Desmond Tutu funeral honors moral compass of South Africa. Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was remembered at his funeral Saturday for his Nobel Peace Prize-earning role in ending South Africa’s apartheid regime of racial oppression and for championing the rights of LGBTQ people.

“When we were in the dark, he brought light,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, said in a video message shown at a requiem Mass celebrated for Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

“For me to praise him is like a mouse giving tribute to an elephant,” Welby said. “South Africa has given us extraordinary examples of towering leaders of the rainbow nation with President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu. … Many Nobel winners’ lights have grown dimmer over time, but Archbishop Tutu’s has grown brighter.”

Tutu died last Sunday at age 90. His small plain pine coffin, the cheapest available at his request to avoid any ostentatious displays, was the center of the service, which also featured African choirs, prayers and incense.

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass and national conscience,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the funeral eulogy, said. “Even after the advent of democracy, he did not hesitate to draw attention, often harshly, to our shortcomings as leaders of the democratic state.”

Ramaphosa handed a national flag to Tutu’s widow, Leah, as she sat in a wheelchair.

The cathedral can hold 1,200 worshippers, but only 100 mourners were allowed to attend the funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A few hundred people braved stormy weather to watch the service on a large screen in front of Cape Town City Hall. The municipal government building is where Tutu held hands aloft with Nelson Mandela on the day in 1990 when Mandela was released after serving 27 years in prison because of his opposition to apartheid.

Michael Nuttall, the retired bishop of Natal, delivered the sermon. Nuttall called his relationship with Tutu “an unlikely partnership at a truly critical time in the life of our country from 1989 through 1996, he as archbishop of Cape Town and I as his deputy,” With humor, he described himself as “No. 2 to Tutu.”

“Our partnership struck a chord, perhaps, in the hearts and minds of many people: a dynamic Black leader and his white deputy in the dying years of apartheid,” Nuttall continued. “And hey, presto, the heavens did not collapse. We were a foretaste, if you like, of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”

Two of Tutu’s daughters, Mpho and Nontombi, both church ministers, participated in the service along with former Irish President Mary Robinson and Graca Machel, the widow of two African presidents, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Nelson Mandela.

The cathedral’s bells rang as Tutu’s casket was taken away after the funeral for a private cremation. His ashes are to be interred at the cathedral.

In the days before the funeral, several thousand people paid their respects to Tutu by filing by his casket in the cathedral and signing condolence books.

As the pandemic’s third year dawns, Americans are feeling fatigued and confused. And it’s all Omicron’s fault.

Even scientists are deeply uncertain about how quickly or even whether the new variant will eclipse Delta, as well as who is likely to fall ill with which variant and how sick those people will become.

“It does feel like Omicron has changed everything we thought we knew” about the virus, said Dr. Megan Ranney, associate dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “This feels like a strange turning point, potentially, in the pandemic.”

Clues about the pandemic’s next phase have begun to emerge, but they have been conflicting and prone to error. Torrents of new data and statistics tumble out daily, but what they mean isn’t always clear. Some seem quite reassuring, others deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, decisions need to be made: Visit grandma in her nursing home? Attend that New Year’s gathering? Wait hours in line for a COVID test because you woke up with a scratchy throat? Send your kid back to college when she might be sent home in two weeks? Wear a mask … everywhere?

Here’s what we know about Omicron and the state of the pandemic — and what we don’t.
New infections

The United States has notched a new high in confirmed infections, with an average of 277,241 new cases a day for the last full week of 2021.

The previous record was 259,759, set early last January. A week later, daily COVID-19 deaths reached their zenith of 4,048, and for the next month that figure rarely fell below 2,000.

As worrisome as that history sounds, it is unlikely to repeat itself, because there are stark differences between then and now. Most importantly, the number of Americans who are fully vaccinated has gone from about 350,000 to more than 204 million, with 68 million of those having also received a booster shot.

Among people over 65, the vaccinated are six times less likely than the unvaccinated to be hospitalized for COVID-19. The difference is twice that for people 18 to 49.

The benefit of vaccines appears evident in the current surge. While hospitalizations climbed almost 20% in the week that ended Monday, hitting a daily average of 9,442, that figure is 43% below the peak nearly a year ago.

Similarly, with an average of 1,085 deaths a day over the last week, COVID-19 is killing about half as many people as it did during last winter’s surge.

Still, it’s unclear how the surge in cases will play out, because it typically takes two to four weeks for an infection to send a person to the hospital. Those who die of COVID-19 often spend weeks in the hospital before succumbing.

And even after hospitalization and death rates are known, researchers will have to sift through medical records and genetic data to compare the effects of Omicron and Delta, and how vaccination and variant type interacted. That work could take weeks or months.

In the meantime, researchers in places that have been host to the Omicron variant for a bit longer than the United States have offered a possible glimpse of the future here.

An analysis by South African scientists suggests that people thought to be infected with Omicron were about 70% less likely to become severely ill and 80% less likely to be hospitalized than those who were infected with Delta.

A study conducted in England found that after accounting for the effects of vaccination, Omicron-infected people were about 45% less likely than people infected with Delta to wind up in the hospital.
Omicron’s quest for dominance

It’s unclear whether the current trends are being driven more by the Omicron variant or by the Delta variant.

On Dec. 22, a projection released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that Omicron had rocketed to dominance in the United States, jumping from 3% of all cases to 73% over two weeks in early December.

News reports treated Omicron’s sudden takeover as a fait accompli rather than the projection it was. The reports also seemed to suggest that the new variant was responsible for other shocking developments: New cases had topped those seen in last September’s wave, and intensive care units nationally had reached about three-quarters capacity.

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