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Omicron thwarts Grammys, Sundance amid virus surge

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Singer/songwriter Billie Eilish arrives at the Variety 2021 Music Hitmakers Brunch presented by Peacock/Girls5Eva at City Market Social, in Los Angeles, California, on December 4. AFP

Omicron thwarts Grammys, Sundance amid virus surge

The Grammy music awards and the renowned Sundance film festival fell victim Wednesday to Omicron’s relentless march, as the variant’s surge gathered pace in Europe.

Citing “uncertainty” surrounding the new coronavirus variant, Recording Academy, the organisation behind the Grammys, indefinitely postponed the music awards, while Sundance organisers said the festival would go virtual with infection numbers reaching new highs.

“Holding the show on January 31 simply contains too many risks,” a statement from Recording Academy said, adding it would announce a rescheduled date “soon”.

“The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority.”

A class of pop stalwarts and newbies including Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo were among the leading nominees for the 64th annual show, with Jon Batiste, the jazz and R&B artist, television personality and bandleader garnering the most nominations with 11.

Last spring’s show was the first Grammys of the pandemic era, and was a more television-friendly, socially distanced cabaret-esque show that was heavy on performances.

Those awards were postponed to March 14 after the original date was postponed during last winter’s surge in coronavirus cases.

The 2022 edition was expected to see a return to the usual arena-style celebration at Los Angeles’ Staples Centre.

The Sundance film festival takes place each year in the western US state of Utah, and had been planning a hybrid format later this month, featuring physical events with strict health protocols and virtual screenings.

“Despite the most ambitious protocols, the Omicron variant with its unexpectedly high transmissibility rates is pushing the limits of health safety, travel and other infrastructures across the country,” said organisers in a statement.

“And so, today we’re announcing: the festival’s in-person Utah elements will be moving online this year.”

Co-founded by Robert Redford, Sundance showcases the coming year’s hottest independent, art house and documentary movies.

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(Left to right) Actors Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin, writer/director Sian Heder, actors Troy Kotsur and Emilia Jones attend the Sundance Film Festival Award Winner CODA photocall at the London hotel, in West Hollywood, California, July 30. AFP

Among the selected films this year will be jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, a documentary assembled from more than two decades of footage shot by West’s longtime friend Clarence “Coodie” Simmons.

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs January 20–30.

The heavily mutated Omicron variant, the most transmissible to date, accounted for around 95 per cent of US cases in the week ending January 1.

According to the latest CDC figures cases stateside are running at nearly 500,000 a day, with new hospitalisations rising.

And in the UK, official data shows one in 15 people in England were infected with the virus in 2021’s final week.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said travel curbs beefed up last month to contain the new strain were now ineffective, and his government scrapped the need for visitors to have pre-departure tests and quarantine on arrival until testing negative.

Italy’s government, meanwhile, said Wednesday it would make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory from February 15 for everyone over the age of 50 – nearly half of its population – in its bid to battle surging infections.

The new decree obliges people over 50 who do not work to get vaccinated, and those who do work to obtain a vaccine pass – which effectively covers all over-50s.

France on Wednesday set a record for new Covid cases over a 24-hour period, according to the latest official figures, with more than 332,000 additional infections recorded.

It was the first time that French cases breached 300,000, smashing the previous record established on Tuesday when 271,686 new Covid cases were recorded.

The government is currently debating replacing the current health pass – which contains proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery – with a “vaccine pass” for which only people with full vaccination qualify.

President Emmanuel Macron has warned the government would squeeze those who continued to refuse Covid shots.

“As for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” he said. Around five million people in France remain unvaccinated.

While Omicron has spread rapidly worldwide and triggered containment measures, rates of deaths and hospitalisations have been lower across the world.

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