World ushers in new year amid muted festivities

Published January 1, 2021
Indians hold cutouts welcoming 2021 on New Year's Eve in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday. — AP/File
Indians hold cutouts welcoming 2021 on New Year's Eve in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday. — AP/File

SYDNEY: The world began ushering in the New Year on Thursday, 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.

From France to Latvia to Brazil, security personnel are deployed to make sure night-time curfews or bans on large gatherings are enforced

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, said at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.

In Tokyo, which saw in the new year at 1500 GMT, residents faced the prospect of a state of emergency being imposed after a daily record 1,300 new coronavirus infections were recorded in the last 24 hours.

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 10pm curfew is in place.

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

In hard-hit London, 74-year-old American singer-songwriter Patti Smith rang 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.

Thousands attended a fireworks and a laser show in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, despite a slew of new cases.

All those attending the event were required to wear masks and register with QR codes.

In Beirut, a city still reeling from the August 4 port explosion, authorities were also cutting loose. A night curfew was pushed back to 3am. Bars, restaurants and night clubs were reopened and were 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, around a dozen Russians emerged invigorated after a new year’s eve ice dip. The swimmers, known in Russia as “walruses”, ran several kilometers through a snowy forest in swimsuits and festive costumes before plunging into the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2021

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