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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The period of coronavirus complacency came to a dramatic end in the last 48 hours, as the stock market plunged, states issued grim warnings and schools closed their doors.

Driving the news: But it was the cancellation of sports — March Madness, in particular — that hit the hardest for some Americans, serving as a reality check as to just how serious this situation is.

  • The coronavirus was already changing what we saw on the news and how we did our jobs. Now, it's keeping us from the things we do to get by. Suddenly, something that brings people together is keeping us apart.

The big picture: In the time of a pandemic, sports are both insignificant and powerful.

  • On one hand, we're reminded of how little sports matter in the grand scheme of things, and that the institutions we've built up around them — leagues, franchises, TV networks — are no different than any other businesses.
  • On the other hand, sports are where we turn when times get tough, so now that they won't be there to entertain us through stories and links us through fandom, we're reminded of the comfort and powerful perspective they provide.

The bottom line: It's in this moment that leagues, commissioners, athletes and other sports figures have the power to lead by example and change the minds of people who lack perspective on this worldwide crisis.

  • Jerry Brewer, WashPost: "If a global health crisis doesn't provide the inspiration to be more than a money-printing diversion, then these games aren’t worthy of all the attention."
  • Scott Van Pelt, ESPN: "Maybe the diagnosis of [Gobert] did our country a huge favor. This much I know to be true: He hit the warp-speed button on all of this. And by taking away the games ... it forced everybody to take all of this a whole lot more seriously."

Go deeper: Premier League suspends season due to coronavirus

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.