Your Thursday Briefing

Workers at the South African pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare, which will apply for a license from Merck to make and distribute the antiviral medication molnupiravir across Africa.Credit…Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Merck to share its Covid pill

The American pharmaceutical giant Merck granted a royalty-free license for its promising Covid-19 antiviral pill to a U.N.-backed nonprofit organization. The agreement restricts sales to developing countries and excludes most middle-income countries — including China and Russia, as well as many Latin American nations.

The deal with the Medicines Patent Pool would allow the drug, called molnupiravir, to be manufactured and sold cheaply in 105 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, where vaccines for Covid-19 are in short supply. Affluent nations have rushed to negotiate deals to buy the drug, tying up supply and raising concerns that poor countries could be shut out.

The deal has been welcomed by advocates for treatment access, who called it an unusual step for a major Western pharmaceutical company. Merck has already licensed eight large Indian drug makers to produce generic versions of molnupiravir, pending authorization.

Results: The drug halved the rate of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk Covid patients who took it soon after infection in a large clinical trial, according to Merck.

Details: Generic drug makers in developing countries are expected to market the drug for as little as $20 per treatment (a five-day course), compared with the $712 per course that the U.S. government agreed to pay for its initial purchase.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • A congressional panel in Brazil voted to recommend nine criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro, including “crimes against humanity,” over his response to the pandemic.

  • An inexpensive antidepressant can lower the risk of hospitalization in people at high risk of severe Covid, a large clinical trial found.

  • Germany’s new governing coalition plans to drop nationwide pandemic restrictions and hand responsibility back to state governments to set their own region-specific rules.

Students at the Daqiq Institute in Mazar-i-Sharif.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Taliban allow girls to return to school, with caveats

Some middle and high schools in the north of Afghanistan were allowed last month to reopen their doors to girls, even as most in the rest of the country have been forced to stay home.

Under pressure from foreign governments and international aid groups, Taliban officials insist that things will be different for girls and women from the last time the militants were in power. But many teachers and parents still have their doubts, especially as women remain excluded from government and most public-facing jobs.

Gender segregation in school has exacerbated a severe teacher shortage and has threatened to eliminate opportunities in higher education for girls. Many parents have kept their daughters home, afraid to send them to school with armed Talibs lining the streets. Others no longer see the value of educating daughters with so few job opportunities for women.

First person: “This generation is fragile,” one mother, who lost her job as a literature professor when the Taliban seized power, said of her daughter’s cohort. “If she can’t go to university, she’ll be completely destroyed.”

Historical context: During the first Taliban regime, in the 1990s, women and girls were barred from going to school. Those restrictions were lifted when the Taliban were toppled in 2001, and educational opportunities for women gradually blossomed. By 2018, four out of 10 students enrolled in schools were girls, according to UNESCO.

China’s DF-17, a hypersonic medium range ballistic missile, is already in service.Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

China’s ‘very significant’ hypersonic missile tests

China’s tests of a hypersonic missile was “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the U.S., said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His remarks confirmed how the weapon took American officials by surprise. The test was a “very significant technological event,” he added.

Two tests took place this summer in a fashion that would be highly visible to satellites, but U.S. officials remained mostly silent about them. Hypersonic missiles can quickly maneuver and alter course, making them virtually impossible for existing U.S. defenses to intercept.

The tests, which could revive fears of a Cold War-like arms race, come as Beijing is spending heavily to modernize its military and may be seeking to expand its nuclear arsenal. The U.S. has an active hypersonic program of its own, as does Russia and North Korea, among others. But the U.S. program has experienced setbacks, including when a booster rocket carrying a hypersonic weapon failed last week.

Foreign policy news: Iran’s chief negotiator said the country would return to nuclear talks in November.


News From the U.S.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
  • Democrats have yet to unite around a framework for a flagship social policy bill that has been stymied by dissent from the right of the party. Above, Senator Joe Manchin leaving a meeting with White House officials on Wednesday.

  • The assistant director who handed the actor Alec Baldwin a live revolver that resulted in the death of a cinematographer told an investigator that he had not carefully checked the gun.

  • Executives of Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and BP will testify today in the first congressional hearing into industry efforts to hinder action on climate change.

Around the World

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times
  • The Israeli government advanced plans to build more than 3,000 settlement units in the occupied West Bank, consolidating its presence in the territory and making it harder to create a Palestinian state. Above, Palestinian laborers working on construction at an Israeli settlement.

  • More than 1,100 McKinsey employees have signed an open letter to the firm’s top partners, urging them to disclose how much carbon their clients emit.

  • Haiti faces a new crisis: A severe fuel shortage is pushing the nation to the brink of collapse because gangs, not the government, rule about half the capital.

What Else Is Happening

  • A tiny town in Australia’s outback, where the temperature can hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit, drew global inquiries when it offered “free” land in a bid to expand its population.

  • After Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, he gained a wider international audience. Publishers are scrambling to get his books in stores.

A Morning Read

Credit…Mary Gelman for The New York Times

Take a tour of a Russian czar’s palace, resurrected.

For more than a decade, architects and researchers have worked to restore the last home of Nicholas II, Russia’s last czar, to its early-20th-century glory, using a few fuzzy-colored pictures, thousands of black-and-white photos, some watercolors, several drapery swatches and memoirs of palace life.


Abba’s comeback

Gimme gimme gimme … another Abba album!

After 40 years, the Swedish pop group is back with “Voyage,” a new 10-track album, set to come out on Nov. 5. “We took a break in the spring of 1982 and now we’ve decided it’s time to end it,” the band said in a statement.

The popularity of Abba’s music hasn’t waned: “Abba Gold,” a compilation that came out in 1992, is on the British charts more than 1,000 weeks after its release. The musical “Mamma Mia!” — which incorporates Abba’s hits into its story — prompted a number of imitators and two film adaptations. And fans are still obsessed.

This time around, none of the four band members, who are all in their 70s, will perform in person, Elisabeth Vincentelli writes in The Times. Starting in a custom-built London venue next year, they will perform as avatars — Abbatars — designed to replicate their 1979 look. Here’s one of the new songs, “Just a Notion.”


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

This vegan squash and mushroom curry is perfect for a fall evening.

What to Listen To

The British pop singer Self Esteem is touching a nerve with honest songs about not having it all figured out.

What to Read

“The Chancellor,” Kati Marton’s biography of Angela Merkel, is “a balm,” our reviewer writes.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: The Big Apple, for short (three letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. The Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Karen Weise were interviewed on the show “Marketplace” about their reporting on Amazon’s treatment of its employees.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

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

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