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Good evening. Here’s the latest.
1. On a day of hope, a reminder of the coronavirus’s devastation.
The number of people who died from the coronavirus in the U.S. passed 300,000 today, but the day also marked a turning point for frontline health care workers as they began to receive the first clinically authorized vaccine as part of the mass vaccination program.
“I believe this is the weapon that will end the war,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said this morning, shortly before the first shot was given to Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at a Long Island hospital. Above, Dr. Sylvia Owes-Ansah, an emergency department physician in Pittsburgh, was also among the first recipients of the vaccine.
Residents of nursing homes are also being prioritized and are expected to begin receiving vaccinations next week. But the vast majority of Americans will not be eligible for the vaccine until the spring or later.
3. William Barr is out as attorney general.
President Trump said that Mr. Barr would depart next week, ending a tenure marked by Mr. Barr’s willingness to advance the president’s political agenda.
Mr. Barr, one of the most powerful members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet, had in recent weeks fallen out of favor with the president after acknowledging that the department had found no widespread voter fraud.
But Mr. Trump sought to play down their differences, saying in a tweet announcing Mr. Barr’s departure, “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!”
Jeffrey Rosen, the No. 2 at the Justice Department, will take over as acting attorney general when Mr. Barr leaves on Dec. 23.
4. Americans’ demand for Chinese goods is soaring.
Chinese exports to the U.S. climbed 46.1 percent in November to a record $51.98 billion, defying the expectations of American politicians who had predicted that the pandemic would be a moment to reduce trade with China.
Despite President Trump’s restrictions on Chinese goods, including tariffs on more than $360 billion worth of imports, stay-at-home shoppers are snapping up Chinese-made furniture and appliances, along with Barbie Dream Houses and bicycles for the holidays.
Consumer demand is so strong that it has overwhelmed the capacity of the cargo industry. The surge in shipments is clogging many supply chains, snarling major ports and delaying delivery of holiday gifts by up to several weeks. Above, cargo containers at the port of Oakland, Calif.
5. In London, pubs and theaters are shutting down again.
The British government is tightening restrictions in London, as well as parts of southern England, because of a “very sharp, exponential rise” in coronavirus cases. Health authorities said they had identified a new, faster-growing variant of the virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, already facing a tough week with Brexit, risks additional wrath from Conservatives over the closing of pubs and restaurants again, 10 days before Christmas. Above, the Lyric Theater in London.
In other virus developments:
6. An hour without Google.
At a time when more people than ever are working from home, Google services — including Calendar, Gmail, Hangouts, Maps, Meet and YouTube — all crashed for a bit less than an hour.
The company attributed the problem to an “authentication system outage.” Several of Google’s products have more than a billion global users.
7. Another hazard of social isolation.
A new British study showed that people who lived alone or who had few social contacts were up to 24 percent more likely to have falls than their socially connected peers.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Jane Brody, our Personal Health columnist, says that improving your balance can help you prevent a fall. And increasing the strength of postural muscles can increase your balance.
“No weights or machines are needed to strengthen postural muscles. Rather, the body’s own weight is engaged,” she writes.
8. Tiny fly, huge impact.
Most of us know fruit flies as little dots with wings that hang out near old bananas. But over the last century, researchers have turned the insect — known to science as Drosophila melanogaster — into a sort of genetic switchboard.
Work with these flies has shed light on diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika, taught scientists about decision-making and circadian rhythms, and helped researchers win six Nobel Prizes.
That’s why the people who tend to the flies are so important. At the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center, home to over 77,000 fruit fly strains, employees have worked through the lockdown and afterward to minister to the flies that underpin scientific research.
9. What if streaming movies were free for the holidays?
Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, made that proposal in a letter to the heads of Netflix, Amazon, Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple. They haven’t responded, but don’t hold your breath.
10. And finally, Beethoven’s birthday party.
The grand concert-hall celebrations planned for the German composer’s 250th birthday (the date is thought to be Dec. 16) have been largely silenced by the pandemic.
But the maestro’s works continue to dominate classical programming, and his influence is everywhere. Composers like Brahms, Wagner and even Stephen Sondheim have followed him in building their works from small bits of music.
Here’s almost everything you need to know about Beethoven, collected by our critics and writers who spent the year delving into his life and music.