Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

Leaping ahead of the U.S., Britain gave emergency authorization to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday — a first in the West. The vaccination campaign is set to kick off next week.

Britain has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine made by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a small German company, BioNTech.

Nursing-home residents are the priority to receive the first shots, but officials have indicated that frontline hospital workers may be quicker to receive vaccines because of the difficulties of storing and moving the vaccine to nursing homes and other sites.

What’s next: British hospitals have already begun emailing staff members to schedule vaccinations. In London, the first doses will be given at 7 a.m. on Monday. Each person needs two shots, a month apart. The doses will be packaged in boxes, with dry ice keeping them at the South Pole-like temperatures they require.

Hong Kong’s political opposition was dealt another blow after three pro-democracy activists were sentenced on Wednesday. Among them was Joshua Wong, one of the most globally recognized figures of the city’s resistance to Beijing.

Mr. Wong was sentenced to 13 and a half months in prison for his role in protests last year. A fellow activist, Alice Chow, who has been called the “Mulan” of the pro-democracy movement, received 10 months. Ivan Lam, a member of their disbanded political group, Demosisto, was sentenced to seven months.

Their sentencing points to the wide-ranging nature of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive crackdown on political opposition in Hong Kong.

Quotable: “All these judicial prosecutions amount to persecution of our young,” said Claudia Mo, a former lawmaker from the pro-democracy camp. “They’re using Joshua Wong as an iconic figure in particular to issue this chilling message.”

The government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar have agreed on how to proceed with peace negotiations. The next phase of the talks will most likely focus on a political road map and a long-term nationwide cease-fire.

The announcement of the agreed-upon procedure on Wednesday came after negotiations had been stonewalled since early November over the official name to be used to refer to the government. The agreement was reached without the inclusion of the name.

On the ground: The months of talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, have been marked by near-constant violence in Afghanistan as the Taliban moved to take territory in the south and north before winter.

As the coronavirus devastates much of the global economy, there’s one business in Japan that isn’t worried about its finances. A small, cedar-timbered shop next to a shrine in Kyoto has been serving grilled rice flour cakes since the year 1000.

More than a millennium later, the shop’s resilience offers lessons for businesses worldwide. Our reporters spoke with the family who runs the shop, Ichiwa, above, about how their store has survived crisis after crisis.

Moon landing: China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface. You can watch it here.

Lab meat: Singapore approved a lab-grown meat product from a U.S. start-up, making it the first in the world to win government approval.

Indonesia cleric: Rizieq Shihab, a Muslim cleric who has targeted the country’s secular democracy for decades, is back from self-imposed exile after three and a half years. He is calling for a “moral revolution” to push Indonesia toward conservative Islam.

U.S. politics: President Trump has discussed with advisers whether to grant pre-emptive pardons to his children, his son-in-law and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to people briefed on the matter.

Israel election: Israel moved closer to another early election, its fourth in two years, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to bring down the unity government.

Snapshot: Above, making kimchi at a market in Seoul in November. A spat is raging on social media between China and South Korea over the pickled vegetables after a Chinese state tabloid claimed that China had set a global standard for the culinary staple.

What we’re reading: This Esquire profile of BTS takes a look at how the supergroup reached global stardom, and the pressures and challenges that went into making its new album, “Be.”

As the year winds down, At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

On Wednesday, our book critics released their annual list of best reads from among those they reviewed over the last 12 months. Our critics Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talked about reading and doing their jobs under strange new conditions.

This wasn’t remotely a normal year. How did the circumstances of 2020 change your reading lives, both professionally and recreationally?

Jennifer: Professionally, it made the question of why I was reviewing something in any given week feel heavy, almost existential — which I realize sounds ridiculous, but it really did. Not to mention that the publication dates of books, at least during the first few months of the pandemic, were suddenly moved around and actual hard copies weren’t easy to come by.

As for my recreational reading this year, there was way too little of it. I imagine other parents of young kids may have felt similarly. I recently heard an interview with the therapist and author Esther Perel, who said that the demarcations we previously took for granted — now we’re working, now we’re picking up our children from school, now we’re carving out some time for ourselves — have all collapsed. It’s a pandemic blur.

It was a year when the best-seller lists often directly reflected what was going on in the country. How much of your own personal reading these days — or ever — is “pegged to the news”?

Parul: I have never read anything quite like the brilliantly pessimistic fiction of the Croatian writer Dasa Drndic; her treatment of historical amnesia, of political despair and shame, felt blazingly new. When it comes to watching writers metabolize “this moment,” I was impressed by Megha Majumdar’s novel “A Burning,” on rising extremism in India. I was also moved by novelists grappling with how to write most effectively about climate change — Emily Raboteau, Lydia Millet, Amitav Ghosh and Jenny Offill come to mind.

What’s the book on each of your lists of 10 favorites that most surprised you?

Dwight: Philippe Lançon, who wrote criticism for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was in its offices on the morning of Jan. 7, 2015, when two gunmen claiming allegiance to ISIS forced themselves inside and slaughtered 12 people. Eleven others were wounded, including Lançon, who essentially had the lower part of his face shot off. His memoir, “Disturbance: Surviving Charlie Hebdo,” is extraordinary. It’s about his long road to recovery, but it’s also about his life and loves and his wide-open senses.

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

— Dani

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

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