Omicron eases global New Years celebrations, fewer watch ball drops in Times Square
By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has dampened New Year’s festivities across much of the world, with Paris canceling its fireworks show, London relegating it to television and New York reducing its famous celebration of the fall of bullet in Times Square.
The illuminated ball made of Waterford crystal panels slid down from its poll at midnight in Times Square, but only 15,000 spectators were allowed into the official viewing area instead of the 58,000 usual.
A year ago, the newly available vaccine offered hope that the COVID-19 pandemic could be under control by the start of 2022. Instead, the sudden arrival of Omicron has caused a surge in cases of coronavirus across the world.
Infections around the world have reached an all-time high in the past seven days, with an average of just over one million cases detected per day between December 24 and December 30, up 100,000 from previous peak posted Wednesday, according to Reuters data. Deaths, however, have not increased in kind, giving hope that the new variant is less deadly.
New York City reported a record 44,000 cases on Wednesday and another 43,000 on Thursday, prompting some critics to question whether the celebrations should take place.
But officials have decided that an outdoor party of vaccinated, masked and socially distant revelers was safe and a better option than the virtually vacant celebration that rang in 2021.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried,” said Sue Park, a Columbia University student who was among 15,000 people allowed to watch in person. “I think it’s really worth coming and celebrating. It will just be more meaningful to be in the crowd.”
Elsewhere in the world, events have been curtailed or canceled altogether, as with the traditional fireworks display over the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Midnight passed in Paris without fireworks or DJ sets planned, while the city authorities canceled the events planned on the Champs-Élysées following the opinion of a scientific panel which declared that the mass gatherings would be too risky.
In the Netherlands, where outdoor gatherings of more than four people are prohibited, police dispersed several thousand people who had gathered suspiciously in Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, the ANP news agency reported.
But in London, where a fireworks display and light show were canceled in October, authorities said on Friday the show would come to life on the TV screen, as Big Ben sounded New Years Eve for the first time. since 2017 after a restoration.
BBC footage of the fireworks showed very light vehicle traffic and virtually no in-person spectators.
Earlier, Britain released a million-case study that found people with Omicron to be about a third more likely to need hospitalization than those with the previously dominant Delta variant. The results were “in line with the encouraging signs we have already seen,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.
Following encouraging data, Cape Town abruptly lifted the curfew just in time for the New Year, after South Africa became the first country to report its Omicron wave had peaked – and without strong increase in the number of deaths.
South Africa first sounded the alarm about the new variant of the rapidly spreading coronavirus circling the world.
“I just hope Cape Town becomes the old Cape we all knew once again,” said Michael Mchede, manager of a Hard Rock cafe near the white sands of Camps Bay, who was delighted to set the place up. to throw an unexpected party.
Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney also celebrated the New Year with something like a full swagger, as spectacular fireworks sparkled in the harbor above the Opera House.
The people of Madrid queued for hours to enter the main square of Puerta del Sol where the celebrations took place with several security checkpoints, mandatory masks and capacity at 60% of normal levels.
Saul Pedrero, a 34-year-old employee, made the trip from Barcelona, which has some of Spain’s tightest controls, including a 1 a.m. curfew.
“It looks like another country. Here you can do everything and nobody says anything,” he said.
A sumptuous fireworks display lit up the festivities, which the Spaniards mark by stuffing 12 grapes in their mouths to accompany each chime of the clock striking midnight.
In Asia, most celebrations have been cut short or canceled. In South Korea, a traditional midnight ringing ceremony was canceled for the second year, while the festivities were banned in Tokyo’s glittering Shibuya entertainment district, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to YouTube. to urge people to wear masks and limit the number at parties.
China, where the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019, was on high alert with the city of Xian closed and New Year’s events in other cities canceled.
(Reporting by Reuters offices; writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by Nick Macfie, Rosalba O’Brien, Chris Reese and Neil Fullick)
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