Your Wednesday Briefing
Travelers from South Africa being tested for Covid-19 on arrival at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.Credit…Remko De Waal/ANP, via Agence France-Presse
Omicron moves across Europe
The discovery of the Omicron variant in more than 10 European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain, adds further pressure for a continent already buckling under the strain of Covid. In Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, infection rates have already surged to double those of last winter’s peak.
Two KLM flights from South Africa to Europe may have contributed to the spread of the new variant, about which little is known. Of the more than 60 passengers who tested positive for the virus, at least 14 had Omicron, according to Dutch officials.
Andrea Ammon, the top European disease control official, said that all of the people in Europe who were confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant had exhibited mild symptoms or none at all. The variant has been found in at least 20 countries, raising questions about whether the pandemic is about to surge once again.
Britain: In response to the variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson barred travelers from 10 African countries, made masks compulsory in shops and on public transportation and sped up the deployment of vaccine booster shots.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
South African scientists said that while it was too early to be certain, existing coronavirus treatments appeared to remain effective against the Omicron variant.
U.S. health officials will toughen coronavirus testing and screening of arrivals to the country.
Greece made vaccines mandatory for people age 60 and older.
The Turkish lira continues its dizzying slide
Protests have broken out around Turkey after the lira crashed last week, following months of worsening economic conditions for the country’s citizens. The currency has lost more than 45 percent of its value this year, and nearly 20 percent in the last week, continuing its downward trend yesterday.
Economists tied the currency crisis to direct interference by the country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in monetary policy. The latest crash in the currency came after Erdogan had outlined his determination to keep interest rates low as a way of promoting economic growth.
Amid unusual rumblings of public dissent, scores of people have been detained for joining street protests. Last Wednesday, the police detained 70 people in several districts of Istanbul who were protesting the government’s management of the economy, after a record drop in the lira the day before.
Political response: Opposition parties renewed their call for the government to resign and for Erdogan or Parliament to call early elections. Yet they are in a bind, without the seats to force a vote for early elections and wary of setting off unrest that could prompt Erdogan to impose a state of emergency, which would suspend normal democratic procedures.
Greece faces a new claim of migrant abuse
For years, Greek officials have denied allegations that the country’s border agents have brutalized migrants and forcibly pushed them back into Turkey, dismissing the claims as fake news or Turkish propaganda. A single case involving an E.U. interpreter, who was mistaken for an asylum seeker, may now force a reckoning.
The interpreter, a legal E.U. resident employed by the bloc’s border agency, Frontex, said that he had been assaulted by Greek border guards in September and then forced across the border into Turkey alongside dozens of migrants. He has since turned over evidence to Frontex to support his claims of abuse, according to European officials who are dealing with his case.
The E.U., which has mostly looked the other way on abuses of migrants, is now being forced to confront the problem, which has long been alleged by human rights groups. But a Greek government statement cast doubt on his account, saying that initial inquiries had suggested that “the facts are not as presented.”
Response: “I was extremely concerned by his account,” said Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for migration. The interpreter told her he had witnessed at least 100 migrants being pushed over the border and sometimes being roughed up, she said.
THE LATEST NEWS
News From Europe
After months of speculation, Éric Zemmour, an anti-immigration writer and right-wing television star, said he was running in France’s presidential elections next year to “save” the country.
The dancer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Panthéon, France’s hallowed tomb of heroes.
In a trial held in Germany, an Islamic State fighter was sentenced to life in prison for the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl, whom he allowed to die of thirst in Falluja, Iraq.
Other Big Stories
More than 100 former members of the Afghan security forces have been killed or disappeared at the hands of the Taliban since the fall of the government in Kabul in August, according to a new report.
Myanmar delayed a verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader ousted in a February coup.
The Federal Reserve could pull back economic support faster than planned as concerns over inflation grow.
What Else Is Happening
The island nation of Barbados formally became a republic, ending nearly 400 years of British ties.
Three people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Oxford Charter Township, Mich., the authorities said. A 15-year-old student was taken into custody.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician, is running as a Republican for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
A Morning Read
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. Peruse the winning list here.
ARTS AND IDEAS
House of Gucci on ‘House of Gucci’
The Gucci family is speaking out against the star-studded film “House of Gucci,” saying it glorifies a traumatic event in their lives — the murder of Maurizio Gucci — and wrongly depicts their family dynamics.
“On one level, this is not a surprise,” writes Vanessa Friedman, the chief fashion critic for The Times. “For as long as there have been biopics, the people on whose lives they have been based (or the people with a stake in the lives on which they have been based) have often felt shortchanged or otherwise misrepresented by the result.”
But at what point does artistic license go too far? The film is clearly not tilting at accurate representation, with the opening disclaimer “inspired by a true story” and the curious choice of having its characters speak English in various versions of fake Italian accents.
In a recent review of the film for Air Mail, the designer Tom Ford, who had a front-row seat to the events themselves, wrote: “In real life, none of it was camp. It was at times absurd, but ultimately it was tragic.” The lack of nuance in the movie made him, he wrote, “deeply sad.”
Read more about the movie.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Kick-start your holiday baking with these painterly sugar cookies.
Why coffee makes some people rush to the bathroom.
What to Watch
In “The Power of the Dog,” the director Jane Campion’s first movie in more than a decade, a cruel cowboy meets his surprising match.
Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Feeling creaky (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. “To Live and Die in Alabama,” a new Times documentary series, examines the aftermath of the killing of three police officers in a shootout.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Omicron variant.
You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].