Omicron causes thousands of flight cancellations
Thousands of flights around the world, including more than 1,000 in the U.S., were canceled over one of the biggest weekends for travel in the year as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus sickened crews and disrupted travel plans.
The cancellations came at a time when many flew to spend the Christmas holiday with their families. Roughly two million people passed through screening checkpoints in the U.S. each day last week, and the numbers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were nearly double the equivalent figures last year.
As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp rise in Covid cases, with the average daily caseload exceeding this summer’s peak, which was driven by the Delta variant. Hospitalizations are starting to tick up, too, although not at the same rate as cases.
Cautions: “It looks like there is a lesser degree of severity,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., said of the Omicron variant. But he warned against complacency, noting that there were still tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans.
Ukraine’s resistance in training
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have signed up to learn combat skills in government-run training programs and private paramilitary groups. The training is part of the country’s strategic defense plan in the event of a potential invasion by Russia — to foster a civilian resistance that can carry on the fight if the Ukrainian military is overwhelmed.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has not indicated whether he intends to launch an attack. But even Ukraine’s own generals say their regular military stands little chance in a full-fledged invasion. The programs aim to create a national resistance of about 100,000 volunteers, according to one general, to bolster the country’s resources.
Civilian defense is not unfamiliar in Ukraine; volunteer brigades formed the backbone of the country’s forces in the east in 2014, the first year of the war against Russian separatists, when the Ukrainian military was in shambles. Last year, the Ukrainian Army began weekend training for civilian volunteers in the newly formed Territorial Defense Forces.
Endgame: The goal is not to achieve victory against the weight of the Russian military, which would be virtually impossible, but instead to create the threat of disruption that would serve as a deterrent to an invasion.
Related: Amid fear of an invasion, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has surrounded himself with people drawn from his comedy studio. Few have any experience in diplomacy or warfare.
An uncertain future for Afghans in the Netherlands
Of the roughly 2,000 Afghan refugees accepted by the Dutch government, around half are now living in shared, unheated tents in a temporary camp deep in a forest near the eastern town of Nijmegen. Hopes for more solid housing appeared to be dimming, given a shortage of more permanent social housing for poor Dutch and refugees alike.
The evacuees face an uncertain future in a region that is in the middle of a heated debate on immigration. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, politicians fear a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, when more than a million people sought asylum in the E.U., setting off a populist backlash.
Kati Piri, an opposition lawmaker who has called for more Afghans to be evacuated to the Netherlands, called the Dutch response “shameful,” saying that the lists of people approved to get on flights were drafted chaotically and late. “The Dutch government was extremely careful not to open the doors to too many Afghans,” she said.
By the numbers: According to the European Commission, E.U. nations have so far evacuated 28,000 Afghans and have committed to taking in 40,000 more. The Netherlands pledged to admit 3,159 Afghans, including the 2,000 already evacuated.
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The year’s best books
To winnow out the latest, greatest reads, the editors of the Times Book Review read a lot of books each year, then compile lists to help keen readers make sense of them all. Here are some to recap.
From 100 notable books … : Fiction, memoirs, nonfiction or poetry — this list has it all.
… to the top 10: The editors deliberate all year to whittle the list of 100 down to 10.
Critics’ picks: The Times’s book critics also make their own lists based on the books they reviewed throughout the year. (If you want to know how they get there, you can read their discussion.)
Gift list: Books make for excellent gifts, of course, and these 71 dazzling titles — including thrillers, cookbooks, photography collections and more — will delight any reader.
The outside: We know not to judge a book by its cover, but some covers deserve praise. The Book Review’s art director picked his favorite covers, above.