LOS ANGELES – The organisation behind the Grammys on Wednesday postponed the music awards gala scheduled for 31 January due to "uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant" of COVID-19 that has ripped through the United States in recent weeks.
Minutes later, the prestigious Sundance film festival – which was set to begin 20 January in Park City, Utah – announced it was shifting all of its premieres and events online, a move it deemed necessary "despite the most ambitious protocols."
In a statement, the Recording Academy said that "holding the show on January 31 simply contains too many risks," and it would announce a rescheduled date "soon."
The heavily mutated Omicron variant, the most transmissible to date, accounted for around 95% of US cases in the week ending 1 January.
The wave that began in December has cases running at nearly 500,000 a day in the United States, according to the latest CDC figures, with new hospitalizations also rising – though numbers of new deaths have remained largely flat, likely due in part to vaccine availability.
The Omicron variant is also milder than previous variants, raising hopes the virus could be evolving into a relatively benign seasonal illness.
Still, the World Health Organization in Europe has sounded an ominous note of caution on Tuesday, warning the soaring infection rates could have the opposite effect.
"The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority," the Recording Academy said in explaining its decision to postpone.
Sundance organisers echoed that sentiment: "While it is a deep loss to not have the in-person experience in Utah, we do not believe it is safe nor feasible to gather thousands of artists, audiences, employees, volunteers, and partners from around the world, for an eleven-day festival while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services."
SUBDUED SPRING SEASON?
Among the selected films at Sundance – the Robert Redford-founded indie festival – this year will be "jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy," a documentary assembled from more than two decades of footage shot by West's longtime friend Clarence "Coodie" Simmons.
And the 64th annual Grammys features a class of pop stalwarts and newbies including Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo leading the nominees, as Jon Batiste, the jazz and R&B artist and bandleader, garnered the most nominations with 11.
Last spring's show was the first Grammys of the pandemic era, and saw organisers craft a more television-friendly, socially distanced cabaret-esque show that was heavy on performances.
Those awards were postponed to 14 March after the original date was dropped during last winter's deadly surge in coronavirus cases.
The 2022 edition was expected to see a return to the usual arena-style celebration at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
But it appears the spring entertainment season might be muted over pandemic concerns yet again.
The Golden Globes, set for 9 January, had already planned a stripped-down affair with no audience or media. Organisers had cited health concerns regarding the decision to scrap the audience, but the move also came in the wake of an industry boycott over internal ethical collapses.
The Oscars currently are still on for 27 March.
And after two years sans Coachella, the premiere California desert music event that kicks off the festival circuit is currently slated to begin 15 April with proof of vaccination or a negative test.