Disunited Kingdom

Balance of Power

Boris Johnson seems to be upsetting just about everyone at the moment.

The U.K. prime minister has top health officials warning his new "tiered" system of coronavirus restrictions is not enough to combat an autumnal spike in cases. A key scientific advisory body recommended a short "circuit breaker" national lockdown late last month, warning of the peril of "not acting now." That advice was not heeded.

Meanwhile he's increasingly at odds with local mayors and even lawmakers in his own party, who say they haven't been consulted enough on targeted restrictions in parts of northern England that could further hit already damaged regional economies.

Johnson, a libertarian at heart, is caught between the need to protect people from a virus that has left the U.K. with the highest death toll in Europe and ensuring some life remains in the economy. Data today show job cuts jumped the most on record in the three months through August.

In trying to walk that line, Johnson is struggling to keep any group happy. The northern parts of England, including areas facing spikes in cases, are potentially important to him politically. Those were former Labour heartlands, dying industrial areas that he wooed over in last December's election with promises of revitalization. Voters there are not hard-core Tories, and their allegiance to him could prove fleeting.

It's getting so bad that one minister described Johnson as tired, longing to be popular and not enjoying a job he took on triumphantly just last year. With the deadline looming to sort out the Brexit arrangements and arguments continuing with Brussels, it's unlikely to get any better for him soon.

Rosalind Mathieson

A security guard uses hand sanitizer outside a pub in the northern city of Liverpool on Oct. 11.

Photographer: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

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Global Headlines

Day two | Senate Democrats, including vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, will get their first crack today at questioning Amy Coney Barrett during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. They plan to focus on how she might move the court in a more conservative direction on issues such as health care and abortion. Drawing whatever answers they can from Barrett may be all Democrats can hope to achieve, since Republicans have the numbers and the determination to seat her before the Nov. 3 election.

  • Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said yesterday he's "not a fan" of expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court — as has been suggested by progressives as a way to weaken conservatives' grip — his clearest answer yet on the issue.

Campaign 2020

There are 21 days until the election. Here's the latest on the race for control of the White House and Congress.

Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail last night, boasting at a rally in Florida he felt "so powerful" after his recovery from Covid-19 that he wanted to walk into the audience and "kiss everyone." The president tested negative on consecutive days for the virus and isn't infectious, his doctor said, even as Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, warned that Trump's planned events this week threaten to advance the spread of the disease.

Other developments

Sign up to receive daily election updates as a direct mobile notification on Twitter. Simply click on this link and like the tweet.

Spike risk | Europe's hospitals have largely coped with the region's reemergence as a virus hotspot, but pressure is growing as infections surge and the northern winter approaches. Authorities are imploring pandemic-weary citizens to focus on hygiene and distancing rules amid an uptick in hospitalizations, with countries from Spain to Ukraine posting record increases in cases.

  • Johnson & Johnson paused its Covid-19 vaccine study due to the unexplained illness of a participant.
  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed new curbs on social events, amateur sports and nightlife, ordering bars and restaurants to close by midnight.

Bigger browsing | In a quiet experiment of just two weeks, China has provided millions of people access to long-forbidden foreign websites like YouTube and Instagram. The trial via the Tuber browser app suggests the Communist government is moving toward giving citizens greater access to the global internet — while still attempting to control who sees what.

  • President Xi Jinping made his latest pitch for economic "self-reliance" — a nod to Trump's "America First" policies — as he began a sweep through China's southern manufacturing regions.
  • Click here for a look at Aviation Industry Corp. of China, a state-owned conglomerate that's a pillar of Xi's strategy to become an industrial superpower.

Risk of rupture | Mexico's ruling party is in danger of splitting, with the two main leadership candidates accusing each other of trying to illegitimately take over the movement. As Max de Haldevang explains, the feud casts doubt over whether the Morena party founded by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador can stay together to face mid-term elections next year.

Tightening grip | As the West African nation of Guinea gears up for Oct. 18 elections, social media is dominated by the ruling party's slick campaign that describes 82-year-old President Alpha Conde as a savior of the nation. As Pauline Bax and Loni Prinsloo report, there's growing unease across the continent that online platforms such as Facebook are becoming a key tool for governments to drown out opposition voices.

What to Watch

  • Australia is seeking clarification from Beijing following reports China halted coal purchases amid diplomatic tensions, with sources saying Chinese power stations and steel mills have been verbally told to stop using Australian coal.
  • Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim said he presented statutory declarations to prove his legislative majority to the king, who will now decide if the opposition leader has enough support from lawmakers to form a new government.
  • In a one-two punch that could drive the most significant changes to U.S. antitrust law enforcement in decades, Attorney General William Barr is poised to file a monopoly-abuse lawsuit against Alphabet's Google, and Democratic Representative David Cicilline is preparing legislation targeting big tech companies.
  • Nigeria is bracing for another day of protests over police brutality that prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which has been blamed for widespread abuses.

And finally ... K-pop megastars BTS face a social media backlash in China after member Kim Nam-joon, known as RM, talked about U.S.-South Korea ties and "the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women" during the Korean War. The comment spurred calls for a boycott as RM was accused of failing to highlight China's own part in a conflict that pitted American troops against the Chinese military.

BTS visit the "Today" Show at Rockefeller Plaza on Feb. 21 in New York City.

Photographer: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images North America



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