🌍 Is omicron less dangerous?

🌍 Is omicron less dangerous?

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Here’s what you need to know

Studies suggest omicron is less dangerous than previous variants. Preliminary data from the UK and South Africa show a lower risk of hospitalization, but the strain’s high transmissibility is still a concern.

US federal vaccine mandates head to the Supreme Court in January. Justices will rule on disputes over testing and vaccination at large companies, and in healthcare settings.

The US authorized Pfizer’s covid-19 pill. The anti-viral medication is for newly infected patients to take at home. Meanwhile, the US Army is working on a variant-proof vaccine.

Joe Biden said the supply chain has recovered in time for Christmas.Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered, shelves are not empty,” the US president declared.

Biden also extended the student-loan moratorium. Repayments are now set to resume on May 1, three months later than originally planned.

Intel apologized to China over Xinjiang. The US chip maker had told suppliers not to source products or labor from the region, where there are longstanding allegations of human rights abuses against Uyghurs.

What to watch for

Vladimir Putin is holding his annual marathon press conference today. Since the Russian president first took office in 2001, these tend to be highly elaborate, tightly controlled events that traditionally top three hours. Last year, it was more than four hours long.

It’s an extremely tense time for Russia—the West is eyeing its forces at Ukraine’s border, and the Kremlin has been cracking down on independent media, activists, and political opponents. Putin is likely to take aim at NATO and the US, blaming them for goading him into a possible Ukrainian invasion, but it’s unlikely he’ll mention the troubling suppression of individuals and organizations, particularly those connected to poisoned, imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

This isn’t Putin’s only highly anticipated annual event—he hosts a Direct Line Q&A, makes a state of the nation address, and releases an official calendar. Yes, the 2022 edition absolutely features the Russian president shirtless, holding a rifle.

What libraries lent in 2021

Libraries have had an interesting year. Ebooks were on the rise even before 2020, but pandemic-related closures and a supply chain crisis certainly gave them a boost. But even if ebooks are popular, people are still physically returning to their beloved libraries.

“Now that all of our buildings are open, digital circulation has begun to decline slightly while print circulation is edging up,” said Frank Brasile, a librarian at Seattle Public Library. Fiction has been the main attraction this year, according to data given to Quartz by 14 libraries in some of the largest cities in the US.

A map of the US, showing which library books were lent out most in 2021 in 14 major cities.
Image: Quartz

The overall standouts were The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah, as the most commonly checked-out ebook, with Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half coming in second.

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Surprising discoveries

Spanish ham sniffers are busy this holiday season. Caladores are putting their noses on overdrive for the best Iberian pork loins.

What about a whiff of fig leaf, orange peel, and jasmine? That’s the scent of a new perfume made from carbon emissions.

Ancient DNA revealed a surprise about Britain’s genes. It’s possible half came from France 3,000 years ago.

Scientists found a perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo in an egg. Somewhere, Jeff Goldblum said: “Let’s do this.”

A 5,700-year-old tomb is the world’s oldest family tree. The dead were buried according to whom they descended from.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Send any news, comments, calador-approved meats, and Earth-saving perfume to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Hasit Shah, Clarisa Diaz, Susan Howson, and Morgan Haefner.