Your Thursday Briefing: U.S. Mask Mandates Lift

Your Thursday Briefing: U.S. Mask Mandates Lift

We’re covering mask mandates ending in the U.S. and the stark choice now before President Vladimir Putin.

States like New York and Massachusetts were among the most Covid cautious in the country. Now they are moving to lift mask mandates as the Omicron variant loosens its grip on the U.S.

New York’s governor said she would allow a mandate requiring masks or proof of vaccination for indoor dining to expire this week, and the governor of Massachusetts said he would not extend a masking requirement in schools. California, New Jersey, Connecticut and a few others have made or are planning similar moves.

The decisions came amid plummeting case numbers and declining hospitalizations, and stepped up pressure on the Biden administration to offer new guidance on Covid measures. The White House has been quietly meeting with experts to plan a transition to a “new normal,” with relaxed rules.

Shifting views: There is no consensus among public health experts in the U.S. on whether ending mask mandates is wise. But polls show that Americans’ desire for normalcy is overtaking alarm about the virus itself.

Two days of intense diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic have left the standoff with Russia over Ukraine frozen in place.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia now faces a stark choice: He can move militarily to control Ukraine or preserve economic links to Europe. But it will be difficult for him to do both.

Europe still badly needs Russian gas and oil, and Russia the income from selling it. Russian gas makes up 40 percent of the continent’s supplies. At the same time, Russia still relies heavily on energy sales, which represent more than 30 percent of its economy and more than 60 percent of its exports.

Even with sanctions in place, Europe would still need to continue buying Russian energy. But European officials have been starker in recent days about penalties for Russian actions.

France, Germany and Poland warned Russia of dire consequences that Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said would have consequences for Moscow “politically, economically and surely strategically,” if the country launched further incursions into Ukraine.

Related: The White House has approved a Pentagon plan for U.S. troops in Poland to help thousands of Americans likely to flee Ukraine if Russia attacks, The Wall Street Journal reports.

On the ground: As world leaders and diplomats scramble, the people living in the maelstrom are trying to keep calm and carry on. These images captured by Times photographers show daily life under the threat of war.

Kurdish security forces said they opened fire on residents of Al Hol camp in northeastern Syria this week, killing one child, after they were attacked by women and children.

The camp holds about 60,000 family members of former ISIS fighters. Several women and children were also wounded, a commander told The New York Times on Tuesday.

It was the first time that guards in Al Hol camp had fired on children, but only the latest episode of violence. It comes at a time of tensions between U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and resurgent militants.

“Al Hol is now out of control,” said Abdulkarim Omar, an official with the regional administration that encompasses the camp.

Around the World

For more than a century, Charles Dickens scholars have tried to decipher a one-page letter Dickens wrote in symbols, dots and scribbles. It sat unread for decades in a vault, but computer programmers finally helped crack the code.

“After getting mostly C grades in literature, I never dreamed anything I’d ever do would be of interest to Dickens scholars!” one of the programmers said.

It’s Academy Awards season. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s nominations, before the ceremony in late March.

Who led the pack? The Netflix western “The Power of the Dog” secured 12 nominations, while the sci-fi epic “Dune” earned 10. Steven Spielberg’s take on “West Side Story” and the historical drama “Belfast” — about the Troubles in Northern Ireland — each scored seven nominations.

History makers: Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to get a nomination, for his role in “CODA,” which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Beyoncé — already the female artist with the most Grammys — picked up her first Oscar nomination, for best original song for “Be Alive,” from “King Richard.”

Snubs: The drama “Passing” — about old friends navigating the color line in 1920s New York — didn’t get any nominations, and the Academy ignored Lady Gaga’s performance in “House of Gucci.” Denis Villeneuve, the force behind “Dune,” was also overlooked for directing.

If you watch one movie: Make it Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” which nabbed four nominations, including best picture and director. Yes, it’s nearly three hours long, but it’s a stunning meditation on grief and love.

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