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Your Friday Briefing

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Two weeks after 1.45 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Germany, only 270,986 have been administered, public health officials said, even as people around the world clamor for inoculations and many countries have seen severe shortages.

Many Germans — including health workers — are skipping appointments or refusing to sign up for the AstraZeneca shot, which they fear is less effective than the one developed by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, the officials say.

That reluctance has been fueled by weeks of negative coverage in the German media, which has portrayed AstraZeneca’s vaccine as “second-class” and published stories of people suffering adverse reactions.

By the numbers: Clinical trials do suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot’s efficacy, at 95 percent, is higher than AstraZeneca’s, which is between 60 and 90 percent depending on factors like the spacing of doses. Still, it is difficult to directly compare vaccines unless they are tested head-to-head in the same trial.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Corruption scandals are showing how powerful and well-connected people in South America jumped the vaccine line.

  • The rates of Covid-19 infection across Europe have been cut in half from their winter peaks, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

  • European leaders are calling for a “vaccine passport” before the summer tourism season arrives.

  • Moderna said it would test vaccines modified to protect against a variant first discovered in South Africa.


Armenia, which lost a humiliating and bloody war with its neighbor Azerbaijan last fall, slipped into a political crisis on Thursday after what its prime minister called an “attempted military coup.”

The fracas began recently, when a political opponent accused Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of having failed to deploy missiles that might have prevented Armenia’s loss of territory. The prime minister insisted that he had ordered the missiles’ use but that they had malfunctioned, shifting blame to the military.

Mr. Pashinyan fired a military official who contradicted him. On Thursday, the general staff of the military called for him to resign. Mr. Pashinyan warned of a coup, but later softened his language.

Steps toward stability: By early Thursday evening, the generals had issued a new statement, saying that the previous one had not been made in alignment with any opposition party.


Facebook said it had banned Myanmar’s military from its platforms, leaving little question that the company was siding with the country’s pro-democracy movement against the generals who seized power on Feb. 1, ousting the civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since that coup, the military has repeatedly shut off the internet and cut access to major social media sites, including Facebook. But the generals still used Facebook to distribute propaganda, and military-owned businesses advertised on the platform as well. Neither will now be allowed.

Mark Zuckerberg: Though Facebook’s chief executive has long championed freedom of speech above all else, he has become increasingly willing to act against what is posted on his platform, including by cracking down on the QAnon conspiracy theory movement and misinformation from former President Donald Trump.

A surge in pandemic-inspired baking has helped focus national attention in Canada on a toothsome question: Why does the country’s butter seem so firm?

One theory suggests palm fat in the feed of Canadian dairy cows, like those pictured above, may be the culprit, a claim that dairy farmers dispute. Either way, the controversy nicknamed “Buttergate” has spawned social media chatter, conspiracy theories and scientific rumination.

U.S. airstrikes: President Biden ordered retaliatory strikes in Syria against what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias behind recent attacks in Iraq, one of which killed a civilian contractor with the American-led military coalition there.

Greece: A pregnant Afghan refugee in Lesbos tried to take her own life by setting fire to her tent on Sunday, after her family’s relocation to Germany was delayed. Greek officials charged her with arson.

Electric cars: The Chinese auto manufacturer Nio hopes to dominate the electric car market, even as it loses thousands of dollars on every one it makes. Key to its success is China’s vast, well-funded supply chain for electric vehicles.

U.S. gymnastics: John Geddert, who coached the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, has committed suicide. He had been charged with human trafficking and sexually assaulting a teenage girl, among other offenses.

India and Pakistan: The two longtime foes renewed a cease-fire pledge on Thursday along their troubled Himalayan border. Since airstrikes in 2019, communities living there have borne the brunt of skirmishes and mortar shelling from both sides.

Snapshot: A group of hikers, above, struck out to explore Russian wilderness in 1959. They died under mysterious circumstances, setting off speculation that the K.G.B. (or aliens) might be to blame. Now, scientists think they can prove that the cause was an avalanche.

Gripe map: An anonymous website developer in Yokohama, Japan, has created a controversial map where people bothered by noisy children can register their complaints. Its stated goal is to help house hunters avoid living near “stupid parents who let their children play on roads and parking lots.”

Outerwear of the rich and famous: A coat that starts at $1,000 has become a favorite of financiers and movie stars. “My son who is in New York City wore it all winter, even though he is very antimaterialistic, anticapitalist,” said one high-profile fan. “It is discreet enough.”

What we’re reading: Responses to the New York Times documentary “Framing Britney.” Revel in these thoughtful pieces from Mara Wilson, in The Times, and Tavi Gevinson, in New York magazine, both of whom are intimately acquainted with childhood fame.

Watch: French middle schoolers take the reins in “Un Film Dramatique,” a documentary filmed over four years in the Paris suburbs. Our review calls it “joyful” and “heartening.”

Listen: Missing live performances of Schubert or Schumann? Here are 10 highlights from the flood of online classical music content coming in March.

Add flavor to life indoors with our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

The 11-month-old invitation-only app, valued at $1 billion, delights users by letting them dip into different conversations, called “rooms.” But from the start, it’s been plagued by controversy. My colleague Kevin Roose broke down its trials and triumphs. Here’s an excerpt.

Every successful social network has a life cycle that goes something like: Wow, this app sure is addictive! Look at all the funny and exciting ways people are using it! This platform should really hire some moderators and fix its algorithms. Wow, this place is a cesspool, I’m deleting my account.

What’s remarkable about Clubhouse is that it seems to be experiencing this entire cycle all at once, during its first year of existence.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Clubhouse is organized more like Reddit — a cluster of topical rooms, with a central “hallway” where users can browse rooms in progress. Clubhouse rooms disappear after they’re over, and recording a room is against the rules.

But there are still plenty of similarities, including aggressive growth-hacking tactics meant to draw new users deeper into the app. The app’s reputation for lax moderation has also attracted a number of people who have been barred by other social networks. It has also drawn scrutiny from governments, particularly those intent on clamping down dissidents.

Before I get tagged as a Clubhouse hater, let me sound a note of optimism. Most rooms I’ve been in are civil and well moderated, and if you scroll past the megapopular rooms filled with celebrities and clout-chasers, you can find some truly fascinating stuff.

I hope Clubhouse survives, if only because it could create a more thoughtful, less outrage-driven alternative to the social networks we’ve been typing into for the last decade and a half.


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

And a correction: Yesterday’s briefing incorrectly stated that Ghana had received 60,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines under the vaccine sharing scheme Covax. The correct figure is 600,000.

— Natasha


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 on Merrick B. Garland’s long history of fighting domestic extremism.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Wintry mix (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times has announced a new project, “Black History, Continued,” to examine Black history and culture, led by the editor and deputy editor of Narrative Projects, Veronica Chambers and Dodai Stewart.


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