Omicron, Russia, Meat Loaf: Your Friday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Friday.

1. The U.S. is seeing hints of optimism as the Omicron surge begins to ease.

Jeffrey Zients, who heads President Biden’s coronavirus response team, said the nation was “moving toward a time when Covid won’t disrupt our daily lives, where Covid won’t be a constant crisis but something we protect against and treat.”

His remarks came with the national coronavirus caseload on a slight downward trajectory, largely because of declines in major cities in the hard-hit Northeast. Still, the coronavirus caseload in the U.S. remains far higher than at any prior point in the pandemic. Hospitalizations have plateaued in some parts of the U.S., while a crisis continues in others.

2. The stock market closed out its worst week since late 2020 and is off to its worst start since 2016.

Investors have been concerned that fast-rising interest rates might hurt corporate profits and dampen demand for riskier investments like stocks. A string of disappointing recent earnings reports from companies like Netflix, American Airlines and Goldman Sachs only made matters worse. The Federal Reserve’s withdrawal of support from the economy may also be cooling the markets.

In other economic news, Intel will build a $20 billion semiconductor plant in Ohio, ramping up an effort to increase U.S. production of computer chips. President Biden is hoping to use the Intel announcement to build some momentum for a spending package that would invest billions of dollars in the semiconductor industry to rival China.

3. The U.S. and Russia scaled back their confrontational rhetoric over security in Eastern Europe and agreed to extend their negotiations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in Geneva that the U.S. would provide written responses next week to Russia’s demands that the West unwind its military presence in Eastern Europe. They also left open the possibility of another conversation between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin.

The conciliatory tone suggested that both sides were trying to keep tensions in check and give diplomacy time to play out as the U.S. hoped to forestall a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Still, Ukraine said on Friday that Russia was sending mercenaries into rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine, raising fears of military escalation.

4. Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen killed at least 70 people at a prison and knocked out the country’s internet, officials said.

The strikes, which also knocked out the country’s internet, came after Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacked a major airport in the United Arab Emirates, a key partner in the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in Yemen for years. Now divided between Houthi control in the north and Saudi-backed government control in the south, Yemen has become the site of what aid groups say is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

In northeastern Syria, fighters from the Islamic State attacked a prison holding thousands of their comrades, setting off deadly clashes with the Kurdish-led militia that controls the area.

5. Protesters descended on Washington at a pivotal moment in the abortion debate.

The annual March for Life has been held in Washington every January since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. But this year’s ritual took on the tone of a celebration as anti-abortion marchers predicted the court’s reversal of its decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The court is expected to issue a ruling in June on a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” one organizer said.

Before the 49th anniversary of the Roe decision on Saturday, Times Opinion spoke to women who had abortions before they were widely available.

6. First came the deafening boom, then came the silence.

When a volcano near Tonga erupted last weekend — the largest volcanic eruption in decades — it severed the lone undersea cable connecting the Pacific island to the rest of world. That rupture has defined the disaster so far: a nation’s near-complete disconnection in a hyper-connected age.

A week later, what happened on the ground is only just now coming into view, including the story of a Tongan man who was afloat at sea for 26 hours. The process of fully assessing the damage is still moving at the slow pace of the pre-internet age.

The tsunami could be felt as far away as Peru, causing an oil spill off the coast near Lima that has turned into the city’s “worst ecological disaster” in recent history.

7. The unseeded Amanda Anisimova eliminated the four-time major champion Naomi Osaka in three sets at the Australian Open.

The upset adds to a growing trend: In women’s tennis — brimming with depth and fearless youth — no established star is truly safe. Anisimova, a 20-year-old American, has long been considered one of the most promising players in the game. “I fought for every point; I can’t be sad about that,” Osaka said. “You know, like, I’m not God. I can’t win every match.”

Looking ahead to the weekend, the N.F.L. playoffs move into the divisional rounds. Here are our predictions. Derrick Henry will rejoin the Tennessee Titans when they face off against the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s what his high school opponents had to say about playing against the best, biggest, strongest and fastest player they have seen.

8. Meat Loaf, the larger-than-life singer and actor, died at 74. His album “Bat Out of Hell” was one of the best selling of all time.

The singer, who was born Marvin Lee Aday and took his stage name from a childhood nickname, had a career that few could match. Over six decades, he sold millions of albums, won a Grammy and acted in films including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Fight Club.” Meat Loaf appeared in the pages of The Times many times, most notably in a headline that referred to him as “Mr. Loaf.” (It was a joke.)

We also remember Louie Anderson, the stand-up comedian, actor and television host, who died at 68. He and Bob Saget started in stand-up around the same time, and the loss of both comics represents the end of an era, our comedy critic writes.

9. If you like sports, soap operas or primatology, this story is for you.

Yakei, a female Japanese snow monkey who lives in a nature reserve, violently overthrew a trio of high-ranking males (and her own mother) to move up the ranks and become the first female leader in the troop’s 70-year history.

But mating season could endanger her grip on power. “Mating season generally heats things up in Japanese macaque society,” one primatologist explained. “The environment becomes more competitive and tense.”

10. And finally, file under “Only in New York.”

Who would pay more than $280,000 for a hulking Staten Island Ferry boat whose engines don’t work? The answer: the “Saturday Night Live” stars Pete Davidson and Colin Jost, alongside the comedy club owner Paul Italia, who bought the decommissioned boat through a city auction with the idea of turning it into a live entertainment space.

Italia said Davidson and Jost got involved because the ferry “had a special place in their hearts as Staten Island natives.” But before they can revive the ferry, they first have to find a home for the 277-foot boat in the next two weeks.

Hope you cruise into the weekend.

Guillermo Hernandez Martinez compiled photos for this briefing.