New York resumes crystal ball drop

Published January 2, 2022
Revelers at Times Square during the New Year's Eve celebration wait for the midnight ball drop on December 31. — AFP
Revelers at Times Square during the New Year's Eve celebration wait for the midnight ball drop on December 31. — AFP

TIMES SQUARE, New York: About 15,000 revelers stood shoulder to shoulder as New York resumed its ritual of welcoming the new year with a ball-drop.

A 6-ton ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 crystals, descended above the crowd who cheered the year 2022 with chanting, singing and wild hugs. It was as close to normal as it could be in a city now in the grips of a new Covid mutant. Yet, the crowd was far fewer than the tens of thousands who participated in this world-famous ceremony at New York’s Times Square.

Dazzled by the lights and elevated by their own enthusiasm, the crowd ignored the advice of maintaining a five-foot distance, although most did wear the mandatory mask.

The last time the Times Square had close to a normal celebration was in 2019, although the pandemic had already started casting its shadows on the city. Since then, New York has lost hundreds of thousands of people to the Covid-19 virus and a new mutant, started late this year, has stirred their fears again.

New Yorkers began celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square as early as 1904, but it was in 1907 that the New Year’s Eve Ball made its maiden descent from the flagpole atop One Times Square.

Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, which organised this year’s celebration, told reporters this was a fully vaccinated event. Police had set up barriers at various places to check vaccination status of those entering the square.

“With the uptick in (omicron) cases, we have added a mask mandate. We’re also going to be filling the viewing areas to about 25 percent capacity, so they will be less dense,” he told the National Public Radio (NPR) network.

Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the US president, had, however, urged Americans not to attend large gatherings. “What I would suggest people do not do, is to go to very large 50-to-60-person parties where people are blowing whistles and you don’t know their vaccination status,” he said.

But Mr Harris said they had consulted medical experts too who told them that 25 percent occupancy would be safe. “Welcoming revelers back is one step closer in the recovery process,” he said when asked why they held this event amidst a renewed threat of pandemic.

Celebrations remained muted in most places as the fast-spreading Omicron variant continued to upset daily life across the globe. BBC reported “subdued” celebrations in London as well where fireworks marked the arrival of the new year. Many events were canceled as the Omicron Covid variant continued to spread.

British authorities asked people to stay away from major displays, “with a series of fireworks and drone shows broadcast from a number of landmarks,” the report added.

In New Zealand, one of the first places to celebrate the new year, low-key light-displays replaced the traditional fireworks show.

In Australia, however, authorities went ahead with their celebrations despite an explosion in virus cases. Hours before the celebrations began, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases. So, crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as a million people would crowd inner Sydney.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2022



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