Good morning. We’re covering countries that are temporarily suspending AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and the Biden administration’s focus on Asia-Pacific allies.
New halts for the AstraZeneca vaccine
Germany, France and Italy became the latest countries to suspend the Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca, citing reports of unusual blood clotting problems among a few people who recently received the shots in Norway. Denmark, Iceland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and the Netherlands have also suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations.
Germany’s health ministry cited the advice of the national health regulator in its decision to suspend the vaccine, though global health officials have cautioned that millions of people have received it without any problems. So far, there is no evidence of a causal link between clotting and the vaccine, with investigations from the European Medicines Agency and other regulators still underway.
By contrast, Thailand said that it would resume distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha among the first to receive it.
Third wave: Europe is facing a third wave of infections, with Italy imposing strict new restrictions and France considering doing the same. Hungary’s prime minister predicted hospitals this week would be at their most overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic. The spread of coronavirus variants and slow vaccination rates are among the likely factors.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
China’s ability to mass-produce and distribute vaccines has reshaped its relations with Latin American nations devastated by the pandemic.
A survey of nearly 50,000 people in eight countries found that 40 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 reported feeling sadness, distress or hopelessness during the pandemic.
Hundreds of people in Miami for spring break have been arrested after flouting Covid-19 protocols.
Biden cultivates Asian allies
Two ambitions are at the center of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda: rebuilding ties with frustrated allies and assembling a united front against China. This week, he is working on both as he dispatches Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea.
The countries rely on trade with Beijing, even though they often clash on security, democracy and human rights. “There is a growing appetite in Tokyo for a strong response to China’s moves” in the South China Sea, The Japan Times reports.
The flurry of diplomacy began on Friday with a virtual summit with Australia, India and Japan — the so-called Quad allies. The group announced a deal to expand vaccine supplies for Southeast Asian countries in a countermove to China’s vaccine diplomacy.
Big picture: Blinken and Austin are highlighting the Asia-Pacific alliances as a top priority, writing in The Washington Post: “It would be a huge strategic error to neglect these relationships.”
Related: The Biden administration tried to restart discussions with North Korea over its nuclear program, but its gestures have not been returned.
An apocalyptic sandstorm in China
The largest and strongest dust storm in a decade swept across northern China, grounding hundreds of flights, closing schools and casting a ghastly shroud over tens of millions of people.
Three forces — a late-winter storm, a post-Covid industrial rebound and the continued impact of climate change — combined to create a dangerous, suffocating pall of pollution across the country. The storm reached from Xinjiang in the far west across to the Bohai Sea, according to China’s meteorological service. The storm was a reminder of “airpocalypses” that the country routinely experienced years ago, forcing the government to crack down on emissions.
“I couldn’t see the building across the street,” said Wang Wei, a 23-year-old who recently moved to Beijing from Henan, a province in central China. “I didn’t think the sky could be this yellow.”
Context: The Communist Party has made strides in reducing pollution, with President Xi Jinping repeatedly calling for a “green revolution” in China’s economy. But since the pandemic, officials have prioritized economic development again. Environmental groups were hoping that specific government proposals would emerge from recent top-level meetings on the country’s five-year plan.
THE LATEST NEWS
What Else Is Happening
More than 110,000 people in 40 cities across Australia marched in protests against violence and discrimination against women, a reckoning that was ignited by rape accusations and the killing of Sarah Everard in London. Our columnist Amanda Taub explored why the police ask women to make sacrifices for their safety, rather than forcing men to change.
Myanmar authorities declared martial law in six townships in Yangon, the country’s largest city, after security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend.
The Vatican said that while priests should be welcoming to L.G.B.T.Q. people, they cannot bless same-sex unions.
Netflix’s “Mank” led the Oscar nominations with 10 nods. “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Sound of Metal,” “Nomadland,” “Minari,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Father” each scored six nominations.
Beyoncé became the female artist with the most Grammys ever with her four wins during Sunday’s award show, and Megan Thee Stallion was the first female rapper to win best new artist since Lauryn Hill in 1999. Here’s a roundup of what else happened.
A Morning Read
Usually it’s foreigners who cavort in the winter at Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. But with international tourism shut down, Russians are arriving in droves to make TikTok videos and snap Instagram photos. “This season is like no other — no one expected there to be such a crush, such a tourist boom,” said the director of a history museum in the area.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The music that got us through the pandemic
From virtual concerts to the nightly clanging of pots and pans, music has helped create a sense of community in our coronavirus year. For its annual music issue, The Times Magazine delved into 19 artists and songs that matter right now.
Consider the joyful, maximalist pop of Sophie, who died in January; the melodrama of a Drake track; and the melancholy of Phoebe Bridgers’s music. Other highlights include an essay on “WAP,” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s gleeful ode to sexual liberation, and a profile of La Doña, a would-be pop star whose EP dropped just as the world was shutting down. Go through the list to discover some new music, as well as revisit a few hits.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Make sweet-and-spicy roasted tofu and squash, which offers complex flavors and textures that are velvety, tender, crunchy and chewy.
What to Watch
See how the British show “Gardeners’ World” became essential pandemic viewing after 53 seasons.
What to Read
Shirley Hazzard’s “The Transit of Venus,” a plushly written modern classic that was recently reissued, tells the story of two orphaned Australian sisters who arrive in England in the 1950s.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Donkey ___ (classic video game) (four letters).
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing.
See you next time. — Melina
P.S. The word “brochuremenship” appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about life after widespread vaccination in Israel.
Sanam Yar contributed reporting. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].
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