Omicron Prompts New Year’s Eve Cancellations

Good morning. We’re covering New Year’s Eve cancellations over Omicron surges and Russia shuttering Memorial International.

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus drives infection rates to record levels in many parts of the world, major cities have scaled down or canceled New Year’s Eve events for a second consecutive year.

Just a month ago, Covid vaccines made it seem like Dec. 31 celebrations would be back. Now caseloads are rising swiftly, including in Italy, where the 14-day average of new cases is up by 128 percent. Rome, Venice and other cities scrapped their celebrations, banned large outdoor events and closed nightclubs.

In France, where cases are up by 48 percent, Paris canceled the fireworks over the Champs-Élysées and other large public parties. London’s mayor scrapped plans for an event in Trafalgar Square.

Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing revelry, one of the biggest New Year’s celebrations in the world, is canceled again. New Delhi banned gatherings as well.

New York City capped its Times Square celebration to 15,000 people, a quarter of the usual number allowed in designated areas. Some cities, like Berlin and Los Angeles, will be streaming or broadcasting celebrations instead of allowing spectators.

The numbers: Globally, daily cases are up on average by 36 percent over the past two weeks, to levels that surpass or rival previous surge periods. Fears of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread are being tempered by signs of potentially less-severe illness than with earlier variants.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

The Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of Memorial International, Russia’s most prominent human rights organizations and a symbol of the country’s democratization after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The decision comes after a year of crackdowns on opposition in Russia and more than three decades after the group was founded to preserve the memory of the thousands of Russians who died or were persecuted in forced labor camps during the Stalin era.

The hearing drew dozens of protesters outside the courthouse.

Over the past year, the Kremlin has stifled dissent online, especially among activists, hundreds of whom have been harassed, jailed or forced into exile. Shutting down Memorial is another step in President Vladimir Putin’s effort to soften the image of an often brutal regime during the Soviet era.

Quotable: Memorial’s closure represents “a new step downward,” said Ilya Miklashevsky, 65, whose father and grandfather were jailed in the gulag. “The country is sleepily moving downhill.”

Details: The court cited repeated violations of the foreign agents law, a measure requiring groups with foreign funding or loosely defined political activity to register as “foreign agents.”

More to come: In a separate hearing scheduled for today, the Moscow City Court will rule on whether to shut down Memorial’s Human Rights Center, which compiles a list of current political prisoners in Russia. The center is accused of “justifying terrorist activities” by including members of banned religious organizations on this list.

The government blocked the Missionaries of Charity, the group founded by Mother Teresa, from accepting foreign donations for humanitarian work.

The news came around a tense Christmas time, when churches have been vandalized and celebrations interrupted by Hindu extremists across the country. The move could complicate an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pope Francis to visit the country.

India has been tightening rules on foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations, requiring them to file detailed financial statements and request approval. Amnesty International was forced to close over the rules.

Context: The rise in attacks on Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the country’s population, is part of an environment of fear faced by religious minorities. India’s Muslims have felt the brunt.

Details: According to government filings, foreign donations accounted for over $13 million of the charity’s income in the financial year that ended March 2021. Missionaries for Charity said it believed the licensing issue could be resolved.

Disgust creeps into every corner of our social lives, a piece of evolutionary hardware designed to protect our stomachs that expanded into a system for protecting our souls. For psychologists who study it, disgust is one of the primal emotions that define — and explain — humanity.

Residents of Porretta Terme, in central Italy, have for centuries venerated the Madonna of the Bridge, crediting the site with performing miracles. But more recently, they say she has taken her talents and divine interventions to the basketball court.

After a decades-long campaign by local basketball fanatics, the Italian Bishops Conference in May gave its approval for the Madonna to be officially recognized as the patron saint of Italian basketball. The application now sits with the Vatican.

Porretta is a capital of youth basketball. Local and regional players make pilgrimages to the Madonna for game-day assistance, leaving offerings of jerseys just as their ancestors left medals.

“Bless and protect my team,” the local priest recently prayed in a chapel with a single basketball-shaped window.

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