LONDON – Fireworks lit the sky over the Sydney Opera House but most of the people were barred from the city center. The ball fell in New York’s Times Square, and while the musicians were performing live, the large crowd of night owls was missing.
During the chaotic year, the world was ravaged by a deadly pandemic. So it is only fitting that New Year celebrations around the world were subdued or canceled altogether as authorities tried to stop crowds from gathering in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.
The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, expressed a sentiment Thursday morning that was sure to be shared by many others: “We’re so ready to kick 2020 out the door.”
The Times Square Ball Drop, held in honor of health care workers, first responders, key workers and others, was broadcast live and broadcast. Musical acts related to lives lost in the pandemic. Gloria Gaynor sang “I will survive”.
Amid growing concerns about the global spread of a new variant of coronavirus, first found in the UK, more and more people were forced into lockdowns, dampening traditional celebrations and the usual crowd of night owls.
“I can imagine that there will be many people who are only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a video address on Thursday.
“But just before we do, I would like to remind you that this was also the year that we rediscovered a spirit of togetherness, of community,” he said. “It was a year that we popped pots to celebrate the courage and self-sacrifice of our NHS (National Health Service) and nursing home workers. This year the working people pulled out the stops to keep the country moving Crisis we have faced for generations. “
In Sydney, one of the first major cities to ring in 2021, the city’s traditional New Year celebrations have been scaled back due to stricter restrictions on movement, gatherings and internal borders, but the fireworks over the Opera House and Harbor Bridge continued.
New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian banned most people from driving into Sydney city center on Thursday evening.
“We don’t want to have any overarching events on New Years Eve,” she said earlier this week, adding that watching the fireworks from home is the safest way to do it.
Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, has completely canceled its fireworks this year.
New Year celebrations continued to a large extent in Australia’s neighboring country New Zealand as usual after the nation managed to curb local transmission of the virus.
In Hong Kong there is usually noisy partying by the water and in pubs. For the second year in a row, however, New Year’s Eve fireworks have been canceled, this time due to the coronavirus and not due to public safety concerns.
In South Korea, the government has closed the beaches in Gangueng on the country’s east coast, where people traditionally watch the first sunrise of the new year. Seoul’s Bosingak bell ceremony was canceled for the first time since 1953 and was instead displayed “virtually” on the city’s website.
When new coronavirus infections hit a record high of more than 1,300 in Tokyo on Thursday, New Year’s Eve celebrations were curtailed. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urged people to celebrate the occasion calmly and avoid unnecessary trips.
Emperor Naruhito delivered a video message for the New Year instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds huddled inside the palace.
A smaller than usual New Year’s Eve event is expected to be held in New York, where the public will not be able to attend the celebrations and the “Ball Drop” event will be broadcast live.
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In Europe, the festivities are also being subdued.
Germany has banned the sale of fireworks that residents normally send out onto the streets, and a pyrotechnics show has opened at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
Fireworks over the Thames in London have been canceled as the government urged people to celebrate at home in an attempt to stem the rise in the number of cases. However, Big Ben, largely silent since 2017 while its clock tower was being restored, marked the start of the new year and the end of Britain’s transition from the European Union.
The Netherlands moved the national countdown from an Amsterdam park to a football stadium, where spectators were not allowed and the pyrotechnics were replaced by “electric fireworks”.
France’s interior minister said an additional 100,000 police officers were mobilized to enforce a 7pm. Curfew and breaking unauthorized gatherings of more than 10 people.
In Rome, usual concerts in public places have been canceled in favor of live streams and art installations.
Pope Francis skipped his typical December 31st visit to the life-size crib of the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square. But a planned New Year’s blessing, which should be given indoors to prevent crowds, has also been canceled due to sciatica pain, the Vatican press office said.
In Russia, public events were banned or restricted in many regions, but traditional fireworks were still taking place in the capital’s Red Square and across the city. While mass gatherings have been banned and restaurants, clubs and ice rinks have closed on Thursday evening, they will reopen on Friday as Russians celebrate week-long festivities over Orthodox Christmas.
Turkey declared a four-day lockdown from New Year’s Eve, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that security forces will investigate hotels for illegal parties.
Yuiiya Talmazan reported from London and Phil Helsel from Los Angeles.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.