Omicron’s ceaseless march
The highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus, first detected last month, has swept across the world, infecting millions of people and proving too fast to catch, even in nations with high vaccination rates.
That daunting notion is tempered by early evidence that the variant causes milder symptoms, with vaccinations and boosters helping to prevent serious illness and death. More than 300,000 new Covid cases were recorded in Britain between Saturday and Monday, yet hospitalizations remained far below last winter’s peaks.
That rapid spread and the dominance of Omicron mirror what has been seen around the world. In Israel, the variant is expected to overtake Delta as the dominant one in the country within days. Positive test results are disrupting businesses and wreaking havoc on global travel, entertainment and sporting events.
Analysis: John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford and an adviser to the British government, said Omicron was “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago.”
Russian human rights group ordered closed
Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closing of Memorial, a human rights group founded more than three decades ago that chronicled political repression in the country, including persecution in Stalin-era labor camps. The hearing drew dozens of protesters outside the courthouse.
The decision comes after a year of broad crackdowns on opposition in Russia as the Kremlin moved aggressively to stifle dissent — in the news media, in religious groups, on social networks and especially among activists and political opponents, hundreds of whom have been harassed, jailed or forced into exile.
The liquidation of Memorial is yet another step in an effort by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to recast Russia’s legacy as a series of glorious accomplishments and to soften the image of the often-brutal Soviet regime. The increasingly emboldened Kremlin has moved aggressively to remove alternative interpretations of Russian history by organizations it does not control.
More to come: In a separate hearing scheduled for today, the Moscow City Court will rule on whether to shut down Memorial’s Human Rights Center, which compiles a list of current political prisoners in Russia. The center is accused of “justifying terrorist activities” by including members of banned religious organizations on the list.
Other news: The Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany pipeline could offer plentiful natural gas. But tensions with Vladimir Putin are keeping it out of reach.
Devastating floods in Brazil
At least 20 people have been killed and more than 50,000 driven from their homes by calamitous floods that swept through northeastern Brazil and submerged whole neighborhoods, the authorities said yesterday.
Rescue teams used boats and helicopters to reach parts of Ilhéus, Itabuna, Irecê and more than 100 other cities in Bahia State. Neighboring states sent aircraft and firefighters to help the police and members of the armed forces, while volunteers distributed donations of food, mattresses and blankets for the poorest communities.
For five years, northeastern Brazil had suffered from a stubborn drought. But early this month, the skies opened, hitting Bahia with the heaviest rainfall for December in the state in three decades, according to Brazil’s center for monitoring natural disasters. The extreme rain caused two dams to collapse, further exacerbating the situation.
Quotable: “We’ve had other floods, other disasters with deaths, but nothing, absolutely nothing, with this territorial extension, with this number of cities hit at the same time and with the number of people impacted by this storm,” said Rui Costa, the governor of Bahia State.
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Over the thousands of articles published by The Times this year, the 10 below were among those that people spent a particularly long time reading. Pour yourself a hot drink, get comfortable, and revisit these great reads.
Martina Navratilova has plenty to say. (June 6)
Katie Couric’s memoir includes family skeletons. (Oct. 14)
That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha
P.S. Jack Nicas, who covered Silicon Valley technology, is our new bureau chief in Brazil.
The latest episode of “The Daily” features a Capitol police officer who recounted Jan. 6.
You can reach Natasha and the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.