Your Thursday Briefing

The Chinese Consulate in Houston was ordered to close by the U.S. 

Good morning.

We’re covering a flare-up of tensions between the U.S. and China, a U.S. move to secure millions of doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine and China’s Mars mission.

China vowed to retaliate after the United States abruptly ordered China to close its consulate in Houston by Friday. Washington has accused Chinese diplomats of aiding economic espionage and of attempted theft of scientific research.

Hours after the administration issued its order to the Chinese ambassador on Tuesday, consulate employees burned papers in open metal barrels in a courtyard of the Houston building, prompting police officers and firefighters to rush to the area.

Context: The order was a sharp escalation of the U.S.’s moves against China, and comes after the pandemic and Beijing’s repressive measures in Hong Kong have spread tensions to virtually every aspect of the two countries’ relationship. President Trump’s campaign strategists, anxious about his failures on the pandemic, have recently been rolling out a blanket anti-China message to appeal to his supporters.

Related: Several Chinese firms and the major international brands they supply pushed back against the Trump administration’s decision to blacklist 11 Chinese companies for aiding human rights violations, saying they had found no evidence of forced labor or other abuses in their supply chains.

The Trump administration announced a huge contract with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech, a smaller German biotech company, for up to 600 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine that’s under development.

If the vaccine proves to be safe and effective in clinical trials, the companies say they could manufacture the first 100 million doses by December. Those in the United States, who are facing the world’s worst outbreak, would receive the vaccine for free.

The announcement came a day after the U.S. daily death toll surpassed 1,000 for the first time. President Trump has acknowledged that the outbreak will probably get worse, and for the first time urged Americans to wear masks.

Details: Pfizer and BioNTech are developing a vaccine that uses genetic material from the virus, known as messenger RNA, to trigger the immune system. The technology can create a vaccine quickly, but has not yet produced one that has been approved and marketed.

Here are the latest updates and maps tracking the pandemic.

In other virus news:

Nepal is lifting most lockdown restrictions and will soon open schools, restaurants and mountain trekking. The government said the number of new infections was decreasing, from a daily high of 700 a few weeks ago to 150 or fewer.

The Nobel Prizes will still be awarded in early October, but the annual banquet in Stockholm to celebrate the winners has been canceled, the Nobel Foundation announced.

China is scheduled to launch its Tianwen-1 spacecraft today, its second attempt to reach Mars. If successful, the mission — which consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover — would give China a scientific presence on the planet.

President Xi Jinping has made space exploration a pillar of China’s future development, with an assortment of missions planned through the middle of the century, many involving human crews.

Details: The Tianwen, or Questions to Heaven, mission was named for a classical Chinese poem from the third century B.C. It is expected to lift off as early as 4 a.m. U.T.C. on Thursday from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island off China’s southeastern coast.

The race to Mars: Only the Soviet Union and the U.S. have managed to arrive in one piece on Mars. The Soviet lander, the first, touched down in 1971, but stopped communicating almost immediately. The U.S. has managed five successful surface landings and is aiming for a sixth in a week. The Hope orbiter, built by the United Arab Emirates, lifted off in a Mars attempt on Sunday.

For companies with suppliers across the globe, the pandemic has snarled shipments, stalled international travel and forced factories to shut down — all against the backdrop of difficult U.S.-China trade ties. But most global businesses are choosing to remain global.

The U.S. has hardly seen a burst of new manufacturing jobs. Most companies that shifted out of China moved to other low-cost countries, like Vietnam and Mexico. Others say China is a growth market they cannot afford to lose. Our economic reporters wrote about this moment of reckoning.

Global warming: For more than 40 years, scientists have said greenhouse gases will warm the planet by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius. Now, a team of researchers has sharply narrowed the range to between 2.6 and 4.1 degrees Celsius, and shifting it toward warmer outcomes. A climate scientist who reviewed the work said, “This is probably the most important paper I’ve read in years.”

Chinese markets: Chinese stocks have risen by nearly a trillion dollars in the span of a few short weeks, shocking even the most sanguine of financiers. Officials warn that the market is overheating, fueling fears that it is headed toward a repeat of the 2015 crash.

North Korean squid: Chinese vessels are fishing squid in North Korean waters, paying the North for fishing rights despite a ban by the United Nations on the trade, according to Global Fishing Watch, a nonprofit group that tracks commercial fishing.

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.

What we’re reading: This commentary in MEL on the controversy over — if you can believe it — lip-biting selfies posted by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the 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: Erykah Badu and Norah Jones are on our list of the best virtual concerts online.

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

We may be venturing outside, but we’re still spending lots of time inside. 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, and, for the youngest ones, this new reality might just seem like everyday reality. Our Parenting site took a look at how children 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!’” Jackson said.

Taking out family 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.”

Dr. Sandra Russ, a professor and psychologist, said studies have 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. See you next time.

— Carole

The Chinese Consulate in Houston was ordered to close by the U.S.