Morning mail: virus spreads faster outside China, killer heat, Sharapova retires

Richard Parkin
Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 27 February.

Top stories

More cases of the coronavirus are being reported outside China than inside for the first time since the outbreak began, the World Health Organisation says. On Tuesday, 427 new cases were reported across 37 countries globally, compared with 411 inside China, despite nearly 97% of more than 80,000 infections occurring inside China. Earlier, the WHO had cautioned that the world was “simply not ready” should a pandemic break out, while major sporting events including the Six Nations rugby and F1 racing have either been postponed or cancelled. There have been 2,715 deaths so far, but health officials have cautioned against panic, reminding that mortality rates remain around 1-2% and predominantly affect people with already weakened immunity.

Australia’s seven hottest days on record were in the second half of December last year. Australia is heating faster than the global average, and extreme heat days are on the rise. Scientists warn the greatest threat is an escalation in heatwaves. “There’s clear evidence that [extreme heat] is killing people prematurely,” says Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton in today’s episode of The Frontline, a major multimedia series from Guardian Australia about the lived reality of climate change.

The prime minister’s office broke the law by inexplicably delaying a freedom of information request, the information watchdog has ruled, despite a $110,000 internal investigation clearing it of wrongdoing. At least three federal agencies have been found to have breached FOI law since November, despite the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner sending an all-staff missive reminding departments of their legal obligations. Experts say delays can be used as a deliberate tactic to render information useless or less explosive by the time it is released.

Australia

Australia must significantly accelerate its take-up of low emissions options if it is to achieve a transition to net zero emissions by 2050, new analysis by ClimateWorks Australia suggests. That means the electricity market will need to be sourced 100% from renewables by 2035, while at least half of all new cars in 10 years time will need to be electric vehicles. Meanwhile, mining giant Rio Tinto says it wants its globe-spanning operations to reach net zero by 2050 and will spend US$1bn over the next five years to reduce its carbon footprint.

Scott Morrison and Bridget McKenzie’s offices exchanged 136 emails about sports grants program, the Australian National Audit Office has revealed. Morrison has maintained that his involvement in the $100m community sport infrastructure program was limited to his office passing on representations from MPs to McKenzie’s office.

Julian Assange’s extradition case is to hear an application on Thursday for him to leave a dock surrounded by bulletproof glass and sit with his lawyers after he complained of being as much a participant in the proceedings as “watching Wimbledon”.

Josh Frydenberg has warned that the far right is on the rise in Australia, echoing a speech earlier in the week where Australia’s top intelligence chief warned the threat of rightwing extremism in Australia was real and growing.

The world

A shop is set on fire during ongoing violence in Delhi. Photograph: AP

At least 24 people have been killed in the worst religious violence in Delhi in decades, with calls for army to be deployed as clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups show little sign of abating. More than 200 people were admitted to hospital, following a fourth consecutive day of clashes and mob looting.

A Brazilian lawmaker has warned against a return to dictatorship, following president Jair Bolsonaro’s apparent endorsement of nationwide protests designed to intimidate the nation’s democratic institutions.

Six schools and two nurseries in Syria have been bombed by the Assad regime and its ally, Russia, killing 21, amid concerns the violence has already led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the Syrian war to date.

Clive Cussler, the bestselling American author of more than 80 adventure novels, has died, aged 88. A 17-times New York Times bestseller lister, Cussler sold more than 100m books, with 25 novels starring his government agent protagonist, Dirk Pitt.

Recommended reads

They were penned over 3,000 years ago, but songs about powerlessness and suffering are finding a modern audience. 150 Psalms, a collection of biblical era works, is being performed at this year’s Adelaide festival, but for the project’s director Tido Visser the thematic resonance is “as if they were written yesterday”.

As the coronavirus prompts doom-mongering across the global economy, what hope does Australia’s domestic economy have to offer? Well, according to Greg Jericho, with the mining and construction industries slowing down, very little: “the domestic economy, which the government is relying on to see us through the international crisis, was already struggling well before the rest of the world turned ugly.”

Open a cookbook these days and you don’t expect to find recipes for turtle soup. But for executive chef Liz Mason recipes from 1886 and 1910 are as challenging to modern sensibilities as the suffrage movement was to its contemporaries. And while her sous-chef might struggle with some of the old-fashioned techniques, next month Mason is putting “Rebel Soup” and “Election Cake” back on the menu, writes Alyx Gorman.

Listen

Delhi is being rocked by India’s worst violence in decades, with the death toll rising rapidly as mosques are set alight. On this episode of Today in Focus, Guardian’s Samanth Subramanian looks at the rise of Hindu nationalism and the controversial citizenship laws that have fuelled months of escalating unrest.

Sport

Maria Sharapova, seen here at the China Open in 2012 has announced her retirement after 36 WTA singles titles across a 19-year career. Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA

Five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement from tennis. A top-five ranked player as recently as 2016, the 32-year-old has battled chronic shoulder injuries, and bid an emotional farewell to the sport that brought her “untold tears and unspeakable joys”. Kevin Mitchell farewells a player more respected than loved.

It was one of the great contests of the 80s and 90s and, ahead of Friday’s bushfire relief game, a wave of AFL State of Origin nostalgia has well and truly been uncorked, Jonathan Horn writes.

Media roundup

The Financial Review reports that $129 billion has been wiped off Australia stock markets over the past three days due to fears over the coronavirus, with companies involved in tourism the worst affected. Maurice Blackburn are preparing a class action against the NAB, writes the Age, with new state legislation set to pass in Victoria allowing the law firm to recoup a potentially multimillion-dollar “contingency fee” in the process. And, the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby could be morphed into a global competition, with private equity investors reportedly looking to invest heavily, according to the Australian.

Coming up

New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, arrives in Sydney ahead of a Friday meeting with Scott Morrison.

Ian Thorpe will visit federal parliament to discuss concerns about the religious discrimination bill.

And if you’ve read this far …

“Dark, uncompromising and deeply divisive” – that’s the verdict on Marmite, the one-time brewer’s offcast that’s now enjoying a revival in haute cuisine. “Like soy sauce and Lea & Perrins, it gives depth and umami – it’s a great tool for layering flavours,” says leading London chef Sat Bains.