Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

After a summer lull, France faced a terrifying second wave of coronavirus infections this fall that hit most of the country at the same time and put intense pressure on its hospitals. This week, the country became the first in Europe to surpass two million confirmed cases and the number of hospitalized patients reached a record high.

And yet, a nationwide lockdown that was put in place last month seems to be turning things around.

“Our collective efforts are starting to bear fruit,” Jérôme Salomon, a top health ministry official, said yesterday at a news conference.

France is one of the first countries in Europe to re-enter lockdown, but the restrictions this time around are less harsh than in the spring.

Restaurants, bars and cinemas are once again closed, public gatherings are banned and movement outside the home has been limited. In most French cities, the wearing of masks is mandatory in enclosed public spaces. But parks and schools are still open, restrictions on visits to retirement homes are not as tight and a wider range of businesses are allowed to remain open.

New cases have come down by 32 percent over the past two weeks, and the number of deaths also seems to be stabilizing — an encouraging sign.

Officials say some of the latest restrictions may start to be lifted next month, and small businesses might be allowed to reopen during the run-up to Christmas. Still, the authorities plan to reverse the lockdown slowly, and only if the positive trends continue.

“Your efforts are starting to pay off, you must definitely not stop them,” Olivier Véran, the health minister, told the BFM TV news channel yesterday. “Yes it’s long, yes it’s difficult, but that’s the price to return to a normal life.”

Sweden changes course. In the spring, Sweden opted for a lighter touch in managing the virus. But responding to a fall surge in cases, the government abandoned its old approach, announcing its strictest limitations yet and warning of darker days ahead.

We have an update on Pfizer’s vaccine: The drug maker said today that it had finished its late-stage vaccine trial and that its shot was 95 percent effective, with no serious side effects. It had previously said that its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, based on preliminary data.

The company also said its vaccine prevented mild and severe forms of Covid-19, and was 94 percent effective in older adults, who do not respond strongly to some types of vaccines.

Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said the companies were planning to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization “within days,” raising hopes that a working vaccine could soon become a reality. Pfizer has said that it might have up to 50 million doses available by the end of the year, and up to 1.3 billion by the end of next year, but only about half would go to Americans. Health care workers, as well as vulnerable individuals, like older people, would be first in line to get the shot.

Scientists are calling on Pfizer and Moderna, which also released encouraging preliminary results this week, to provide more detailed analysis of the data — beyond the initial news releases — so they can evaluate the results. Pfizer said it would submit the results for review in a scientific journal and that it was ready to submit two months of safety data to the F.D.A. The agency said it planned to review the data with an outside panel of vaccine experts, a process that could take weeks.

What’s next: If approved, attention will immediately turn to the manufacture and distribution of the vaccine, which requires subzero temperatures and ultracold freezers that many hospitals and injection sites do not have.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I am a school nurse at an elementary school in the suburbs where rates are rising. When a young child has to spend time in the isolation room waiting to be dismissed from school to go for testing, I stay with them and try to make them smile. Every single one of them mentions being “stressed.” So I ask them about their favorite things to do. “If you could go anywhere or take any class right now, like dance, music, art,what would you do?” They get very busy and creative discussing the things they love about hip-hop or painting or playing basketball. Time seems to fly until Mom finally shows up. As I sign them out with instructions for testing, I like to think they are smiling behind those masks.

— Rita A. Kenahan, Rhode Island

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