“We are very blessed to be in New Zealand,” Taufau Aukuso told the NZ Herald as she celebrated with her teenage daughter. But such a sentiment isn’t evinced in other parts of the world.
Even in neighboring Australia, which has not experienced the same scale of covid-19 cases as Western Europe and the Americas, the iconic Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations were scaled back, and only a few hundred people were allowed into the harbor. Photographs showed areas teeming with people last year now largely empty under new coronavirus-related restrictions.
“In the end, Sydney made the most of a bad situation,” the Sydney Morning Herald noted in an article, pointing to new covid-19 cases in the state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is capital. Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, had canceled its fireworks display.
“What a hell of a year it’s been,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales. “Hopefully, 2021 will be easier on all of us.”
Across much of Asia, there was similar caution. In Japan, where new cases hit a record high on New Year’s Eve, a traditional event with the imperial family has been canceled. Events across China were canceled, while Hong Kong called off its iconic harbor fireworks display and directed restaurants to close by 6 p.m.
Restrictions were in place in South Korean and Indian cities, too, though there were reports in local media outlets of foreigners traveling to the Indian state of Goa, where there is no curfew, to celebrate.
Even in Taiwan, one of the best-performing countries during the pandemic, signs of caution were evident. The size of the crowd gathering to view a planned fireworks display from the Taipei 101 skyscraper was cut from 80,000 to 40,000 amid strict restrictions, while a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building on New Year’s morning was limited to guests.
Across the Middle East and Europe, there were differing levels of restrictions. Turkey began a four-day lockdown on New Year’s Eve, while there were restrictions on events across many regions in Russia — though celebrations in the country’s famed New Year’s capital, Kaluga, are on.
Celebrations were mixed across much of Africa. The pandemic has generally not hit the continent as hard as it has some of its northern neighbors, but regional epicenter South Africa has implemented restrictions on gatherings and asked restaurants and beaches to close early. President Cyril Ramaphosa said he would have a somber New Year’s and urged others to do the same.
“I will light a candle in Cape Town at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve in memory of those who have lost their lives and in tribute to those who are on the front line working to save our lives and protect us from harm,” Ramaphosa said.
Some of the strictest measures were in place in Western Europe, where fast-rising cases and a new variant of the coronavirus had dampened the holiday spirit. France, where a strict 8 p.m. curfew was being imposed, 100,000 police officers were mobilized to thwart gatherings.
Germany called off celebrations nationwide, while Health Minister Jens Spahn urged Germans to have the “quietest New Year’s Eve” in living memory.
In London, key sections of the city were fenced off to prevent revelers from congregating. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other officials have urged people to respect the covid-19 restrictions in place across most of the country.
“Covid loves a crowd, so please leave the parties for later in the year,” Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said at a news conference Wednesday.
In Latin America, many celebrations were called off. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana neighborhood canceled its firework displays and said it would allow only residents into the area.
Across the United States, some of the most anticipated events were canceled — including a fireworks display in Nashville, where a bombing on Christmas Day led officials to rethink plans — or scaled back because of pandemic restrictions, as in Las Vegas, where occupancy at casinos was limited to 25 percent.
The iconic ball drop in New York’s Times Square will go ahead, but it will not have the crowds. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told the Associated Press that officers were working on a “frozen zone” around Times Square that would block access for revelers. He urged people to watch it at home.
“This is a ball drop about nothing, where you can’t see, so you may as well stay home,” Shea said.