Your Weekend Briefing

Omicron, Ukraine, Golden Globes

Welcome to the Weekend Briefing. We're covering the Omicron surge, a rough return to schools and a different kind of awards season.

Lines for Covid testing stretched around the block at a Baltimore County Health Department site last week.Al Drago for The New York Times

1. Just when Americans thought they understood the basics about the coronavirus, Omicron has left them with a new set of calculations to make.

The highly contagious new variant, which has been circulating in the U.S. for at least five weeks, has ushered in a new and disorienting phase of the pandemic. In response to the surge, public health officials have shortened the isolation period for people with positive tests and have instructed Americans to upgrade their masks from cloth to medical-grade when possible, for greater protection.

"Omicron has turned, quickly, into something that is just different," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago's top health official.

The pace of daily new infections of the coronavirus has nearly doubled globally in the past week, exceeding a staggering two million cases a day. Case counts have reached record highs in the U.S., but a fresh perspective on these metrics is necessary as a faster but less severe variant tears through the country. Here's how to interpret the latest trends.

Amalia Harder, 7, attended school remotely in Chicago last week.Mustafa Hussain for The New York Times

2. It's a stressful time for school systems around the U.S. as they wrestle with how to go back to class amid the Omicron wave.

Nowhere has the situation been more rancorous than in Chicago, where the teachers' union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are in a standoff over virus precautions and testing. Teachers' unions elsewhere are agitating for change, citing staffing and testing shortages. The tensions are putting pressure on Democrats, who have vowed to keep schools open.

Interviews with families across Chicago revealed a wide range of views on what should happen next. Families and educators were similarly divided on the topic in New York City. "We're just trying to get by," one high school math teacher said.

The situation in the U.S. is similar to that in England: Staffing shortages are dire enough that retirees have been urged to return to duty.

The Ukrainian and Russian militaries have been building up for months along the border.Alexei Alexandrov/Associated Press

3. The U.S. and Russia begin talks tomorrow to try to forestall an overtly threatened Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ahead of the negotiations in Geneva, the U.S. detailed punishing financial, technology and military sanctions should Russia send troops across the border. Such moves are rarely telegraphed in advance. But with the talks looming — and the fate of Europe's post-Cold War borders and NATO's military presence on the continent at stake — President Biden's advisers want to signal to President Vladimir Putin the high cost he would pay for an invasion of Ukraine.

The conflict may be in Ukraine, but the U.S. and NATO plan to take the lead this week, leaving the sidelined Ukrainian government to quietly pursue its own negotiating track with Moscow.

Kazakhstan's president authorized police officers to shoot to kill protesters this week in Almaty.Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR.KZ, via Associated Press

4. The former head of Kazakhstan's powerful intelligence agency was arrested on suspicion of treason.

Karim Masimov, the former leader of the agency, has been regarded as a key ally of the former long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The announcement by the agency seemed to fuel talk that the people fighting in the streets this past week were proxies for feuding factions of the political elite.

Kazakhstan was plunged into crisis after protests over a fuel price hike spread from a remote town and turned its biggest and most prosperous city, Almaty, into a war zone. At a critical point during the upheaval, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the current president, formally requested help from Russia. That choice could alter the balance of power in Central Asia.

Supporters of Novak Djokovic rallied in Belgrade, Serbia, where he is from.Oliver Bunic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

5. A hearing tomorrow will determine whether Novak Djokovic can take part in the Australian Open after the tennis star was denied entry over his Covid vaccine status.

In a court filing, lawyers for Djokovic said he had tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-December and that the Australian government had erred this week in canceling his visa over a vaccine requirement. Djokovic, the world's top tennis player, was denied permission to enter the country on Thursday after arriving at a Melbourne airport.

Djokovic has been isolating in a Melbourne hotel where asylum seekers have been held for over a year under a detention program that has been widely criticized.

Djokovic is the latest target of a public outcry against vaccine skeptics and stars wanting special treatment.

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The wedding ceremony of Dr. Sheha Pfizer included Sufi, Punjabi, hip-hop and flamenco influences. Anindito Mukherjee for The New York Times

6. Caterer? Check. Venue? Check. Outfits? Check. Choreographer? Check.

Weddings in India's south, particularly in the coastal state of Kerala, have transformed into a festival of color — and dance, lots of dance. By one estimate, about 60 percent to 70 percent of the weddings in Kerala now include choreographed performances. Couples draw inspiration from social media trends that blur the nation's religious and cultural lines to visually evocative effect in the Instagram age.

No force of nature, not even a pandemic, could stop many couples from saying "I do." Marriage stories from around the world filled the Wedding pages of The Times last year, but before those marriages came the proposals. Our Weddings reporter rounded up his favorites.

The Golden Globe Awards will not be televised, and winners will be announced over social media.Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

7. Awards season kicks off tonight, but you'd hardly know it.

The winners of this year's Golden Globes will be announced tonight to a ballroom devoid of stars at the Beverly Hilton, and the results will be tweeted in real time. NBC decided not to televise the normally star-studded affair because of ethical issues surrounding the group that hands out the awards.

While the Academy Awards remain scheduled for March 27, Hollywood is again largely losing its annual season of self-congratulation. The movie business's best form of advertising is also being undercut in a year when films desperately need it. That could have far-reaching effects on the types of movies that get made.

Sidney Poitier in 1965.Sam Falk/The New York Times

8. No matter how the awards season pans out, a long shadow will be cast by the loss of one actor: Sidney Poitier, who died on Friday at 94.

Poitier, who was the first Black performer to win the Academy Award for best actor, in "Lilies of the Field," rose to prominence when the civil rights movement was beginning to make headway in the U.S., and his roles tended to reflect the peaceful integrationist goals of the struggle. Poitier still managed to be a giant, despite the obstacles put in his way.

"He became the star he did because he was the star we desperately needed him to be," Wesley Morris, our critic-at-large, writes in an appraisal of Poitier's legacy.

Golden cornmeal biscuits stay tender on the bottom and crisp on the top.David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

9. We have your weeknight cooking plans covered.

Melissa Clarke cooked up this one-skillet chili and biscuits dish. She usually skips the traditional beef and sticks to bean chilies that are either vegetarian or spiked with a little ground turkey or chicken for flavor and heft. Even better, she also forgoes the hours of simmering.

We also have this comforting potato-celery gratin from Yotam Ottolenghi and advice on getting the most tender chicken (hint: browning first isn't always necessary). If your 2022 resolution is to cut down on cleanup, here are 14 one-pot vegetarian recipes and 12 one-bowl cookie recipes.

A refilled bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's 15 Year Old Family Reserve bourbon.Rozette Rago for The New York Times

10. And finally, cozy up with a great read.

The scars of the Jan. 6 attack. The ghost wolves of Galveston Island. American whiskey's counterfeit problem. All these and more await you in The Weekender.

Our editors also suggest these 10 new books, Season 2 of "The Righteous Gemstones" and new music from a Radiohead spinoff. And for the secret to a full and meaningful life, consider lessons from these six older New Yorkers.

Did you follow the news this week? Test your knowledge. And here's the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and today's Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. If you're in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Have a heartwarming week.

Shaminder Dulai compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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