We cover Beijing’s race to keep Omicron out of the Olympics and the poor results of talks between NATO and Russia.
What Omicron means for the Beijing Olympics
The Winter Olympics are only three weeks away, but tickets are not yet on sale. Airlines are changing schedules, creating travel confusion. There is now a wave of Covid outbreaks in China, including several cases of the rapidly spreading variant of the Omicron coronavirus.
As of Wednesday, more than 20 million people remained in their homes in at least five Chinese cities. One particularly worrisome Covid outbreak has occurred in Tianjin, a port city just 70 miles from Beijing.
The surge in infections even before the arrival of thousands of athletes, journalists and officials highlights the difficulties Chinese organizers face in trying to host the Games with extreme restrictions. The opening ceremony is scheduled for February 4th.
What’s at stake: For Beijing, the Olympic Games are an opportunity not only to showcase China’s sporting achievements, but also to validate its zero-Covid approach,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of Seton Hall University’s Center for Global Health Research. “If they can handle it without causing major outbreaks, that would be another gold medal for China to be happy to claim,” Huang said.
Last: Officials have urged people to refrain from unnecessary travel to the capital, but say there are no plans to blockade Beijing.
Restrictions: The Games will be the largest highly restricted sporting event since the start of the pandemic. Unvaccinated people will have to spend 21 days in Beijing in solitary confinement. Fully vaccinated participants will remain in a tightly managed bubble.
Go deeper: Our columnist Li Yuan wrote about a multimillion-strong army that is pursuing China’s policy to combat the coronavirus at any cost.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other developments:
Differences remain after talks on Ukraine
Russian and NATO officials said they were still far from agreeing after four hours of talks in Brussels that the West hoped would convince Moscow to ease tensions with Ukraine, where 100,000 Russian troops are stationed on the border.
“Our differences will not be easy to overcome,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference after the talks on Wednesday.
At a separate press conference, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said: “I want to say that the discussion was quite honest, direct, deep and comprehensive. But at the same time, he showed a large number of differences on fundamental issues.
Russian officials have not committed to withdrawing troops on the border with Ukraine and have not rejected the demand, officials said. US and NATO allies have proposed a series of further European security meetings to Russia, and Russia has indicated it is not shutting the door on diplomacy just yet.
Divides: Russia has drawn up a list of far-reaching demands, including a NATO promise to stop further eastward expansion; agree not to accept Ukraine; and withdraw its troops from NATO members bordering Russia. They were categorically rejected by the US and NATO allies.
What’s next: How seriously is President Vladimir Putin considering the possibility of a full-scale war with Ukraine? No one knows, except, perhaps, Putin. And that is by design, writes our Moscow correspondent. Today the negotiations are transferred to Vienna, where Ukraine will sit down at the negotiating table for the first time.
Boris Johnson called to step down
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized in Parliament on Wednesday for attending a Downing Street party in May 2020 as the government asked people to stay at home.
Johnson, who had not previously admitted to having been at the party, admitted that his behavior deeply offended the public, even as he insisted the gathering did not violate his government’s ordinances.
“I want to apologize,” Johnson said during an unusually tense session. “I know how furious they are with me and with the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly enforced by the people who make them.”
Backlash: Opposition Labor Party officials and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called for Johnson’s resignation. The Times of London called Ross’s comments “the biggest divide between the English and Scottish Tory parties”.
With the advent of the new year, many are trying to reconsider their relationship with alcohol, abstaining from it for Dry January. But the emergence of the fast-spreading variant of the Omicron coronavirus has some wondering: Is it really time to quit drinking entirely this month?
Lives lived: Michael Lang, one of the creators of the Woodstock festival, which drew over 400,000 people to a farm in upstate New York in 1969, has died at the age of 77.
ART AND IDEAS
A film about climate change hit a nerve
Don’t Look Up is one of the most popular Netflix movies. After it premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and wrote an essay saying they finally felt noticed.
In the film, a planet-killing comet serves as a metaphor for the climate crisis, and a team of scientists desperately pushing for government action, ignored for political reasons, speculation and apathy, replace climate scientists pushing for a reduction emissions.
Adam McKay, the film’s director, wants it to be a “kick in the ass” that will prompt urgent action to combat climate change. Netflix partnered with climate scientists to share ways to take action, and the cast pointed to climate legislation that voters can support.
“I am under no illusion that one film is the cure for the climate crisis,” McKay, whose previous films include Big Edge and Power, wrote in an email to The New York Times. “But if it inspires discussion, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then I would say we have achieved our goal.”
PLAY, LOOK, EAT
What to cook