Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

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

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 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.

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

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.

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.”

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