Get ready for 2022! The world prepares to see in the New Year despite Covid restrictions, as party spirit overcomes Omicron concerns
Billions around the world are preparing to ring in the New Year after muted festivities last year, despite Omicron concerns putting a dampener on the revelry.
While some parties in major cities have been cancelled due to rising infections, South Africa, where the mutant strain was first detected, has lifted a curfew to allow the end-of-year celebrations to go ahead.
Australia’s largest city Sydney has also decided to press ahead with a firework display that will light up the city’s harbour, despite one of the world’s fastest-growing caseloads.
The ‘family fireworks’ kicked off the celebrations three hours before midnight, with pyrotechnics illuminating the Sydney Opera House in a stunning display.
But just hours before the celebrations were due to begin, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney.
AUSTRALIA: The ‘family fireworks’, displayed three hours before midnight every year ahead of the main show at midnight, fill the sky over the Opera House in Sydney
SOUTH KOREA: A woman walks near the decorations for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Seoul with countries preparing to ring in 2022
NEW YORK: The Waterford Crystal Installation is illuminated during a test run at Times Square ahead of the celebrations
INDIA: A kitemaker flies a kite ahead of the New Year celebrations on the outskirts of Amritsar in Punjab state in India
AUSTRALIA: Partygoers in Melbourne hit the town despite a surge in new Covid infections with many deciding to join in on the New Year’s revelry
Because of the surge, authorities were expecting far smaller crowds than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million revelers would crowd inner Sydney.
In neighboring New Zealand, where there hasn’t yet been any community spread of omicron, authorities took a precautionary approach by canceling several fireworks displays, including a popular one from atop Auckland’s Sky Tower.
Auckland instead will mark the new year with a light display projected onto the tower and other city landmarks.
Dubai is planning a pyrotechnics spectacle at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, while the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah will attempt to break two world records with a huge fireworks display.
KOSOVO: Decorations in downtown Pristina are already in place for the New Year’s celebrations after an end to a turbulent year
THAILAND: Devotees lay down in coffins during a resurrection ceremony to cleanse themselves of bad karma at the end of the year
AUSTRALIA: Police watch on as people gather in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, ahead of New Year’s Eve fireworks
In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled back format – though crowds of revellers are still expected.
The first places to see in the New Year are the Line Islands and the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, 14 hours ahead of London.
Baker Island, an atoll south of Hawaii, will be the last territory in 2021.
In South Korea’s capital Seoul, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony was cancelled for the second straight year due to a surge in cases.
Officials said a pre-recorded video of this year’s bell-ringing ceremony would instead be broadcast online and on television. The ceremony had previously drawn tens of thousands of people. Last year’s cancellation was the first since the ceremony began in 1953.
South Korean authorities also planned to close many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise on New Year’s Day. On Friday, South Korea said it will extend tough distancing rules for another two weeks.
CHINA: Kindergarten children hold Chinese character ‘Fu’, meaning ‘good luck’, to welcome the New Year during a day of muted celebrations
In India, millions of people were planning to ring in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in large cities including New Delhi and Mumbai.
Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep revellers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars amid a surge in cases fueled by omicron.
But some places, including Goa, a tourist paradise, and Hyderabad, an information technology hub, have been spared from night curfews thanks to smaller numbers of infections, although other restrictions still apply.
In Hong Kong, about 3,000 people planned to attend a New Year’s Eve concert featuring local celebrities including boy band Mirror. The concert will be the first big New Year’s Eve event held since 2018, after events were cancelled in 2019 due to political strife and last year because of the pandemic.
In China, the Shanghai government canceled events including an annual light show along the Huangpu River in the city center that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.
There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December. The government has called on people to avoid leaving the Chinese capital if possible and requires tests for travelers arriving from areas with infections.
Popular temples in the eastern Chinese cities of Nanjing, Hangzhou and other major cities canceled traditional New Year’s Eve ‘lucky bell-ringing’ ceremonies and asked the public to stay away.
But in Thailand, authorities were allowing New Year’s Eve parties and firework displays to continue, albeit with strict safety measures imposed.
They were hoping to slow the spread of the omicron variant while also softening the blow to the country’s battered tourism sector. New Year’s Eve prayers, which are usually held in Buddhist temples around Thailand, will be held online instead.