The world’s 7.8 billion people are bidding a hearty farewell to 2020 without the usual fanfare and public gatherings because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The start of 2021 in Russia saw most public events canceled. However, in Kaluga, Russia, which is considered the country’s New Year’s Eve capital, celebrations for tourists were set to continue even though residents wanted to see events canceled. The city is 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow.
Turkey greeted the New Year by starting a four-day lockdown, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said law enforcement would crackdown on illegal hotel parties.
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From Brussels to Berlin, celebrations were muted by the pandemic’s restrictions.
France put 100,000 extra officers on its streets to enforce a curfew, and Greece said it would enforce its curfew as well.
“No one will be on the streets after 10 p.m. [Athens] will be a dead city to make sure no more restrictions are imposed,” said Greece’s public order minister, Michalis Chrisohoidis.
In Britain, which is struggling with a more contagious variant of the virus, residents were asked to “see in the new year safely at home.” London has been under a strict lockdown that curtailed Christmas celebrations and shopping sprees, and the pyrotechnics over the River Thames was canceled.
Dubai kicked off 2021 with its annual fireworks show near the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, but some say virus mitigation rules made the event less fun.
“People come to Dubai because it’s open, but there are so many rules,” Bashir Shehu, 50, who was visiting from Abuja, Nigeria, with his family, told AP. “We pray that next year we can celebrate with some real freedom.”
In India, celebrations to ring in 2021 were toned down because of curfews, a ban on beach parties, and other travel restrictions. In major cities, hotels and bars were shut down at 11 p.m. local time, and the Associated Press reported that drones were monitoring people’s movement in Mumbai, where large gatherings were prohibited.
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Japan rang in the new year quietly thanks to rising COVID-19 cases.
Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, had asked people not to attend countdown ceremonies.
“The coronavirus knows no year-end or New Year’s holidays,” she said.
South Korea, where the government banned gatherings of more than five people, saw a different New Year’s Eve as a traditional bell ringing in Seoul was canceled for the first time since 1953. Beaches, where South Koreans flock to watch the sunrise, were closed, with some outlets announcing plans to broadcast it instead. Ski resorts and other tourist spots were closed.
In Taiwan, officials held a fireworks show near the iconic Taipei 101 tower. A New Year’s morning flag-raising ceremony took place in front of the Presidential Office Building, but it was limited to government officials and invited guests.
Taiwan has had seven deaths and fewer than 1,000 infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is monitoring the outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Hong Kong canceled public celebrations for the second year in a row. Last year, it was due to public security concerns. Restaurants closed at 6 p.m. local time, and live performances were canceled. Gatherings were limited to two people, but the AP reported crowds were still present in shopping areas.
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The small central Pacific island nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati were first to welcome 2021 due to their location on the international dateline, with the bigger regional powers of New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South Korea following.
New Zealand’s port city of Auckland rang in the new year with a major laser light show and fireworks display at the iconic Sky Tower, as residents celebrated the island nation’s successful response to the coronavirus outbreak that resulted in just 2,162 coronavirus infections and 25 deaths.
In Australia, the million people who normally gather at the Sydney Harbor to watch the world-famous fireworks display over the city’s renowned Opera House watched the proceedings from home. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced earlier this week that the public would not be allowed at the harbor due to an outbreak at its Northern Beach suburbs.
Across the Atlantic, the usual shoulder-to-shoulder crowds were not allowed in New York’s historic Times Square this year because of measures enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The crowds were instead replaced by police who monitored the area to discourage anyone attempting to enter the area to see the famous “ball drop,” that welcomes the beginning of the new year.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, officials have called off the annual New Year’s Eve beach party, which normally attracts hundreds of thousands of people with live music and a spectacular fireworks display. (VOA)