Your Monday Briefing

Good morning. We’re covering the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, a shadow war between Israel and Iran and Iraqis trying to reach Europe.

Health workers in the Netherlands transported passengers from South Africa to a hotel for quarantine.Credit…Laurens Bosch/EPA, via Shutterstock

Updates on the Omicron variant

The new coronavirus variant, first discovered in southern Africa, is showing up across the world.

Omicron cases have emerged in the Britain, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and other places, usually in people who recently returned from southern Africa. Here’s a map of cases.

The new, highly mutated version of the virus has sent ripples of panic through governments and markets. Its differences may enable it to be more contagious and to sidestep immune defenses, but some experts are pointing hopefully to early signs that it may cause only mild illness.

As fear spread, countries started closing their borders to travel from southern African countries. Israel and Morocco banned all foreign travelers. On Friday, the U.S. announced that it would restrict travel from eight countries.

Context: On Friday, the W.H.O. called Omicron a “variant of concern,” the most serious category the agency uses. Scientists cautioned that relatively little was known about the variant but said that vaccines were still likely to work. Health officials in the U.S. are urging unvaccinated people to get a shot as fears grow.

Lead-up: African officials noted that the West’s hoarding of vaccines had helped create their struggle and lashed out at the travel bans. European countries did not find the variant until after South Africa alerted them to it, demonstrating gaps in their own surveillance efforts.

Name: The W.H.O. skipped two Greek letters, avoiding “Nu,” too easily confused with “new,” and “Xi,” the name of China’s leader.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • As concerts resume in South Korea, fans are being told not to sing along, to keep droplets to a minimum.

  • Merck said that its antiviral pill was less effective than initially reported.

  • People are trolling the social media profiles of Covid-19 victims who had opposed vaccines.

To move pumps back online, Iran had to send technicians to every gas station in the country.Credit…Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA, via Shutterstock

Israel and Iran’s cyberwar grows

The longstanding covert cyberwar between Israel and Iran is expanding past military targets. Now, civilians are bearing the brunt of the shadow war.

In recent weeks, Iranians couldn’t buy gas after a cyberattack paralyzed the country’s 4,300 gas stations. Hackers took control of billboards in cities including Tehran and Isfahan, replacing ads with the message “Khamenei, where is my gasoline?”

Days later, L.G.B.T.Q. Israelis found their intimate details posted online after hackers gained access to a dating site. Hackers also targeted a major medical facility.

The attacks are thought to be the first to do widespread harm to large numbers of civilians, creating widespread chaos and emotional distress.

Nuclear power: Iranian nuclear talks are supposed to resume on Monday, but hopes are fading for a diplomatic resurrection of the 2015 agreement.

Threat to U.S.: The American authorities have warned of Iranian attempts to hack the computer networks of hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

Protests: Separately,Iran violently cracked down on protests against growing water shortages as the vast majority of the country confronts drought.

Migrants who had voluntarily registered for an evacuation flight from Belarus returned to Iraq.Credit…Azad Lashkari/Reuters

Iraqis reach for Europe

About 600 migrants who tried to enter the Europe Union through Belarus have returned to Iraq on the latest government evacuation flights.

Some turned back after a migrant boat capsized in the English Channel last week, killing at least 27 people. “What happened to them could have happened to us — that shocked us,” Shaho Omar, 27, said.

But thousands more are undeterred, even after many failed attempts and deportations. “I thought about breaking my fingers so they would take me to the hospital and we would be able to stay,” said Bria Ali, 21, who has twice tried and failed to reach Europe with her family.

What’s next: Last week, the European Commission said around 15,000 migrants remained in Belarus. Hundreds are still trying to cross into Poland every day. Some Iraqis may also opt to stay in Belarus.

English Channel: After last week’s disaster, France and England are arguing over the growing number of hazardous Channel crossings.One victim was Maryam Nuri, 24, a Kurdish woman who died trying to reach her fiancé in England.


World News

People search for their names at a polling station in Honduras on Sunday.Credit…Orlando Sierra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Hondurans voted on Sunday to choose their next president after weeks of political violence. Follow live updates in English. (Haz clic aquí para leer la cobertura en español.)

  • Afghanistan’s economy is nearing collapse after three months of Taliban rule.

  • The authorities in the Solomon Islands said they had found three bodies after days of riots.

  • Violence is worsening in Darfur as Sudan’s leaders are distracted by a recent coup.

  • At least 52 people died in a gas buildup and explosion in a Siberian coal mine last week, officials said. It was Russia’s worst mining disaster in over a decade.

What Else Is Happening

Sharbat Gula in 1985, left, and nearly two decades later.Credit…Steve McCurry/National Geographic Society
  • Sharbat Gula, “the Afghan girl” whose eyes pierced through a National Geographic cover in 1985, was evacuated to Rome this summer.

  • Virgil Abloh, the barrier-breaking Black designer and artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear, died on Sunday at the age of 41.

  • Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former President Donald Trump, is trying to raise money from Persian Gulf states for his new investment firm.

  • Doctors in Texas say the state’s near-ban on abortions is complicating care for risky pregnancies.

  • Brian Shelton may be the first person cured of Type 1 diabetes, after he received an infusion of lab-grown cells that produce insulin.

A Morning Read

“I arrange the times of operations in a way that I can make it here,” said Dr. Jayanta Ray, 70, a gynecologist and dedicated customer at India Coffee House.Credit…Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

In Kolkata, two storied cafes stand about a five-minute walk apart. One serves coffee; the other only chai. But the main draw is “adda,” the unrestricted talk that has fueled a century of Indian intellectual and political debate.


Stephen Sondheim was busy right until the end.Credit…Daniel Dorsa for The New York Times

Remembering Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of musical theater, died at his home in Connecticut early Friday morning. He was 91.

Sondheim spoke to my colleague Michael Paulson about a week ago in what ended up being his last major interview. He was busy right until the end, attending two revivals of his works and a doubleheader of new Broadway plays, and continuing work on an musical adaptation of two films by Luis Buñuel.

“I’m too old now to do a lot of traveling, I’m sorry to say,” he said. “What else would I do with my time but write?”

Impromptu wakes filled New York City piano bars as news of his death spread through his beloved city. Friday night was especially emotional at “Assassins” and “Company,” two Sondheim productions currently in New York.

“Our industry and our art form owes everything to him,” a voice teacher said, adding: “He is the history of American musical theater in one person.”

Here are ways to stream seven films that celebrate his work, 20 beloved songs and 10 performances from his songbook. And read an appraisal of his work from our chief theater critic, Jesse Green.


What to Cook

Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times

Hanukkah started Sunday. Here are three rich desserts that skip the fryer and an easy, comforting one-pot matzo ball stew.

What to Watch

The new season of “How to With John Wilson” started Friday. The show muses and rambles in a way that thoroughly breaks a mold.


As temperatures drop, plants can still grow in a terrarium. Here are tips to get started.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. My colleague George Gene Gustines walked in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a balloon handler for Pikachu. “My doorman did not even flinch when I walked by in the early hours of dawn on Thursday,” he wrote of his Pokémon jumpsuit. “What does he think of my daily fashion choices?”

There is no new episode of “The Daily.”

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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