HomeAsia PacificYour Tuesday Briefing: China Limits Olympic Spectators

Your Tuesday Briefing: China Limits Olympic Spectators

We’re covering dashed hopes for Olympic spectators in Beijing and China’s birth rate challenge.

Olympics tickets will not be sold to the public

China had already barred foreign spectators from attending the Winter Games that begin in Beijing on Feb. 4. On Monday, it announced that most Chinese people won’t be able to attend either.

Citing the evolving threat from the coronavirus pandemic, the Beijing 2022 organizing committee announced that it was ending public ticket sales “to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators.”

The decision came less than two days after health authorities reported Beijing’s first case of the Omicron variant and ordered an immediate lockdown and mass testing in one of the capital’s neighborhoods. The outbreak, though so far limited, pierced the extraordinary efforts to isolate Beijing, including a ban on travel into the city.

By last week, more than 20 million people were confined in their homes in cities around China, including Tianjin, a port city just 70 miles east of Beijing.

The plan: Without offering many details, organizers said they had created an “adapted program” to allow some spectators.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Birth rates in China hit a historic low

China announced on Monday that its birthrate plummeted for a fifth straight year in 2021.

The falling birthrate, coupled with the increased life expectancy in China over the last four decades, means the number of people of working age, relative to the growing number of people too old to work, has continued to decline.

The population could soon begin to contract, something that would be hard to reverse and may result in labor shortages. The situation is creating a huge political problem for Beijing, which is already facing economic headwinds: Growth in the last quarter of the year slowed to 4 percent.

Context: The Chinese Communist Party has loosened its notorious “one child” policy and offered incentives to young families. But the changes came as social and economic conditions improved for women, who have become less likely to want children.

Details: Births fell to 10.6 million in 2021, compared with 12 million the year before. That was fewer even than the number in 1961, when Mao’s Great Leap Forward resulted in widespread famine and death.

Investigating the Texas synagogue attacker

Investigators are looking into whether the story of a woman jailed in Texas may have motivated the British attacker who stormed a synagogue on Saturday and took four people hostage.

Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist educated at M.I.T., was convicted in 2010 for “terroristic events” in Afghanistan. She was accused of trying to kill American soldiers and plotting a mass casualty attack. Since then, her case has been used as a pretext for other terrorist attacks.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from Blackburn in northwestern England, was killed after an 11-hour standoff with law enforcement officers at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, near Fort Worth, according to the F.B.I.

After one hostage was released, the rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, and two remaining hostages escaped by throwing a chair at the gunman and then fleeing, Rabbi Cytron-Walker told The Times. The rabbi also confirmed that Siddiqui was Akram’s sole focus.

Our reporters contacted Akram’s brother Gulbar Akram, who described him in a telephone interview as a deeply troubled man.


Asia Pacific

Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is often referred to as the end of the Earth: An arid desert, the planet’s oldest, that dead-ends into the Atlantic Ocean. Its history — full of shipwrecks and 20th-century diamond rushes — drew our writer. The trip was “a strange and beautiful reminder that we humans are powerless against time, and that in a war between man and nature, nature always wins.”

ARTS AND IDEAS An internet-famous library

Every year or so, the library in the photograph above — with stacks of books piled high and buttery lamplight aglow — resurfaces on the internet. It is often (erroneously) attributed to the author Umberto Eco, or said to be in Italy or Prague.

In fact, Kate Dwyer reports for The Times, the library is not in Europe. It doesn’t even exist anymore. But when it did, it was the home library of the Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Richard Macksey — a book collector, polyglot and scholar of comparative literature who died in 2019. His book collection clocked in at 51,000 titles, some 35,000 of which eventually made their way into the university’s libraries.

Why do people love this image so much? Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of the blog the Aesthetics of Joy, pointed at the photo’s sense of plenitude: “There’s something about the sensorial abundance of seeing lots of something that gives us a little thrill,” she said.

And what would Dr. Macksey think, if he knew his library had taken on a life of its own? “My dad liked nothing better than sharing his love of books and literature with others,” his son, Alan Macksey, said. “He’d be delighted that his library lives on through this photo.”


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