Your Thursday Briefing


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Good morning. It’s the last day of the year.

We’re covering new trade deals between the E.U. and both Britain and China, and Britain’s approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

More than four years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, its Parliament yesterday overwhelmingly approved a post-Brexit trade deal. The House of Commons easily passed it, and the House of Lords ratified the deal too.

The new travel and trade rules, reached after nearly a year of negotiations, will go into effect tomorrow, concluding a saga that has divided Britons and dominated British politics and helping to shape ties between Britain and Europe for the coming decades. Tomorrow is also the end of free movement of people between Britain and the E.U.

A day of contrasts: The vote propels Britain into a post-Brexit future, even as it remains in the grip of a pandemic that has recently entered a frightening new phase.

What you need to know: Five takeaways from the deal.

Britain yesterday became the first country to approve the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, opening a path for a cheap and easy-to-store shot. At $3 to $4 a dose, it costs a fraction of some other vaccines, and is likely to become the world’s dominant form of inoculation.

In a departure from prevailing strategies around the world, the British government also decided to begin giving as many people as possible a first vaccine dose rather than holding back supplies for quick second shots.

Related: China said today that it had approved a homegrown coronavirus vaccine after an early analysis of clinical trial results showed that it was effective. The manufacturer, a state-controlled company called Sinopharm, said a vaccine candidate made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm had an efficacy rate of 79 percent based on an interim analysis of Phase 3 trials. The announcements sent a positive signal for the global rollout of Chinese vaccines but lacked crucial details.

Looking back: The first alarm over the coronavirus was sounded a year ago, on Dec. 30. Our reporters examined the 25 days that changed the world.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • A significant subset of patients recovering from Covid-19 are having to return to hospitals, sometimes repeatedly, with complications triggered by the disease or the body’s battle against it, studies show.

  • The rollout of vaccines in the U.S. has gotten off to a slower-than-expected start, with just 2.8 million doses administered out of the more than 12.4 million total sent out across the country. That is far short of the goal federal officials set to give at least 20 million people their first shots before the end of December.

  • Millions more people in England were told they would be placed under the country’s tightest regulations starting today to stop the spread of a contagious coronavirus variant, but the government stopped short of introducing a full national lockdown.

  • Officials in two U.S. states, Colorado and California, say they have discovered cases of the more contagious coronavirus variant that was initially discovered in Britain.

Chinese and European Union leaders agreed yesterday to make it easier for companies to operate in each other’s territory.

But the landmark pact faces political opposition in Europe and Washington that could derail it. A large faction in the European Parliament opposes the accord, saying it does not do enough to stop human rights abuses in China.

The deal would loosen restrictions imposed on European companies operating in China, and open up China to European banks, which have struggled in recent years.

At just 12, Helena Zengel has already won the German equivalent of the Oscars. Now she has landed a starring role in “News of the World,” opposite Tom Hanks, whom she had never heard of before the film.

We caught up with her as she finishes seventh grade from home. Praised for the simplicity of her style, Helena has never taken an acting class, “because I’m not sure if there was much for me to learn,” she said. “I stand in front of the camera, I know what I want, and I do it.”

Argentina: Argentina voted to legalize abortion, in a decision that is likely to ripple across Latin America. The vote, which came yesterday after 12 hours of often dramatic debate, offers hope to reproductive-rights advocates in other socially conservative nations in the region.

U.S. politics: While polls suggest that Georgia’s crucial runoff elections, which will determine the fate of the Senate, are up for grabs, Republicans have grown worried about strong early turnout in Democratic areas and mixed messages from President Trump.

Croatia quake: After a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked central Croatia earlier this week, the search and rescue operation shifted gears yesterday to focus on helping tens of thousands of people left homeless.

Norway: At least 10 people were injured and 10 people were missing yesterday after a landslide in a village about 30 miles northeast of Oslo.

Cook: Transform the humble potato in this glistening pommes Anna recipe, requiring little more than attentive care, a sharp blade and good butter.

Celebrate: Seeing in the new year with kids — and no sitter? Here’s how to get the party started.

Do: For many, 2020 provided lots of worries that kept us tossing and turning at night. Here are some tips to help you sleep better in the new year.

We can help you celebrate. At Home has ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

We talked to Mark Landler, The Times’s London bureau chief, about the Brexit deal that was approved this week. (This Q. and A. has been edited for brevity.)

How will the new relationship between Britain and the E.U. affect people’s everyday lives?

The purpose of the 1,200-page trade deal between Britain and the E.U. was to avoid very disruptive changes, such as tariffs and quotas. But there’ll be an array of other bureaucratic requirements that did not exist before Jan. 1.

People won’t see a sudden shift in the price of fresh fruit and vegetables in London supermarkets. But it’ll have an impact on Britons who, for example, want to bring their dog on vacation to the continent or who want to get a job somewhere in the E.U.

What will this mean for Britain’s economy?

A lot of stuff still needs to be negotiated. A major driving force of the British economy is the services sector, including legal, financial, consulting and other services. Virtually none of that is covered yet in the trade agreement.

How did the pandemic impact the process?

Without it, the negotiations for the trade deal would have been the biggest story in the country. But Brexit was almost completely overshadowed by the coronavirus. Britain is preoccupied with this health crisis, which will muffle the immediate effects of Brexit. But over time those will become more visible. Which means that the debate over Brexit may not be finished in the country.

Will this deliver the “global Britain” that pro-Brexit campaigners hoped for?

One of the driving arguments in favor of Brexit was throwing off the shackles of the E.U., so that Britain would become this agile, dynamic, independent economy that could strike deals with everyone in the world. But rising protectionism and populism have made making free-trade agreements harder. The “global Britain” arguments looked more valid in May 2016 than in January 2021. In a way, the Brexit vision is four and a half years too late.

That’s it for this briefing. See you in the new year.

— Natasha

Thank you
Claire Moses wrote today’s Back Story. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode features a Black police officer reflecting on what it means to be part of the force in his hometown, Flint, Mich.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Nursery bed (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• How well do you remember this newsy year? The Morning newsletter put together an interactive news quiz for those who want to test their knowledge.

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