The streets of Amsterdam were quiet on Monday. Credit…Peter Dejong/Associated Press
Another Covid Christmas for Europe and the U.S.
New coronavirus cases are surging in the U.S., prompting governors and mayors to once again reintroduce restrictions. Federal officials say that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus now accounts for three-quarters of new cases in the country.
In Europe, countries are split between imposing new measures to curb the spread, as the Netherlands and Denmark have done, or adopting a wait-and-see approach. France has ruled out lockdowns, curfews or closures, betting on its high vaccine and booster coverage. Britain has yet to announce whether it will impose a lockdown before Christmas.
In all of these countries, economic and political concerns — just days before the holidays — are also guiding governments, amid uncertainty about just how big a risk the variant poses. Epidemiologists have warned that even if Omicron is eventually shown to cause less severe illness, its rapid spread could still send huge numbers of people to hospitals.
Quotable: “It’s annoying, but this year there’s at least more of a Christmas spirit than last year, when we had a curfew,” said one Parisian. “We couldn’t go out and enjoy Christmas decorations.’’
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
Rafael Nadal tested positive for the coronavirus, raising doubts about whether he will return for the Australian Open next month.
Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine was authorized in Europe.
Moderna says its booster significantly raises the level of antibodies against Omicron.
Markets sank on Omicron fears.
The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was canceled.
Foreign drones tip the balance in Ethiopia’s civil war
A stunning military victory this month for Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s embattled prime minister, was made possible by a fleet of combat drones, recently acquired from foreign allies who hope to keep him in power. The drones pummeled Tigrayan rebels, erasing months of battlefield gains and resulting in their withdrawal.
Over the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran have quietly supplied the Ethiopian leader with some of the latest armed drones, even as the U.S. and African governments urged a cease-fire and peace talks, according to Western diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The motives of Abiy’s allies vary: Some hope to make money, while others aim to gain an edge in a strategic region or to back a winner in the spiraling conflict that has engulfed Africa’s second most populous nation.
Response: Debretsion Gebremichael, the Tigrayan leader, has called for a cease-fire followed by peace talks. “We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace,” he wrote in a letter to the U.N. secretary general.
How China manipulates Facebook and Twitter
Documents reviewed by The Times have revealed in stark detail how Beijing taps private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics and provide other services for information campaigns. That operation increasingly plays out on international social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government blocks at home.
The files — part of a request for bids from contractors that was posted by the police in Shanghai — offer a rare glimpse into how China works to spread propaganda and sculpt opinion on global social media, including through the use of fake accounts and through targeted campaigns against online critics of the state. The documents were taken offline after The Times contacted the Chinese government about them.
The request suggested that police officials understood the need for strong engagement with the public through profiles-for-hire. The deeper engagement lends the fake personas credibility at a time when social media companies are increasingly taking down accounts that seem inauthentic or coordinated.
Telltale signs: Bot networks that have been linked to China’s government stand out for their lack of engagement with other accounts, experts say. Though they can be used to troll others and boost the number of likes on official government posts, most have little influence individually because they have few followers.
THE LATEST NEWS
Around the World
The U.S. and Britain have sent experts to help Ukraine prepare for a possible Russian cyberattack against critical components of Ukraine’s economy and government.
A group of kidnapped missionaries in Haiti described how they escaped their captors in a daring late-night breakout.
Pope Francis denounced domestic violence, which has increased worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic, as “almost satanic.”
Other Big Stories
Donald Trump sued New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, to stop a civil investigation into his business practices.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said that he would try to force a fundamental change in Senate rules if Republicans continued to filibuster to block voting rights legislation.
Though “Q,” the anonymous online account that set off the conspiracy movement QAnon, hasn’t posted in more than a year, the movement is now woven even more deeply into America’s political and social fabric.
What Else Is Happening
A panettone produced at a prison on the outskirts of the Italian city of Padua was named one of the country’s 10 best.
As European countries return museum artifacts, Britain has stayed silent on perhaps the most famous of them all: the Parthenon Marbles.
A Morning Read
A child with a rash. A farmer with ringworm. A man with a throat infection. Each visited Joe Gallagher, a publican and seventh son in the Irish village of Pullough in County Offaly, who laid his hands on the affected areas, performed the sign of the cross and recited some prayers.
He is just one of hundreds of people across Ireland who are said to have “the cure,” an approach to health care that interweaves home remedies with mysticism, superstition, religion and a sprinkle of magic.
ARTS AND IDEAS
To many, Elijah Wood is the hobbit Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings,” a character who first graced the big screen 20 years ago this week in the first installment of the director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Wood, now 40, spoke with The Times about the filmmaking experience.
Life on set: His favorite moments were the mundane ones, “like getting our hobbit feet taken off because we had to vacate set as it started to snow” and weekend surf trips “with the other hobbits and Orlando” Bloom, who played the elf Legolas.
On the current film landscape: “Peter and the larger team were allowed to make the movies the way that they wanted to make them without much outside perspective,” Wood said, referring to the trilogy’s 16 consecutive months of filming in New Zealand. “I don’t know if he would be able to make them in the same way now.”
Keepsakes: Wood kept a pair of hairy hobbit feet. “I’m sure over time they will degrade because I don’t think latex lasts forever,” he said. “But they were in good shape the last time I looked.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Chicken francese, an Italian-American classic, is one of those rare restaurant dishes that’s truly easy to cook at home.
How to keep all that “stuff” in your closets and drawers at bay.
What to Watch
Revisit the best TV episodes of 2021.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Child of cooking fame (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. Leah Askarinam is joining the On Politics newsletter from National Journal.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a teenager in Afghanistan who fled a forced marriage to a Taliban member.
You can reach Natasha and the team at email@example.com.