Your Thursday Briefing

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.Credit…Pool photo by Tolga Akmen

Omicron breaks records in Britain

Britain reported 78,610 new coronavirus cases yesterday, the highest number in a single day since the pandemic began, as the Omicron variant rampages across the country. Officials have not announced any further restrictions, though the prime minister, Boris Johnson, urged the public to be judicious in socializing during the holidays.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned that further records would be broken in coming days, with cases of the Omicron variant doubling nearly every two days in parts of the country. While the effects on hospitalizations and deaths remain unclear, the country’s health services face a deluge of patients because of the growth in case numbers, he said.

Johnson has redoubled his campaign for people to get vaccine boosters. The government hopes to deliver boosters to all adults by the end of the month, a target that would require administering more than one million shots a day. About 650,000 people received shots on Tuesday, another record.

Quotable: “This is a really serious threat,” Whitty said. “It is moving at an absolutely phenomenal pace.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Hong Kong researchers found that two doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine were inadequate against Omicron.

  • The authorities in Germany are investigating a plot to kill a governor over his support for coronavirus restrictions.

  • Booster doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are likely to offer a substantial increase in protection from the Omicron variant, the top U.S. health official said.

  • Covid deaths in the U.S. surpassed 800,000, the highest known number in any country in the world.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping during their videoconference.Credit…Yin Bogu/Xinhua, via Associated Press

A united front between Putin and Xi

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the leaders of China and Russia, met yesterday in a video summit in a show of solidarity between the two autocrats, both of whom face growing Western pressure.

At the meeting, Xi proposed that Russia and China cooperate to “more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.” He also secured a public pledge that Putin would attend this winter’s Beijing Olympics, which officials from countries including the U.S. intend to boycott. It was the 37th time the two men had met since 2013.

There is still plenty of friction between Russia and China, who do not have a formal alliance, over matters like Siberian logging and history. But on trade, security and geopolitics, they are increasingly on the same page, forming a bloc trying to take on American influence as both countries’ confrontations with the U.S. deepen.

U.S.-China relations: China is not living up to its end of a Trump-era trade deal. Now the White House must decide whether to enforce it.

Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia drew early acclaim for his promise to unify his country.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

A Peace Prize that paved the way for war

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with his country’s enemy, Eritrea, ending two decades of conflict between the countries.

In the years since then, Ahmed has used his alliance with Isaias Afwerki, the authoritarian leader of Eritrea, to secretly plot a course for war against their mutual foes in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, according to officials.

Abiy insists that war was foisted upon him. But new evidence shows he was planning a military campaign for months before the first shot was fired. Analysts say that Abiy’s journey from peacemaker to battlefield commander is a cautionary tale of how the West, desperate to find a new hero in Africa, got this leader spectacularly wrong.

Analysis: “The West needs to make up for its mistakes in Ethiopia,” said Alex Rondos, formerly the E.U.’s top diplomat in the Horn of Africa. “It misjudged Abiy. It empowered Isaias. Now the issue is whether a country of 110 million people can be prevented from unraveling.”


News From Europe

Credit…Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • A Frenchwoman who joined the Islamic State, and whom France refused to repatriate, died of health complications related to severe diabetes in a detention camp in Syria.

  • A German court sentenced a Russian man to life in prison for the murder of a former Chechen separatist in 2019, saying the attack had been orchestrated by Moscow.

  • Malta became the first E.U. country to legalize the growing and use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

Around the World

Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press
  • North Korea has executed at least seven people in the past decade for watching or distributing K-pop videos, according to a rights group. Above, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

  • Faced with potential censure, Iran agreed to replace surveillance cameras at a site that manufactures centrifuges, even as it continues to block U.N. inspectors from viewing the videos those cameras produce.

  • As Turkey grapples with soaring inflation and surging prices, bread lines have started to appear in neighborhoods as growing numbers of people turn to cheap, government-issued bread to fill their tables.

  • Jacob Zuma, the former leader of South Africa, must return to prison, a judge ruled.

What Else Is Happening

  • The authorities in New York returned 150 antiquities from a one-man, three-decade smuggling spree to Italian officials.

  • Afghan refugees settling in the U.S. are running into an unexpected problem: the housing crisis.

  • New York will ban gas stoves, space heaters and water boilers in new buildings to try to cut the use of fossil fuels.

A Morning Read

Credit…The New York Times

When you look back on 2021, what images spring to mind? Editors at The Times collated dozens of pictures to tell the story of the year through the language of photography.

Lives Lived

Credit…Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

The Black feminist writer bell hooks, whose incisive, wide-ranging writing on gender and race helped push feminism beyond its white, middle-class worldview, has died at 69.


Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Steppe-to-shelf sweaters

At the beginning of spring, cashmere collection begins in Mongolia — which produces a third of the world’s cashmere — and in Inner Mongolia in northern China. The process occurs only once a year.

In many cases, the herders have worked with Loro Piana, a luxury brand known for its plush knits, for generations. The product of their work will be touched by approximately 100 hands in at least three countries, from Mongolia to Italy to its final store, over a period of 18 months to two years.

Soon, the garments that cashmere becomes will include tags that trace the cashmere’s journey from herd to bale to sweater. It may seem like a simple thing: a brand knowing exactly where and how its products are made.

Yet the fashion supply chain is so complicated, its many moving parts spread out over so many countries and processes, that for most of us the origin stories of our clothes are almost entirely opaque. Here’s what Loro Piana’s supply chain looks like, beginning with Ha Si Ba Gen, a rancher in Mongolia.


What to Cook

Credit…Kelly Marshall for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Roscoe Betsill. Prop Stylist: Getteline Rene.

Our columnist Yewande Komolafe explores the role of plant-based cooking in West Africa and the diaspora — like these delicious roasted mushrooms in ata din din.

What to Watch

The new series “Station Eleven,” based on the novel by Emily St. John Mandel, is the most uplifting show about post-apocalyptic life that you are likely to see.

Tech Tip

Four ways toward a healthier tech life in 2022.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Bird with light blue eggs (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Natasha

P.S. The Live team is welcoming two new photo editors, Sarah Eckinger and Guillermo Hernández Martínez.

“The Daily” is about an economic catastrophe in Afghanistan.

Whet Moser wrote today’s Arts and Ideas. You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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