keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is currently barring almost all nonresidents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of overseas arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.

The immediate future for many places in Asia seems likely to be defined by frantic optimization.

China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou — testing millions of people in days, shutting down entire neighborhoods — is a rapid-fire reprise of how it has handled previous flare-ups. Few inside the country expect this approach to change anytime soon, especially as the Delta variant, which has devastated India, is now beginning to circulate.

has threatened residents with fines of around $450 for refusing vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by asking the public for donations to a Covid-19 vaccine fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a range of inducements to ease severe vaccine hesitancy.

Nonetheless, the prognosis for much of Asia this year is billboard obvious: The disease is not defeated, and won’t be anytime soon. Even those lucky enough to get a vaccine often leave with mixed emotions.

“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who last week had just received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be further ahead than where we are.”

Reporting was contributed by Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan, Ben Dooley in Tokyo, Sui-Lee Wee in Singapore, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ford to Boost Spending on E.V.s to $30 Billion

Ford Motor said on Wednesday that it would increase spending on electric vehicles by about a third from its previous plans and expects E.V.s to make up 40 percent of its production by 2030, a big increase in its commitment to the electrification of cars and trucks.

The company intends to spend $30 billion in the five years ending in 2025, up from the previous target of $22 billion. It also said it had accepted 70,000 reservations for the F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its top-selling pickup truck.

“This is our biggest opportunity for growth and value creation since Henry Ford started to scale the Model T,” Ford’s chief executive, Jim Farley, said in a statement.

Ford has gone from being a relative latecomer to battery-powered vehicles to making them a central focus. The company recently started delivering an electric sport utility vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E, that has sold well and been praised by car reviewers. The model also appears to have taken market share from Tesla, which until recently dominated the electric car market. Last week, Ford introduced the F-150 Lightning, and President Biden drove the truck at a company track in Michigan and praised its rapid acceleration.

The increase in spending reflects new investments in better technology and production. Last week, Ford said it would form a joint venture with a South Korean company, SK Innovation, to manufacture battery cells at two plants in the United States for future Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

Ford’s stock was up nearly 5 percent Wednesday morning after the company’s electric vehicle announcements.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

The Dominic Cummings Chronicles: The Can’t-Miss Sequel

LONDON — A year ago this week, a brusque, defiant figure in shirt sleeves appeared in the sun-dappled garden behind 10 Downing Street to give one of the most extraordinary news conferences in recent British political history.

On Wednesday, that same man — Dominic Cummings, then the most powerful adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; now arguably his most dangerous enemy — will testify before two Parliamentary committees on Britain’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is being billed as a can’t-miss sequel in the Cummings Chronicles.

Mr. Cummings is expected to unload a trove of inside details about how Mr. Johnson bungled Britain’s initial response, necessitating what he claims were months of needless and ruinous lockdowns. His account, some of which he previewed in a dense, didactic Twitter thread over recent days, is likely to embarrass a leader who bounced back from that wobbly performance, largely on the strength of Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines.

“Dominic Cummings has long been known as a man who brings a bazooka to a knife fight,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent. “I suspect he shall not walk quietly into the night.”

firing him in November. Last month, the aide turned publicly on his ex-boss, accusing him of unethical behavior in the costly decoration of his flat in Downing Street and of trying to shut down a leak investigation because he feared it would antagonize his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

With its promise of further juicy details about an alliance gone bad, the testimony is likely to be political theater of a rare vintage. British papers have speculated that Mr. Cummings will say Mr. Johnson missed numerous early coronavirus meetings because he was busy working on his long-delayed book about Shakespeare.

127,700 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

“If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine,” Mr. Cummings said in a Twitter post. In another, he wrote, “One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe.”

The problem with Mr. Cummings’s message is the messenger. His decision to flout the rules — most notoriously in going on a family outing to Castle Barnard that he claimed he undertook to test his eyesight — arguably did more to damage the government’s credibility than any single incident during the pandemic.

“He is a tainted source,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “But just because he has an ax to grind and a credibility problem, doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth.”

For Mr. Johnson, the saving grace may be that Mr. Cummings is testifying at a time when Britain’s vaccination campaign has driven down cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Though there are concerns about flare-ups of a variant first seen in India, the government remains on track to reopen the English economy fully on June 21.

Nor is it clear how much lawmakers will press Mr. Cummings on Mr. Johnson’s personal peccadilloes. On Tuesday, there was a fresh reminder of his checkered history, with the release of a report by the Conservative Party that concluded Mr. Johnson’s disparaging references to Muslims during his days as a newspaper columnist had fostered the impression that the party is “insensitive to Muslim communities.”

For all the static around Mr. Johnson, however, his party just scored impressive victories in regional elections in England.

“Cummings would be able to do severe damage to a prime minister and a government that was in trouble and was unpopular,” Mr. Bale said. “But this government is not in trouble and the prime minister is very popular.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

John Cena Apologizes to China for Calling Taiwan a Country

John Cena, the professional wrestler and a star of “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, apologized to fans in China on Tuesday after he referred to Taiwan as a country while giving a promotional interview.

Joining a long list of celebrities and companies that have profusely apologized after taking an errant step through China’s political minefields, Mr. Cena posted a video apology in Mandarin on Weibo, a Chinese social network.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, to be a breakaway province and claims it as part of China. Referring to it as a country is often an offensive assertion in China, where matters of sovereignty and territory are passionate issues driven by a strong sense of nationalism.

Mr. Cena apologized for a statement he made in an interview with the Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS. In it, he told the reporter in Mandarin, “Taiwan is the first country that can watch” the film.

Xinjiang, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong or the status of Taiwan and Tibet.

a fierce backlash when Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests in 2019. (LeBron James, one of basketball’s biggest stars, offered a China-friendly response, saying Mr. Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” by supporting the protesters.)

Movie studios often preemptively ensure their content won’t run afoul of Chinese censors, a practice once mocked by “South Park.”

But quite often, the political problems arise in cases where a company appeared to have no idea it was accidentally crossing a line.

That list would include Gap, which in 2018 created a T-shirt that omitted Taiwan, parts of Tibet and islands in the South China Sea from a map of China on the shirt’s design. The luxury brands Versace, Givenchy and Coach said in 2019 they all made mistakes when they produced T-shirts that identified Hong Kong and Macau as countries.

“Versace reiterates that we love China deeply, and resolutely respect China’s territory and national sovereignty,” the company said in a statement at the time.

China ordered 36 airlines to remove references to Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites in 2018, a step the Trump administration dismissed as “Orwellian nonsense.”

That year, Marriott clarified on its Weibo account that it “will absolutely not support any separatist organization that will undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” after a customer survey listed the territories as separate countries.

Mercedes-Benz Instagram account quoted the Dalai Lama, whom many in China view as a dangerous separatist advocating Tibetan independence.

The release of “F9” was delayed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic. It drew an estimated $162 million in tickets in eight international markets, including China and South Korea, over the weekend. As the newest film in a hugely successful series, “F9” is seen by Hollywood as the kind of blockbuster needed to draw people back to theaters.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, and Claire Fu from Beijing.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

‘F9’ Could Be the Blockbuster Hollywood Needs

LOS ANGELES — In February 2020, Universal Pictures used the Super Bowl to light a marketing match under “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. With any luck, the studio hoped, the movie would roar into theaters a few months later and take in more than $1 billion worldwide, just as a predecessor, “The Fate of the Furious,” did in 2017.

But the pandemic had other plans. Some rival studios hemmed and hawed over their release schedule, but Universal shocked Hollywood in early March 2020 by delaying “F9” for an entire year. “It was a very unpopular decision,” Donna Langley, chairwoman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said recently in a phone interview. “A lot of people really did not agree with me.”

It was a $350 million-plus decision, between production and marketing costs, and Ms. Langley, like everyone at that stage of the pandemic, was operating in the dark. “It really was a gut call,” she said.

Avengers: Endgame” in 2019.

screen patriotic films with titles like “The Sacrifice” and “The Red Sun” at that time.

As Hollywood has contemplated how best to rev up moviegoing now that theaters are beginning to operate with some normalcy again, there has been a lot of talk about “the right movie at the right time.” It was not Christopher Nolan’s cerebral “Tenant,” which was released in September by Warner Bros. An old-fashioned monster mash-up, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” drew big crowds last month, but results were depressed because it was simultaneously available on HBO Max.

Could “F9” be the one? It will receive an exclusive run in theaters and features action sequences designed specifically for big screens. One of the film’s cars has an actual rocket engine attached to its roof.

“It feels like a big, beginning-of-summer, school’s-out celebration,” Ms. Langley said of the sequel. It finds Vin Diesel’s marble-mouthed Dom Toretto facing his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), an assassin working with the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron). Michelle Rodriguez returns as the brooding Letty. Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren and Ludacris also star.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

How the Coming Population Bust Will Transform the World

All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.

spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.

“It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”

Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.

South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.

schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.

even iPhones.

To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.

But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.

projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.

municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.

Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.

recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.

“Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.

Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.

But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”

The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.

Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.

Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.

Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.

She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.

“I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”

Elsie Chen, Christopher Schuetze and Benjamin Novak contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

South Korean Leader to Meet With White House

WASHINGTON — The United States is calling on South Korea to set more ambitious climate targets, an issue that will be a part of discussions when President Moon Jae-in meets with President Biden on Friday at the White House.

Last month John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, traveled to South Korea and, according to officials in both countries, surprised members of Mr. Moon’s government by suggesting the country take “corresponding efforts” to the United States in reducing planet-warming emissions. That would nearly double South Korea’s current target of cutting carbon 24.4 percent below 2017 levels by the end of the decade.

South Korea, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide, is important to the Biden administration’s effort to show that other industrialized countries are acting vigorously against climate change.

international climate change summit that Mr. Biden hosted last month, promised to end funding of overseas coal plants.

At the same time, Korea has seven coal plants under construction, according to the Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based group that follows fossil fuel projects. And, a new study by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that unless the government enacted aggressive new policies, the country would “fall embarrassingly short” in meeting its current targets.

In a letter last week to Mr. Moon, former Vice President Al Gore urged him to set a target of at least 50 percent to “help protect the future of our planet.” More ambitious goals, Mr. Gore said, “would have a ripple effect on the climate policies of countries around the world.”

As a highly industrialized country that is heavily dependent on coal and imports virtually all of its oil and gas, South Korea faces serious challenges in meeting the United States’ and environmental groups’ expectations.

Won Hee-ryong, the governor of Jeju Province in South Korea, said he believed the government must improve its target, but he called hitting 50 percent “challenging.” Speaking Wednesday at a forum sponsored by World Resources Institute, Mr. Won said a more reasonable goal might be around 37 percent.

“It may be difficult for Korea to commit to an emissions target as ambitious as the United States, given that our emissions peaked only three years ago,” he said.

A senior administration official, speaking at a background briefing for reporters, said Mr. Biden intended to discuss with Mr. Moon ways both nations could eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from their power sectors and other parts of the economy, saying there would be “more to report” after the Friday meeting.

View Source

Climate Is High on Agenda as Korean Leader Heads to White House

WASHINGTON — The United States is calling on South Korea to set more ambitious climate targets, an issue that will be a part of discussions when President Moon Jae-in meets with President Biden on Friday at the White House.

Last month John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, traveled to South Korea and, according to officials in both countries, surprised members of Mr. Moon’s government by suggesting the country take “corresponding efforts” to the United States in reducing planet-warming emissions. That would nearly double South Korea’s current target of cutting carbon 24.4 percent below 2017 levels by the end of the decade.

South Korea, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide, is important to the Biden administration’s effort to show that other industrialized countries are acting vigorously against climate change.

international climate change summit that Mr. Biden hosted last month, promised to end funding of overseas coal plants.

At the same time, Korea has seven coal plants under construction, according to the Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based group that follows fossil fuel projects. And, a new study by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that, unless the government enacted aggressive new policies, the country would “fall embarrassingly short” in meeting its current targets.

In a letter last week to Mr. Moon, former Vice President Al Gore urged him to set a target of at least 50 percent to “help protect the future of our planet.” More ambitious goals, Mr. Gore said, “would have a ripple effect on the climate policies of countries around the world.”

As a highly industrialized country that is heavily dependent on coal and imports virtually all of its oil and gas, South Korea faces serious challenges in meeting the United States’ and environmental groups’ expectations.

Won Hee-ryong, the governor of Jeju Province in South Korea, said he believed the government must improve its target, but he called hitting 50 percent “challenging.” Speaking Wednesday at a forum sponsored by World Resources Institute, Mr. Won said a more reasonable goal might be around 37 percent.

“It may be difficult for Korea to commit to an emissions target as ambitious as the United States, given that our emissions peaked only three years ago,” he said.

View Source

Traveling to Europe? A Country-by-Country Reopening Guide

Infections and deaths in Turkey from the coronavirus have been declining steadily following a strict three-week national lockdown, which is expected to be lifted gradually through May.

Turkey so far has fully vaccinated about 13 percent of its population of 83 million people; about three million more have received their first dose, according to Our World in Data, an online compendium of data from global sources.

While the country is currently facing a vaccine shortage, forcing it to delay the administration of second doses, the health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said 30 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine would arrive in June and 50 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine are expected to arrive from Russia within six months.

Turkey has remained open to tourists, including Americans, throughout the pandemic. Most international arrivals are required to show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their arrival into the country.

Coronavirus tests are not required for passengers arriving from places that Turkey considers epidemiologically safe, which include Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Estonia.

Passengers arriving from Brazil, South Africa and India will be required to quarantine for 14 days in government-assigned accommodations and will be released if they test negative for the virus after day 10.

Turkey offers health insurance packages starting at as little as $15 that cover foreign visitors for Covid-19 treatment and hospitalization for up to 30 days. The country treats coronavirus patients in both public and private hospitals and opened 17 new hospitals last year to provide more intensive-care capacity for Covid treatment.

View Source

After the Pandemic, Will More People Wear Masks for Colds and Flu?

Once Americans return to crowded offices, schools, buses and trains, so too will their sneezes and sniffles.

Having been introduced to the idea of wearing masks to protect themselves and others, some Americans are now considering a behavior scarcely seen in the United States but long a fixture in other cultures: routinely wearing a mask when displaying symptoms of a common cold or the flu, even in a future in which Covid-19 isn’t a primary concern.

“I will still feel a responsibility to protect others from my illness when I have a cold or bronchitis or something along those lines,” said Gwydion Suilebhan, a writer and arts administrator in Washington who said he also plans to continue wearing masks in situations like flying on airplanes. “It’s a responsible part of being a human in a civil society to care for the people around you.”

Such routine use of masks has been common for decades in other countries, primarily in East Asia, as protection against allergies or pollution, or as a common courtesy to protect nearby people.

Meet the Press.”

Other leading American health officials, however, have not encouraged the behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which at the beginning of the pandemic advised against wearing masks, and only changed its guidance a couple of months later — does not advise people with flu symptoms to wear masks, and says they “may not effectively limit transmission in the community.”

That’s partly because there’s no tidy scientific consensus on the effect of masks on influenza virus transmission, according to experts who have studied it.

Nancy Leung, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said that the science exploring possible links between masking and the emission or transmission of influenza viruses was nuanced — and that the nuances were often lost on the general public.

randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in scientific research — that masking reduced transmission of influenza viruses in a community.

There was some evidence from observational studies that masks reduced community transmission of influenza viruses, she added, but that research had a caveat: Observational studies cannot isolate masking from other possible factors, such as hand hygiene or social distancing.

“You can’t really decipher whether that observed reduction in transmission is due to face masks alone or not,” Dr. Leung said.

For similar reasons, the fact that the flu all but vanished in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic — and that many Americans anecdotally reported that they caught fewer colds than usual in 2020 — is not evidence alone that masks were responsible.

In East Asia, the historical use of masks is based on more than just medical research, and the steps that led each country to adopt them vary widely.

Please sneeze into your elbow, not your hand.)

Others pointed to institutional differences, including a history of anti-masking laws in the United States that were implemented during periods of social unrest in order to discourage violence.

New York State, for example, passed an anti-masking law in 1845 to prevent tenants from demanding land reform, according to research by Sharrona Pearl, a professor of medical ethics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. And from the 1920s to 1950s, several states passed similar laws in response to violence by the Ku Klux Klan.

Several East Asian scholars said in interviews that the region’s mask-wearing customs varied widely because people in each country had responded over the years to different epidemiological or environmental threats.

Jaehwan Hyun, a professor of history of Pusan National University in South Korea, said that ignoring the nuances could be dangerous.

seasonal dust storms that sweep into the country from Mongolia and northern China.

“Generally speaking, Koreans until recently believed that mask wearing was a sort of ‘Japanese practice,’ not ours,” he said.

In Hong Kong, where 299 people died during the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, the experience of universal masking against that coronavirus helped create a “cultural familiarity” with a practice that was also common during episodes of severe air pollution, Mr. De Kai said.

“It was a big reminder to people that masks are important not only to protect yourself from the pollution but also to avoid infecting those around you,” he said.

In Taiwan, SARS and recent air pollution were the two main factors that prompted people there to develop the habit of mask wearing, said Yeh Ming-Jui, a professor of public health at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Professor Yeh said he believed mask wearing was not more widespread in the West because people there had no immediate memories of a severe pandemic — at least until now.

“The experience and health practices of past generations have been gradually forgotten,” he said.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei.

View Source