Your Friday Briefing: U.S. Vaccine Mandate Blocked

We’re covering a ruling on Biden’s vaccine mandate and a landmark Syrian war crimes conviction.

Anti-vaccine protesters in Albany, N.Y., this month.Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

Top court blocks Biden’s employer vaccine mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, dealing a blow to a key element of the White House’s plan to tame the pandemic.

The court allowed a narrower mandate requiring health care workers at facilities receiving federal money to be vaccinated.

It came as the president was ramping up virus containment efforts: Biden said on Thursday that he was directing his staff to purchase an additional 500 million coronavirus tests for distribution to Americans, doubling the government’s previous purchase and bringing the total number of promised tests to one billion.

The president also announced on Thursday that the administration was sending military medical personnel to six states to help hospitals deal with Covid-19 surges.

Data: For Biden, the roaring resurgence of the virus has helped drag down approval ratings as he enters his second year in office. The daily U.S. average reported on Wednesday was over 780,000 new cases, according to a Times database.

Trends: Hospitalizations are rising. It will be weeks before the toll of the Omicron surge in the country is known, experts caution, but it may be peaking in parts of the Northeast.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Donald Trump endorsed booster shots and said politicians who hid their vaccination statuses were “gutless.”

  • Unvaccinated women with Covid are more likely to lose fetuses and infants, Scottish data show.

  • Nearly 40 percent of elementary-school teachers and nearly a quarter of secondary-school teachers went on strike on Thursday in France over lax Covid rules in schools.

  • The police in China detained a testing lab official on suspicion of helping spread the virus.

Anwar Raslan, right, in the courtroom before the verdict in Koblenz, Germany, on Thursday.Credit…Pool photo by Thomas Frey

Syrian officer convicted in landmark trial

A court in Germany found Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian security officer, guilty on Thursday of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. Here are the latest updates.

The highest-ranking Syrian official to be held accountable for abuses during the country’s civil war, Raslan was accused of overseeing a detention center where prosecutors said at least 4,000 people were tortured and nearly 60 were killed.

An international network of lawyers, activists and war survivors have struggled for years to bring officials involved in the violence to justice. President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and he and his senior advisers and military commanders avoid traveling to places where they might be arrested. It’s unlikely that they will stand trial soon.

Raslan entered Germany on a visa in 2014 and lived there legally until German authorities arrested him in 2019.

Context: Prosecutors indicted Raslan using “universal jurisdiction,” a legal principle stipulating that in the case of crimes against humanity and genocide, normal territorial restraints on prosecutions do not apply.

Russian tanks took part in the Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday.Credit…Associated Press

Russia and the West at an impasse

A third round of talks on military security in Eastern Europe failed to yield a breakthrough.

Russian officials did not close the door on diplomacy but sounded an increasingly pessimistic note. In Moscow, Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister, said that it was premature to convene more negotiations until the West abandoned what he called a “dead end” approach.

The U.S. representative to Thursday’s meeting in Vienna, Michael Carpenter, also depicted the two sides as engaged in a standoff with no clear resolution. Ukraine, participating for the first time in this week’s discussions, said Russia’s massing of troops needed to be reversed.

The exchanges left tensions high and the implicit threat of further Russian military intervention in Ukraine on the table. It was far from clear whether Russia would be willing to proceed with diplomacy.

Related: A Russian-led military alliance began withdrawing troops from Kazakhstan on Thursday, Moscow said. President Vladimir Putin’s recent actions there, in Belarus and in Ukraine show that he is straining to maintain a sphere of influence.


Asia Pacific

Khyal Mohammad Ghayoor, center, fled Kabul, Afghanistan, 20 years ago when U.S. troops swept the country. Now he has returned from Pakistan. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
  • The Taliban, having trouble filling government roles, are reaching into Pakistan to recruit ex-Taliban fighters quietly living there.

  • The U.S. ordered sanctions against North Korean officials in response to the country’s latest missile test.

  • Three decades after the crime, an Australian man has been convicted of killing a gay American, Scott Johnson. An inquest found that Johnson was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime, and the authorities are reviewing dozens of similar cases.

  • MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, sent an alert on Thursday to lawmakers warning that an agent of the Chinese government was working to subvert political processes.

Around the World

People incarcerated on Rikers Island were forced to fight each other by a gang leader, according to court records and videos.  
  • Videos from inside Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, show a “fight night” and gang rule. Violence has skyrocketed to levels not seen in decades.

  • Prince Andrew relinquished his military titles and royal charities, a stinging rebuke by the British royal family as a sexual abuse case against him proceeds.

  • Nigeria lifted a seven-month ban on Twitter.

  • The U.S. and Iran are exchanging harsh words, but talks about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal are progressing.

  • Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he would not cooperate with the House committee investigating the Capitol riot.

Morning Reads

Members of the Dartmouth Asian American Student Collective. Dartmouth’s fight for Asian-American studies dates back several decades.Credit…Lauren O’Neil for The New York Times

After a year that put a spotlight on anti-Asian racism in the U.S., students have been pushing for Asian American studies programs. “What happens in the academy often follows what happens on the streets,” said Diane Fujino, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Lives lived: Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of the Ronettes, the 1960s pop group with hits like “Be My Baby,” died at 78.


Meet the ‘Nasal Ranger’

Chuck McGinley with his Nasal Ranger, a design inspired by the shape of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii.Credit…Caroline Yang for The New York Times

Chuck McGinley, a chemical engineer, has returned again and again to society’s stinkiest sites for the past half-century. His goal: to measure, describe and demystify smell.

The Nasal Ranger is one of his inventions, a 14-inch-long smell-measuring device, which looks like a cross between a radar gun and a bugle and measures the strength of an odor. To use it, you take a big sniff and turn a dial until you can no longer smell a particular smell. One psychologist called the device “quantum leaps” better than previous technology.

McGinley often applies his expertise in the gray area of recognizing odor as a pollutant. Despite having the power to sicken, there are few laws in the U.S. to regulate odor. The system is patchy, and it has left disputes to be dealt with in the courts. Part of McGinley’s work has been to empower communities near smelly places to find a vocabulary for their complaints and a way to measure what their noses are telling them.

But his work doesn’t completely stink. McGinley’s lab, which is run by his son, does testing for food companies and concocts recipes for immersive theater troupes and museums. One recent job: developing 22 smells for a theater production, including a “perfume and old-cedar smell” to mimic an old woman’s apartment.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

This nutty grain bowl stands out because of a sauce made of “nooch,” or nutritional yeast.

What to Watch

Stream these great documentaries: a personal essay on tobacco, an experimental look at the Berlin Wall and a chronicle of a revolt in China.

What to Listen To

Jonny Greenwood, the lead guitarist of Radiohead, has become a major composer.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: what mosquitoes and vampires do (four letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. What does it mean to be committed in 2022? Here’s how our Weddings section is answering that question.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about a Covid battle in Chicago schools.

Whet Moser wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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