The variant of the Omicron coronavirus dampened New Year’s festivities across much of the world, with Paris canceling its fireworks show, London relegated to television and New York City toning down its famous Times Square ball party.
The illuminated ball made of Waterford crystal panels slid down its pole at midnight in Times Square, but only 15,000 spectators were allowed into the official viewing area instead of the usual 58,000.
A year ago, the newly available vaccine offered hope that the COVID-19 pandemic could be under control by early 2022. Instead, the sudden arrival of Omicron has led to an increase in the number of coronavirus cases around the world.
Global infections hit an all-time high in the past seven days, with an average of just over a million cases detected each day between December 24 and 30, some 100,000 more than the previous peak reported Wednesday, according to Reuters data. . However, deaths have not increased in kind, giving hope that the new variant is less lethal.
New York City reported a record 44,000 cases on Wednesday and another 43,000 on Thursday, leading some critics to question whether the celebrations should go on at all.
But officials decided that an outdoor party of vaccinated, masked and socially distancing revelers was safe and a better option than the virtually empty party that sounded in 2021.
“I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried,” said Sue Park, a Columbia University student who was one of 15,000 allowed to watch in person. “Sure, I think it’s worth coming to celebrate. It’ll just have more meaning to be in the crowd.”
Elsewhere in the world, events were scaled back or outright canceled, such as the traditional fireworks display over the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Midnight passed in Paris without a scheduled fireworks display or DJ sets as city officials canceled planned events on the Champs-Elysées on the advice of a scientific panel that considered mass gatherings too risky.
In the Netherlands, where groups of more than four people are banned outside the door, the police have dispersed several thousand people who had defiantly gathered on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam, the ANP news agency reported.
But in London, where a fireworks and light show had been canceled in October, officials announced Friday that the spectacle would come to life on television as Big Ben ushered in the new year for the first time since 2017 after being restored.
BBC footage of the fireworks showed very light car traffic and virtually no personal onlookers.
Earlier, in Britain, a study of one million cases found that those with Omicron required hospitalization about a third as often as those with the previously dominant Delta variant. The results were “in line with the encouraging signs we’ve already seen,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.
In the wake of encouraging data, Cape Town abruptly lifted a curfew just in time for the New Year after South Africa became the first country to declare the Omicron wave had peaked – and without a huge increase in deaths. .
South Africa had first sounded the alarm over the new, rapidly spreading coronavirus strain racing around the world.
“I just hope Cape Town goes back to the old Cape Town we all knew about,” said Michael Mchede, manager of a Hard Rock cafe on the white sands of Camps Bay Beach, who was thrilled to get the place ready for a hosting unexpected bash.
Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney also celebrated the New Year with something like full-on swagger, as spectacular fireworks sparkled in the harbor above the Opera House.
People in Madrid queued for hours to enter the main square of the Puerta del Sol, where the celebrations continued with multiple security checks, mandatory masks and a capacity of 60% of the normal level.
Saul Pedrero, a 34-year-old clerk, made the trip from Barcelona, which has some of the strictest controls in Spain, including a curfew at 1am.
“It seems like a different country. Here you can do everything and nobody says anything,” he said.
A lavish fireworks display lit up the festivities, which the Spaniards mark by stuffing 12 grapes into their mouths with each chime that strikes midnight.
In Asia, celebrations were usually shortened or cancelled. In South Korea, a traditional midnight bell-ringer ceremony was canceled for the second year, while festivities were banned in Tokyo’s glittering Shibuya entertainment district, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to YouTube to urge people to wear masks and limit numbers at parties. .
China, where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, was on high alert, the city of Xian was shut down and New Year’s events in other cities cancelled.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)