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GameStop crackdown, new Covid-19 strains, rigatoni bops

A GameStop store is pictured in New York
This story was published on our Quartz Daily Brief newsletter, The concise, conversational rundown you need to start your day.
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Here’s what you need to know

Robinhood restricted GameStop and AMC trading. The market stabilized somewhat, but the stocks rose again when Robinhood announced that the game was back on for Friday—in a limited way.

Novavax said its vaccine is 89% effective… just not against the South African variant. Meanwhile, Pfizer announced its own vaccine worked against lab-made variants resembling those found in South Africa and the UK.

…while Germany cast doubt on AstraZeneca’s. The country’s health ministry recommended the vaccine only for adults aged 18 to 64, despite the drugmaker’s redoubled delivery efforts.

The US economy struggled in 2020. Its 4% GDP growth was even less than expected.

China threatened war on Taiwan. When asked about increased military activity near the island, China’s defense ministry spokesperson said “independence means war.”

Facebook is reportedly building a case against Apple. The social media giant claims Apple’s iOS 14 forces app makers to abide by rules Apple itself has failed to follow.

What to watch for

Robinhood and other brokerages attached sandbags to GameStop and AMC Theaters, and the market regained some stability. Then, the former announced it would allow limited trading on Friday, and share prices strained heavenward again in after hours trading.

Here’s some required reading:

  • What’s it like to be part of the “mother of all short squeezes”? A Reddit user speaks.
  • The biggest space investors are cheering on the GameStop trade. To be clear, not investors from space, but Earthlings who invest in space—and they have their reasons.
  • GameStop is tragically behind the times. Hedge funds had good cause to short the stock, but there’s still time for the company to adapt.
  • Who’s next? Where short interest goes, Reddit could follow. Here are the five companies with the highest short interest as of Jan. 28.
A chart showing the top five companies with the most short interest

Reddit traders broke the law… right?

As Reddit stock traders continue to ride GameStop’s price per share to its inevitable crash, many established investors are certain their jaunt has crossed the line into stock manipulation.

They just can’t figure out where that line is.

Bankers and that one day-trader have been arrested for market distortions that resemble GameStop’s rise. And netizens urging others to “KEEP BUYING AND HOLDING 🚀🚀” sure seems like a coordinated effort.

But even if there is a cynical manipulator that ran afoul of Section 9 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, it would be extremely difficult to prove in court.

✦ One thing we can prove is the value of a Quartz membership. Try it out free for seven days.

Charting sweats vs. jeans companies

Covid-19 has bruised many clothing companies, including makers of jeans. Retailers like Lululemon, meanwhile, have reported strong sales of activewear, which is useful for at-home workouts but also a favorite option for a work-from-couch lifestyle.

A line chart comparing total sales of Levi's to Lululemon from 2016-2021. While Levi's is still on top and both companies suffered during the pandemic, Lululemon is closing the gap.

Levi’s seems to have decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: The company launched a line of sweatpants and sweatshirts late last year, and it’s planning a bigger collection for 2021.

You asked about new Covid-19 strains

Do I have to do anything different to protect myself from the new strains of Covid-19?

New strains of Covid-19 originated all across the globe as a result of routine errors the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes when copying itself over and over.

One of these strains—scientists call it B.1.1.7—originated in the UK. Viruses in the B.1.1.7. lineages have small modifications on their spike proteins. Instead of one set of amino acids, which are the biological Legos that make proteins, they have others—like swapping out a blue brick for a red one. This building block switcheroo makes the spike protein better able to attach to our cells and infect them, microbiologist and immunologist David Topham told Quartz. So far, it seems like the B.1.1.7 variant is about 50% more infectious as a result of these stickier spike proteins, but it doesn’t seem to make the resulting disease any more severe, or evade vaccine-generated antibodies any better.

So, what’s a global citizen like yourself to do? A lot of the same advice we’ve been giving you for months, reader: Hand washing, physical distancing, and mask wearing. The last option is particularly crucial when trying to evade a more infectious strain; doubling up on cloth masks, or adding another layer of filtration like a nylon stocking can add a protective barrier for incoming spittle particles for you and those around you. Although medical grade masks are no longer in severe shortage, they’re still limited—so best leave those to the healthcare professionals.

Surprising discoveries

A video game is based on a box of keepsakes found in the developer’s attic. Players track clues similarly left behind by the main character’s grandmother.

Archaeologists finally learned the name of an early pharaoh’s queen. They also found dozens of tombs that might belong to worshippers of queen Narat’s husband.

Want a car that goes 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h)? That’ll be $11 million.

Americans are smoking again. Pandemic lockdowns and health worries about vaping have boosted cigarette sales.

Barilla made some Spotify playlists to help you cook. Each one is just long enough for al dente pasta.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, forgotten names of Egyptian queens, and really fast cars to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Susan Howson, Marc Bain, John Detrixhe, Katherine Ellen Foley, Liz Webber, and Jordan Lebeau.

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