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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Tuesday.
1. “I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills.”
President Biden endorsed eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation, the most significant step he has taken to pressure lawmakers to act on the issue. Biden stopped short of calling for a full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to kill legislation that fails to garner 60 votes.
2. Covid testing systems that were supposed to help keep U.S. classrooms open safely are themselves being tested.
Many school districts, hobbled by politics, shortages, costs and conflicting guidance, have struggled to effectively implement protocols. A vast majority of schools have managed to continue in-person instruction. But parents’ anxiety and their confrontations with teachers’ unions, partly over testing, are jeopardizing efforts to prevent a return to remote instruction.
Retail workers are also struggling with the disruption and uncertainty of Omicron. “Morale could not be lower,” one department store employee said.
Top federal health officials defended the Biden administration’s response to the Omicron variant as they faced withering accusations from lawmakers about scarce tests and confusing guidance. Dr. Anthony Fauci described the virus as “very wily,” adding that the government is “doing the best we possibly can.”
3. Over half of Europe could be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks, the W.H.O. said.
The agency warned of “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region” from the highly contagious coronavirus variant. The continent “saw over seven million cases of Covid-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. regional director for Europe, said.
Despite the widespread level of infection, Dr. Kluge cited data from Denmark suggesting how effective vaccines remain. But nations in Eastern Europe, where Omicron is just starting to spread widely, have much lower rates of vaccination than those in Western Europe.
In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have been accused — yet again — of violating their own lockdown rules over a May 2020 garden party at 10 Downing Street.
4. Medicare issued a preliminary decision to cover the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm only for patients who participate in approved clinical trials.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services made the preliminary decision after lengthy deliberations. If the decision is finalized later this year, it would significantly limit the number of patients who could use the expensive drug, which is priced at $28,200 a year per patient.
The drug was approved by the F.D.A. in June in a decision criticized by many experts because clinical trials showed that it had significant safety risks and that its benefits to patients were unclear. Whether Medicare ends up covering Aduhelm is considered pivotal to the future of the drug.
5. The U.N. is seeking more than $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan to fend off a humanitarian disaster.
Five months after the Taliban seized power, a severe drought and the toll of decades of war have plunged three-quarters of the country’s population into acute poverty, according to the U.N., which said the appeal was its largest ever for a single country.
“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s emergency aid coordinator, said in a statement. Without international aid, a million Afghan children face acute hunger and another eight million people face “a march to starvation, and ultimately even possible famine,” Griffiths told reporters.
6. New questions around Novak Djokovic’s positive coronavirus test may complicate his visa case.
On Monday, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that it had scanned the unique code attached to the tennis star’s Dec. 16 test result and found that it reported a negative result. Just over an hour later, journalists checked again, and it reported a positive result.
And on the day of his test and the two that followed, Djokovic’s own social media postings and contemporaneous accounts showed him at public events without a mask. As Australia’s immigration minister continues to “thoroughly consider the matter” of expelling him, Djokovic’s test result and subsequent actions could present problems for him.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, thought he had a political winner in the Djokovic case. Now, with an election looming, Australians are debating their government’s fairness and competence.
7. More U.S. temperature records were broken in 2021 than in decades, a Times analysis shows.
Heat waves made up most of these records. New temperature highs were recorded last year at 8.3 percent of all U.S. weather stations, more than in any year since at least 1948, when weather observations were first digitally recorded by the U.S. government. The brutal arctic outburst in the South and the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest account for many of the records.
“We will expect to see more extremes and more all-time records being set,” one scientist said.
“Don’t Look Up,” the satirical film about a comet hurtling toward Earth, serves as a metaphor for climate change. Its director hopes it will mobilize the public.
8. The sculptor John Powers turned a career-threatening injury into an opportunity to make some of his most important artwork yet.
Powers is known for crafting small blocks, sometimes hundreds or thousands of pieces, that he assembles into otherworldly geometric sculptures. So when he lost several fingers in a table saw accident this spring, he enlisted other sculptors to design custom prosthetics that transcend function. For Powers, it’s a problem to solve through art — and a way to regain his craft.
“Art has given me a way to look at this,” he said, “and take part in this.”
9. Rachel Balkovec will manage a Yankees’ minor league team, making her the first woman to lead an affiliated professional baseball squad.
Balkovec will coach the Tampa Tarpons, the team’s low Class A affiliate, for the 2022 season. The Yankees hired her in November 2019 as a minor league hitting coach. She was believed to be the first woman hired as a full-time hitting instructor by a big-league team.
In women’s basketball, there are only 144 W.N.B.A. roster spots for 12 teams, making the W.N.B.A. far harder to get into — and stay in — than the N.B.A. But the league is resisting calls for expansion, saying it can’t “expand for expansion’s sake” without the money to support it.
(And in case you missed it, an interception by Georgia in the final minute of the college football championship game sealed the team’s first title in more than 40 years.)
10. And finally, checking privilege in the animal kingdom.
Across species, animals share resources such as territory, tools and shelter between generations. A trio of researchers argue that we should call this phenomenon the same thing we call it in humans: intergenerational wealth.
Hyena daughters born to high-ranking mothers inherit their status and get dibs on fresh meat; some chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys crack nuts using stone tools that their parents used before them. And it’s not just hereditary — wealth may be passed down to nonrelatives, too, like hermit crabs that seek better real estate.
By seeking similarities between privilege in people and animals, the researchers hope to unlock a greater understanding of inequality in the natural (and human) world.
Have a prosperous night.
Bryan Denton and Guillermo Hernandez Martinez compiled photos for this briefing.
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