Your Monday Briefing

The far right in France is dealt a setback

In France’s first round of nationwide regional elections, voters voiced support for the center-right party, Les Républicains, over the far-right National Rally party, dashing Marine Le Pen’s hopes of turning the vote into a springboard for the presidential race next year.

Polling agencies estimated on Sunday that Les Républicains had pulled ahead in six of France’s 13 mainland regions, capturing about 30 percent of the vote nationwide. The left came out on top in five regions, Le Pen’s National Rally came first in one region and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party trailed in all regions.

In a record-low turnout, roughly 34 percent of voters cast ballots, which means that about 30 million people stayed away. The vote on Sunday also coincided with the lifting of an eight-month coronavirus curfew, the last remnant of a seemingly endless cycle of Covid-related restrictions.

Analysis: The race has been marked by acts of violence against political leaders and inflammatory speeches that reflect France’s growing culture wars. “We see a growing polarization of society, aggressive debates, an extremely frictional and inflammatory dimension,” one French political scientist said.

The rise of the Delta variant

The Delta variant is proving to be a stubborn hurdle in the global fight against the coronavirus. In the U.S., the variant is spreading in states with low vaccination rates, while Russian virologists say that the Delta variant is now the most prevalent version in Moscow. The W.H.O. said on Friday that it was becoming the globally dominant variant of the virus.

In England, “freedom day,” when final coronavirus restrictions were scheduled to end, was postponed until July 19 after a spike in Delta cases. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated Delta to a “variant of concern.”

Summer travel: The E.U. said on Friday that the U.S. would be added to its “safe list” of countries and recommended that its member nations extend entry even to unvaccinated visitors from the U.S. — if they can provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. If you’re wondering how the variant might affect your travel plans, here is everything you need to know before booking a flight.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

A “black fungus” epidemic has followed in the wake of India’s second Covid wave, potentially caused by desperate steps that hospitals took to save lives.

The Covid-19 death toll in Brazil has now surpassed 500,000.

A controversial communion vote in the U.S.

Catholic bishops in the U.S. last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of drafting guidance on the Eucharist. In doing so, the bishops are advancing a conservative push to deny President Biden communion, one of the church’s most sacred rituals, over his support for abortion rights.

The conservative Catholic contingent has been gaining strength throughout the Trump era, clashing with the Vatican, wresting influence away from Pope Francis’ top representatives in the U.S. and further polarizing the Catholic faithful in the process. The rightward shift comes as conservative movements are rising in Christianity, amid increasing secularism.

The 73 percent of Catholic bishops who voted in favor of those guidelines represent an emerging conservative momentum, not only among bishops but in parishes across the U.S. This push is at odds with the pope’s broader range of priorities, which includes issues like immigration, poverty and climate change.

View from Rome: Pope Francis remained silent on the vote, which flouted a remarkably explicit letter from the Vatican in May urging bishops against it.


News From Europe

John Bercow, the former House of Commons Speaker who gained international fame refereeing Britain’s political drama over Brexit, said yesterday that he had quit the governing Conservatives to join the opposition Labour Party.

A 35-day manhunt in Belgium culminated on Sunday in the discovery of a body believed to be that of a missing soldier with links to the far right.

A bronze replica of the statue that served as the model for the Statue of Liberty will travel from Paris to Ellis Island for the July 4 Independence Day celebration.

Other Big Stories

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s ultraconservative former judiciary chief, was elected president after a campaign that was widely viewed as engineered to ensure his victory. His win may give President Biden an opportunity to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Taliban entered two provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, the culmination of an insurgent offensive that has overrun dozens of rural districts in recent weeks. The departure of U.S. military forces and contractors has spelled disaster for the Afghan military.

The U.S. is preparing more economic sanctions against Russia in response to the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, the country’s most prominent opposition leader.

The Montreal police said they were investigating after a video of a white officer appearing to kneel on the neck of a Black teenager spurred outrage.

What Else Is Happening

Booksellers in Hong Kong are walking a fine line. Some flout new rules limiting free speech, as customers look for a sense of connection, while others are coming to terms with the new limits. Above, Mount Zero bookstore in the Sheung Wan district of Hong Kong. Over the front door, a message reads: “Ideas are bulletproof.”

Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 90 years, and its residents are paying more for electricity, facing the possibility of water rationing and expecting a destructive fire season.

A Morning Read

In 1979, dozens of people died in the Soviet city now known as Yekaterinburg after airborne anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab. Above, a mural showing doctors attending to children outside a clinic in the city.

Leading American scientists backed the Soviets’ claim that the pathogen had originated from animals, until decades later, when a full-fledged investigation confirmed that the accident was a lab leak, one of the deadliest ever documented. Now, as scientists search for the origins of Covid-19, the story of the Soviet accident that took at least 66 lives, and the cover-up that concealed it, has renewed relevance.


Food for thought

Why do people want Jeff Bezos to buy, and then eat, the Mona Lisa? Such is the demand of nearly 11,000 signatories of a petition. It reads: “Nobody has eaten the mona lisa and we feel jeff bezos needs to take a stand and make this happen.”

Though very much a joke, the petition is making a statement about the absurdity of accumulating enormous wealth, as well as the bizarreness of the current internet era, writes our reporter, Anna P. Kambhampaty.

“We all know that Bezos has more money than needed,” said Kane Powell, the petition’s founder and a resident of Stevensville, Md. “It’d just be amusing to have a person of that kind of power be funny with their money because, let’s be honest, they don’t need it.”

Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a net worth of upward of $200 billion. With a valuation of more than $850 million in today’s dollars, the Mona Lisa is technically within his means — though it’s very unlikely that France would be prepared to give it up. (The Louvre, where the work is on permanent display, declined to comment.)

The legality of it is more complicated. French national treasures, by French law, are inalienable. Droits moraux, or “moral rights,” would typically protect an artwork from such an act, though there are grounds to argue that the 19th-century statute would not apply to 16th-century works.

But there are artistic precedents for destroying work: Robert Rauschenberg in 1953 spent a month erasing a Willem de Kooning drawing, while in 2019 the New York artist David Datuna ate the $120,000 banana of Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian.” And Marcel Duchamp, perhaps the Mona Lisa’s highest-profile satirist, might well have signed the petition if he were alive today. After all, he once said: “Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board.”


What to Cook

Start your week with palak ki tiki, spicy vegan patties made with spinach, potato and herbs. Serve with chutney or a quick raita.

What to Watch

Take a trip to the Italian coast in “Luca,” a breezy, charming sea-monster story from Pixar.

What to Listen To

Revisit Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, the album “Blue,” beloved by musicians including James Taylor and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Title word after “Pretty” or “Wonder” (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a wonderful Monday. — Natasha

P.S. Denise Grady is retiring after spending two decades covering medicine for The Times. She shared some thoughts about the job in this farewell article.

There’s no new episode of “The Daily.” Instead, on Episode 4 of “Day X,” an interview with the first soldier to be tried for terrorism in Germany since World War II.

You can reach Natasha and the team at brief[email protected].

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