Your Monday Briefing – The New York Times

Dozens of new cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were reported yesterday in Britain and Denmark, adding to increases across Europe and fueling fears the variant has already spread widely. Although some European countries have imposed travel restrictions, it is not known to what extent they will be able to curb transmission.

The highly mutated variant of the virus has reached nearly 50 countries and has been detected in 17 US states. Scientists in South Africa said Omicron appeared to spread more than twice as fast as Delta, thanks to a combination of contagiousness and the ability to dodge the body’s immune defenses. Here’s what we know so far.

The precise origins of the variant remain unknown. Some of the first cases detected in Botswana – among the first known in the world – involved foreign diplomats who had traveled to the country from Europe, the country’s president said. Infections at an anime convention in New York City suggest she may have spread to the United States before she had a name.

Research: The Times has entered a state-of-the-art laboratory in South Africa, which is at the forefront of the global battle against the evolving coronavirus.

Powerful associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, manufacture and sell captagon, an illegal and addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Syria has become the world’s newest narco-state and captagon is the country’s most valuable export, far exceeding legal products.

Drug trafficking, which has emerged from the ruins of a decade of war, has turned into a multibillion dollar operation. A Times investigation found that much of the production and distribution was overseen by an elite unit of the Syrian army commanded by the president’s younger brother. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is also a major player.

Climb: More than 250 million captagon tablets have been seized worldwide so far this year, more than 18 times the amount captured just four years ago.

Pope Francis, back in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, spoke out yesterday against the limited progress made in helping migrants. “Five years have passed since I visited this place,” he said. “After all this time, we see that not much has changed regarding the issue of migration.”

His remarks came at the end of a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece intended to re-focus attention on migration, an issue he has never shied away from, even as the world’s attention has faltered. When the world paid attention, it was generally the opposite of what it had hoped for, with migrant flows fueling nationalist and populist surges across Europe.

Francis argued yesterday that the intractable reality of the problem revealed both the failure of interim measures and the need for a coordinated global response. He denounced a “indifference that kills” in Europe, which he said testified to a “cynical contempt which nonchalantly condemns marginalized people to death”.

Pandemic effects: Strict restrictions were in place for Francis’ visit. A maximum of 160 migrants were admitted to the tent in which he spoke. All were to be vaccinated and tested negative as an added precaution.

For about 50 days after a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands in September, thousands of bees isolated themselves from deadly gases in their hives and feasted on honey. “It’s a very stimulating story,” said an entomologist.

Bob Dole, the former Kansas Senate Majority Leader – who grew up in Dust Bowl deprivation and suffered serious injuries during World War II – died yesterday aged 98. Read his full Times obituary.

We had just tackled Delta when Omicron arrived, bringing with it a wave of anxiety.

Scientific understanding of the coronavirus is constantly evolving, as is the virus itself. As we continue to ride the pandemic roller coaster, learning to to deal with our unpredictable world is not only possible but necessary.

Meditation can help calm a restless mind moving from thought to thought, a mental state Buddhists call “the monkey mind,” said Tim Olmsted, a meditation practitioner for nearly 50 years. . It teaches us that while there will always be external stressors, we don’t need to be dominated by these issues, he said.

“We can still find resilience and peace,” he continued. “Paying attention to our mind – letting it rest and cool off – is actually the most important thing we can do. If you’ve never meditated before, there are many sources to help you get started, including apps and retreats. Our meditation guide contains tips on how to achieve “greater serenity, greater acceptance, and greater joy.”

Find out more tips for dealing with uncertainty during the pandemic.

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