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Live Updates: After Channel Drownings, France and U.K. Trade Blame and Promises

ImageMigrants from another boat were rescued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and brought to Dungeness, on the southeast coast of England, on Wednesday. 
Credit…Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The day after at least 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel when their flimsy inflatable boat capsized during the perilous voyage, the leaders of France and England vowed to crack down on migrant crossings even as they offered a fractious response to one of the deadliest disasters in recent years involving migrants trying to cross the narrow waterway separating the two countries.

French officials confirmed that children and a pregnant woman were among those who had drowned, as crews worked in the cold and wind to recover bodies and to try to identify those who died. Two people, one from Iraq and one from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital, where they were being treated for severe hypothermia.

The representative in Paris of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region said many of the victims were believed to be Iraqi Kurds, but that identifying them was difficult. French officials have not said where the dead were from.

The tragedy was a stark reminder that five years after authorities dismantled a sprawling migrant camp in Calais, both countries are still struggling to handle migrants in the area.

France and Britain have long accused each other of not doing enough to curb attempts to cross the Channel. After the tragedy on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said greater efforts should be made to allow joint patrols along the French coast.

And President Emmanuel Macron of France said he expected the British “to cooperate fully and to abstain from using this dramatic situation for political means.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Macron added that France was in any case only a “country of transit” for migrants who wanted to reach Britain.

“In a way, we are holding the border for the British,” he said, adding that most of the migrants who reach the area around Calais did not want asylum in France despite offers from French authorities.

The two leaders spoke by phone late on Wednesday and said in statements afterward that they had agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from making the journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Under an agreement between the two nations, Britain pays France to clamp down on crossings through surveillance and patrols.

Mr. Johnson said that he was “shocked and appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea in the Channel.” But, he added: “I also want to say that this disaster underscores how dangerous it is to cross the Channel in this way.”

Mr. Macron called for an immediate tightening of border controls and an increased crackdown with other European nations on people smugglers.

“France won’t let the Channel become a graveyard,” he said in a statement.

The drownings came only a few days after French and British authorities had reached an agreement to do more to stem the number of people taking to the sea.

Attempts to reach Britain in small boats have increased in recent years as the authorities have cracked down on the smuggling of asylum seekers inside trucks crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been 47,000 attempts to cross the Channel in small boats and 7,800 migrants had been saved from shipwrecks, according to French officials. Before Wednesday, seven people had died or disappeared so far this year.

Many migrants — who are often from countries in Africa or the Middle East like Iraq and Eritrea — consider Britain an ideal destination because English is spoken, because they already have family or compatriots there, and because it can be relatively easy to find off-the-books work.

But the recent increase in attempts to cross the English Channel by boat reflects a shift in how migrants are traveling, not in how many, according to migration experts and rights groups, who say that, overall, asylum applications in Britain are down this year.

The crossings have become another element in the worsening relations between France and Britain, which have also clashed over fishing rights and trading checks after Britain’s departure from the European Union, as well as over a submarine alliance between Australia, Britain and the United States that undermined a previous French deal.

Credit…Mohammed Badra/EPA, via Shutterstock

CALAIS, France — Emmanuel D. Malbah learned on Thursday about the migrant tragedy in the waters of the English Channel, but it has not changed his own plans to try a perilous crossing.

“I don’t believe that I’ll die,” said Mr. Malbah, a 16-year-old from Liberia. “I believe I’ll get to England.”

For now, he has been thwarted.

Before the sun rose on Tuesday, he joined other migrants in what has become something of a ritual along the French coast, rushing to the beach from makeshift camps and jumping aboard small boats.

“The lights on the opposite side,” said Mr. Malbah on Thursday, “I could see them. It gave me enthusiasm, it gave me courage.”

In freezing temperatures, Mr. Malbah and the other migrants, most of them from Sudan, inflated a dinghy they were carrying. But then more migrants joined, Mr. Malbah said, and soon there were too many for the boat. The engine would not start. The French police, likely alerted by the shouting, soon appeared and slashed the dinghy.

Mr. Malbah fled, and his chance of reaching England that night had vanished.

The scene, which he described from a muddy camp near the beaches of Calais, is one that has become all too familiar on France’s northern coast.

Thousands of migrants have already tried to cross from France into England this year, and an increasing number of them are turning to the sea for the voyage on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, facing frigid waters, strong currents and deceptive weather.

On Wednesday, French authorities said that at least 27 migrants had drowned in the English Channel after their boat capsized. The tragedy, which officials said is one of the deadliest accidents involving migrants attempting the crossing, has shocked the public on both sides of the Channel.

Thousands of migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have been living for years in and around Calais, regularly trying to reach England, attracted by a country with a flexible job market for undocumented migrants and where English is spoken.

Many live in makeshift camps near the beaches, under blue tarps exposed to the changing weather. Some have gathered enough money to pay smugglers and attempt the sea crossing. Others, like Mr. Malbah, a fisherman, know how to drive a boat and can therefore cross free.

Other camps are scattered on the outskirts of Calais, near the main roads, for those who can only afford to smuggle inside trucks crossing the Channel Tunnel. But that has become increasingly difficult as the French authorities have surrounded the entrance of the tunnel with fences and CCTV cameras in recent years, and increased checks on trucks.

Still, some who cannot afford a sea crossing — which often involves paying for someone to steer the boat — try the truck route.

“People here have no money,” Sassd Amian, a 25-year-old Sudanese refugee, said as he walked back to a small camp in the early morning. He said he tried to stow away inside a truck every morning, before dawn.

When trucks drive around a roundabout, on their way to the Channel Tunnel, their trailers detach slightly and leave room to slip between the axles, Mr. Amian said. But doing so is dangerous. Several migrants have lost legs and some have died, according to humanitarian organizations.

But Mr. Amian said he was not afraid, having traveled a long way from Sudan to France, passing through Egypt, Libya and Italy over the past four years, exposing himself to many dangers.

“Death is nothing new in this life,” he said.

Credit…Francois Lo Presti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

French officials on Thursday urged European countries to work together on dismantling human smuggling networks after 27 migrants died trying to cross the English Channel, and the country’s interior minister singled out Britain over its policies toward undocumented migrants on British soil.

“When these women and these men arrive on the coast of the Channel, it’s already too late,” President Emmanuel Macron of France told reporters. Neighboring nations like Britain, Germany and Belgium needed to cooperate with France, he added, “to better prevent arrivals on French soil, from southern routes as well as northern and eastern routes, and to better integrate the British in preventing these flows, by dismantling smuggling networks.”

Mr. Macron, speaking at a news conference with the Croatian prime minister in Zagreb, Croatia, where he was on an official visit, insisted that France was only a “country of transit” for migrants who wanted to reach Britain.

“In a way, we are holding the border for the British,” he said, adding that most of the migrants who reach the area around Calais did not want asylum in France despite offers from French authorities.

That echoed remarks by the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who in an interview with RTL radio criticized the “attractiveness” of the British labor market, which he said was too loosely policed. “Everyone knows that there are over a million undocumented immigrants in Britain, and British employers use that work force,” he said.

He said that France deported many more migrants than Britain. “There is a bad handling of immigration in Britain,” he added.

Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, said on Thursday that five people had been arrested at the French-Belgian border on suspicion of smuggling material bought in Germany for use in crossing attempts.

He also argued that migrants often crossed the border from Belgium just hours before trying to cross the English Channel, and called for European partners to step up their cooperation in dismantling people-smuggling networks.

Mr. Castex’s office said France had invited the ministers in charge of immigration from Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands for an emergency meeting in Calais on Sunday.

France has arrested over 1,500 smugglers since January, according to Mr. Darmanin, but their networks operate across borders, so enforcement requires tight cooperation between neighboring countries.

He said, for example, that French authorities suspected the vessel that sank on Wednesday had been bought in Germany by a smuggler whose car had German license plates. That smuggler, and four others, have been arrested in connection with the disaster.

Sixty to 70 percent of the migrants attempting to reach Britain arrived from Germany or the Netherlands and then went through Belgium into France to attempt a quick crossing, Mr. Darmanin added.

“Smugglers pick them up and, over a couple days, try to bring them to the beach,” he said. “It’s an international problem.”

Mr. Darmanin said there were “15 times fewer” migrants in the area than there were 15 years ago, with about 1,000 in Calais and another 1,000 in the area around Dunkirk and Grande-Synthe. The French authorities distribute about 2,200 meals to migrants every day, he said, and had relocated 12,000 of them since January.

But the authorities have recently faced a surge in sea crossings — up to 50 per night on some occasions, said Didier Leschi, the director of the French Office of Immigration and Integration.

“There are more passages in the English Channel today than there are in the Aegean Sea,” Mr. Leschi said in an interview, referring to the sea between Turkey and Greece, which many refugees crossed at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015.

Mr. Leschi said that he could “not recall a tragedy as important” as the deaths on Wednesday, but that monitoring the dozens of miles of coastline from where migrants embark on to the Channel was unrealistic, as it would require “tens of thousands of police officers.”

Credit…Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

On a clear day, it is possible to see the white cliffs of Dover from France. The English coast can appear tantalizingly close and for years, it has drawn migrants who have already traversed Europe and hope to reach Britain where they believe better opportunities await.

Such is the promise that drove nearly three dozen people, including men, women and children, to set off on what French officials described as an “extremely fragile” inflatable boat into the strong currents and the freezing, choppy waters that divide the two nations.

It is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world and the short distance belies the dangers inherent in the crossing. The perils are made greater by the fact that many of those attempting the journey are assisted by smugglers who pack them onto tiny dinghies, which are overstuffed and unbalanced.

Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said that the authorities believed about 30 people were crowded onto a frail vessel that he compared to “a pool you blow up in your garden.”

A report in the French news media said that the migrant boat was struck by a container ship, although French authorities said the circumstances of the disaster were still under investigation.

On Thursday, Mr. Darmanin told RTL radio said that many crossings started in the same way.

“Dozens, sometimes hundreds of migrants, take a beach by storm to leave very quickly, often at high tide, to reach England in makeshift vessels,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a fishing vessel alerted maritime authorities that several people had been spotted in the waters off the coast of Calais. Ships and helicopters soon began a search and rescue operation.

Two people, one from Iraq and one from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital, where they were being treated for severe hypothermia. The boat itself was discovered completely deflated, officials said. It was still unclear as of Thursday morning how many people might still be missing.

And the work of identifying those who died was likely to be complicated by the fact that many migrants dispose of any identification papers before making the crossing. The prosecutor’s office in the northern French city of Lille, which is investigating the tragedy, said on Thursday that the dead included 17 men, seven women, two boys and a girl. It was still unclear on Thursday where all of the migrants in the group were from.

Credit…Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Britain on Thursday offered to send ships to patrol France’s coastline and to put British police or troops under French command, if necessary, to help secure French beaches, as London and Paris tried to limit the political fallout from the Channel disaster.

Priti Patel, the British home secretary, said in a statement to Parliament that during talks with her French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, she had “offered to work with France to put officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats.”

The proposal for joint patrols on the French coast has been previously rejected by France, but the British government hopes that the scope of the disaster on Wednesday, in which at least 27 migrants died, will mark a new phase of increased cooperation.

“We absolutely encourage them and urge them to take these offers forward” Ms. Patel said in Parliament, adding that the two countries “need to deploy every single tool that we have.”

Asked by one lawmaker whether she had offered to send troops and police to operate on France’s beaches — if necessary under French command — Ms. Patel replied that she had.

Paris remains unlikely to agree to British police officers or border guards patrolling French beaches, even under French command. British officials are more optimistic that offers to bolster surveillance capabilities or provide personnel for other tasks might be taken up.

Britain’s other suggestions include greater intelligence cooperation and use of more technology, including license plate recognition systems to monitor vehicle movements near the French coast.

But Ms. Patel said she had requested more information from the French authorities, including “if more officers are needed and a realistic assessment in terms of the numbers of migrants that are coming through from Belgium in particular.”

And she said that she had again raised the issue of striking an agreement with France on returning failed asylum seekers.

Britain came in for its own criticism on Thursday from Mr. Darmanin, France’s interior minister, who said British enforcement of work rules was too lax, making Britain more attractive to migrants seeking off-the-books jobs.

Ms. Patel acknowledged that there was “no silver bullet” or easy solution to the problem of Channel crossings, a phenomenon that has existed for years but that became both more deadly and more visible in recent months when migrants began to use small boats instead of stowing away in trucks.

Well before the tragedy on Wednesday, the issue had become a significant political headache for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. For a British leader who had promised that his marquee project of Brexit would allow Britain to assert more control over its borders, the sight of people arriving in small boats on the beaches of southern England is a considerable embarrassment — one that Ms. Patel, the cabinet minister responsible for migration issues, has pledged to stop.

On Thursday the home secretary also said that she had ruled nothing out and noted that other nations had deployed tactics such as pushing back migrants as they sought to cross frontiers, or processing asylum claims in offshore centers.

In reality, however, Brexit has complicated the problem of the Channel crossings, leaving Britain without any agreement under which it could return failed asylum seekers to E.U. nations. And tensions with Paris have only deteriorated with the bickering over Brexit-related issues such as fishing rights. That has eroded trust between London and Paris, and made the type of cooperation needed to tackle the complex cross-Channel migration crisis ever more difficult.

Credit…Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While the deaths of at least 27 migrants in the English Channel have prompted an outcry from European officials, many more people have died in the sea channel between North Africa and Italy, a tragedy that humanitarian organizations say is unfolding largely away from public scrutiny, as they accuse European governments of looking the other way.

After the coronavirus pandemic curbed sea crossings last year, deaths in the Mediterranean are up again, according to migration experts and nongovernmental groups. Around 1,300 migrants have drowned in the central Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, up from 900 last year.

Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman with the organization, said the figures were estimates based on verified shipwrecks, and the real death toll was likely to be higher.

Nongovernmental organizations in contact with migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North African countries, or with their families, also say that in recent years hundreds of boats in distress had never been found by the authorities or private rescue vessels.

Refugee advocates also accuse the European Union of abandoning the migrants and refugees at sea, as the bloc stepped back after 2017 from search and rescue missions it had initiated after a series of shipwrecks in 2013. Only nongovernmental groups have a few vessels patrolling the high seas.

Mr. Di Giacomo said that from 2014 to 2017, European vessels rescued migrants quite fast, even if the numbers of arrivals were three times as high. “Now, migrants have to wait a long time to be picked up,” he said. “In such precarious situations, even a few minutes can make a difference between life and death.”

On Thursday, the nongovernmental organization Alarm Phone wrote on Twitter that the Tunisian navy was sailing to the rescue of 430 people in distress in Malta’s search and rescue area, more than a day after the organization had warned the Italian authorities that the boat was sinking. The fate of the 430 people was unclear.

The central Mediterranean crossing has for years been the deadliest route for those trying to reach Europe by sea, with over 18,000 deaths since 2014. About 2,570 migrants have died in the route from North African countries like Morocco and Algeria to Spain, and 1,770 while trying to cross from Turkey to Greece.

In January, 43 people from West Africa died in the Central Mediterranean after a boat carrying more than 50 migrants from Libya capsized in rough seas.

In April, in what is believed to be the deadliest accident this year, 130 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya, according to SOS Méditerranée, a nongovernmental organization. Crew from SOS Méditerranée and some commercial vessels went to the migrants’ rescue after receiving a distress call from a rubber dinghy east of Tripoli, but could only retrieve floating bodies.

Credit…Philippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

CALAIS, France — Activists and volunteers aiding migrants in Calais said that recent steps by France and Britain to increase coastal security and stem dangerous crossings of the English Channel had only worsened the situation, putting migrants at greater risk.

Pierre Roques, the coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants, a group providing assistance to migrants, said France’s northern coastline “had been militarized” over the past few years.

“The more security there is, the more the smuggling networks develop because migrants can’t cross by themselves anymore,” Mr. Roques said.

At the start of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, the English Channel was largely seen as an unbreachable barrier, with its shifting currents, countless ships and volatile weather making any attempt to cross too dangerous. The easiest passage seemed to be by hiding in trucks entering the tunnel to England under the Channel.

But police now regularly patrol around highways, and 12-foot-high fences topped with barbed wire stretch for miles along several roads near the tunnel, preventing migrants from reaching the cargo trucks approaching the tunnel.

In July, Britain agreed to give France about $73 million to buy modern surveillance equipment and increase patrols by French security forces.

The police also regularly crack down on migrant camps, sometimes using tear gas, to keep migrants away and prevent the formation of sprawling camps such as the infamous “Jungle” of Calais, where thousands of refugees gathered for years until it was dismantled in 2016.

Marguerite Combes, the head of the Calais branch of the migrant advocacy group Utopia 56, said that “as soon as there’s the slightest settlement, people are evacuated” by the police, rendering living conditions extremely difficult.

Many migrants fear spending the winter in Calais, she added, which is also one of the reasons sea crossings have surged in recent weeks.

On Thursday, several Sudanese migrants, all lining up for food distribution set up by a nongovernmental organization on the outskirts of Calais, said the police often swept through their camps, sometimes hitting them with electrified batons. A Human Rights Watch report from October described the tactic of harassing migrants to make them leave as “enforced misery.”

Mr. Roques said the increased security had only pushed migrants “into the arms of the smugglers.” The traffickers offer sea crossings for prices ranging from $1,000 to $2,500, according to migrants interviewed in Calais and to Didier Leschi, the director of the French Office of Immigration and Integration.

Emmanuel D. Malbah, a 16-year-old from Liberia, in Western Africa, said he had arrived in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Mr. Malbah, who hopes to reach Britain, said sea crossings had become a new privileged route for those who could afford it.

“This is a new Mediterranean,” he said of the English Channel.

Alain Ledaguenel, the president of an organization of sea rescuers in the coastal city of Dunkirk, said that since September his team was leading three times as many rescues as before.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm for two years,” he said. “Since September, it hasn’t stopped.”

Volunteers from the organization are fishers, firefighters or doctors who say they did not expect to face such a dire situation at sea. “The state means are increasingly weaker and we find ourselves on the front line,” Mr. Ledaguenel said.

But, he added, “We are not fit to resist such pressure.”

One rescuer, Mr. Ledaguenel said, had told him recently that she had cried for two hours after the rescue of a girl who was the same age as her daughter.

Credit…Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

On the eastern borders of the European Union, another humanitarian crisis is smoldering far from the English Channel. Thousands of migrants, many from Iraqi Kurdistan, remain on Belarus’ western frontier, hoping to enter the European Union through three of its member countries: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

This month, Polish border officials used water cannons and tear gas to prevent migrants who had occupied a sprawling encampment in Belarus from storming the border. The Belarusian authorities then cleared the encampment, and moved thousands to shelter in a nearby warehouse. Since the beginning of the year, Poland has registered more than 37,000 illegal border crossing attempts, according to Polish border guards.

Up to 15,000 migrants remain in Belarus, the European Commission estimated Tuesday, with about 2,000 near the European Union’s borders, adjacent to Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Hundreds are still trying to cross every day. On Thursday, Polish police said that 230 migrants had broken through a border fence with the assistance of Belarusian border guards on Wednesday night, but had been sent back. More than 300 were been apprehended trying to cross on Tuesday.

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda told reporters on Thursday that the Belarusian regime had changed its “method.” He said the authorities had relocated migrants to heated warehouses, and were letting migrants attempt to cross the borders in smaller groups during nighttime.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, who has led the country for three decades, threatened the European Union in May to “flood” its member states with migrants after it imposed sanctions on him following the forced downing of a plane carrying a Belarusian dissident.

The European Union accuses Belarus of precipitating a migration crisis by loosening its visa rules and encouraging asylum seekers to travel to borders.

Now, with the main migrant encampment in Belarus cleared by the authorities, the focus of the crisis has shifted to the repatriation of migrants still in the country.

Last week, Iraq repatriated hundreds of mainly Kurdish citizens who had spent weeks in the forest on the border. Hundreds more are scheduled to leave this week.

But it is also not clear how many of the migrants remaining in Belarus will agree to leave voluntarily, with some saying they might want to stay in the country.

Monika Pronczukcontributed reporting.

Credit…Pool photo by Simon Dawson

The barbs exchanged by British and French ministers over Wednesday’s tragedy in the English Channel were a sign of how hard both sides have found it to tackle small-boat migration. But they also reflect growing tensions between the two countries on a far wider range of issues.

Britain and France have been at odds ever since Britain left the European Union two years ago. They have quarreled over fishing rights, over the safety of a British coronavirus vaccine and over a submarine alliance that united Britain, Australia and the United States but left an outraged France on the sidelines. At one point, the fishing fracas prompted both to deploy naval ships to Jersey, leading a London tabloid to bluster, “Our New Trafalgar.”

Domestic politics is playing a part. For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, ginning up a cross-channel dispute appeals to his pro-Brexit base. For President Emmanuel Macron, the tensions are useful in his bid for re-election in France, given that he faces a challenge from the nationalist right.

At heart, many of the clashes are over who will write the first draft of history: France is determined to show that Brexit has not worked; Britain is desperate to show that it has.

Sylvie Bermann, who recently served as France’s ambassador to Britain, likened Brexit to a divorce and said it was only natural that it would take time for the wounds to heal. Each side is nursing those wounds in different ways.

Mr. Johnson, she said, has made France a scapegoat for problems that were aggravated by Brexit, like the shortage of truck drivers that has caused filling stations to run out of gas. Mr. Macron, who was stung when Australia jilted France for the submarine alliance with Britain and the United States, wants to show that France is stronger inside the European Union than it would be alone, as Britain is.

“We didn’t ask them to become a third country,” Ms. Bermann said. “We would have liked them to stay. They made their choice, and we respect it. But now they can’t enjoy both the advantages and a total freedom.”

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Covid Live Updates: Merck’s Covid Pill Recommended for High-Risk Adults by F.D.A. Panel

ImageHealth officials around the world have been counting on the new treatments to reduce the number of severe cases and save lives.
Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

An expert committee on Tuesday voted to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration authorize a Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron.

The drug, known as molnupiravir, has been shown to modestly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, predominantly from the Delta, Mu and Gamma variants. The expert panel recommended it for Covid patients who are older or have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to severe illness. The pill could be authorized in the United States within days, and available by year’s end.

In the coming weeks, the F.D.A. may also greenlight a similar pill from Pfizer that appears to be significantly more effective than Merck’s.

Health officials around the world have been counting on the new pills to reduce the number of severe cases and save lives. If Omicron causes a surge in severe infections, it could make them even more important.

Scientists have yet to run experiments to see how well the pills block Omicron viruses from replicating. But there are reasons to think they would remain effective even if the variant can sometimes evade vaccines.

Omicron has more than 30 mutations on the so-called spike protein that latches on to human cells. Some of those mutations may make it hard for vaccine-produced antibodies to attack the virus.

But the pills do not target the spike protein. Instead, they weaken two proteins involved in the virus’s replication machinery. Omicron carries only one mutation in each of those proteins, and neither looks as if it would stop the pills from doing their jobs.

In a presentation to the committee members, Daria Hazuda, a Merck executive, said molnupiravir’s activity is similar across known variants and that the drug works in a way that makes it likely to be active against new variants.

Another Merck executive, Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, told the panel on Tuesday that the company is “feverishly working” to collect samples from people infected with Omicron that it can use in laboratory studies to help determine whether the drug will work against the variant.

Virus cases are rising in many U.S. regions, notably the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Nationwide, cases have increased since the start of November, prompting fears about a winter surge fueled by Omicron, indoor holiday gatherings and the refusal of tens of millions to be vaccinated.

In a clinical trial, molnupiravir was found to reduce by 30 percent the risk of hospitalization or death when given to high-risk, unvaccinated volunteers within five days after they started showing symptoms. It appears to be substantially less effective than Pfizer’s pill, which was found to lower risk by 89 percent, and monoclonal antibody treatments, which have been found to cut it by at least 70 percent.

If molnupiravir is authorized, U.S. supply is expected to be limited at first, though it will be more abundant than Pfizer’s pill. The Biden administration has ordered enough courses of treatment, at about $700 per person, for 3.1 million people. Merck is expected to supply those pills before February.

The treatment is given within five days of the start of symptoms and is taken as 40 pills over five days.

To get the pills, people will likely need to test positive for the virus soon after they start showing symptoms. But it often takes several days to get results from a P.C.R. test, and in some parts of the country it is difficult to find rapid tests that return results within 15 minutes.

The F.D.A. panel discussed safety concerns raised by some scientists about Merck’s pill. The treatment works by inserting errors into the virus’s genes. Some scientists say there is a theoretical risk that it could trigger mutations in cells as well, potentially causing reproductive harm or a long-term risk of cancer.

Representatives from Merck and from the F.D.A. reviewed the results of safety studies in cells, animals, and clinical trials. “The overall risk of mutagenicity in humans is considered low,” Dr. Aimee Hodowanec, a senior medical officer at the F.D.A., said at the meeting, referring to the potential for the drug to induce mutations in the DNA of people taking it.

Children and pregnant women were excluded from the clinical trials of the drug.

Dr. Kartsonis said that the company would start a pregnancy surveillance program to monitor the outcomes of women exposed to molnupiravir during pregnancy, either inadvertently or intentionally.

Britain, which authorized Merck’s pill earlier this month, recommended that it not be given to pregnant or breastfeeding women, and that women who could become pregnant use contraception while taking the drug and for four days after.

In a discussion about whether the pills should ever be given to pregnant women, committee members said they were struggling to weigh whether the potential risk of the drug during pregnancy was too high, given uncertain benefits.

“The efficacy of this product is not overwhelmingly good,” said Dr. David Hardy, an infectious disease physician at Charles Drew University School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. “I think we really have to be careful about saying that this is the way to go.”

But several panel members said that in certain cases the pills might be appropriate during pregnancy, such as if a woman has many medical conditions or when antibody treatments are not available.

“I’m not sure you can ethically tell a pregnant woman who has Covid-19 that she can’t have the drug if she decided that’s what she needs,” said Dr. Janet Cragan, a pediatrician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said the agency was working to identify and contain any potential cases of the coronavirus Omicron variant in the U.S., but had not found a case so far.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Top federal health officials said on Tuesday that they were expanding a surveillance program at some of the largest U.S. airports as part of a sprawling effort to identify and contain what could be the first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said at a White House news conference on the pandemic that the agency was “actively looking” for the variant but had not found a case so far among the many positive virus samples sequenced around the nation each week. Cases of the Delta variant, which drove a devastating summer surge, still make up 99.9 percent of those samples.

Four international airports — in New York, Atlanta, Newark and San Francisco — would enhance screening in a search for possible Omicron cases. “This program allows for increased Covid testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with Covid-19 on arrival to the United States,” she said.

When asked whether President Biden planned to consider tightening recently relaxed restrictions on travel between the United States and Canada given the Omicron variant, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters separately on Tuesday that all decisions would be based on the recommendations of the president’s medical advisers. She said those advisers had not recommended new restrictions.

The White House last week announced a ban on travel from eight countries in southern Africa, a move questioned by some global health experts who said it amounted to a kind of punishment of South Africa for its transparency.

The new variant, which carries a startlingly high number of mutations, has caused fears among scientists and health officials across the globe about a more transmissible virus less susceptible to vaccines. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, reiterated at the news conference with Dr. Walensky that it was still too early to truly understand how dangerous the variant might be. Mr. Biden on Monday said the variant was “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

It would likely be weeks before scientists studying the new virus were able to determine more about its properties, Dr. Fauci cautioned again on Tuesday. “We are hoping, and I think with good reason to feel good, that there will be some degree of protection,” from available vaccines, Dr. Fauci added. Asked about reports that the variant was causing only mild illness in younger people, he warned: “Be careful about bread crumbs. They may not tell you what kind of loaf of bread you have.”

Dr. Walensky said that the C.D.C. was examining ways to make international travel safer, possibly by testing for the virus closer to a traveler’s flight and “additional post-arrival testing and quarantine.” She said the C.D.C. was working with airlines to collect information on passengers that can be used for contact tracing if a case of Omicron is discovered.

Dr. Walensky also described an ongoing domestic effort to identify initial cases of the variant, saying that the C.D.C. was holding regular calls with local health officials, public health organizations and state laboratories, which help to sequence samples.

The United States had already made substantial progress this year in scaling up the number of virus samples examined for possible worrisome variants, she said, sequencing roughly 80,000 samples each week and one in seven positive P.C.R. test samples, a volume that suggests it might not be long before scientists find the virus.

Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky continued to urge people to get their boosters, which they said would provide more protection in the face of the new variant. Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said that over 100 million fully vaccinated American adults were eligible for the doses but had not yet received one.

A surge of protective antibodies after a booster shot would likely still be formidable against Omicron, helping to prevent severe illness, Dr. Fauci said, even though the vaccine was developed to fight off the original form of the coronavirus.

Mr. Zients said that the federal government was already thinking about what a vaccination campaign with a newly formulated shot might look like, as pharmaceutical companies studied the possibility. “This includes conversations about the most appropriate regulatory pathway for review and authorizations,” he said.

A preliminary review by federal regulators determined that virus tests used in the U.S. would be able to detect the variant, Mr. Zients added.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said in a statement Tuesday that the agency was monitoring the new variant, citing guidance regulators released earlier this year about how it would evaluate new variant-specific vaccines on an expedited timeline.

Two top federal vaccine regulators who recently departed the agency argued in a Washington Post opinion column this week that younger, healthier people with a less urgent need for a booster dose might be better off waiting for a retooled vaccine that more precisely targets a worrisome new variant.

Maggie Astor contributed reporting.

Credit…Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Two people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the Netherlands more than a week ago were infected with the Omicron variant, Dutch health officials reported on Tuesday.

The timing is significant because it suggests that the variant was already present in the country for at least a week before the arrival of two flights from South Africa on Friday, and before the World Health Organization labeled Omicron a “variant of concern,” the step that prompted countries around the world to ban flights from southern Africa, where researchers first identified the variant.

“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23,” the Dutch health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is not yet clear whether these people had also visited southern Africa.”

The two samples were taken by municipal health services at public testing sites, and health authorities have started contact tracing in those areas, Dutch health officials said.

Although little is known yet about how transmissible Omicron is, or whether it can evade existing vaccines, its detection in Botswana and South Africa has created the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious Delta variant emerged in the spring.

The announcement from the Netherlands also highlighted that scientists still cannot say with certainty where or when the variant originated. So far, the first known sample of the Omicron variant was collected on Nov. 9 in South Africa, according to Gisaid, an international database for disease variants.

Officials across Europe fear that Omicron will add pressure on countries that are already in the grip of some of the worst coronavirus surges they have seen. Among them was France, which on Tuesday reported about 47,000 new cases over the past 24 hours and sharply rising hospitalizations — mostly thought to be driven by the Delta variant.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Tuesday that so far, 44 cases of the new variant have been confirmed in 11 European countries. And in Britain, health officials announced at least 22 confirmed cases involving Omicron, including 13 in England and 9 in Scotland, bringing a new wave of tightened public health restrictions.

Andrea Ammon, the agency’s director, told an online news conference that all the confirmed cases in Europe have exhibited mild symptoms or none at all, and that authorities were analyzing six further “probable” cases. She said that health officials were conducting additional tests on people who have recovered from illness brought on by Omicron to help assess how the variant behaves in vaccinated people, and that more information was expected in a “couple of weeks.”

Countries across the European Union have scrambled to reinforce travel restrictions in the hope of curbing the spread of the heavily mutated variant, as the W.H.O. warned that the risk it posed was “very high.”

But the W.H.O.’s top official on Tuesday cautioned countries that their responses were “not evidence-based.”

“We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

The Dutch officials’ announcement about the two Omicron cases came after a chaotic series of closures in Amsterdam, which left some 600 passengers on two flights from South Africa stranded for a time on Friday. Some 61 passengers on those flights tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 14 of them were found to be carrying the Omicron variant.

The Netherlands imposed tighter restrictions starting on Sunday in response to a Covid wave that began before Omicron was identified, ordering many businesses, including bars, restaurants and theaters, to close from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Dutch health officials reported more than 22,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday, one of the country’s highest daily totals since the pandemic began.

Reporting was contributed by Carl Zimmer, Adeel Hassan, Megan Specia and Aurelien Breeden.

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U.K. Extends Boosters to All Adults as Omicron Cases Grow

The British government has tightened restrictions and extended its vaccination program in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus variant.

“There have now been 13 confirmed cases in England and also 9 confirmed cases in Scotland, and we expect to see these numbers rising over the next few days. There’s a lot we don’t know, of course, and our scientists are working night and day to learn more about this new variant and what it means for our response. Our strategy is to buy the time we need to assess this new variant, while doing everything we can to slow the spread of the virus and to strengthen our defenses.” “There’ll be temporary vaccination centers popping up like Christmas trees, and we’ll deploy at least 400 military personnel to assist the efforts of our N.H.S., alongside, of course, the fantastic jabs army of volunteers. I know the frustration that we all feel with this Omicron variant, the sense of exhaustion that we could be going through all this all over again. But today — I want to stress this — today, that’s the wrong thing to feel because today our position is and always will be immeasurably better than it was a year ago. What we’re doing is taking some proportionate precautionary measures while our scientists crack the Omicron code, and while we get the added protection of those boosters into the arms of those who need them most.”

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The British government has tightened restrictions and extended its vaccination program in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus variant.CreditCredit…Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Thirteen cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in England, the British government confirmed on Tuesday. Britain has announced an extension of its vaccination program, mask mandates and travel restrictions in an attempt to stem the spread of the variant.

Sajid Javid, Britain’s health secretary, confirmed the increase in cases during a news conference and said officials did not yet know whether all of the cases were linked to travel to southern Africa, raising concerns about potential community transmission.

“Is there likely to be community transmission? I think we have to be realistic there is likely to be, as we are seeing in other European countries,” Mr. Javid said. “We would expect cases to rise as we now actively look for cases.”

Hours earlier, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that nine cases of the new variant had been identified in Scotland, all linked to a single private event. That brings the total number of known cases in Britain to 22.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking during the same news conference as Mr. Javid, said it was vital that Britons do their part by getting booster shots.

“I know the frustration that we all feel with this Omicron variant, the sense of exhaustion that we could be going through this all again,” Mr. Johnson said. But “that is the wrong thing to feel,” he added, because the country is in a much better position than this time last year thanks to high vaccination rates.

At almost every step of the pandemic, Britain has been an outlier. It locked down later than its European neighbors in March 2020, rolled out vaccines faster than almost any other country, and threw off virtually all restrictions over the summer in an audacious bid to return life to normal.

But with worries about Omicron flaring across the world, Britain has fallen in line with its neighbors. The government quickly banned travel from 10 African countries, made face masks compulsory in shops and on public transportation, and on Monday announced a huge acceleration of its vaccine program — including expanding eligibility for booster shots to anyone 18 or older.

Britain’s approach is still looser than that of countries like Austria, which imposed a lockdown on unvaccinated people, and Greece, which announced on Tuesday that it would make vaccination mandatory for people 60 or older. In Britain, people can still gather in pubs without masks, for example, and officials keep promising weary Britons a normal Christmas.

But Mr. Javid said the government was prepared to shelve its laissez-faire approach, at least for the moment, to stave off another wave of infections.

“Our experience of fighting this virus has shown us that it’s best to act decisively and swiftly when we see a potential threat,” Mr. Javid said in Parliament on Monday. “If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.”

Credit…Pool photo by Al Drago

The State Department’s coronavirus vaccine envoy is leaving her post after less than a year, at a time when the new Omicron variant is showing the peril of failing to protect large areas of the world from the virus.

The envoy, Gayle E. Smith, took a leave of absence from her job as chief executive for the ONE Campaign, an advocacy organization that seeks to eradicate poverty and preventable disease, to join the Biden administration in April. It was not clear on Tuesday why she was leaving the envoy post now, and she did not respond to a request for comment. People close to her said she stayed longer than the six months she had initially committed to the government position.

“She leaves behind a phenomenal set of accomplishments, a robust team and network who are prepared to carry our important work forward, and a comprehensive set of next steps to build on our progress,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday announcing Ms. Smith’s departure.

He added that, “as Gayle has said many times, our work to defeat this pandemic and prevent future health threats is not over.”

The United States has donated more coronavirus vaccine doses to Covax, the global distribution program, than any other single country. During Ms. Smith’s tenure, the United States gave a total of 260 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and economic blocs, and Mr. Blinken said the United States was “well on our way” to the 1.2 billion doses that President Biden promised to deliver.

Still, only about 5 percent of people living in low-income countries have received even one vaccine dose, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health organization that is tracking coronavirus infections and vaccine distribution.

Across Africa, about 8 percent of people have received one dose, leaving hundreds of millions of people vulnerable to new variants that might otherwise be repelled by vaccines. The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last week, is an example of what experts have warned for more than a year would happen if vaccines were not made readily available worldwide, rather than just in wealthy nations.

“We’re really far behind in achieving any level of equity” in vaccine distribution, said Jen Kates, the director of global health and H.I.V. policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’re far from it at this point.”

Ms. Kates said the Biden administration deserved some credit for trying to motivate other donors to deliver more doses to poorer countries, even as Mr. Biden made vaccinating Americans a top priority.

She noted that in many lower-income countries, vast hurdles remain in providing the cold storage and transportation necessary to “get shots in arms” after vaccine doses arrive.

“That’s going to take more financial resources and a more herculean effort than what has come so far,” Ms. Kates said.

Ms. Smith will be replaced for now by Mary Beth Goodman, a senior member of the State Department’s vaccine diplomacy office who has worked for years on global health, anti-corruption and economic programs during Democratic administrations. A permanent envoy will be named in coming weeks, officials said.

Credit…Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As Africa grapples with the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has pledged to deliver another billion doses of vaccines to countries on the world’s least vaccinated continent.

The announcement from Mr. Xi is part of China’s continuing effort to burnish its image as a responsible global power helping to fight the pandemic, and it comes at a crucial time for countries in Africa, especially the southern region, where Omicron was first documented. Scientists fear that Omicron could already be spreading rapidly there, but they cautioned that much about the variant remains unknown, including where it originated.

Health officials in South Africa said on Monday that Omicron appeared to be driving a new wave there. The daily average of new cases in the country has increased by more than 1,500 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, although the case numbers remain far below the year’s earlier peaks.

Still, officials urged the public not to panic over the variant, and said it was still too soon to accurately assess whether it has a higher rate of transmission or causes more hospitalizations or severe illness.

With wealthy nations hoarding most of the global vaccine supply, Africa has the lowest vaccination levels of any continent, with just 10.3 percent of the population receiving at least one dose, compared with rates of at least 60 percent to over 80 percent in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States and Canada.

But in recent weeks, vaccine doses have started to flow into parts of Africa, and countries including South Africa — where nearly one-quarter of people are fully inoculated, one of the highest rates on the continent — are now dealing with the challenge of how to rapidly administer them. Shabir Mahdi, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that where doses are available, “countries are struggling to scale up.”

Mr. Xi’s announcement, made in a speech late Monday via video link at the opening of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, also appeared to be part of an effort to shift attention away from Beijing’s missteps in its early handling of the coronavirus crisis.

He said that 600 million of the one billion vaccine doses would be donated, and that the rest would be provided through other means, like joint production between Chinese companies and African countries. He also said that China would send 1,500 medics and public health experts to Africa.

China aims to help the African Union achieve its goal of vaccinating 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, Mr. Xi said.

Chinese officials had previously said that Beijing would make its vaccines affordable and give priority to Africa, where it has rapidly increased its investments in recent years. The new pledge of one billion doses comes after the more than 155 million shots that China had previously pledged to the continent. Of those, about 107 million have been delivered to 46 African countries so far, according to Bridge Beijing, a consultancy that tracks China’s impact on global health.

After Omicron emerged, The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting the transmission of the coronavirus, and said the West was paying the price for its selfish policies.

“Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” the piece read. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

Questions remain, however, about the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccines. Several countries that had relied heavily on them to inoculate large parts of their populations were spooked by subsequent outbreaks this year.

Omicron adds to the uncertainty, as scientists around the world race to find out whether the current vaccines protect against it. Sinovac Biotech, one of China’s main vaccine producers, told The Global Times that it was also studying its vaccine’s effectiveness against Omicron.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece said those 60 or older who have not gotten their first shot by Jan. 16 would face a monthly fine of 100 euros ($113).CreditCredit…Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters

The prime minister of Greece announced on Tuesday that Covid shots would be obligatory for people ages 60 or older, and that those who failed to book a first shot by Jan. 16 would face monthly fines of 100 euros ($113).

About 500,000 people in Greece ages 60 or older have yet to be vaccinated, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting, adding that the revenue from the fines would go to state hospitals that have been stretched by the pandemic.

Describing the policy as “an act of justice for the vaccinated,” Mr. Mitsotakis said he had worried about penalizing people but hoped they would see the move as an act of “encouragement, not repression.”

“I felt a duty to stand by the most vulnerable, even if it might temporarily displease them,” he said.

Greece is averaging more than 6,400 new cases a day, among its highest numbers since the start of the pandemic, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. With concerns that the winter holidays will lead to further spread, Mr. Mitsotakis said more free testing kits would be made available over the next two months.

More than 60 percent of Greece’s population is fully vaccinated. This month, Greece barred unvaccinated people from cinemas, theaters, museums and gymnasiums, joining a growing number of European nations imposing new restrictions on those who have not had Covid shots.

Here are other developments from around the world.

  • Thirteen cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in England and nine in Scotland, the British and Scottish governments confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the total number of known cases in Britain to 22. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the nine cases there were all linked to a single private event. Sajid Javid, Britain’s health secretary, said officials did not yet know whether all of the cases in England were linked to travel to southern Africa, raising concerns about potential community transmission.

  • Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, announced on Tuesday that it had allocated more than 4.7 million doses to North Korea, which is not believed to have administered any shots yet. The reclusive government has reported no coronavirus cases and has turned down several previous offers of doses, including from Covax, China and Russia. But in June, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said that lapses in his country’s anti-pandemic campaign had caused a “great crisis,” according to state media.

  • Cholendra Shumsher Rana, the chief justice of Nepal’s Supreme Court, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening and has pneumonia, but is in stable condition, said Dr. Prabin Nepal, a spokesman for the Armed Police Force Hospital outside the capital, Kathmandu. Mr. Rana — a central figure in recent political turmoil in Nepal, a Himalayan country hit hard economically by the coronavirus — has been facing growing pressure to resign over corruption accusations, and court watchers in Nepal said there was a good chance he would not return to the bench.

Megan Specia, Mark Landler, Jin Yu Young and Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting.

Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Regeneron said on Tuesday that its Covid-19 antibody treatment might be less effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, an indication that the popular and widely beneficial monoclonal antibody drugs may need to be updated in case the new variant spreads aggressively.

The company said that previous laboratory analyses and computer modeling of certain mutations in the Omicron variant suggest that they may weaken the effect of the treatment. But studies using the variant’s full sequences have not been completed, it said.

The company said it had already been testing future antibody drug candidates, and that preliminary analyses indicated that some of those “may have the potential to retain activity against the Omicron variant.” More data is expected in the coming month, it said.

“What we have to admit is, in the course of the past six days, our urgency has increased,” Dr. George Yancopoulos, Regeneron’s president and chief scientific officer, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. “What started out as a backup plan has now been made a lot more urgent.”

The Omicron variant has caused alarm among scientists because it contains mutations in the spike protein, the target of the government-supplied monoclonal antibody treatments made by Regeneron and Eli Lilly.

Scientists have also been scrambling to gather data on how effective the current vaccines will be against Omicron. Antiviral pills, including drugs from Merck and Pfizer that federal regulators are considering authorizing soon, are expected to hold up well against the variant because they target a different site of the virus from where Omicron’s mutations are clustered.

Monoclonal antibody treatments, given in a single infusion, use lab-made copies of the antibodies that people generate naturally when fighting an infection. They have been shown to significantly shorten patients’ symptoms. Regeneron’s cocktail reduces the risk of hospitalization by 70 percent.

The company said the treatment was effective against the Delta variant, which remains the dominant form of the virus in the United States.

Credit…Kim Won Jin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, announced on Tuesday that it had allocated more than 4.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to North Korea, which is not believed to have administered any shots yet.

North Korean officials did not immediately respond to the announcement.

The reclusive government has not reported any coronavirus cases, and has turned down several previous offers of doses, including from Covax, China and Russia. But in June, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said that lapses in his country’s anti-pandemic campaign had caused a “great crisis” that threatened “grave consequences,” according to state media. He did not clarify whether he was referring to an outbreak in the country.

Though it claims to be Covid-free, North Korea has taken measures to respond to the coronavirus crisis, sealing its borders in January 2020 and skipping the Tokyo Olympics this year.

The World Health Organization said its shipments of medical goods, along with other international supplies destined for North Korea, had been stranded in China when Pyongyang closed its borders. Last month, the agency said it had resumed shipments of medical supplies to North Korea, in what appeared to signal a relaxation of the closed-border policies enforced by Pyongyang early in the pandemic.

Europe is once again at the epicenter of the pandemic. More cases are being reported each day than at any previous point in the pandemic. And governments have been forced to reimpose the types of strict restrictions that most Europeans thought were behind them.

The discovery of the Omicron variant has added urgency to European leaders’ efforts to curtail the surge. Cases of the new variant have so far been detected in travelers to more than 10 European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.

European leaders have tried to strike a balance between increasing caution and avoiding panic in responding to the new threat. But the winter surge has highlighted the disparities in vaccination rates across the continent. Although cases are rising in many countries, only those with the lowest vaccination rates are seeing deaths from Covid-19 reaching the levels that came after similar surges last winter.

Here is a closer look at where cases are rising in Europe:

The likelihood that the Federal Reserve will hasten the reduction of its support for the economy — just as a worrying new variant of the coronavirus has begun to spread — sent a shudder through Wall Street on Tuesday, driving down stocks as investors suddenly face growing uncertainty.

The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, told a Senate committee that inflation was likely to persist well into next year and that the Fed would consider tapering off its purchases of government bonds “perhaps a few months sooner” than previously expected.

The Fed’s bond-buying program has been a crucial factor in the swift rise of stocks since the start of the pandemic — the S&P 500 index has more than doubled since March 2020 — and the market’s response to Mr. Powell’s comments was immediate. Stocks, which had already opened lower amid growing concern about the Omicron variant, tumbled further after Mr. Powell spoke and closed down 1.9 percent, pushing the benchmark index negative for the month.

“I think it’s a major moment,” said Nathan Koppikar, a portfolio manager at the San Francisco hedge fund Orso Partners, which often places bets that certain stocks will fall. “The Fed is finally sort of putting their stake in the ground and saying that the bubble has gone on long enough.”

As the S&P 500 struck bottom in March 2020, the Fed was restarting the type of money-printing program it put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 known as quantitative easing. It allowed the central bank to pump trillions of dollars into the financial system by purchasing assets such as Treasury bonds with newly created dollars — a key source of momentum for the seemingly relentless rally in share prices.

That program was never going to last forever, however, and earlier this year the Fed began to discuss dialing back its bond purchases. After some jitters this fall, investors seemed to have come to grips with the Fed’s plans. But Mr. Powell’s statements about possibly responding to persistent inflation — which the central bank had long described as “transitory” — with more aggressive tapering amounts to a significant milestone.

“The retiring of ‘transitory’ means we’re also retiring quantitative easing, which has overstayed its welcome,” said Rick Rieder, the head of the global allocation investment team at the money management firm BlackRock in New York.

Without a regular influx of newly created dollars into capital markets, stocks could be in for a rockier run than they’ve seen in more than a year. “Volatility will be higher,” Mr. Rieder said.

An earlier end to the Fed’s bond-buying program would be a tacit signal of an increase in interest rates arriving sooner. Short-term bond yields, which are heavily influenced by expectations for Fed rate hikes, spiked on Tuesday. The yield on the two-year Treasury note rose to 0.56 percent from roughly 0.43 percent in relatively short order, as investors interpreted Mr. Powell’s statements as an acknowledgment that inflation would force the Fed toward favoring higher interest rates. Some of that surge melted away through the afternoon, as the yield on the two-year note ended the day at roughly 0.52 percent.

Stock prices were falling around the world before Mr. Powell’s testimony as investors struggled to understand the danger posed by the Omicron variant, which began roiling markets last week. The Stoxx Europe 600 closed down 0.9 percent; in Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong each dropped more than 1.5 percent.

Concerns about potential economic damage from the variant, such as restrictions on travel, hammered crude oil prices again on Tuesday. Futures prices for benchmark American crude tumbled more than 4 percent and were down roughly 20 percent since the start of November.

Taken at face value, such a sell-off implies that investors see growing risks that the Omicron variant sets off a global economic slowdown. But some investors think the prices will likely reverse.

“Is there really a reason for oil to be trading down to 66 bucks a barrel when we were up north of $80? Are we literally locking down the entire global economy?” said Jack Janasiewicz, a portfolio manager with Natixis Investment Managers. “It’s an overreaction.”

Investors remain particularly attuned to the effectiveness of vaccines against it. The chief executive of Moderna, a vaccine maker, said in an interview on Tuesday that there could be a “material drop” in the effectiveness of current vaccines to the new variant. The executive, Stéphane Bancel, told The Financial Times that it might be months before an Omicron-specific vaccine could be produced at scale, and he added that it would be risky to shift the company’s entire vaccine production while other variants are still prevalent.

Financial markets have been unsteady since the identification of the Omicron variant in southern Africa late last week. The S&P 500 had its worst day since February on Friday, dropping 2.3 percent. On Monday, it began to recover as politicians around the world cautioned against panic, but Tuesday’s fall more than wiped out those gains.

Despite the swings of recent days, investors continue to sit on solid gains this year. The S&P 500 is up more than 21 percent in 2021 — and that could be reason for the sell-off to worsen next month, as investors try to preserve their gains for the year in the face of growing concerns about what lies ahead.

“You have uncertainty around Covid. You’ve got uncertainty around inflation, uncertainty around global central bank policy,” said Daniel Ivascyn, the group chief investment officer at PIMCO, a large fund manager based in Newport Beach, Calif. “Any one of these things may not be enough to derail the rally, but all of these issues combined with bad year-end liquidity certainly can lead to some significant downside.”

Still, investors say it’s unlikely that the Omicron variant would trigger the same kind of response from governments, business or individuals as the virus did when it first emerged. Even if Omicron is a greater threat than the Delta variant before it, investors expect its effect on the market to be less severe than the nearly 34 percent crash in share prices between February 2020 and the following month.

“The worst case is not March 2020 again,” said Jeb Breece, a principal at Spears Abacus, an independent money management firm in Manhattan. “Fear and unknowns were such a big component of that. I don’t see us doing that again.”

Coral Murphy Marcos contributed reporting.

Credit…Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Covid-19 has thrown the already turbulent political scene in Nepal into further disarray, as the embattled top judge of its highest court has been hospitalized to treat an infection.

Cholendra Shumsher Rana, chief justice of Nepal’s Supreme Court, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening, said Dr. Prabin Nepal, a spokesman for the Armed Police Force Hospital outside the capital, Kathmandu. The chief justice also had pneumonia but was in stable condition, Dr. Nepal said.

Mr. Rana has been hospitalized just as he faces growing pressure to resign over corruption accusations. He has denied any wrongdoing and has said he would not resign.

The chief justice has been a central figure in the political turmoil within the top government ranks in Nepal, a Himalayan country hit hard economically by the coronavirus. Lockdowns and other restrictions have cut into remittances from Nepalis working abroad, while tourism revenue from climbers seeking to scale Mount Everest and other peaks has come back only slowly.

Officially, more than 11,520 people have died from Covid-19 in Nepal.

Mr. Rana was once considered an ally of former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. But twice this year, in February and July, the Supreme Court under Mr. Rana overturned efforts by Mr. Oli to dissolve the Parliament and hold early elections. The second time, the court installed the opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.

Mr. Rana’s ties with the new government have since come under scrutiny. Court lawyers and other judges have accused him of maneuvering to get loyalists appointed to key constitutional bodies and to the cabinet. One of his relatives, Gajendra Hamal, resigned within a few days of his appointment as a minister in the face of a public outcry, although he denied any impropriety.

Mr. Rana’s critics also accused him of steering certain cases toward judges inclined to make rulings in line with his own preferences. Members of Nepal’s bar association boycotted the court, and after pressure from frustrated members of Nepal’s ruling coalition, Mr. Rana agreed to support a lottery system to assign judges to cases.

Court watchers in Nepal said there was a good chance that Mr. Rana would not return to the bench.

“Given the context, I don’t think he will be back to court,” said Dinesh Tripathi, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court. “Instead, corona could be a way of his graceful exit.”

Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Israel’s swift response to the discovery of the Omicron variant — including closing its borders to nonresident foreigners — was influenced in part by a government-wide “war game” held earlier in November, officials said.

In that exercise, senior officials simulated how they would respond to a fictional scenario that bore striking similarities to what is happening now.

In a daylong drill on Nov. 11, Israeli officials had to respond to a hypothetical new “Omega” virus strain that would be more resistant to vaccines and would spread to Israel from two foreign countries during the second half of November.

In the simulation, officials including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided to keep Israel’s borders open to tourists into December, only to find that by the later stages of the exercise, the country’s hospitals were overwhelmed with patients. The correct decision, the participants concluded afterward, would have been to close Israel’s borders to most foreigners immediately, according to Yaacov Ayish, a retired general who helped plan the drill.

“It was one of the lessons,” Mr. Ayish said. “Suddenly, all the government agencies and the military had to analyze it as an option.”

The outcome was one of the factors that influenced Israel’s real-life decision on Saturday night to bar all foreign visitors, a move it made before any other country, said Keren Hajioff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bennett.

Throughout the drill, participants were shown fictional television news reports to help set the scene for the next stage of the simulation. The participants in the drill drew at least one more conclusion that is reflected in Israel’s response: Officials realized that the stock of P.C.R. tests on hand at that time might not be advanced enough to detect future variants of the virus.

That helped prompt the Israeli government to order millions of higher quality P.C.R. tests, which are now being used to screen for Omicron, Ms. Hajioff said.

Israel’s cabinet on Sunday also granted Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency, temporary permission to access the phone data of people with confirmed cases of Omicron in order to trace who those people met recently. The agency was given similar powers during earlier waves of the pandemic.

Credit…Remko De Waal/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Omicron variant gained world attention a week ago, when researchers in southern Africa detected a version of the coronavirus that carried 50 mutations.

Thirty of these mutations are on the spike protein — arguably the most important part of the virus — and of those, 26 were unique mutations we hadn’t seen before. By contrast, the Delta variant had 10 unique mutations and Beta had 6.

When scientists look at coronavirus mutations, they worry about three things: Is the new variant more contagious? Is it going to cause people to get sicker? And how will the vaccines work against it?

This episode of “The Daily” explores when there will be answers to these three questions, and looks at the discovery of the variant and the international response to it. Listen below:

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: What Is the Omicron Variant?

The World Health Organization has declared that this mutation of the coronavirus poses a very high risk to public health. How did they come to that conclusion?

Credit…The New York Times

Among the many unknowns surrounding the new coronavirus variant called Omicron, named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, one has stood out to many English speakers: How is it pronounced?

There is no single, agreed-on English pronunciation, experts say.

One pronunciation, according to Merriam Webster, is “OH-muh-kraan,” with a stress on the first syllable.

A World Health Organization official, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, recently said it that way when announcing that the variant was of concern.

In the United States, it is often pronounced “AH-muh-kraan,” Merriam Webster says. Less common are “OH-mee-kraan,” as Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain pronounced it this week, or “OH-my-kraan.”

On the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” Apoorva Mandavilli, who reports on the coronavirus and its variants, said she was going with “AH-muh-kraan.”

“I don’t think it really matters that much, honestly,” she said.

Pronouncing ‘Omicron’

There are several widely accepted ways in English to pronounce “Omicron,” a variant of the coronavirus named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The New Oxford English Dictionary gives a pronunciation that differs from those in Merriam-Webster, according to Dr. Andreas Willi, a comparative linguistics professor at Oxford University. “Namely rather like an English phrase “o-MIKE-Ron,” he said.

The word is a compound from the Greek “o mikron,” meaning “small o.” In classical Greek, the word was pronounced with the second syllable sounding like an English “me,” Dr. Willi said.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large at Merriam Webster, said that because the Greek word is transliterated for pronunciation into English, sounding much as the word “omnipotent” is different from its Latin “omni-potent” origin, then the “AH-muh-kraan“ pronunciation “makes perfect sense.”

But, he added, “There isn’t a wrong answer.”

“The question of British versus American pronunciation of the first syllable isn’t really specific to this particular word,” Dr. Willi said. “Compare the British versus American pronunciation of “god.”

The divergences are to do with the name having been adopted as a loanword and used by English speakers in different places at different times, Dr. Willi said.

“When we speak of ‘Paris’ in English, that is also very different from the ‘proper’ French way of pronouncing the same name,” he said. “But it is hardly wrong in a strict sense.”

Credit…Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

The Omicron variant has stirred alarm in India, which was hit hard this year by a devastating Covid wave fueled in part by another variant.

The new variant has forced the Indian government to review its decision to resume scheduled international flights beginning on Dec. 15. The flights had been stopped when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown in March 2020, though some resumed after it established air travel bubbles with several nations.

While experts say it will most likely be weeks before more is known about Omicron’s transmissibility and the severity of the illness it produces, countries have scrambled to introduce new travel restrictions to halt its spread.

On Monday, Mr. Modi held an emergency meeting to review India’s travel rules. The country had only recently resumed issuing tourist visas as it reported the lowest daily cases since the pandemic began. India has also restarted exports of vaccines manufactured domestically.

Hospitals in New Delhi, the capital, where the earlier wave driven in part by the Delta variant shook the health care system, have been asked to remain on high alert. New Delhi’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, asked Mr. Modi’s government to halt all flights from countries where the new variant had been found.

Instead, the Indian authorities reissued guidelines on Monday for travelers arriving from countries where cases of the Omicron variant have been reported. Passengers arriving from Europe, South Africa and other affected countries now face mandatory testing on arrival. They must quarantine at home for seven days after testing negative, and take another test on the eighth day.

Starting on Wednesday, the authorities said, they will require passengers to produce their travel history over the previous 14 days, along with results of a negative P.C.R. test before boarding any plane flying to India. Government officials said they had designated a hospital to treat and isolate any individual who tests positive for Omicron.

Officials in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, said that over the past 15 days, at least 1,000 travelers have landed in the city from African countries where Omicron has been detected.

Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Pfizer and BioNTech are expected this week to apply for regulatory approval for a booster shot of their coronavirus vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. If approved, the shot would be the first booster available to people under 18.

The Food and Drug Administration could authorize extra shots within roughly a week, the people said.

The move would come as President Biden seeks to reassure the nation about Omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus. On Monday, he called the variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

“I’m sparing no effort, removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.

The news of Pfizer’s plans was first reported by The Washington Post.

The new variant has yet to be detected in the United States, and scientists have not determined how much of a threat it will pose. Vaccine manufacturers are racing to figure out whether their existing products will work against it or whether modified vaccines will be required.

About 10 days ago, federal health agencies authorized booster shots of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for everyone 18 and older. That opened up eligibility for extra injections to tens of millions more fully vaccinated adults. All adults who were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a single shot, were already eligible for a booster.

Last month’s regulatory moves simplified eligibility and formally allowed a practice already in place in numerous states. Multiple governors had already offered boosters to everyone 18 and older ahead of the holidays.

Asked about the plan to request broader access, a Pfizer spokeswoman said the company would provide an update when available.

Credit…Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The South African drug maker Aspen Pharmacare said on Tuesday that it was finalizing the first agreement to control production of a Covid-19 vaccine in Africa.

The deal would allow Aspen to bottle and market the Johnson & Johnson vaccine across Africa under the brand name Aspenovax. Aspen would have the right to determine to whom the vaccine would be sold, in what quantities and at what price — but not to produce the actual contents of the vaccine. Instead, Johnson & Johnson would direct other facilities to make the ingredients to send to Aspen for the company to blend into vaccine doses.

Control over the intellectual property of Covid vaccines has become a point of increasing contention in the debate over how best to address the huge gap in vaccine access across African nations.

Aspen already bottles the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under a previous agreement, but as a contract manufacturer, it has had no say on where to ship the doses. Earlier this year, millions of doses bottled at Aspen’s plant in the city of Gqeberha were exported to other parts of the world at a time when many African countries had vaccinated fewer than 5 percent of their citizens. The arrangement generated harsh criticism after it was revealed by The New York Times, and the new agreement could avert a similar situation in the future.

Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union’s special envoy for Covid, said that getting to 70 percent vaccination coverage in Africa would require 900 million doses of vaccines.

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F.D.A. Advisers Endorses Merck’s Covid Pill for High-Risk Adults

An expert committee on Tuesday voted to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration authorize a Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron.

The drug, known as molnupiravir, has been shown to modestly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, predominantly from the Delta, Mu and Gamma variants. The expert panel recommended it for Covid patients who are older or have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to severe illness. The pill could be authorized in the United States within days, and available by year’s end.

In the coming weeks, the F.D.A. may also greenlight a similar pill from Pfizer that appears to be significantly more effective than Merck’s.

Health officials around the world have been counting on the new pills to reduce the number of severe cases and save lives. If Omicron causes a surge in severe infections, it could make them even more important.

Scientists have yet to run experiments to see how well the pills block Omicron viruses from replicating. But there are reasons to think they would remain effective even if the variant can sometimes evade vaccines.

Omicron has more than 30 mutations on the so-called spike protein that latches on to human cells. Some of those mutations may make it hard for vaccine-produced antibodies to attack the virus.

But the pills do not target the spike protein. Instead, they weaken two proteins involved in the virus’s replication machinery. Omicron carries only one mutation in each of those proteins, and neither looks as if it would stop the pills from doing their jobs.

In a presentation to the committee members, Daria Hazuda, a Merck executive, said molnupiravir’s activity is similar across known variants and that the drug works in a way that makes it likely to be active against new variants.

Another Merck executive, Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, told the panel on Tuesday that the company is “feverishly working” to collect samples from people infected with Omicron that it can use in laboratory studies to help determine whether the drug will work against the variant.

Virus cases are rising in many U.S. regions, notably the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Nationwide, cases have increased since the start of November, prompting fears about a winter surge fueled by Omicron, indoor holiday gatherings and the refusal of tens of millions to be vaccinated.

In a clinical trial, molnupiravir was found to reduce by 30 percent the risk of hospitalization or death when given to high-risk, unvaccinated volunteers within five days after they started showing symptoms. It appears to be substantially less effective than Pfizer’s pill, which was found to lower risk by 89 percent, and monoclonal antibody treatments, which have been found to cut it by at least 70 percent.

If molnupiravir is authorized, U.S. supply is expected to be limited at first, though it will be more abundant than Pfizer’s pill. The Biden administration has ordered enough courses of treatment, at about $700 per person, for 3.1 million people. Merck is expected to supply those pills before February.

The treatment is given within five days of the start of symptoms and is taken as 40 pills over five days.

To get the pills, people will likely need to test positive for the virus soon after they start showing symptoms. But it often takes several days to get results from a P.C.R. test, and in some parts of the country it is difficult to find rapid tests that return results within 15 minutes.

The F.D.A. panel discussed safety concerns raised by some scientists about Merck’s pill. The treatment works by inserting errors into the virus’s genes. Some scientists say there is a theoretical risk that it could trigger mutations in cells as well, potentially causing reproductive harm or a long-term risk of cancer.

Representatives from Merck and from the F.D.A. reviewed the results of safety studies in cells, animals, and clinical trials. “The overall risk of mutagenicity in humans is considered low,” Dr. Aimee Hodowanec, a senior medical officer at the F.D.A., said at the meeting, referring to the potential for the drug to induce mutations in the DNA of people taking it.

Children and pregnant women were excluded from the clinical trials of the drug.

Dr. Kartsonis said that the company would start a pregnancy surveillance program to monitor the outcomes of women exposed to molnupiravir during pregnancy, either inadvertently or intentionally.

Britain, which authorized Merck’s pill earlier this month, recommended that it not be given to pregnant or breastfeeding women, and that women who could become pregnant use contraception while taking the drug and for four days after.

In a discussion about whether the pills should ever be given to pregnant women, committee members said they were struggling to weigh whether the potential risk of the drug during pregnancy was too high, given uncertain benefits.

“The efficacy of this product is not overwhelmingly good,” said Dr. David Hardy, an infectious disease physician at Charles Drew University School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. “I think we really have to be careful about saying that this is the way to go.”

But several panel members said that in certain cases the pills might be appropriate during pregnancy, such as if a woman has many medical conditions or when antibody treatments are not available.

“I’m not sure you can ethically tell a pregnant woman who has Covid-19 that she can’t have the drug if she decided that’s what she needs,” said Dr. Janet Cragan, a pediatrician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Josephine Baker Interred in French Panthéon

PARIS — Josephine Baker, born in Missouri and beloved of France, whose life spanned French music-hall stardom and American civil rights activism, became the first Black woman to be laid to rest in the Panthéon, the nation’s hallowed tomb of heroes.

On a gray afternoon, 46 years after her death in Paris, soldiers from the Republican Guard bore a flag-draped coffin up the red-carpeted stairs of the Panthéon, where Ms. Baker joined 75 men and five women, including the author Émile Zola, the scientist Marie Curie, and the resistance hero Jean Moulin.

The colonnaded facade of the Panthéon, with its engraved dedication to the “great men” of France, was lit with a remarkable collage of images ranging from Ms. Baker’s wild nights performing at the Folies Bergères in 1926 to her appearance in front of the Lincoln Memorial beside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Aug. 28, 1963, as he spoke the words, “I have a dream.”

Ms. Baker’s reinterment beneath the cupola that rises above Paris marked the culmination of an extraordinary journey that began in the misery and racial segregation of St. Louis; led her to fame as the provocative dance star of “les années folles,” or crazy years, of 1920s Paris; and took her on to passionate political engagement in the cause of Europe’s freedom from the threat of fascism and American racial equality.

At a time of tension in France over issues of race and gender, and of friction with the United States, President Emmanuel Macron chose to honor Ms. Baker as a woman with “every form of courage and audacity,” and “an American who found refuge in Paris and captured what it is to be French.”

Five months from a divisive presidential election, he portrayed Ms. Baker as a symbol of unity — what he called “the beauty of collective destiny.” He held her up as an example of immigrant success, and of the multitudes a single life may contain.

“France is Josephine,” Mr. Macron declared, standing before the coffin. From the right to the left of the political spectrum, at least for a day, everyone seemed to agree.

The longing cadences of “J’ai Deux Amours,” or “I Have Two Loves,” perhaps Ms. Baker’s most famous song, filled the frescoed mausoleum during the ceremony. Its avowal that Ms. Baker’s heart went out at once to “Paris et mon pays” — “Paris and my country” — seemed to capture her unusual odyssey.

At the time the song was recorded in 1930, Ms. Baker was still an American citizen. She became French in 1937, 12 years after her arrival in France. She is the first person of American origin to be entombed in the Panthéon, a distinction that was marked by the lighting Monday of the Empire State Building in the red, white and blue of the French flag.

“She had a double affection for the two countries,” Ms. Baker’s daughter, Marianne Bouillon-Baker, said at an American reception on the eve of the entombment.

After the racial violence she witnessed as a Black American child and the repeated humiliations of segregation and discrimination, Ms. Baker, who was born Freda Josephine McDonald, said she found a freedom and dignity in France for which she was “eternally grateful.”

Other Black American artists, including James Baldwin and Richard Wright, had similar experiences, with the result that France is particularly sensitive to American criticism that its avowedly colorblind social model masks widespread discrimination.

Mr. Macron said that Ms. Baker’s life had encapsulated “a universal struggle.” Her goal was not “to define herself as Black before defining herself as American or French.” Her guiding idea was not the “irreducibility of the Black cause,” but to be “a free and dignified citizen, completely,” he added.

His words appeared to reflect his government’s rejection of what it often portrays as divisive American identity politics that threatens to undermine French universalism. Mr. Macron’s characterization of Ms. Baker’s beliefs was consistent with his government’s fierce defense of universalism. Still, her presence on the Mall with Dr. King and her repeated expressions of outrage at the treatment of Blacks in the United States make clear that the specific Black fight for equality was very important to her.

Ms. Baker became an object of wild Parisian fascination when, just 20, she appeared in 1926 at the Folies Bergères theater dressed in little more than a skirt made of 16 rubber bananas at a show called “The Negro Review.”

The cabaret played off white male colonial obsessions with Black women and their bodies in a France then fascinated by Black and African arts. Clowning and exaggerating, gyrating and waving her arms, Ms. Baker contrived to use and subvert the stereotypes, ridiculing them through what Mr. Macron called her use of the “burlesque.”

Her fame extended far and wide; writers from Jean Cocteau to Ernest Hemingway fell under her thrall. But when artistic folly of the 1920s yielded to the Fascist military folly of the 1930s, Ms. Baker demonstrated that she did not take her success, or the gifts of her adoptive country, for granted. She joined the resistance.

It was in her Free French uniform, hung with her various French military and civilian honors, that she appeared with Dr. King at the March on Washington. “I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents,” she said. “But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”

She exhorted the crowd to fight on. “You can’t go wrong,” she said. “The world is behind you.”

Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, told Europe 1 radio that Ms. Baker was a “magnificent symbol who incarnates the love for France that can also come from people who are not born here.”

His statement seemed pointed at immigration, which remains an explosive subject in France — the main theme of the election, along with purchasing power at a time of economic difficulty. If Ms. Baker embraced France, many immigrants, particularly from North Africa, have found that much harder because of the prejudice they have encountered.

Her reinterment came on the same day as Éric Zemmour, a hard-right polemicist and TV star with fierce anti-immigrant views, declared his candidacy for the presidency. Polls suggest he has significant support.

Of Ms. Baker, Mr. Macron said: “She did not defend a certain skin color. She had a certain idea of humankind and fought for the freedom of everyone. Her cause was universalism, the unity of humanity, the equality of everyone ahead of the identity of each single person.”

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