Scroll to top

Beirut Blasts, Melbourne Lockdown, Island SOS: Your Wednesday Briefing

2020-08-05 02:48:34
{widget1}

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

We’re covering mounting casualties from twin explosions in Beirut, tougher lockdown measures in Melbourne and a pushback from gymnasts against abuse.

With the wounded still streaming into hospitals and the search for missing people underway, the figures were likely to go higher. The governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, could not say what had caused the explosions. Breaking into tears, he called it a national catastrophe. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared a national day of mourning for Wednesday.

What caused it: “Highly explosive materials,” seized by the government years ago, were stored near where the explosions occurred, said Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security service. He warned against speculating about a terrorist act.


There are signs that people are fed up with the lockdown. Our Sydney bureau chief writes that “the new waves of restrictions feel to many like a bombing raid that just won’t end.”

A door-to-door campaign to check in on 3,000 people who had Covid-19 found that 800 of them were not at home. The police are facing opposition. On at least four occasions in the last week, they smashed the windows of cars and pulled people out after they refused to provide their names and addresses.

The second wave: Australia was seen as a shining example for beating the virus, and it was thought that Melbourne had done so as of late June. But the city’s hotel quarantine program broke down, with travelers passing the virus to security guards, who carried the contagion into their neighborhoods.

Details: The latest lockdown will close stores, return schools to at-home instruction, order restaurants to be takeaway or delivery-only, and child care centers will be available only with special permission. An 8 p.m. curfew is in place. The outbreak in Victoria state peaked at 753 new cases on July 30 and has hovered at around 500 a day ever since.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Recent studies of patients with severe cases of Covid-19 found that their immune systems launch a misguided barrage of weapons that can wreak havoc on healthy tissues.

  • The World Health Organization urged Russia to follow guidelines for producing safe and effective vaccines, after Moscow announced a vaccination program set for October that has raised concerns that inoculations would begin before its product was fully tested.

  • Two preliminary studies of an experimental vaccine in the U.S. have yielded encouraging results, said Novavax, the company developing the vaccine.


Dozens of Hindu families converted in June in the Badin district of Sindh Province in southern Pakistan. Video clips of the ceremony went viral across the country, delighting hard-line Muslims and weighing on Pakistan’s dwindling Hindu minority.

Quotable: “What we are seeking is social status, nothing else,” said Muhammad Aslam Sheikh, whose name was Sawan Bheel before he converted to Islam with his family. “These conversions,” he added, “are becoming very common in poor Hindu communities.”

A few figures: At independence in 1947, Hindus composed 20.5 percent of the population of the areas that now form Pakistan. In the following decades, the percentage shrank rapidly, and by 1998, Hindus were just 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population. Most estimates say it has further dwindled in the past two decades.

Snapshot: Above, an Australian Army helicopter landing on the Micronesian island of Pulap to rescue three stranded sailors on Sunday. If you ever find yourself stuck on an island, it turns out that writing SOS in giant letters on the sand can actually work.

What we’re reading: This essay in Harper’s Magazine on the use of they/them as gender neutral pronouns. “This beautifully written essay, with its deep insight into the history of pronouns and their usage and its gentle humor helped me to accept and understand the beauty of “they” in its singular form,” Melissa Eddy, our Berlin correspondent, writes.

{widget2}

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *