Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

Good morning. We’re covering the E.U.’s surging vaccination rates, China’s gold medal strategy and growing tensions in Afghanistan.

The 27 member states altogether have now administered more coronavirus vaccine doses per 100 people than the U.S.: 102.66 to 102.44.

This month, the bloc also overtook the U.S. in first injections — currently, 58 percent to 56.5 percent. Earlier this year, the E.U. faced vaccine shortages while the U.S. rollout was initially more successful.

Some member countries, like France and Italy, have implemented vaccine mandates to try to speed up inoculations. And as campaigns decrease or plateau in some countries, officials are urging younger age groups to get vaccinated.

E.U. rollout: The bloc is vaccinating at a faster pace than most developed countries, while U.S. rates have declined. In Brussels, authorities have set up mobile outreach teams to vaccinate vulnerable people.

U.S. hesitancy: On Thursday, President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing. He also directed the Defense Department to study how and when to add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for all members of the military.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

By fielding 413 athletes in Tokyo, its largest ever delegation, China aims to land at the top of the gold medal count. On Thursday, China was tied for the lead at 15 with Japan. It trails the U.S. 31 to 38 in overall prizes — but to China, silver and bronze barely count.

For decades, Beijing has focused on less prominent sports that are underfunded in the West, or sports that offer multiple Olympic gold medals. Women’s weight lifting was an ideal target: A niche pursuit with multiple weight classes, it offers up four potential golds.

Rooted in the Soviet model, China relies on the state to scout tens of thousands of children for full-time training at more than 2,000 government-run sports schools. The assembly line is working. Chinese athletes dominate sports like table tennis, badminton and shooting.

Cost: The public is increasingly wary of the sacrifices made by China’s Olympians. Academic instruction in sports schools remains paltry, and athletes are lucky to see their family a few times a year.

In other Olympics news:

As the fighters advanced, a small group of ethnic Kyrgyz herders feared their home would be next. The insurgents assured the herders that they could continue their pastoral lifestyle, but fighters made a point of counting the animals, raising concern that they would tax or confiscate the livestock.

About 350 of the nomads tried to seek asylum in Tajikistan, the country that separates the tiny ethnic minority from their brethren in Kyrgyzstan. But their appeal fell through.

Their failed two-day trek highlights growing tensions between Afghanistan and its northern neighbors, who fear the sudden arrival of refugees and cross-border violence. The Biden administration has asked Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to accept as many as 9,000 asylum seekers.

Geography: The herders navigated the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous panhandle that remained peaceful through the two-decades-long U.S. military presence. Once difficult to traverse, it now has a road, thanks to China’s Belt and Road investment project, which could allow the Taliban to advance.

Chaos: Flash floods killed at least 80 people and destroyed a village in a Taliban-controlled area on Wednesday. Afghanistan consistently ranks as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, according to the World Bank.

Asia, Africa and the Middle East

The $2.7 million Marble Arch Mound was pitched as an Arcadian dreamscape in the middle of London. Instead, visitors got a widely mocked pile of blocky scaffolding and patchy vegetation. Local officials are now offering ticket refunds.

A skilled diver and spearfishing champion, Valerie Taylor was one half of the Australian couple whose shark footage featured in the climax of “Jaws.” A longtime shark conservationist, Taylor, 85, is the subject of a new documentary, “Playing With Sharks,” on Disney+.

“Some are shy, some are bullies, some are brave,” she said of the animals. “When you get to know a school of sharks, you get to know them as individuals.”

Taylor began studying sharks after she killed one while shooting a film in the 1960s. She regrets how “Jaws” influenced audiences to fear sharks as bloodthirsty, human-stalking monsters. (Only a few species are known to bite humans, who they often mistake for natural prey.)

Climate change and overfishing have ruined many of the underwater habitats Taylor witnessed, and her arthritis makes swimming in colder waters difficult. Still, she dives.

“I hate being old, but at least it means I was in the ocean when it was pristine,” she said. Today, “it’s like going to where there was a rainforest and seeing a field of corn.”— Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

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