Muted celebrations as UK welcomes 2021 and world says goodbye to a ‘different’ year

The UK has welcomed in 2021, saying goodbye to a year that for many was the strangest, toughest or even worst in recent memory.

It was ushered in by the chimes of Big Ben – an hour after the nation’s clock marked the end of the Brexit transition period – without any of the thousands who would normally stand in the street below it to watch a dazzling display of fireworks.

All across the country, bar and pubs that 365 days ago would have been full of people singing Auld Lang Syne and celebrating together were empty and silent.

Westminster Bridge was not empty, despite warnings from the authorities to stay away, with the sounds of car horns blaring out as midnight arrived and a handful of people setting off their own fireworks.

In Edinburgh where Hogmanay is one of the most looked-forward to festivals of the year, only small groups of people were seen in the streets typically thronging with revellers.

One young woman in a group of four from the same household told Sky News: “We’re looking forward to the New Year. It has to be better.”

Another said: “You’ve just got to put a positive twist on it. There’s no point in being negative. New year… there’s a vaccine, everything’s good.”

Earlier, with UK COVID-19 cases reaching their highest ever daily level, one of England’s top doctors had implored people not “add fuel to the fire” by meeting up in “close and large groups” risking “further transmission”.

The government had run ads pleading with the public to “see in the New Year safely at home”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked her fellow countryfolk to “mark this New Year responsibly and in line with the restrictions… that means no gatherings, no house parties, no first-footing”.

Although displays in London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Liverpool had been cancelled, there were a few in other places ahead of midnight, including fireworks at St James’ Park in Newcastle and a lightshow in Ironbridge, Shropshire.

Celebrities were among those saying goodbye to what Victoria Beckham called a “different year”.

All across the planet, the event was celebrated in ways that were much more muted that usual due to pandemic restrictions on open air gatherings.

Hundreds of millions of people were forced to turn to made-for-TV fireworks displays or calling it a night early since they could not toast the end of 2020 in the presence of friends or strangers.

Yet, in contrast to those countries around the world in various states of lockdown or restrictions, New Zealand and several of its South Pacific island neighbours that also have no active COVID cases held their usual New Year’s activities.

Australia was the next to ring in 2021, with seven minutes of pyrotechnics lighting up Sydney Harbour Bridge, but many heeded calls from the authorities to stay at home, leaving the areas surrounding much quieter than usual.

While South Korea cancelled its annual bell-ringing ceremony for the first time since 1953, North Korea pressed ahead with its celebration in Pyongyang, with state media showing residents in face masks filling the main square for a concert and fireworks.

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic started a year ago, large crowds took to the streets. When the clock on the old Hankow Customs House building struck midnight, many cheered and released balloons in the air.

One, 20-year-old student and tourist Yang Wenxuan, said: “I’m so so so incredibly happy. I hope that (in 2021) I can obtain my batchelor’s degree and I hope I can find a boyfriend.”

Dubai, another of the world’s most popular places to be on 31 December, pressed ahead with its plans despite a surge of infections, with the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, lit up by the explosions of fireworks as tens of thousands milled in the streets below.

In France, 100,000 police officers were stationed on the streets to enforce a nationwide curfew.

In New York, where the ball is set to drop in Times Square as always, police have fenced off the site in fear people will gather.

The audience will consist of a few dozen pre-selected key workers – including nurses, doctors, a food shop worker and a pizza delivery man – their families kept two metres apart in socially distanced pens.

Gloria Gaynor has been booked to sing her disco classic I Will Survive.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who will push the button to start the crystal ball’s descent, summed up the mood saying: “It’s going to be actually, arguably, the most special, the most poignant, the most moving New Year’s Eve.

“In 2021, we’re going to show people what it looks like to recover, to come back.”

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