Your Tuesday Briefing: European Leaders Weigh Covid Rules

We’re covering European nations weighing new rules to stop Omicron and Peng Shuai.

Britain is considering new pandemic restrictions amid a Covid surge.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

European leaders weigh tougher Omicron measures

Five days before a Christmas that many hoped would mark a return to normal, governments across Europe were instead considering tougher rules to protect their health systems from another potentially devastating Covid wave.

In Britain, where new infections driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant have reached their highest levels of the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described an “extremely difficult” surge of hospitalizations in London and said he was “looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control.”

In Germany, where more health workers are testing positive and I.C.U.s and emergency rooms are reaching capacity, government leaders were scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss imposing stricter curbs on gatherings.

And the Netherlands, which has less I.C.U. capacity than many wealthy European nations, has shut down all but essential businesses until the second week of January, even though new case totals have fallen from their late November peak.

Data: Researchers in Denmark, where 77 percent of people are fully vaccinated, found last week that Omicron cases were doubling every two days. With more than 9,000 new cases daily, the nation has one of the highest infection rates in the world.

In London, where cases are doubling every two days, the number of hospitalized Covid patients rose by 30 percent last week.

Quotable: “The big New Year’s Eve parties won’t be able to take place this year,” Hendrik Wüst, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, told the broadcaster ARD.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Novavax’s Covid vaccine was authorized in Europe.

  • U.S. cities are reimposing mask mandates amid a worrying Omicron surge.

  • Moderna says its booster significantly raises the level of antibodies against Omicron.

  • Rafael Nadal tested positive for Covid, raising doubts about whether he will return for the Australian Open next month.

  • Markets sank on Omicron fears.

  • The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was canceled.

Russian hackers took down much of Ukraine’s power grid in 2015.Credit…Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

U.S. and Britain help Ukraine with cybersecurity defenses

The U.S. and Britain have quietly dispatched cyberwarfare experts to Ukraine in hopes of better preparing for a possible next move by President Vladimir Putin of Russia: cyberattacks that take down critical components of Ukraine’s economy and government.

U.S. officials and experts say Moscow’s cybercampaign against Ukraine has stepped up over the past month even while public attention has been focused on the Russian troop buildup. They feel that the goal would be to make Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, look inept — and perhaps provide an excuse for an invasion.

Details: Officials said the U.S. was considering a larger deployment, but it is unclear how much good a bigger team could do. Ukraine’s grid was built in the days of the Soviet Union and upgraded with Russian parts, and the attackers are familiar with the system. “There’s too much to patch,” one American official said.

Quotable: “It’s a widespread campaign targeting numerous Ukrainian government agencies, including internal affairs — the national police — and their electric utilities,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a leading investigator of Russian cyberactivity.

Peng Shuai at the U.S. Open in 2014.Credit…Mike Segar/Reuters

Peng Shuai retracts claims, raising more questions

The Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose account of sexual coercion by a former Communist Party leader galvanized calls for boycotts of the Winter Olympics, reversed her assertion that she had been sexually assaulted by the official.

Peng made the comments to a Chinese-language newspaper in Singapore, but the move was unlikely to shut down global worries about her well-being and suspicions that Chinese officials pressured her to do so. Human rights advocates quickly voiced skepticism.

The Chinese authorities are likely to seize on her statement to the newspaper to push back against calls for a full investigation of her claims and to oppose the Women’s Tennis Association’s suspension of matches in China.

Details: In a post last month on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, Peng described how, in one encounter with the official, she had “never consented.” She then abruptly dropped from public view. But in the comments published in the newspaper, she said, “I want to stress a very important point — I never said or wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me.”


Asia Pacific

Credit…The New York Times
  • Here’s how China manipulates Facebook and Twitter.

  • The Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa landed in Kazakhstan on Monday after a 12-day journey into space, Reuters reported.

  • Japan’s Parliament on Monday approved a record $317 billion budget to help mitigate the fallout from Covid.

Around the World

Gabriel Boric reacts after winning Chile’s runoff election on Sunday.Credit…Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
  • Voters in Chile elected Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old leftist, to be the next president.

  • Foreign drones helped tip the balance in Ethiopia’s civil war.

  • As European countries return museum artifacts, Britain has stayed silent on perhaps the most famous of them all: the Parthenon Marbles.

  • Pope Francis denounced domestic violence, which has increased worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic, as “almost satanic.”

A Morning Read

Joe Gallagher performs “the cure” on Ely’s severe rash, in Pullough, Ireland.Credit…Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Hundreds of men and women across Ireland are healers, or have “the cure,” an approach to health care that interweaves home remedies with mysticism, superstition, religion and a sprinkle of magic. It’s part of a belief in folk medicine, curing charms and faith healers that is still a way of life for many in Ireland, if a fading one.


Rafael Nadal is isolating at home after announcing a positive test on Monday.Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

Omicron hits sports

In March 2020, a canceled N.B.A. game — the so-called Rudy Gobert game — was the moment that the pandemic became a reality for many Americans. Twenty-one months later, the sports world is again the face of an outbreak, this time as Omicron spreads.

N.B.A. officials postponed five games after dozens of players either tested positive or had close contact with someone who had. To help fill their depleted roster, the Brooklyn Nets reinstated Kyrie Irving, who has missed the entire season because he is not vaccinated. He went into Covid protocols — meaning that he tested positive, had an inconclusive test, or had contact with someone who tested positive — before playing a game.

Omicron is affecting other sports, too. The N.F.L. rescheduled three games this weekend to account for outbreaks. The Premier League in England called off most of its games this weekend. And the N.H.L. is postponing 21 games between today and Dec. 23.

For more: In The Times, Kurt Streeter argued that pro sports should take a vacation until at least February.


What to Cook

Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times

If you have malted cream, hazelnut praline and chocolate, make this devil’s food cake.

What to Watch

Get some much-needed laughs from comedy specials by Roy Wood Jr., Bo Burnham, Tig Notaro and others.

Virtual Travel

These rangers are trying to save a Cambodian rainforest.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: How Google makes the bulk of its revenue (three 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. Carlos Tejada, The Times’s deputy Asia editor and a fierce advocate of our journalism, died on Friday. We will miss him.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a teenager in Afghanistan who fled a forced marriage to a Taliban member.

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

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