Your Monday Briefing
Good morning. We’re covering the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, a new lockdown in Australia and an exodus of pro-democracy officials in Hong Kong.
Afghanistan falls to the Taliban
The government collapsed on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled for Uzbekistan with his wife. Here are live updates.
The insurgents met little resistance as they entered Kabul. The capital devolved into panic and confusion. Inmates broke out of the main prison and Afghans made a mad dash to banks. Thousands crammed into the civilian domestic terminal at the airport, desperately seeking flights out. Here are pictures.
Insurgents and Afghan officials assured residents that there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
But the U.S. raced to evacuate diplomats and civilians in helicopter after helicopter. A core group of diplomats were moved from the embassy to a compound at the international airport.
Women: “If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” Wahida Sadeqi, 17, said. The group will likely strip women of their rights and crack down on education for girls. On Sunday, in Kabul’s city center, people painted over posters of women at beauty salons, apparently preparing for a fundamentalist takeover.
Kunduz: The northern city, which fell last Sunday after heavy fighting, offers a chilling prophecy for the country. Days after the new insurgent leaders said they had no quarrel with the people, they soon began instilling fear.
Context: The Taliban started their offensive in May as the U.S. began withdrawing troops, and quickly overwhelmed the Afghan military that the U.S. spent more than $83 billion to support over the past two decades. They swept through the country with stunning speed: Mazar-i-Sharif, the last major city in the north, fell just a day before Kabul.
Refugees: Rights groups sharply criticized the Biden administration for not moving faster to relocate America’s Afghan allies from a country where they are at risk of lethal Taliban reprisals. Afghan journalists working for U.S. broadcasters also fear backlash.
A new lockdown around Sydney
Officials in New South Wales announced statewide stay-at-home orders, which will be in effect for at least a week, as the Delta variant fuels outbreaks. On Saturday, the state recorded 466 new cases, its highest daily total of the pandemic.
The virus has spread from Sydney to nearby towns and vulnerable Aboriginal communities. Officials blame city residents who violated a seven-week-long lockdown.
Now, Sydney residents will need a permit to travel outside the city. Some schools will close. Travel for exercise and essential shopping will be limited to five kilometers from home. And officials increased fines for violations that include lying to contact tracers.
Vaccines: Vaccination rates are increasing, as community members join grass-roots efforts to accelerate immunity. At the current pace, 70 percent of Australia’s population older than 16 will have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by Sept. 25.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
Iran’s latest surge — its most catastrophic yet — poses a challenge for its new hard-line president.
Covid-19 kills far more children in developing countries, and some factors make them especially vulnerable in Indonesia.
Hong Kong opposition resigns
In 2019, pro-democracy politicians won nearly 90 percent of seats in local council elections, inspiring hopes of change. Now, fear of retaliation from Beijing has driven more than half of them to quit.
District councilors are the lowest rung of elected official and only entered the political limelight amid widespread protests. Day-to-day, they handle unglamorous tasks such as dealing with pest infestations, overflowing trash and illegal parking.
But Beijing has since trained its attention on the councilors after they took on outsize importance two years ago. Now, the councilors said, they were alarmed by the government’s plans to impose a new loyalty oath. They also fear reports that perceived violations could leave them imprisoned, barred from politics or bankrupted.
Quotable: “Before, we had a lot of hope and anticipation,” said Zoe Chow, an elected district official who resigned in July. “Now, it feels like our hands and feet are tied.”
Analysis: The authorities are effectively burying Hong Kong’s last vestige of democracy, and have rewritten election rules to bar candidates they deem disloyal.
THE LATEST NEWS
A 7.2-magnitude quake violently shook the Caribbean country on Saturday. At least 724 people have died and at least 2,800 were injured. Haitians across the country struggled to access food and medical care. Here are live updates, an explainer and photos.
This earthquake, centered 80 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, was more powerful than the 2010 disaster, which killed some 300,000 people.
The wounded overwhelmed local hospitals, and Haitians packed the main airport in the earthquake-devastated city of Les Cayes to try to evacuate injured loved ones to the capital.
A tropical storm is approaching, which could lead to mudslides and more damages. Here is a map of its path.
What Else Is Happening
Saudi Arabia sentenced a teenager to death for a jewelry-store heist and for the killing of a police officer, which occurred when he was 14, despite an alibi and claims of a forced confession.
An investigation concluded that a mysterious group opposed to the Iranian government, not Israel, was most likely behind a July cyberattack on the country’s railroad system.
Amid an escalating confrontation with the Western news media, Russia is expelling a BBC correspondent.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced an early election.
A Morning Read
Montenegro spent almost $1 billion on a Chinese-built highway that peters out in the middle of largely uninhabited woods. Its government now owes Beijing debts that total more than a third of Montenegro’s annual budget.
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
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