Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 29, 2021

The U.S. braces for the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant, Moderna says Omicron vaccine could be ready in early 2022, and more

1

Omicron variant continues to spread as U.S. prepares response

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus continued to spread on Sunday, with the Netherlands, Austria, and Canada becoming the latest countries to report their first cases of the fast-spreading strain first reported in South Africa. Australia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Israel, and Italy also have detected infections with the variant. More countries tightened travel restrictions, with Israel and Japan banning entry to all foreigners. Australia restricted travel from several African countries. Britain resumed mask mandates and PCR tests for visitors. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, said Sunday on ABC's This Week that the variant would "inevitably" reach the United States, so the country must step up vaccination efforts to be ready. President Biden will update the nation Monday on his administration's response to the new variant.

2

Moderna says Omicron-variant vaccine could be out in early 2022

Moderna could release a coronavirus vaccine adjusted to fight the Omicron variant by early 2022, the company's chief medical officer, Paul Burton, said Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether current forms of coronavirus vaccines would provide protection against the new variant, which was first detected in South Africa and has spread to numerous countries around the world. "We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks, but the remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast," Burton said on BBC's Andrew Marr Show. "If we have to make a brand new vaccine I think that's going to be early 2022 before that's really going to be available in large quantities."

3

Ex-Defense Secretary Mark Esper sues Pentagon over memoir redactions

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon on Sunday, accusing it of "infringing on my First Amendment rights" by demanding changes in his tell-all memoir about his service under former President Donald Trump. Esper said in the lawsuit that the Defense Department withheld "significant" details from the book, A Sacred Oath, which is due to be published in May. He said agreeing to the 60 pages of requested redactions, including quotes from Trump, would be "a serious injustice to important moments in history that the American people need to know and understand." Esper, who was fired by Trump in a tweet two days after the 2020 election, needs Pentagon approval to override his secrecy agreements.

4

Ghislaine Maxwell's sex-trafficking trial begins

The trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of helping the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein recruit and sexually abuse underage girls, begins Monday in a Manhattan courtroom. Maxwell, 59, faces six counts related to her alleged involvement in a sex-trafficking scheme to get underage girls to travel and engage in illegal sex acts with Epstein and others. Epstein was found dead in his jail cell more than two years ago as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges. The New York City medical examiner ruled his death a suicide by hanging. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, she faces up to 70 years in prison.

5

7.5-magnitude earthquake strikes northern Peru 

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit northern Peru on Sunday about 25 miles northwest of the coastal city of Barranca, which has a population of about 63,000. The quake toppled a 16th-century Catholic church tower and damaged or destroyed about 220 homes. Authorities said there were no reports of deaths, but at least four people suffered minor injuries. Some roads and other infrastructure also were damaged. The earthquake struck in a sparsely populated area, and it was about 70 miles below the Earth's surface. Both factors helped limit the losses. President Pedro Castillo Terrones tweeted that he would visit the affected Amazonas region to survey the damage.

6

Barbados prepares to remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state

Barbados this week will remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state as the former British colony declares itself a republic. Sandra Mason, the country's governor general, was elected last month by the Barbadian parliament as the eastern Caribbean island nation's first president. She will take the oath of office Monday night. "The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind," Mason said in September. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley to be a guest of honor at the transition ceremony. Barbados, which has a population of about 300,000 and has been independent since 1966, is the first British commonwealth nation in nearly three decades to remove the British monarch as its head of state.

7

QAnon star Michael Flynn recorded calling QAnon 'total nonsense'

Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general hired then fired and finally pardoned by former President Donald Trump, has publicly embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory, selling QAnon merchandise, recording himself taking a QAnon oath, and making a controversial appearance at a QAnon convention in Dallas in May. But in a phone call recorded and released by former ally Lin Wood on Saturday night, the man purported to be Flynn says he thinks QAnon is "a disinformation campaign that the CIA created," adding: "I find it total nonsense. And I think it's a disinformation campaign created by the left." The Daily Beast writes that "Wood's publication of the audio comes as part of a growing feud between … figures active in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election."

8

Former 'Empire' star Jussie Smollett's trial set to start

Jury selection is scheduled to start Monday in former Empire star Jussie Smollett's trial on charges that he made false claims about being targeted in a hate crime three years ago. After he was accused of staging the attack, he was written off the hit Fox television show. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office suddenly dropped disorderly conduct charges against Smollett months later. Scrutiny of that decision resulted in the appointment of a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation and look into possible wrongdoing by Foxx's office. A year later, Smollett was indicted on disorderly conduct charges again for allegedly making false statements to police claiming he was the victim of a racist and anti-gay attack near his apartment. 

9

France inducts Josephine Baker into its Pantheon

France this week will induct American cabaret dancer, civil rights activist, and World War II spy Josephine Baker into its Pantheon. Baker is the first Black woman to receive the honor of a place where France's heroes are buried. "She embodies, before anything, women's freedom," Laurent Kupferman, who wrote the petition that prompted President Emmanuel Macron to approve Baker's entry into the Pantheon. Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906. She moved to France at age 19 and became an instant success at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless in a show challenging racist stereotypes about African women, Kupferman said in the petition. In a Tuesday ceremony, soil from France, the U.S., and Monaco, where Baker is buried, will be deposited in the Pantheon monument.

10

Fashion designer Virgil Abloh dies of cancer at 41

Trailblazing Black fashion designer Virgil Abloh died Sunday in Chicago after battling a rare cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma for two years. He was 41. Abloh was the first Black artistic director of Louis Vuitton men's wear. The Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury group bought a majority stake in his Off-White brand this year. Before founding his streetwear fashion house in 2013, Abloh left his mark on the music scene as artistic director for Jay-Z and Kanye West's 2011 album Watch The Throne. He was a frequent collaborator with West since the days they worked together as interns at Fendi in 2009. He also collaborated with companies and artists that included Nike, Levi, Jimmy Choo, Moncler, Dr. Martens, Champion, Rihanna, and Beyoncé.

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