Another Covid Christmas for Europe and the U.S.
New coronavirus cases are surging in the U.S., prompting governors and mayors to once again reintroduce restrictions. Federal officials say that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus now accounts for three-quarters of new cases in the country.
In Europe, countries are split between imposing new measures to curb the spread, as the Netherlands and Denmark have done, or adopting a wait-and-see approach. France has ruled out lockdowns, curfews or closures, betting on its high vaccine and booster coverage. Britain has yet to announce whether it will impose a lockdown before Christmas.
In all of these countries, economic and political concerns — just days before the holidays — are also guiding governments, amid uncertainty about just how big a risk the variant poses. Epidemiologists have warned that even if Omicron is eventually shown to cause less severe illness, its rapid spread could still send huge numbers of people to hospitals.
Quotable: “It’s annoying, but this year there’s at least more of a Christmas spirit than last year, when we had a curfew,” said one Parisian. “We couldn’t go out and enjoy Christmas decorations.’’
Foreign drones tip the balance in Ethiopia’s civil war
A stunning military victory this month for Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s embattled prime minister, was made possible by a fleet of combat drones, recently acquired from foreign allies who hope to keep him in power. The drones pummeled Tigrayan rebels, erasing months of battlefield gains and resulting in their withdrawal.
Over the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran have quietly supplied the Ethiopian leader with some of the latest armed drones, even as the U.S. and African governments urged a cease-fire and peace talks, according to Western diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The motives of Abiy’s allies vary: Some hope to make money, while others aim to gain an edge in a strategic region or to back a winner in the spiraling conflict that has engulfed Africa’s second most populous nation.
Response: Debretsion Gebremichael, the Tigrayan leader, has called for a cease-fire followed by peace talks. “We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace,” he wrote in a letter to the U.N. secretary general.
How China manipulates Facebook and Twitter
Documents reviewed by The Times have revealed in stark detail how Beijing taps private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics and provide other services for information campaigns. That operation increasingly plays out on international social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government blocks at home.
The files — part of a request for bids from contractors that was posted by the police in Shanghai — offer a rare glimpse into how China works to spread propaganda and sculpt opinion on global social media, including through the use of fake accounts and through targeted campaigns against online critics of the state. The documents were taken offline after The Times contacted the Chinese government about them.
The request suggested that police officials understood the need for strong engagement with the public through profiles-for-hire. The deeper engagement lends the fake personas credibility at a time when social media companies are increasingly taking down accounts that seem inauthentic or coordinated.
Telltale signs: Bot networks that have been linked to China’s government stand out for their lack of engagement with other accounts, experts say. Though they can be used to troll others and boost the number of likes on official government posts, most have little influence individually because they have few followers.
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A child with a rash. A farmer with ringworm. A man with a throat infection. Each visited Joe Gallagher, a publican and seventh son in the Irish village of Pullough in County Offaly, who laid his hands on the affected areas, performed the sign of the cross and recited some prayers.
He is just one of hundreds of people across Ireland who are said to have “the cure,” an approach to health care that interweaves home remedies with mysticism, superstition, religion and a sprinkle of magic.
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Life on set: His favorite moments were the mundane ones, “like getting our hobbit feet taken off because we had to vacate set as it started to snow” and weekend surf trips “with the other hobbits and Orlando” Bloom, who played the elf Legolas.
On the current film landscape: “Peter and the larger team were allowed to make the movies the way that they wanted to make them without much outside perspective,” Wood said, referring to the trilogy’s 16 consecutive months of filming in New Zealand. “I don’t know if he would be able to make them in the same way now.”
Keepsakes: Wood kept a pair of hairy hobbit feet. “I’m sure over time they will degrade because I don’t think latex lasts forever,” he said. “But they were in good shape the last time I looked.”
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That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha
P.S. Leah Askarinam is joining the On Politics newsletter from National Journal.
The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a teenager in Afghanistan who fled a forced marriage to a Taliban member.
You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].