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Your Tuesday Briefing – The New York Times

Impact: Japan’s economy shrank in the last quarter of 2019, its worst contraction in more than five years. The results predated the coronavirus epidemic but were affected by a monthslong slump in Chinese demand for Japanese exports.

There’s no evidence for it, and scientists dismiss it. But a rumor about the coronavirus has nevertheless gained traction: that the outbreak was somehow manufactured by the Chinese government as part of a biowarfare program.

It’s the kind of story that resonates with those who see Beijing as a threat to the West. The theory has gained an audience with the help of powerful critics of the Chinese government, including right-wing media outlets and a U.S. senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who later walked his claims back.

Reality: Experts dismiss the idea that the virus was created by human hands, saying it resembles SARS and other viruses that come from bats. Here’s a reminder of what scientists know and don’t know.

Going on religious pilgrimages, praying, attending funerals, wearing a beard, having too many children.

These are all acts, among other signs of piety, that would have been flagged by the Chinese government and warranted monitoring or even detention for Uighurs living in the western Xinjiang region, according to a leaked government document obtained by The Times.

The document, one of numerous files kept on more than one million people who have been detained, illuminates another piece of the Chinese government’s coercive crackdown on ethnic minorities and what Beijing considers to be wayward thinking.

Details: The document, a 137-page spreadsheet, outlines the kind of minute detail that the authorities in Karakax County (also spelled Qaraqash) in southwestern Xinjiang collected on more than 300 detainees and hundreds of their relatives and neighbors from 2017 to March 2019.

Follow-up: Three-fourths of the detainees listed have been released, according to an expert who studied the spreadsheet. But the document also shows that many of those released were later assigned work in tightly controlled industrial parks.

Somalia has endured three decades of crises, making its government incapable of providing even basic services. So young Somalis have sprung into action as volunteer medics, road-builders, educators and more.

After a 2017 truck bombing in Mogadishu killed 587 people and injured 316 others, hundreds of volunteers, like Dr. Amina Abdulkadir Isack, above right, identified victims, created social media campaigns to appeal for global attention and collected tens of thousands of dollars to help with ambulance services.

“It showed us we could do something to save lives,” she said.

Burkina Faso shooting: A gunman attacked a church during Sunday Mass and killed at least 24 people in the country’s northwest, security sources said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible, but jihadist groups have been seeking control over rural areas of the country.

Michael Bloomberg campaign: As the billionaire and former New York mayor rises to the upper tier of Democratic presidential candidates, political reporters at his news media outlet are increasingly feeling pressure over a perceived conflict of interest.

Caroline Flack: Fans of the “Love Island” host, who died by suicide over the weekend, are calling for a new law to stop British tabloids from publishing articles that reveal “private information that is detrimental to a celebrity, their mental health and those around them.”

Snapshot: Above, an orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia. Our correspondent and his family developed a special understanding of Indonesia’s island jungles with the help of a network of one-man conservationist organizations.

What we’re reading: This collection of letters. “British newspapers’ letters pages are a peculiar sort of joy,” writes Peter Robins, an editor in our London newsroom. “Recently, readers of The Guardian have been debating how old you have to be before it’s eccentric to keep boiling up your annual 18-pound batch of homemade marmalade. Bidding started at 77 and has escalated rapidly.”

Cook: Cheesy baked pasta with sausage and ricotta is like lasagna, but faster. (Our Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter has more recommendations.)

Read: “Apeirogon,” the latest novel from Colum McCann, delves into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of two grieving fathers. “I think people wouldn’t have trusted it as much if it wasn’t real,” he said.

Smarter Living: We collected a few items that will help you make the most of an off-season getaway.

Abdi Latif Dahir is The Times’s East Africa correspondent. A Kenyan of Somali descent, he reports in and about some dozen countries. We reached him in Nairobi, to talk about this briefing’s featured read: his story about the young Somalis who are filling in the gaps their government can’t.

This is such a powerful story of resilience and hope. How did you find it?

Late last year, there was a big attack in Mogadishu, the worst by Al Shabab in two years. And one thing stood out. Almost all the news stories mentioned that a lot of university students had died, young people who wanted to be doctors or were studying other specialities that would help the country.

On Jan. 1, I flew to Mogadishu, to follow up on the attack and to write about these students and what they mean to Somalia.

My first story was about that, but also on how things had been getting so much better in Mogadishu — and it was all these young people doing it.

What else inspired you?

I went to this crisis center. They were collecting the names of the victims, and reaching out to their families. I wanted to sit amongst them and see what it was like. They were checking in, asking the families, how are you today?

And maybe they’d hear that the hospital bill had been paid so that was OK but the family hadn’t eaten breakfast that day. So they would corral someone to get food over to them.

I wanted to write about the chutzpah to invent these systems, to stay strong with all that was happening.

People could rattle off all these names of people they’ve known who’ve been killed. But then they would say, we want to stay here and be the ones to fix this country. They’re creating tech hubs, and restaurants and delivery services that are thriving. Because of the attacks on hotels and restaurants, it’s safer to stay home, have friends over and order a meal.

How is it being the East Africa correspondent?

I’ve had the job since November. It’s incredible. This is a dynamic, evolving region that’s changing socially, geopolitically, economically. It’s a great place to be a journalist. Honestly, you could write a story every hour.

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

— Melina

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• “The Daily” was off for the U.S. Presidents’ Day holiday. But try our “Modern Love” podcast. This week’s is titled “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist.”
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Part of a navy (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Last week, we told you that our Visual Investigations team would be answering reader questions. Here’s the YouTube video of them doing just that.

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