Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 26, 2021

Countries tighten travel restrictions thanks to new COVID variant, retailers gear up for Black Friday, and more

1

Countries tighten travel restrictions after COVID variant found in South Africa

Dozens of countries including the U.K., Singapore, and Japan have begun restricting travel to and from South Africa, as news of a fast-spreading, possibly more contagious COVID-19 variant emerges. The European Union, for example, has proposed stopping flights arriving from the southern African region across the whole 27-nation bloc. Top South African health officials announced the discovery of the variant on Thursday, and are still trying to determine its origins; other cases have been discovered in Botswana and Hong Kong. Known as B.1.1.52, the new strain is said to be "the most heavily mutated version yet," and one that could possibly render the current roster of vaccines less effective. Experts from the World Health Organization are scheduled to meet later Friday to discuss the new variant and whether or not to classify it as one of concern. 

2

Retailers gear up for Black Friday shopping

Despite knotted supply chains and bare shelves, roughly 2 out of 3 Americans plan to shop over Thanksgiving weekend, including 108 million who plan to buy online or in-store on Black Friday, per the National Retail Federation. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the number of consumers expected to drop by a mall or shopping center this long weekend is predicted to double from 38 to 76 percent. To prepare, retailers are gearing up for traffic not just in-store but online as well, as they contend with consumer habits changed by the pandemic. On average, Americans are expected to spend $648 on gifts this holiday season, which is about 2 percent less than in 2019; still, however, overall holiday sales are expected to rise as much as 10.5 percent from 2020. 

3

Stock futures plunge after COVID variant news

The Dow futures market plunged 817 points, or 2.3 percent, Friday following news of another COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures experienced similar but proportionately smaller drops, while Asian and European indexes fell at slightly higher rates than the Dow. U.S. and global oil prices also slid, down 6.8 percent to around $73 a barrel and 6 percent to around $77, respectively. U.S. markets were closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving and have a short session Friday.

4

U.S. lawmakers have surprise visit with Taiwanese president

A bipartisan group of five members of the House of Representatives arrived in Taiwan Thursday and met with the Taiwanese president Friday, defying China's call to nix their visit. "We strongly urge the congresswoman immediately cancel the planned visit to Taiwan, and not to support and embolden separatist forces of 'Taiwan independence,' lest it cause huge damage to the China-U.S. relations and the peace and stability of Taiwan Straits," read a letter from Beijing reportedly received by the office of Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), one of the five, after news of the meeting broke. The U.S. doesn't officially recognize Taiwan's independence but functionally treats it as a distinct country, which includes selling Taiwan weapons.

5

Iran demands sanction relief ahead of new nuclear talks

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said in comments published Friday Tehran wants all sanctions lifted plus a guarantee that a future U.S. administration will not scrap a new or renewed nuclear deal, like former President Donald Trump did in 2018 with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Speaking with The Independent, Bagheri Kani said the Biden administration's continuation of Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" has caused "political bewilderment," precluding diplomatic progress. Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, made comments to a similar effect in a call with the European Union's foreign policy chief on Friday. New nuclear talks begin in Vienna on Monday.

6

Siberian coal mine collapse kills dozens

At least 51 people, including several rescue workers, have died after a Siberian coal mine caught fire and collapsed on Thursday. Most of about 300 people working in the mine were able to evacuate, but some were trapped in a distant underground area. One surviving rescue worker was discovered Friday after being presumed dead, but no more survivors are expected to be found due to high levels of methane and carbon monoxide in the mine. Work at this mine reportedly had been repeatedly suspended over safety issues, and the Russian Investigative Committee in the Kemerovo region has announced it will conduct a criminal investigation.

7

Arbery’s mother gives thanks for 'justice for Ahmaud'

The three men on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery were all found guilty on Wednesday. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, died in 2020 when Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan — all white — chased, confronted, and fatally shot Arbery while he was on a run. "This is the second Thanksgiving we've had without Ahmaud," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in a statement on Thursday. "But at the same time I'm thankful. This is the first Thanksgiving we are saying we got justice for Ahmaud."

8

Famous ‘Afghan Girl’ from magazine cover granted refuge in Italy

The green-eyed Afghan girl featured on a famous cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 was on Thursday granted refugee status in Italy, per an Italian government statement. Sharbat Gula was just 12-years-old when her image was featured on the iconic cover; she is now in her late forties, having been found living in Pakistan. According to the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, she has arrived in Rome. On Friday, the foreign ministers of India, Russia, and China released a joint statement expressing concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, as well as the proliferation of drug trafficking in the country, calling for "immediate and unhindered humanitarian assistance." They also pledged to do more to combat the region's drug problem, and asked the Taliban to respect U.N. influence in the country.

9

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sees triumphant return

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was back in all its glory Thursday morning, after a limited, pandemic-altered celebration last year. The route stretched once again across 2.5 miles of Manhattan streets, as spectators — who were not allowed in 2020 — waved to performers from the sidelines. Costumed handlers returned to walk giant balloons, and high school and college marching bands from all over the country, prohibited last year to cut down on travel, were back in full swing. Still, there were safety precautions — workers and volunteers were required to wear masks and be vaccinated against COVID-19. Spectators were encouraged to wear masks, as well. During the broadcast, President Biden called NBC's Al Roker to declare that "after two years, we're back. America is back," he said. "There's nothing we're unable to overcome."

10

Raiders trump Cowboys in overtime Thanksgiving nail-biter

The Las Vegas Raiders ended their three-game losing streak on Thursday after narrowly beating the Dallas Cowboys 36-33 in overtime. Vegas' Daniel Carlson kicked the game-winning 29-yard field goal after a penalty allowed the team to position themselves within range. This was the sixth overtime game of all time on Thanksgiving, as well as the third for the Cowboys, who are now 0-3 in Thanksgiving games that fell into overtime. This is also the first Thanksgiving victory for the Raiders since 1968.

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