Vaccine, U.S.-China, Mars: Your Thursday Briefing

The first patient in Pfizer’s vaccine trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore earlier this year.

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Good morning.

We’re covering a $2 billion U.S. contract for a potential vaccine, escalating U.S.-China hostilities and the summer of Mars.

As nations around the world race to lock up coronavirus vaccines even before they are ready, the Trump administration announced a nearly $2 billion contract with Pfizer and a German biotechnology company for 100 million doses.

No vaccine has yet been developed, and it is not clear whether the Pfizer version will work. But if the vaccine being produced by Pfizer and BioNTech proves to be safe and effective in clinical trials, the companies say they could manufacture those first 100 million doses by the end of the year.

The contract is part of the White House’s effort to drastically shorten the time to manufacture and distribute a working vaccine. Europe has a parallel effort underway.

In other virus developments:

More people are on track to be hospitalized with the coronavirus in the U.S. than at any other point in the pandemic. The 59,628people being treated in hospitals on Wednesday is near the earlier peak of 59,940 on April 15, when the center of the outbreak was New York.

President Trump has said that the growing U.S. case count is a result of increased testing. A Times analysis, however, suggests otherwise.

Can you get Covid-19 a second time? It’s very unlikely, experts said. Reports of reinfection may instead be cases of drawn-out illness.

Here are the latest updates and maps tracking the pandemic.

China vowed to retaliate after the U.S. abruptly ordered Beijing to close its consulate in Houston and accused diplomats of aiding economic espionage and the attempted theft of scientific research. The Chinese denied the allegations and called the closure illegal.

The Trump administration’s technique — accuse, condemn, evict — has been used before. But so far, there is scant evidence that it has limited unwanted behavior from either China or Russia, our reporter writes in an analysis.

Washington’s move was a significant escalation of its effort to tighten the reins on Chinese diplomats, researchers, scholars, journalists and others in the U.S. Here’s how the Cold War between China and the U.S. is intensifying.

It’s the summer of the Red Planet: China has launched an orbiter, a lander and a rover to Mars.

Beijing is eager to show that it can manage complex interplanetary missions. Landing on Mars is a feat that only the U.S. and the Soviet Union have achieved before.

The Chinese launch follows the successful launch of a spacecraft built by the United Arab Emirates, which took off on Monday from Japan. A third mission — NASA’s Perseverance rover — is scheduled to launch next week.

The three are taking advantage of the brief window every 26 months or so when Earth and Mars are closer than usual. If all take off successfully, they should arrive at Mars in February.

Diane von Furstenberg’s glamorous personal brand has masked the fact that her fashion line had been losing money for years.

Since the pandemic struck, she has had to move to protect her French and British operations. Now, she is making plans to close 18 of her 19 remaining directly operated U.S. stores.

“There’s no shame in admitting you are in trouble,” Ms. von Furstenberg said. “Corona hits someone a lot worse if they have a precondition.”

Tesla profits: Helped by growing sales in Europe and China, Tesla reported a profit of $104 million in its latest quarter. The results surprised analysts who expected the electric carmaker to lose money amid the coronavirus pandemic and set it up for another milestone: potential inclusion in the S&P 500 index.

Wirecard charges: The former chief executive of Wirecard was arrested on new charges after prosecutors in Munich said they had uncovered evidence that the insolvent payments company had used false accounting to defraud creditors of $3.7 billion.

U.S.-U.K. loophole: Britain and the U.S. agreed to end a legal technicality that allowed an American woman to flee Britain after she was involved in a car accident that killed a teenager almost a year ago.

Slack vs. Microsoft: Slack, the maker of chat and collaboration software for businesses, filed a complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission, accusing the tech giant of using its market power to try to crush the upstart rival.

Russian verdict: An amateur historian who spent decades unearthing the graves of Stalin’s victims was found guilty of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, charges that rights groups, his family and friends have dismissed as politically motivated.

Snapshot: Above, demolition work at the Bui Chu Cathedral in Vietnam. The 135-year-old church, considered by many an architectural gem, is being destroyed to make room for a bigger cathedral despite last-ditch efforts to save it.

Back to work, briefly: Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain who retired from public life in 2017, briefly stepped back into his life of royal duty to hand over a role he has held for nearly seven decades. Philip bestowed on Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the post of Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles, the British Army’s largest infantry regiment.

Liverpool celebrates: Fans were not allowed inside to watch Liverpool’s players lift the Premier League trophy, but the show that took place was still joyful.

In memoriam: Tony Elliott, who started the Time Out global publishing empire in his mother’s London kitchen in 1968, died on July 16 in London at age 73. “His thing was, ‘I had one idea, but it was a good one,’” his widow said.

What we’re reading: This commentary in MEL on the lip-biting selfies of Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton.” Taylor Lorenz, a Styles reporter, calls it “an astute critique of the lip bite as a selfie pose and a great explanation of a meme that’s become inescapable on TikTok this week. And yes, there’s already a Lin-Manuel Miranda lip-bite face mask.”

Cook: This sheet-pan fish with chard and spicy red pepper relish combines a piquant, fiery relish with a tender white fish and leafy greens for an easy meal.

Watch: A soundstage production from Erykah Badu and a Norah Jones “mini-concert” are on our list of the best virtual concerts online.

Read: The latest crop of horror fiction includes “Malorie” — Josh Malerman’s sequel to “Bird Box” — as well as “Mexican Gothic,” “Wonderland” and more.

We may be venturing outside, but we’re still spending lots of time indoors. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do to make it fun.

For adults, the pandemic upended life. But children are adaptable. Our Parenting site took a look at how kids are making the coronavirus part of playtime. Here’s an edited excerpt:

Nicole Campoy Jackson said her 4-year-old son, Finn, was planning what he calls a “Goodbye Germs” party, an all-out celebration of when the pandemic has passed. “We have our menu. He wants to have pizza. And anytime I get something new that’s really good,” said Ms. Jackson, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., “if it’s something delicious, he’ll say ‘Oh, we gotta save this for the ‘Goodbye Germs’ party.’”

Finn and his mother also pass the time — and these days, there’s a lot of it — by doing what we all want to do from time to time: closing the windows and screaming at the top of their lungs. “We get really loud and angry and we point to a window and yell, ‘Germs, you get outta here!’” Ms. Jackson said.

Taking out frustrations about the virus by incorporating it into a make-believe world is something Jacob Krantz, 3, and his mother, Jessica, have also embraced. The two recently joined forces as The Incredibles — mother as Elastigirl, son as Dash — attacking a supervillain known as the coronavirus.

“That day, just out of the blue, he was like, ‘Let’s go save the world, we’re going to kill coronavirus,’” Ms. Krantz said. Jacob announced his plans by saying, “First we kill the virus, then we kill the germs, then we kill the colds.”

Sandra Russ, a professor and psychologist, said studies had shown children in pediatric hospitals who incorporate their experience into play — by performing “surgery” on their stuffed animals, for example — experience less anxiety than those who do not.

“For most kids, this is a healthy and normal way for them to deal with scary things that are going on in their world,” she said. “This is the new monster.”

That’s it for this briefing. Need a good book? Zadie Smith’s latest is a slim collections of essays. See you next time.

— Victoria

The first patient in Pfizer’s vaccine trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore earlier this year.