Your Thursday Briefing

Travelers at New York’s La Guardia Airport in November. Credit…DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times

The unfairness of the global pandemic response

As wealthy countries scrambled to shield their populations from the Omicron virus variant with travel bans and booster shots, the W.H.O. scolded them, calling the steps ineffective and unfair. The appearance of the new variant, about which little is known, has reopened fraught questions of equity in how the world has handled the coronavirus pandemic.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the spread of Omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said. He praised Botswana and South Africa, where the earliest cases of Omicron were detected last month, for promptly reporting the findings to international health authorities.

Separately, the organization’s member states took the first step yesterday toward what many governments hope will be a legally binding treaty intended to ensure a more coherent and equitable response to future pandemics.

Omicron: California confirmed the first known case of the variant in the U.S., health officials said. It has rapidly has become by far the most prevalent version of the coronavirus spreading in South Africa, replacing the fading Delta variant.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Several English theaters have voluntarily made masks compulsory in response to the new variant.

  • Nigeria and Ghana identified the Omicron variant in travelers.

Anti-abortion activists and pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Abortion ruling could affect the U.S. midterms

The Supreme Court seemed poised yesterday to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even though doing so would be flatly at odds with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, currently around 23 weeks.

If the court does uphold the law, it would immediately elevate abortion rights into a defining issue in next year’s midterm elections and most likely reinvigorate efforts to overhaul the court itself. Democrats are already warning supporters that the court is poised to reverse access to abortion, nearly 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right.

The ruling could have a monumental impact on access to abortions in the country and would pave the way for at least 20 states to make almost all abortions unlawful. The decision is not expected until late June or early July.

On the ground: The Times visited Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, which is busier than ever.

Polish police officers at the border between Belarus and Poland.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

New E.U. measures take aim at Belarus asylum seekers

The E.U. yesterday proposed new measures that would allow Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the member states bordering Belarus, to suspend some protections for asylum seekers, including extending how long they can be detained while their applications are being processed. Aid groups said the rule change would leave applicants in a state of limbo and in increasingly unsafe conditions.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said the measures would be temporary and were aimed at giving member states “flexibility” in dealing with asylum claims as they addressed the emergency situation in Belarus. Thousands remain stranded in freezing temperatures there, and at least 12 people have died during the crisis.

The three countries have taken a hard line against the migrants who have been trying to enter the E.U. in recent months, and the bloc has stood with them even as border guards have illegally pushed back migrants or refused to process asylum requests, violating E.U. and international law.

Background: For months, E.U. officials have accused Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s autocratic leader, of orchestrating “hybrid warfare” by helping migrants reach the E.U.’s eastern border. Last month, the Belarusian authorities moved thousands of migrants from a sprawling encampment near the border.


Around the World

Credit…Andy Brownbill/Associated Press
  • The Women’s Tennis Association said it would suspend tennis tournaments in China after the Chinese player Peng Shuai disappeared from public life after accusing a former top government official of sexual assault.

  • Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, demanded “legal guarantees” that the NATO alliance would never expand eastward, ratcheting up the stakes as the West scrambled to respond to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

News From the U.S.

Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
  • Four students were killed in a shooting on Tuesday at a high school in Michigan. The 15-year-old suspect faces murder and terrorism charges.

  • “We are in triage mode”: Widespread staff shortages and mental health struggles have brought America’s schools to the brink of crisis.

What Else Is Happening

  • The Belfast-based Array Collective, which stages carnivalesque interventions at political rallies, has won the Turner Prize, the biggest award in British art.

  • A former Christie’s executive has joined cryptocurrency experts to create a company that purchases art and sells fragments of those pieces as NFTs.

  • This South American dinosaur had a battle ax for a tail.

A Morning Read

Credit…Lorenzo Casalino and Abigail Dommer, Amaro Lab, U.C. San Diego

How does the coronavirus survive in the air? A new simulation shows how the virus sustains itself inside tiny airborne particles of water — and gives clues about how the Delta variant became dominant.

“Putting a virus in a drop of water has never been done before,” said Rommie Amaro, the biologist who led the effort. “People have literally never seen what this looks like.”


Lil Nas X couldn’t beat Drake on the Billboard album chart, but he was thrilled to be in competition with his idol.Credit…Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Pop music’s new guard

A new class of Gen Z artists have cemented their A-list status in the pop industry.

For years, 19-year-old Billie Eilish had shouldered “the burden of representing her entire generation” in the music establishment’s eyes, Lindsay Zoladz writes in The Times. That’s changed: Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, Chloe Bailey, Normani and the Kid Laroi are part of the new guard climbing the charts and securing Grammy nominations.

These artists grew up on the internet, admiring musicians who are now their contemporaries. Lil Nas X was an extremely vocal member of Nicki Minaj’s online fan army, while Olivia Rodrigo, a well-documented Swiftie, interpolated a riff from Taylor Swift on her debut album.

In some cases, established stars shepherded the careers of these younger artists. Beyoncé signed the R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle to her label as teenagers, to give one example: Her influence is clear in the now-23-year-old Chloe Bailey’s solo track “Have Mercy.” But other upstarts have a more complicated relationship with their forebears: Both Minaj and Drake declined invitations to collaborate on Lil Nas X’s debut album.

It’s all evidence of “the growing generational divide between pop’s millennial elders and their Gen Z heirs,” Lindsay writes. The younger artists “represent something thrillingly — and, perhaps to some, threateningly — new.”


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

This simple dish showcases the silky texture of soft tofu.

What to Watch

Here’s a guide to the new documentary “The Beatles: Get Back.”

Art and Design

A new exhibit at the Design Museum in London explores — and reframes — Amy Winehouse’s life and legacy. See some of the items on display.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “Sad trombone” sound (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. Variety wrote about our Op-Docs series.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Amazon and the labor shortage.

Sanam Yar contributed to today’s Arts and Ideas. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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