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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Monday.
1. Russia played down speculation that it was preparing to invade Ukraine as its security talks with the U.S. continued.
“There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario,” Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, told reporters after a meeting between American and Russian diplomats.
Wendy Sherman, the lead American diplomat, said the U.S. pushed back on Russia’s demands that Ukraine not be admitted into NATO and that the alliance end its security cooperation with Ukraine.
“Today was a discussion, a better understanding of each other and each other’s priorities,” Sherman said. “It was not what we would call a negotiation.”
Sherman added that the U.S. was open to discussing reciprocal limits on military exercises, the location of intermediate-range missiles and reviving a nuclear-forces treaty abandoned in 2019. Here are the latest updates.
2. Officials are uncovering more details about a Bronx apartment fire that killed 17 people, including eight children.
The fire was started yesterday by a malfunctioning space heater in the bedroom of a third-floor apartment. Fire officials say the door of the apartment did not close properly as residents fled, allowing smoke to quickly spread throughout the building.
The fire was mostly contained to the apartment with the space heater and to an adjacent hallway. But the heavy smoke reached all 19 floors of the building, causing all the deaths and serious injuries associated with the fire, none of which appeared to have been caused by burns. Fifteen people remained in critical condition on Monday.
3. Privately insured Americans can now get as many as eight at-home coronavirus tests for free each month.
Under the policy announced by the Biden administration, people who provide their insurance information will be able to get the tests with no out-of-pocket costs at certain pharmacies. In other cases, they will have to file claims to their insurers for reimbursement.
The policy does not apply to tests that have already been purchased, and it does not apply to people with public health coverage such as Medicare and Medicaid.
The administration is planning to offer half a billion free at-home tests through a website, and is racing to fill in that pledge with a series of test contracts with companies already in possession of tests or manufacturers producing them. More details are expected in the coming days.
In other virus news:
An Australian judge ordered that Novak Djokovic be released from detention. The unvaccinated tennis star’s release, however, does not guarantee that he will be able to play in the Australian Open next week.
Robert Durst, the real estate scion who was convicted of murder in September, died at 78. Durst tested positive for Covid-19 last year, and his lawyer said the virus had worsened Durst’s medical problems.
Uganda reopened its schools after the world’s longest Covid shutdown.
Germany braced for more protests as vaccine rules were tightened across Europe.
4. Mike Pence is in a high-stakes dance with the Jan. 6 committee.
As the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol focuses on Donald Trump’s role, the outcome of the inquiry looks increasingly likely to hinge on one potential witness: former Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence’s lawyer and the panel have been engaged in informal talks about voluntary cooperation. But in recent weeks, he is said to have grown increasingly disillusioned with the idea. Pence told aides that the committee had taken a sharp partisan turn by openly considering the potential for criminal referrals to the Justice Department about Trump and others.
Pence’s testimony would be an opportunity to establish — in detail and for the first time from him under oath — how Trump’s pressure on him to block the certification of President Biden’s victory brought the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis. But if Pence declines to participate and is subpoenaed, it would set up a potential court fight that could delay a resolution for months.
Separately, Representative Jim Jordan, a close Trump ally, announced that he was refusing to cooperate with the committee.
5. 2021 was Earth’s fifth hottest year on record.
According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union program that conducted the analysis, the seven hottest years since about 1850 were, by a clear margin, the past seven.
One big reason for 2021’s lower mean temperature was the presence during the early part of the year of La Niña conditions. But it was offset by heat in the U.S. and Europe, which had their warmest summers on the books.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions bounced back in 2021 — rising 6 percent after a record 10 percent decline in 2020.
6. The Haitian prime minister had close links with a suspect in the murder of the country’s president.
The evidence against Ariel Henry, the head of the government, centers on his connection to Joseph Felix Badio, a former justice ministry official. Phone records seen by The Times, as well as interviews with Haitian officials and a principal suspect, reveal potentially incriminating details.
Among them: Badio spoke to Henry before and after the killing, including two calls the morning after the assassination; and after Badio was already wanted by the police, he visited Henry twice, unimpeded by security guards.
Henry’s phone calls with Badio were first revealed in September by a top Haitian prosecutor at the time, Bedford Claude. Henry moved swiftly against the officials who tried to investigate the links, firing both Claude and his supervisor.
7. An ailing man got a genetically modified pig heart.
In a development that could radically transform the outlook for people with failing organs, a 57-year-old man with a life-threatening heart ailment has received a new heart from a genetically modified pig, the first successful transplant of a pig’s heart into a human.
The Maryland man would have died had he not received a new heart, and he was too sick to receive a heart from a human donor. His long-term prognosis remains to be seen, but the first 48 hours, which are critical, passed without incident.
“I wasn’t sure he was understanding me,” said the man’s doctor, describing the moment he proposed the procedure. “Then he said, ‘Well, will I oink?’”
8. College football crowns a champion tonight.
Top-ranked Alabama dominated No. 3 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game. If the Crimson Tide win again, it will be Coach Nick Saban’s seventh national title at Alabama; if Georgia pulls off the upset, it will be the moment that Coach Kirby Smart finally gets the win over his former boss that has long eluded him.
9. The world has changed. Here’s where to visit.
“52 Places,” our annual list of global destinations, looks at spots where visitors can be part of the solution to problems like overtourism and climate change. It highlights where endangered wild lands are being preserved, threatened species are being protected, historical wrongs are being acknowledged and fragile communities are being bolstered.
10. And finally, the Isle of Rum gets some fresh blood.
The remote island in the Scottish Hebrides has no doctors, one shop, and the nearest pub is 10 miles away by boat. It also has four new families who have stuck it out through torrential rain and biting flies, bringing its population to about 40.
Just a couple of years ago, this isolated outpost had fewer than two dozen residents. So the islanders, heavily outnumbered by deer, appealed for newcomers to apply to join them.
From around 400 applications judged to be serious, four couples were selected, most with young children. The new arrivals seem to have embraced Rum’s tranquillity but, with so few people, social interactions can be intense. “We always say that in some ways it’s not remote enough,” one new resident joked.
Have a tranquil evening.
Bryan Denton compiled photos for this briefing.