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What happened on July 17-19, 2021

The top news stories of the day included historic wildfires in Oregon, and tennis star Coco Gauff's Olympic withdrawal.

Firefighters tackle the Blue Ridge Fire in Yorba Linda
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The largest forest wildfire in US history is ravaging Oregon. The “Bootleg Fire” spread to an area the size of Los Angeles over the weekend, and firefighters also face difficult weather conditions.

Zoom is buying cloud-based customer service provider Five9 for $14.7 billion. The video conferencing company wants to expand its offering to business clients.

Italian fashion house Zegna is going public through a $3.2 billion SPAC deal. The 111-year-old company’s shares will trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

A new data leak reportedly reveals surveillance of journalists, activists, and politicians. 17 news organizations investigated the extent to which Pegasus, spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, has been used to target government critics.

The first sentence for a felony at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is handed down today. Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, faces 18 months in jail for his role in the chaos that day.

Britney Spears quit. In an expletive-laden Instagram post, the singer said she won’t “be performing on any stages anytime soon with my dad handling what I wear, say, do, or think.”

US tennis player Coco Gauff misses the Olympics. The 17-year-old tested positive for Covid-19, and is the latest athlete to drop out of the Games; meanwhile, dozens of people in the Olympic village are already self-isolating.

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What to watch for

On Monday (July 19), England and Scotland will lift most remaining Covid-19 restrictions. Some have dubbed the date—which was originally scheduled for June 21 but pushed back by a month to allow more people to get vaccinated—“Freedom Day.”

The term is controversial, as is the idea of lifting public health restrictions while the more contagious Delta variant causes a surge in Covid-19 cases. Wales lifted its rules July 17, and Northern Ireland is scheduled to follow July 26. Covid-related deaths remain low.

Currently, across the UK, there are:

🤒 Nearly 50,000 new cases per day

☠️ Around 60 daily deaths within 28 days of a positive test

🏥 Nearly 600 daily hospital admissions

In the medical journal The Lancet, a group of healthcare experts called the decision “dangerous and premature,” and said letting the virus run amok will “disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people.” In England, only 16.4% of 18-to-24-year-olds are fully vaccinated, and most children under 18 have not been offered a vaccine. However, young people are very rarely hospitalized or killed by the virus.

Charting the flurry of venture deals

Investment in US startups is exploding, with the flow of money on pace to exceed $200 billion this year. That would easily break a record set last year.

A chart comparing the number of US venture capital deals through June of each year with the value of the deals.

The deals are bigger than ever, too, said Jeff Grabow, who heads the venture capital practice for EY, as sovereign wealth funds and private equity are investing alongside traditional venture capital firms.

The frenzy has been fueled by the pandemic, Grabow said. As the world changed how it worked, traveled, and shopped last year, companies sprung up to develop new technologies to help us adapt.

Not so Farfetched

For most of luxury fashion, online sales are an afterthought. Brands use the internet to showcase their latest styles, and entice shoppers to their boutiques. Farfetch is working to change that, by representing 3,500 clothing labels on its site, and hosting a platform for companies to build their own sites.

As founder and CEO José Neves put it to analysts during an earnings call in February, the company’s goal is to be “an operating system and digital enabler for the entire global luxury industry.”

A chart showing Farfetch's annual merchandise sales and the revenue it collects.

Luxury brands have traditionally been slow to embrace e-commerce but the pandemic generated new shopping habits. By 2025, online sales of personal luxury goods are projected to reach as high as €115 billion ($136 billion), up from €33 billion in 2019.

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Surprising discoveries

Spike Lee bombed in Cannes. The director prematurely mentioned a historic win for French filmmaker Julia Ducournau at the beginning of the ceremonies.

Starchitect-designed toilets are opening throughout Tokyo. The 17 Instagram-worthy public restrooms are meant to be emissaries of Japanese hospitality.

The Olympic ceremonies composer was a terrible bully. Musician Keigo Oyamada (a.k.a. “Cornelius” or “Japanese Beck”) apologized for tormenting disabled classmates.

The earliest named writer in history was a woman. Enheduanna, a poet and high priestess in ancient Mesopotamia, is the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at New York’s Morgan Library.

There are sunglasses specifically designed for Black faces. The “Afropolitan” shades, fitted for low and wide nose profiles, could also work for east Asians and people with Down syndrome, designers say.

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