Coronavirus, Iowa, Ireland: Your Friday Briefing


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Good morning.

We’re covering the death of a Chinese doctor who warned about the coronavirus, turmoil in the Democratic primaries and the issues animating Saturday’s Irish election.

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ImageAn exhibition center in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been converted into a makeshift hospital.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Coronavirus deaths soar past 600 in China

At least 636 people in China have died from the coronavirus, the Chinese government said today, as more than 3,000 new cases were confirmed overnight.

The outbreak has now sickened more than 31,000 people in Asia, as well as at least 31 others in Europe and 61 on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan. Follow the latest updates here.

Among the dead is Dr. Li Wenliang from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, who was silenced by the authorities after he warned about the virus in late December. Dr. Li, 34, later became a potent icon for Chinese people who are angry over the government’s handling of the crisis.

Our reporters across the globe are also tracking these developments:

  • The authorities in Wuhan have escalated an existing lockdown by ordering house-to-house searches, rounding up the sick and placing them in enormous quarantine centers. They have also begun enrolling coronavirus patients in an experimental trial of an antiviral medicine that has shown promise in laboratory studies.

  • Africa — where health systems are fragile and doctors are straining to contain outbreaks of malaria, measles and Ebola — may be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. There are no confirmed cases on the continent yet, but it has large numbers of Chinese workers who are returning to their jobs after going home for the Lunar New Year holiday.

  • Many experts remain concerned that coronavirus may be spreading through asymptomatic individuals. Some, but not all, see clues in a cluster of infections in Germany.

Democratic race in turmoil after Iowa stumbles

Thanks to a troubled Iowa caucus system that has been mired in confusion for three days, the Democratic Party’s effort to nominate a candidate to face President Trump in the November presidential election is now in disarray. Here’s a roundup of our Iowa coverage.

Bickering among Democrats about their own voting system is “an early setback for a party that was already ideologically fractured between left and center and staring at a nomination fight that may last into the summer,” two of our political correspondents write.

Related: A Times analysis found that the results released by the Iowa Democratic Party were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws.

What’s happening: Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg were locked in a virtual tie in the delegate count, with 99 percent of the results tabulated. But The Associated Press did not declare a winner.

What’s next: Most of the top Democratic candidates are now campaigning in New Hampshire before its Feb. 11 primary. A new poll there showed Mr. Sanders leading, with Mr. Buttigieg close behind.

In Washington: A day after President Trump’s acquittal on impeachment charges, he lashed out at Democrats and the one Republican senator who had voted to convict him.

Health care and housing weigh on Irish election

Voters in Ireland are poised to evict Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in an election on Saturday that may turn on domestic problems.

As Britain prepared to leave the European Union, Mr. Varadkar successfully extracted a deal that avoided a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland — by aligning the north with the Continent more closely than the rest of the United Kingdom.

But as Mr. Varadkar, 41, campaigns on his diplomatic skills, Irish voters fault him for failing to confront the cost of health care and a housing shortage that was prompted by the 2008 economic crisis.

Background: Many people outside Ireland saw the election of Mr. Varadkar — a physician who is the son of an Indian doctor and a Catholic Irish nurse — as a symbol of the country’s embracing a tolerant, multiracial modernity. But much of the Irish public sees him as aloof and distant.

What to look for: The Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, and the opposition Fianna Fail lead Mr. Varadkar’s Fine Gael in a poll released on Monday by The Irish Times.

If you have half an hour, this is worth it

Trump’s financial lifeline

The Times Magazine has the inside story of President Trump’s long, complicated relationship with Deutsche Bank, his lender of last resort.

Above, Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, for which Deutsche Bank agreed to lend Mr. Trump $640 million in 2005.

By lending him more than $2 billion over two decades, the $1.5 trillion German lender played a large role in positioning a strapped businessman to become president of the United States.

But those same loans cemented Deutsche Bank’s reputation for recklessness — and made it a magnet for prosecutors, regulators and lawmakers hoping to penetrate Mr. Trump’s opaque financial affairs.

Here’s what else is happening

Credit Suisse: The Swiss bank said today that its chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, would step down, after a scandal last year in which Credit Suisse executives were found to have authorized surveillance of a colleague who left to join a rival, UBS.

Germany: A state governor in the eastern state of Thuringia, who was elected leader with support from both the far-right Alternative for Germany party and a branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats, said on Thursday that he planned to step down after just one day in office. Ms. Merkel had called the election’s outcome “inexcusable.”

Boeing: The company and U.S. safety officials refused to cooperate on Thursday with an inquiry by Dutch lawmakers into a crash near Amsterdam in 2009 that killed nine people and had striking parallels with two recent accidents involving the manufacturer’s 737 Max. The inquiry was prompted by a Times investigation.

Finland: All new parents will be allowed 164 days of paid parental leave as early as next year, regardless of gender or whether they are a child’s biological parents. The changes will increase a couple’s total allowance to more than 14 months from 11½ months, making Finland’s paternity leave policies among the most generous in Europe.

Snapshot: Above, a selfie by the American astronaut Christina Koch in October. She returned to Earth on Thursday, a few months after taking part in the first all-female spacewalk.

Netflix: The streaming giant has a leading 24 Oscar nominations and has dumped lots of cash into awards-oriented marketing campaigns. But forecasters don’t expect it to win big at the Academy Awards on Sunday.

What we’re reading: This deep dive by The Atlantic into disinformation and the 2020 U.S. presidential election. “Dark,” tweeted our White House correspondent Katie Rogers.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: Finish the week with a hearty one-pan meal of roast chicken and mustard-glazed cabbage.

Go: “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s epic play about the AIDS crisis in the United States, is now playing in Paris.

Smarter Living: Our advice column Culture Therapist suggests ways to solve your problems using art. Today’s question is about opening oneself to new romantic relationships.

And now for the Back Story on …

Covering the Oscars

The Oscars are just two days away, and that means it’s crunchtime for Kyle Buchanan, The Times’s Carpetbagger columnist. He spoke to Sara Aridi of the Culture desk about what it’s like to cover the awards show.

What stands out about this year’s season?

After last year, when Netflix was so ascendant, people are very excited about movies in the theater. “1917” is one of those movies that you need to see in a theater, and “Parasite” became such a huge word-of-mouth hit in the theater. Those movies provide that encapsulation of what we go to the movies for.

We go to see something on a gigantic screen that moves us in a gigantic way. We go to be transported into an experience that startles and shocks us. Streaming has its virtues and its pleasure, but I think those are two unique testimonials to what the theatrical experience can be.

Do the Oscars still carry weight in pop culture?

Absolutely. If the Oscars reflect Hollywood in 2020, it says that we’re still going through growing pains about the streaming era and that we still have a lot of ground to make up when it comes to representation and whose stories we take seriously.

How have you been preparing for the big night?

I’m trying to get a full night’s sleep. In the campaigning phase, from November to the Oscar nominations, you can go to a brunch for a certain star, and then to a lunchtime screening with a Q. and A., and then to an afternoon performance of a song contender, and then a premiere and then an after-party.

What else have you seen that readers might not know?

Joaquin Phoenix, who’s up for best actor for “Joker,” has been a fascinating figure on this circuit. He’s trying to both play the game and stay out of it at the same time. All these awards shows have bent over backward to attract him.

I never would have thought I would miss the boiled chicken breast I usually got at these shows, but they have converted to a plant-based menu in the hopes that Joaquin will attend.

That’s it for this briefing. Have a great weekend.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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