How the world plans to celebrate New Year under COVID cloud

Some of the most iconic celebrations will be going ahead as countries hit new record levels of infections.

Confetti flies in the Manhattan borough of New York City during preparations for New Year celebrations
People watch as New Year's Eve confetti is 'flight tested' ahead of celebrations in the Manhattan borough of New York City on December 29, 2021 [Yana Paskova/Reuters]

Skyrocketing COVID-19 case rates, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, have caused some countries to mute their New Year’s Eve celebrations, while others have been hesitant to reimpose strict controls.

In New York’s Times Square, official events will be scaled back, but crowds of revellers are still expected.

The city said it would limit the number of people it lets into the world-famous square to about 15,000 in-person spectators – far fewer than the many tens of thousands of revellers it hosted prior to the pandemic.

The United States has been among the nations breaking records for new cases this week.

South Korean authorities in Seoul were showing similar caution, barring spectators from a traditional midnight bell-ringing that will instead be live-streamed on television and a metaverse platform that will allow people to view a virtual-reality version of the ceremony.

In contrast, Australia’s largest city Sydney has decided to press ahead with a fireworks display that will light up the city’s harbour.

Unlike last year’s spectator-free event, tens of thousands of revellers are expected to crowd the foreshore despite one of the world’s fastest-growing caseloads.

Australia’s conservative government has abandoned a “COVID-zero” policy in favour of “living with COVID”, based on high rates of adult vaccination and mounting evidence that Omicron is less deadly.

In the Brazilian seaside city of Rio, celebrations that usually bring three million people to Copacabana Beach will go ahead.

In South Africa, the first country to report the new variant, a midnight-to-4am curfew was lifted to allow celebrations to go ahead.

The year 2021 started with hope as life-saving vaccines were rolled out to about 60 percent of the world’s population.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has pushed the number of daily new COVID cases past the one million mark for the first time this week since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to a tally.

On-again-off-again restrictions have prompted vocal and occasionally violent anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.

Some leaders have been hesitant to reimpose strict controls seen in 2020 for fear of sparking a new economic downturn.

The World Health Organization has warned of trying times ahead.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies