Good morning. We’re covering another blow to AstraZeneca and checking in with India’s farmer protests, four months in.
AstraZeneca stumbles again
But there was another setback. In a highly unusual move, American officials said that the company’s account of the trial’s findings may have been inaccurate. An independent monitoring board twice asked for a more rigorous approach to determining which trial participants had Covid-19, but AstraZeneca unveiled its interim results on Monday without conducting the full analysis requested.
The company defended its claims of 79 percent efficacy for its vaccine, and said it would release more up-to-date trial results within 48 hours. Global regulators have deemed it safe and effective. But the miscommunication contributed to friction as the company prepares to seek approval from U.S. drug regulators and build confidence around its European rollout.
Context: Health officials around the world had been looking to the shot’s U.S. trial, the largest of its kind, as a crucial guide to their own rollouts: It would supply more data on older people, who had not been as well-represented in earlier trials, and a more precise read on the vaccine’s overall efficacy.
India’s farmers fight
Farmers from Punjab and elsewhere have camped outside New Delhi for four months in protest. At the heart of the dispute is a subsidy system that the government, economists and even many farmers agree is broken.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s haste to remake it — his political party pushed new laws through Parliament in a matter of days — could devastate vast parts of the country where farming remains a way of life. Our reporters looked at what went wrong and take stock of the protests now.
Context: Nearly 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people make a living from agriculture, though the sector accounts for only about 11 percent of economic output. For many, getting another job isn’t an option.
Related: With thousands sleeping in tents in frigid temperatures and scarce resources, many of the farmers have had medical problems. One U.S. doctor whose family friend needed treatment came to help and never left, creating a clinic for the protesters that became a key community center, CNN reports.
Time magazine profiled some of the women leading the protests.
South Koreans are furious over a housing scandal
The outrage erupted after several officials from the South Korean housing agency were suspected of using privileged information to cash in on government programs.
The incident has thrown President Mr. Moon Jae-in’s government into crisis just weeks before key mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan in April, in which expensive housing is a major issue for voters.
Details: Two civic groups were the first to report that 10 officials from the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) bought land in an area southwest of Seoul months before the Moon administration announced a plan to build 70,000 new homes there. The government has identified 20 officials who are suspected of using insider information in the scheme, and the investigation is ongoing.
Context: Rising housing prices have long been one of the country’s biggest policy headaches, especially in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. President after president has promised to fix the issue, but real estate prices kept soaring.
Quotable: “The LH scandal shows how some people in South Korea make a quick fortune through real-estate foul play, while the rest of us can barely buy a house even if we toil and save for a lifetime,” said Park Young-sik, 29, an office worker.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Welcome to BookTok
TikTok’s influence is selling thousands of books. Some enthusiastic readers — mostly women in their teens and 20s — are posting videos of themselves reading or recommending novels. Occasionally, they sob into the camera after a particularly devastating ending.
“It becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” the director of books at Barnes & Noble told The Times. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”
One example: “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. Sales spiked after a popular TikTok video last year, and the book is now selling roughly nine times as many copies a week as it did in 2012, when it won a prestigious fiction award. The book is currently third on the New York Times best-seller list for paperback fiction.