Your Thursday Briefing

A Covid test last week in Danzhai, China.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Negative Covid tests for travelers from China

Travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, must present negative Covid-19 tests before entering the U.S. starting Jan. 5, a move that the Biden administration says is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The requirement comes amid growing concern over a surge of cases in China and the country’s lack of transparency about the outbreak there.

Health officials said the requirement for testing will apply to air passengers regardless of their nationality and vaccination status, as well as to those coming from China who enter the U.S. through a third country, and to those who connect through the U.S. to other destinations. Italy and Japan have already imposed similar restrictions.

Some experts questioned whether the testing requirement would do any good — especially given a surge in cases in northeastern states. In the U.S., an especially fast-spreading Omicron subvariant, XBB, appears to be spreading more quickly than ones related to the dominant variant in Beijing, BF.7, which is related to BA.5.

Background: After three years of a “zero Covid” policy, China made an abrupt turnabout in early December, after mass protests over lockdowns threatened the ruling Communist Party. Since then, there has been an explosion of cases.

Related: As cases rise in parts of the U.S., myths and misleading narratives continue and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

Ukrainian soldiers at a funeral in Kyiv.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Hopes dim for Russia-Ukraine peace talks

Ukrainian and Russian officials have insisted that they are willing to discuss making peace. But statements made in recent days show that each side’s demands are flatly unacceptable to the other, and that there appears to be little hope for serious negotiations in the near future.

Ukraine this week proposed a “peace” summit by the end of February but said Russia could participate only if it first faces a war-crimes tribunal. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that Kyiv must accept all of Russia’s demands, including that Ukraine give up four regions that Moscow claims to have annexed.

The hard-line positions suggest that both sides believe they have more to gain on the battlefield, analysts say. Ukraine holds the momentum, having retaken much of the land that Russia captured early in the war. But Moscow’s forces still occupy large chunks of the east and south, and Russia is readying more troops and continuing its attacks on infrastructure.

Analysis: “They are both in it for the long haul,” Karin von Hippel​, director general of the Royal United Services Institute, said. “Putin still feels he can win this. He still has more men and more money, although you wonder what his tipping point will be.”

In other news from the war:

  • The U.S. is trying to prevent Iran from supplying Russia with drones.

  • A Russian tycoon who had criticized the war was found dead after apparently falling from a hotel terrace in India.

The retired Pope Benedict XVI, right, with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2017.Credit…Osservatore Romano/AFP Via Getty

Pope Benedict XVI is ‘very ill’

Pope Francis yesterday asked the faithful to pray for the retired Pope Benedict XVI and said he was “very ill.” In their prayers, Francis said, people should ask God to console Benedict and “support him in this witness of love to the church, until the end.”

A Vatican spokesman said that Francis later visited Benedict, 95, at the monastery on Vatican City grounds where the former pope has lived since announcing his resignation in February 2013. Benedict was the first pope in six centuries to step down. Increasingly frail, he has rarely made public appearances in recent years.

When he resigned nearly 10 years ago, Benedict cited his declining health, both “of mind and body.” He said that “due to an advanced age” he felt that his strengths were “no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of leading the church and that he had decided to resign freely “for the good of the church.” Since then, he has mostly stepped back from public life.

Quotable: “I’d like to ask all of you for a special prayer for emeritus Pope Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the church,” Francis said at the end of an hourlong audience.

Benedict’s life: Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in 1927 and was ordained a priest in 1951. He became pope after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and took the name of a fifth-century monk, Benedict of Norcia, who had founded monasteries that spread Christianity in Europe.


Around the World

Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times
  • The Hardy Tree, which was named after the writer Thomas Hardy and which had been infected by a fungus, fell over in central London last weekend.

  • A public backlash against Israel’s new conservative government prompted an unusual intervention by Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, who voiced concerns. The new government will likely take power today.

  • The wife and daughter of the soccer star Ali Daei, one of the most prominent critics of Iran’s crackdown on protesters, were stopped from leaving Iran.

  • Three white men were arrested and charged after a violent attack on two Black teenagers at a resort pool in South Africa on Christmas Day.

From the U.S.

  • Republicans are stepping up their attacks on the F.B.I., as it investigates Donald Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia.

  • The attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands has accused JPMorgan Chase of helping Jeffrey Epstein exploit women and girls.

  • A man who prosecutors said had planned to kidnap Michigan’s governor and possibly assassinate her was sentenced to just under 20 years in prison.

  • The Jan. 6 House committee released more transcripts showing how Donald Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged in the Capitol riot.

What Else Is Happening

Credit…Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix, via AFP — Getty Images
  • Denmark may cancel one of 11 public holidays in an effort to generate more tax revenue and increase spending on defense.

  • The meltdown at Southwest Airlines, which has canceled thousands of flights after a major winter storm, is drawing scrutiny as passengers remain stranded.

  • Downtown areas may never return to how they once were. What would it take to turn empty offices into housing?

A Morning Read

Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris draws many visitors to the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust and other celebrated artists buried there. In recent years, it has also become a haven for the city’s wildlife. Foxes and tawny owls are among the many animals calling it home.


What’s next for United? Having missed out on Cody Gakpo to Liverpool, United is focused on trying to find temporary or low-cost permanent strikers.

Watching Newcastle United in the U.S.: The former Newcastle United defender Robbie Elliott answered fan questions while watching a game with George Caulkin in Portland, Ore.

When will an East African team qualify for a World Cup? Morocco’s inspiring run to the 2022 World Cup semifinals was a boon for African soccer, but no East African nation has ever qualified for the tournament.


Mexico’s digital nomads

Mexico City is a hot remote-work destination for Americans and Europeans because of its vibrant mix of gastronomy, history and bustling street life. But the influx of remote workers is pushing housing costs higher, as landlords take advantage of record demand for long-term stays on platforms like Airbnb.

Critics say that local residents are being forced out of their apartments, upending the fabric of neighborhoods. Average monthly rents in Mexico City jumped to $1,080 in November from $880 in January 2020, according to a real estate website. (The average monthly salary in Mexico City is $220.)

Cities around the world, including London, New York and Barcelona, Spain, have targeted Airbnb by imposing stricter rules for rentals, but in Mexico City the company is working with government officials “to be part of the solution,” an Airbnb spokesman said. The city’s leftist mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has partnered with the company on a campaign that encourages foreigners to spend money in poorer neighborhoods.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

This chicken piccata is among the dishes our reporters and editors cooked the most this year.

What to Read

“In Praise of Failure,” by the philosopher Costica Bradatan, is by turns maddening, disturbing, exasperating and seductive.

What to Watch

“Living,” with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, tells the story of a bureaucrat transformed by a grim diagnosis.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Many a carousel animal (five letters).

And here are today’s Wordle and 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 word “timberbeast” appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday in a story about lumberjacks.

“The Daily” is on the James Webb Space Telescope.

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

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