Your Wednesday Briefing: Pfizer’s Covid Pill

We’re covering final results for Pfizer’s Covid pill and a rebellion in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party.

The new study results largely matched Pfizer’s initial, smaller analysis.Credit…Thomas Hansmann.Fotograf/Pfizer, via Associated Press

Pfizer says its pill works against Omicron

A highly anticipated study of Pfizer’s Covid pill confirmed that it helps stave off severe disease, the company said. The pill also performed well against the highly mutated Omicron variant.

Last month, Pfizer asked U.S. regulators to authorize the pill, known as Paxlovid, based on a preliminary batch of data. The new results will strengthen the company’s application, which means that Americans could have access to the pill within weeks.

The company’s chief scientific officer said Pfizer would have 180,000 courses of treatment ready in the U.S. if Paxlovid is authorized soon and that it planned to make 80 million courses available worldwide in 2022.

Details: Pfizer said that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent if given within three days of the onset of symptoms. If given within five days, the risk was reduced by 88 percent.

Death risks: Pfizer said that 0.7 percent of patients who received Paxlovid were hospitalized within 28 days of entering the trial, and none died. By contrast, 6.5 percent of patients who received a placebo were hospitalized or died.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • California is reinstating an indoor mask mandate.

  • A second Omicron case in China is raising the prospect of stricter controls.

People waited for coronavirus vaccinations at a hospital in London on Monday.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Boris Johnson’s Covid rules pass despite party rebellion

The British government estimates that 200,000 people a day are being infected with the Omicron variant. Yet in Parliament on Tuesday, a record 100 Conservative lawmakers voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposal for a vaccine certificate to enter nightclubs and certain other venues.

The measure passed with the help of votes from the opposition, as did several other related Covid policies. But the divide was a rebuke of their leader at a time when Johnson has called for a national campaign to prevent Omicron from swamping the country.

Officials are mobilizing a national vaccine booster campaign, but many Conservatives said they did not want to undermine liberties by bringing back restrictions and cited Britons’ pandemic fatigue.

The party rebellion comes in the wake of disclosures that officials held a Christmas party last December when the public was instructed to stay home and avoid gatherings.

The measures: As of Wednesday, large indoor venues and some sporting events must require proof of vaccination or a coronavirus test. Johnson said boosters would eventually be required, too. Face masks will be required, and health workers must be vaccinated.

Travel rules: The government removed Botswana, South Africa and nine other African countries from its “red list,” which requires travelers to quarantine in a hotel after they arrive in Britain.

The influencers spreading a pro-China message

A crop of new social media personalities is painting cheery portraits of life as a foreigner in China. These influencers also hit back at criticisms of Beijing’s authoritarianism, its policies toward ethnic minorities and its handling of the coronavirus.

State news and local governments have funded the influencers’ travel, and China generates lucrative traffic for them by sharing their videos with millions of followers on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

The creators can visit and film in parts of China where the authorities have barred foreign journalists. In videos, influencers are pictured on visits to Xinjiang, for example, where there are allegations of forced labor.

“It’s totally normal here,” said Raz Gal-Or, an Israeli student who posted a video after visiting cotton fields in Xinjiang. “People are nice, doing their job, living their life.”

What influencers say: Most of the YouTubers have lived in China for years and say their aim is to counter the West’s negative perceptions of the country. They decide what goes into their videos, they say, not the Communist Party. Sympathetic foreign voices are part of Beijing’s efforts to shape the world conversation about China.


Asia Pacific

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaking in Manila.Credit…Lisa Marie David/Reuters
  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines ended his bid for a Senate seat. It is not clear what he plans next.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to strengthen relations with Indo-Pacific nations through billions of dollars in U.S. investment and aid and, in doing so, counter China’s regional pull.

  • The International Olympic Committee has a history of smoothing over China’s conduct, which came up again with the recent disappearance of the tennis star Peng Shuai. In exchange, Beijing delivers big audiences and funding, our columnist writes.

Around the World

Lawmakers voting on holding a former top Trump official in contempt on Monday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
  • Three Fox News anchors sent text messages on Jan. 6 to President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, urging him to persuade the president to make an effort to stop the riot.

  • The Belarus opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was arrested last year before an election in which he had planned to challenge the country’s leader.

  • Researchers are alarmed by what they are seeing around Antarctica. Wilder winds are altering currents and ice is melting from below, adding to sea level rise.

  • The death toll from tornadoes in the U.S. last week has reached 88. More victims are expected to be found in the rubble.

  • A fuel tanker exploded in northern Haiti, killing dozens of people.

  • “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast” and “Succession” led the 2022 Golden Globes nominations.

A Morning Read

Credit…Scott Gelber

From our Opinion team: Climate change postcards show the devastation in 193 countries. Tornadoes, wildfires, heat so intense it can cause organ failure — all are made worse or more frequent by global warming.


Stephanie Nolen, right, in the course of reporting on community health issues in South Africa last month.Credit…Stephanie Nolen/The New York Times

Caught in pandemic panic

The Times reporter Stephanie Nolen was in Johannesburg to report on Covid when scientists announced the discovery of Omicron. As she boarded a plane to fly home, global travel descended into chaos and panic. Here’s an edited excerpt from her story.

My firsthand journey through Covid response measures has shown me that, two years into this, we have yet to learn how to anticipate how both viruses and people will behave, or how to plan accordingly.

When my plane touched down in Amsterdam, a flight attendant informed us that passengers would need to be tested for Covid. Five hours later, we were still on the tarmac, the plane sealed up tight, with more and more travelers shedding their masks.

We were eventually bused into an unused departure area, and over the course of three hours, given Covid tests.

I couldn’t understand how 18 passengers on the two South African flights had tested positive when we’d had to show a negative test to board the flight. But then I learned, while I was in airport lockup, that preflight testing requirements are set by the country of destination.

The discovery of Omicron showed how well the sophisticated scientific response to the pandemic is working. But everything that I saw in the days since then makes clear we still haven’t mastered the messy, human steps at all — and they may matter even more.


What to Cook

Credit…Armando Rafael for The New York Times

Top, store-bought breads with smoked Gouda and broccoli.

What to Read

Rob Dunn’s “A Natural History of the Future” reminds us that we live in a much weirder, more disorienting world than we tend to appreciate.

What to Listen TO

The latest installment of the flutist Claire Chase’s multidecade music project.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Curved bone (three letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. Our Brazil reporter Jack Nicas wrote about why dive bars have played a central role in some of his coverage.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the assassination of Haiti’s president.

You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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