Analysis & Comment

Your Thursday Briefing

The global competition to get vaccines.

By Melina Delkic

Good morning.

We’re covering competition over vaccines, a song about domestic violence in China that caused an outpouring and the future of sharks after years of overfishing.

A fight over scarce vaccines

For months, wealthy countries have been clearing the world’s shelves of coronavirus vaccines, leaving poorer nations sidelined. But a fresh skirmish this week has pitted the rich against the rich — Britain versus the European Union — in the scramble for vials.

Stung by its slow progress on vaccinations, the E.U. threatened to tighten rules on shipments to Britain of shots made in Belgium. British lawmakers denounced the move as a blackmail campaign.

The squabbling could lead to longer waits for vaccines for poorer nations. The core of the problem is production delays at Belgian factories that make the Pfizer-BioNTech shots and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. The French drugmaker Sanofi said that it would help produce more than 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in an effort to meet strong demand in Europe.

Progress: Britain has so far given vaccines to 10 percent of its people, compared with about 2 percent of people in the E.U. Britain was the first country to authorize a fully tested coronavirus vaccine.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Hospitals and nursing homes that have reused scarce protective equipment appear to have helped spread a different set of germs: drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. There have been isolated outbreaks of drug-resistant infections in the U.S. as well as in India, Italy, Peru and France.

Britain tightened its international travel restrictions and will now require its citizens arriving from any of 22 high-risk countries to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at their own expense.

Moscow’s mayor lifted most of the city’s remaining restrictions, claiming that the pandemic was easing there. But Russia has been hit hard, and officials have faced questions over the true scale of its outbreak.

Thailand will aim to vaccinate 19 million people in a first phase of inoculations starting on Feb. 14, the prime minister said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Biden’s plan to combat climate change

President Biden signed a package of executive orders elevating climate change across the federal government as part of a plan to put the U.S. on the path to reducing its share of emissions that are warming the planet.

The president ordered a pause in new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible, and a review of all existing fossil fuel leases. Tax subsidies to oil, coal and gas companies will be overhauled.

“In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer,” said Mr. Biden. “We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

Other administration news: Following a phone call between Mr. Biden and President Vladimir Putin, Russia and the U.S. formally agreed to extend the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between their countries.

Will the Tokyo Olympics really happen?

With the Olympics now just six months away, insurers are saying they face “mind-blowingly” large cancellation losses if the Summer Games do not take place as scheduled, Reuters reports.

Much of Japan is now under a state of emergency in the third wave of its coronavirus outbreak. Organizers last week played down doubts about whether the Games could happen, but without giving a guarantee, and the competition is likely to top the agenda when the International Olympic Committee’s executive board meets this week. Clarity is needed soon: The torch relay is set to start in late March, with the Games officially starting on July 23.

Event insurers have had a tough year as a result of the pandemic, but canceling the Olympics would be “by far the largest” loss in the industry, one brokerage director said.

Financial implications: The I.O.C. earns billions from the Summer Olympics, and billion-dollar broadcast and sponsor deals are at risk. A big barrier to postponing is the cost of extending contracts for another year, The Associated Press reports.

If you have 4 minutes, this is worth it

A song resonates with Chinese women

A song by Tan Weiwei, a Chinese pop star, tackles one of the country’s silent epidemics: domestic violence. “Xiao Juan,” the Chinese equivalent of names like Jane Doe given to unidentified victims of crimes, has resonated with millions of women.

Since the release of the song, which has references to gruesome details from well-known abuse cases, women have shared their own stories of abuse on social media platforms. “She put these extreme stories in front of you,” said Feng Yuan, a professor at Shantou University. “You cannot avoid them; you have to look directly at them.”

Here’s what else is happening

Boeing’s worst year ever: The plane manufacturer lost more than $11.9 billion last year as it struggled to overcome the crisis surrounding its 737 Max jet and was hit by the slowdown in global aviation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Brexit: British ports had expected some gridlock after post-Brexit trade laws went into effect, but truckers have been so reluctant to deal with the hassle of new documents that many ports have been nearly empty.

Ant Group: The Wall Street Journal reports that Jack Ma’s digital payments giant plans to become a financial holding company overseen by China’s central bank.

Trump trial: Senate Republicans rallied on Tuesday against trying former President Donald Trump, with only five members of his party joining Democrats in a vote to go forward with his impeachment trial. The vote suggests Mr. Trump is likely to be acquitted.

Snapshot: Above, a mako shark caught by fishermen just outside Sydney Harbor, Australia. Oceanic sharks and rays have declined more than 70 percent since 1970, mainly because of overfishing, according to a new study. It’s a devastating finding, and experts say there is a “very small window” to save sharks.

What we’re reading: This Buzzfeed article on pandemic fatigue. It sums up the mood in the U.S. right now, after the end of the Trump presidency and during a lumbering vaccine rollout.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: This vegan leek pasta coaxes as much flavor and texture as possible out of a few leeks, a box of pasta, some olive oil and lemon (plus salt and pepper).

Read: Our editors spotlight 13 new books to watch for next month, including show-business biographies of Mike Nichols and Tom Stoppard, environmental treatises by Bill Gates and Elizabeth Kolbert, and debut novels of life online.

Do: Is it better for our bodies to work out at certain times of day? A new study suggests that, at least for some people, the answer is a qualified yes.

A new discovery can be such a joy. Let us help you find one in our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

Making the Oscars more fun

We asked several movie industry insiders what they would change about the Oscar ceremonies. Their ideas ranged from charming to totally unlikely.

Ricky Gervais, comedian, writer and five-time host of the Golden Globes.

I like to see acclaim and I like to see people rewarded, and if it means something to them, that’s nice. But I also want to see a bit of humility and fun. I think they’ve got to mix it up and laugh at themselves a little bit. “Thank you, what a lovely occasion, this is dedicated to my gran” — that’s all fine. It’s when someone takes the stage, like everyone in the world has asked them for their help to change humanity. And they take their glasses out and go: “A few things need to be said, and I’m the person to say them. Thank God I’m here.”

Jordan Horowitz, producer whose credits include “La La Land.”

The experience of being in the room during the Oscars is strikingly different from the experience of watching it on television. Part of my heart wants to go back to it being a dinner with just the nominees and the presenters. [Or] a Zoom broadcast. [With the Emmys this year] there was an intimacy to seeing people as they truly are in their homes and who they chose to be with and how they chose to be with them. That was really exciting.

Peter Mehlman, a former writer and producer of “Seinfeld.”

Let’s face it. The subtext of every Oscar night is, Wow, look how much better our lives are than yours. Hollywood should give up on the idea that everyone aspires to be us. These aren’t glamorous times and yet we keep acting like we’re taking our cues from Norma Desmond. Maybe this year instead of black tie they should tone it down to office casual. And do we really still need a red carpet? Can these people not stand on a sidewalk now?

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on the trend of U.S. coronavirus cases falling, and whether it will last.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pandemonium (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Cliff Levy, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who has led the Metro desk since 2018, will be returning to The Times’s senior masthead as deputy managing editor.

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