Omicron, Haiti Missionaries Freed, and the Year's Positive News Everything you need to know for today in five minutes.

Good morning. It's Friday, Dec. 17, and we're covering the omicron variant, the release of hostages in Haiti, and much more. Have feedback? Let us know at [email protected].

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Omicron Spreads in the UK

The United Kingdom recorded almost 79,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the country's largest single-day total since the beginning of the pandemic. Officials say the omicron variant accounts for about a quarter of new cases, but has spread exponentially over the past two weeks and will become the dominant strain across Europe by mid-January.


The variant spreads faster but appears to cause fewer severe symptoms than other strains, according to officials. A recent study suggested it may replicate up to 70 times faster in bronchial tissue than the delta variant.


Meanwhile, new US cases have plateaued over the past week to an average of nearly 120,000 per day. Total current hospitalizations sit at almost 63,000 patients (see data), up roughly 50% over the past month. Test positivity—the fraction of tests returned as positive—has similarly risen over the same timeframe to almost 10%. 


The US surge is likely not due to the new variant, which was first observed in the country Dec. 1 and currently accounts for about 3% of US cases

Missionaries Freed in Haiti

The 12 remaining members of a missionary group kidnapped in Haiti have been released, according to officials yesterday. Their return means all 17 people—a group that included five children—have been returned safely. Five hostages had previously been released.


The US-based team was abducted en route to the airport in October after assisting in the construction of an orphanage. A gang known as the 400 Mawozo (see overview), one of a number of gangs vying for control in the country, demanded up to $1M per hostage for their safe return. Details of the release are murky—the 12 hostages were reportedly found by locals in the outlying area of the capital of Port-au-Prince. It is unclear whether a ransom was paid.  


The country has been gripped by a number of political and natural disasters in recent years, leading to a social and economic crisis, with a number of gangs seeking to fill the power vacuum

Springsteen Cashes In 

Bruce Springsteen has sold his entire master recordings and publishing rights to Sony Music for $500M in the largest music deal ever made for a single artist. The 72-year-old musician has spent five decades recording for Sony’s Columbia Records producing hits such as “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road.” Springsteen was introduced to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and has had more than 65 million albums in the US, with $15M in revenue in 2020.


The 20-time Grammy winner has long had control over his catalog copyrights. The deal gives Sony full ownership of the entire catalog of more than 300 songs, 20 albums, and more—including 15-time platinum album “Born in the USA.”


The deal follows artists such as Neil Young, Tina Turner, and Bob Dylan, who recently sold all or part of their masters for hundreds of millions of dollars. Dylan sold his entire music catalog to Universal Music Group last year for a reported $400M. See why music catalog sales are rising here.

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Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with Travelzoo

> Actor Chris Noth, who portrayed Mr. Big on "Sex and the City," accused of sexual assault by two women; Noth calls the claims "categorically false" (More)


> Ex-NFL player Vincent Jackson had stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at time of his death in a hotel earlier this year (More) | NFL announces new COVID-19 protocols as league cases rise (More)


> Warrant issued for Alec Baldwin's mobile phone as part of investigation into October shooting death on set of "Rust" (More)

From our partners: Thinking about where to travel in 2022? Travelzoo offers a wide variety of extraordinary deals in travel, entertainment, and lifestyle—so you can find the perfect vacay or stay-cay inspiration. Travelzoo’s hand-picked experiences are vetted by experts and delivered to their 30 million members daily, plus their weekly Top 20 gives you the best deals of the week. Becoming a member is completely free, so sign up and start getting inspired today!

Science & Technology

> US advisory panel makes formal recommendation for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations over the Johnson & Johnson shot; decision was based on rare blood clotting potential from the J&J vaccine (More)


> Alphabet's (Google) Sidewalk, a smart city venture once planned to deploy along Toronto's waterfront, pulls back operations and folds back into parent company (More)


> Research team identifies changes in lab-grown "mini-brains" that may suggest early predictors of schizophrenia later in life (More)

Business & Markets

> Tech-heavy Nasdaq falls almost 2.5%; drags other stocks downward (More)


> Former McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook to return $105M of severance package; Easterbrook was accused of lying during an internal probe over sexual misconduct allegations (More)


> Social media platform Reddit makes a confidential initial public offering valued at $10B (More)

Politics & World Affairs

> President Joe Biden signs bill raising the debt ceiling by $2.5T, enough to cover US obligations until after the 2022 midterm elections (More) | See current state of US debt, along with other resources on federal spending curated by the 1440 team (More)


> Democrats' Build Back Better plan, a roughly $2T social and climate spending bill, delayed; sources say package likely to be delayed until January (More)


> Prosecution wraps, defense begins in trial against Ghislaine Maxwell, accused of being the longtime organizer of a sex trafficking ring for the deceased Jeffrey Epstein (More)



The Best of 2021

Longreads | Staff. The best feature writing of the year, from a father's desperate search for his son to babies switched at birth in Newfoundland. (Read)

What is Web3?

Gizmodo | David Nield. Heralded as the next internet revolution, here's what Web3 is and what it might mean for the future. (Read)

A Year of Weather Disasters

WashPo | Zach Levitt, Bonnie Berkowitz. Visualizing the nationwide effect of a year of floods, fires, droughts, and more. (Read)

Art Market Disruption

Freakonomics | Stephen Dubner. (Podcast) Will the digital revolution accelerate the trend of viewing art as an asset? (Listen)



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2021 wasn't all bad. (paywall, Wired)


Video of what it's like to fly into the sun's corona.


Archaeologists find a 10,000-year-old infant burial.


The year's most controversial building designs.


The top sports images of the year.


Maryland's zebras on the lam have been found.


A ratmaster trains his pets to play video games


Feral hogs invade a Texas town. (w/video)


Clickbait: Melania Trump's blue eyes are now NFTs.


Historybook: Wright Brothers make first successful airplane flight (1903); HBD Pope Francis (1936); "The Simpsons" makes television debut (1989); RIP American actress Jennifer Jones (2009); North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il dies (2011).


"Where there is no work, there is no dignity."

- Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

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