Your Wednesday Briefing

“I know you’re tired, really, and I know you’re frustrated,” President Biden said.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

President Biden’s Omicron plan

In a White House address, President Biden said his administration would distribute 500 million rapid tests free to the public beginning in January to curb the threat of the Omicron variant. He has directed his defense secretary to deploy 1,000 military medical professionals and announced new vaccination and testing sites, he said.

“I know you’re tired, really, and I know you’re frustrated,” Biden said, adding, “We all want this to be over, but we’re still in it.” An unvaccinated Texas man is the first known U.S. death from Omicron.

Public health experts warned that the Biden administration’s measures would not be sufficient to prevent a grim rise in infections and hospitalizations over the next few weeks. Some expressed frustration and alarm about what they described as a timid public health response and bemoaned the apparent lack of will among politicians and society at large for more aggressive steps.

Europe: The Omicron surge has led to tighter restrictions on gatherings in Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Scotland. Swedish officials warned that a surge of infections driven by the variant would continue rising until mid-January. Governments in Britain and France announced support for businesses as the continent’s busy season turned silent.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • How to travel responsibly in the time of Omicron.

  • The E.U. will require boosters for its vaccine passports.

  • Israel will administer a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to those over age 60.

  • France discovered 180,000 fake Covid passes, and the Italian authorities arrested people accused of selling false vaccination documents.

A mural in Moscow of the Youth Army.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

How the Kremlin is militarizing Russian society

Over the past eight years, the Russian government has promoted the idea that the country is surrounded by enemies, enforcing that message in schools, the military, the media and the Orthodox Church. Now, as Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border, the steady militarization of society under Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, looms large and appears to have inured many to the idea that a fight could be coming.

Speaking to Russian military leaders on Tuesday, Putin insisted that Russia did not want bloodshed, but it was prepared to respond with “military-technical measures” to the West. State television is portraying all of Russia’s efforts in Ukraine as defensive maneuvers.

Some of the latest propaganda tactics include a $185 million four-year program started by the Kremlin this year that aims to drastically increase Russians’ “patriotic education.” It includes a plan to attract at least 600,000 children as young as 8 to join the ranks of a uniformed Youth Army.

Quotable: “The authorities are actively selling the idea of war,” Dmitri A. Muratov, a Russian newspaper editor who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said in his acceptance speech. “People are getting used to the thought of its permissibility.”

The latest: Vice President Kamala Harris said that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Russia “like you’ve not seen before” if it invaded Ukraine. She told CBS that the White House was making that clear in direct discussions with Putin.

2 Bros. Pizza still charges $1 for a cheese slice at six of its nine locations.Credit…OK McCausland for The New York Times

The latest victim of inflation: the $1 pizza slice

Dollar-slice shops, a staple of New York City’s dining scene, face an existential crisis as prices for just about everything — including pizza boxes, pepperoni, flour and oil — have skyrocketed. Many owners of dollar-slice businesses, including those who have now raised their prices, said their revenues are half of what they were in 2019, before the pandemic.

The U.S. is experiencing the highest inflation in almost 40 years, while prices are rising all over the world. The surge stems from a confluence of factors, many of them related to the coronavirus pandemic. Factories have shuttered and ports are clogged, disrupting the supply of goods that people stuck at home have wanted to buy, like electronics and home furnishings.

In Turkey, an economic crisis has been precipitated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s direct interference in monetary policy, including lowering interest rates in the face of staggering inflation — precisely the opposite of what economists prescribe. Working families are now struggling to make ends meet and have had to cut back on basic necessities.

The Upshot: High inflation and the seemingly never-ending pandemic are depressing Americans’ attitudes about the economy. Current conditions may set the scene for the Federal Reserve to pull off a delicate economic pivot that mirrors the one it managed in the 1980s.

U.S. politics: Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat, cited inflation concerns on Sunday as a major reason he would not vote for President Biden’s signature $2.2 trillion domestic policy bill in its current form.


Other Big Stories

Credit…Zuzanna Rogatty
  • Dive back in to the 41 most important and absurd debates of the year, as collected by our Opinion section.

  • A jury found Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemist, guilty of lying to the U.S. federal government about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents recruitment program.

  • A drive by Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, to provide clean tap water across India’s villages has kept him popular despite the country’s economic woes.

Around the World

Credit…Nwakalor Kenechukwu for The New York Times
  • About 150,000 babies are born each year in Nigeria with sickle cell, a deadly disease. Tens of thousands of these children die annually before their fifth birthdays.

  • Gabriel Boric, Chile’s 35-year-old socialist president-elect, is now the most prominent face of a generation of Chileans who are calling for a break with the past.

  • A British court ordered Dubai’s ruler to pay a custody settlement of more than $734 million to his ex-wife and their two children.

What Else Is Happening

  • Frome, a small city in England, is waging a war against loneliness.

  • This perfume smells like fig leaf, orange peel and jasmine. It comes from carbon emissions.

  • The White House has a new resident: Commander, a 3-month-old German shepherd with large, pointy ears.

A Morning Read

Credit…The City College of New York

When Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York in Harlem, opened an ordinary box that had been sitting in the mailroom for months, he was startled by its contents: $180,000 in cash.


Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

‘Caroling on the edge’

In Britain, the tradition of door-to-door caroling dates to at least Victorian times and is mentioned in Charles Dickens’s novels. Last year, most carol singing was canceled because of the pandemic. This year, a group of roving singers was determined to carry on, despite the threat of the Omicron variant, Alex Marshall reports for The Times.

Last Thursday, three carol singers went pub to pub to raise money for a homeless charity. (By the end of the night, their number had swelled to eight.) Quickly, an intricately harmonized rendition of “Deck the Halls” summoned drinkers from their chairs — and, eventually, solicited donations into red collection tins.

The pub crawl was not without risk, said Meg McClure, one of the organizers, who described it as “caroling on the edge.” But every singer had done a rapid antigen test before attending, she said, and the group had planned to perform outside if any of the pubs they visited were too busy.

That turned out not to be the case: At The Brunel, one of the pubs on the tour, there were just five customers, two of them visibly drunk. But as soon as the group started singing, they grabbed their audience’s attention.

One patron, stirred by the harmonies, pantomimed a heart attack. Another said she had originally planned to go to a concert by the rapper Little Simz that evening, but had decided not to go, because she was worried about catching the virus. “So this is amazing,” she said. “It’s the next best thing.”


What to Cook

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

Tofu makhani is a luscious vegetarian riff on butter chicken.

What to Watch

Relive the 18 best sports highlights of 2021.

What to Listen to

Six podcasts to help you to take a breath, refill your emotional cup and get some rest ahead of the New Year.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Decorative features of Portuguese architecture (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. Matina Stevis-Gridneff is our new Brussels bureau chief.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Senator Joe Manchin III.

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

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