Your Monday Briefing

Commuters at Oxford Circus in London on Saturday.Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Britain weighs another lockdown

With coronavirus cases in Britain exploding, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the government has not ruled out imposing further restrictions, the country’s health secretary said yesterday. So far, 85 people with confirmed Omicron cases have been hospitalized in England, and seven have died, after the country hit record case counts several days in a row.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, did not deny speculation that the government was considering a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown. The government’s emergency committee held a private meeting yesterday with national leaders about the rise in cases, and over the weekend London’s mayor declared a “major incident” — an emergency status that frees up resources.

Scientific advisers have warned lawmakers that more action is needed. The surge is threatening to overwhelm England’s health system, even after the government this month announced a long-resisted coronavirus contingency plan, urging people to work from home if possible and extending a face-mask mandate.

Political crisis: The fears of a public health emergency only days before Christmas have coincided with cascading troubles for Boris Johnson, the prime minister, including the resignation of David Frost, the Brexit negotiator and a key ally of Johnson’s.

Global vaccine failures: A growing body of research suggests most Covid-19 vaccines other than those produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech offer almost no defense against infection from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Bars and restaurants in Ireland will be required to close early this week as the government responds to the Omicron threat.

  • Local governments and private institutions across the U.S. have reinstituted pandemic measures such as mask mandates as cases multiply.

  • Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, Democratic senators, both said they had breakthrough cases of the coronavirus.

The site of a strike in the Yabisat neighborhood in western Mosul, Iraq.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The human toll of years of U.S. airstrikes

A five-year Times investigation found that the American air wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have been plagued by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, thousands of civilian deaths — and scant accountability. The findings offers a sharp contrast to the U.S. government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.

The military’s own confidential assessments, obtained by The Times, document more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, many of them children, since 2014. Here are key takeaways and the first part of the investigation. The second installment will be published in the coming days. Read our magazine feature focused on the human cost of airstrikes.

Despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity. In only a few cases were the assessments made public. Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action.

Records: The Times obtained the records through Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits filed against the Defense Department and the U.S. Central Command. Click here to view the full trove.

Peng Shuai at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, last year.Credit…Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Peng Shuai denies her sexual abuse claim

The Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose account of sexual coercion by a former Communist Party leader ignited weeks of tensions and galvanized calls for boycotts of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, reversed her assertion that she had been sexually assaulted by the official.

The retraction, made in comments to a Chinese-language newspaper in Singapore, appeared unlikely to extinguish global concerns about her well-being and suspicions that she had been the target of well-honed pressure techniques and a propaganda campaign by Chinese officials. Her comments quickly drew skepticism from human rights advocates.

The Chinese authorities are likely to seize on her statement to the newspaper to push back against calls for a full investigation of her claims and to oppose the Women’s Tennis Association’s suspension of matches in China.

Turnaround: In a post last month on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, Peng described how, in one encounter with the official, she had “never consented” and that she was “crying all the time.” But in the comments published in the newspaper, she said: “I want to stress a very important point — I never said or wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me.”


Around the World

Credit…Jay Labra/Associated Press
  • Officials now believe that more than 140 people died after a powerful typhoon struck the Philippines last week.

  • Chileans elected Gabriel Boric, a young leftist lawmaker, as their next president.

  • Turnout hit a record low in Hong Kong’s legislative elections over the weekend.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
  • Joe Manchin, above, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, said he couldn’t support his party’s climate and social spending bill, threatening the cornerstone of President Biden’s agenda.

  • Seven months after Hamas launched a deadly 11-day war with Israel, the prospect of peace is as remote as ever.

What Else Is Happening

  • Orangutan mothers will teach their young to forage for food, but the older the child and the easier the food is to find and prepare, the less likely the mothers are willing to share, research shows.

  • Lawyers for Britney Spears are questioning whether her manager improperly enriched herself during the singer’s conservatorship.

  • The new “Spider-Man” movie took in an estimated $253 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters‚ the biggest opening weekend of the pandemic.

A Morning Read

T Magazine asked six chefs and food experts to create a list of the 25 essential dishes to eat in New York City. The final selection of the most delicious and memorable plates in town, appearing in unranked, alphabetical order, is far from what you might expect.


Credit…Clockwise from top left: Reuters, The New York Times, AFP, The New York Times, AFP, Reuters.

The faces of 2021

The New York Times Faces Quiz offers a chance to see how well you know some of the defining personalities of 2021, featuring 52 familiar — or less familiar — faces. Give us the name that matches each face. (And, yes, we’re lenient on spelling.)

Play it here and see how well you do compared with other Times readers.


What to Cook

Credit…Joel Goldberg for The New York Times

Traditional Yorkshire puddings rely on eggs and dairy for their crowning puff. This vegan alternative, from Paul McCartney’s daughter Mary, uses neither. Here’s the back story.

What to Read

Set aside some time for holiday reading and explore these nine new books.

Ask Well

Why do women sprout chin hairs as they age? And what’s the best way to remove them?

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: How Google makes the bulk of its revenue (three 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. Carlos Tejada, The Times’s deputy Asia editor and a fierce advocate for our journalism, died on Friday. He will be deeply missed.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the next phase of the pandemic.

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

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