Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

Good morning. We’re covering South Korea’s slow vaccine rollout, China’s overtures to the Taliban and the latest Olympics news.

Once a model in fighting the pandemic, South Korea has been slow to vaccinate. Supply problems plague the vaccine campaign, and the country only started inoculating people in their 50s against the coronavirus this month.

“There are 401,032 people waiting in front of you,” a government website informed one person who shared on social media the ordeal of booking an appointment. “Your expected waiting time: 111 hours, 23 minutes and 52 seconds.”

As the country faces its worst wave of infections, South Koreans are more desperate than ever for shots. The country recorded its highly daily case count on Wednesday.

Background: In November, when people accused the government of being slow to secure vaccine doses, officials told them not to worry, given South Korea’s success in controlling the spread of Covid-19. The country started vaccinations in late February, but in late June, its stockpile began to run out as a handful of vaccine makers struggled to meet global demand.

Context: The country is among the least vaccinated in the Group of 20 nations. Only 34.9 percent of its 5​2 million people had received at least one dose as of Wednesday, well below the 55 to 70 percent in other developed nations​.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

After bowing out of the women’s gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo Games, Simone Biles — the greatest gymnast in history — said she would also skip the all-around individual competition on Thursday. Biles will be evaluated daily to see if she will participate in the event finals next week.

The U.S. Olympic team’s biggest star said she was not mentally prepared to continue under the weight of expectations. In the hours before the team final, she said she was shaking and couldn’t nap.

Context: Her withdrawal follows a falter at the first event of the team final. During her vault, Biles got lost in the air and ended up performing a much simpler move than she had planned. On the landing, she bounded forward to stay on her feet.

Mental health: Though sports psychologists say a stigma persists about athletes and mental health, Biles was also widely embraced as the latest elite athlete who had the courage to acknowledge her vulnerability.

In other Olympics news:

Worried about the war in Afghanistan, China is stepping up its diplomatic efforts to encourage a political settlement after the U.S. military withdrawal from the country.

On Wednesday, Chinese officials offered the Taliban a warm welcome at the start of two days of talks in Tianjin, a coastal city in the northeast.

During the talks, Beijing extracted a public pledge that the group would not allow fighters to use Afghan territory as a base to carry out attacks inside China, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry. Last month, the Taliban seized a large portion of an Afghan province that borders Xinjiang, a region where China has detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims.

Power vacuum: China has long sought to play a larger diplomatic role in Afghanistan, but the U.S. always overshadowed its efforts. Now, although China has not said so explicitly, it appears to be trying to act as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Diplomatic blitz: As the U.S. withdraws, Taliban leaders have visited Tehran, Moscow and the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat for talks. The visit to Tianjin was the Taliban’s most significant diplomatic coup yet.

Asia and the Middle East

Every 18-year-old in France got about $350 to spend on culture. But instead of going to highbrow exhibitions or picking up the collected works of Proust, the teenagers flocked to manga.

When athletes take a tumble during a sport like skateboarding, they often get right back up and continue with their routine.

That’s not just a mark of good sportsmanship. Instead, athletes practice falling in ways that keep them from serious injury.

Often, they tuck and roll, using momentum to disperse the energy across their bodies instead of hitting the ground at a vulnerable point like a wrist or an ankle. Pads and wrist guards help, as does staying loose and looking at the ground.

“Skateboarding is all about falling,” said Ryan Sheckler, a world-champion skateboarder. “It’s key to everything. If you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning. You have to hit the ground to progress.”

What to Cook

In paneer con tomate, bites of fried cheese anchor the bright acidity of grated tomatoes.

What to Read

A new novel by Stephen King, a dive into California’s Cambodian American community and a tennis great’s autobiography are on this list of August reads.

What to Watch

Roz, the paperwork-obsessed, gravelly-voiced slug-woman in “Monsters, Inc.,” has an identical twin. Meet the equally grumpy Roze in “Monsters at Work,” a new spinoff series.

Tech Tip

Clean up your phone screen by deleting apps you don’t use and sorting the ones you do into folders.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Foam clogs (5 letters).

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