Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

Alarmed at signs that Russia’s invasion force is about to escalate assaults in eastern Ukraine, many civilians in that region are fleeing, officials said. The exodus accelerated as Western nations moved to provide more weapons to Ukraine’s military and to further ostracize Russia economically with new sanctions over the atrocities in Bucha. Follow the latest updates.

The E.U. also was weighing a ban on coal from Russia, the leading provider of fossil-fuel energy to Europe, and Russia appeared to move closer to defaulting on its foreign debt because of U.S. currency restrictions. In his nightly address, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, challenged allies to find the determination to ban Russian oil.

Hampered by poor planning and low morale, the Russian military has retreated from the Kyiv area and has apparently abandoned the effort to capture the capital. But that does not mean its forces cannot undertake a powerful new assault in the east. About 30,000 people have left the region since Russia invaded, a local official said.

Refugees: More than 11 million Ukrainians — roughly one in four — have fled their homes, according to the U.N., including more than four million who have fled the country.

In other news from the war:

Days before the first round of France’s presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, the president, is still the favorite to win a second term. But even if he does succeed, the French right has dominated the election, with virtually the entire campaign being fought on issues of national identity, immigration and Islam. The far right has even become the champion of pocketbook issues, traditionally the left’s turf.

Macron himself has pivoted to the right so consistently that there is even discussion now of whether he should be regarded as a center-right president, though he emerged from a government run by the now-moribund Socialists in 2017. He is most likely to face off against Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of the National Rally, in a runoff.

The French right in recent months has not only wielded the idea of “wokisme” to effectively stifle the left and blunt what it sees as the threat of a “woke culture” from American campuses, it has also busily established a cultural presence after years with few, if any, news outlets in the mainstream.

On the left: For months, left-wing candidates barely made a dent with voters. Then Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a skilled orator and the leader of the leftist France Unbowed movement, started surging in voter surveys. He now sits comfortably in third place.

Flashpoint: The death in February of Jérémy Cohen, 31, a Jewish man living in Paris, set off outrage this week after a video surfaced showing that he had been fleeing a group of young men when he was hit by a tram — raising suspicions that an antisemitic assault had precipitated his death and injecting new volatility into an already close race.

Researchers trying to devise an updated coronavirus vaccine for use this fall, when the virus may resurge in force, must settle on a formula as early as June to meet that deadline, U.S. health officials said at a daylong meeting yesterday, even though some clinical trials are just getting underway.

Manufacturers and researchers are scrambling to figure out what a revised vaccine should look like. One ongoing study, for example, analyzes how Moderna’s vaccine works if revised to target three variants, alone or in combination. But it only just began recruiting volunteers, with results expected this summer.

Other trials underway are too small to provide efficacy data of the type that led to the authorization of the existing vaccines. But they could produce enough data for federal health officials to determine whether a reconfigured vaccine would create a stronger or more lasting immune response, a metric used to infer efficacy.

Guesswork: No one knows which variant of the virus will dominate later this year. There is some chance that before then, another variant like Omicron will emerge and redraw the coronavirus picture in a wholly unexpected way.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other news:

Yakei, a 9-year-old macaque, is the first known female troop leader in the seven-decade history of Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in southern Japan, home to over 1,000 macaques.

Though a messy love triangle threatened to weaken her grip on power, her continued rule has surprised scientists and given them an opportunity to observe how macaque society functions under a matriarchy.

In 2015, the songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were ordered to pay more than $5 million for copying Marvin Gaye’s disco-era hit “Got to Give It Up” in their single “Blurred Lines.”

The case fueled a rise in copyright claims over pop songs — including against Ed Sheeran, who this week won a plagiarism case in London brought by the British songwriter Sami Chokri, who records as Sami Switch, against Sheeran’s 2017 megahit “Shape of You.”

Antony Zacaroli, the judge overseeing the case, said Sheeran had “neither deliberately nor subconsciously copied” Chokri’s track “Oh Why” and disputed that he had even heard it. (Sheeran faces yet another trial in New York over the song “Thinking Out Loud”; owners of the rights to Gaye’s song “Let’s Get It On” accuse Sheeran of copying it.) Recording industry executives had been watching the case closely because of its potential to bolster other claims.

The aftereffects of the “Blurred Lines” decision have been felt most acutely by rank-and-file songwriters, who work in obscurity even as their creations propel others to stardom. The ramifications for them have been inescapable, affecting royalty splits, legal and insurance costs, and even how songs are composed.

“There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music,” Sheeran said. Given that, he added, “coincidences are bound to happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify.”

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