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Morning news brief


We have an eyewitness account today of devastation from an earthquake in Morocco.


The earthquake struck Friday night in the High Atlas Mountains. And that name gives you a clue into the difficulty of getting aid in to the people who need it most. Wrecked roads and aftershocks make it hard to get there. The death toll has surpassed 2,100 people so far.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Marrakesh, a city near the quake's epicenter. Hey there, Lauren.


INSKEEP: What do you see?

FRAYER: Well, I'm in the doorway of a public hospital emergency room. And about every minute or so, an ambulance comes up, disgorges victims, people with bandages, splints on their legs, some unconscious. Wailing relatives pile out of the ambulances with them, people that are caked in dust and dirt. These are victims who have been pulled out of the rubble from the quake sort of 48 hours on. In some cases, they got treatment at smaller facilities in the mountains but now are being shifted to this larger hospital.

I talked to an ER doctor there. Her name is Oumaima Tounsi (ph), and I asked her about the injuries she's seeing.

OUMAIMA TOUNSI: Mainly broken bones, broken limbs, hemorrhaging - like internal hemorrhaging in the chest.

FRAYER: Hemorrhaging, internal bleeding.

TOUNSI: Exactly, yes. We have a lot of that, too.

FRAYER: This looks like a head injury here. He's bandaged, and his neck is in a brace.

TOUNSI: Yes, could be the neck. It could be the head, which is, like, very dangerous territory.

FRAYER: She says nothing in med school prepared her for this.

INSKEEP: Yeah, how could anything, really? Lauren, thanks for the imagery there of the hospital where you're standing. What is the situation elsewhere in this large city?

FRAYER: You know, the biggest thing you notice is people sleeping outdoors. Lots of people - even if their homes survived Friday's initial quake, the aftershocks keep hitting. And so you see people just running out of buildings all of the time, and many are too scared to reenter at all. And so every inch of green space, like highway medians, are covered with sleeping bags.

I've been driving around the city. Asphalt roads are cracked. Roads are closed as the military tries to repair them quickly. There's been a lot of focus on the walled old city of Marrakesh. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The minaret from a centuries-old mosque there fell down - lots of broken glass.

But there are also lots of tourists, Steve. Marrakesh remains a tourist hub. And so you've got this eerie juxtaposition of, like, foreigners in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses roaming around, taking selfies in the rubble.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they were present, of course, on Friday. Lauren, I'm trying to think about the transit situation. You were able to reach there, I know, able to get a flight into an airport that is still functioning. But you also refer to cracked roads and roads closed. Can international aid arrive?

FRAYER: It is arriving. Search and rescue teams are coming from the U.K., Spain, Qatar, the UAE. There will obviously be questions about whether the government here requested that aid quick enough and why only four countries were invited. Moroccans, though - those who can have really mobilized. I'm looking at a line around the block across the street from here at a blood bank where people are lining up to donate.

I drove part of the way up into the mountains yesterday. That road is in worse shape, choked with military convoys, ambulances, funeral processions. At one point, I stopped and asked for directions and a man on the side of the road told me, you know, beyond here, there's just kind of nothing left. I am going to try to get beyond there today to some of those villages where we hear they're still without food, without water, without electricity, without any help at all.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll continue listening for your reporting, then. And, Lauren, please be safe.

FRAYER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Marrakesh.


INSKEEP: In this country, we think the Food and Drug Administration is about to approve a new set of COVID-19 booster shots.

MARTIN: And this brings up a lot of questions. Who should get another booster? When? And how well will the new shots work?

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has answers, as best we know them. Hey there, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just want to note I had to, like, kind of scratch my head and try even to remember when I got the last COVID booster. Can you remind us how this one fits in?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. I totally lost count of how many shots I've gotten and when. The new boosters are updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. They're formulated to help people fight off a relatively recent omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5. The idea is the new shots will shore up people's fading immunity as we head into the winter.

INSKEEP: And thanks for the reminder. When you said fading immunity, it's thought that the shots that people have gotten in the past don't last forever. The immunity you get from a past case of COVID doesn't last forever. So who should get another shot?

STEIN: Yeah. So the FDA is expected to OK the new boosters any day now for the same people who've been eligible for the COVID shots - anyone aged 6 months and older. Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would very quickly issue recommendations for exactly who should get boosted. You know, Steve, it seems pretty likely that the CDC will recommend the shots for those COVID can really be the most dangerous, like, you know, older people and those with other health problems. We'll have to see what the CDC says about younger or otherwise healthy people, including kids.

Some outside experts I've been talking to say everyone should get another booster, you know, to cut their chances of getting COVID and the risk of winding up in the hospital or dying. Here's Deepta Bhattacharya from the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

DEEPTA BHATTACHARYA: COVID-19 is not a pleasant thing to get, even if you're not at particularly high risk of getting really sick. And so to the extent that the vaccines reduce that chance - and I'm pretty sure they will - then again, unless you have got some really compelling reason not to get it, you should probably go ahead and get it.

STEIN: Others say the focus should really be on those most vulnerable and just be an option for everyone else, since most people are still pretty well protected against getting seriously ill from COVID. But, you know, Steve, one big question is how popular will these new shots be. Most people never got the last one.

INSKEEP: You just said most people. A majority of people did not get the last round of shots?

STEIN: That's right. That's right. This last booster - you know, there wasn't a lot of uptake.

INSKEEP: OK, so we've been hearing about new variants. You mentioned one of them. I think it's not the only one. What's known?

STEIN: Yeah. So, you know, one way to start thinking about these vaccines is like the flu shots. Every year, we get flu shots that have been updated based on the best guess about which viruses are most likely to be infecting people the following fall and winter. Some years it's a good match. Other years, not so much. The federal government picked the strain for these new COVID boosters in the spring. The bad news is that strain's been replaced by newer evolutions of omicron that spread even easier. The good news is the new shots seem a close enough match to still do a decent job, even against the latest variant raising the most concerns.

INSKEEP: Should people think very hard about the timing if they do get a booster?

STEIN: Yeah. You know, so the new shots will become available at doctors' offices and drugstores pretty quickly after the FDA announcement and the CDC recommendations. And the CDC has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow to make those marching orders. We'll have to see what the CDC says about exactly when people should get the jabs and how long to wait after the last shot or infection. Some experts I've been talking to say people should get a shot as soon as a couple or three months later. Others say wait four to six. And some people may wait to try to time it to when they are most likely to catch the virus, like, you know, when they're traveling and visiting people over the holidays. That's when the winter wave is most likely to peak. So we'll have to see, you know, what the best strategy will be.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Stein, thanks.

STEIN: You bet, Steve.


INSKEEP: President Biden is finishing a weekend in Asia.

MARTIN: He was there trying to shore up cooperation with India and Vietnam. And the subtext of this whirlwind trip was, as you might have imagined, China and how to counter its growing influence.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're not looking to hurt China, sincerely. We're all better off if China does well - if China does well by the international rules.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been traveling with the president. Hey there, Asma.


INSKEEP: We'll tell people that you're now in Vietnam. What is the president's main mission there?

KHALID: Well, Biden came here to Hanoi to formally forge deeper ties with Vietnam. Vietnam is now putting the United States in its highest diplomatic category. That's on par with China. And, Steve, this is really quite significant. Vietnam only places a few other countries in this top tier. And we heard President Biden describe this as being a historic moment that is overcoming a, quote, "bitter past."

This new status is not just about an economic relationship, but I will say that trade and investment are key. The U.S. and Vietnam are working together to expand the Vietnamese semiconductor industry. And earlier today, Biden met with tech CEOs and business leaders here in Hanoi. You know, the U.S. is already Vietnam's largest export market, and that has only grown even bigger since the U.S. slapped tariffs on a bunch of Chinese goods a couple of years ago.

INSKEEP: Well, if the United States is deepening relations with this neighbor of China that in some ways can economically rival China - in some ways, I should emphasize - how does that fit in to the president's broader message?

KHALID: Well, the president yesterday in Hanoi repeatedly said he is not trying to hurt China. He's not trying to contain China. But, Steve, I think his actions suggest sort of otherwise on the containment front. I mean, he has been systematically building relationships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. He recently invited the leaders of Japan and South Korea to Camp David, where they announced this new era of trilateral cooperation and plans to expand their security ties. And he flew here to Hanoi from New Delhi. He was in India in part because this administration increasingly sees India as a counterbalance to China in the region.

I will say that, you know, both India and Vietnam - these relationships are somewhat complicated because Biden came into office pledging to center human rights, and both India and Vietnam have been criticized on that issue. The White House says Biden has been candid about democracy and human rights, and he often does that with a degree of humility in private meetings.

INSKEEP: How, if at all, did China come up at that G20 summit in New Delhi?

KHALID: Well, I should point out that China's leader, Xi Jinping, did not attend the summit. And there was a sense that that in some ways created an opening for the United States to really take the lead on the agenda. There were two key proposals, and both seem to revolve around countering China. One was this plan to invest billions of dollars more into the World Bank to provide additional lending to low-income countries, and that was seen as an alternative to Chinese lending. The other big plan was this idea of a new, ambitious global infrastructure system that would create a shipping and rail corridor from India to the Middle East and onto Europe. And, of course, China has spent years pouring money into its own infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa through its "One Belt, One Road" initiative.

INSKEEP: Asma, I'll note that it's 9/11, at least on this side of the international date line. How's the administration marking this date?

KHALID: Well, other members of the administration will be at the sites that were attacked, but Biden himself will be in Anchorage, Alaska. We're told that he'll be joined by service members and their families to mark the date.

You know, Steve, I will say I am struck by the fact that for most of my life, the Middle East has been the primary foreign policy focus for multiple administrations. And I think it is noteworthy that this year, 22 years after the attacks, the president is on his way back from Asia, and China is now the primary foreign policy focus.

INSKEEP: NPR's Asma Khalid, safe travels home.

KHALID: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.