The UK jumped ahead of the US and on Wednesday granted emergency approval for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine – a first in the West. The vaccination campaign is slated to start next week.

The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine from American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a small German company, BioNTech.

Nursing home residents are the priority to get the first few shots, but officials have indicated that frontline hospital workers may get vaccines faster because the vaccine is difficult to store and bring to nursing homes and other locations.

What’s next: UK hospitals have already started emailing staff to schedule vaccinations. In London, the first doses are given on Monday at 7 a.m. Each person needs two exposures one month apart. The cans are packed in cardboard boxes, with dry ice keeping them at the South Pole-like temperatures they need.

Hong Kong’s political opposition was dealt another blow after three democracy activists were convicted on Wednesday. Among them was Joshua Wong, one of the world’s most recognized figures in the city’s resistance to Beijing.

Mr. Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in prison for his role in protests last year. A fellow activist, Agnes Chow, referred to as “Mulan” of the democracy movement, received 10 months. Ivan Lam, a member of her disbanded political group Demosisto, was sentenced to seven months in prison.

Her condemnation points to the far-reaching nature of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive actions against the political opposition in Hong Kong.

Quote: “All of these legal proceedings represent a persecution of our young people, ”said Claudia Mo, a former lawmaker from the Democracy Camp. “You are using Joshua Wong as an icon to get this terrifying message out.”

The government and the Taliban negotiators in Qatar have agreed on how the peace negotiations will continue. The next phase of talks will most likely focus on a political roadmap and a long-term nationwide ceasefire.

The agreed procedure was announced on Wednesday after negotiations on the official name to be used to refer to the government had been stalled since early November. The agreement was reached without specifying the name.

On the ground: The month-long talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, were marked by near-constant violence in Afghanistan as the Taliban moved south and north before winter.

With the coronavirus devastating much of the global economy, there is one company in Japan that is not concerned about its finances. A small cedar shop next to a shrine in Kyoto has served grilled rice flour cakes since the year 1000.

More than a millennium later, business resilience is teaching businesses around the world. Our reporters spoke to the family who run the store, Ichiwa, about how their store weathered crisis after crisis.

Moon landing: China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. You can see it here.

Laboratory meat: Singapore approved a laboratory-grown meat product from a US start-up, becoming the first company in the world to receive government approval.

Indonesian clergyman: Rizieq Shihab, a Muslim clergyman who has campaigned against the country’s secular democracy for decades, is back from self-imposed exile after three and a half years. He calls for a “moral revolution” to force Indonesia to adopt conservative Islam.

US policy: President Trump has discussed with advisors whether to grant preventive pardons to his children, son-in-law, and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Elections in Israel: Israel moved closer to yet another early election, the fourth in two years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners joined the opposition in a preliminary vote to overthrow the unity government.

Snapshot: Above kimchi in a market in Seoul in November. A spit rages on social media between China and South Korea over pickled vegetables after a Chinese tabloid claimed that China has set a global standard for the culinary staple.

What we read: This Esquire profile from BTS shows how the supergroup became known around the world and what pressure and challenges it brought to make their new album “Be”.

Throughout the year, At Home has a comprehensive collection of ideas on what to read, cook, see, and do while staying safe at home.

On Wednesday, our book critics released their annual list of the best readings among those they reviewed over the past 12 months. Our critics Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal, and Jennifer Szalai spoke about reading and working in strange new conditions.

This was not a normal year. How have the circumstances of 2020 changed your reading life, both professionally and in your free time?

Jennifer: Professionally, the question arose why I was reviewing something in a certain week, difficult, almost existential – which I realize it sounds ridiculous, but it really did. Not to mention, book release dates suddenly shifted, at least for the first few months of the pandemic, and actual printouts weren’t easy to come by.

As for my leisure reading this year, there was far too little of it. I can imagine other parents of young children feeling the same way. I recently heard an interview with therapist and author Esther Perel, who said that the boundaries that we previously took for granted – now we work, now we pick up our children from school, now we carve out some time for them themselves – all collapsed. It’s a pandemic blur.

It was a year when the bestseller lists often directly reflected what was going on in the country. How much of your personal reading is – or ever – “tied to the news” today?

The hair: I have never read anything like the brilliantly pessimistic fiction by Croatian writer Dasa Drndic. Her treatment of historical amnesia, political despair, and shame felt amazingly new. When it comes to watching writers metabolize “this moment”, I was impressed by Megha Majumdar’s novel “A Burning” about increasing extremism in India. I’ve also been moved by writers exploring how to most effectively write about climate change – Emily Raboteau, Lydia Millet, Amitav Ghosh, and Jenny Offill come to mind.

What is the book on each of your 10 favorite lists that surprised you the most?

Dwight: Philippe Lançon, who wrote a review for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was in his offices on the morning of January 7th, 2015 when two armed men loyal to ISIS squeezed in and slaughtered 12 people. Eleven others were wounded, including Lançon, who essentially had the lower part of his face shot down. His memoir, Disorder: Charlie Hebdo Survival, is exceptional. It’s about his long road to recovery, but it’s also about his life and his love and his wide-open senses.

That’s it for this briefing. Until next time.

– Dani

Many thanks
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

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