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We’re covering a transportation shutdown to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, growing evidence of Saudi involvement in the hacking of Jeff Bezos’s cellphone and a major step for Brexit.
As of 10 a.m. today, planes and trains leaving the city were to be canceled, and buses, subways and ferries within it suspended. Residents were urged not to leave.
The move could upend the plans of millions of Chinese citizens, who travel in huge numbers during the Lunar New Year holiday that officially begins on Friday. Experts have warned that the virus would proliferate during the mass travel period.
World Health Organization: The group postponed a decision on whether the outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”
Context: The disease began in a seafood and poultry market in the city of 11 million, but is unclear from what kind of animal.
Evidence mounts of Saudi hand in Bezos hack
Two prominent United Nations experts said that a WhatsApp account belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have been used to hack into the cellphone of Jeff Bezos in an effort to “influence, if not silence” reporting on the kingdom by the newspaper he owns, The Washington Post.
The news came after a forensic analysis found with “medium to high confidence” that the Amazon chief’s device was hacked after he received a video from that WhatsApp account, and that his phone began sending large volumes of data.
Months later, the tabloid publisher American Media Inc., whose head was courting the Saudis, reported that Mr. Bezos had been having an extramarital affair.
Response: After initial reports of the forensic analysis surfaced, the Saudi Embassy denied that the government was involved, calling the idea “absurd.”
Pattern: Recent years have seen documentation that well-known Saudi dissidents have been hacked, and social media in the kingdom manipulated to amplify voices praising Crown Prince Mohammed and drown out his critics.
At the time Mr. Bezos’ phone was hacked, The Post was publishing coverage critical of the kingdom. Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi writer who was later killed by a Saudi hit team in Istanbul, was a regular columnist and often criticized the crown prince.
Brexit: It’s suddenly smooth sailing
If you thought this step in Britain’s yearslong drama over its departure from the European Union would be more complicated, you weren’t alone.
But without any of the histrionics of the last few years, Parliament finalized a withdrawal bill and set the stage for Britain’s Jan. 31 departure from the European Union. The Conservative Party’s overwhelming majority made this step essentially a formality.
Queen Elizabeth II is expected to approve the bill, and the European Parliament is expected to pass it with ease next week.
What’s next: British and European representatives will have to negotiate a trade deal, something analysts say will be tougher and could take years.
Stock surging, Tesla passes $100 billion valuation
Investors have long been divided on Elon Musk’s electric car company, with many betting on its stock to fall. But since October, when the long-troubled company reported an unexpected quarterly profit, its fans have been lifting the price.
Today, their trading pushed Tesla’s stock to a record high of more than $590 per share, resetting the company’s value beyond $100 billion. That was a signal of faith in electric cars and a humbling moment for automakers with longer histories and greater productivity.
Musk’s reward: The milestone also started a clock on a huge windfall for Mr. Musk. If the valuation is sustained over at least six months, it could trigger a measure that allows him to buy some 1.69 million shares at about $350 each — a payout that could be worth nearly $400 million.
A Trump bump: In a CNBC interview from Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, President Trump described Mr. Musk as “one of our great geniuses” and compared him to the inventor Thomas Edison.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
The face of Australia’s climate-change deniers
With posts and comments on his increasingly popular Facebook page that cherry-pick data and make unsupported claims, he has amassed a following in wide areas of the country. But even some members of his own party are trying to distance themselves.
Here’s what else is happening
Impeachment: Seven House impeachment managers began to present their cases against President Trump in opening arguments, with Representative Adam Schiff accusing him of using his power “to cheat” in the election.
South Korea: The military will discharge a soldier who had undergone gender-reassignment surgery but wanted to remain in military service as a woman. Byeon Hee-su, a staff sergeant, must leave the army by Friday.
Snapshot: Above, Naomi Osaka serving at the Australian Open on Wednesday. She goes to tournaments “to win them, not to play finals or semifinals,” her coach told our reporter. Tennis fans will be watching for a showdown between Ms. Osaka and Coco Gauff after Ms. Gauff advanced on Wednesday.
In memoriam: Terry Jones was a member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python and also had success as a director, screenwriter and author. He died on Tuesday at 77.
What we’re reading: This explainer on a different measure of deliciousness, from Taiwan Business Topics: “Today’s lesson,” writes our food correspondent Kim Severson, “is understanding the Q factor in Taiwanese food. It’s good-chewy.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: If tres leches cake is not enough, add three more milks.
Watch: The actor Michael Sheen discussed his portrayal of a serial killer dad on the Fox drama “Prodigal Son.”
Listen: Aidy Bryant, the comedian and star of “Shrill,” shared what she watched, read and listened to last week.
Smarter Living: Here’s how to tip hotel workers when you travel.
And now for the Back Story on …
The frontline of an outbreak
Javier C. Hernández, a correspondent in our Beijing bureau, is reporting this week from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Mike Ives, on the Briefings team, spoke with Javier via Slack, a messaging service.
Hi, Javier. What’s the mood in Wuhan right now?
Walking the streets, you definitely feel a sense of urgency is spreading. Lots of people are now wearing masks and avoiding big crowds. All of this is happening in the midst of the Lunar New Year holiday, so it has forced many families to rethink their plans. People are canceling dinners, staying home from work and hunkering down.
It must be hard to avoid big crowds in a city of 11 million people.
Yes, it’s almost impossible to avoid crowds in a modern Chinese city. But Wuhan is trying to push people to take more precautions. When you get in a cab now, there are reminders about opening the window and wearing a mask. Some of the famous street markets are now totally empty, surrounded by signs warning about the virus.
Are you hearing any common sentiments in your interviews?
Several people told me about their memories of the SARS crisis of 2003, which killed hundreds of people in China. They’re worried this could erupt into a full-blown epidemic. Of course, others say they’re not very concerned and have faith that China can beat this. One common theme is people say they want the Chinese government to speak honestly about the severity of the outbreak — something that didn’t happen during SARS.
Are you taking any specific precautions, like wearing a mask?
Yes, at the advice of experts, my colleague Elsie Chen and I are washing our hands regularly and avoiding meat markets and hospital wards. We are wearing masks all the time. It’s a bit odd having that kind of barrier when you’re interviewing people on the street. But we’ve found that it is quickly becoming the norm in Wuhan. There are even videos now circulating of people giving New Year’s toasts with their masks on!
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
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