Your Wednesday Briefing

Experts hope Paxlovid can treat the worst of the disease, no matter the variant.Credit…Pfizer, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Promising results for Pfizer’s Covid pill

A highly anticipated study of Pfizer’s Covid pill confirmed that it helps stave off severe disease, the company said. The company also said that laboratory experiments had indicated that the drug would attack a key protein in the Omicron variant.

Pfizer said that the pill, Paxlovid, reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 88 percent when given within five days of the onset of symptoms to unvaccinated people at high risk of severe Covid. About 0.7 percent of patients who received the drug were hospitalized within 28 days of entering the trial, and none died. By contrast, 6.5 percent of patients who received a placebo were hospitalized or died.

America’s response to the Omicron variant highlights how much progress has been made over the past two years — and how much work remains in a country that is now averaging 120,000 cases a day, a 49 percent increase over two weeks. Here’s what it takes to understand a variant.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The Delta and Omicron variants are driving the fastest surge of new coronavirus cases in Africa since the pandemic began, the W.H.O. said yesterday. Britain has dropped southern African nations from its “red list” for quarantine restrictions.

  • A record number of fellow party members of the British prime minister voted against his plan for Covid certificates. The plan passed with the help of the opposition.

King George Island in Antarctica.Credit…Felipe Trueba/EPA, via Shutterstock

Rising from the Antarctic, a climate alarm

A new generation of floating, autonomous probes that can collect data on temperature, density and other subjects for years — diving deep underwater, and even exploring beneath the Antarctic sea ice, before rising to the surface to phone home — has enabled scientists to learn much more about the immense, forbidding Southern Ocean.

The dominant feature of that ocean, extending up to two miles deep and as much as 1,200 miles wide, is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. It is the world’s climate engine, and it has prevented further warming by drawing deep water from other oceans and pulling it to the surface. Our interactive shows how the current works.

But those probes have shown that global warming is affecting the Antarctic current in complex ways, and those shifts could complicate the ability to fight climate change in the future. In addition, the Southern Ocean is getting warmer, potentially putting the Antarctic’s vast, thick ice sheets at risk.

Quotable: In effect, “Antarctica is melting from the bottom,” said Henri Drake, an oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Polish soldiers patrolling the border with Belarus. Credit…Marcin Obara/EPA, via Shutterstock

Drastic changes proposed for the E.U.

Bruised by haphazard pandemic border controls and an ongoing crisis with Belarus, the E.U. proposed changes yesterday that could chip away at the unfettered movement of people within the bloc. The proposed reforms must still be approved by national governments and the European Parliament, which could take months.

Under the new rules, member states could introduce border checks whenever they wanted and extend them almost indefinitely. They would then be able to suspend some protections for asylum seekers if neighboring countries orchestrate migratory flows to the bloc’s borders, as Belarus has done in recent months.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said the changes would help member countries better respond to troubles stemming from migration and the pandemic. But critics argue that the proposals would scale back one of the E.U.’s main achievements, the freedom of movement of people and goods, and would introduce significant cuts to humanitarian protections.

By the numbers: Almost 1.7 million people live in one country in the Schengen area, which allows passport-free travel among participating countries, and work in another, while an estimated 3.5 million people cross an internal border every day. Undermining the area would not only be a political risk; it could also have enormous economic consequences for the bloc, one Slovenian lawmaker observed.


Around the World

  • A crop of new social media personalities, funded by the Chinese state media and local governments, is painting cheery portraits of life as a foreigner in China. These influencers also hit back at criticisms of Beijing and its policies.

  • More than 60 people were killed and scores more were wounded early yesterday when a fuel tanker exploded in northern Haiti, officials said.

  • The Belarus opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was arrested last year before an election in which he had planned to challenge the country’s authoritarian leader.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
  • Even before the pandemic, Turkey was trying to ward off a financial meltdown. The crisis has accelerated as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president, has doubled down on his unorthodox policies.

  • House Republicans pleaded with Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, to ask Donald Trump to help stop the Capitol riot, Meadows’s texts show. Separately, prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Trump misled his accountants.

What Else Is Happening

  • Two wayward zebras that escaped from a Maryland farm have been captured after almost four months on the run.

  • An Italian bishop has a harsh message for children: There is no Santa.

A Morning Read

Credit…Dado Galdieri for The New York Times

When Jack Nicas, a Times reporter in Brazil, first arrived in Rio de Janeiro, a colleague immediately invited him to a “dirty foot” — a Brazilian blend of a dive bar and a greasy spoon. “My reputation, it appeared, had preceded me,” he writes.

Wherever Jack has reported — Oakland, Calif.; the tiny town of Phoenix, Ore.; and now Rio — he has sought out these hubs of community, he explains: “They are haunts for people of all stripes, the spots where people go to let go, and the kinds of places that make a city what it is.”


Credit…Touchstone Pictures

‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ at 20

The New York of Wes Anderson’s sprawling comedy-drama “The Royal Tenenbaums,” released 20 years ago this month, blurs fact and fiction.

The story of a family of former child geniuses, it is Anderson’s only film shot entirely in and around New York City. Yet the places named in the film would flummox any native New Yorker: You won’t find “Mockingbird Heights,” the “Green Line bus” or the “22nd Avenue Express” train in the real-life city, let alone the “Maddox Hill Cemetery,” “Little Tokyo” or, in a true feat of city-stretching ingenuity, “the 375th Street Y.”

The picture’s vague sense of geography extends to its historical timelessness, which elides eras — the ’40s, the ’70s — to make a kind of “Nowheresville, New York,” as one production designer put it.

“For all of Anderson’s effort to place his film in a New York free of modern markers, one pang of recognition was unintended but unavoidable,” writes Jason Bailey, a critic for The Times. Son Chas is in the midst of a nervous breakdown following the death of his wife in a plane crash, in a perpetual state of fear and paranoia. For audiences at the New York Film Festival, where “The Royal Tenenbaums” first unspooled in October 2001, Chas’s state of mind seemed undeniably, unnervingly contemporary.


What to Cook

Credit… Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

This is the perfect week to plan your Christmas dinner if you celebrate that holiday — or consider an end-of-year blowout meal even if you don’t. This duck is an elegant option.

What to Watch

Paolo Sorrentino’s autobiographical drama about growing up in Naples is sensual, sad and occasionally sublime.

What to read

Add new sparkle to your home cooking repertoire with the best cookbooks of 2021.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Old brown coat? (four 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. More than one million people have now subscribed to our Cooking and Games verticals.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the assassination of Haiti’s president.

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

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