A record wave The number of Covid-19 infections caused by the spread of the infectious variant Omicron has thrown a cloud at New Year’s celebrations around the world, and party visitors are urged to be careful in the face of rising cases.
Despite hopes that 2021 will mark a return to normal after the pandemic closed many celebrations last New Year, many cities and countries have either canceled or reduced planned festivities, while urging residents to limit the size of their gatherings.
London has canceled its New Year’s fireworks, but celebrations in New York’s Times Square will continue even as infection rates in the city rise to record highs. However, only 15,000 people will be allowed to attend the ball-lowering event, which typically attracts nearly 60,000 people from around the world.
Guests must be vaccinated and wear masks to attend the outdoor event, although public health experts have questioned whether the event should take place at all. The event was closed to the public in 2020.
Eric Adams will be sworn in as the new mayor of the city at a celebration in Times Square shortly after the ball fell, after he canceled his inauguration indoors in Brooklyn due to an increase in cases.
In New York State, the rate of Covid-19 infection is more than twice the national average, with more than 230 cases per 100,000, the highest since the pandemic began, according to FT analysis data.
Lines spanning several city blocks have become commonplace outside of testing centers.
Experts warn of large gatherings, as the seven-day average of new cases in the United States has risen to almost 350,000, the largest so far. San Francisco canceled its fireworks, while Atlanta, Georgia, canceled its annual “Peach Fall”.
Speaking at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that for those planning to attend large gatherings where “everyone hugs and kisses and wishes each other a happy New Year – I would warmly recommend that this year, we are not doing that. ”
New Year’s celebrations around the world have begun muffled. Australia continued its traditional fireworks display over Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, but the crowd was much smaller than usual after the country’s health authorities reported a record 32,000 new Covid cases, most of them in New South Wales.
Meanwhile, New Zealand, which has not reported any local expansion of Omicron, has lifted its usual fireworks in Auckland in favor of a smaller light show.
In Germany, Olaf Scholz used his own first New Year’s address as chancellor to spur ambitious action to deliver 30 million doses of boosted Covid-19 vaccines by the end of January as the country prepares for an increase in cases of the Omicron variant.
Germany has introduced new strict restrictions on contacts in order to curb the spread of Omicron, placing a limit on the number of people who can attend social gatherings. “Tonight we will have to again without big New Year’s parties or big fireworks,” Scholz said.
In South Africa, which officially peaked its fourth Omicron wave after avoiding a significant rise in deaths, “better times are at hand” in 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised New Year’s address on Friday.
South Africans will be able to stay out after midnight to celebrate this New Year for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, after the Ramaphosa government lifted a night curfew that was one of the last remaining major restrictions in the country. On the night curfew was lifted, restaurant managers rushed to break the news to visitors, and bars celebrated in Cape Town.
South Africa has suffered a large number of deaths since the last waves of 2021 and “millions of families are struggling to put food on the table” in Africa’s most industrialized economy, Ramaphosa said.
But “we are grateful for the nearly 18 million South Africans who have been vaccinated against Covid-19” and for the scientists “who are helping us better understand the pandemic, plan and react accordingly,” he added. South African scientists were among the first in the world to discover the Omicron variant.
Reporting by Guy Chazan from Berlin, Joseph Cotterill from Johannesburg and Madison Darbyshire and Imani Moise from New York