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Carnival, Coachella, Beijing Games: COVID Threatening Live Events Again

The Omicron variant is again forcing event organizers to weigh whether to cancel, postpone or forge ahead in the face of superspreader risks.

Photo of an empty theater with red seats

Major events recently announced scheduling changes or cancelations in the coming weeks of January 2022.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Part of the shock in spring 2020 was seeing the COVID-19 pandemic bring virtually all major world events, from concerts to sporting competitions to holiday celebrations, to a screeching halt. Now, with the Delta and Omicron variants exploding around the world, the same hard reality will be facing event organizers in 2022 for a second or third year in a row, while the rest of us are left to ponder what it means to live in a world where we can’t come together en masse.

We’ve seen this week as Brazil wrestles with the reality in the face of its famous Carnival, a cramped and sweaty celebration that is an essential national tradition and major economic engine… and a potential superspreader event. As O Globo reports, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which normally draws over seven million people and generates massive revenue for the city, will see limited festivities continue, like the Sapucaí carnival of performing samba schools.

But much of the energy and economics will be missing, after the ban on popular organized street parties, known as “blocos.” The annual Carnival is held the six days before the beginning of Lent, with Brazil’s different regions showing off local styles of costume, dance and celebration, and at least 50 Brazilian cities and towns have again canceled this year due to COVID.

Omicron cancels Broadway

In the United States, the Omicron surge has postponed the Grammy Music Awards, which were planned to take place on Jan. 31. Last year’s Grammys was also postponed and ultimately featured more pre-recorded performances and smaller numbers of attendees. No date has been set for the 2022 event, as many other ceremonies have also been postponed, including the Critics Choice Awards, or canceled in-person programming, like the Sundance Film Festival.

The effect on cultural programming is even broader: A slew of TV show premieres, concerts and plays have either been suspended or canceled outright to limit infection spread. The first Broadway victim of the Omicron wave was Jagged Little Pill, the Grammy and Tony-Award winning musical inspired by the Alanis Morissette album, which ended its run early.

Still, others are forging ahead — for now. Organizers of Coachella, North America’s largest music festival, announced that the six-day event will go ahead in April, with Kanye West and Billie Eilish as headliners. But as NBC News notes: “The sheer logistics of more than 100,000 people traveling to and gathering at a single location create immeasurable possibilities for disease transmission.”

China wrestles with Olympics and Year of the Tiger

Sports too is in the variant’s path, with some match cancellations and such superstars as soccer legend Lionel Messi testing positive in recent days. While the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are going forward with major restrictions next month, the fate of China’s biggest annual holiday, the Lunar New Year, is in question.

Ahead of the Winter Games, China’s National Health Commission has announced travel restrictions as part of its “zero-COVID” strategy to prevent the Games from being a mass spreader event. Those living in medium (10 reported cases in the last two weeks) or high-risk (more than 10 cases) areas are prohibited from going to other regions, while those in low-risk places are only advised not to travel.

The regulations are a blow for many Chinese families, who haven’t been able to see relatives for the New Year since 2019. The millions who normally travel may be forced to ring in the Year of the Tiger, marking the end of winter and start of the spring season, alone.

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How Russia And China Are Trying To Drive France Out Of Africa

Fueled by the Kremlin, anti-French sentiment in Africa has been spreading for years. Meanwhile, China is also increasing its influence on the continent as Africa's focus shifts from west to east.

Photo of a helicopter landing, guided a member of France's ​Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region

Maneuver by members of France's Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region

Maria Oleksa Yeschenko

France is losing influence in its former colonies in Africa. After French President Emmanuel Macron decided last year to withdraw the military from the Sahel and the Central African Republic, a line was drawn under the "old French policy" on the continent. But the decision to withdraw was not solely a Parisian initiative.

October 23-24, 2019, Sochi. Russia holds the first large-scale Russia-Africa summit with the participation of four dozen African heads of state. At the time, French soldiers are still helping Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad, and Niger fight terrorism as part of Operation Barkhane.

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Few people have heard of the Wagner group. The government of Mali is led by Paris-friendly Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, although the country has already seen several pro-Russian demonstrations. At that time, Moscow was preparing a big return to the African continent, similar to what happened in the 1960s during the Soviet Union.

So what did France miss, and where did it all go wrong?

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