Coronavirus, South Carolina, Syria: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the spread of the coronavirus and a deadly attack against Turkish troops in Syria. We’re also looking ahead to the South Carolina primary and a potential peace deal in Afghanistan.

Credit…Charly Triballeau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

More than a dozen countries have recorded their first confirmed cases of the virus in the past 48 hours. Nigeria reported the first infection in sub-Saharan Africa today. Here are the latest updates on the virus and maps of where it has spread.

Stock markets in Asia and Europe fell for the seventh consecutive day, after the S&P 500 had its worst single-day decline in nearly a decade. The benchmark index, at a record high just last Wednesday, has slid more than 10 percent since then.

Related: Federal workers met quarantined Americans in California without proper medical training or protective gear, then returned to the general population, a government whistle-blower said.

Another angle: In naming Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. response, President Trump praised the “great health care” in Indiana while Mr. Pence was governor. We looked at his record, whose major accomplishments were initiatives that Republicans have opposed.

How to prepare: Wash your hands, and move away from people who are coughing or sneezing. Here’s more advice. The Times is also starting an email newsletter with the latest coronavirus developments. Sign up here.

Five Democratic candidates have used the former president’s words or likeness in campaign ads, and just about everybody has invoked him leading up to the South Carolina primary on Saturday and Super Tuesday voting next week.

Several allies say that while Mr. Obama has opinions about the race, he sees his role as unifying the party once a nominee is selected.

Related: In South Carolina, where black Democrats cast more than 60 percent of the primary vote, churches are tried-and-true campaigning stops. But some black voters have grown impatient with seeing politicians on Sunday and feeling forgotten on Monday.

Another angle: Many professional, college-educated women supporting Elizabeth Warren said they’ve been enraged by the questions she’s faced about electability.

Yesterday: Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that Democrats would unite around their nominee and encouraged party members to “keep our eye on the ball” of defeating President Trump.

At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed and more than 30 wounded in an airstrike in northwest Syria on Thursday. Turkey blamed Syrian government forces, but the airspace is controlled by Russia, and Russian jets have conducted most of the strikes in recent weeks.

Protesters converged on the Russian Consulate in Istanbul early today, chanting, “Murderer Russia! Murderer Putin!”

Background: Our Istanbul bureau chief, Carlotta Gall, writes: “Turkey has long supported opposition forces in Syria’s nine-year civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has largely defeated the uprising, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and the creation of millions of refugees.”

News analysis: President Trump has sought to avoid confronting the leaders of Russia and Turkey. But the airstrike on Thursday may force him to pick a side.

Emily Flitter, a business reporter for The Times, was devoted to an eco-friendly brand of toilet paper. When it disappeared, she had to know why.

She writes: “In my search for answers, I learned about waste and consumer choice; about environmentalism; about the different ways Americans and Europeans wipe their tuchuses. And I learned that what had seemed obvious to me was not conclusively true.”

“The Weekly”: The latest episode of The Times’s TV show is about an off-the-books witness protection program in Mexico for assassins willing to turn on their cartels. It premieres today on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern and will be available on Hulu starting on Saturday.

Snapshot: Above, a polar bear and her cub emerging from a den near the Beaufort Sea in Alaska. An oil industry tool that’s supposed to pinpoint such dens, to prevent harm to the bears, doesn’t locate half of them, according to a study.

A royal Instagram mystery: Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are huge attractions on Instagram, but they haven’t surpassed Prince William and his wife, Catherine, in followers. Is there a secret popularity war?

News quiz: Did you follow the headlines this week? Test yourself.

Modern Love: In this week’s column, a director of romantic comedies finds herself attending weddings with her ex-husband.

Late-night comedy: Stephen Colbert said, “This is the greatest crisis of Trump’s presidency, and his first response is, ‘Mike, you’re up. You take it.’”

What we’re reading: This essay in The Atlantic by a novelist who was quarantined on the Diamond Princess, the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, after publishing a thriller set on a cruise. Lara Takenaga, a staff editor, recommends it for “the quirky details about locked-down life at sea.”

Cook this: Alison Roman’s salmon with whole lemon dressing. “The fish is cooked slowly in a low oven so that the fat eases out of the flesh to combine with the tart brightness of the lemon juice,” says Sam Sifton, The Times’s Food editor. “It’s really great.”

Watch: Elisabeth Moss stars in “The Invisible Man,” an update on the H.G. Wells classic that trades science-fiction shivers for #MeToo horror. It’s a Critic’s Pick.

Read: Books about who is included in American democracy are among 11 titles we recommend this week.

Smarter Living: Worry, stress and anxiety are different things. Learn how to identify and cope with all three.

This weekend could bring the beginning of an end to nearly 20 years of conflict between the U.S., the Taliban and Afghan forces. Melina Delkic of the Briefings team talked to our senior Afghanistan correspondent, Mujib Mashal, about what peace might look like.

Your latest article focuses on young soldiers whose lives have been shaped by war and who now get to imagine peace. What did they tell you?

The question I posed was: Listen, peace means that, eventually, tens of thousands of Taliban fighters that are out there either lay down their arms or integrate into the United Afghan security force. That means you, a 21-year-old who has fought as a child soldier since you were 14 against these Taliban, will be sitting with them around the same dinner table. Are you ready for that?

They were like, “I hate their guts.” And a lot of them hadn’t digested that question.

What’s the big question looming about the way forward?

This war started largely as an American war. But in its second decade, this increasingly became a very localized Afghan-on-Afghan war — this became relatives on two different sides, on the government side and on the insurgent side.

The big question is, What is the process for undoing this hatred, this animosity that’s been so localized? That’s going to require a lot of hand-holding and attention and time. Does the U.S. have the patience to stick around for that to complete in a proper way?

You were born in Kabul and have covered this war for the past seven years. As a reporter, what is it like to imagine peace?

The whole past year of focusing on the potential for a resolution to the conflict has been refreshing in a lot of ways. The past seven years, a good chunk of it, I was reporting on a story that was a bleeding stalemate.

Every day, every week, we were reporting on death after death after death. It was frustratingly, heartbreakingly hopeless. It’s almost felt as though I’ve been an obituary writer; we were finding human stories to remind people that, hey, these 50 dead all had hopes and dreams and lives.

The past year, there was this opening that finally this conversation could turn. As a reporter, part of me almost feels as if it’s returning to a normal reporting job: politics, diplomacy, deals. The past week gave me an idea of what reporting on Afghanistan would be like if it were a more normal place.

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

— Chris

Thank you
Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at

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