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Vaccine Mandates, South Africa, Benedict Cumberbatch: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Thursday.

1. Large companies have until Jan. 4 to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The new deadline, which was set by the Biden administration, will cover 84 million private sector workers. An estimated 31 million of them are currently unvaccinated. The plan applies to businesses with 100 or more employees. Workers who refuse must undergo weekly testing and wear masks. Here’s what the mandate means for you.

Officials also unveiled new emergency rules for health care workers, requiring 17 million of them who received Medicare or Medicaid funding to be vaccinated by the same date. Some major companies like Tyson Foods — which now has a 96 percent vaccination rate — were quick to embrace the mandates, but others have held off.

2. Europe is again experiencing near-record levels of coronavirus infections, and it could experience half a million Covid-related deaths in the next three months, the W.H.O. said.

Europe accounted for 59 percent of the world’s newly reported coronavirus cases last week, and for nearly half the world’s Covid-related deaths. “Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic — where we were one year ago,” said Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s director for the European region.

Dr. Kluge said the virus was surging because of relaxed precautions like mask-wearing and low vaccination rates.

In Italy, the center of the country’s anti-vaccine protests is now a Covid hot spot. The region’s president put it bluntly: “It is the moment to say with clarity: Enough idiocy.”

3. House speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to vote tonight on a $1.85 trillion social safety net, climate and tax bill.

Another vote would follow on Friday morning to clear a Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure. But centrists were balking at passing the social policy bill before evaluating its fiscal effects, and they were also concerned about supporting policies — such as a provision to grant legal status to some undocumented immigrants — that were likely to face resistance in the Senate.

5. More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, in a deal announced at the U.N. climate summit.

But several of the biggest coal consumers were notably absent from the accord, including China and India, which together burn roughly two-thirds of the world’s coal, as well as Australia. The U.S., which still generates about one-fifth of its electricity from coal, also didn’t sign the pledge.

The new pact includes 23 countries that for the first time are promising to stop new coal plants at home. The Biden administration, however, did join a pledge to end financing for “unabated” oil, gas and coal in other countries by the end of next year.

With the climate pledges mounting, some of the world’s biggest financial firms are warning that the rush to transition toward clean energy could have unintended consequences for the global economy.

6. South Africa’s A.N.C. suffered its worst election setback since apartheid ended.

The African National Congress won less than 50 percent of the vote nationally on Monday, the first time in its history that it has failed to cross that threshold. Voters went to the polls to choose councilors and mayors but used the elections to vent about national issues, including record unemployment and anger over the handling of Covid.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is admired among South Africans, but they see a disconnect between his message of renewal and the corruption that has sullied his party among local leaders. Not since Nelson Mandela was the face of the party has the A.N.C. so heavily relied on the personality of its leader in a local election, one organizer said.

7. Every 10 years for the last 70, the astronomical community has set priorities for big-ticket items over the next decade. Their latest list includes telescopes to search for life beyond Earth.

American astronomers called for “extremely large” multibillion-dollar telescopes bigger than any on Earth or in space. One would blend rival telescope projects into one called the United States Extremely Large Telescope. Another would be a space telescope larger than the Hubble (also a product of this process), capable of studying Earthlike planets.

In other news from the cosmos, astronauts aboard the International Space Station grew chiles. The result: “best space tacos yet.”

8. Benedict Cumberbatch shot to fame as Sherlock Holmes. Now he’s playing a seething cowboy — and earning some of the best reviews of his career.

For “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s new psychodrama, Cumberbatch learned to do everything you see onscreen: “braiding rope, working with the cattle, castrating — braiding rope while smoking a cigarette, incredibly difficult!” Cumberbatch even stayed in character between takes. The result was “intoxicating,” he said.

We also spoke to Meryl Streep about how she prepared to play the U.S. president in Adam McKay’s apocalyptic satire “Don’t Look Up.”

And our film critics found “Eternals,” Marvel’s latest saga, to have a steady heartbeat beneath the spectacle, and “Spencer,” the Princess Diana biopic, to be “an allegory of powerlessness, revolt and liberation.”

9. A trip down memory food lane.

Long before Stouffer’s became synonymous with TV dinners, the company began as a small dairy stand before expanding into restaurants, hotels and freezer-aisle products. For our Food columnist Eric Kim, the macaroni and cheese has become a platonic ideal of a household staple: a sauce of creamy, golden velvet on perfectly cooked noodles. Here’s how to make your own at home.

And more than 100 years ago, Marshmallow Fluff was created in New England. Today it is largely consumed in a sandwich with peanut butter. Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the U.S., recently added the common name for the regional delight, fluffernutter, to its pages.

10. And finally, the art and ritual of rangoli.

Every year around this time, more than a billion people worldwide celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. Part of the tradition is an ornate ancient Indian folk art known as rangoli. While making rangoli can be celebratory, it is also a daily ritual for many women in India and the diaspora.

Geometric patterns, religious symbols and floral designs are drawn on the floor of one’s home, often using chalk and colorful powders, to ward off evil spirits and welcome gods and goddesses. Some use edible materials to feed as many souls as possible. Our reporter spoke with women across the U.S. about their traditions, and reflected on her own. Take a look at their colorful designs.

Have a bright night.

Eve Edelheit compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Want to catch up on past briefings? You can browse them here.

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