Analysis & Comment

Your Wednesday Briefing

The pandemic’s toll on women in Japan.

By Melina Delkic

Good morning.

We’re covering the toll of the pandemic on mental health in Japan, a digital wall in Myanmar and memorials to epidemics past.

An especially tough year for many Japanese women

The pressures of the pandemic in Japan have been compounded for women: More women have lost their jobs, and one in five women in Tokyo live alone. Others have struggled with deep disparities in the division of housework and child care.

The psychological toll has been accompanied by a worrisome spike in suicides: In Japan, 6,976 women died by suicide last year, nearly 15 percent more than in 2019. It was the first year-over-year increase in more than a decade.

Each suicide — and suicide attempt — represents an individual tragedy rooted in a complex constellation of reasons. But the increase among women has concerned health officials who have worked to reduce what was among the highest suicide rates in the world.

Context: Openness about mental health struggles and seeking treatment are still relatively rare in Japan. There is also stigma around those who contract the virus.

Quotable: “The world I was living in was already small,” said Nazuna Hashimoto, who attempted suicide in July and is now speaking out about her experience because she wants to address the stigma associated with mental health. “But I felt it become smaller.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

U.S. regulators informed Pfizer and BioNTech that they plan to approve the companies’ request to store their vaccine at standard freezer temperatures instead of in ultracold conditions, potentially expanding the number of sites that could administer shots.

Coronavirus restrictions have led to Champions League matches and World Cup qualifiers being played at sites that affect both teams equally. This summer’s European Championships could be the next to move.

The world needs monkeys for drug companies to develop Covid-19 vaccines. But a global shortage has been exacerbated by a recent ban on the sale of wildlife from China, the leading supplier of the lab animals.

Beijing’s plan to control the Hong Kong elections

China is planning to impose restrictions on Hong Kong’s electoral system to root out candidates the Communist Party deems disloyal, a move that could block democracy advocates in the city from running for any elected office.

The plan reinforces the Communist Party’s resolve to quash the few remaining vestiges of political dissent. Along with other measures that have given it near total control of the political landscape there, the efforts are transforming Hong Kong’s partial democracy into a system more closely resembling mainland China.

The central government wants Hong Kong to be run by “patriots,” said Xia Baolong, China’s director of Hong Kong and Macau affairs. To Beijing, that term means supporting mainland China and the Chinese Communist Party.

Details: The plan would cover candidates for nearly 2,000 elected positions in Hong Kong, including the committee that chooses the chief executive, the legislature and the district councils. It would not be retroactive, and current councilors will keep their seats.

Myanmar’s generals want to take the country offline

Since the coup, Myanmar’s military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, isolating a country that had only in the past few years linked to the outside world.

So far, the military has depended on crude forms of control to restrict the flow of information: During raids on data centers, soldiers ordered technicians at telecom operators to switch off the internet. They cut wires without knowing what they were cutting, according to a witness.

But such a shutdown has drawbacks, like paralyzing a struggling economy and damaging foreign investor confidence. Demonstrators have accused China of exporting the tools of authoritarianism to its smaller neighbor.

Legal tools: A 36-page draft law distributed to service providers after the coup gives the military sweeping powers to block websites and cut off access to users deemed troublesome. It would also give the government access to user data. Huawei and ZTE, two major Chinese companies, built much of Myanmar’s telecommunications network.

If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it

Hostility toward women economists

A new paper showing that women presenting at economics conferences received 12 percent more questions, often aggressive ones, is the latest addition to a mounting body of evidence of gender discrimination in economics. Above, a conference in San Diego last year.

Our reporter looked at how gender and racial gaps in economics are wider, and have narrowed less over time, than in many other fields. “Half of women are saying they don’t even want to present in a seminar,” said one economist. “We’re losing a lot of ideas that way.”

Here’s what else is happening

Facebook: The tech giant struck a deal with the Australian government to restore news posts on its platform in the country after it had blocked news links over the past week. The government is close to passing a bill that would make tech companies pay for journalism.

Indian activist: Disha Ravi was granted bail. Her arrest, for sharing an activism manual with farmers protesting new farm policies, sparked global outrage.

U.S. Capitol riot: During a Senate hearing, top security officials who were at the Capitol during the attack by a pro-Trump mob pointed to intelligence failures that led to the catastrophe. Police officials are also testifying. Here’s the latest.

Snapshot: Above, the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Our travel desk looked at how epidemics have given rise to landmarks of all sorts: monuments, places of worship, hospitals, fortifications, cemeteries and feats of civil engineering. How will Covid-19 be memorialized?

What we’re reading: This New Yorker article exploring one of the great mysteries of the pandemic: why some countries are worse off than others.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: This yogurt recipe, from our food writer Priya Krishna’s cookbook “Indian-ish,” is quite simple: All that’s required is a heavy-bottomed pot and an oven.

Listen: Our pop critics feature Dawn Richard, 24kGoldn, Amythyst Kiah, Lil Yachty and others on this week’s playlist.

Do: If you’ve been having a hard time getting to sleep lately, you’re not alone. Here’s what to know about improving your shut-eye.

There’s more to pique your interest in our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

When Amazon came to town

Erika Hayasaki wrote in The Times Magazine about a region near Los Angeles where Amazon is the largest private employer. She spoke to our On Tech newsletter about what she learned during her research with workers in the region about the impact that Amazon has had on the city.

What did Amazon warehouse employees tell you that they like and don’t like about their jobs?

They appreciate that Amazon offers them health and retirement benefits — and that they have jobs at a time when many others have lost work.

The biggest concern that I heard was safety. That’s not new, but when the pandemic hit it was intense to hear workers’ fears for their lives.

And some Amazon-related jobs are precarious. I rode around with an Amazon delivery driver who also worked for an app-based delivery company. His girlfriend did, too. They were stringing together multiple forms of income for themselves and their five children. It’s not an easy way to live.

Amazon is creating many new jobs with starting pay that’s more than double the minimum wage. Isn’t that good?

Most of the workers I spoke with would say that Amazon can do better given the company’s financial success. I heard workers ask why the company increased pay by $2 an hour but only temporarily. They’re working harder than ever and it’s still a pandemic.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is a look at what went wrong in New York’s nursing homes.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Planet ___” (nature series) (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Our Washington bureau has announced its new White House team.

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