Your Monday Briefing – The New York Times

Plagued by survivor’s guilt, anger and regrets, those left behind in the province — the hardest-hit place in Italy, and perhaps the world — grapple to understand how the coronavirus has changed them.

The northern Italian province, which gave the West a preview of the horrors to come — oxygen-starved grandparents, teeming hospitals and convoys of coffins rolling down sealed-off streets — now serves as a disturbing postcard from the post-traumatic aftermath.

Coping mechanisms: Doctors at a hospital that became an incubator of the virus said they had seen an increase in patients with substance abuse issues, and psychologists in the province have reported a rise in anxiety and depression.

From the front lines: “People are scared to see one another,” said one woman, whose father died of Covid-19 in March. “There is a lack of affection, of touching and holding.”

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

As the clock runs down, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, are preparing their domestic audiences for the final act of the long-running Brexit drama.

But whether that outcome will be a landmark accord requiring compromise or a breakdown that will disrupt cross-channel trade remains unclear. And nobody disputes that there are genuine differences between the two sides, ranging from state aid to fishing rights, with few easy solutions.

Analysis: “There is still some distance to travel, and the distance has yet to be traveled, because it involves concessions that are painful,” said one analyst at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “That’s part of the reason both sides have a vested interest in being seen to be fighting.”

Next steps: The two leaders will speak again today to determine whether a deal can be struck by a Dec. 31 deadline. If not, the European Union will begin imposing tariffs on British goods.

A new report commissioned by the U.S. State Department cites radio-frequency energy, a type of radiation that includes microwaves, as the most probable cause of a series of mysterious afflictions that sickened scores of American spies and diplomats in Cuba, China, Russia and other countries, starting in 2016.

Findings: Though couched in careful, scientific language, the report suggests that the victims’ ailments were the result of malicious, targeted attacks. The report also contains a stark warning about the possibility of future episodes, and about the U.S. government’s ability to detect them, or to mount a response.

The illness: Victims experienced dizziness, fatigue, headaches and loss of hearing, memory and balance. Some U.S. government employees who fell ill had to retire.

What’s next: Several victims have accused Trump administration officials of downplaying the issue in an attempt to avoid disrupting international ties. They now ask how President-elect Joe Biden will respond, especially given the new findings.

Anxiety sweat. Horsehair. Sulfuric compounds from gunpowder. A touch of leather. These scents, among others, may have featured in the olfactory palette of Napoleon’s retreat from the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

In the growing field of smell research, researchers work on what is perhaps the trickiest sense to preserve. Some try to conserve the smells of our times — especially those that may not exist in a few decades. Others work on reviving and reconstructing some of the lost scents.

Roald Dahl: The family of the author has made a quiet apology for “the lasting and understanding hurt” caused by disparaging comments Mr. Dahl, an avowed anti-Semite who died in 1990, made during his lifetime.

Migrant crisis: As the Canary Islands struggle to cope with a sudden influx of migrants from Africa, the Spanish government has housed these new arrivals in hotels, causing tensions with local residents, who fear a negative effect on tourism.

Climate change: A 17-year-old activist, Ou Hongyi, has been waging a lonely campaign in her hometown in southern China to raise awareness about the perils of a warming planet.

Snapshot: Above, hand-carved souvenirs that are sold in the village of Huay Pu Keng in Thailand. In some areas, the entire economy depends on selling trinkets related to the neck rings that women from the Kayan ethnic group traditionally wear. But the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the situation, as few tourists now visit the country.

Lives lived: Suhaila Siddiq, Afghanistan’s first female lieutenant general, died in Kabul on Friday from complications of the coronavirus. She was also a renowned surgeon who unknowingly became a feminist role model in a largely patriarchal society.

What we’re reading: This profile of Eric Feigl-Ding, the Shanghai-born epidemiologist whom Undark magazine calls “Covid’s Cassandra.” The piece gives a gripping look at the gravity and complexity of voicing scientific theories on Twitter.

Were there any fisticuffs?

A.O. SCOTT: One of my first lists had Will Ferrell, and I got a one-word response from Manohla: “No.”

MANOHLA DARGIS: It wasn’t quite “Over my dead body,” but I was emphatic that it wasn’t going to happen.

SCOTT: The hardest one for me to give up was this Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov — he stayed in there until the very end, but there just wasn’t room.

DARGIS: I had a few square-jawed men like Viggo Mortensen, but I just had the feeling I was going to have to let them go. Maybe we should have done 50, but I don’t know that anyone wanted to read 25,000 words from us.

Anyone you didn’t debate?

DARGIS: Denzel Washington was always No. 1 on both of our lists.

SCOTT: Keanu Reeves has been a controversial pick, but he was on the list from the beginning. Then we decided we were going to make a statement by putting him high up on the list. The John Wick movies aren’t masterpieces of cinema, but the way Reeves embodies this slightly ridiculous action hero in those movies is just beautiful to watch.

DARGIS: And Rob Morgan. He just makes us happy every time he shows up in a movie.

What do you hope people take away from the list?

SCOTT: Just because you haven’t seen a film doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of inclusion. We didn’t just want this to be famous movie stars. There are lots of wonderful character actors who are consistently outstanding in smaller roles.

DARGIS: Some people have said “I don’t recognize any of these people” or “These are all foreign people.” Well, they aren’t foreign in their country! Expand your horizons and get beyond Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”

Thanks for joining me, and happy Monday.

— Natasha

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

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