Your Tuesday Briefing

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the evolution of the pandemic was still unclear.Credit…Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Will Omicron bring an end to the pandemic?

Speaking at the online World Economic Forum, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for Covid, said it was too soon to say how the Omicron variant would change the course of the pandemic. The sheer volume of cases could have a meaningful effect on collective immunity, he said, but the evolution of the pandemic was still unclear.

“It is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for,” he said, adding: “That would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response.”

Cases remain extremely high across the U.S., averaging nearly 802,000 per day, an increase of 98 percent over the past two weeks. An average of nearly 156,000 people with the virus are hospitalized nationwide, a record. Deaths now exceed 1,900 per day, up 57 percent over two weeks.

Next steps: Dr. Fauci said the world was still in the first phase of the pandemic — “where the whole world is really very negatively impacted.” The next phases are deceleration, control, elimination and eradication. In the control phase, he said, the virus will become a “nondisruptive presence” and be considered endemic.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • China scrapped plans to sell tickets to the public for the Winter Olympics, less than two days after health authorities reported Beijing’s first case of the Omicron variant.

  • The tennis star Novak Djokovic returned to Serbia after his deportation from Australia over his vaccination status.

  • Australia will recognize Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for incoming travelers.

  • Health officials in the U.S. are figuring out how to convey a tough message to the public: that the science is incomplete, and that this is our best advice for now.

Maltby & Greek, a specialty importer at Spa Terminus in London. Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

European products and British headaches

For British companies that depend on fast, small deliveries from Europe, the costs of new Brexit trade rules are mounting. They now have to contend with additional forms, customs charges and health safety checks for goods to cross Britain’s border.

After a yearlong delay, on Jan. 1, Britain stepped up its enforcement of customs requirements for goods coming from the E.U., which in 2020 accounted for half of all imports into the country. Now, the goods must be accompanied by customs declarations, and businesses importing animal and plant products must notify the government of shipments in advance.

For food importers, this is a particular problem. Some British businesses are taking on the export costs of their European suppliers to avoid losing them. Others are just importing less, reducing the choices for customers. Still others are restricting purchases to bulk orders and forgoing trying new products.

Analysis: “We are past the point of having wild shortages,” said David Henig, a trade policy expert in London, who compared the damage to a “slow-boiling frog.” The extra costs will eat away at Britain’s economy, with independent forecasts indicating an eventual shortfall of about 4 percent of gross domestic product.

A newborn at a hospital in Danzhai, China, last year.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China’s looming demographic crisis

China’s birthrate plummeted for a fifth straight year in 2021, moving the world’s most populous country closer to a demographic crisis that could undermine its economy and even its political stability. The birthrate was lower even than the most pessimistic estimates, experts said.

Births fell to 10.6 million in 2021, compared with 12 million the year before. That was fewer than in 1961, when the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s economic policy, resulted in widespread famine and death. Growth in the last quarter of 2021 slowed to 4 percent.

China’s population could soon begin to contract, something that would be hard to reverse and might result in labor shortages. To counter the problem, the Chinese Communist Party has loosened its notorious “one child” policy and offered incentives to young families. But the changes come as social and economic conditions have improved for women, an increasing number of whom don’t want children.

Quotable: “The year 2021 will go down in Chinese history as the year that China last saw population growth in its long history,” said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine.


News From Europe

Credit…Francois Mori/Associated Press
  • Éric Zemmour, the anti-immigrant far-right pundit who is running in France’s presidential elections, was fined 10,000 euros for inciting racial hatred and making racially insulting comments.

  • Russian diplomats have been told to prepare to leave Ukraine, in a possible clue to Vladimir Putin’s next move.

  • Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro Poroshenko, returned to Kyiv, where he faced possible arrest — adding turmoil to the threat of a Russian invasion.

  • Eastern Europe has become a fertile ground for new forms of censorship using subtle tools.

Stories From the U.S.

  • Relatives of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, calling for the Senate to pass voting rights legislation.

  • Officials are investigating whether Malik Faisal Akram, the Texas synagogue attacker, was motivated by the case of Aafia Siddiqui, who has spent almost 12 years in prison on terrorism charges.

  • The rabbi who was held hostage at the synagogue said he and two other hostages escaped by throwing a chair at the gunman and then fleeing.

Around the World

Credit…Tonga Geological Services, via Reuters
  • Overseas Tongans were anxiously waiting to hear from loved ones after a huge undersea volcanic eruption severed communications lines two days ago.

  • North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast yesterday, its fourth weapons test in a month.

  • The Houthi militia in Yemen attacked Abu Dhabi in an apparent drone strike that blew up several fuel tankers and killed three people.

A Morning Read

Credit…Daro Sulakauri for The New York Times

Bidzina Ivanishvili, an eccentric billionaire and the former prime minister of Georgia, may officially be retired, but many Georgians believe he still wields substantial political power behind the scenes.

One particular eccentricity is his infatuation with trees, a love so great that some have ruminated that he may be a druid who worships them. This fondness comes through particularly in Ivanishvili’s personal park, which was opened to the public in 2020 and which is home to more than 200 transplanted trees, each personally vetted by him.


Milena Smit, left, and Penélope Cruz in “Parallel Mothers.”Credit…Iglesias Más/Sony Pictures Classics

Fuller views of motherhood

Mainstream films and TV shows often paint motherhood in broad strokes: A mother is endlessly devoted to her children, or her absence serves as fodder for a protagonist’s origin story, as Amanda Hess writes in The Times. But some recent productions are challenging those notions with complex portrayals.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Leda (played by Olivia Colman), an academic, leaves her young daughters to pursue her career, as many deadbeat fathers have done before her. “Children are a crushing responsibility,” she tells a pregnant character. Yet the movie withholds judgment and depicts Leda as a human being, not a monster. “We can dislike her, but we are never permitted to revile her,” Jeannette Catsoulis writes in a review.

There’s also Penélope Cruz’s character, in “Parallel Mothers,” a pregnant 40-year-old who befriends a teenage mother-to-be and makes an immoral decision about their newborns. “Instead of reassuring audiences that mommy is always a bastion of safety, these filmmakers have created mother heroines who are unpredictable, erratic and even a little bit frightening,” Emily Gould writes in Vanity Fair.

Even “And Just Like That …,” the “Sex and the City” reboot, is part of the trend. At one point, Miranda — a mother to a hormonal teenager — tells a character who is considering having children that there are many nights she wishes she could “go home to an empty house.”

These works, Gould writes, “present their mothers as full human beings, even when their needs are structurally opposed to those of their children.”


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Somewhere between a soup and a stew, this Iranian dish is a comforting dinner for a cold day.

What to Read

An “important new book” reopens the cold case of who alerted the Nazis to Anne Frank’s whereabouts, our critic writes.

Virtual Travel

Experience the lunar nothingness of the Skeleton Coast in Namibia.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Greek sandwiches (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

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

P.S. Here’s the process behind a recent Times Magazine cover story on the sex lives of people over 70.

There is no new episode of “The Daily” today. On the Book Review podcast, Robert Gottlieb and Carl Bernstein discuss their new books.

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

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