Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times

In a White House address, President Biden said his administration would distribute 500 million rapid tests free to the public beginning in January to curb the threat of the Omicron variant. He has directed his defense secretary to deploy 1,000 military medical professionals and announced new vaccination and testing sites, he said.

“I know you’re tired, really, and I know you’re frustrated,” Biden said, adding, “We all want this to be over, but we’re still in it.” An unvaccinated Texas man is the first known U.S. death from Omicron.

Public health experts warned that the Biden administration’s measures would not be sufficient to prevent a grim rise in infections and hospitalizations over the next few weeks. Some expressed frustration and alarm about what they described as a timid public health response and bemoaned the apparent lack of will among politicians and society at large for more aggressive steps.

Europe: The Omicron surge has led to tighter restrictions on gatherings in Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Scotland. Swedish officials warned that a surge of infections driven by the variant would continue rising until mid-January. Governments in Britain and France announced support for businesses as the continent’s busy season turned silent.

Over the past eight years, the Russian government has promoted the idea that the country is surrounded by enemies, enforcing that message in schools, the military, the media and the Orthodox Church. Now, as Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border, the steady militarization of society under Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, looms large and appears to have inured many to the idea that a fight could be coming.

Speaking to Russian military leaders on Tuesday, Putin insisted that Russia did not want bloodshed, but it was prepared to respond with “military-technical measures” to the West. State television is portraying all of Russia’s efforts in Ukraine as defensive maneuvers.

Some of the latest propaganda tactics include a $185 million four-year program started by the Kremlin this year that aims to drastically increase Russians’ “patriotic education.” It includes a plan to attract at least 600,000 children as young as 8 to join the ranks of a uniformed Youth Army.

Quotable: “The authorities are actively selling the idea of war,” Dmitri A. Muratov, a Russian newspaper editor who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said in his acceptance speech. “People are getting used to the thought of its permissibility.”

The latest: Vice President Kamala Harris said that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Russia “like you’ve not seen before” if it invaded Ukraine. She told CBS that the White House was making that clear in direct discussions with Putin.

Dollar-slice shops, a staple of New York City’s dining scene, face an existential crisis as prices for just about everything — including pizza boxes, pepperoni, flour and oil — have skyrocketed. Many owners of dollar-slice businesses, including those who have now raised their prices, said their revenues are half of what they were in 2019, before the pandemic.

The U.S. is experiencing the highest inflation in almost 40 years, while prices are rising all over the world. The surge stems from a confluence of factors, many of them related to the coronavirus pandemic. Factories have shuttered and ports are clogged, disrupting the supply of goods that people stuck at home have wanted to buy, like electronics and home furnishings.

In Turkey, an economic crisis has been precipitated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s direct interference in monetary policy, including lowering interest rates in the face of staggering inflation — precisely the opposite of what economists prescribe. Working families are now struggling to make ends meet and have had to cut back on basic necessities.

When Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York in Harlem, opened an ordinary box that had been sitting in the mailroom for months, he was startled by its contents: $180,000 in cash.

In Britain, the tradition of door-to-door caroling dates to at least Victorian times and is mentioned in Charles Dickens’s novels. Last year, most carol singing was canceled because of the pandemic. This year, a group of roving singers was determined to carry on, despite the threat of the Omicron variant, Alex Marshall reports for The Times.

Last Thursday, three carol singers went pub to pub to raise money for a homeless charity. (By the end of the night, their number had swelled to eight.) Quickly, an intricately harmonized rendition of “Deck the Halls” summoned drinkers from their chairs — and, eventually, solicited donations into red collection tins.

The pub crawl was not without risk, said Meg McClure, one of the organizers, who described it as “caroling on the edge.” But every singer had done a rapid antigen test before attending, she said, and the group had planned to perform outside if any of the pubs they visited were too busy.

That turned out not to be the case: At The Brunel, one of the pubs on the tour, there were just five customers, two of them visibly drunk. But as soon as the group started singing, they grabbed their audience’s attention.

One patron, stirred by the harmonies, pantomimed a heart attack. Another said she had originally planned to go to a concert by the rapper Little Simz that evening, but had decided not to go, because she was worried about catching the virus. “So this is amazing,” she said. “It’s the next best thing.”

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