Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times


U.S. states collectively will soon begin receiving 13.5 million doses each week, according to a White House announcement — a jump of over two million doses from previous weekly levels, due in part to a shift in the way the government is allocating doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.

The increases are welcome developments for state officials who are desperate to inoculate more vulnerable Americans before more contagious variants of the coronavirus become dominant.

The Biden administration has been working with Pfizer to get the company more manufacturing supplies for its vaccine, including pumps and filtration units, through the Defense Production Act.

The French National Assembly on Tuesday adopted legislation ostensibly meant to reinforce “Republican principles,” but with the tough objective of shutting down the sources of Islamist terrorism across the country. It will go to the Senate next month for final approval.

The legislation extends the requirement of strict religious neutrality beyond civil servants to anyone who is a private contractor for a public service — like bus drivers. It also creates a new offense of “separatism,” defined as threatening, intimidating or assaulting an elected official or a public-sector employee.

With 15 months remaining before the presidential election, the left is in disarray, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to embrace center-right territory to lure right-wing voters from the Republicans or Marine Le Pen, the perennial rightist candidate.

Context: Attacked by the left as an infringement on liberties and by the right as a weak compromise, the draft law reflects a decision by Mr. Macron to defeat what he calls “Islamist separatism” and reinforce the unifying principles of French secularism, which affords no place in politics for religion.

Millions of people are without electricity and at least 20 people have died after an enormous storm dumped snow across much of the U.S. The takeaway: American energy grids can’t handle the wild weather of the future, a consequence of global warming, experts say.

The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where more than four million people woke up Tuesday morning to rolling blackouts. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and the Midwest also faced serious strain. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 23 people nationwide had died in the storm or its aftermath.

Over the weekend, low temperatures in Europe allowed hundreds of people to dance, skate, play hockey or stroll on frozen lakes and canals across the continent — but the ice was not always thick enough to keep everyone on his or her feet.

Related: Locked out of indoor ice rinks because of the pandemic, hockey parents in the U.S. have pivoted to makeshift alternatives, repurposing old barns, expanding previous playing spaces or buying easy-to-assemble kits to keep their children occupied.

The House of Soviets, an office building in Kaliningrad, Russia, that was designed as a symbol of Soviet control over land captured during World War II, has instead become emblematic of the flaws of the Soviet system. Because of shoddy construction and structural defects, it has never been occupied.

But its ugliness made it strangely beloved by young people as an emblem of a Soviet Union they never knew. Now, 42 years later, as the regional government plans to demolish it, some want to keep it. “People like things with defects,” one resident said. “It’s ugly, but it’s ours.”

Myanmar: The closed-door trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, who was ousted in a military coup two weeks ago, began in secret on Tuesday. Her defense lawyer was notified at the last minute about the court hearing — but by the time he arrived, it had ended.

Afghanistan at war: The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Germany in a dispute over the country’s investigation into a 2009 attack that killed as many as 90 Afghan civilians. Separately, President Biden faces a critical decision point on whether to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.

Fox News: Rupert Murdoch and a group of investors are seizing the moment to create two right-wing news services in Britain that will challenge the BBC and borrow heavily from Fox’s playbook.

British army: L.G.B.T. members of Britain’s military who were stripped of their medals now have access to a pathway to get their medals back after years of campaigning. The defense ministry has acknowledged that the practice was “wrong, discriminatory and unjust.”

Green energy: Carmakers, government agencies and investors are pouring money into battery research in a global race to profit from emission-free electric cars.

Snapshot: Above, refugees in a tent city in Afrin, Syria. Our journalist visited Turkey’s safe zone in northern Syria, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent troops across the border three years ago. Kurdish families fled the invasion, but the Syrians who moved there say they are grateful for the Turkish presence, despite their hardship.

Australian Open: Serena Williams beat Simona Halep, setting up a showdown with Naomi Osaka. Here’s a pre-match reading list: “The Meaning of Serena Williams,” from The Times Magazine, and “Naomi Osaka Is Between Worlds,” from The Ringer.

What we’re listening to: The ambient sounds of a jazz bar in Paris — for when you need an escape to another dimension. (There are many other equally soothing digital rooms to explore on YouTube, where users pair relaxing soundtracks with animated scenery.)

Read: In Cherie Jones’s debut novel, “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House,” the lives of tourists and locals intersect in the Caribbean in 1984.

Stay energized and engaged. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred, a health journalist, is getting a front-row seat to one of the most-anticipated pediatric trials in history, as her two teenagers participate in the Moderna Covid vaccine trial. She wrote about what it’s been like.

For Wes and Zoe, the shot itself was anticlimactic; even needle-averse Wes said it hardly hurt. Still, since most allergic reactions can occur within 30 minutes of a shot, we had to wait around for an hour afterward.

Like all kids in the current trial, Wes and Zoe got the same dose as adults, which is typical for Phase 3 clinical trials, said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

For the next seven days, Wes and Zoe answered questions in their online diaries about any pain, achiness, swelling, fevers or fatigue they experienced. Unlike most adult Covid vaccine trials, which favor participants who regularly come into contact with people outside their households, Moderna had no instructions for us on changing our lifestyle. So life returned to distance learning and socially distant ski practice.

Then, on Day 7, my phone buzzed with a text from a friend whose son had participated in the trial the same day we had: “So, Zach has a rash around his injection site.”

I pushed aside my instinctive jealousy (we had promised to remain friends even if one of our families got stuck with the placebo). The next evening, I heard some excitement upstairs that made me set aside my book: Wes had discovered a similar red splotch on his arm. We measured the rash to report to our coordinator.

Even if it turns out that one or both of my kids got the saltwater placebo, which is given to one-third of the participants in the teen trial, none of us will regret signing up.

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

— Natasha

Thank you
Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode features an interview with a House impeachment manager.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Word that transitions good news to bad news (three letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• In his annual “State of The Times” address, The Times’s publisher and chairman, A.G. Sulzberger, provided employees with a look back on their work in 2020.

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