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New Year 2021: World begins sending off the year of the pandemic

With virtual parties, socially-distanced firework displays and the hope of better days to come, the world has begun bidding good riddance to the year of the pandemic today and greeting the dawn of 2021. 

Unmourned but never to be forgotten, 2020 started passing into history in Kiribati and Samoa at 10am GMT and New Zealand at 11am – with the last Pacific islands set to cross the invisible threshold 25 hours later. 

In New Zealand and Australia, two of the first countries to reach midnight and also two of the most successful in fending off the worst of Covid-19, life was normal enough for some crowds of revellers to gather on waterfronts in Auckland and Sydney to mark the new year. 

But for most of the world’s seven billion people, a grinding year is ending with typically scaled-back festivities, with fireworks, pyre burnings and live performances set to be watched from home or cancelled altogether.  

From France to Latvia to Brazil, police and military personnel are being deployed to enforce night-time curfews and bans on large gatherings are enforced, with much of the world still in lockdown and the vaccine race only just beginning.  

AUCKLAND: Fireworks went off as New Zealand became the first major country to cross the invisible threshold and enter 2021, after a year in which it became a rare success story during the global coronavirus pandemic 

AUCKLAND: Fireworks streamed from the SkyTower in the first moments of January 1, 2021 as an exhausted world started to put a year of disease, death and unparalleled economic collapse behind it

AUCKLAND: Fireworks streamed from the SkyTower in the first moments of January 1, 2021 as an exhausted world started to put a year of disease, death and unparalleled economic collapse behind it 

A well-dressed woman in Melbourne

Two people on the streets of Melbourne

MELBOURNE: Some revellers were seen in the city on New Year’s Eve, in a part of Australia which saw a major outbreak in the Southern Hemisphere winter but has since returned to very low levels of infection 

SYDNEY: New Year revellers enjoyed drinks at the Opera Bar in Sydney as midnight approached, with the firework display shortened and crowds kept to a minimum because of coronavirus

SYDNEY: New Year revellers enjoyed drinks at the Opera Bar in Sydney as midnight approached, with the firework display shortened and crowds kept to a minimum because of coronavirus 

LONDON: Fencing was put up around parts of Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square ahead of New Year's Eve, with London and most of the UK's population effectively back in lockdown because of resurgent coronavirus cases

LONDON: Fencing was put up around parts of Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square ahead of New Year’s Eve, with London and most of the UK’s population effectively back in lockdown because of resurgent coronavirus cases 

NEW YORK CITY: A stage was put up in Times Square where the famous ball drop will take place at midnight, but police will block spectators from gathering to get a glimpse 

In Sydney, pyrotechnics will still light up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display at midnight, but few spectators will be there to watch in person. 

Plans to allow crowds were scrapped amid a cluster of around 150 new infections that have seen travel to and from Sydney severely restricted. 

‘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, said at a bar near the Sydney Opera House. 

Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide have cancelled their displays to avoid large gatherings and possible community transmission of the virus. 

Although the Pacific islands were spared the worst ravages of the pandemic, border restrictions, curfews and lockdowns meant this New Year’s Eve was still a little different. 

At the palm-fringed Taumeasina resort in Samoa, manager Tuiataga Nathan Bucknall was pleased to be open without a limit on guest numbers, but thanks to a state of emergency stopped serving alcohol at 11 pm.

In harder-hit countries such as Italy – where shocking images of makeshift morgues and exhausted medics first awoke the world to the horror of the pandemic last spring – curfews and lockdowns are still in force.

In London, American singer-songwriter Patti Smith will ring in the New Year with a tribute to NHS workers who have died from Covid-19, projected on the screen at Piccadilly Circus and streamed on YouTube. 

And in New York, the famous ball drop in Times Square will unfold this year without the usual throngs of cheering revellers. Police will block off the area so that spectators cannot even get a glimpse.   

AUCKLAND: Crowds begin to gather by the waterfront in New Zealand, which sealed its borders early in the pandemic and has suffered only 2,162 infections and 25 deaths all year, numbers which seem miraculous in most of the West 

SYDNEY: People have dinner on the waterfront in Australia, one of the first nations to cross the threshold of 2021 and also one of the few where the country's relative success against the pandemic means that some degree of festivities can take place

SYDNEY: People have dinner on the waterfront in Australia, one of the first nations to cross the threshold of 2021 and also one of the few where the country’s relative success against the pandemic means that some degree of festivities can take place 

MELBOURNE: A group of people queue for a venue with no social distancing or mask, a scene unthinkable in much of the world during the long months of the pandemic and resulting lockdown

MELBOURNE: A group of people queue for a venue with no social distancing or mask, a scene unthinkable in much of the world during the long months of the pandemic and resulting lockdown 

MELBOURNE: Although some people were able to gather in person, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide have cancelled their displays to avoid large gathering and community transmission of the virus

MELBOURNE: Although some people were able to gather in person, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide have cancelled their displays to avoid large gathering and community transmission of the virus

SYDNEY: Police are seen patrolling an eerily quiet Circular Quay on New Year's Eve as Sydneysiders are encouraged to watch the midnight fireworks display from home

SYDNEY: Police are seen patrolling an eerily quiet Circular Quay on New Year’s Eve as Sydneysiders are encouraged to watch the midnight fireworks display from home

SYDNEY: After darkness fell, there were boats in the harbour but only a few spectators were allowed past checkpoints around the area to watch the midnight fireworks in person

SYDNEY: After darkness fell, there were boats in the harbour but only a few spectators were allowed past checkpoints around the area to watch the midnight fireworks in person 

SYDNEY: A group of mates clad in sombreros head into Sydney's city to farewell 2020 - but they won't have much company

SYDNEY: A group of mates clad in sombreros head into Sydney’s city to farewell 2020 – but they won’t have much company

Since it surfaced in China in late 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 80million people and led to nearly 1.8million deaths, the majority of them in Europe and the Americas. 

Although mass vaccination efforts have begun in many countries in recent weeks, offering hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight, it is likely to be months before normal life can return in most of the world.  

In China, where the Lunar New Year generally takes precedence over January 1, a countdown ceremony will take place in Beijing with just a few invited guests while other planned events have been cancelled.   

Hong Kong, with its British colonial history and large expatriate population, has usually seen raucous celebrations along the waterfront and in bar districts.

For the second year running, however, New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled, this time over coronavirus rather than public security concerns. 

In Japan, some people skipped what is customarily a chance to return to ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families.

Rural restaurants saw business drop, while home deliveries of traditional New Year’s ‘good luck’ food called ‘osechi’ boomed.

Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds visit the palace.

SEOUL: Festive decorations on display outside a department store in the capital of South Korea, where cases have risen sharply in recent weeks after generally staying at low levels during 2020

SEOUL: Festive decorations on display outside a department store in the capital of South Korea, where cases have risen sharply in recent weeks after generally staying at low levels during 2020 

ISTANBUL: Divers prepare to stage a symbolic journey underwater from Gurpinar Beach, wishing for a new year 'without a pandemic'

ISTANBUL: Divers prepare to stage a symbolic journey underwater from Gurpinar Beach, wishing for a new year ‘without a pandemic’ 

NETHERLANDS: A man takes part in a traditional 'carbide shooting' in Holland, which is currently enduring its strictest measures yet in a month-long lockdown due to last until at least January 19

NETHERLANDS: A man takes part in a traditional ‘carbide shooting’ in Holland, which is currently enduring its strictest measures yet in a month-long lockdown due to last until at least January 19 

JAPAN: Shinto priests walk h a wooden gate in a ritual to purify sin and foulness on the final day of the year, at a shrine in Tokyo. Japan is suffering a resurgence of virus cases after generally keeping numbers fairly low

JAPAN: Shinto priests walk h a wooden gate in a ritual to purify sin and foulness on the final day of the year, at a shrine in Tokyo. Japan is suffering a resurgence of virus cases after generally keeping numbers fairly low 

One place that residents can celebrate without the help of a screen is virus-free New Zealand, where several cities will host firework displays with only limited restrictions.

And in Dubai thousands are expected to attend a fireworks and a laser show at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, despite a slew of new cases.

All those attending the event – whether at a public place, hotel or restaurant – will be required to wear masks and register with QR codes.

In Beirut, a city still reeling from the August 4 port explosion, authorities are also cutting loose. A night curfew has been pushed back to 3am. Bars, restaurants and night clubs have all reopened and are advertising large parties to mark the turn of the year.

Social media networks are already inundated with images and videos of packed clubs and restaurants, leading authorities to warn that a new lockdown may come into force after the holidays.

The fears of such a New Year hangover are widespread, and there are ominous signs that new strains of the virus may make the coming months even tougher.

In Brazil – which has already recorded more than 193,000 Covid-19 deaths, the second-largest number in the world – fearful medics await a new wave.

In recent days, social media has been filled with videos showing mask-less revellers enjoying a night out and television channels have even shown live images of police closing bars full of customers.

‘The pandemic peak was between May and July, which was when there wasn’t a lot of movement and we looked after ourselves more. Now there are many cases and people are acting as if there wasn’t a pandemic,’ said Luiz Gustavo de Almeida, a microbiologist at the University of Sao Paulo.


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