Your Thursday Briefing
Britain prepares to vaccinate a nation.
By Natasha Frost
We’re covering Britain’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, Iran’s response to the assassination of its top nuclear scientist and a 1,020-year-old Japanese shop for which the pandemic is just another chapter in history.
Britain’s first vaccinations will be given next week
In a world first, Britain gave emergency authorization to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday. Hospitals in the country have already begun emailing staff members to schedule vaccinations, with the first doses to be given in London at 7 a.m. Monday.
Pfizer plans to ship 800,000 doses to Britain in the coming days, with a total of 40 million on order. Each patient needs two doses, administered a month apart.
Frontline hospital workers may be among the first to receive the vaccine, followed by nursing home residents and workers; people older than 80; and other health and social care workers.
One of the last hurdles drugmakers face is testing the vaccine on children, who have more active immune systems than adults and could have stronger reactions.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has forecast a coronavirus death toll of “close to 450,000” by February unless a far larger percentage of the population follows precautions like wearing masks. The country’s overall death toll has already reached nearly 275,000.
An Olympic committee in Japan unveiled a preliminary coronavirus safety plan for the Tokyo 2020 Games, which were postponed to July 2021. The guidelines call for testing of athletes every four to five days and would allow overseas spectators to attend events without requiring two-week quarantines upon arrival.
Europe’s ski season is set to start with a patchwork of measures. Some countries, like Austria and Switzerland, are choosing to open, while others, like Italy, Germany and France, have vowed to remain shut or put in place significant restrictions.
The growing effects of a hotter planet
In an annual report on climate change and health published by The Lancet, authors collaborating from around the world say that global warming has already caused a 50 percent increase in heat-related deaths of people older than 65, especially in Japan, China, India and parts of Europe.
In the U.S., rising temperatures, combined with pollution and wildfires, are endangering the health of Americans, with fatal consequences for many older people. The authors made the case for a rapid shift to a green economy and called on lawmakers to act aggressively to curb planet-warming gases in the next five years. “Climate action is a prescription for health,” one of the authors told reporters.
Iran responds to the killing of a top scientist
In response to the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran enacted a law on Wednesday ordering an immediate ramping up of its enrichment of uranium to levels closer to weapons-grade fuel. The measure also requires the expulsion of international nuclear inspectors if American sanctions have not been lifted by early February.
Officials in Iran this week sought to rewrite the killing as an episode of science fiction, as competing intelligence agencies dodged the blame for an egregious security lapse. Israel had executed Mr. Fakhrizadeh entirely by remote control, one report suggested, spraying bullets from an automated machine gun propped up in a parked Nissan without a single assassin on the scene.
Iranian officials have vowed to avenge the killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh. The prospect of a counterattack against Israel or the West threatens to hamper efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Related: Israel moved closer to another early election, its fourth in two years, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to bring down the unity government.
If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it
A 1,020-year-old shop weathers the pandemic
Since the year 1000, Ichiwa, above, a small, cedar-timbered shop next to a shrine in Kyoto, Japan, has served grilled rice-flour cakes — throughout wars, plagues, natural disasters and the rising and falling of empires.
Now, as the coronavirus devastates much of the global economy, the family who runs the shop is among few business owners who aren’t worried about their finances. One reason “we keep going,” the owner Naomi Hasegawa said, is “because we all hate the idea of being the one to let it go.”
Here’s what else is happening
Soccer: Despite repeated instances of inappropriate interactions with young prospects, the French soccer federation allowed a man to quietly move from job to job, retaining a highly valued certificate issued by the federation that helped him to continue working in the sport.
Afghan peace talks: The Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar have agreed on how to proceed with peace negotiations. The next phase of the talks will most likely focus on a political road map and a long-term nationwide cease-fire.
Cannabis legalization: A United Nations commission, in a highly anticipated decision, voted to remove marijuana for medical use from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs.
Hong Kong demonstrations: The pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were sent to prison for their roles in an antigovernment demonstration last year.
Moon landing: China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface. You can watch it here.
Lab meat: Singapore approved a lab-grown meat product from a U.S. start-up, making it the first in the world to win government approval.
Snapshot: Above, making kimchi at a market in Seoul, South Korea, in November. A spat is raging on social media between China and South Korea after a Chinese state tabloid suggested that China had set a global standard for the pickled vegetable staple.
Lives lived: Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the conservative former president of France who struggled to transform his tradition-bound, politically polarized country over a seven-year period, died at 94 on Wednesday of complications from Covid-19.
What we’re reading: Vox’s “The Goods” newsletter, a twice-weekly exhaustive guide to what we buy and why we buy it. “I read every one,” says Taylor Lorenz, a technology reporter on the Styles desk. She especially likes the TikTok Tuesday edition, by the Vox reporter Rebecca Jennings.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: Top these buttery, golden cookies with lemon curd before serving, for a velvety shortbread inspired by lemon meringue pie.
Scrub: There’s no easy way around it: Not leaving home means things get dirty faster. Here’s how to give your place the deep cleaning it deserves.
Watch: TikTok users have created a musical version of the animated Disney film “Ratatouille,” playing out in exuberant 60-second increments. Bon appétit!
Whether you’re looking for a project or just something to watch, At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
Why Britain approved a vaccine first
Benjamin Mueller, a correspondent based in London, explains what led to Britain’s swift approval of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Why did Britain authorize a vaccine before the U.S.?
The two countries vet vaccines differently. Rather than accepting the findings of vaccine makers as regulators in Britain and elsewhere in Europe do, American regulators painstakingly reanalyze raw data from the trials to validate the results.
To speed the process, Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had asked its experts to review vaccine data as it became available, and separate teams worked in parallel on different parts of the process, rather than one waiting for another to finish. But the question of whether it had moved in haste, or whether the U.S. was wasting valuable time, nonetheless provoked a spirited debate among scientists and industry experts on Wednesday.
What about the rest of Europe?
Britain broke from the European Union’s regulatory orbit to approve a vaccine early, owing to emergency powers that the bloc gives countries in the case of a pandemic. Once Britain consummates its split from the E.U. on Dec. 31, those powers to approve vaccines on its own will become permanent.
Other E.U. countries are waiting for the union’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency, to authorize a vaccine, which will not happen before Dec. 29.
Does authorization in Britain affect other countries’ supply of the vaccine?
Pfizer executives said on Wednesday that they had already heard from other countries that, in light of Britain’s go-ahead, were looking to accelerate their own approval processes.
Britain’s ruling offered little relief to poorer countries that could not afford to buy supplies in advance and may struggle to pay for both the vaccines and the exceptional demands of distributing them.
Thanks for joining me for today’s briefing. See you next time.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach Natasha and the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on Anthony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Enjoys Santa Monica, perhaps (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The word “shipaggedon” — referring to holiday shipping delays — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.
• The Times editors Suzanne Spector and Lauren Katzenberg have joined the International desk.
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