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Photo: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The NHL announced Wednesday that the league's players will not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Why it matters: The move comes amid a surge in coronavirus infections, largely driven by the newly discovered Omicron variant, and after the league announced that it would briefly postpone all NHL games through Christmas.

  • 43 games have been postponed due to COVID-19 cases so far this season. Last week, 60 players entered the league's COVID protocols in a four-day span.
  • The league said it would use "available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window ... to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed."

The big picture: The variant has upended the sports world's sense of normalcy, as leagues scramble to contain the rapid spread of the virus.

What they're saying: "Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events — 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 — Olympic participation is no longer feasible," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

  • "Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner," he added.

Flashback: The NHL introduced a strict COVID vaccination policy in September and later announced that all but four players were fully vaccinated for this season.

Of note: American athletes would have needed to be vaccinated to compete in the Winter Olympics, according to the guidelines posted on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee website.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine mandate after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks announced in a memo to employees Tuesday that it has dropped plans to implement a vaccine mandate for all U.S. workers, AP reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

1 hour ago - Health

Omicron hits American hospitals disproportionately hard

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

America is seeing more COVID hospitalizations than other wealthy countries during the Omicron surge, according to Our World in Data.

Why it matters: Vaccines keep the vast majority of COVID cases out of the hospital, but vaccination rates are also lower in the U.S. than these other countries.