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Hong Kong demonstrators protest a government ban on face masks in October. Photo by Laurel Chor/Getty Images

The year of the mass uprising has collided with the year of the coronavirus lockdown, leaving protest movements around the world stalled. 

The big picture: The enduring images of 2019 are of protest — from Hong Kong to Khartoum, across the Middle East and through much of Latin America. Seemingly overnight, though, social distancing has made such mass demonstrations almost unthinkable.

Hong Kong’s protests raged for most of 2019, climaxing in November with showdowns on university campuses but leaving existential questions about relations with mainland China unresolved heading into the new year.

  • During the protests, face masks were worn as a symbol of defiance and protection against tear gas. Now, the same masks are worn to protect against infection, AP notes.
  • Organizers continue to press their demands for greater autonomy, but they won’t be backed by millions-strong demonstrations anytime soon.

Chile’s typically stable politics were upended in October by chaotic demonstrations that carried into this year and forced the government to agree to a national referendum.

  • That vote, on whether to draft a new constitution that better addresses concerns over inequality, has now been postponed.
  • “First we need to stay alive, then we keep trying to change the world,” one street vender who had taken part in protests but was now staying away told Reuters.

In India, protests against laws that discriminate against Muslims were intensifying in the weeks leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Large gatherings are now illegal with the country entering lockdown. The site of one long-standing protest was cleared on Tuesday.

Planned protests are on hold everywhere from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

  • In Algeria, anti-government protests had been held for 56 consecutive weekends, until last week.
  • “It does not mean we are giving up in our fight against the dictatorship,” a spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s opposition said of the decision to freeze protests. “We just want to allow the coronavirus to pass.”
  • In Paris earlier this month, police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Yellow Vest protesters who defied a ban on large gatherings.
  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg has, for the time being, gone from leading young people on climate marches to urging them to stay home. (She also suspects she had the coronavirus.)

Protesters are adapting to the times — from banging pots on balconies in Brazil to gathering in a massive virtual demonstration in Israel.

  • But the sorts of mass protests that brought down five world leaders in 2019 are on hold just about everywhere.
  • Some autocratic-leaning governments will likely use that ban to their advantage.

Where things stand: Women in Mexico attempted a novel tactic on March 9. To protest violence against women, they held a “day without women” by staying inside their homes all day. 

  • Now, the world has moved inside. It’s the streets that are empty.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

8 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

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