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Your Thursday Briefing

The vaccine process is accelerating.

By Melina Delkic

Good morning.

We’re covering advances in vaccine testing, a lockdown in South Australia and catastrophic flooding in the Philippines.

An out-of-control surge speeds up the hunt for vaccines

In the past week, the U.S. has reported a daily average of nearly 160,000 new coronavirus cases. The virus is overwhelming hospitals and killing more than 1,100 Americans a day. The raging pandemic is also helping scientists measure more quickly how well their vaccines protect against Covid-19.

The drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have accelerated the testing of their vaccines, which appear to be very effective at preventing Covid-19. The fast-growing pandemic could also speed up trials of treatments for the infection.

Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects — the first set of complete results from a late-stage vaccine trial. Moderna on Monday said an early analysis had found its vaccine to be 94.5 percent effective.

Context: In late-stage vaccine trials, the faster that participants get sick, the faster that drug developers gain enough data to know whether their vaccines are effective. The trial ends once a certain number of cases have accrued, and the vaccine is effective if the number of people who get the placebo and get sick far exceed vaccinated people who get sick.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

The state of South Australia announced a six-day lockdown, with officials saying they hoped to avoid the kind of outbreak seen in Victoria State months ago. A cluster, which totaled 22 cases since Saturday, has been traced to a traveler quarantining in a hotel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the first rapid at-home coronavirus test. The test can return results in about half an hour, and is projected to cost $50 or less.

France became the first country in Europe to pass two million detected cases of coronavirus infection this week, but authorities expressed optimism that lockdown measures were starting to slow the spread.

‘Everything was gone’: devastating floods in the Philippines

Typhoon season in the Philippines has always been disruptive, but the storms are getting more ferocious and more frequent because of climate change. Deforestation and development have made things worse.

Over the past two weeks, torrential rains and back-to-back typhoons have killed up to 70 people. As of Monday, 24 of the 28 towns in Cagayan Province were under water as the Cagayan River overflowed. And the Magat Dam, one of the country’s largest reservoirs, spilled over — possibly for the first time in decades.

In some areas, power and communications have been out for days. Flooding has now affected eight regions and three million people, according to the U.N. The water is receding, but many villages remain inaccessible.

Quotable: “The Cagayan River was so wide, even before. But now it resembles an ocean,” said Manuel Mamba, Cagayan’s governor.

Somalia is worried about a U.S. troop pullout

An elite American-trained commando force that is usually deployed to counter Somalia’s Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab could fall apart if President Trump withdraws U.S. troops from Somalia, as expected.

Following the Pentagon’s announcement on Tuesday that the U.S. will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the acting defense secretary is expected to approve plans to remove most, if not all, of the more than 700 American troops in Somalia.

Context: The U.S. military presence has been heavily focused on training, equipping and supporting the elite 850-soldier Somali unit. The plan would be to shift duties to U.S. forces in Djibouti and Kenya, allowing those stations to carry out strikes against the Shabab.

If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it

High stakes in the Russian doping trial

Six Russian athletes made emotional pleas to a panel of Swiss arbitrators this month to lift Russia’s four-year ban from international sports. Above, the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where Russia’s flag was banned from the competition but still flew in the stands.

The decision to uphold, or overturn, Russia’s ban could determine if antidoping officials can ever punish state-backed cheating programs. If Russia succeeds, a yearslong effort to have Russia pay a price for one of the most sophisticated schemes in sports history will be seen to have failed.

Here’s what else is happening

Thailand protests: Parliament voted to reform the country’s constitution — something protesters have been demanding for months — but they left out the crucial checks on the monarchy many had hoped for. Meanwhile, the demonstrations have grown bolder, our reporter writes.

Israeli strikes on Syria: Israel said the strikes early Wednesday were aimed at Syria and Iranian targets. They were carried out just hours before a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart to mark a new, U.S.-brokered normalization deal.

Boeing: The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday cleared the way for the 737 Max to resume flying, 20 months after it was grounded following two fatal crashes blamed on faulty software and a host of company and government failures.

In memoriam: Masatoshi Koshiba, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 for studies of the ghostly cosmic particles known as neutrinos, died on Thursday in Tokyo. He was 94.

Snapshot: Above, police using a water cannon during a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Berlin on Wednesday. Police broke up an organized protest by coronavirus deniers, vaccine skeptics and right-wing extremists, as lawmakers passed legislation meant to contain the spread of the virus.

A profile of a pioneer: Kim Ng, the first woman to become general manager of a Major League Baseball team, is also the second person of Asian descent — after Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants — to lead a baseball operations department.

What we’re reading: This Grub Street ode to the lox sherpa of New York City. Adam Pasick, on the Briefings team, calls it a “tragic and utterly gripping obituary.”

Now, a break from the news

Cook: Kaddu, a sweet and sour butternut squash dish, is an ode to earthy, maple-y fenugreek, a staple spice of Indian cooking.

Watch: “Dear Ex,” a 2018 Taiwanese comedy drama, follows a professor’s teenage son, wife and male lover in the aftermath of his death.

Do: Grow your own microgreens. This crop requires little patience and exhibits blessedly minimal rebellion.

For that three-hour window of free time that you may have today, have a look at our At Home collection for ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

A big week for our Books desk

From the release of Barack Obama’s memoir “A Promised Land” to the National Book Awards to the Booker Prize, capped by the release of The Times’s annual Notable Books list, our editors and critics on the Books desk are stepping it up a notch or two this week. Pamela Paul, the editor, and Andrew LaVallee, a deputy editor, talked about this busy time.

How are things in the publishing world in general this year?

Andrew: It’s been insane. We’re covering both the business and the cultural dimensions of the publishing world, which has been grappling with not only the pandemic, but greater interest and intensity around diversity and issues of racial and social justice.

Pamela: This political cycle has also been incredibly intense with books, going back to the “Fire and Fury” book by Michael Wolff in 2018. There’s just been book after book embargoed out of Washington. This year alone we had books by John Bolton, Bob Woodward and Mary Trump.

How long have you been working on compiling the lists?

Pamela: Both the 100 Notable Books and the 10 Best Books are yearlong processes. Book Review editors start meeting as a team in January, and then by August we’re having hour-and-a-half-long meetings every few weeks to pare back the contenders. Then we make the final choice with a ballot vote that often goes to a runoff, which it did this year.

Is the field less competitive this year?

Pamela: Relative to the rest of the cultural world, books are doing quite well, actually. Unlike film, theater and TV, the book world didn’t get interrupted midstream. A lot of books had their publication dates delayed, but most came out this year as planned, just a little bit later.

Are there any clear favorites?

Pamela: There hasn’t been a lot of crossover between the shortlists and longlists that have come out from other institutions thus far. There’s only been one book that was on both the Booker Prize list and the National Book Award finalist list, which is Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.” It doesn’t feel like there’s a coalescing around one particular title.

How influential is The Times’s list in the industry?

Pamela: We’re constantly asked to release the list early. In the past, publishers have run out of books we’ve included. When we announced our 10 best titles, a lot of books went out of print because they couldn’t keep up with the subsequent demand.

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

— Melina

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for 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 about the rise, fall and resurgence of the Taliban.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Giant grain container (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Jacqueline Welch is our new executive vice president and chief human resources officer. She will lead our Talent & Inclusion department and sit on The Times’s executive committee when she joins in January.

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