World rings in 2021 with muted celebrations amid Covid-19 restrictions

LONDON — Millions of people will be looking forward to saying farewell to 2020. But unlike usual year-end celebrations, it will be a subdued affair in most countries.

The chaotic year saw the world roiled by a deadly pandemic, so it’s only fitting that New Year’s celebrations worldwide will be muted or cancelled altogether as authorities try to stop crowds from gathering to limit the spread of the virus.

Amid growing concern about global spread of a new coronavirus variant first found in the U.K., more people have been forced into lockdowns, putting a damper on the traditional celebrations and the usual throngs of revelers.

An illuminated sign is displayed in front of the Opera House as part of Covid-19 restrictions for celebrations around Circular Quay in central Sydney on New Year’s Eve. David Gray / AFP – Getty Images

In Sydney, Australia, which was among the first big cities to ring in 2021 at 8 a.m. ET, the city’s traditional New Year’s celebrations were scaled back amid harsher restrictions on movement, gatherings and internal borders, but the display over the Opera House and harbour bridge will still go ahead.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian banned most people from coming to Sydney’s downtown on Thursday night.

“We don’t want to create any super-spreading events on New Year’s Eve,” Berejiklian said earlier this week, adding that watching the fireworks from home was the safest way to do so.

Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populous city, cancelled its fireworks altogether this year.

Meanwhile, Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand, saw its New Year celebrations go on largely as usual after the nation managed to curb local transmission of the virus.

Crowds begin to gather by the waterfront ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand.Dave Rowland / Getty Images

Hong Kong, with its British colonial history and large expatriate population, has usually seen raucous celebrations along the waterfront and in bar districts. For the second year running, however, New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled, this time over coronavirus rather than public security concerns.

In South Korea, the government has shut down the beaches in Gangueng, on the country’s east coast, where people traditionally go to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. Seoul’s Bosingak bell-ringing ceremony was cancelled for the first time since 1953, but can be viewed “virtually” on the city’s website.

As new coronavirus infections in Tokyo hit a record high of more than 1,300 on Thursday, New Year’s Eve celebrations were curtailed. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged people to celebrate New Year quietly and avoid non-essential outings.

Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message for the new year, instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds throng the palace.

In the U.S., New York is expected to hold a smaller than usual New Year’s Eve event, with the public banned from attending the celebrations and the ‘Ball Drop’ event live-streamed.

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In Europe, celebrations will also be muted.

Germany banned the sale of fireworks, which residents usually set off in on the streets, and a pyrotechnics show at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate is off.

Fireworks over the River Thames in London, U.K. have also been cancelled as the government urged people to celebrate at home to contain soaring case numbers. However, Big Ben, which has been largely silent since 2017 while its clock tower is restored, will sound 12 bongs at midnight to mark the start of the new year and the end of Britain’s transition out of the European Union.

The Netherlands moved the national countdown from an Amsterdam park to a soccer stadium, where spectators won’t be allowed in and pyrotechnics will be replaced with “electric fireworks.”

France’s Interior Minister has said an extra 100,000 police officers will be mobilized to enforce the curfew 7 p.m. curfew and break up unauthorised gatherings of more than 10 people.

A 2021 sign in downtown Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday as Kosovars prepare to celebrate the New Year at their homes.Armend Nimani / AFP – Getty Images

In Rome, the fireworks are still on, but customary concerts in public plazas have been scrapped in favor of live streamed performances and art installations.

Pope Francis will skip his typical Dec. 31 visit to the Vatican’s life-sized Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square and plans to deliver his New Year’s Day blessing indoors, to prevent crowds from gathering.

In Russia, public events have been banned or restricted in many regions, but traditional fireworks will still take place in the capital’s Red Square and throughout the city. While mass gatherings are banned and restaurants, clubs and ice rinks will be shut on Thursday night, they are expected to re-open on Jan. 1 as Russians embark on week-long festivities that span Orthodox Christmas.

Turkey declared a four-day lockdown starting on New Year’s Eve, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that security forces will inspect hotels for illicit parties.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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