Your Thursday Briefing

We’re covering the confirmation of the Omicron variant in the U.S. and the suspension of Women’s Tennis Association tournaments in China.

California reported its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus on Wednesday.Credit…Shelby Knowles for The New York Times

First case of Omicron confirmed in the U.S.

California confirmed the first coronavirus infection with the Omicron variant in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday.

The patient, who returned to California from South Africa on Nov. 22, was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that were improving. Leaders across the U.S. have urged vaccination and masking in response to the variant. Airlines in the U.S. were told to identify passengers who had recently visited southern Africa.

More than a dozen countries across four continents have detected the variant since it was first identified.

South Africa has been sequencing the variant, which now accounts for nearly three-quarters of 249 samples from positive coronavirus tests that were checked in November. Cases are rising sharply, with 8,651 new cases reported on Wednesday, almost twice as many as the day before. The share of tests that are coming back positive has risen to 16.5 percent from 10.2 percent on Tuesday.

“The message from the health ministry is ‘Wait and see, we don’t know enough yet,’” Lynsey Chutel, a Times reporter based in Johannesburg, told me today. The case numbers, she said, were still far lower than in places like the U.S. and Germany.

“What is worrying is that jump in positivity rate,” she added.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The C.D.C. is planning to require international plane travelers to the U.S. to show a negative test that is fewer than 24 hours old.

  • Japan halted new bookings for incoming flights through December.

  • Nigeria and Ghana identified the Omicron variant in travelers.

  • A new simulation shows how the virus survives inside airborne water particles.

Migrants in Belarus stood at the border with Poland in November.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

New rules may restrict Belarus migrants

The E.U. proposed new measures on Wednesday that would allow member states bordering Belarus to suspend some protections for asylum seekers. The move could undermine the ability of migrants to seek refuge in the bloc.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have been taking a hard line against the migrants who have been trying to enter Europe via Belarus.

Officials said the measures would be temporary; if approved, they would remain in force for six months but could be extended. But immigration experts say the new measures will have worrying consequences for asylum rights within the bloc.

Critics also said the move would simply land people in detention for longer periods, creating additional burdens rather than easing the border crisis.

Details: The current registration period for asylum applications is three to 10 days. Under the proposal, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland could extend that to four weeks. The processing time for claims could be extended to four months.

The toll: At least 12 people have died during the crisis, but aid groups say the number could be higher.

People rallied in front of the Supreme Court before hearings in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday.Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

U.S. Supreme Court may uphold restrictive abortion law

The Supreme Court appeared poised to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the most important abortion case in decades, and the questioning during arguments was tense and heated.

The ruling could have monumental impact on access to abortions in the country and could allow at least 20 states to make almost all abortions unlawful. Here are the latest updates.

Such a ruling would be at odds with what the court has said was the central holding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Details: Roe stopped states from banning the procedure before around 23 weeks of pregnancy. The court seemed divided on Wednesday about whether to make 15 weeks the new limit, as is stipulated in the Mississippi law, or whether to completely overrule Roe, allowing states to ban abortions at any time or entirely.

Timing: The decision in the abortion case is not expected until late June or early July. Here’s what happens next.

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


Asia Pacific

The Women’s Tennis Association said it was concerned about the safety of Peng Shuai and objected to China’s treatment of her claims. Credit…Andy Brownbill/Associated Press
  • The Women’s Tennis Association said it would suspend tennis tournaments in China, after an uproar over allegations of sexual harassment by the Chinese player Peng Shuai against a former top official.

  • A game designer bought toy guns as props for video game design and was jailed under China’s strict but messy gun laws.

Around the World

Afghan migrants were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard. They said they were pushed back out to sea by Greek authorities. Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
  • An E.U. interpreter says Greek officials mistakenly expelled him during a roundup of asylum seekers.

  • The U.S. Federal Reserve could pull back economic support faster than planned as concerns over inflation grow.

  • 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’re tracking the updates here.

A Morning Read

Banksy’s “Love Is in the Air” at auction on May 12 at Sotheby’s.Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Loic Gouzer upended the traditional auction format while he was at Christie’s. In May, he teamed up with cryptocurrency experts to purchase the 2005 Banksy painting “Love Is in the Air” for $12.9 million and now plans to sell off 10,000 digital pieces of it as NFTs, or nonfungible tokens. If successful, the venture could help fuel a burgeoning category of art market competition, with consortiums of buyers challenging billionaire collectors.


Credit…Matt Blease

The year’s best books

After a year of reading, meeting, more reading, discussing, culling and voting, the final decision is here: The editors of The Times Book Review have chosen the 10 best books of 2021.

“We deliberated all year with monthly two-hour-long meetings (sometimes longer!) to discuss possible contenders,” Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review, told us. The editors cast votes, and runoffs were often necessary. Below are a few of the choices, and here are all 10. You can also browse our 10-best lists from previous years.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue: Set in a fictional African village, the novel is a decades-spanning fable of power and corruption.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura: A court translator in The Hague is assigned to vanish into the voices and stories of war criminals.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: This novel distills the pleasures and limitations of life split between online and flesh-and-blood interactions.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed: Exploring the racial and social complexities of her home state of Texas, Gordon-Reed asks readers to take a more nuanced look at history.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

Make hearty vegetarian mushrooms and dumplings.


Simple activities like walking may boost immune cells in the brain that help keep memory sharp and even ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

What to Watch

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

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: 404 Page Not Found, e.g. (five letters).

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. — Melina

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

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

Claire Moses wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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