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How the world quietly celebrated New Year's Eve amid Covid second wave

New Year’s Eve is being celebrated like no other in most of the world, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds.

Pictures of events from 2019 compared to this year show just how much things have changed since Covid-19 emerged.

Many people bid farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget with TV firework displays or packing it in early since they could not toast the end of 2020 in the presence of friends.

Events have been cancelled from Sydney to New York, though places without active outbreaks, such as New Zealand, were able to carry on like any other year.

As midnight struck across Asia and the South Pacific and rolled towards the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Americas, the New Year’s experience mirrored national responses to the virus itself.

Australia was among the first to ring in 2021. In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney’s harbour to watch fireworks but this year, most watched it on TV as authorities urged residents to stay home.

Crowds gathered where they could to watch a seven-minute midnight display after a 9pm one was scrapped due to rising Covid cases.

Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populated city, called off its annual fireworks show to discourage crowds, though bars in party areas were still packed.

In England, where the new coronavirus strain is spreading fast, most of the country is in lockdown.

Boris Johnson urged people to follow the rules and stay at home as hospitals face being overwhelmed.

Police dispersed crowds that gathered on London’s Westminster Bridge, while the streets of other tier four areas such as Nottingham were empty.

Only people in the Isles of Scilly, currenly in tier one, had the freedom to mix with friends indoors and go to the pub.

In Scotland, which prides itself on Dec. 31 Hogmanay celebrations, the Government detailed what it expected not to see.

‘We must mark this New Year responsibly and in line with the restrictions,’ Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

‘To be clear, and I take no pleasure in saying this, that means no gatherings, no house parties, no first-footing. Instead, we should bring in 2021 in our own homes with just our own households.’

Elsewhere in Europe, Ireland moved to its highest level of restrictions on Thursday, banning all household visits, closing all non-essential retail and limiting travel to 5km (three miles).

Germany is currently under lockdown until January 10, with the Government banning the sale of fireworks and placing tight restrictions on the number of people who can gather in public.

There is a visible security presence in France, which has mobilised 100,000 police to break up New Year’s Eve parties and enforce a night-time curfew.

A 10pm curfew was imposed in Italy, where bars, restaurants and most shops are closed. 

Turkey, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Greece also imposed night-time curfews, with leaders vowing to crack-down on rule breakers.

‘No one will be on the streets after 10 p.m. (Athens) will be a dead city to make sure no more restrictions are imposed,’ said Greece’s public order minister, Michalis Chrisohoidis.

A few families gathered in Madrid’s sunny central Puerta de Sol square to listen to the rehearsal of the traditional ringing of the bells that is held at midnight. They followed the Spanish custom of eating 12 grapes with each stroke of the bells before police cleared the area that normally hosts thousands of revellers.

In one of the world’s most popular places to be on December 31, Dubai, events went ahead despite a surge of infections. Images of masked health care workers briefly lit up Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, before fireworks exploded in the sky over the building.

Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets, while squares marked out for social distancing were largely ignored.

However authorities implemented a raft of anti-virus measures to control rowdy crowds in downtown Dubai, with dancing strictly prohibited at luxury bars and restaurants and music blared.

South Africans were urged to cancel parties and light candles to honour health workers and people who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the US, officials have placed restrictions on festivities in many states and cities. In New York the illuminated Times Square Ball will be dropped during the traditional countdown to midnight, but the area will not be open to the public.

In Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, where official fireworks and celebrations also were cancelled to limit the rapid spread of the virus, Copacabana was sealed off and only local residents will be able to access the city’s iconic shore.

In South Korea, Seoul’s city government cancelled its annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighborhood for the first time since the event was first held in 1953, months after the end of the Korean War.

In Chinese societies, the virus ensured more muted celebrations of the solar New Year, which is less widely observed than the Lunar New Year that in 2021 will fall in February.

But crowds of people packed together in Wuhan this evening to celebrate New Year’s Eve, exactly one year after coronavirus was discovered in the city.

Millions of Indians ushered in the new year with subdued celebrations at home because of night curfews, a ban on beach parties and restrictions on movement in major cities and towns after the new, more contagious variant of the virus reached the country.

Despite the restrictions, many around the world looked toward 2021 with hope, partly due to the arrival of vaccines that offer a chance of beating the pandemic

‘Goodbye, 2020. Here comes something better: 2021,’ New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

‘We are turning the page and going someplace better’.

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