The Omicron coronavirus variant muted New Year’s celebrations across large parts of the world with Paris canceling its fireworks display, London shifting it to television and New York City scaling down its famous ballroom celebration in Times Square.
The illuminated ball made of Waterford crystal panels slipped off his pole at midnight in Times Square, but only 15,000 people were allowed into the official viewing area.
New Year’s Eve, formerly celebrated worldwide with a free-spirited wildness, felt rather like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading Omicron variant again to fill hospitals, especially across Europe and the United States.
A year ago, the newly available vaccine gave hope that the COVID-19 pandemic could be under control by the beginning of 2022. Instead, the sudden advent of Omicron has led to an increase in coronavirus cases around the world.
“I would be lying if I said I was not worried,” said Sue Park, a Columbia University student who was one of the 15,000 allowed to watch in person. “Definitely, I think it’s worth celebrating.”
U.S. President Joe Biden noted the losses and insecurity caused by the pandemic, but said: “We persevere. We are recovering.
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “This is how we got through this year. And how we will embrace the next. Together.”
Midnight passed in Paris without a planned fireworks display or DJ sets, as city officials canceled events planned on the Champs-Elysees following the advice of a scientific panel declaring mass gatherings too risky .
In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was held without a live audience.
In the Netherlands, where outside groups of more than four people are banned, the police dispersed several thousand people who gathered defiantly at Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, the ANP news agency reported.
But in London, where a fireworks display and light show were canceled in October, officials announced Friday that the spectacle would come alive on the television screen, as Big Ben rang for the first time since 2017 in the new year after its recovery.
BBC images of the fireworks showed very light vehicle traffic and virtually no personal spectators.
Cape Town in South Africa – where the Omicron variant was first reported – suddenly a curfew rule lifted just in time for the new year.
“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 delighted to have the place ready. to present an unexpected bash.
Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney had also celebrated the new year with something like swearing, while spectacular fireworks shone in the harbor above the Opera House.
People in Madrid queued for hours to enter the main square of Puerta del Sol where celebrations continued with multiple security checkpoints, mandatory masks and capacity at 60 percent of normal levels. Only 7,000 people were allowed in the square, a venue that traditionally houses about 20,000 festival-goers.
An extravagant fireworks display lit up the festivities, marking Spaniards by stuffing 12 grapes in their mouths to accompany each of the bells that strike midnight.
In Asia, events have been scaled down or canceled altogether, as with the traditional fireworks over the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
In South Korea, a traditional midnight bell-ringing ceremony was canceled for the second year, while festivities in Tokyo’s dazzling Shibuya entertainment district were banned, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida went to YouTube to encourage people to wear masks and numbers at parties.
China, where the coronavirus was reported in late 2019, was on high alert, with the city of Xi’an locked up and New Year’s events in other cities canceled.
More than 288 million people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus since late 2019 and more than five million have died, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.