Your Thursday Briefing

We’re covering a deal to make a Covid treatment widely available and opposition parties teaming up in Japan’s elections.

The South African company Aspen Pharmacare, which will apply for a license from Merck. Credit…Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Merck agrees to share its Covid pill

The American pharmaceutical giant granted a royalty-free license for its promising Covid-19 pill to a U.N.-backed nonprofit.

The deal with Medicines Patent Pool would allow companies in 105 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, to sublicense the formulation for the antiviral pill, called molnupiravir, and begin making it. It can be manufactured and sold cheaply in poorer nations where vaccines have not been readily available.

Advocates for treatment access welcomed the deal, which was announced Wednesday. More than 50 companies, from all regions of the developing world, have already approached the organization about obtaining a sublicense.

Details: Merck reported this month that the drug halved the rate of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk Covid patients in a large clinical trial.

Quotable: “This is the first transparent public health license for a Covid medicine, and really importantly, it is for something that could be used outside of hospitals,” said Charles Gore, director of the Medicines Patent Pool.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • A congressional panel in Brazil voted to recommend nine criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro, including “crimes against humanity,” over his response to the pandemic.

  • Fully vaccinated Australians will soon be able to travel abroad freely.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

China’s hypersonic missile test

A Chinese test of a hypersonic missile designed to evade American nuclear defenses was “very close” to a “Sputnik moment” for the U.S., Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday. His remarks confirmed how Beijing’s test took American officials by surprise.

The tests, General Milley said, were a “very significant technological event,” and he said “it has all of our attention.”

Hypersonic missiles can quickly maneuver and alter course, and they are virtually impossible for existing U.S. defenses to intercept.

Details: Two separate tests took place this summer that made it clear the hypersonic missile could be launched to go over Antarctica. U.S. systems are all pointed west and north over the Pacific, meaning they might fail in countering an attack from the south.

Tadashi Shimizu, a candidate for the Japan Communist Party in the upcoming election, speaking to voters in Osaka, Japan, earlier this month.Credit…Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Japan’s Communists become an election target

Japan’s antiwar, pro-democracy Communist Party has very little support in polls. But, for the first time, it has teamed up with other opposition parties ahead of Sunday’s elections, making it a handy boogeyman for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The Liberal Democrats are not likely to lose power. But with their popularity sagging amid a weak economy and questions over their handling of the coronavirus, they have tried to change the subject by painting the vote as a choice between democratic rule and Communist infiltration.

The Japan Communist Party has long provoked government animosity and been labeled a security threat — even though it broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s, and is one of the Chinese Communist Party’s biggest critics in Japan.

Related: As many other countries liberalize their laws on cannabis amid evidence of medical benefits, Japan has doubled down on its hard-line position, ramping up arrests and battling marijuana-friendly information from abroad.


Asia Pacific

Students during a break in between classes in Balkh, Afghanistan, this month.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times
  • The Taliban have permitted Afghan girls in a few areas to return to middle and high school under strict gender segregation, but across the country, most girls have not been allowed back.

  • The tiny Australian town of Quilpie in Queensland, with a population of 575 people, has attracted international interest for offering “free” plots of land to people willing to build a house there.

  • Bombings in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city, injured at least nine people, in what appeared to be an attack by militants opposed to the junta, The A.P. reported.

Around the World

“I think there was some complacency on this set,” Sheriff Adan Mendoza said at a news conference in Santa Fe. Credit…Adria Malcolm/Reuters
  • The assistant director of the film set in New Mexico where a fatal shooting took place said he did not thoroughly check the gun he handed to Alec Baldwin, which was loaded with a live round that killed the cinematographer.

  • U.S. Democrats hashed out a plan to tax billionaires, hoping to extract hundreds of billions of dollars to help pay for their social safety net and climate change policies.

  • The Israeli government advanced plans to build more than 3,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank. The U.S. has objected to the move.

  • Iran’s chief negotiator said the country would return to nuclear talks in Vienna in November.

  • President Biden and other leaders of the Group of 20 nations are expected to finalize an agreement on a minimum global tax this week in Rome. Here’s how the deal came together.

  • Haiti is facing a severe fuel shortage that is pushing it to the brink of collapse.

A Morning Read

A room in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, Russia.Credit…Mary Gelman for The New York Times

Russia reopened the last home of Nicholas II, a century after his execution. Alexander Palace outside of St. Petersburg has been opened to the public after more than a decade of work to restore the stately yellow edifice to its early-20th-century glory.


Abba’s comeback

Gimme gimme gimme … another Abba album!

After 40 years, the Swedish pop group is back with “Voyage,” a new 10-track album, set to come out on Nov. 5. “We took a break in the spring of 1982 and now we’ve decided it’s time to end it,” the band said in a statement.

The popularity of Abba’s music hasn’t waned: “Abba Gold,” a compilation that came out in 1992, is on the British charts more than 1,000 weeks after its release. The musical “Mamma Mia!” — which incorporates Abba’s hits into its story — prompted a number of imitators and two film adaptations. And fans are still obsessed. (On that note, we want to know what Abba’s music means to you.)

This time around, none of the four band members, who are all in their 70s, will perform in person, Elisabeth Vincentelli writes in The Times. Starting in a custom-built London venue next year, they will perform as avatars — Abbatars — designed to replicate their 1979 look. Here’s one of the new songs, “Just a Notion.”


What to Cook

Credit…Christopher Testani for The New York Times.

Mushrooms and black beans are the perfect pairing for a hearty vegetarian chili.

What to Listen To

The pop singer Self Esteem is touching a nerve with honest songs about not having it all figured out.

What to Read

“The Chancellor,” Kati Marton’s biography of Angela Merkel, is “a balm,” our reviewer writes. “It’s instructive to spend time in Merkel’s competent and humane company.”

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Scooped-out parts of a pumpkin (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. The Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Karen Weise were interviewed on the show “Marketplace” about their reporting on Amazon’s treatment of its employees.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Sanam Yar wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at

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