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Russian Hacking, ISIS bride, Angela Merkel: Your Friday Briefing

2020-07-17 05:10:05

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Good morning.

We’re covering accusations of a Russian hack to steal coronavirus research, Angela Merkel’s big European Union test and struggling street musicians in New York.

The U.S. National Security Agency said that a hacking group implicated in the 2016 break-ins of Democratic Party servers had targeted intelligence on vaccines from universities and other health care organizations. Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said that the cyberattacks were first detected in February, but that no evidence had emerged that data was stolen.

Government officials would not identify any victims. But the primary target appeared to have been Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which have been jointly working on a vaccine, one former British intelligence official said.

Response: Russian officials said they did not know who could have hacked the companies or research centers in Britain, with one calling it an attempt to discredit Moscow’s own vaccine work.

What this means: According to American intelligence officials, the Russians were aiming to steal research to develop their vaccine more quickly, not to sabotage other countries’ efforts.

To understand more about the possibility, we turned to Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter for The Times.

How long does immunity last?

We don’t know. One of my sources put it to me this way yesterday: The only way to know how long immunity lasts is to wait that amount of time. And we’re not there yet.

Is reinfection real?

It’s possible to get Covid twice, but that’s possible for any virus, ever. Some people will not, just as a matter of statistics, make strong immune responses to a virus, so they remain vulnerable. And that may also be true for coronavirus.

Still, the virus began circulating in China almost eight months ago now, and in New York not long after that. So if reinfection were possible this early on, and in a lot of people, we would have seen it already. We’re going to hear more about possible reinfections because it’s affecting so many people and we are looking at it so closely.

What’s going on with the reported cases of reinfection?

We don’t know for sure. They may be these rare cases. Or somebody who thought they had recovered may not have fully recovered. It may be that the tests were faulty and gave a false negative. It may be that their immune system was keeping the virus down to levels at which the test wasn’t picking it up for a while. It may be that there wasn’t a lot of virus in their nose or wherever they put in the swab. There are a lot of possible explanations.

That’s it for this briefing. It’s Friday! Have a rejuvenating weekend.

— Isabella

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news, and Jonathan Wolfe, on the Briefings team, for the Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected].

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode revisits a restaurant owner in Baton Rouge, La., who grappled with whether to reopen.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Ocean predator (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• On our Visual Investigations team, David Botti, a former Marine who covered the Arab Spring as a freelancer for The Times in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, is being promoted to a senior producer. And Dmitriy Khavin, a native Russian speaker who edited our visual investigation into Russia’s bombing of Syrian hospitals, is joining the team full time.


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