Your Monday briefing: Global Covid cases hit records
We cover the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant and the EU’s attempts to fight an illiberal leader.
Omicron fuels rapid spread, but data offers hope
Global cases of the coronavirus are now reaching much higher levels than at any time prior to the pandemic – with an average of nearly 1.5 million new cases every day – but recent data provides encouraging news.
People infected with the Omicron variant, which appears to have fueled the recent surge, are much less likely to be hospitalized than those infected with the Delta variant, a UK study has found. And for those who have been vaccinated, hospitalization with Omicron is even less likely. Boosters are particularly effective.
With this data in mind – and in an effort to ease the load on hospitals without restoring lockdowns – governments are now stepping up attention to vaccinations and boosters, which are increasingly seen as the global ticket to “Living with Covid”.
And after: In the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said hospitalizations were a more important indicator than reported cases of the severity of the Omicron wave.
Beijing has silenced Hong Kong media with arrests
With the shutdown of two news outlets in Hong Kong in just days, the Chinese government effectively marked the beginning of the demise of independent media in a city that once had some of the freest and most aggressive news outlets in the world. ‘Asia.
The two media, Stand News and Citizen News, were once part of a thriving medium that covered pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. When the movement was stifled by the new security law, the media focused on court cases against protesters and opposition politicians.
But such a cover has become risky. Jimmy Lai, who ran the aggressively independent tabloid Apple Daily, was arrested in 2020 under a national security law aimed at suppressing dissent. Last week, seven people linked to Stand News were arrested after hundreds of police raided its offices.
The traditional news media have become increasingly cautious. Radio Television Hong Kong, a public broadcaster that has long been regarded as one of Hong Kong’s most trusted news providers, has been transformed into something critics say is more like state media. When Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former senior Communist Party official of sexual assault last year, the mainstream media barely covered him.
And after: The silence of the independent media has widened the influence of Beijing publications, which are being watched for clues as to what the security services might be doing. When their attacks escalate, official actions often follow.
EU examines whether an illiberal leader belongs
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban proudly calls his country an “illiberal state”. Yet he has long been treated as yet another leader by the European Union, which presents itself as a model of human rights and the rule of law.
But while Orban has continued to consolidate power and weaken his country’s democratic institutions, the bloc is trying to bring him under control. Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice will issue a ruling on whether the union has the power to disburse funds to member states conditional on respect for the bloc’s core values. This could lock Hungary into billions of euros.
Interviews with current and former officials show how feelings towards Orban have evolved from leniency to recognition that he has become a serious internal threat.
Among those who had protected Orban was Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor at the time. German companies had large investments in Hungary and Merkel saw Orban as a political ally in Brussels.
Quote: A former adviser to the European Council, which is made up of the leaders of EU states, said the council was “like a club, where Viktor is just one of them”. He added that the leaders “would rather not mind each other’s hot potatoes or each other’s business when they can avoid it.”
American ally: Donald Trump supported Orban for his re-election. Orban was an early supporter of Trump, endorsing him in the summer of 2016 and again in 2020.
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Making video game history
Hades is the first video game in history to win a Hugo Award, the science fiction and fantasy award that has historically honored books, graphic novels, and other written works.
The game, from developer Supergiant Games, follows the story of Zagreus – the son of the game’s eponymous god – as he attempts to escape the underworld. Along the way, he battles all kinds of hellish creatures and meets a wide range of characters, including the gods of Olympus. He also discovers family secrets and understands why his father made seemingly unsavory decisions.
The inclusion of video games in the Hugo Awards, which the organizers plan to make permanent, testifies to the progress made by the medium. In the early days of Pong in the 1970s or the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in the 1980s, technology limited the amount of text a game could include. Today, a game’s storytelling can be its biggest selling point, whether it’s a big-budget sci-fi epic, like the Mass Effect Trilogy, or an indie game created by a small team, like Celeste.
To play more, here are the video games that allowed our colleagues to go until 2021.