Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 27, 2021

Fauci warns against complacency as Omicron fuels coronavirus surge, Roe v. Wade lawyer Sarah Weddington dies at 76, and more

1

Fauci warns Omicron surge will continue pushing cases higher

COVID-19 cases, already at record levels in some areas, will probably continue to climb as the "extraordinarily contagious" Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "Every day it goes up and up. The last weekly average was about 150,000 and it likely will go much higher." Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, warned that although Omicron appears to cause less severe symptoms and fewer hospitalizations than other strains, Americans shouldn't be complacent because the sheer number of infections "might override a real diminution in severity." He said "we're particularly worried" about unvaccinated people, who are "the most vulnerable ones." The surge has spurred a rush for at-home COVID-19 tests, causing many pharmacies to run out.

2

Sarah Weddington, lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade, dies at 76

Sarah Weddington, the Texas lawyer who won the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, died Sunday. She was 76. The cause of death was not immediately clear. Weddington was 26 when she and a former University of Texas law school classmate, Linda Coffee, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of "Jane Roe," whose real name was Norma McCorvey, against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. The suit challenged a state law that essentially banned abortion, and resulted in the high court's 1973 landmark ruling. Weddington's death came as the Supreme Court considers a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and members of the court's conservative majority signal they might roll back or overturn the Roe decision.

3

Airlines continue to cancel flights due to COVID surge

U.S. airlines continued to cancel flights on Sunday due to surging coronavirus infections among crews, as well as severe winter weather in some places. Commercial airlines canceled 1,001 flights, both domestic and international departures and arrivals. It was the third straight day of a wave of cancellations that disrupted travel for thousands of Christmas travelers. There were 997 flights called off on Christmas and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve. Thousands of other departures were delayed over the holiday weekend. A White House official noted that only a "small percentage" of flights were affected, putting the nation "in a better place than last Christmas," which also came during a coronavirus surge.

4

Putin threatens military action if NATO rejects ultimatum

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that he will be forced to consider numerous options, including a military response, if NATO does not guarantee to bar Ukraine from membership in the alliance. Putin also called for reducing Western military deployments in Eastern Europe. His demands were contained in a pair of draft treaties Russia submitted to NATO earlier this month. Putin, whose remarks aired on Russian state TV Sunday, expressed concerns that missiles could be deployed in Ukraine if the former Soviet satellite joins NATO. "We have nowhere to retreat," Putin said. "They have pushed us to a line that we can't cross." NATO is unlikely to agree to Putin's terms. "NATO member countries decide who is a member of NATO, not Russia," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

5

France surpasses 100,000 daily coronavirus infections for 1st time

France reported Sunday that it has confirmed more than 100,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day for the first time. The high mark was the latest sign that the highly transmissible new Omicron variant is fueling an explosive surge across Europe, where many countries have imposed new lockdowns and other restrictions in hopes of curbing new infections. More than 1 in 100 people in Paris and surrounding areas have tested positive in the last week, the regional health service confirmed. While most of the new cases were linked to Omicron, which is believed to cause less severe COVID-19, a stubborn surge of infections with the Delta variant is keeping hospital admissions high. President Emmanuel Macron's government has scheduled a Monday meeting to discuss new measures to address the crisis.

6

Snowstorm forces closure of Sierra Nevada highways

A Christmas weekend storm hit mountains in Northern California and Nevada with snow that shut down highways and threatened to disrupt travel in the Sierra Nevada for days. Three people were injured in a 20-car pileup on Interstate 395 near Reno as the storm caused whiteout conditions in some areas. A 70-mile section of Interstate 80 was closed until at least Monday from Colfax, California, through the Lake Tahoe area to the Nevada state line. "Expect major travel delays on all roads," the National Weather Service office in Reno, Nevada, tweeted Sunday. Winter storm warnings were issued for Seattle down to San Diego as a new wave of precipitation was expected Monday and Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Southern Plains experienced a heat wave with temperatures up to 25 degrees above normal.

7

2 Save the Children workers missing after Myanmar massacre kills 38

Save the Children said over the weekend that 38 people were killed by the Burmese military in eastern Myanmar on Christmas Eve, and that two of the humanitarian organization's staff members went missing in the attack. Members of Myanmar's military reportedly attacked three vehicles, including one the Save the Children staffers were using to drive home for the holidays, and burned them. "We have confirmation that their private vehicle was attacked and burned out. The military reportedly forced people from their cars, arrested some, killed others and burned their bodies," said the organization. The military said the vehicles had failed to stop for inspection and soldiers returned fire when "terrorists" started shooting. Save the Children said it would suspend operations in parts of Myanmar.

8

Holiday spending rose at fastest pace in 17 years

Holiday sales jumped by 8.5 percent this year compared to the same period in 2020, Mastercard SpendingPulse reported Sunday. The results marked the fastest growth in 17 years but fell slightly short of the 8.8 percent gain forecast in September, before consumers were hit with rising prices, product shortages, and a surge of coronavirus cases caused by the highly infectious new Omicron variant. The results covered Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. Clothing saw the biggest jump, 47 percent, followed by jewelry and electronics at 32 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Sales remained strong after Omicron hit just after Thanksgiving, although many shoppers shifted purchases online.

9

3 college football teams drop out of bowl games after players test positive

Three universities said Sunday that their football teams were dropping out of bowl games because surges of coronavirus infections had depleted their rosters. The University of Virginia Cavaliers canceled their appearance in Wednesday's Wasabi Fenway Bowl. The University of Miami announced it couldn't play Washington State in Friday's Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Military Bowl organizers said that game was also canceled after a flurry of coronavirus cases at Boston College left more than 40 players unable to play. "We just do not have enough players to safely play a game," said Boston College head football coach Jeff Haley.

10

'Spider-Man: No Way Home' box office haul surpasses $1 billion

Spider-Man: No Way Home continued its strong run at the box office over the weekend, becoming the first film in the pandemic era to top $1 billion in global ticket sales. The feat by the co-production between Sony and Disney was all the more impressive because it came as the Omicron coronavirus variant is making many people more cautious about going to theaters instead of streaming movies at home. "Spider-Man: No Way Home's sprint to $1 billion within the context of this still pandemically challenged marketplace is nothing short of astonishing," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. "It demonstrates the power of a great movie to draw fans around the world to enjoy the shared and communal experience that only the movie theater can provide."

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