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We’re covering Britain’s sudden isolation, neo-Nazis on police forces in Germany and China’s shifting attitudes toward mental health.
Some 40 countries imposed travel restrictions — trains and flights were canceled, and freight deliveries were halted at French ports — as Britain’s neighbors tried desperately to stop a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus from leaping across the English Channel. Here’s what scientists know so far about the new variant.
Britons raged at the seesawing plans of their own government, which this past weekend reimposed a lockdown across much of the country’s southeast, including London. “I think the rest of the world looks at us and shakes their head,” said one Australian in Britain. “It’s not a very nice thought to be on a plague island, and that other countries don’t want you.”
All aboard? The pandemic has fueled a rail crisis across Europe — and the sleek and speedy Eurostar is no exception. More than 90 percent of its employees have been furloughed, its finances are threatened, and its ridership has all but vanished.
Reaction: News of the coronavirus variant jolted financial markets, sending the British pound tumbling against all the other major currencies. It declined as much as 1.8 percent against the dollar before recovering some ground.
A neo-Nazi scourge within Germany’s police
Neo-Nazis have penetrated the ranks of German police departments, a two-year parliamentary inquiry found. Officers have formed far-right chat groups, and police computers have been used to send death threats.
Far-right extremism is resurgent in Germany, horrifying a country that prides itself on dealing honestly with chilling elements of its past. In recent months, dozens of officers and cadets have faced disciplinary measures for sharing racist images and playing down the Holocaust. Ammunition and Nazi memorabilia were found in raids of the homes of two officers.
Political repercussions: The far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials, AfD, has aggressively courted the police. Nearly 5 percent of the AfD’s 88 lawmakers in the federal Parliament are former police officers.
Quote: “We have a problem with far-right extremism,” the interior minister of Germany’s most populous state said. “If we don’t deal with it, it will grow.”
Related: A white supremacist who killed two people as he tried to storm a synagogue in Germany last year on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar was sentenced on Monday to life in prison.
Navalny’s brazen video release
Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader recovering from a nerve agent attack, published a recording of a phone call in which he says he tricked a security official into exposing a plot to poison him.
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose — and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others — even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. The vaccine clinical trials were designed to determine whether vaccinated people are protected from illness — not to find out whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone — even vaccinated people — will need to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and keep wearing a mask. Read more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t feel different than any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects does appear higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. The side effects, which can resemble the symptoms of Covid-19, last about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Early reports from vaccine trials suggest some people might need to take a day off from work because they feel lousy after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25 to 33 percent of patients, sometimes more, including headaches, chills and muscle pain. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
The video, uploaded to YouTube on Monday, purportedly shows Mr. Navalny calling a Russian intelligence officer who then confesses to planting poison on Mr. Navalny’s underpants.
Quote: “The priority was maximum secrecy so that no one could record it, no one saw anything they didn’t need to see, and so on,” the man can be heard telling Mr. Navalny over the phone.
Official response: In a statement, the Federal Security Bureau, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, called Mr. Navalny’s video and related investigation a forgery and suggested that “international intelligence agencies” might have been involved.
If you have 7 minutes, this is worth it
China’s changing view on mental health
The pandemic has forced China to confront the taboo subject of mental health, derided as a bourgeois delusion under Mao. Even today, discrimination persists, and many people with mental illnesses are shunned, hidden at home or confined to institutions.
But after the coronavirus crisis, that kind of neglect has become increasingly untenable. At the height of China’s outbreak, more than a third of people across the country experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia or acute stress, a nationwide survey found. Our journalists looked at how the conversation around mental health is changing.
Here’s what else is happening
Migrant crisis: A mechanic from Romania and a truck driver from Northern Ireland, both members of an international people-smuggling gang, were convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in the back of a truck in England last year.
Energy use: Officials in China are scrambling to restrict electricity use this winter, as the country’s rapid economic recovery from the pandemic and unexpectedly frigid temperatures sent demand for power surging.
U.S. stimulus: After months of gridlock and debate, Congress approved $900 billion worth of coronavirus relief measures before a midnight deadline. The agreement is set to provide $600 stimulus payments to millions of American adults earning up to $75,000.
Lives lived: More than 300,000 Americans died from the coronavirus this year. The Times asked five people to tell the story of someone they lost to the pandemic — not to dwell on their deaths, but to celebrate how they lived. Together, they form a portrait of America.
What we’re reading: This jaw-dropping feature, from Elle magazine, about the journalist who fell in love with the convicted fraudster Martin Shkreli. “This story has flattened me into a pancake,” writes Daniel Victor, a reporter for The Times. “I am now a pancake.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: Roasted salmon with lime, jalapeño and honey is a speedy weeknight meal with a kick.
Drink: Hosting a Zoom holiday party? Our wine critic has compiled a guide to finding the best Champagne to end a difficult year, from big houses to smaller growers.
Listen: Introduce a festive note with the Oratorio Society of New York’s stream of Handel’s “Messiah,” available free until Jan. 10.
Read, cook, watch, keep busy. Whatever it is, our At Home collection of ideas is here to help.
And now for the Back Story on …
Words that defined 2020
Scores of new words and phrases entered our lexicon this year, including medical jargon and social-media friendly shorthand. For the first time in years, the Oxford English Dictionary publisher declined to choose just one word for its Word of the Year. We’ve compiled some words and phrases that capture 2020.
Blursday. The passage of time became seemingly unreliable this year, as some days felt like a week, while some months flew by in an instant. The Washington Post even started a newsletter called “What Day Is It?”
Doomscrolling. The catchall, platform-agnostic term for consuming bad news or information that stresses you out — yet being unable to stop.
Virtual happy hour. The early weeks of lockdown, like the virus itself, were novel. As people searched for new ways to stay entertained and hold on to some semblance of normalcy from home, virtual happy hours became the event du jour. The wine — and quarantinis — flowed as heavily as the video-call invitations.
That’s it for this briefing. Have a good Tuesday.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach Natasha and the team at email@example.com.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about one of America’s most trusted and popular radio hosts.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Evil anagram of SANTA (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• “Time” — a film from The Times about a mother striving to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband — was named Best Non-Fiction Film by the New York Film Critics Circle.