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Your Friday Briefing: Israel Weighs Fourth Dose

We’re covering Israel’s decision on a fourth Covid vaccine dose and the disappearance of an outspoken teacher in China.

Getting a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Ramat Gan, Israel, in August.Credit…Oded Balilty/Associated Press

Israel weighs approving a fourth vaccine dose

Israel’s Health Ministry was weighing on Thursday whether to approve a fourth Covid vaccine dose to try to contain the fast-spreading Omicron variant after experts recommended it, saying they believed the country had to act.

Though there is not much scientific data, the pandemic response advisers concluded that the potential benefits outweighed the risks, pointing to signs of waning immunity a few months after the third shot and arguing that a delay in additional vaccine doses might prove too late to protect those most at risk.

If the Health Ministry approves the panel’s recommendation, Israel could start administering fourth doses as soon as Sunday for at-risk groups: those over age 60, the immuno-compromised and health care workers. The panel did not recommend a fourth dose for the general population. Top officials supported the move.

“The price will be higher if we don’t vaccinate,” Dr. Boaz Lev, the head of the advisory panel, said at a news conference late Wednesday. Describing the spread of Omicron as “a kind of tsunami or tornado,” he said, “We don’t have a lot of time to make decisions.”

Dissent: Some scientists say it’s premature. A few members of the panel raised concerns about a fading or exhausting of the immunological response in older people after multiple vaccinations within a short period of time.

Context: Israel was among the first countries to offer its residents a third shot, starting over the summer, and it would be well ahead of other nations in administering a fourth dose.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Spectators at the Winter Olympics next February should clap but not shout, the Chinese government said.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in cases challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates.

  • Omicron has driven U.S. cases past Delta’s peak.

  • The U.S. has rejected plans to revamp vaccine preparedness for decades and repeatedly paid a price.

  • Here’s a guide to rapid testing.


President Vladimir Putin of Russia also spoke about the economy and the coronavirus at his news conference. Credit…Natalia Kolesnikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Putin demands quick answers on Russian security

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, delivered sharp criticism of the West on Thursday for rising military tensions in Eastern Europe, saying that Moscow was not to blame for talk of “war, war, war” because it was merely defending historically Russian territories.

He said at his annual year-end news conference that the Biden administration had agreed to hold talks on Moscow’s security concerns starting in January, calling it a positive sign, and he did not markedly escalate tensions. But he also said that Russia would expect quick answers on its demands.

“It was the United States who came with their missiles to the doorstep of our house,” he said, referring to NATO expansion, adding: “You are demanding guarantees from me, but it’s you who must give us guarantees. Immediately. Right now.”

Russian diplomats detailed their demands on Eastern Europe — including a written pledge from NATO not to expand east — in two ultimatums last week. The proposals suggested establishing a Cold War-style security arrangement in Europe based on spheres of influence.

Related: The Pentagon is working on a plan to provide Ukraine with battlefield intelligence that could help the country more quickly respond to a possible Russian invasion, U.S. senior officials said.


“I’ve been targeted by public security,” Li Tiantian said in one message to Cui Junjie, a friend who has galvanized support online.

In China, an outspoken teacher disappears

Li Tiantian, who teaches at a rural school in Hunan Province, disappeared after telling friends that police officers had forced their way into her home and were taking her to a psychiatric hospital.

She told them the authorities had accused her of violating the bounds of officially acceptable comment on social media. In recent weeks, Li had publicly sympathized with a teacher in Shanghai who was fired for saying that there should be more rigorous study of China’s official death count for the Nanjing massacre, the Japanese army’s murder of residents of that city in 1937.

There has been an outpouring of public support for Li online. Unusually, the censors have not shut it down, possibly because central authorities see the case as a messy controversy best left to local authorities to clean up.

Sending government critics to psychiatric hospitals is a longstanding way of stifling and discrediting dissent. The authorities have stayed mostly mute about Li’s disappearance on Sunday, and they did not answer repeated phone calls from The New York Times.

THE LATEST NEWS

Asia Pacific

The “Pillar of Shame,” by the Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot.Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press
  • Hong Kong removed the “Pillar of Shame,” a statue dedicated to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

  • Intel apologized on Thursday for saying it would avoid products and labor from Xinjiang in a letter to suppliers.

  • An Australian landowner and two companies have been hit with hundreds of animal cruelty charges after a land-clearing operation in southwest Victoria last year led to the deaths of 70 koalas.

Around the World

Taylor Energy’s undersea wells have been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico since 2004, when they were damaged by Hurricane Ivan.Credit…Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
  • Taylor Energy will pay $43 million for a leak in the Gulf of Mexico that has been releasing oil since 2004, the longest-running spill in U.S. history.

  • Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, said the country would support an Iran nuclear pact. It may be because he thinks the prospect of a deal is unlikely.

  • Europe’s energy crunch shows little sign of easing, and traders doubt the continent has enough natural gas stored to last a cold winter without disruption.

  • An extensive study of ancient DNA suggests that a wave of newcomers — and perhaps the first Celtic languages — came to Britain from France three millenniums ago.

A Morning Read

Serving the final dish of a 13-course tasting menu that left a blogger complaining, “There was nothing even close to an actual meal served.”Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Bros’, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the southern Italian city of Lecce, became a global target for critics of pretentious cuisine after a negative review that derided its food and décor.

But the viral moment wasn’t all bad for the spot and its chef, our correspondent writes.

ARTS AND IDEAS

DMX in New York, 1998.Credit…Jonathan Mannion

The Lives They Lived

Every year, The Times Magazine looks back on the legacies and lives of people who died that year.

There was DMX, whose “music seethed with aggression and the kind of pain Black men rarely get to air in public.” The author Beverly Cleary “created Ramona Quimby for other mischievous kids.” Norm Macdonald “became a comedian’s comedian by bucking the conventions of our confessional age.”

Read The Lives They Lived.

Separately, Joan Didion, who explored the fraying edges of postwar American life in articles, and became a tough, distinctive voice in American fiction, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 87. The critic Parul Sehgal called her “the grand diagnostician of American disorder.”

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times

An easy weeknight pasta featuring crème fraîche, peas and scallions.

What to Watch

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are a toxic power couple in Joel Coen’s crackling adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Wellness

Research shows we radically underestimate the value of fun for our well-being. Here’s why it’s so important, and how to create playfulness, connection and flow.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Rome’s home (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.


That’s it for today’s briefing. If you’re celebrating this weekend, we wish you happy holidays!

See you next week. — Melina

P.S. The Times has three Oscar contenders: “Day of Rage,” from the Visual Investigations team, and two Op-Docs, “The Queen of Basketball” and “Takeover,” are among the shortlisted contenders.

The latest episode of “The Daily” features the year in sound, our audio time capsule for 2021.

You can reach Melina and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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