World Ushers In New Year In Shadow Of Pandemic

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The ball drops to ring in the new year in a mostly empty Times Square in New York City on January 1, 2021. (Photo by COREY SIPKIN / AFP)

Confetti fluttered on to frontline workers scattered across Times Square after fireworks burst above eerily quiet landmarks from Sydney Harbour Bridge to Copacabana beach, as the world ushered in the New Year with muted celebrations and said good riddance to a pandemic-ridden 2020.

After a grinding year that has seen at least 1.8 million people die from COVID-19, fresh waves of infection have sparked renewed lockdowns and forced would-be revellers to extend their 2020 tradition of watching events from the sofa.

Singer Cyndi Lauper performs in Times Square during New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Hershorn / POOL / AFP)
Singer Pitbull performs in Times Square during New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Hershorn / various sources / AFP)
Singer Jennifer Lopez performs in Times Square during New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Hershorn / POOL / AFP)

In New York’s famous Times Square, the usual overflow crowd was replaced with a group of specially invited frontline workers, separated by barricades to enforce social distancing. The public was blocked from the square, where a crystal ball dropped at midnight following performances from stars including Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Gaynor.

“I think I feel hopeful. It can’t get much worse than the last year,” the 31-year-old actress and nanny Jordan Mann told AFP from her home in Brooklyn. “I’m just really hoping that we have a lot more wisdom next year from the leaders in our country and that they’ll actually be able to help us out,” she said as she spent the night with her roommates eating Indian takeout.

President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office in January, sounded a positive note as the US, the worst-hit country by Covid-19, is nearing 20 million recorded infections and 345,000 deaths.

“I’m more optimistic about America’s chances than I’ve ever been,” he said in a video interview on ABC’s countdown program.

“America can do anything and I’m absolutely positively confident, confident we’re gonna come back and come back even stronger than we were before.”

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In Brazil — where 195,000 people have died of Covid-19, the second-highest death toll — Rio de Janeiro blocked the usual swarms of revelers from gathering on Copacabana beach.

That did not stop people from lighting up the city’s iconic skyline with amateur fireworks of their own, whose booms competed with the banging pots of critics protesting against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the leader dubbed the “Tropical Trump.”

Confetti are flying in the air after the ball dropped to ring in the new year in a mostly empty Times Square in New York City on January 1, 2021. (Photo by COREY SIPKIN / AFP)
Vicar Reverend Canon Oluwambe Toriola (R) prays during a crossover night church service at the Anglican Church of Redemption, Diocess of Lagos West, Ibafo in Ogun State southwest Nigeria, on January 1, 2021. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)
A man lights his bible with a smartphone during a crossover night church service at the Anglican Church of Redemption, Diocess of Lagos West, Ibafo in Ogun State southwest Nigeria, on January 1, 2021.(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)
A young girl prays during a crossover night church service at the Anglican Church of Redemption, Diocess of Lagos West, Ibafo in Ogun State southwest Nigeria, on January 1, 2021. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

First moments of 2021

The eagerly awaited first seconds of 2021 fell on the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Samoa from 1000 GMT. The uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands will be the last to tip over into the New Year.

In New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, large crowds gathered in Auckland for a fireworks display.

A deserted Sydney Opera House forecourt can be seen in front of fireworks exploding from the Sydney Harbour Bridge during New Year celebrations in central Sydney on January 1, 2021. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)
New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House (L) during the fireworks show on January 1, 2021. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

In Australia’s largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbor with a dazzling display, but few spectators watched in person.

“I think everybody is looking towards 2021 as a fresh beginning and a fresh start,” Karen Roberts, among the lucky few who were allowed past checkpoints around the area, told AFP at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.

Some Hong Kongers, despite restrictions, ventured out to mark the start of the year, gathering on the Victoria Harbour waterfront to take selfies.

In Tokyo, where residents face the prospect of a state of emergency after infections touched new highs, people queued in face masks to offer New Year prayers.

Wuhan in China, where the virus first appeared late last year, saw thousands gather to celebrate.

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No large gatherings

Elsewhere, the mood was more downbeat.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in a New Year’s address that a second wave of Covid-19 was battering the nation.

“The fight against it does not stop for a minute,” he said.

Italy — where shocking images of makeshift morgues and exhausted medics awoke the world to the severity of the crisis — is on a nationwide lockdown until January 7 with a 10 pm curfew in place.

From France to Latvia and Brazil, police and — in some cases — military personnel were deployed to enforce curfews or bans on large gatherings.

People watch a fireworks display during New Year celebrations at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on January 1, 2021. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP)
A man gives a welcome pack to the second vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal post Brexit, a Polish lorry driver, on January 1, 2021, in Coquelles, northern France. – Britain on Thursday finally severed its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe, quitting the EU single market and customs union and going its own way four-and-a-half years after its shock vote to leave the bloc. Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became a reality as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) in London, just as most of mainland Europe ushered in 2021. (Photo by Lewis Joly / POOL / AFP)
An almost empty Copacabana beach is seen on New Year’s Eve, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 31, 2020. – Brazil rang in the New Year with Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach nearly empty — the usual swarms of revelers kept away by police because of the pandemic — and pot-banging protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Rio usually hosts one of the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve parties, but authorities canceled the festivities this year as Covid-19 racked the country. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)
Revellers celebrate New Year’s Eve at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on December 31, 2020.  (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)
The ball drops to ring in the new year in a mostly empty Times Square in New York City on January 1, 2021. (Photo by COREY SIPKIN / AFP)
A vendor decorates his toy store ahead of the New Year in Kuwait City on December 31, 2020. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Paris and Athens both featured socially distanced gatherings, with a virtual concert and light show over Notre Dame in the French capital and fireworks over the Acropolis in Greece.

In London, a few dozen revelers arrived in Parliament Square to watch Big Ben chime 11:00 pm — midnight in Brussels — marking the moment that Brexit finally became a reality, with Britain severing its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe.

Police ordered them home well before midnight, however.

The ball drops to ring in the new year in a mostly empty Times Square in New York City on January 1, 2021. (Photo by COREY SIPKIN / AFP)
People watch as the Merlion statue is lit up as part of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Singapore on December 31, 2020. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
Fireworks are pictured in Dubai’s Bourj Khalifa during New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2020. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP)
People watch a fireworks display during New Year celebrations at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on January 1, 2021. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP)

– Walruses –
A fireworks and laser show was held in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where there has been a slew of new cases. Those watching were required to wear masks and register with identifying QR codes.

On the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia, where temperatures plummet to as low as -35 degrees Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit), around a dozen Russians emerged invigorated after a New Year’s Eve ice dip.

The swimmers, known in Russia as “walruses,” ran several kilometers (miles) through a snowy forest in swimsuits and festive costumes before plunging into the world’s largest freshwater lake.

“It’s invigorating. It stings a little!” Andrei Bugai told AFP.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her New Year greeting to warn the coronavirus crisis would extend into 2021 even if vaccines bring some hope, as police clashed with revellers near the Brandenburg gate in Berlin.

Fireworks are launched from the Taipei 101 commercial building to celebrate the New Year in Taipei on January 1, 2021. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)
People watch fireworks explode over the River Nile in the Egyptian capital Cairo during New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2020. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)
This picture shows fireworks on the Burj Khalifah tower in Dubai during the new year’s eve celebrations on December 31, 2020. (Photo by – / AFP)
This picture taken and released on January 1, 2021 from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows fireworks launched at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang at midnight to celebrate the New Year. (Photo by STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
General view of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica on December 31, 2020 during New Year’s Eve as a 10:00 pm-7:00 am curfew is implemented in Italy to avoid a third wave of Covid-19 infections. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)
New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Chao Phraya river during the fireworks show for New Year’s Eve in Bangkok on January 1, 2021. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)
People wearing face masks release balloons during a New Year’s countdown in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 1, 2021. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP)
Fireworks explode over the ancient Acropolis in Athens during the new year’s celebrations on December 31, 2020. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)
New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over the Chao Phraya river during the fireworks show in Bangkok on January 1, 2021. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)
People wearing face masks attend a New Year’s countdown in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on December 31, 2020. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP)

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