AND record wave Covid-19 infection prompted by the spread of the infectious variant Omicron has thrown a cloud at New Year’s celebrations around the world, and partygoers are urged to be wary of an increasing number of cases.
Despite hopes that 2021 will mark a return to normal after the pandemic closed many New Year’s celebrations, many cities and countries have either canceled or reduced planned festivities, while urging residents to limit the size of their gatherings.
London has canceled its official New Year’s fireworks, but has hosted a party at the last minute on television screens across the UK. At midnight, Big Ben rang the new year for the first time since 2017 after the restoration of the clock tower above Parliament.
The New York Times Square celebration will continue even as the city’s contagion rate rises to record highs. Yet only 15,000 people will be allowed to attend the ball-lowering event, which typically attracts nearly 60,000 people from around the world.
Guests must be vaccinated and wear masks to attend the outdoor event, although public health experts have questioned whether the event should take place at all. The event was closed to the crowd in 2020.
Eric Adams he will be sworn in as the new mayor at a celebration in Times Square shortly after the ball fell, after he canceled his inauguration indoors in Brooklyn due to an increase in cases.
In New York State, the rate of Covid-19 infection is more than twice the US average, with more than 230 cases per 100,000 people, the highest since the pandemic began, according to FT analysis data.
Lines spanning several city blocks have become a common sight outside of testing centers.
Experts have warned of large gatherings, as the seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. has risen to nearly 350,000, the highest ever. San Francisco canceled its fireworks, while Atlanta canceled the annual “Peach Drop” of the capital of Georgia.
Speaking at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that for those planning to attend large gatherings where “everyone hugs and kisses and wishes each other a happy New Year – I would warmly recommend yes this year, we are not doing that ”.
New Year celebrations around the world have begun muffled. Australia has continued its traditional fireworks display over Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, but the crowds were much less than usual after the country’s health authorities reported a record 32,000 new Covid cases, most of them in New South Wales.
Meanwhile, New Zealand, which has not reported any local expansion of Omicron, has abolished the usual fireworks in Auckland in favor of a smaller light show.
In Germany, Olaf Scholz used his own first New Year’s address as chancellor to spur ambitious action to deliver 30 million doses of Covid-19 reinforcements by the end of January as the country prepares for an increase in Omicron variant cases.
Germany has introduced new strict restrictions on contacts in the fight against the spread of Omicron, thus limiting the number of people who can attend social gatherings. “Tonight we will have to do again without big New Year’s parties or big fireworks,” Scholz said.
France, where the number of Covid-19 cases reached another record of more than 232,000 on December 31, had earlier canceled its traditional fireworks display in major cities, including Paris. Bars and restaurants will also have to close their doors at 2 a.m., and dancing is banned in public places. In the French capital and cities like Lyon, people have to wear street masks again.
But the French government has avoided harsh measures during the New Year period to stem the spread, including the widespread curfew in the early evening hours that was in place last year.
“The coming weeks will be difficult, we all know that,” said Emmanuel Macron, the country’s president, during a New Year’s speech, adding that he was optimistic about the coming year and the possible end of the pandemic.
The traditional fireworks display on the Copacabana coast in Rio de Janeiro will take place on Friday night, but unlike in previous years, there will be no live concerts on the beach.
In addition to restrictions on entry into the neighborhood, authorities have also organized exhibitions at other locations in the Brazilian city to avoid the big crowds on Copacabana, which attracted about 2.9 million people by 2020.
While government figures show an increase in Covid-19 cases in Brazil, experts say the full scope is unclear, as certain databases tracking the pandemic are not fully operational following a cyber attack on the health ministry’s website this month. Dozens of other cities in the most populous country in Latin America have canceled the official New Year’s celebration.
IIn a pre-recorded address, President Jair Bolsonaro criticized ‘vaccine passports’ and argued that children between the ages of five and 11 should be vaccinated against Covid-19 only with a doctor’s prescription and parental consent.
After the Brazilian health regulator approved BioNTech / Pfizer for this age group, the government launched a public consultation on the issue.
“Freedom must be respected,” said the far-right leader, who downplayed the importance of respiratory disease, downplayed the use of masks and protested against quarantine in favor of keeping the economy open.
In South Africa, which officially peaked its fourth wave fueled by Omicron after avoiding a significant rise in deaths, “better times are at hand” in 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised New Year’s address on Friday.
South Africans will be able to stay outside after midnight to celebrate this New Year for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, after the Ramaphosa government lifted a night curfew that was one of the last remaining major isolation restrictions in the country.
South Africa has suffered a large number of deaths since past waves of 2021 and “millions of families are struggling to put food on the table” in Africa’s most industrialized economy, Ramaphosa said.
In downtown Dubai, thousands of people stood in a row of streets cheering for lights and fireworks at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, despite the United Arab Emirates reporting 2,500 Covid infections on Friday, the highest since March. A group of young British women held hands and sang Auld Lang Syne amid the sympathy of men trying to take selfies with them.
Marcus and Mariana, a couple from Germany and Ukraine who traveled to Dubai on New Year’s Eve, disagreed on whether the pandemic should be taken seriously. “I am not worried at all. It’s not as bad as in the news, “said Mariana. Her boyfriend interjected, “I don’t agree with this. We’re worried. “
At a club in the nearby Hotel Victoria, a tourist from Belgium sipped cocktails with her girlfriends. She rejected the latest increase in cases. “I got Covid two months ago,” she said.
Reported by Guy Chazan in Berlin, Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg, Madison Darbyshire in New York, Imani Moise in Chicago, Michael Pooler in São Paulo, Samer Al-Atrush in Dubai and Sarah White in Paris