Vaccine, TikTok, SpaceX: Your Monday Briefing
Vaccine, TikTok, SpaceX: Your Monday Briefing
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We’re covering a bid by Indian billionaires to mass-produce a coronavirus vaccine, a threat by President Trump to ban TikTok and the return of SpaceX astronauts to Earth.
The Indian billionaires who may help vanquish Covid
The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute, which is controlled by a small and very rich Indian family, has teamed up with scientists from the University of Oxford, who are developing a promising coronavirus vaccine.
The company plans to mass-produce hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine, which is still in clinical trials and might not even work. But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum, will have on hand what everyone wants — and possibly in huge quantities — before anyone else.
Mr. Poonawalla says that he will split the vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world, with a focus on poorer countries. The Serum Institute is steered by only two men: Mr. Poonawalla and his father, Cyrus, a horse breeder who became a billionaire.
Leapfrogging: Vaccines take time not just to perfect but to manufacture. More than one project is conducting these two processes simultaneously and starting production now, while the vaccines are still in trials. That way, if and when a vaccine is approved — at best within the next six months, though no one really knows — doses will be on hand.
The global race: U.S. and European governments have sealed billions of dollars in deals with pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi and AstraZeneca to speed up the development and production of select vaccine candidates in exchange for hundreds of millions of doses.
In other developments:
Australian officials announced stricter restrictions in Melbourne in an effort to stem an outbreak that is raging despite a lockdown that began four weeks ago. On Sunday, there were 671 new cases reported in the state of Victoria, suggesting that the virus is more widespread than previously thought.
Millions of dollars of American taxpayer money have flowed to China from a $660 billion program that was created to be a lifeline for struggling small businesses in the U.S.
The U.S. recorded more than 1.9 million new infections in July, more than double the number recorded in any other month, according to a Times database.
India’s biggest film star, Amitabh Bachchan, was discharged from the hospital on Sunday after recovering from Covid-19, while the country’s home minister, Amit Shah, tested positive for the virus.
What’s up with Trump and TikTok?
The popular app is known for its videos of teenagers and celebrities, often dancing or lip-syncing to audio clips. It all seems fun and even silly.
But in recent days, President Trump has talked of banning TikTok from the U.S. White House officials have said the app may pose a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership.
ByteDance, the Chinese internet giant that owns TikTok, has offered to sell all of the app’s U.S. operations as a way to save the business from being banned by the Trump administration.
What’s next: It’s not clear whether the Trump administration would accept the divestment as a response to its concerns. Microsoft and other companies have been in talks to buy TikTok, but no deal has been reached.
Brazil’s leader bows to pressure to protect the Amazon
European governments and foreign investors have been cranking up pressure on the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, to stop deforestation in the Amazon.
And it seems to be working. The man who insisted “The Amazon is ours” a year ago has banned intentional forest fires used for clearing — though environmentalists, experts and foreign officials who have pressed Brazil on conservation matters worry that the actions amount to little more than damage control at a time when the economy is in deep trouble.
Points of leverage: Brazil’s poor environmental reputation has put two important foreign policy goals in jeopardy. One is a trade deal with the E.U., and the other is joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Both require Brazil to meet labor and environmental standards.
If you have 12 minutes, this is worth it
German case points to a bigger far-right threat
Germany has begun dealing with far-right networks that officials say are far more extensive than they had understood.
Our correspondent takes a look at the Northern Cross group, which had planned for “Day X,” a mythical moment when committed far-right extremists would round up and kill political enemies and those defending migrants and refugees. The group, which included former police officers and soldiers, was uncovered more than three years ago but only recently brought to trial.
Here’s what else is happening
Afghan attack: Militants detonated a car bomb and waged a gun battle against guards at a major prison in eastern Afghanistan for hours on Sunday. Dozens of inmates managed to escape. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency.
New Middle East nuclear power: On Saturday, the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant, raising concerns about introducing more nuclear programs to the Middle East. Israel and Iran also have nuclear capacities.
Ivanka Trump: The president’s eldest daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, reported income of at least $36 million in 2019, according to financial disclosure reports. The couple’s investments, mostly in real estate, were worth at least $204 million and as much as $783 million.
Snapshot: Above, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. The capsule carrying the astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley was the first crewed water landing by NASA since 1975.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 27, 2020
Should I refinance my mortgage?
- It could be a good idea, because mortgage rates have never been lower. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage applications to some of the highest levels since 2008, so be prepared to get in line. But defaults are also up, so if you’re thinking about buying a home, be aware that some lenders have tightened their standards.
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
Speaking out: Prince Manvendra of India is one of the few gay-rights activists in the world with high-level royal ties. His journey from a lonely childhood to global advocacy included death threats and a disinheritance.
What we’re reading: This BBC exploration of England’s fascination with pineapples, which involves novelty, scarcity and money. “Human nature doesn’t change very much,” says Steven Erlanger, our chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: This highly textured salad gets its bite from farro, its crunch from spiced chickpeas and its sweetness from roasted corn and slivered fennel.
Listen and watch: Beyoncé’s “Black Is King,” released on Friday, is a visual album connected to Disney’s remake last year of “The Lion King.” A handful of our critics reviewed it from different angles, including Vanessa Friedman, who described the amount of fashion on display as “overwhelming.”
Taste: Our wine critic has a selection of verdicchios on offer. These white wines from the Marche region, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, offer simple refreshment while also carrying hints of complex aromas and flavors.
At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do.
And now for the Back Story on …
Mao’s China, covered by my father, still echoes
Like father, like daughter: Alexandra Stevenson, a Times correspondent who covers China’s economy from Hong Kong, took a look back at the reporting her father, William Stevenson, did for The Toronto Star and The Star Weekly in the 1950s as one of the first foreign journalists to work in China after the Communist takeover.
Here’s an excerpt from an article she wrote about how much of what he described is still recognizable.
My father left behind written notes and newspaper clippings, stacks of passports with visas, photos and transcripts from his first and subsequent trips to China. They have allowed me to imagine conversations that we might have had in the six years since he died. Conversations about how the country he saw back then — brimming with hope and enthusiasm yet also tightly controlled — is in some ways the same today.
His first trip to China spanned two months and thousands of miles. He met Mao Zedong (whom he tapped on the shoulder from behind his camera, mistaking the chairman for a “humble courtier” blocking his shot) and Zhou Enlai, the premier and foreign minister at the time. But he also talked with factory workers, actors, newspaper editors and shop owners.
He described being filled with hope for the human spirit he witnessed. But he also felt despair because a government-provided handler was never too far away, ready to silence anyone who veered too far from the Communist Party line.
China defied any broad-brush statement. “And yet,” he wrote in one notebook, “under the current leadership, the way in which the government silences alternative points of view makes it hard not to.”
A version of this exists today. I have a long list of names of people who wouldn’t talk to me because I work for The New York Times, portrayed in Chinese state media as the source of “smears and lies.” Sources I’ve interviewed privately are later threatened by the local police, while stridently nationalist rhetoric dominates the state media.
Several months after I returned to Hong Kong, the Chinese government in March expelled my American colleagues as part of a diplomatic dispute with the United States. In the past month, Beijing has tightened its grip over Hong Kong with a new national security law, threatening free speech and other civil liberties in the city.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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