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Vaccines, U.S. Reopenings, Flour Frenzy: Your Thursday Briefing

2020-05-21 05:05:24

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Good morning.

We’re covering progress toward a coronavirus vaccine on multiple fronts, a patchwork of reopenings in the U.S. and a run on flour in Britain.

More than 100 research teams around the world are taking aim at the virus. Companies like Inovio, Moderna and Pfizer have begun early tests in human subjects. Researchers at the University of Oxford in England, who are also testing vaccines in people, say they could have one ready for emergency use as soon as September.

So great is the urgency that researchers are combining trial phases and shortening a process that usually takes years, sometimes more than a decade. And they are using a range of techniques, some that are well established and some that have never been approved for medical use before.

The U.K. is not alone: In France, demand doubled in March. In Italy, it reached its highest level since World War II.

What we’re listening to: The podcast “Wind of Change,” which explores a rumor that the 1990 ballad in the title, by the German band Scorpions, was written by the C.I.A. to exert influence behind the Iron Curtain. Mike Wolgelenter, one of our editors in London, writes, “What’s not to love about a heavy metal-tinged deep dive into Cold War espionage?”

Germany’s measures for containment and careful reopening have been viewed as a model of a science-led approach. Melina Delkic talked to Katrin Bennhold, our Berlin bureau chief, about how the coronavirus crisis has shifted the political landscape in Germany, with the far right sidelined.

The pandemic has marginalized the party. In February, the fallout from an inconclusive election in a small eastern state showed what a potent and disruptive force the AfD had become. It ultimately brought down Angela Merkel’s anointed successor. But when the pandemic hit, everything changed. Its narrative didn’t cut through anymore.

It struggled for three reasons: First, Merkel rose to the occasion. Her government basically managed to avoid the disaster that was unfolding in neighboring countries. Her approval rating surged — and this was a chancellor whose party had been tanking. So it became hard to attack her when about 80 percent of public opinion was behind her.

Second, AfD’s signature issues — especially migration — were no longer salient.

Third, the government was doing a lot of the things in the context of this health crisis that the AfD had been arguing for. Suddenly Merkel was closing borders — she became emblematic of a strong nation-state.

Will that last?

The reopening has given AfD a chance to step back into the national conversation. The party is trying to turn Merkel’s measures around and say, “Look, it’s possible to close the borders, and the nation-state is actually the relevant entity, not Europe, not the world.” It is trying to co-opt some of the corona protests that are currently playing out on the streets of Germany.

The ultimate test will be the country’s mood after the economic crisis that has only just begun. The far right is banking on a meltdown, and the government is throwing money at this. For example, a short-term work program allows employers to cut employee hours while the government makes up some of the difference.

What does Germany’s reopening actually look like, and why did the containment work so well?

Success in this pandemic is basically a combination of some things that were already in place, like a robust health care system, and then a science-led approach. Merkel consulted very early with scientists, got testing off the ground and then coordinated with state governors. There was a sense of unity.

The reopening is happening in phases, and Merkel handed it back to the states this month. First it was shops and some schools. Restaurants opened last week in Berlin, where I live. It felt like a big moment.


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