zaranj in the southwest and Sheberghan in the north — have also fallen to the Taliban.

After sweeping through rural areas, the insurgents’ military campaign has recently shifted to brutal urban combat. The Taliban have pushed into major cities like Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south and Herat in the west. Here are live updates.

Analysis: The advance is a devastating blow to the Afghan government. Still, President Biden will not be changing plans to complete U.S. military withdrawal by month’s end, according to a senior administration official.

These strange Olympics end

Few athletes attended the closing ceremony on Sunday, a giddy performance in front of tens of thousands of empty seats.

Aside from a few glancing mentions of the pandemic, which delayed the Games a year, the pomp and circumstance mostly looked normal — at least on television. But the arena was eerily quiet, a fitting end to a claustrophobic, uncanny event.

“The flame was doused with everyone playing their parts as if nothing were wrong, with the Olympic movement or the world,” my colleague Victor Mather reported from Tokyo.

Pandemic: Since early July, a total of 436 people related to the Olympics have tested positive for the virus. And since the Games opened on July 23, daily cases outside the bubble in Tokyo have more than tripled.

Quotable: “Some parts were extremely enjoyable,” Caeleb Dressel, the U.S. swimmer who won five gold medals, said of his two weeks in Tokyo. “I would say the majority of them were not.”

Memorable moments: A spicy rhythmic gymnastics finale. A 62-year-old medalist. A former prodigy with a gold. Here’s a recap of the magic.


The U.S. won the most medals, and the country edged out China for the most golds.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya defended his marathon title, becoming only the third man to win gold medals in back-to-back Games.

Here’s a look at the world records that athletes broke in the Games.

Next up: The Paralympics begin on Aug. 24 in Tokyo. And Paris is preparing for 2024.

Outbreaks surge across Asia

A number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region are being overwhelmed by their biggest coronavirus waves in months, as the Delta variant of the virus races through populations with relatively low vaccination levels.

Latest Updates

Thailand: Only 6 percent of people are fully vaccinated, according to Times data. On Saturday, the government reported 21,838 new coronavirus cases and 212 deaths, both single-day records. In Bangkok on Saturday, more than 1,000 people protested the government’s failures to handle the pandemic.

The Philippines: Less than 10 percent of the country is fully vaccinated. The health ministry recorded more than 11,000 new infections, the highest daily total since April. On Friday, after the capital imposed a two-week lockdown, desperate people jammed vaccination sites.

Australia: Less than 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The country recorded the most new cases since last August, with a vast majority in New South Wales where a weekslong lockdown has failed to stem an outbreak that began around Sydney.

Malaysia: Just over 25 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The country reported 20,889 new cases on Friday, its third consecutive day of record numbers.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

China said it would provide two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses this year to the world.

Tens of millions of people worldwide are on the brink of famine after the pandemic worsened crises caused by conflict and climate change.



Alibaba Group suspended several employees after a staff member accused her boss of rape.

Australian police plan to charge a man with sexual assault in the case of Brittany Higgins, who said a co-worker raped her in Parliament House.

U.S. prosecutors accused two citizens of Myanmar of plotting to attack and potentially kill their country’s U.N. ambassador, who has opposed the coup. The country is also suffering from a crippling cash shortage.


Huge fires forced thousands more Greeks from their homes on Sunday. Fires also continued to burn in Turkey as one of the worst heat waves in decades scorched southern Europe.

“This is a war without bombs,” an 86-year-old survivor of World War II and Germany’s catastrophic floods said, as his town tries to rebuild sustainably.

The Dixie Fire, the largest wildfire in the U.S., is now the third-largest wildfire on record in California.

What Else Is Happening

Veterans of Colombia’s U.S.-backed civil war, such as those involved in the assassination of Haiti’s president, are sought after by the growing mercenary industry.

Britney Spears’s father objected to the effort to suspend him as her conservator.

A Morning Read

For centuries, some Albanian women have declared themselves men and become “sworn virgins” to circumvent the patriarchal society. Now, as the country modernizes, younger women have other avenues to gain independence and respect.

Understand the State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.

    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force. In N.Y.C., workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics will be required to get vaccinated or else get tested on a weekly basis.
    • Federal employees. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel. State workers in New York will face similar restrictions.
    • Can your employer require a vaccine? Companies can require workers entering the workplace to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to recent U.S. government guidance.


    Why celebs love cooking shows

    Paris Hilton is the latest celebrity with a cooking show, joining the likes of Selena Gomez and Amy Schumer in the genre of famous people leveling up their culinary skills. These shows are often a way for celebrities — particularly women who are aging out of Hollywood’s narrow range of roles — to maintain their relevance or expand their empires, as Jaya Saxena writes in Eater.

    In “Cooking With Paris,” on Netflix, Hilton prepares themed meals using glittering cooking utensils for famous friends like Kim Kardashian West and Saweetie. The show was inspired by a viral YouTube video of Hilton from last year, in which she made lasagna, and it plays into her heiress persona. “Excuse me, sir, what do chives look like?” she asks a worker in one episode. “What do I do with it?”

    This style of clueless cooking connects with many viewers, Kelsi Matwick, a lecturer at the University of Florida, told The Times. “It’s intimacy at a distance — cooking show hosts are considered our friends and families,” she said.


    What to Cook

    These crisp corn and shrimp beignets would be perfect for a finger-food weeknight meal or entertaining at home.

    What to Watch

    Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard play star-crossed lovers in “Annette,” a musical that our critic called a “highly cerebral, formally complex film.”

    What to Read

    In “The Many Meanings of Meilan,” a children’s novel, a Chinese American girl uses the characters in her name to cope with microaggressions.

    Now Time to Play

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

    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. — Amelia

    P.S. Ben Mueller, who has been covering the pandemic from London, is joining the Health and Science desk as a medical reporter.

    The latest episode of “The Daily” is about unvaccinated people in the U.S.

    Sanam Yar wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Amelia and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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