A record golf of Covid-19 infections driven by the spread of the contagious Omicron variant has thrown a cloud over New Year celebrations around the world, with partygoers urged to be careful in the face of rising cases.
Despite hopes that 2021 would be a return to normal after the pandemic closed many celebrations last New Year’s Eve, many cities and countries have either canceled or scaled planned festivities, while residents are urged to limit the size of their gatherings.
London has canceled its New Year’s Eve fireworks display, but New York’s Times Square celebration will continue even as infection rates in the city rise to record highs. Yet only 15,000 people will be allowed to attend the ball-fall event, which typically attracts nearly 60,000 from around the world.
Guests must be vaccinated and wear masks to attend the outdoor event, although public health experts have questioned whether the event should continue at all. The event was closed to crowds in 2020.
Eric Adams will be sworn in as the city’s new mayor at the Times Square celebration shortly after the ball fell, after canceling his indoor inauguration party in Brooklyn due to the upsurge in affairs.
In the state of New York, the Covid-19 infection rate is more than twice the national average, with more than 230 cases per 100,000, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a FT analysis of data.
Lines stretching several city blocks have become a common sight outside test centers.
Experts warned against large gatherings as the seven-day average of new cases in the US rose to nearly 350,000, the highest ever. San Francisco canceled its fireworks, while Atlanta, Georgia canceled its annual “Peach Drop.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said during a White House press briefing on Wednesday that for those planning to attend large gatherings with “everyone who embraces and kisses and wishes each other a happy new year – I will highly recommended, this year, we do not. ”
The New Year celebrations around the world began in a muted manner. Australia continued its traditional fireworks display over Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, but crowds were much smaller than usual after the country’s health authorities reported a record 32,000 new Covid cases, the majority of which were in New South Wales.
Meanwhile, New Zealand, which has not reported any local distribution from Omicron, has done away with its usual fireworks display in Auckland in favor of a smaller light show.
In Germany, Olaf Scholz used his first New Year address as chancellor to drive an ambitious effort to deliver 30 million doses of Covid-19 booster shots by the end of January, while the country prepares for a boom in cases of the Omicron variant.
Germany has introduced strict new contact restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron, which places a limit on the number of people who can attend social gatherings. “Tonight we will have to do without big New Year’s Eve parties or big fireworks,” said Scholz.
In South Africa, which is officially past the peak of its fourth Omicron-driven wave after avoiding a significant increase in deaths, “better times are on the horizon” in 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised speech on Friday. New Year’s Eve said.
South Africans will be able to stay out after midnight to celebrate this New Year’s Eve for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, after Ramaphosa’s government ended a nocturnal curfew that was one of the country’s last remaining major restrictions. The night the curfew was lifted, restaurant managers rushed to tell customers the news, and pubs celebrated in Cape Town.
South Africa has endured a heavy death toll from previous waves in 2021 and “millions of families are struggling to put food on the table” in Africa’s most industrial economy, Ramaphosa said.
But “we are grateful for the nearly 18 million South Africans vaccinated against Covid-19” and for scientists “who help us better understand the pandemic, to plan and respond accordingly,” he added. South African scientists were among the first in the world to discover the Omicron variant.
Reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin, Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg, and Madison Darbyshire and Imani Moise in New York