Grief for the dead and dying, fear of new infections to come, and hopes of ending the coronavirus pandemic were – once again – the bittersweet cocktail the world has said good riddance with until in 2021 and inaugurated 2022.
New Years Eve, which was once celebrated around the world with a wild and free spirit, felt more like a deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant filling hospitals again.
“We just need the fun,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the tired revelers venturing to London. “We have just lived so long.”
The mostly muted New Year’s celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide since the end of 2019 and more than 5 million have died.
In Paris, authorities called off fireworks amid the spike in infections and reintroduced the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who gathered on the Champs-Elysées as the last hours of 2021 passed.
In Berlin, police urged people not to congregate near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was held without an audience. In Madrid, authorities have allowed only 7,000 people to enter the downtown square of Puerta del Sol, a place traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.
In the United States, authorities have taken a mixed approach to the end-of-year celebrations: banning audiences at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, reducing them to New York while continuing to move forward. in Las Vegas, where thousands of people showed up for performances and a fireworks display on the Strip that got off to a late start due to the gusts of wind.
President Joe Biden noted the loss and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said, “We persevere. We recover.
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. “That’s how we’ve done this year. And how we’re going to embrace the next one. Together. “
In New York, authorities have only allowed 15,000 people – vaccinated and masked – inside the perimeter around Times Square, a shard of the million who usually flock to watch the famous bullet drop. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people need to see New York City is open for business.
Yet on Thursday, rapper LL Cool J quit telecasting New York City after testing positive for COVID-19 and restaurateurs suffering from staff shortages and omicron cancellations throughout the holiday season struggled to stay open.
“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who has seen reservations and evening reservations disappear this month. “No one made any money in December. The fact that they are having a good night’s sleep has no impact.
Airlines also struggled at the end of the year, canceling thousands of flights after the virus hit flight crews and other staff and in bad weather.
The 2021 game-changing pandemic – vaccinations – has continued at a steady pace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it had met its target of offering a vaccine booster to all adults by Friday .
In Russia, President Vladimir Poutine mourned the dead, praised the Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “is not receding yet”. Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 deaths from COVID-19, but its national statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double.
“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who have lost loved ones,” Putin said in a televised speech broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
Elsewhere, the place many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became too familiar with during shutdowns: their homes.
Pope Francis has also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the full-size nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual gesture for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers prayer and hymn service on Friday night as he sat in an armchair. But he also gave a standing and unmasked homily.
“A sense of being lost has grown around the world during the pandemic,” Francis told worshipers at St. Peter’s Basilica.
France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among the countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.
In London, the usual fireworks display, which is said to have drawn tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, has been replaced by a light and drone show broadcast on television. Details of the show’s location have been kept secret in advance to avoid crowds.
“The past two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many people have suffered and there is a time when we finally have to start coming together,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special education teacher.
France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases on Friday marked its third consecutive day above the 200,000 mark. The UK followed closely behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said up to 1 in 15 people had been infected with the virus in the week leading up to Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the UK have increased 68% over the past week, to the highest levels since February.
In Brazil, Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro hosted a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s party typically draws over 2 million people to Copacabana Beach. In 2020, there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music on loudspeakers, but no live concerts like in previous editions.
Yet loud New Year’s celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. A medical expert has predicted that Serbia will experience thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
At Expo 2020, the sprawling world fair outside of Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to be cautious on New Years Eve – her first time outside of Saudi Arabia , where she lives in the holy city of Medina.
“If you don’t party, life will pass you by,” she said. “I am in good health and have taken two doses (of the vaccine). We just have to take advantage.
Australia continued to celebrate despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit the sky over the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were much smaller than in the pre-pandemic years.
In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly as some stores would be closed. He said the vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.
“Numbness has set in and we’re not too scared anymore,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take it for granted that this won’t happen to me.”
South Korean authorities have closed many beaches and other tourist attractions along the eastern seaboard, which are usually teeming with people hoping to witness the first sunrise of the year.
In India, millions of people rang the bell at the start of the year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions making celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities.
In mainland China, the Shanghai government has canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that typically draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There was no plan for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or have limited access since mid-December.
In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out the basic necessities of tens of thousands before New Year’s Eve. More than 400 people were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 are still missing.
Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home in a fire last month, then the typhoon swept away her temporary log cabin in Cebu City. She will welcome the New Year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a dilapidated tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families have erected small tents from debris , sacks of rice and tarpaulins.
When asked what she wanted for the New Year, Singson made a simple wish: “Hope we don’t get sick.”
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.
John Leicester and Nick Perry, The Associated Press