A New Variant, Maxwell Trial, and Tiffany's Most Expensive Piece Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Monday, Nov. 29, and we're covering the spread of a new coronavirus variant, the trial of a Jeffrey Epstein associate, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].

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Omicron Variant

The World Health Organization declared Friday a new mutation of the coronavirus to be a variant of concern, citing potential increased transmissibility and possible increased resistance to immune protections and vaccinations. 


Dubbed the omicron variant, the strain was first detected in South Africa. A number of countries instituted travel bans from the region; however, by yesterday the variant had been detected in the UK, Hong Kong, Australia, and elsewhere. Average daily cases in South Africa have jumped by roughly 600% over the past two weeks.  


Omicron has around 50 mutations, including more than 30 on the virus' spike protein (see 101), the structure used to connect to human cells. Some of the individual mutations have been linked to decreased protection against general infection. There is no evidence to date of an increased risk of severe illness or death.


Scientists noted thousands of mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been observed as they spread around the world (see visualization), with most strains emerging and quickly fading.

Maxwell Trial Begins

Opening arguments begin today in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, a confidant of deceased sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. The 59-year-old British socialite is accused of effectively managing a sex ring for the former financier, recruiting underage girls to be made available for Epstein's wealthy associates. 


The degree to which details of Epstein's business and social dealings will be revealed in the trial is unclear. The judge has narrowed the scope of the proceedings to four specific allegations linked to the recruitment of underage girls between 1994 and 2004. Federal officials previously identified 36 girls abused by Epstein, though the total number may be much higher


Maxwell is also implicated in a civil case brought in August by Virginia Giuffre against Britain's Prince Andrew, alleging she was abused by the prince in the early 2000s. Maxwell also settled a separate civil suit with Giuffre in 2017.

Death in the English Channel 

A dispute between the United Kingdom and France intensified over the weekend, with each side casting blame after a migrant boat capsized while attempting to cross the English Channel Wednesday. At least 27 people drowned, including a reported five women and a young girl, the deadliest such incident since records began in 2014. 


Most crossing attempts occur at the Strait of Dover, the waterway's narrowest point, which is roughly 20 miles across. It also marks a choke point for the world's busiest shipping lane, a risk compounded by exceptionally strong tides, unpredictable weather, and cold waters. 


More than 25,000 migrants have crossed the channel this year, more than 10 times the rate seen in 2019—a rise attributed to a crackdown on human smuggling via trucks. See why migrants view the UK as a desirable end point here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with Butcher Box

> Stephen Sondheim, legendary musical theater composer and lyricist, who won eight Tonys, eight Grammys, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize, dies at 91 (More) | Broadway community reacts (More) | Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton artistic director and founder of fashion label Off-White, dies at 41 of cancer (More)


> Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley makes surprise jump to USC (More) | No. 5 Michigan beats rival No. 2 Ohio State, 42-27, for the first time since 2011 (More) | Pro Football Hall of Famer Curley Culp dies at 75 of cancer (More)


> Jury selections begin today in trial against actor Jussie Smollett, nearly three years after he was charged with lying to police about a false racist and homophobic attack (More)

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Science & Technology

> James Webb telescope suffers incident during mounting, expected to push back launch to Dec. 22; the space-based observatory is billed as the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built (More)


> Engineers demonstrate 3D printing using ink filled with living microbes; advance may have use in the production of custom medical devices (More)


> Quiet wind periods on Mars allow the geologic data collection of the first three hundred feet below the planet's surface via NASA's InSight probe (More)

Business & Markets

> US stock markets slide Friday on holiday-shortened session (S&P 500 -2.3%, Dow -2.5%, Nasdaq -2.2%) due to omicron variant fears; Dow posts worst day of 2021 (More)


> US weekly jobless claims decline to 199,000, the lowest weekly recording since 1969 (More)


> Black Friday foot traffic at US retail stores was down 28% over 2019, but up 48% over last year; e-commerce retailers saw $8.9B in sales, just below last year’s total of $9B (More)

Politics & World Affairs

> Three Georgia men convicted of felony murder for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery last February; verdict returned Wednesday after 11 hours of deliberation, sentencing to be held in coming weeks (More) | The 25-year-old Black man was killed during a confrontation while jogging; see overview of trial (More)


> Germany's Olaf Scholz to lead a center-left coalition, succeeding retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel, who led a center-right government (More) | Sweden's Magdalena Andersson, the country's first female prime minister, steps down seven hours after beginning role due to budget impasse (More)


> Biden administration to restart "Remain in Mexico" policy, following court order; program requires many migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their case is adjudicated (More)



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Thanksgiving in America, in photos.


Deep sea diving session recovers an ancient mammoth tusk


The allure of power plant demolition videos.


Tiffany & Co. unveils its most expensive item ever.


Artist develops the world's brightest white paint.


Scientists poke a hole in a major Marvel movie plot.


Midwesterners are springing for pet plastic surgery.


The notorious Clippy returns


Clickbait: Plumbers reckon with "Brown Friday."


Historybook: "Chronicles of Narnia" author CS Lewis born (1898); UN General Assembly approves plan to partition Palestine (1947); Warren Commission is established to investigate President Kennedy assassination (1963); RIP social activist Dorothy Day (1980); RIP Beatles guitarist George Harrison (2001).


"All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much."

- George Harrison

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