Your Friday Briefing

After a brutal summer surge, driven by the Delta variant, the coronavirus is again in retreat in the U.S. weBut given how many Americans remain unvaccinated, it is too soon to abandon basic precautions, scientists warn. The potential emergence of a new variant remains a wild card, while the protection afforded by vaccination could start to wane more substantially.

What comes next is hard to predict. Most experts said they would not be surprised to see an increase in cases later this year as people spend more time indoors and travel for the holidays. Britain and Israel continue to struggle with outbreaks, despite high vaccination rates. “We should all just be mindful that this is not completely over yet,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan.

Speaking at the White House yesterday, President Biden warned that the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t yet over, but that the U.S. “was headed in the right direction.” He called on states and private businesses to support vaccine mandates in an effort to avoid another surge in cases.

The numbers: The U.S. is now recording roughly 90,000 new infections a day, down more than 40 percent since August. Hospitalizations and deaths are also falling. Nearly 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, and children under 12 are likely to be eligible for their Covid vaccine shots in a matter of weeks. Federal regulators could soon authorize the first antiviral pill for Covid-19.

Armed sectarian militias clashed in Beirut yesterday, transforming neighborhoods of the city into a deadly war zone. Gunmen hid behind cars and dumpsters to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least six people were killed and 30 wounded, in some of the worst violence in years to convulse the Lebanese capital.

After the near-collapse of the Lebanese state, the country is facing political and economic crises, inviting recollections of its civil war that ended more than three decades ago. Since the fall of 2019, its currency has plummeted more than 90 percent in value, reducing to poverty those who were once comfortably middle class.

Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.

Context: The violence broke out at a protest led by two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. The protesters were calling for the removal of the judge charged with investigating the huge explosion at the Beirut port last year.

A federal grand jury indicted a former top pilot for Boeing, Mark Forkner, in connection with statements he and the company made about the troubled Boeing 737 Max jet. He would be the first individual to face criminal charges related to the 737 Max’s problems. The six fraud charges in his indictment carry maximum penalties totaling several decades in prison.

Forkner is accused of deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration about flight control software implicated in two crashes in 2018 and 2019 in which 346 people were killed, and of “scheming to defraud Boeing’s U.S.‑based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing,” the Justice Department said.

Lawyers for the pilot, who has been under investigation for more than a year and half, said last year that he “didn’t lie to anyone” and added that “he would never jeopardize the safety of other pilots or their passengers.” He is expected to appear in court for the first time today.

Background: Boeing and the Justice Department in the last days of the Trump administration announced that they had agreed to a $2.5 billion legal settlement to resolve a criminal charge that the company had conspired to defraud the F.A.A. The scandal has already led to the firing of the chief executive and cost the company billions of dollars.

The Columbus statue that once gazed down on Mexico City’s main boulevard will be replaced with a pre-colonial Indigenous figure — notably, a woman. But not everyone is pleased with the announcement, on either side of the cultural divide.

The primatologist talked to our Books desk about what she’s learned from reading.

What books are on your night stand?

“The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West,” to remind me to reread. It is brilliant and I know the author, Imran Ahmad. And “Cult: Following My Escape and Return to the Children of God,” by Bexy Cameron. I skimmed it, and it is an extraordinary and chillingly true autobiography.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

People and projects around the world that show the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, the power of informed young people, the amazing innovation of scientists fighting climate change.

If you could require President Biden to read one book, what would it be?

I asked someone connected with the Biden administration, and he said that Biden is swamped daily in horrible news and that I should recommend my book “The Book of Hope.” In which, prompted by the interviewer Doug Abrams, I outline my conviction that if we take action now we can turn things around.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Shakespeare, Tolkien, Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë. Or, oh — I want Keats, Byron, Rachel Carson, Dickens, Darwin — and, oh, I so want Churchill and, and, and — my dinner party will need a banqueting hall to fit them all in!

What do you plan to read next?

No plans, no time. There are so very many books I want to read. Perhaps there’ll be more time postpandemic, when I can travel again and read on flights.

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