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Stimulus, Mutating Virus, Barr: Your Monday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

1. Congress is expected to approve $900 billion worth of coronavirus relief measures ahead of a midnight deadline.

After months of gridlock and debate, the House and the Senate are both racing to finalize legislative text and send the measure to President Trump before government funding lapses.

The agreement is set to provide $600 stimulus payments to millions of American adults earning up to $75,000. It is also expected to provide more than $284 billion for businesses and revive the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program for small businesses. (Here are more details on what the latest legislative package will mean for you.)

The travel bans recalled the early days of the pandemic, when international travel ground to a halt. But from a contagion perspective, scientists and experts say the travel bans may be an overreaction.

Just 10 days before the deadline to negotiate a post-Brexit trade agreement with the E.U., Britain’s isolation portended what a rupture between the two sides might look like.

Scientists estimate the new variant is 50 percent to 70 percent more transmissible than the original virus. But that number is based on modeling and has not been confirmed in lab experiments.

In other virus developments:

  • The E.U. authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which will begin rolling out over the next few days, several weeks after Britain and the U.S. granted emergency approval.

  • Roughly six million doses of the Moderna vaccine are being shipped to more than 3,700 locations across the U.S. this week. It offers hope especially for rural hospitals, which often do not have the ultracold equipment or capacity to handle the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

  • For the first time since the Thanksgiving holiday, more than a million people a day passed through airport security checkpoints over the weekend in the U.S., despite warnings from the C.D.C. against traveling.

  • People protesting virus restrictions — many with weapons, body armor or flags supporting President Trump — tried to force their way into Oregon’s State Capitol building in Salem.

  • President-elect Joe Biden was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on live television. He credited the Trump administration for its work on bringing vaccines quickly to market.


3. The outgoing attorney general, William Barr, said he saw no reason for a special counsel to investigate the presidential election, undercutting President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results.

Mr. Barr also said that there was “no basis” for the federal government to seize voting machines, and that he would not appoint a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, son of President-elect Joe Biden.

His comments at a briefing today (above) come two days before he is set to leave his position. It is unclear how much pressure Mr. Trump will put on Mr. Barr’s replacement, Jeffrey Rosen, who will lead the department on an acting basis for the remainder of the president’s term.


4. Mexico misled its citizens about the severity of the coronavirus in its capital.

The federal government had data that should have prompted an immediate lockdown of Mexico City in early December (above). Instead, it kept the city open for another two weeks.

Now the city finds itself in deep crisis.

Last week, Mexico City set record after record for the highest number of patients hospitalized since the pandemic began. Overwhelmed doctors are urging Mexicans to stay home and warning that there are no hospital beds left. And they say they are running out of medicine to sedate patients and specialists to treat them.


5. The mystery of the disappearing manuscripts.

A phishing scam with an unclear motive or payoff is targeting authors, agents and editors in an attempt to steal their unpublished manuscripts.

High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood (above) and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. The phishing emails began at least three years ago in places like Sweden, Taiwan, Israel and Italy. This year, the volume exploded in the U.S.

But the manuscripts do not appear to have ended up on the black market, and no ransoms have been demanded. When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. “The real mystery is the endgame,” said Daniel Halpern, the founder of the publishing imprint Ecco.


6. Convictions and a sentencing in two horrific crimes.

A mechanic from Romania and a truck driver from Northern Ireland, both members of an international people-smuggling gang, were convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in the back of a truck (above) in England last year.

And a white supremacist who live-streamed his efforts to blast his way into a synagogue in Germany last year on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar was sentenced to life in prison. Two people were killed outside the synagogue during the attack.

7. The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupted.

While there were no immediate concerns about evacuations or threats to life, the authorities warned residents to shelter from ash driven by the wind. Lava flowed through three fissure vents that opened on Sunday, letting loose a cascade of lava into the crater, where it boiled off the water and replaced it with a lava lake.

Kilauea lies in the southeast corner of the Big Island, where its decades-long activity has been punctuated by sequences of eruptions. It is considered one of the most active in the world.


8. Taylor Swift has her second No. 1 album of the year.

“Evermore,” the sequel to Swift’s “Folklore,” released in July, topped the latest Billboard album chart. It is her eighth No. 1 album. The Times critic Jon Caramanica wrote this month that the album was “a definitive jolt away from the last near decade of Swift’s high-gloss, style-fluid, emotionally astute big-tent pop.”

The K-pop group BTS and the rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again were the only other artists to top the chart with two different albums in 2020.


9. A miner was looking for a precious metal. What he found was paleontological gold.

The miner uncovered the world’s best-preserved wolf mummy four years ago in the Yukon Territory in Canada, and the scientists studying the 50,000-year-old fossil since then have just reported their findings.

Using carbon dating, DNA studies and biochemical analysis, they learned that this arctic wolf pup was less than 7 weeks old when she died. She was in good health and well nourished — probably from salmon — and she most likely died when the sandy soil of her den collapsed.


10. And finally, Mother Nature unfolds a trifecta tonight.

The winter solstice, a meteor shower and the alignment of our solar system’s two biggest planets all converge at once in a convenient holiday package.

Jupiter and Saturn will look as if they are practically touching, in their closest visible proximity since the year 1226. A bit later in the evening, you might see some fireballs from the Ursid meteor shower, which peaks tonight.

But for many of us, the night’s best gift is that daylight hours will now start to lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere, until the summer solstice in June.

Have a heavenly evening.


Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at briefing@nytimes.com.

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