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World ushers in New Year under the shadow of COVID-19

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as New Year celebrations begin in Sydney on January 1, 2021. One million people would usually crowd the Sydney Harbour to watch the annual fireworks that centre on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But this year authorities advised revellers to watch the fireworks on television as the two most populous States, New South Wales and Victoria battle to curb new COVID-19 outbreaks.   | Photo Credit: AP

The world ushered in the New Year with pandemic controls muting celebrations for billions of people eager to bid farewell to a virus-ridden 2020.

After a grinding year that has seen at least 1.7 million people die from Covid-19, fresh waves of infection have sparked renewed lockdowns and forced would-be revellers to extend their 2020 tradition of watching events from the sofa.

The eagerly awaited first seconds of 2021 fell on the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Samoa from 1000 GMT, with the uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands the last to tip over into the New Year, 26 hours later.

New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, followed an hour later with large crowds gathered in Auckland to watch a fireworks display.

Although still isolated by international border closures, months of zero recorded cases in the community has let life in New Zealand return to relative normality.

In Australia's largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display at 1300 GMT, but few spectators watched in person.

Plans to allow crowds were scrapped amid a cluster of around 150 new infections that have seen travel to and from Sydney severely restricted.

"I think everybody is looking towards 2021 as a fresh beginning and a fresh start," Karen Roberts, among the lucky few who were allowed past checkpoints around the area, told AFP at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.

Jennifer Lopez performs in Times Square on New Years Eve in New York City, U.S., December 31, 2020.

Jennifer Lopez performs in Times Square on New Years Eve in New York City, U.S., December 31, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Curfews being enforced

In Hong Kong, despite restrictions, some ventured out to mark the start of 2021, gathering next to the Victoria Harbour water front to take selfies.

In Tokyo, where residents face the prospect a state of emergency being imposed after a daily record 1,300 new coronavirus infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, people queued in face masks and face guards to offer New Year prayers.

Wuhan in China where the virus first appeared late last year, saw thousands gather to celebrate the New Year and Taipei also enjoyed a more traditionally upbeat celebration with crowds massing to watch fireworks.

Elsewhere, the mood was far more downbeat.

Fireworks explode over a square with a Christmas tree and and the main mosque during New Year's celebrations in Grozny, Russia, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

Fireworks explode over a square with a Christmas tree and and the main mosque during New Year's celebrations in Grozny, Russia, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AP

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in a New Year's address that a second wave of infections was battering the nation.

"Unfortunately the epidemic has not yet been completely stopped. The fight against it does not stop for a minute," he said.

Kyiv: People celebrate the New Year under the lights of the Christmas tree in Kyiv, Ukraine, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Despite COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, a lot of Ukrainians enjoy outdoor New Year events, often ignoring protective measures.

Kyiv: People celebrate the New Year under the lights of the Christmas tree in Kyiv, Ukraine, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Despite COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, a lot of Ukrainians enjoy outdoor New Year events, often ignoring protective measures.   | Photo Credit: AP

Italy -- where shocking images of makeshift morgues and exhausted medics awoke the world to the severity of the crisis -- is on a nationwide lockdown until January 7 and a 10 pm curfew is in place.

From France to Latvia to Brazil, police and -- in some cases -- military personnel are being deployed to make sure night-time curfews or bans on large gatherings are enforced.

In this combo of images, a few people, on the top image, stand in the plaza in front of the Ottoman-era Mecidiye mosque in Ortakoy square under the "July 15th Martyrs' bridge, formerly known as Bosporus Bridge, over the Bosporus Strait, separating Europe and Asia, in Istanbul, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, where in the bottom image people celebrate the new year at the same spot, early Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.

In this combo of images, a few people, on the top image, stand in the plaza in front of the Ottoman-era Mecidiye mosque in Ortakoy square under the "July 15th Martyrs' bridge, formerly known as Bosporus Bridge, over the Bosporus Strait, separating Europe and Asia, in Istanbul, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, where in the bottom image people celebrate the new year at the same spot, early Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

In hard-hit London, 74-year-old American singer-songwriter Patti Smith had been due to ring in the New Year with a tribute to National Health Service workers who have died from Covid-19, projected on the screen at Piccadilly Circus and streamed on YouTube.

Due to alarm at rising infections rates, however, the big screen projection was cancelled with the tribute viewable instead solely online.

Pyongyang: In this photo provided by the North Korean government, fireworks illuminate the night sky, marking the New Year, as crowds of people look on, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, early Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

Pyongyang: In this photo provided by the North Korean government, fireworks illuminate the night sky, marking the New Year, as crowds of people look on, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, early Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AP

Social gathering

A fireworks and a laser show was held in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, where there have been a slew of new cases.

People gather before the New Year celebrations in Mosul, Iraq December 31, 2020.

People gather before the New Year celebrations in Mosul, Iraq December 31, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

All those watching the event live -- whether at a public place, hotel or restaurant -- were required to wear masks and register with identifying QR barcodes.

In Beirut, a city still reeling from the August 4 port explosion, authorities are also cutting loose.

A combo of images that shows an empty historic center in Brussels on Thursday Dec. 31, 2020 and the same location full of revelers celebrating the New Year early on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.

A combo of images that shows an empty historic center in Brussels on Thursday Dec. 31, 2020 and the same location full of revelers celebrating the New Year early on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.   | Photo Credit: AP

A night curfew has been pushed back to 3 am. Bars, restaurants and night clubs have all reopened and are advertising large parties to mark the turn of the year.

On the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia, where temperatures plummet to as low as -35 degrees celsius (-31 Fahrenheit), around a dozen Russians emerged invigorated after a new year's eve ice dip.

Police officers make their way on an empty Christmas-decorated Omonoia Square, after the Greek government imposed a night curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 before New Year's day celebrations, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Athens, Greece, December 31, 2020.

Police officers make their way on an empty Christmas-decorated Omonoia Square, after the Greek government imposed a night curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 before New Year's day celebrations, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Athens, Greece, December 31, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

The swimmers, known in Russia as "walruses", ran several kilometers (miles) through a snowy forest in swimsuits and festive costumes before plunging into the world's largest freshwater lake.

"It's invigorating. It stings a little!" Andrei Bugai told AFP after climbing out of the water.

Backdropped by the iconic Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, people take photographs at the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. A four-day lockdown is set to begin in Turkey at 9:00 pm Thursday — New Year's Eve — in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 and measures against New Yeer's gatherings are to be enforced.

Backdropped by the iconic Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, people take photographs at the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, late Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. A four-day lockdown is set to begin in Turkey at 9:00 pm Thursday — New Year's Eve — in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 and measures against New Yeer's gatherings are to be enforced.   | Photo Credit: AP

"It'll make you feel 10 years younger," said Ksenia Novoseltseva, another swimmer, with a wide grin on her face.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday used her New Year greeting to warn Germans the "historic" coronavirus crisis will extend into 2021 even if vaccines bring some hope.

Berlin: Fireworks lights the sky during the New Year Celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Germany is entering 2021 in a lockdown that appears certain to be extended beyond its current Jan. 10 end date, with new coronavirus cases and deaths related to COVID-19 remaining at worryingly high levels.

Berlin: Fireworks lights the sky during the New Year Celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Germany is entering 2021 in a lockdown that appears certain to be extended beyond its current Jan. 10 end date, with new coronavirus cases and deaths related to COVID-19 remaining at worryingly high levels.   | Photo Credit: AP

In Brazil - which has already recorded more than 193,000 Covid-19 deaths, the second-largest number in the world - fearful medics await a new wave.

In recent days, social media has been filled with videos showing mask-less revellers enjoying a night out and television channels have even shown live images of police closing bars full of customers.

A combo image showing a general view of the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris very early on New Year's Day Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, and the bottom one the same location packed with revelers early on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2020.

A combo image showing a general view of the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris very early on New Year's Day Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, and the bottom one the same location packed with revelers early on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

"The pandemic peak was between May and July, which was when there wasn't a lot of movement and we looked after ourselves more. Now there are many cases and people are acting as if there wasn't a pandemic," said Luiz Gustavo de Almeida, a microbiologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

St. Petersburg: This combo of images shows at top, a few people walking along Nevsky prospect, central avenue, during New Year celebration in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, and below, a file photo of the same location packed with people on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.

St. Petersburg: This combo of images shows at top, a few people walking along Nevsky prospect, central avenue, during New Year celebration in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, and below, a file photo of the same location packed with people on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 10:59:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world-begins-ushering-in-locked-down-new-year/article33464749.ece

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