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Your Friday Briefing: Is China Relenting?

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China appears to be backing away from its harsh Covid rules, after a week of mass protests against its policies. The demonstrations have been the largest challenge to Beijing in decades.

In Guangzhou, residents returned to work yesterday for the first time in weeks after Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted. In Chongqing, some residents were no longer required to take regular Covid tests. And in Beijing, a senior health official played down the severity of Omicron variants, a rare move.

The ruling Communist Party has still not publicly acknowledged the widespread demonstrations against lockdowns. But, after policing measures mostly muted the protests, the party is signaling a willingness to address the root cause of the public anger: intrusive pandemic controls that have stifled economic growth and left millions confined in their homes for long stretches.

Context: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has staked the party’s legitimacy on controlling the virus better than the nation’s rivals in the West. Any reversal or abandonment could undercut his authority.

Six million people across Ukraine are without power as temperatures drop. In Kyiv, 3.3 million people face shortages of electricity, water and heat, as well as cellphone and internet service.

Municipal officials estimate that 1.5 million people are still without power for more than 12 hours a day in the capital. Elevators are stocked with emergency supplies, in case the power fails. The National Philharmonic played on a stage lit by battery-powered lanterns. Doctors have performed surgeries by flashlight. A cafe has two menus, one with no hot food.

Residents are exhausted, and threats are mounting. Temperatures are often below freezing now. Extended power outages threaten health care and risk a rise in accidents and hypothermia. Yesterday, Russian shelling also knocked out power in Kherson, which was recently recaptured.

Context: Kyiv has been relatively unscathed since spring. But waves of Russian missiles targeting Ukraine’s energy grid have affected the city.

Strikes: Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, defended strikes on Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure. (The U.N. said they could amount to war crimes.)

Aid: The U.N. is seeking a record-breaking $51.5 billion from international donors. The war is fueling desperation around the world.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s future as South Africa’s president hangs in the balance, a day after a parliamentary panel found that he may have broken the law.

Opponents are lobbying for his departure as Parliament readies itself for a possible impeachment hearing for corruption. On Wednesday, a parliamentary report cast heavy skepticism on Ramaphosa’s explanation of how a large sum of U.S. currency came to be hidden in — and stolen from — a sofa at his farm.

When he swept into office four years ago, Ramaphosa was heralded as an anti-corruption crusader. But one of the president’s political foes alleged in June that Ramaphosa had between $4 million and $8 million stolen from his property in February 2020 and that he failed to report the theft to the police.

Ramaphosa: He claims that only $580,000 was stolen and that the money represented the proceeds of the sale of 20 buffaloes. But now, he may be doomed by a corruption scandal of his own making.

Elections: The A.N.C. is scheduled to elect its leadership at a national conference in two weeks. Until he was rocked by corruption allegations, Ramaphosa was favored to win a second term.

Few countries ship more live animals overseas than Australia, which has exported a million cattle a year, on average, since 2017. Damien Cave, our Sydney bureau chief, followed the route of some cattle to Indonesia, where they will be fattened and slaughtered by Islamic butchers.

Advocacy groups insist that the journey is unethical, and the route is dangerous. But the business also has its own unique culture, at once a throwback and a modern marvel of globalization.

Some 83 percent of babies in the U.S. start out on breast milk. But by 6 months, just 56 percent are breastfed. At that stage, only a quarter drink breast milk exclusively, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

That steady decline speaks to the wide-ranging challenges parents face in trying to breastfeed.

Take Dr. Laiyin Ma, who returned to work four weeks after her oldest daughter’s birth and two weeks after her second arrived. She pumped milk in stolen bursts in clinic rooms, propping her chair against the door to prevent patients and colleagues from barging in. While performing long operations, she leaked breast milk under her surgical gown.

She is stung by the irony that doctors and nurses struggle to meet the health guidelines they themselves recommend. “I really don’t think that people realize how hard it is for women in medicine to breastfeed,” Dr. Ma said.

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