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Your Friday Briefing

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President Biden laid out a pandemic strategy yesterday as the U.S. confronted the new Omicron variant and the potential of a winter surge in coronavirus cases. Travelers to the U.S. must have a negative Covid-19 test within a day of departure regardless of their vaccination status. The new testing rules are expected to take effect next week.

Would-be travelers must now calculate whether their results would be back in time for their flights, leaving some to worry whether more rules will be imposed while they are away. The U.S. stopped short of imposing a mandatory seven-day quarantine on arrivals.

Biden’s plan includes free at-home coronavirus tests, a campaign for booster shots for all adults and hundreds of vaccination sites aimed at families. “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” he said.

Global recovery: The still-fragile economy has been left in a state of suspense as spiking coronavirus cases and the Omicron variant have popped up across the globe. “There’s no way to know how bad it will get,” one economist said.

Five months before France’s presidential election, candidates across the political spectrum are hardening their position on migration, amid concerns of an out-of-control influx of immigrants and a threat to French identity and stability. The drowning last week of 27 migrants off France’s northern coast has further bolstered the national anxiety.

In fact, nearly all of France’s neighbors have a greater proportion of immigrants in their populations. Other wealthy nations are trying to attract migrant workers to fill labor shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

More immigration might help address France’s dearth of service workers, yet the economy seldom features in conversations about immigration, said Emmanuelle Auriol of the Toulouse School of Economics. “All the talk is about national identity,” she added.

Context: For decades, fears that traditional French identity is threatened by Muslim immigrants from Africa have been fanned by the extreme right, compounded by a series of terrorist attacks. Any embrace of immigration has thus become political suicide.

Pope Francis: The head of the Roman Catholic Church arrived in Cyprus yesterday for a trip that aimed to highlight the plight of migrants and those living in lands torn by strife.

Immigration news: Mexico agreed to let the U.S. resume a contentious Trump-era asylum program that required migrants to wait in Mexico while their cases were pending. Separately, the Biden administration is fighting in court to preserve a different policy that uses the pandemic to justify turning back migrants at the border with Mexico.


Chinese tennis fans are using obscure references online, including simply calling her “a tennis player,” to talk about Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public life after posting sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese official.

Even news media figures have found themselves challenged by how to discuss her disappearance 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, including scrubbing most references to her from the internet, 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 said yesterday that it had its second video call with Peng, 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. The Winter Games in Beijing begin in February.

Archaeologists who in October uncovered the remains of a person buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hope that modern technology will help shed light on who the victim was, whether he had any illnesses and even what he might have done for work.

“Today it’s possible to do some kinds of analysis that 20, 30 years ago it wasn’t possible to do,” said one anthropologist working on the project. “We will tell the story of these people.”

These may be unprecedented times, but you would never know it from the emojis we reach for most. According to the Unicode Consortium, nine of the 10 most used emojis from 2019, the last time they released data, also ranked among the top 10 this year, Anna P. Kambhampaty reports for The Times.

Despite being derided by members of Gen Z, who deem it as uncool as side parts and skinny jeans, the “tears of joy” emoji took the top spot, while its slanted cousin came in at No. 3. There were a few pandemic-related changes: The syringe emoji rose to 193rd place from 282nd in 2019, and the microbe jumped from 1,086th in 2019 to 477th.

That so many of the emojis remained consistent from one year to the next signifies just how flexible the current set is — and how, despite everything else that had changed, the range of emotions we expressed through emojis were still largely familiar.

“Even in the midst of this massive global pandemic that preoccupied so much of our time, we still spent a lot of time wishing each other happy birthday or checking in or laughing about some new and unexpected element of this slow-burning weirdness,” said Lauren Gawne, a co-host of the podcast “Lingthusiasm.”

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. 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 Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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