Your Thursday Briefing
A vaccination line in Edinburgh this week.Credit…Jane Barlow/Press Association, via Associated Press
Omicron cases appear less severe, studies say
Separate teams of scientists in South Africa, Scotland and England have found that Omicron infections more often result in mild illness than earlier variants of the coronavirus, offering hope that the current surge may be less catastrophic than feared.
The research suggests that the variant may have biological features that make it somewhat less dangerous than Delta. However, Omicron’s lowered risk of hospitalization in all three countries appears to be due in large part to immunity in those populations, whether from vaccination or prior infection.
Omicron has quickly become the dominant variant in the U.S., Europe and many other regions. Yet additional encouraging news came from South Africa yesterday, suggesting that these surges may not last as long as previous ones: Officials said the wave of infections there may have already peaked.
The latest: Britain surpassed 100,000 daily new coronavirus cases yesterday for the first time. England’s government cut down the isolation period for people who have shown symptoms of Covid-19, to seven days from 10, which could help alleviate medical staffing shortages.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
AstraZeneca is working with the University of Oxford on a booster that targets Omicron.
U.S. regulators authorized the first Covid antiviral pill in the country.
Covid resources: Why masks work; what Omicron’s symptoms are; a guide to rapid-test accuracy; a guide to holiday travel.
India’s persecuted Christians
A wave of anti-Christian violence has swept through villages in India, with groups burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshipers.
Laws have helped them along, like a recent one that targets anyone leading religious conversions with up to 10 years in prison. The police and members of India’s governing party have helped as well, government documents and dozens of interviews revealed. A white-collar army of lawyers and clerks has filed legal complaints against Christian organizations.
In many churches, the act of going to pray can be dangerous. Minority groups have broadly felt less safe in India in recent years, amid growing Hindu nationalist sentiment fanned by politicians.
Secret worship: In some areas of northern and central India, where evangelical Christians are making inroads among lower-caste Hindus, people are holding clandestine church services at night, conducting secret baptisms and passing out small, disguised audio Bibles.
Quotable: “I just don’t get it,” said Abhishek Ninama, a Christian farmer, who stared dejectedly at a rural church stomped apart this year. “What is it that we do that makes them hate us so much?”
Europe’s energy crunch continues
Europe’s energy crunch shows little sign of easing. Supplies of natural gas are tight, and traders doubt the continent has enough of the fuel stored to last a cold winter without disruption. In a worst-case scenario, analysts say blackouts are possible, and factories may be ordered to cut their gas use to ensure households can stay warm.
Low volumes of gas from Russia have helped raise prices in recent months, while tensions over Ukraine make it very unlikely that the giant Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany will open anytime soon and bring relief.
The high gas prices of recent months will eventually lead to rises in energy costs for households in Britain and other countries. Analysts forecast that British consumers, who have been protected by price ceilings, could see their energy bills rise more than 50 percent when adjustments are announced early next year.
By the numbers: European natural gas prices have doubled this month and are roughly 15 times what gas is selling for in the U.S. Electrical power prices are also soaring: In Britain, steady power was trading on Tuesday for about 340 pounds, about $450, per megawatt-hour — about three times the average price of electricity over the year.
Inflation woes: A record annual increase in prices, of 4.9 percent in the eurozone last month, is affecting businesses, factories and consumers — right down to the cost of the humble baguette.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
Libya’s Parliament delayed its long-awaited presidential election, a move that risks further destabilizing the oil-rich North African nation.
A landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar killed one person and left more than 70 others missing.
Three people drowned and up to three dozen more were missing after a smuggling boat carrying migrants from Turkey sank in the Aegean Sea.
What Else is Happening
The Biden administration took steps to let more humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, which is facing a hunger crisis.
A Chinese propaganda network is still highly active on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, researchers found, despite efforts by the platforms to stop it.
An extensive study of ancient DNA suggests that a wave of newcomers — and perhaps the first Celtic languages — came to Britain from France three millenniums ago.
A Morning Read
In an effort to contain the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Israel has barred entry to most international travelers until at least the end of December, leaving the holy sites of Jerusalem devoid of foreign visitors for a second straight Christmas.
Issa Kassissieh, above, a Palestinian Christian and the traditional Santa Claus of the Holy Land, at least brought some Christmas spark to passers-by in the Old City. “Last year, I saw how stressed the children were,” he said. “I saw on their faces that I brought some life back to them.”
ARTS AND IDEAS
The return of ‘Emily in Paris’
With the Netflix show back for Season 2, Jason Farago, a critic for The Times based in Paris, reflects on being just another basic American in the City of Lights. This is a lightly edited extract.
“Emily in Paris” is not trash TV, not some “Real Housewives of Île-de-France.” It’s not even champagne-soaked enough to be escapist. It’s something newer and weirder than those: as insubstantial as a gluten-free meringue from the Bon Marché food hall, so whisper-thin it almost asks you not to watch it, at least not without your phone in your hand.
In this, I have to say, it feels like a breakthrough, though perhaps in the sense that a coronavirus infection can be a breakthrough.
Is “Emily in Paris” in fact an anamorphic projection of @emilyinparis, Emily’s Instagram account, into moving pictures? That’d explain the total lack of impact 20 episodes of this streaming blancmange have had on me, and how little I care that Emily never gets stuck on the RER or waits in line for a visa renewal.
For compared to “Sex and the City” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Emily in Paris” might as well be cinéma vérité, insofar as it shows us the vapidity of the smartphone biographies we all keep compulsively authoring. Some days I wonder if it’s better just to accept that.
What else is there to be done? Insist to your friends (and followers) that Netflix’s Paris is a sham, that you alone have discovered the real city? Is this not the most Emily move of all?
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Pomegranate is the star in this deeply spiced chicken dish.
What to Read
Four new books for last-minute gifts or reading inspiration.
What to Watch
Every scene of Joel Coen’s adaptation of “The Tragedy of MacBeth” is a mini-master class in the craft of acting.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Used a chair (three 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. Grace Maalouf, who edited this very newsletter, is joining The Times’s International desk.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Covid testing crisis.
You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].