Your Monday Briefing – The New York Times

Dozens of new cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were reported in Britain and Denmark yesterday, adding to increases across Europe and fueling fears that the variant had already spread widely. Though some European countries have imposed travel restrictions, it is unclear how much they will be able to curb transmission.

The highly mutated variant of the virus has reached almost 50 countries and has been detected in 17 American states. Scientists in South Africa said Omicron appeared to spread more than twice as quickly as Delta, thanks to a combination of contagiousness and an ability to dodge the body’s immune defenses. Here’s what we know so far.

The precise origins of the variant remain unknown. Some of the first cases to be detected in Botswana — among the first known in the world — were in foreign diplomats who had traveled to the country from Europe, the country’s president said. Infections at a New York anime convention suggest that it may have been spreading in the U.S. before it had a name.

Research: The Times went inside a cutting-edge lab in South Africa, which is on the front lines in the world’s battle against the evolving coronavirus.

Powerful associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, are making and selling captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Syria has become the world’s newest narcostate, and captagon is the country’s most valuable export, far surpassing legal products.

The drug trade, which emerged in the ruins of a decade of war, has grown into a multibillion-dollar operation. An investigation by The Times found that much of the production and distribution was overseen by an elite unit of the Syrian army commanded by the president’s younger brother. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is also a major player.

Scale: More than 250 million captagon pills have been seized across the globe so far this year, more than 18 times the amount captured just four years ago.

Pope Francis, returning to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, yesterday spoke out against the limited progress made in helping migrants. “Five years have passed since I visited this place,” he said. “After all this time, we see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration.”

His remarks came at the end of a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece meant to renew focus on migration, an issue he has never wavered on, even as the world’s attention has faltered. When the world has paid attention, it has usually been in a way opposite to how he had hoped, with migrant flows fueling nationalist and populist surges across Europe.

Francis argued yesterday that the intractable reality of the issue exposed both the failure of stopgap measures and the need for a coordinated global response. He denounced an “indifference that kills” in Europe, which he said had shown a “cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.”

Pandemic effects: Stringent restrictions were in place for Francis’ visit. A maximum of 160 migrants were admitted into the tent in which he spoke. All were required to be vaccinated and have tested negative as an extra precaution.

For roughly 50 days after a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands in September, thousands of honeybees sealed themselves away from deadly gas in their hives and feasted on honey. “It is a very empowering story,” one entomologist said.

Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader from Kansas — who grew up in Dust Bowl deprivation and suffered grievous wounds during World War II — died yesterday at 98. Read his full Times obituary.

We had just come to grips with Delta when Omicron came along, bringing with it a sweeping wave of anxiety.

The scientific understanding of the coronavirus is constantly changing and so, too, is the virus itself. As we continue to ride the pandemic roller coaster, learning to cope with our unpredictable world is not only possible but necessary.

Meditation can help calm an agitated mind that swings from thought to thought, a mental state Buddhists refer to as “monkey mind,” said Tim Olmsted, a practitioner of meditation for nearly 50 years. It teaches us that while there will always be external stressors, we don’t need to be dominated by those problems, he said.

“We can still find resilience and peace,” he continued. “Attending to our mind — letting it rest and refresh — is actually the most consequential thing we can do.” If you have never meditated before, there are many sources to help you start, including apps and retreats. Our guide to meditation has tips on how to achieve “greater equanimity, acceptance and joy.”

Read more tips for managing uncertainty in the pandemic.