Welcome to Wednesday, where heads of state find out they were Pegasus spyware targets, floods in central China kill trapped subway riders and not everyone is happy to see Jeff Bezos safely back from space. Just two days before the opening ceremony of Tokyo Games are set to begin, Olympics chief, Toshiro Muto, won't rule out an 11th-hour cancellation. Still, most expect the Games to go on, and Le Monde explains what's at stake for Japan.
• Macron, other heads of state targeted by Pegasus spyware: French newspaper Le Monde revealed that President Emmanuel Macron and several members of his government were among the thousands of phone numbers targeted for hacking via the Israeli spyware, Pegasus. Other high profile names on the list of leaked phone numbers include King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the prime ministers of Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco.
• Olympics chief won't rule out cancelling Games: As more athletes continue to test positive for the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief, Toshiro Muto, says that should cases spike, he will not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Games.
• COVID update: As cases continue to rise in Australia, another state, South Australia, has entered lockdown, leaving about half of the overall Australian population under lockdown once again. In France, the country's new "health pass' has officially gone into effect, requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter cultural venues, such as cinemas and museums. Meanwhile, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned the world may be in the early stages of another wave.
• 100 kidnapped Nigerian mothers and children rescued: Nigerian authorities were able to secure the release of 100 women and children who were abducted on June 8 in the Zamfara state. This group is among 1,000 people who have been kidnapped in Nigeria since December 2020.
• China floods kill subway riders: Severe flooding in the central Chinese province, Henan, has left at least 16 people dead, at least 12 of whom were trapped in a flooded subway line, and forced thousands to be evacuated. The heavy rainfall has "shattered records," dumping what the region would normally receive in one year over the last three days, and follows deadly floods in Western Europe and India.
• Hungary to hold referendum on anti-LGBT law: In a live Facebook video, Hungarian President Viktor Orban announced the government would hold a referendum on its controversial anti-LGBT law, which has been widely criticized across the European Union.
• Thousands sign petition to keep Bezos in space: Over 180,000 people have signed the Change.org petition "Do not allow Jeff Bezos to return to Earth." Should the petition reach 200,000, it will become one of the "top signed" on the Change.org website.
French daily Le Monde dedicates its front page to the revelations that the cell phones of French President Emmanuel Macron and 15 members of the government were targeted by the spyware Pegasus, owned by Israel-based NSO Group. The client who asked for this potential surveillance is an unidentified Moroccan security service.
An estimated 500,000 people in the UK were "pinged" by the country's official COVID-19 contact tracing app in the first week of July — up 46% on the previous week. Driven by a combination of rising infections and increased movement of people, the so-called "pingdemic" is causing disruption in many businesses and industries.
Tokyo Olympics, countdown to the impossible games
There will be a notable "before" and "after" for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The international competition, which was postponed a full-year due to the pandemic, will begin Friday. Though every day a new bit of bad COVID-related (and other) news arrives, the competition must go on, write Philippe Mesmer and Philippe Pon in French daily Le Monde.
As a result of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases (particularly due to the Delta variant), the Olympics will be held under a state of emergency, with no spectators allowed at most stadiums and competitions. The event, which is meant to be a place for intercultural exchange, will be deprived of the festive character it is meant to symbolize. The icing on the cake is that Japanese fans, who went to great lengths in order to secure tickets to volunteer at or attend the competition will be unable to do so.
The cost of cancellation was evaluated in May by the Nomura Research Institute, and it was found to be 1,810 billion yen, or 14 billion euros. The cost, which would weigh on the stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the IOC, the city of Tokyo and Japan), is far greater than simply moving forward with the Games. Japan has therefore preferred to maintain the Games, even if the arrival of nearly 80,000 athletes, staff and foreign journalists could lead to a new wave of COVID contamination.
Ultimately, canceling the Games would have required a political will that Prime Minister Suga does not have. Not to mention, his G7 partners have hardly encouraged him to do so: Many of them are in fact allowing almost full stadiums and have relaxed sanitation measures despite new increases in cases of COVID-19. All of them have encouraged Suga to maintain the Games, even if it means having to bear the brunt of a wave of coronavirus, which would complicate Japan's record of "only" 821,000 cases and 15,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
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