More countries halt AstraZeneca vaccine
Germany, France and Italy became the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, citing reports of unusual blood clotting among a few people who recently received the shots in Norway.
Evidence that the vaccine causes clots seems thin at best. The World Health Organization continues to recommend the use of the vaccine. Even Europe’s main drug regulator says the benefits outweigh the risks. And Ann Taylor, AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer, said yesterday that the rate of clotting among vaccinated Europeans was lower than “would be expected among the general population.”
Thailand said it would resume distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha among the first to receive it.
Third wave: Europe is facing a third wave of coronavirus infections, with France considering new restrictions. Hungary’s prime minister predicted hospitals this week would be at their most overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic.
Overcoming your fear: If an aversion to needles is keeping you from being vaccinated, experts suggest some ways to overcome it.
Policing in Britain under the spotlight
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain met with law enforcement officials yesterday after the London police faced a firestorm of criticism for cracking down on a vigil on Saturday.
Officials are investigating police tactics at the event, which had been declared unlawful because of coronavirus restrictions. The vigil honored Sarah Everard, 33, whose killing touched off a national outcry over misogyny and violence. A Metropolitan Police officer has been charged in her death.
Many women have questioned why the police — who reportedly told residents in the South London neighborhood where Ms. Everard disappeared to stay inside for their own safety — were demanding sacrifices from women rather than forcing men to forsake violence.
Later this week, Parliament is set to debate legislation that would grant the police more powers to control protests. Mr. Johnson said the bill would also increase sentences for rape and tackle domestic violence.
Related: Thousands took to the streets in at least 40 cities across Australia to protest violence and discrimination against women, spurred by multiple allegations of rape in the country’s halls of power.
Above, the largest and strongest dust storm in a decade swept across northern China, grounding hundreds of flights, closing schools and casting a ghastly shroud over tens of millions of people.
The Vatican said that Catholic priests could not bless same-sex marriages, but that the church should welcome gay people “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
The authorities in Myanmar declared martial law in six townships in Yangon, the country’s largest city, after security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend.
Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, said in an Instagram post that he was well and had not been subject to violence, but described a dystopian existence in the prison camp where he will most likely spend the next two years.
A Morning Read
Usually it’s foreigners who cavort in the winter at Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake. But with international tourism shut down, Russians are arriving in droves to make TikTok videos and snap Instagram photos.
“This season is like no other — no one expected there to be such a crush, such a tourist boom,” said the director of a history museum in the area.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Shaking up Britain’s podcast industry
Podcast listening numbers in Britain have surged — nearly a fifth of the British adult population now regularly listen to podcasts.
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
In an attempt to escape the BBC’s tight grip over Britain’s audio industry, a small group of podcast companies, using an influx of cash and inspired by the medium’s success in the U.S., are trying to prove they can produce content without the public broadcaster’s backing, and often with the support of large multinational corporations such as Spotify or Sony.
The BBC sees its role as protecting the British audio industry from the undue influence of other large companies.
“There’s a the danger of tech giants shaping a U.K. radio industry,” said Jonathan Wall, who runs the BBC Sounds audio app. “We think they have a huge part to play, but we don’t think they can solely shape a successful U.K. audio industry.”
The BBC’s own huge budget gives the broadcaster outsize influence on what gets produced in Britain. “We have such a rich legacy of production companies who have basically lived feast to famine predicated on how many BBC commissioning rounds they win,” said Jake Warren, the founder of Message Heard, a three-and-a-half-year-old podcast company.
Writing on Medium, Nick Hilton, the founder of the independent British podcasting company Podot, described an industry in flux. “The market is shaping up to be much less indie, much less counter cultural, much less innovative, going forward,” he wrote. “There are lots more full-time podcast producers doing the rounds, but they’re going to be indentured to big, flush corporations.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, DREAM
What to Cook
Sweet-and-spicy roasted tofu and squash offers an explosion of textures: velvety, tender, crunchy, chewy.
What to Watch
Netflix’s “Mank” led the Oscar nominations with 10 nods. (Our reviewer described it as “eminently watchable.”) “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Sound of Metal,” “Nomadland,” “Minari,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Father” each scored six nominations.
Beyoncé became the female artist with the most Grammys ever with her four wins during Sunday’s award show, and Megan Thee Stallion was the first female rapper to win best new artist since Lauryn Hill in 1999. Here’s what else happened.