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Your Friday Briefing


We’re covering the new rules for travelers to the U.S. and Peng Shuai’s supporters evading censors.

President Biden laid out a new pandemic strategy on Thursday as the U.S. confronts the new Omicron variant and the potential of a winter surge.

The administration shortened the time frame for travelers to the U.S. to take a Covid-19 test to within a day before departure, regardless of vaccination status. The new testing rules are expected to take effect next week.

That has left would-be travelers nervously calculating whether they will get test results back in time to make their flights or worrying whether there will be more rules imposed while they are away. A lack of certainty keeps people home, said Jean-Pierre Mas, the president of a union representing France’s major travel agencies.

The U.S. stopped short of imposing a mandatory seven-day quarantine on arrivals. Nor did it upgrade its standard for an acceptable Covid screen from an antigen to a P.C.R. test, which can take significantly longer to produce results.

Biden’s plan also includes free at-home coronavirus tests, a campaign for boosters for all adults and hundreds of vaccination sites aimed at families.

Quotable: “The most frustrating part is that you can never make a plan more than one week in advance because everything can change every day,” said one traveler.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

According to one forecasting firm, a virulent, vaccine-resistant strain could send the economy into a tailspin again, while a mild one could leave health care systems unburdened and allow the recovery to get back on track.

As a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed, although growth has been uneven, the world economy this year bounced back more quickly and strongly than had been anticipated. The report, compiled largely before the latest coronavirus news, nevertheless warned that growth was projected to slow.

How the latest outbreak will affect unemployment levels and inflation rates is unclear. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, indicated that concern about stubborn inflation was growing. The O.E.C.D. also warned that inflation could be higher and last longer than originally anticipated.

The mood: People and businesses alike have shifted into a wait-and-see mode. “A lot of things do seem like they are on hold, like labor market or overall consumption decisions,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.

Chinese tennis fans have started to use obscure references online to talk about the tennis player Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public life after posting sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese official.

Instead of identifying her Chinese name and specifying the details of her allegations, some people have used vague references like “a tennis player” and “the spat.”

Even media figures have found themselves challenged by how to discuss Peng without drawing the attention of state censors. Commenting on Twitter, one state news editor referred to Peng’s accusations as “the thing people talked about.”

The intensity of the censorship has made people hesitant to talk about it online or even in person. “We know these kinds of things happen and we care about them,” said one tennis fan in China. “But most of us choose to remain silent.”

The latest: The International Olympic Committee had its second video call with Peng on Thursday, but officials did not release details of the conversation. The I.O.C. said it was using “quiet diplomacy” with Chinese sports organizations to address the matter.

Asia Pacific

Archaeologists who recently uncovered the remains of a person buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. are hopeful that modern technology will help shed light on ancient Rome. “Today it’s possible to do some kinds of analysis that 20, 30 years ago it wasn’t possible to do,” said one anthropologist who is studying the DNA. “We will tell the story of these people.”

The Swedish streaming service Spotify’s most beloved — and, perhaps, creepiest — feature is back: Wrapped.

The colorful year-end synopsis of each user’s top artists, songs, podcasts and listening habits floods Instagram profiles practically the moment it is released.

My top song this year was Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and Spotify let me know that I had listened to it exactly 55 times. I apparently had a music-listening aura that was “bold” and “confident.”

Spotify knows where we listen to music, what we’re doing when we listen to it and even what mood we are in, according to Wired, which also reported on steps to turn off that tracking.

“Whether it’s a record label or Spotify or people who make washing machines, there is a lot of market pressure to figure out how to have a richer relationship with the consumer,” Paul Schwartz, a privacy expert and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

“That kind of personalization can be a plus,” Schwartz said. It’s also valuable for companies digging for data to market to us.

The platforms “constantly walk a fine line” between making use of data and disclosing to users “what they have learned” about them, Ben Zhao, professor of computer science at the University of Chicago, said.

As Kevin Roose, the Times tech columnist, put it: “A Google Maps year-end wrap would probably not be quite so charming.” — Melina

What to Cook

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

P.S. The Times debuted Headway, which will explore the world’s challenges through the lens of progress. All of Headway’s articles will be freely accessible without a subscription.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Supreme Court.

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

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