Your Thursday Briefing


Speaking at a virtual Covid-19 summit organized with the U.N., President Biden called on world leaders, pharmaceutical executives, philanthropists and civil society organizations to forge a global consensus around a plan to fight the pandemic.

The president cited two urgent goals: vaccinating the world and solving an oxygen-supply crisis. “We’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle-of-the-road ambitions — we need to go big,” Biden said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck crisis.”

Pfizer has announced a deal to sell 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to the Biden administration to donate to nations in need of the shots.

This week, the chief scientist at the W.H.O. pleaded with nations to work together to distribute vaccines and share excess supplies. “A country-by-country approach, a nationalistic approach, is not going to get us out of this pandemic,” said the scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.

By the numbers: Less than 10 percent of the population of poor nations — and less than 4 percent of the African population — has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost 80 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries. More than 4.5 million people worldwide have died of Covid-19.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

This week, days before Germans cast their ballots, Angela Merkel, Germany’s exiting leader, returned to the campaign trail — not to run as a candidate, but to stump for her Christian Democratic Union party’s struggling candidate, Armin Laschet, whose campaign has been marred by blunders that have led critics to question his professionalism and ability to lead.

For weeks polls have shown a lead for the Social Democratic Party, traditional rivals of the conservative Christian Democrats and their governing partners. But in the final week before the vote on Sunday, the conservatives are roughly 3 percentage points behind, giving Laschet hope after an underwhelming campaign.

The Social Democrats’ campaign has been marked by clear messaging on progressive issues like increasing the minimum wage and creating more affordable housing. Their front-runner candidate, Olaf Scholz, has been selling himself as the best fit for Merkel’s replacement.

Quotable: “Social democracy is back,” said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

Outcomes: Should the Social Democrats emerge as the strongest party, they would still need to find at least one partner to form a government. Although they could take the Christian Democrats as their junior partners, more likely is a center-left alliance led by the Social Democrats with the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats.

President Biden and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, spoke yesterday for the first time since the announcement of a secretive U.S.-Australian-British defense deal that scuttled a $66 billion French project to build attack submarines. The conversation was “friendly,” a statement from the White House said.

The deal had led France to declare that its oldest ally had engaged in “lies” and “duplicity” to and suggest that the foundations of the NATO alliance had been shaken. Days earlier, Macron recalled the French ambassador to the U.S., Philippe Etienne, a first. The envoy will return to Washington next week.

Although the U.S. has not apologized for keeping France in the dark, a joint statement said that “the two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.” Macron and Biden agreed to meet in Europe next month.

Allies: Biden met separately on Tuesday with Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, the leaders of Britain and Australia. Their deal has been portrayed in France as “Anglo-Saxon” maneuvering against continental Europe.

Analysis: France’s assertiveness abroad is calibrated to manage its longstanding quandary of how to act as an independent power while depending on allies, Max Fisher writes in The Interpreter column.

As the first presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry wants to persuade world leaders to “do what the science tells us.” With global climate talks less than two months away, he faces a tough path.

Some of Japan’s most creative animation studios get to explore a galaxy far, far away in the anime anthology series “Star Wars: Visions” on Disney+. The show, which consists of short films with vastly different animation styles, pays tribute to the Japanese influence on “Star Wars,” Robert Ito writes in The Times.

George Lucas previously mentioned the debt “Star Wars” owes to Japanese culture, citing Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 period drama “The Hidden Fortress” as a primary inspiration for his first “Star Wars” film. There are also the kimono-like robes, light-saber duels — kendo experts worked with the actors in the films — and the Force, with its elements of Buddhism and Shintoism.

For the series, the animators developed stories that exist outside the franchise’s cinematic universe. “There are Sith villains and rabbit-girl hybrids, tea-sipping droids (OK, it’s really oil) and sake-sipping warriors,” Ito writes. “Lightsabers are lovingly squirreled away in traditional wrapping cloths called furoshiki and in red lacquer boxes.”

Ditched the dye during lockdown? There’s power and beauty in gray hair.

Ruth Rogers, the owner of the River Cafe in London, interviews her famous patrons about food and their lives.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Language that gives us “cookie,” “sleigh” and “Santa Claus” (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a great Thursday. — Natasha

P.S. Priya Krishna, our food reporter, joined WNYC’s “All of It” to discuss her article about the “ethnic” food aisles in American supermarkets.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the U.S.-British deal to sell military technology to Australia.

Sanam Yar wrote today’s Arts and Ideas. You can reach Natasha and the team at


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