Omicron, Instagram, Great Performers: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest news at the end of Wednesday.

1. Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine booster injections provide significant protection against the Omicron variant.

The companies said blood tests from people who received two doses contained much lower levels of antibodies against the coronavirus variant than an earlier version of the virus, and “may not be enough to protect against infection.”

The companies said blood samples obtained from people one month after they received a booster dose showed neutralizing antibodies against Omicron, compared to levels of antibodies against an earlier version of the virus after two doses.

Lab tests can’t say for sure how vaccines perform in the real world, but the results seem to underscore the importance of the booster injection. A study in South Africa suggested that Omicron may cause more sudden onset infections but not necessarily more serious illness.

separately , A new study finds that the virus infects fat cells and immune cells within body fat, which may help explain why overweight people are at risk of severe disease from Covid.

2. President Biden ordered that federal vehicles and buildings use renewable energy, With the goal of making government carbon neutral by 2050.

In a series of executive orders, Biden directed the government to power 300,000 buildings with wind, solar, or other carbon-free electricity by 2050 and to stop buying gasoline-powered cars by 2035. The government currently operates 600,000 cars and trucks.

The move is just one part of Biden’s climate plan, which now has the support of unions representing electricians and steelworkers. But at least one group of workers seems less motivated: coal workers, who continue to view clean energy jobs as a major risk to their standard of living.

3. Lawmakers questioned the head of Instagram about the damages reported by the social media app to young users.

Adam Mosseri was the top executive at Meta, the parent company of Instagram, to testify before Congress after an internal research leak said Instagram had a toxic effect on some teens. Mosseri said Instagram has a positive role in teens’ lives, helping young users make connections during tough times. Lawmakers didn’t buy it.

“Parents are asking, what is Congress doing to protect our children, and the bipartisan message from this committee is that legislation is coming,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said. “We cannot rely on restraint.”

Also on Capitol Hill, The CEOs of six cryptocurrency companies testified before the House Financial Services Committee on the promise and risks of cryptocurrency.

4. The Merkel era is over.

Angela Merkel hands the chancellorship over to Olaf Scholz, beginning a new chapter for Germany. Schulz will lead the first center-left government in 16 years and will be in a difficult position to meet the high expectations set by Merkel.

Several crises require his immediate attention, chief among them the epidemic and the possible Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Scholz is also working to restore a working-class base.

Under Merkel, Germany became the leading power in Europe for the first time in modern history. We looked at Merkel’s tenure in pictures. In her farewell remarks, Merkel described the chancellorship as “one of the most beautiful duties there.”

5. A group of lawyers defending the rioters in the January 6 attack plan to make a bold legal claim: self-defense.

As the first riot-related trials begin early next year, some lawyers intend to argue that police officers used excessive force while defending the Capitol from a group of Trump supporters and that their clients only responded. This approach has gained traction in recent weeks as defense attorneys reviewed thousands of hours of videos of the attack.

A House committee investigating the attack will move forward with a criminal contempt for a congressional referral against Mark Meadows, former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, after he refused to appear before the scheduled filing.

6. China silenced tennis star Peng Shuai in minutes. But Beijing’s top-down strategy has faltered.

It took twenty minutes to mobilize the Chinese censors after Peng accused the former deputy prime minister of sexual assault. They had help from a familiar resource: a large network of bots.

A joint investigation from The Times and ProPublica found 97 fake accounts amplifying Chinese state media messages about Peng, who has disappeared from public life. Some footage showing Ping as being in large font has surfaced, failing to impress Beijing’s critics.

separately , Britain, Australia and Canada were the latest countries to join the United States in withdrawing their top officials from the Beijing 2022 Olympics to protest human rights abuses.

7. Manatees, which are endangered, will get some help: food.

With manatee mortality soaring and Florida rescue centers filled with manatees so malnourished that they need medical intervention, federal and state wildlife officials are trying something new: they will feed hundreds of manatees at a site on the state’s east coast in an urgent effort to help Mammals survive the winter.

Scientists have found that feeding wild animals can sometimes do more harm than good, but in this case, an “unprecedented event worthy of unprecedented action,” one official said. Statewide, more than 1,000 manatees have died this year — a record number. The deaths have been linked to the loss of seaweed, killed by algal blooms fueled largely by human waste and fertilizer run-off.

8. This year’s best actors showed us why Hollywood continues to matter.

That’s the conclusion our film critic AO Scott came to after his selection of the great performers, an annual celebration of movie stars whose presence he couldn’t shake. Scott wrote: “The illusion they create is not that they are really playing, but rather that, no matter who they are, we know them.”

9. Roger Hargreaves’ 8-year-old son asked him what a tickle looks like. “Mr. Tickle” and nearly 100 silly, chaotic, upside-down characters followed suit.

The beloved children’s series, Mr. Maine Little Miss, has stood the test of time 50 years later. Book experts say the key to longevity is the direct way in which characters embody emotion and behavior, and their visual appeal in pop art. We looked back at the series.

Also from the books: We have reviews of “Accidental Gods” by Anna Della Supin, on “Men Unintentionally Turned Divine,” including Julius Caesar, Gandhi, Douglas MacArthur and Amanda Gorman’s poetry collection, Call Us What We Carry, with references ranging from “hunters” Ghosts” by Shakespeare.

10. And finally, an extra-large Christmas sweater.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex replica at the Natural History Museum in London often amaze visitors with its phenomenal sound effects. But the animatronic dinosaur was in more cheerful spirits this week: A British company made a giant holiday sweater for a T-Rex, filled with Christmas trees and snowflakes.

It took about 100 hours to knit the dinosaur-sized turtleneck, which fits snugly around its wide upper body and tapers to sleeves short enough to encircle the arms of a tiny dinosaur. Pulling a turtleneck from above her head proved to be difficult and the designers had to add a zipper to the back of the jacket.

I wish you a festive night.

Brian Denton Photo collages for this briefing.

Your evening brief is posted at 6pm ET.

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