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Global NYE celebrations subdued by virus

While many around the world have been desperate to bid farewell to a year marred by coronavirus, official New Year’s Eve celebrations have been muted by masks, social distancing and other restrictions.

From the South Pacific to New York City, limits on open air gatherings saw people turning to made-for-TV fireworks displays or turning in early since they could not toast the end of 2020 with friends or families.

As midnight rolled from Asia to the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Americas, the New Year’s experience mirrored national responses to the virus itself. Some countries and cities cancelled or scaled back their festivities, while others without active outbreaks carried on like any other year.

New Zealand, one of the first countries to ring in 2021, was able to party as usual with coronavirus effectively eradicated there.

In Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, the harbourside was virtually empty as its spectacular fireworks were mostly watched on television with authorities urged residents to stay home.

Melbourne called off its annual fireworks show to discourage crowds.

Officials in London made the same decision. And while the ball was set to drop in New York’s Times Square like always, police fenced off the site synonymous with New Year’s Eve.

Another of the world’s most popular places to be on December 31, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, pressed ahead with its revelry despite a surge of infections. Images of masked health care workers briefly lit up Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, before fireworks exploded in the sky over the building. Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets and squares marked out for social distancing were largely ignored.

South Africans were urged to cancel parties and light candles to honour health workers and people who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many European countries, authorities warned they were ready to clamp down on revellers breaching public health rules, including night curfews in France, Italy, Turkey, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Greece.

A few families gathered in Madrid’s sunny central Puerta de Sol square to listen to the rehearsal of the traditional ringing of the bells that is held at midnight. They followed the Spanish custom of eating 12 grapes with each stroke of the bells before police cleared the area that normally hosts thousands of revellers.

As the clock struck midnight, fireworks erupted over Moscow’s Red Square and the Acropolis in Athens, but the explosions echoed across largely empty streets as people obeyed orders to stay home.

Even the British government, keen to celebrate the UK’s definitive split from the EU, ran ads imploring the public to “see in the New Year safely at home” amid a record number of newly confirmed cases.

Many around the world looked toward 2021 with hope, partly due to the arrival of vaccines that offer a chance of beating the pandemic.

“Goodbye, 2020. Here comes something better: 2021,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

While there won’t be crowds in Times Square, the mayor pledged that the city, which has recorded over 25,000 deaths from the virus, would rebound next year.

More than 1.8 million deaths worldwide have been linked to the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Some leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, used their New Year’s address to thank citizens for enduring hardship during the lockdown and criticise those who defied the rules. Others, like Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella, flew the flag for science, urging citizens to discard their fears about getting immunised against COVID-19.

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