Speaking at the online World Economic Forum, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser for Covid, said it was too soon to say how the Omicron variant would change the course of the pandemic. The sheer volume of cases could have a meaningful effect on collective immunity, he said, but the evolution of the pandemic was still unclear.

“It is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for,” he said, adding: “That would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response.”

Cases remain extremely high across the U.S., averaging nearly 802,000 per day, an increase of 98 percent over the past two weeks. An average of nearly 156,000 people with the virus are hospitalized nationwide, a record. Deaths now exceed 1,900 per day, up 57 percent over two weeks.

Next steps: Dr. Fauci said the world was still in the first phase of the pandemic — “where the whole world is really very negatively impacted.” The next phases are deceleration, control, elimination and eradication. In the control phase, he said, the virus will become a “nondisruptive presence” and be considered endemic.

For British companies that depend on fast, small deliveries from Europe, the costs of new Brexit trade rules are mounting. They now have to contend with additional forms, customs charges and health safety checks for goods to cross Britain’s border.

After a yearlong delay, on Jan. 1, Britain stepped up its enforcement of customs requirements for goods coming from the E.U., which in 2020 accounted for half of all imports into the country. Now, the goods must be accompanied by customs declarations, and businesses importing animal and plant products must notify the government of shipments in advance.

For food importers, this is a particular problem. Some British businesses are taking on the export costs of their European suppliers to avoid losing them. Others are just importing less, reducing the choices for customers. Still others are restricting purchases to bulk orders and forgoing trying new products.

Analysis: “We are past the point of having wild shortages,” said David Henig, a trade policy expert in London, who compared the damage to a “slow-boiling frog.” The extra costs will eat away at Britain’s economy, with independent forecasts indicating an eventual shortfall of about 4 percent of gross domestic product.

China’s birthrate plummeted for a fifth straight year in 2021, moving the world’s most populous country closer to a demographic crisis that could undermine its economy and even its political stability. The birthrate was lower even than the most pessimistic estimates, experts said.

Births fell to 10.6 million in 2021, compared with 12 million the year before. That was fewer than in 1961, when the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s economic policy, resulted in widespread famine and death. Growth in the last quarter of 2021 slowed to 4 percent.

China’s population could soon begin to contract, something that would be hard to reverse and might result in labor shortages. To counter the problem, the Chinese Communist Party has loosened its notorious “one child” policy and offered incentives to young families. But the changes come as social and economic conditions have improved for women, an increasing number of whom don’t want children.

Quotable: “The year 2021 will go down in Chinese history as the year that China last saw population growth in its long history,” said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, an eccentric billionaire and the former prime minister of Georgia, may officially be retired, but many Georgians believe he still wields substantial political power behind the scenes.

One particular eccentricity is his infatuation with trees, a love so great that some have ruminated that he may be a druid who worships them. This fondness comes through particularly in Ivanishvili’s personal park, which was opened to the public in 2020 and which is home to more than 200 transplanted trees, each personally vetted by him.

Mainstream films and TV shows often paint motherhood in broad strokes: A mother is endlessly devoted to her children, or her absence serves as fodder for a protagonist’s origin story, as Amanda Hess writes in The Times. But some recent productions are challenging those notions with complex portrayals.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Leda (played by Olivia Colman), an academic, leaves her young daughters to pursue her career, as many deadbeat fathers have done before her. “Children are a crushing responsibility,” she tells a pregnant character. Yet the movie withholds judgment and depicts Leda as a human being, not a monster. “We can dislike her, but we are never permitted to revile her,” Jeannette Catsoulis writes in a review.

There’s also Penélope Cruz’s character, in “Parallel Mothers,” a pregnant 40-year-old who befriends a teenage mother-to-be and makes an immoral decision about their newborns. “Instead of reassuring audiences that mommy is always a bastion of safety, these filmmakers have created mother heroines who are unpredictable, erratic and even a little bit frightening,” Emily Gould writes in Vanity Fair.

Even “And Just Like That …,” the “Sex and the City” reboot, is part of the trend. At one point, Miranda — a mother to a hormonal teenager — tells a character who is considering having children that there are many nights she wishes she could “go home to an empty house.”

These works, Gould writes, “present their mothers as full human beings, even when their needs are structurally opposed to those of their children.”

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By MD Abdullah

Abdullah is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson. She is the author of four books, including End Financial Stress Now and The Five Years Before You Retire.

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