Your Monday Briefing

November 23, 2020 

Good morning.

We’re covering Europe’s fight against the coronavirus, restriction breaches in Britain and President Trump’s lavish treatment of Israel.

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ImageGetting tested for Covid-19 through a window of a medical practice in Berlin last week. With rising case numbers, health institutions across Europe are reaching their testing limits.
Getting tested for Covid-19 through a window of a medical practice in Berlin last week. With rising case numbers, health institutions across Europe are reaching their testing limits.Credit...Lena Mucha for The New York Times

The latest wave of the coronavirus in Europe appears to have crested in recent days, but not before setting records that prompted another series of shutdowns.

The rate of new cases reported across the continent quintupled between September and November to about 300,000 a day, before declining a bit. Deaths have shot up from about 700 a day to almost 5,000, and a clear pattern of receding has yet to emerge. Hospitalization numbers have begun to flatten, but at a level that is nearly as high as the spring peak.

As more countries return to shutdowns, governments are straining to find ways to support furloughed and unemployed workers, and to keep restaurants and other businesses from going bankrupt. This week, in an extraordinary move, the European Central Bank all but promised to unleash new relief measures by December at the latest.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Despite surging cases in almost every state and warnings from officials, tens of millions of Americans are expected to travel by road and airplane during the Thanksgiving holiday.

  • The French agriculture ministry said on Sunday that 1,000 minks had been slaughtered at a farm south of Paris after some of the animals tested positive for the virus, and that minks were being tested at two other farms.

  • Japan has had its worst-ever jump in new cases, breaking records on four consecutive days, with at least 2,508 new cases on Sunday.

  • Montenegro is leading the world with the highest daily average of cases per person, according to Times data, which shows a global top 10 of entirely European countries.


President Trump with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the White House in September.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

The U.S. decision to lift the parole restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, will free him to move to Israel, where he is viewed as a hero. It is also one of the many gifts from the Trump administration to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

President Trump’s treatment of Mr. Netanyahu has been nothing short of lavish, our Jerusalem bureau chief writes.

Mr. Trump broke sharply with his predecessors’ approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, taking Israel’s side. His Middle East team piled pressure on the Palestinians to consider a lopsided peace proposal, then brokered accords for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan — deals that shattered Arab solidarity behind the Palestinian cause.

Pollard history: A former Navy intelligence analyst, Mr. Pollard served 30 years in a U.S. prison for stealing American secrets during the Cold War. His case, which the Justice Department addressed on Friday, had long been a sore point in the relations between the two countries. The U.S. continues to view Mr. Pollard, 66, as a traitor who did huge amounts of damage.

Israel submarine scandal: A decision by Mr. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, the defense minister, to hold an inquiry into the multibillion-dollar purchase of submarines and missile boats often described as the worst corruption scandal in Israel’s history, could further destabilize their unity government.


A class at the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu club in south London on Monday. The club has stayed open in defiance of coronavirus lockdown rules.Credit...Andrew Testa for The New York Times

In defiance of coronavirus lockdown rules — and despite visits from law enforcement — some English fitness centers have remained open as support for tough coronavirus restrictions wanes.

Resistance is not confined just to gyms, which are supposed to be closed to adults until the scheduled end of the current lockdown on Dec. 2. In recent weeks. fines have been issued to hundreds of Britons, including people partying on a moored boat in Liverpool and seven women caught traveling in a stretch limousine in the West Midlands.

Rebel gym owners say they are staying open on principle and to help people stay healthy, rather than for financial reasons. Many worry that curbs on them will continue beyond the start of December. Mr. Johnson is expected to give more details on his plans this week, though he faces scrutiny from dozens of restive Conservative lawmakers. If they refuse to support Mr. Johnson, he may have to rely on lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party, an awkward arrangement.

Quote: “I have no problem being arrested,” said one defiant gym director. “I am not committing a crime, I’m just exercising my rights.”

Related: The British airline Virgin Atlantic’s well-documented struggles have touched hundreds of companies around the world, many of which have been forced to accept reduced payments and lay off staff.


Credit...Emile Ducke for The New York Times

The Kolyma Highway in the Russian Far East once delivered tens of thousands of prisoners to the work camps of Stalin’s gulag. But for many Russians, including former prisoners, the horrors of the gulag are fading.

Our reporter and photographer drove along the highway to the remote settlements that are now shrinking and in ruins. “Everything here is built on bones,” said Andrey Kolyadin, a regional official.

U.S. elections: President Trump’s legal efforts to challenge election results in Pennsylvania were met with defeat and a sharp judicial rebuke on Saturday, and some fellow Republicans began to acknowledge that he had lost both the state and his bid for re-election. President-elect Joe Biden will announce his first cabinet nominees on Tuesday.

Afghanistan talks: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Qatar with Afghan and Taliban negotiators who are trying to break a deadlock in their stalled peace negotiations. On Saturday, a rocket attack in Kabul killed at least eight people, and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

G20: A closing statement released on Sunday by the Group of 20 summit served as perhaps the Trump presidency’s final reminder of the wide gulf between the U.S. and its allies on handling global threats like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

Pompeii discovery: Excavations at a suburban villa outside the ancient city frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago have recovered the remains of two dwellers, tentatively identified as a wealthy landowner and a younger enslaved person.


Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Snapshot: Gulalay Amiri, above, a pomegranate farmer in Arghandab, a district in southern Afghanistan, was dismayed at how little fruit remained after a Taliban incursion. “I am faced with loss,” he said. A Taliban offensive has cut the heart out of the pomegranate harvest season in the region, leaving farming families desperate.

Lives Lived: The Argentine-born director Nelly Kaplan, whose witty, satire-tinged French films about female empowerment and revenge made her a distinctive voice in a male-dominated era, died at 89 earlier this month.

What we’re watching: The Guardian’s video report on North Korean women working in Chinese factories producing P.P.E. for export worldwide. “It’s a chilling look at what may amount to modern slavery,” writes Carole Landry, on the Briefings team.


Credit...Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times

Cook: The key to mastering a basic French omelet is controlling the heat so the eggs do not brown, and whisking the eggs in the skillet so they set on the exterior but remain fluffy inside.

Read: Our editors from the Book Review have released this year’s list of 100 notable books, spanning every genre, to help you select your bedside reading for the coming months.

Do: A ninth-century Viking adventure, a game about robots and an escape from hell: Here’s what’s new in video games.

Get busy — safely. At Home has all our ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do.

We created our own A.I. system to understand how easy it is to generate different fake faces. Kashmir Hill, a tech reporter, and Jeremy White, a graphics editor, worked on a gallery of portraits of people who may look real, but aren’t. Have a look.


There are now businesses that sell fake people. If you just need a couple fake people — for characters in a video game, or to make your company website appear more diverse — you can get their photos for free on a website. These simulated people are also used by spies to infiltrate the intelligence community, right-wing propagandists who hide behind fake profiles and online harassers who troll their targets with a friendly visage.

But they’re not quite perfect. Our A.I. system repeatedly made the same small mistakes as it generated new faces. Earrings, for example, might look similar but often may not exactly match. Abstract or blurry backgrounds are often giveaways.

“It was pretty interesting to set up our own A.I. system and generate hundreds of faces to see how it’s done,” Jeremy wrote. “This story explores how good the technology is getting and how you can spot the fakes.”

That’s it for this briefing. Wishing you a great start to the week.

— Natasha

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the pandemic in a rural area of the U.S.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Place for books (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• A few contenders for Oxford’s 2020 Word of the Year: “Blursday” (which captures the way the week blends together), “covidiot” (you know who you are) and “doomscrolling” (who, me?).
• Because words with harmful connotations have been baked into tech communication, The Times is re-examining the language we use to describe our technology.

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