Omicron mutes New Year parties worldwide: Live

Many large parties and fireworks displays cancelled or scaled down due to a rise in coronavirus infections across the world.

People gather at Times Square in New York City as they prepare to welcome the New Year [Yuki Iwamura/AFP]

The year 2022 has arrived in some countries, with people on the South Pacific islands of Samoa and Kiribati the first to start the new year at 10:00 GMT on Friday, and New Zealand following an hour later.

In Australia, Sydney kicked off the new year with six tonnes of colourful fireworks against the imposing backdrop of the city’s landmark Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

In New York’s Times Square, throngs stretched for blocks to soak in the scaled-back celebration. Confetti lit up by electronic billboards swirled in a light wind on a mild winter night in New York City

It will take 26 hours, up to 12:00 GMT on Saturday, for the entire globe to ring in the New Year.

Many large parties and fireworks displays have been cancelled or scaled down, however, due to a rise in coronavirus infections across the world.

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Fireworks light up Rio de Janeiro for New Year

Fireworks go off on Copacabana beach to mark the New Year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil early on Saturday [Daniel Ramalho/AFP]

Colourful fireworks lit up the night sky in Rio de Janeiro as the city ushered in the New Year.

People crowded along the beach to watch the fifteen minute display as they celebrated the start of 2022.

The yearly celebration on Copacabana beach has in the past gathered more than one million locals and tourists.

New Year’s Eve bash returns to New York’s Times Square to usher in 2022

New York City readied to embrace the new year – and bid good riddance to another pandemic-marred 12 months – as it revived its annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, after forgoing a public event last year.

In Times Square, throngs stretched for blocks to soak in the scaled-back celebration, with many traveling from afar to take part. Confetti lit up by electronic billboards swirled in a light wind on a mild winter night in New York City.

The annual ball drop takes place as the clock ticks into midnight and ushers in the new year, an occasion usually commemorated with Champagne, clinking pints, joyous embraces and hopes for better times ahead.

Times Square is often referred to as the crossroads of the world, and city officials insisted on holding the marquee New Year’s Eve event to demonstrate the city’s resiliency even amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.

A child blows a trumpet during the New Year’s Eve countdown at a mall in Quezon City, a suburb of the Philippine capital Manila [Lisa Marie David/Reuters]

Filipinos welcome 2022 with new limits on mobility over Omicron threat

The Philippines will impose tighter curbs in the capital region for the next two weeks, the acting presidential spokesperson said on the eve of 2022, to try to limit infections by the Omicron coronavirus variant that is spreading globally.

The health ministry on Friday recorded 2,961 new coronavirus infections, a two-month high, and reported a positivity rate of 10.3 percent.

“In the coming days, we might see an increase in active cases,” acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a televised announcement.

The region, including the capital Manila, is an urban sprawl of 16 cities home to more than 13 million people. It will be placed under the third of a five-scale alert system from January 3 to 15, Nograles said.

Gaza welcomes new year after brutal 2021


Japan’s emperor prays for COVID victims in New Year message

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito offered prayers for those who died during the pandemic, taking to video for the second straight year for his New Year’s greeting on Saturday, having cancelled public palace gatherings to curb coronavirus infections.

Sitting before a bonsai tree with his wife Masako, Naruhito praised and thanked doctors and other health care workers, and expressed concern for countries lacking access to vaccines and adequate hospital systems.

“By treasuring more than ever the connections among people, sharing our pain and supporting each other, I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will overcome these hard times,” he said.

Japan has recorded more than 18,000 COVID-19-related deaths, but the pace of deaths has fallen in recent months. Naruhito also voiced worries about the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Kenyatta conveys to Kenyans message of hope for New Year

As Kenyans welcomed the year 2022 on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta sent a message of hope to his countrymen.

“As we bid goodbye to 2021, we rejoice in the fact that 2022 will give us all an opportunity to do things better”, he said in his New Year message on Friday.

While reflecting on the past year, Kenyatta also acknowledged the challenges that the country went through in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, while vowing to ramp up the vaccination to 30 million people by the end of 2022.

Londoners welcome new year amid COVID-19 surge

Fireworks and lights displays lit up the night sky in London on Saturday as people welcomed 2022 against the backdrop of calls for caution and the cancellation of large celebrations.

City squares were barricaded and many New Year events were cancelled in the UK in a bid to prevent large crowds from gathering as daily COVID cases reached a record high on Friday.

But some people were determined to venture out and celebrate after nearly two years of lockdowns.

The UK reported 189,846 new cases on Friday, a record for daily infections.

Fireworks in Athens over Acropolis brings in 2022

Fireworks and celebrations rang out around Athens on Friday night as the Greek capital celebrated the start of the new year.

A sea of colour filled the sky as a firework display was held over the Acropolis to usher in the start of 2022.

Meanwhile, the health ministry on Wednesday banned music at all commercial venues for New Year’s celebrations as part of new restrictions.

It also announced entertainment venues were to close at midnight, with the exception of New Year’s Eve when they were permitted to stay open until 2 am.

Brandenburg Gate lights display marks start of 2022 in Germany

Germans gather near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to celebrate the New Year on Saturday [John MacDougall/AFP]

A lights display was held at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as the German capital marked the start of 2022.

It comes as major New Year’s Eve celebrations were cancelled once again and firework sales banned, with the highly transmissible Omicron variant of coronavirus causing steep rises in case numbers in Europe and making inroads in Germany, though official figures have yet to reflect that fully.

Lights display on Eiffel Tower brings in 2022

France ushered in 2022 on Friday night with a light display on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

As with many countries in Europe, celebrations were set to be a little more subdued due to the rising number of coronavirus cases.

Last month the government banned public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations and called on people to avoid large gatherings and limit the number of family members congregating at Christmas.

France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases Friday marked its third day running above the 200,000 mark.

Crowd waits in Times Square for New Year’s celebrations

A crowd has gathered in Times Square in New York City ahead of the New Year’s countdown.

A crowd of people huddles in New York City's Times Square for New Year's celebrations
People gather before New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square [Hannah Beier/Reuters]

Due to the coronavirus, about 15,000 spectators are expected this year – far fewer than the many tens of thousands who usually attend.

A woman in a tophat stands in New York City's Times Square ahead of the New Year's countdown
Far fewer people are expected in Times Square this year due to the coronavirus [Hannah Beier/Reuters]

Canada’s Quebec to ring in 2022 with muted celebrations

Canada’s second-most populous province is preparing for a muted New Year’s celebration, as a nighttime curfew will come into effect across Quebec at 10pm local time (03:00 GMT).

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced the curfew – from 10pm to 5am daily – among a series of new restrictions aimed at stemming a surge in coronavirus infections linked to Omicron.

“I know we’re all tired, but it’s my responsibility to protect [us] from this,” Legault told reporters during a news conference earlier this week. This is the second time that Quebec has imposed a curfew since the pandemic began.

A nurse administers a COVID jab to a woman in Montreal, Canada
Quebec is among several provinces in Canada seeing a surge in coronavirus cases [File: Andrej Ivanov/Reuters]

In New Year’s Eve address, Putin warns pandemic ‘isn’t retreating yet’

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “isn’t retreating yet”.

“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of the country’s 11 time zones.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths, but its state statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double that.

London’s Big Ben to chime at midnight

London’s Big Ben, on top of the Houses of Parliament, is set to chime at midnight and ring in the New Year for the first time since 2017, after more than three years of restoration.

The UK has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, with new infections reaching record highs this week.

But there was some good news out of the country, where a study of one million cases found patients with the Omicron variant were about a third as likely to need hospitalisation as those with the previously dominant Delta variant.

A close-up of London's Big Ben, on top of the Houses of Parliament
Restoration works on London’s Big Ben commenced in 2017 [Toby Melville/Reuters]

US’s Rose Parade set to go on despite virus surge

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl college football game between Ohio State and Utah will still be played on New Year’s Day despite surging cases of COVID-19, which forced the cancellation of last year’s parade.

The 133rd edition of the Pasadena, California, tradition was scheduled to feature actor LeVar Burton as grand marshal, 20 marching bands, 18 equestrian units and dozens of floats reflecting the theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve”.

In a change due to soaring infections, Kaiser Permanente said its float, “A Healthier Future”, would not have 20 “front-line medical heroes” riding or walking alongside it.

“We must prioritise the health and safety of our front-line medical staff and ensure we are able to treat patients during this recent surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant,” the healthcare network said.

Fireworks on display at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa

Large crowds have gathered in Dubai to see in the New Year with an impressive fireworks display.

A special laser show took place at the Burj Khalifa, which is said to be the world’s tallest building.

Delighted onlookers recorded with cellphones as the skyscraper dazzled in the night sky, beaming “Happy New Year”.

Fireworks explode at the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fireworks explode at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Dubai, United Arab Emirates [Kamran Jebreili/AP Photo]

China welcomes the New Year while on high alert

China has welcomed the New Year while on high alert against COVID-19. The city of Xian was under lockdown while several events in other cities have been cancelled and some provinces urged restraint in travel during the festive season.

The popular Happy Valley amusement park in Beijing cancelled an event to ring in the New Year, while the Happy Valley park in the eastern city of Nanjing dropped a drone show and fireworks from its line-up of celebrations.

The central city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019, did not hold any large-scale gatherings at certain public venues, including at Guanggu, one of the world’s longest pedestrian shopping streets.

Attendees at an event held outside that coincided with the New Year Eve cheer as fake snow from a foam machine is blown overhead in Beijing, China
People cheer as fake snow from a foam machine is blown overhead during New Year’s Eve in Beijing, China [Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]

Wave of cancelled flights from Omicron closes out 2021

More cancelled flights have frustrated air travellers on the final day of 2021 and appeared all but certain to inconvenience hundreds of thousands more over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

Airlines blamed many of the cancellations on crew shortages related to the spike in COVID-19 infections, along with wintry weather in parts of the United States.

By early afternoon on the East Coast, airlines had scrubbed more than 1,400 US flights – about 6 percent of all scheduled flights – and roughly 2,900 worldwide, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Party like it’s 2019: Serbia hosts raucous New Year’s Eve

Boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations have kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings are allowed.

Large crowds gathered in the city for outdoor concerts, fireworks and a light show at a newly-constructed Dubai-style glass tower that has become a trademark project by Serbia’s right-wing populist government.

Serbia’s state RTS television reported that about 100,000 visitors have flocked to Belgrade for the holidays, filling up the city’s hotels and rented apartments. Restaurants and bars have been packed.

Macron says France faces tough weeks ahead

The next few weeks will be difficult for France because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, but the country can get through it if people behave responsibly, President Emmanuel Macron has said in a televised New Year’s Eve address to the nation.

He said France was in a better place to face the coronavirus than a year ago because of the number of people who have been vaccinated, and urged anyone who was unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 shot.

The country needs to do everything to avoid having to impose new restrictions that would curb people’s freedoms, Macron said.

Turkish health minister issues a ‘New Year warning’

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has shared on Twitter a “New Year warning,” saying: “Though there are no restrictions, we recommend that you act as if there are. We are in a time of increased risk.”

He called on people to celebrate the new year with close family members only.

Koca earlier shared a written statement saying that the rise in the number of cases originating from Omicron was mostly seen in Istanbul, with 52.3 percent of nationwide cases over the past 10 days registered in Istanbul.

A crowd of people are seen walking inside the Egyptian Bazaar , Istanbul
Pedestrians, some wearing protective face masks, walk inside the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul [Francisco Seco/AP Photo]

Hong Kong rings in 2022 with concert

Fans have gathered to ring in the arrival of 2022 at a New Year’s Eve concert with Hong Kong’s popular Cantopop band Mirror and a slew of other artists, including Gin Lee and Joyce Cheng.

Many celebrated being able to gather amid the virus pandemic and hoped for a better year ahead.

People sit on chairs outside and watch a performance at a New Year's Eve concert in Hong Kong
People attend a New Year’s Eve concert in Hong Kong [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

Pope changes New Year’s Eve plans again

Pope Francis has not presided over New Year’s Eve vespers at St Peter’s Basilica as planned, although he has delivered the homily.

Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, led the service while the 85-year-old pontiff, wearing a mask, spent most of it seated on the sidelines.

Asked about the change, just three hours after the Vatican had confirmed the pope’s presiding role, a spokesman said simply that Francis wanted the cardinal to preside over the celebration.

Pope Francis delivers mass in St Peter's Basilica at The Vatican
Pope Francis celebrates a New Year’s Eve vespers mass in St Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican [Andrew Medichini/AP Photo]

France reports record coronavirus cases

France has reported 232,200 new COVID-19 cases, the highest-ever recorded total, as the country prepares for subdued New Year celebrations, with many fireworks events cancelled and people told to mask up.

New infections over the last 24 hours were above the 200,000 mark for the third day running. The previous record of 208,099 was set on Wednesday.

A woman arrives at a mobile coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing booth in Paris, France
A woman arrives at a mobile COVID-19 testing booth in Paris, France [Christian Hartmann/Reuters]

Berlin mayor mulls banning fireworks in parts of city

Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey has said banning fireworks in some parts of the city, a policy introduced in 2020 due to the pandemic, could help protect the emergency forces.

“We also have to talk about pacifying certain areas of the city beyond the coronavirus pandemic by not allowing fireworks there,” she said.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach advised Germans to spend the New Year period “very cautiously” and celebrate only in very small groups. Large-scale New Year celebrations have been cancelled.

A few people walk on the boulevard 'Strasse des 17. Juni' in front of the Brandenburg Gate Berlin, Germany
Only a few people walk on the boulevard ‘Strasse des 17. Juni’ in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany [Markus Schreiber/AP Photo]

Fireworks light up Bangkok, Thailand

A spectacular display of fireworks has lit up Bangkok’s night sky as 2021 drew to an end in Thailand.

This year, authorities in the Southeast Asian nation allowed New Year’s Eve parties and fireworks displays to go ahead, albeit with strict coronavirus restrictions in place.

New Year’s Eve prayers, which are usually held in Buddhist temples around Thailand, were held online.

Fireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River during the New Year celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand
Fireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Large crowds gather in Tokyo

Tokyo has cancelled its official New Year’s countdown at the famous Shibuya crossing intersection, but thousands of people still came out to celebrate despite pleas from authorities to avoid big gatherings.

The Shibuya crossing is often crowded with large numbers of people and is a popular tourist attraction.

In the hope of preventing people from gathering around the busy landmark, the city had requested that people refrain from visiting the area and turned off all billboards at 11pm. But that was not enough to keep the crowds away.

People celebrate outside at the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan
Revellers celebrate the New Year at the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan [Androniki Christodoulou/Reuters]

Celebrations scaled back in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled down format – though crowds of revellers are still expected at the traditional party spot.

“People have only one desire, to leave their homes, to celebrate life,” 45-year-old Copacabana beach waiter Francisco Rodrigues told the AFP news agency.

Swimmers dip into cold Baikal lake in Russia

Freezing temperatures could not prevent dozens of Russian swimmers from a traditional annual dip into the waters of the Lake Baikal on New Year’s Eve.

This year it was warmer in the water – about 2.5 degrees Celsius (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit) – than on dry land where the temperature was -15C (5F).

“It’s awesome,” said first-time ice swimmer Olga Sundareva. “I’ve been dreaming of getting here for a long time and I’ve found this club this year.”

Revellers return to NYC’s Times Square

New York City is preparing to revive its annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, even as public health officials cautioned against unbridled celebrations.

The city said it would limit the number of people it lets into Times Square to witness a 6-tonne ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, descend above a crowd of about 15,000 in-person spectators – far fewer than the many tens of thousands of revellers who usually descend on the world-famous square during the nation’s marquee New Year’s Eve event.

“We are very excited to welcome back visitors to Times Square this New Year’s Eve,” said Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance. “Our goal is to have a safe and responsible event for the world to see.”

People gather at the security entrance outside at Times Square ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations in New York City, US
People gather at the security entrance at Times Square before celebrations in New York City, US [Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters]

India welcomes New Year with restrictions

In India, amid fear of a repeat of a devastating virus surge that overwhelmed the country in April and May, cities and states have imposed restrictions on gatherings. Delhi implemented a 10pm curfew.

Mumbai police on Friday issued evening bans on people visiting public places such as the city’s beaches and seafront promenades, normally popular sites for seeing in the New Year – with the restrictions set to last two weeks.

Workers of a political party and others cheer in front of a huge kite on a public street to welcome 2022 on New Year’s Eve in Ahmedabad, India
Workers of a political party and others cheer in front of a huge kite to welcome 2022 on New Year’s Eve in Ahmedabad, India [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

Fireworks bring in New Year in North Korea

A light show and fireworks display brought in the New Year in North Korea, as leader Kim Jong Un marks 10 years in power.

The spectacle took place against the backdrop of Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

In neighbouring South Korea, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in Seoul was cancelled due to a surge in the cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Serbia prepares for New Year’s concert

Tens of thousands of visitors from around Eastern Europe and further afield are expected to attend a big music event and a fireworks show in downtown Belgrade.

“We love large public celebrations. We came here from Vienna specifically because here [it feels as if] there is no COVID-19,” one woman told The Associated Press news agency.

Many Belgrade residents appeared to share her sentiment and voiced happiness that their city was the only Balkan capital holding a big celebration to ring in the New Year.

“Why would I be afraid?” one person asked. “We must live our lives.”

People dance the traditional kolo dance on Belgrade's main pedestrian street during New Year's Eve in Serbia
People dance on Belgrade’s main pedestrian street during New Year’s Eve in Serbia [Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo]

Yearend cheer for South Africans as midnight curfew lifted

South Africans cheered the government’s decision to lift its midnight curfew after nearly two years of COVID-19 restrictions, a relief for businesses and citizens just before New Year celebrations.

“[The past two years] have been hard on us, if you look at our neighbours, most guys have closed down, that’s how bad it was,” said 32-year-old Michael Mchende, a manager at Hard Rock Cafe in Cape Town.

“For this brand, we are all about having a good time. So now that we have been allowed to actually have a good time, these doors are just going to be here for display. We are not going to shut down no more, we are all in.”

An undercover police officer is seen as customers queue to buy fireworks outside the St Mary Cathedral in Johannesburg, South Africa before New Year’s Eve celebrations [Marco Longari/AFP]

Samoa celebrates the New Year

Unlike a year ago, when public fireworks were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were allowed to be shot into the sky again in the South Pacific island of Samoa.

According to the tourism authority, the island state had flown in five pyrotechnics experts from New Zealand to install the fireworks.

Fireworks welcome New Year in Sydney

Sydney kicked off 2022 with 6 tonnes of colourful fireworks against the imposing backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Unlike last year, tens of thousands of spectators were again admitted this time to watch the spectacle live, despite a sharp rise in coronavirus numbers in the region. However, all participants had to buy a ticket for one of about 30 viewing points.

Citizens without a reservation or vaccination should avoid the city centre if possible, organisers had advised.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House during New Year's Eve celebrations
The Sydney Opera House is seen as fireworks explode over Sydney Harbour during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia [Jaimi Joy/Reuters]

Tonga welcomes 2022

In the archipelago of Tonga, the forces of nature did not take a break on New Year’s Eve.

Since Christmas, the authorities have been warning against approaching the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which last erupted in 2014, but which is active again and spewing ash and gas into the air.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies