A closed theater in Albuquerque, where a statewide stay-at-home order is in effect. Jobless claims have been drifting lower lately, despite new restrictions on business activity in some states.
Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

The economy’s ability to shrug off political uncertainty and a surge in coronavirus cases will be tested Thursday morning when the Labor Department reports the latest data on new claims for unemployment insurance.

Claims have been drifting lower lately, despite new restrictions on business activity in some states as the pandemic worsens and the threat of broader lockdowns looms. But new weekly filings for state benefits have not been below 700,000 since mid-March — well above the heights reached in previous recessions and a reflection of the severe economic fallout from the pandemic.

“I think jobless claims will be increasingly important in the coming weeks as a gauge of how the economy is responding to the increase in virus cases,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “I would not be surprised if we have a modest move higher in claims because of the virus.”

The economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter, but many experts feel that it is running out of steam, especially in the absence of any new stimulus from Washington. Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on a new aid package, despite millions of unemployed workers and the near-collapse of activity in sectors like travel and dining.

On Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. called on the two parties to “come together” and enact a stimulus package along the lines of a $3 trillion proposal passed by the Democratic-controlled House.

News that competing vaccines from two companies showed strong evidence of efficacy against the virus has led the stock market higher and fueled hopes the pandemic could be brought under control next year. That would clear the way for renewed growth, many economists say.

“We’re potentially entering a period of softness, but the medium term is more promising,” Ms. Meyer added.

Vaccine trial participants in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in October. Vaccine developers conduct their trials in parts of the world where the virus is spreading.
Credit…Reuters

There is a slender silver lining to the out-of-control pandemic: It is hastening the testing of vaccines that could eventually end it.

The surging number of virus cases has already allowed Pfizer and Moderna to accelerate the testing of their vaccines, which appear to be very effective at preventing Covid-19, and it is likely to speed the evaluations of promising vaccine candidates from other pharmaceutical companies, The New York Times’s Rebecca Robbins reports.

Here’s how the trials work:

  • Late-stage vaccine trials are designed so that the faster participants get sick, the faster drug developers gain enough data to know whether their vaccines are effective.

  • The trial ends after a certain number of cases — around 150 to 170 — have accrued. That number is chosen to make sure the results have sufficient statistical power to tell how well the vaccine works.

  • For example, Moderna, which announced on Monday that an early analysis found its vaccine to be 94.5 percent effective, had planned for an outside panel to take a first look at its data after only 53 cases of Covid-19 turned up in its trial. But the nationwide surge in infections helped Moderna blow past that number: The results were based on 95 sick participants.

  • Hoping to fast-track their testing, drug makers have been setting up trials in virus hot spots all over the world — not just in the United States. For example, Chinese vaccine makers are running late-stage trials of their candidates in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Argentina and Peru.

Credit…Diego Azubel/European Pressphoto Agency

Apple agreed on Wednesday to pay $113 million to settle an investigation by more than 30 states into its past practice of secretly slowing down older iPhones to preserve their battery life.

Apple’s practice of throttling phones was a black eye for the company when it was revealed in 2017, seeming to confirm some customers’ suspicions that their devices got slower when Apple released new phones. Apple said at the time that its software had slowed down phones with older batteries to prevent them from shutting off unexpectedly. Apple offered some customers free battery replacements in response to the controversy.

As part of its settlement with the states, Apple must be more transparent about how it manages battery life on its devices. Apple previously agreed to pay up to $500 million to affected customers to settle a separate class-action suit.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment but pointed to language in the settlement that said the agreement did not mean Apple has admitted any wrongdoing.

Until it was grounded, the single-aisle Max, with up to 230 seats, was a workhorse on routes covering short and intermediate distances.
Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on Boeing’s 737 Max on Wednesday, allowing the plane to return to the skies after being grounded for more than 20 months following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.

Until it was grounded, the single-aisle Max, with up to 230 seats, was a workhorse on routes covering short and intermediate distances. But the lifting of the ban raises several questions about what comes next, The New York Times’s Niraj Chokshi explains. Here’s what we know:

  • Most travelers are unlikely to encounter the Max anytime soon. The F.A.A. must still approve pilot training procedures for the U.S. airlines flying the Max. The planes need to be updated with new software and wiring. And airlines hammered by a steep decline in travel have little incentive to act with urgency.

  • American Airlines is expected to be the first carrier to fly the Max, with plans to use the plane from Dec. 29 through Jan. 4 for flights connecting Miami International Airport and La Guardia Airport in New York. The airline aims to increase service during January, using the Max for as many as 36 flights out of Miami in a single day, according to a letter from American executives to employees.

  • The Air Line Pilots Association expressed confidence in the changes ordered by the F.A.A. The union, which represents nearly 60,000 pilots in North America, including those at Delta and United, said it “believes that the engineering fixes to the flight-critical aircraft systems are sound and will be an effective component that leads to the safe return to service of the 737 Max.”

  • Many experts contend that it won’t take long to restore passenger’s confidence in the jet. Airlines are eager to demonstrate the plane’s safety, assuring customers that they are reviewing its readiness themselves. United said it would conduct “additional pilot training, multiple test flights and meticulous technical analysis to ensure the planes are ready to fly.”

  • The pandemic has relieved some of the pressure to get the plane flying quickly. Because so few people are traveling, airlines can afford to reintroduce the jet gradually without passing up much business, giving them time to show hesitant travelers that the plane can fly without incident. And analysts believe that a few months without any major problems will go a long way in overcoming any doubts.

  • Other aviation authorities will have to issue similar rulings before the Max can operate outside the United States. For example, Canada’s minister of transport, Marc Garneau, said his agency was still conducting its own review and that “there will be differences between what the F.A.A. has approved today, and what Canada will require for its operators.”

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