Good morning.

We’re covering the coronavirus surge in Central Europe, the last day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings and a standoff over water in Mexico.

Credit…Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Early lockdowns allowed much of Central Europe to avoid the widespread coronavirus infections that caused so much devastation in the first wave of the pandemic. But now, from the Polish port city of Gdansk on the Baltic to the ancient fortress town of Kotor on the Adriatic in Montenegro, the virus is moving across the region, setting new daily records for infections as the death toll steadily ticks upward.

Hospital beds are filling up in Poland; doctors in Hungary warn of a lack of medical workers; the authorities in Romania are struggling to track new cases; and health care workers are falling ill in Bulgaria. The Czech Republic has the highest coronavirus transmission rates in Europe.

There is particular concern about the damage the virus could sow in the former Communist countries of Central Europe, some of which have weak health care systems, critical shortages of doctors and nurses, and inadequate testing programs.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

On the last day of questioning in Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the future of the Affordable Care Act took center stage.

Judge Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she had no “animus” toward the health care law nor an “agenda” to strike it down, despite President Trump’s stated desire that she do so when the court hears a challenge next month. Our Supreme Court correspondent writes that at certain points, the judge’s technical description appeared to argue in favor of leaving the A.C.A. intact. Read our highlights from the day.

G.O.P.: Republicans lauded the ascension of a conservative, religious judge. Senator Lindsey Graham praised her as “a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology.”

The Upshot: Judge Barrett has embraced a “supermom” image that endears her to some Americans while raising concerns about the role of working mothers among others.

Opinion: In Judge Barrett, our columnist Nicholas Kristof writes, Republicans are once again supporting a Supreme Court nominee who could take the U.S. backward.

Upstanding frills: Judge Barrett’s pumps and pearls help to present the nominee as the opposite of an extremist, writes our chief fashion critic — and an extremist is, of course, how the Democrats are trying to portray her.

Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

In almost any given spot in central London, you’re never too far from a Pret A Manger shop — if not two dozen. The sandwich and coffee chain has become the go-to lunch spot for harried British office workers, seeping into cultural life with traditions like its Christmas sandwich and a policy that lets staff members give free coffee to people they like.

But with offices deserted because of the pandemic, Pret’s customers are nowhere to be seen. And what was formerly its greatest advantage — its central London stronghold — has suddenly become its biggest weakness.

Now, the company is willing to try almost anything to get back on its feet, including selling coffee beans on Amazon, moving to delivery and devising a special menu of hot evening meals, such as a chipotle chicken burrito bowl​. You can even get a coffee “subscription,” and the first month is free. “When you’re in survival mode,” its chief executive said, “you’ve got to try things.”

Quote: “I exist because of Pret’s oppressive ubiquity,” the satirical Albert-Camus-meets-Pret Twitter account @PretLEtranger posted last month. “There is no need for me now.”

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Farmers in Mexico armed with sticks, rocks and homemade shields ambushed soldiers and seized La Boquilla Dam, above, to stop water deliveries to the United States. The farmers said the Mexican government was sending water — their water — to Texas, leaving them with next to nothing for their crops.

Our reporter looked at the standoff pitting Mexican farmers against their country’s president and the superpower across the border. The fight illustrates a growing conflict over increasingly scarce resources as a result of rising temperatures and long droughts, which have been caused by climate change.

Golden Dawn: An Athens court sentenced the leaders of the Greek neo-fascist party to 13 years in prison on Wednesday after declaring it a criminal organization last week, wrapping up one of the most important political trials in the country’s modern history.

Soccer: A proposal to dramatically restructure the English Premier League was unanimously rejected by its members. Across the Channel, France’s soccer federation hired a consultant to address complaints about a toxic workplace culture. And the incoherence of British government regulations is on full display in the “beautiful game,” writes our soccer correspondent.

BTS: South Korea’s most hotly anticipated initial public offering in years is centered on the K-pop superstar group and the $4 billion company that manages it, Big Hit Entertainment, which began trading in South Korea on Thursday.

Ikea idea: The Swedish furniture retailer has started a global campaign to buy back used furniture as part of its efforts to combat climate change and discourage excessive consumption.

Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

Snapshot: Protesters in Bangkok on Wednesday, above, as the royal motorcade rolled by. After months of protests demanding reform, this was the first time that members of Thailand’s royal family had seen the frustration up close. The three-finger salute, taken from “The Hunger Games,” has become a symbol of the movement.

Lives Lived: Herbert Kretzmer, the London theater critic whose English-language lyrics for “Les Misérables” helped transform a little-known French musical into one of the world’s most successful theater productions, died at 95 on Wednesday.

What we’re reading: This Vice article on the growing appeal of desserts that are not too sweet. “I’m hoping this is the future,” writes Carole Landry of the Briefings team. “Let’s oppose the sugar bombs.”

Credit…Photograph by Heami Lee
Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Rebecca Bartoshesky.

Cook: James Beard’s onion sandwich is fresh and unfussy. Rolling the edge of the sandwich in chopped parsley gives it a retro styling touch, but it’s crucial for flavor, too.

Watch: The Netflix documentary “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” is a brief but endearing introduction to the idolized K-pop girl group.

Dance: Older adults who engage in ballroom dancing, folk dancing and other dance styles are less likely to fall than those who walk or do other exercises, researchers say. A strong argument for a bit of a boogie.

Let us help you beat boredom with our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.

Recent case studies in which people have been reinfected by the coronavirus — among them a 25-year-old man in Nevada and an 89-year-old woman in the Netherlands — have led to concerns about repeat bouts of illness. But these cases are very, very rare. Here’s what you need to know.

Coronavirus reinfection is highly unusual. More than 38 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus, but fewer than five of those cases have been confirmed as reinfections. One virologist described it as “a microliter-sized drop in the bucket, compared to the number of cases that have happened all over the world.”

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In most people, the immune system works as expected. Reinfections can occur for any number of reasons: because the initial infection was particularly mild, because the immune system was otherwise compromised or because the patient had been exposed to a large amount of the virus that seeded an infection before the immune response could take effect, to give three examples.

The same variability has been observed in patients with diseases like measles and malaria, experts said.

A second set of symptoms doesn’t prove reinfection. For every confirmed case, there are dozens of anecdotal reports of infected people who were sick and seemingly recovered but then became ill again weeks or months later. A vast majority of those cases are unlikely to be true reinfections. More likely, these are people experiencing a resurgence of symptoms connected to the original infection.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me.

— Natasha

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.
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• A Utah man’s chance encounter with four baby cougars while hiking resulted in this hair-raising six minute video after their mother pursued him along the trail.
• Our executive editor, Dean Baquet, released a note in support of the Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.



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