Omicron has muffled New Year’s celebrations, but South Africa is offering hope to Reuters

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© Reuters. People watch a laser show designed by artist Seb Lee-Delisle and organized by Newcastle City Council to celebrate the New Year in Newcastle upon Tyne, Britain, December 30, 2021. REUTERS / Lee Smith

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Authors Renju Jose and Sisipho Skweyiya

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Although farewell celebrations since the year of the 2021 pandemic have been almost as muted as those that began it, the news that the wave of the Omicron variant seemed to be beginning to recede has brought hope for a happier New Year.

The Australian city of Sydney was one place where the New Year performed with something like a full display, while spectacular fireworks gleamed in the harbor above the Opera House (NASDAQ 🙂 House.

But many other famous cities gave up pyrotechnics as midnight rolled around the world, and exhibitions were canceled at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, London’s river bank and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

The glittering ball is yet to fall on New York’s Times Square, but the audience shouting the countdown to the annual release should be a quarter of the usual size – masked, socially distanced and with proof of the vaccine in hand.

However, South Africa, the first to raise the alarm over a new variant of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, prepared one of the last big good surprises of the year, becoming the first country to announce that its Omicron wave is at its peak – without much increase. in deaths. The abrupt abolition of the night curfew meant that the celebration could ring in 2022.

“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing. I just hope Cape Town goes back to the old Cape Town we all knew about,” said Michael Mchede, manager of Hard Rock Café next to the white sands of Cape Town’s Camps Bay Beach, which is was delighted to be preparing a place for an unexpected blow.

Nearby tourist Jochem Verbunt said he hopes for 2022 “that the crown will disappear”.

“I’m excited you don’t have to go back to the hotel. You can wander around the beautiful beach here, so let’s see if it will bring fun!”

‘TERRIBLY BAD’

The sudden arrival of Omicron has brought a record number of cases to countries around the world. Although the number of deaths has not increased in kind, giving hope that the new variant is milder, many countries have reintroduced restrictions to prevent overloading health systems. Even where gatherings are allowed, many people choose to stay at home.

At La Querida, a restaurant that serves grilled octopus and stuffed peppers in Madrid’s Pozuelo district, only four tables out of two dozen were reserved for New Year’s Eve. The place was almost crowded every night just a few weeks before Omicron wiped out the job, chief waiter Juan Lozano said.

“We all thought … that we would be able to make some money and pay off many things that are late,” he said. “The odds are terribly bad.”

Wendy Garcia brought her 7-year-old son to central Madrid last night for a dress rehearsal for the main New Year’s celebration, to give him a taste of the fun he missed last year, but without the big crowd.

It’s time to be together, to celebrate the new year and feel that excitement when the bells ring and we share chocolates and sweets, she said.

London’s Big Ben, at the top of Parliament, should ring at midnight and ring the New Year for the first time since 2017, after more than three years of restoration.

The celebration in New York’s Times Square, with just 15,000 spectators instead of the usual 55,000 or so, will be a big upgrade over last year’s audience of a few dozen. But with New York State reporting more than 74,000 cases on Thursday, and 22% of the tests were positive, critics wondered if the celebration should continue at all.

In Los Angeles, the countdown party at Grand Park has been canceled.

Rapper LL Cool J had to step down as lead presenter on ABC’s New Year’s show after being positive.

At a Party City store in Texas, Dane Fenner’s hands were full of hats and horns for a quiet party at home with his wife and three children.

“Normality. I want everything back to normal,” she said.

Global coronavirus infections have reached record levels in the last seven days, with an average of just over a million cases detected worldwide between December 24 and 30, about 100,000 more than the previous peak released on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Because the staff was sick, the airlines had to cancel some flights. More than 2,500 were canceled worldwide early Friday, including 1,100 at U.S. airports, according to the FlightAware.com flight tracking website.

In Asia, celebrations are mostly reduced or canceled. In South Korea, the traditional midnight ringing ceremony was canceled for the second year, while festivities were banned in Tokyo’s glittering entertainment district, Shibuya, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on YouTube urged people to wear masks and limit the number at parties.

China, where the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019, was on high alert, and the city of Xian was closed and New Year’s events in other cities canceled.

But the good news came from Britain, where a million-case study found that those with Omicron were about a third more likely to need hospitalization than those with the previously dominant Delta variant. The results were “in line with the encouraging signs we have already seen,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Safety Agency.

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