Your Wednesday Briefing - The New York Times

Good morning. We’re covering a catastrophic fire in an Iraqi Covid ward and the mysterious disappearance of Russia’s biggest ransomware ...


Good morning. We’re covering a catastrophic fire in an Iraqi Covid ward and the mysterious disappearance of Russia’s biggest ransomware group.

Most of the victims were patients, and the blaze was so intense that at least 22 bodies could not be immediately identified. An electrical short in a ventilator caused oxygen canisters to explode late on Monday, a police spokesman said.

Witnesses said that fire extinguishers malfunctioned, fire trucks ran out of water and volunteers desperately tried to pry open a padlocked door. Patients on ventilators could not move or leave, but staff members were able to escape. At least 92 people have died.

The lack of precautions at the teaching hospital in the city of Nasiriya and its feeble ability to fight the blaze reflected a country in deep crisis. Years of corruption and government mismanagement have gutted basic government services across Iraq.

Government response: Iraq is battling a third wave of coronavirus infections. After the fire, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered the detention of the provincial health director, the civil defense chief and the hospital director.

Background: In late April, more than 80 people died in a similar fire at a coronavirus hospital in Baghdad. Iraq’s health minister at the time resigned in response.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Indian officials are warning that the combination of an uneven virus response and a struggling vaccination campaign may spark a third wave of infections.

  • South Korea’s top baseball league halted its season after five players tested positive for Covid-19.

  • Gyms in Seoul are planning to impose limits on the speed of treadmills and play mellow music to prevent people from breathing or sweating too hard.

  • More than 1.3 million people in France booked Covid vaccine appointments after President Emmanuel Macron mandated inoculation for health care workers and said that proof of immunization or a recent negative test would soon be required to enter restaurants and cultural venues.


REvil, which is short for “Ransomware evil,” is believed to be responsible for the attack that brought down one of America’s largest beef producers, JBS. The group also took credit for a hack that affected thousands of businesses around the world over the Fourth of July holiday. At around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, the group’s sites on the dark web suddenly disappeared.

The disappearance comes just days after President Biden demanded that President Vladimir Putin of Russia act to shut down ransomware groups that are attacking American targets.

What happened? There were three main theories floating around about REvil’s disappearance. The U.S. Cyber Command, working with domestic law enforcement agencies, could have brought it down. Russia could have, too. Or REvil might have decided that the heat was too intense, and took itself down. Experts say the group could reappear under a different name.


In unusually blunt terms, Japan warned that the military posturing by Beijing and Washington over Taiwan posed a threat to its security.

Japan’s defense ministry said the country needed to “pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before.” In particular, the ministry noted that “the overall military balance between China and Taiwan is tilting to China’s favor, and the gap appears to be growing year by year.”

The comments suggest that Japan may be inching closer to Washington, which has long urged it to confront Beijing’s rising military aggression around the region.

Eyes on Taiwan: Over the past year, China has repeatedly flown military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. In response, the U.S. sailed ships through the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan lies close to the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

The rosy wolf snail — a carnivorous creature — is implicated in the extinctions of several snail species in Tahiti since it came to the island a few decades ago. So scientists attached tiny computers to the predators’ shells to understand why one yogurt-colored native seems to escape its clutches.

Musicians across the world dream of playing at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City’s celebrated arts venue. But they also dream of getting paid for their work, especially after months of pandemic suffering.

The Met, which says it lost $150 million in earned revenue during the pandemic, argues that it needs to cut the pay of its workers to survive.

Stagehands and the union that represents its chorus, soloists, dancers, actors and stage managers have already negotiated a new contract with pay cuts. But the company has yet to reach a deal on the pay cuts it is seeking from the musicians in its orchestra, who went unpaid for nearly a year. Some left the city or had to contemplate selling their prized instruments.

The Met canceled one of its planned operas after contract negotiations delayed rehearsals. The company plans to reopen on Sept. 27 with its first opera by a Black composer, but longer delays could jeopardize that new plan, too.

What to Cook

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Dave Philipps, our national correspondent covering the military, wrote about the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the lessons to be learned from Vietnam nearly 50 years ago.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer who has been charged with tax fraud.

You can reach Amelia and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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