Belarus “hijacking”, Olympic vaccinations, too much sanitizer

80 today.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Here’s what you need to know

The US, EU, and UK accused Belarus of hijacking a plane. They’re considering sanctions after fighter jets forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk, where police arrested Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich.

Japan began a mass Covid-19 vaccination program. The military is administering thousands of shots a day in Osaka and Tokyo, where the Olympics are due to begin in two months (see below).

The World Health Organization holds its annual assembly. Taiwan, an early Covid success story that’s now facing a spike in infections, has again been left out because of China.

A volcano eruption left hundreds homeless in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite serious concerns, lava from Mount Nyiragongo failed to reach nearby Goma, a city of 2 million.

Phil Mickelson became the oldest winner of a major golf tournament. With thousands of spectators finally present, the 50-year-old American won the US PGA Championship in South Carolina.

Bob Dylan is 80 today. Although he shows no signs of retiring, he recently sold his songs to Universal Music for a rumored $300-$400 million.


What to watch for

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is slated to begin in two months. Opinion polls show that the Japanese population, and major Japanese firms and investors including Masayoshi Son, largely favor postponing or canceling the games. Organizers are steadily announcing decisions on Covid-19 testing, spectators, and protocols. But no amount of planning can reduce Covid-19 risk to zero.

Fewer than 5% of people in Japan have received a first vaccine dose. Many parts of the country, including host city Tokyo, are under a state of emergency as cases have risen in recent weeks.

Being vaccinated is not a requirement for athletes, though many countries are prioritizing jabs for Olympic participants.

It is unclear how widely the local organizers will be vaccinated. They’ll be the people interacting with international arrivals.

Only the International Olympic Committee can cancel the event. But the local authorities still get left with the tab.


Charting the ways Uber benefits from giving free rides for vaccines

A chart showing Uber's monthly unique user count by quarter. It shows a steady rise from 700 million in the first quarter of 2018 to 1.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019, then a dip to 550 million in depths of the coronavirus and a rise back to just shy of 1 billion in the first quarter of 2021

Starting today, Uber will provide free rides to anyone in the US going to and from Covid-19 vaccination sites. The company is also  providing 20,000 free vaccine-appointment rides to the elderly in certain cities in Japan. And, in a partnership with UNESCO, Uber will provide 1 million free rides to teachers around the world.

Anyone without reliable transportation stands to benefit, but Uber has a lot to gain as well:

  • It can help it recover old customers. Riders who have avoided Uber trips during the pandemic could be coaxed back into the habit.
  • It can help it gain new customers. Once new users download the Uber app, it makes them more likely to consider using the service in the future.
  • It will boost its usage figures. The company lost half its customers from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020 and is still about 130 million users off its peak.
  • It’s good PR. Uber is seen as the less socially responsible ride-hailing company compared to its rival Lyft. It continues to face criticism from labor advocates and policymakers.

Who owns the Arctic?

Illustration of ships and oil rigs surrounding iceberg
Image: Illustration by James Daw

The Arctic is bordered by eight independent countries—Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, the US, China, Iceland, and Greenland. Each is able to claim the waters off its coasts and the resources beneath. Everything else is covered by a patchwork of regulations, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Companies are eyeing the Arctic as a place to extract natural resources like rare earth metals, oil, and natural gas. Many of these companies are so large, and so often state-owned, that they serve as proxies for their governments, their narrow industrial interests providing a cover for their states’ projections of power.

Read more here.

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Surprising discoveries

A South African university determined a Rembrandt was a fake. A painstaking investigation led to the discovery of pigments that couldn’t have been in a work by the Dutch master.

Sweden is building a space complex. It will be Europe’s first orbital launch site for satellites, and the reindeer are not happy.

Tardigrades—a.k.a. “water bears”—can survive impacts at up to 1,845 miles per hour. Scientists fired the famously tough creatures out of a gun to simulate the crash of a space landing.

US retailers have too much hand sanitizer. Demand has plummeted, and stores are taking extreme measures to offload their stock.

Cocaine is washing up in the Florida Keys. For weeks now residents have been finding wrapped bundles of the drug.



Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, fake Rembrandts, and arctic space facilities to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Hasit Shah, Mary Hui, Marc Bain, Michelle Cheng, Tripti Lahiri, Leslie Nguyen-Okwu, Alexandra Ossola, Annabelle Timsit, and David Yanofsky.