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Trains parked on Wednesday at a station in Nanjing, China, in preparation for the holiday travel season.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty …

Trains parked on Wednesday at a station in Nanjing, China, in preparation for the holiday travel season.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China cancels Lunar New Year celebrations

In a regular year, hundreds of millions of people travel by plane, train and car to be with their families for the Lunar New Year, which begins Feb. 12.

This year, the authorities imposed onerous quarantine and testing rules to dissuade roughly 300 million migrant workers from traveling home. People returning to rural areas during the holiday must spend two weeks in quarantine and pay for their own coronavirus tests. Many migrants, who work at low-paying jobs, say the restrictions make it impossible to travel.

The tightened rules have drawn criticism, with many calling the approach unfair to the workers, who have already been among the most affected by the pandemic. The holiday is normally the only time that many of them can return to their hometowns.

Incentives: With gift baskets and discounts, access to better schools and health care, the government is trying to entice migrant workers to stay in the cities and prevent the kind of spread that would require new lockdowns.

Resurgence: While China’s outbreak is relatively under control compared with those in other countries, clusters of new cases have emerged in recent weeks, prompting sporadic lockdowns and mass testing efforts.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Vietnam reported 82 infections on Thursday, the first cases of local transmission in nearly two months. The government said that some may be connected to the new variant that has been spreading rapidly in Britain.

  • A German health body advised against using the AstraZeneca shot in people over 65, saying there was not enough evidence to assess the vaccine’s effectiveness in that population.

The Commerce Department report showed that G.D.P. ended 2020 down about 2.5 percent from a year earlier.Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

The U.S. economy cooled, but not as much as expected

Gross domestic product rose 1 percent in the final three months of 2020, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That was a sharp slowdown from the previous quarter, with a record 7.5 percent growth rate.

The late-year slump was driven by a slowdown in consumer spending, but other parts of the economy, like the housing market, helped pick up the slack.

Bright side: The rebound has been significantly stronger than most forecasters expected. In May, economists estimated that the G.D.P. would not reach its pre-pandemic level until well into 2022. Now, most forecasters expect it to hit that benchmark this year.

Airlines: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways reported steep annual losses in the billions on Thursday and none of the airlines expect a rebound to materialize soon.

Ahmed Omar Sheikh in 2002.Credit…Getty Images

Court frees man accused of killing Daniel Pearl

Pakistan’s highest court ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who had been convicted of being the mastermind behind the 2002 kidnapping and death of the American journalist Daniel Pearl.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to acquit and release Mr. Sheikh, a British national. Experts said it showed the weakness of terrorism prosecutions in the country.

The ruling could bring to an end an 18-year case in which all four men originally arrested and charged with Mr. Pearl’s abduction and murder have now been acquitted. The journalist’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, said that the family was “in complete shock” and urged the U.S. to “correct this injustice.”

Context: Mr. Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and killed in Karachi in January 2002 while working on an investigation into militant groups’ links to Al Qaeda. He was beheaded the next month.

If you have some time, this is worth it

Covid-19 and the mysteries of smell

Credit…Stephanie Gonot for The New York Times

As the loss of smell emerged as a common symptom of Covid-19, researchers decided to survey people with the illness about their symptoms, focusing on smell. Tens of thousands of people around the world responded — writing pages and pages of detail and emotion about losing their sense of smell, describing depression, confusion and isolation.

The Times Magazine looked at how the virus’s strangest symptom has opened new doors to understanding our most neglected sense. “People are unaware smell is important until they lose it,” the author of one study said. “And then they’re terrified.”

Here’s what else is happening

Thailand: Parliament voted to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, while keeping penalties in place for women who undergo it later.

Aleksei Navalny: A Russian court ordered the opposition leader to stay in jail, days after tens of thousands of people demanding his release filled streets in cities across Russia. Appearing in court via a video link, Mr. Navalny ridiculed the proceedings as a politically driven campaign.

U.S. extremists: The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said publicly for the first time that the U.S. faced a growing threat from “violent domestic extremists” emboldened by the attack on the Capitol. The report was driven by the department’s conclusion that President Biden’s peaceful inauguration last week could create a false sense of security.

Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Snapshot: Above, members of a Taliban unit in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, wearing Cheetahs, sneakers produced by one of the largest shoe companies in Pakistan. The white high-tops have been worn by insurgents for decades and have become synonymous with violence.

Cloris Leachman: The Oscar winner and TV star, who was probably best known for getting laughs, notably in three Mel Brooks movies and on comedies like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” died on Wednesday. She was 94.

What we’re reading: This New Yorker article asks a question on many of our minds: Has the pandemic changed the office forever?

Now, a break from the news

Credit…Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times

Cook: There’s nothing fancy about this recipe for blueberry muffins. It’s mostly flour, eggs, butter and blueberries, but that’s the beauty of it.

Listen: A Tyshawn Sorey premiere and lots of Kurt Weill from Berlin are among the highlights from the flood of online classical music concerts coming in February.

Do: A workout journal can bring you closer to your goals. Here’s why you should consider writing down your workouts, and how to get started.

The weekend is almost here. At Home has our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

The GameStop frenzy

The internet and stock market are aflame over GameStop, a once-struggling video game retailer whose stock is suddenly the darling of day traders who are putting the squeeze on Wall Street’s big players. The stakes are enormous: The surge in trading has driven GameStop’s value up by more $10 billion in one day. Here’s what to know.

A short squeeze is happening — it involves investors betting on which way a stock will go. The investors who bet against the stock, or “shorts,” thought that GameStop’s stock would fall. Shorting a stock is risky, and you can lose big if someone tries to push up the price by buying lots of shares, which is what has happened with GameStop.

This is the squeeze.

The investors have to cover their shorts, and buy the stock at the higher price. This demand kicks the stock higher, and a short who acts too late could be ruined.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The standoffs usually involve sophisticated investors on Wall Street. In this case, tons of day traders using mobile apps are buying shares of GameStop or placing their own options bets, on the opposite side of the shorts. Many congregated on Reddit’s Wall Street betting chat to share tips and analysis, and began to discuss the GameStop short sellers in recent months.

Some of the amateur traders’ motivations vary; while many think it’s just a good value, or are riding the wave, some say they want to squeeze a hedge fund that was shorting GameStop.

Thank you
Carole Landry helped write this briefing. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected]

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the fate of the filibuster.
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