New Year is muted greetings as leaders warn, Covid likes a crowd

The UK, France, Germany, Ireland, India and Australia are one of the many countries where this year’s New Year celebrations will be a muted affair.

Millions of people are locked up and many more are facing severe restrictions on day-to-day activities as governments struggle to keep healthcare systems running until newly approved vaccines can be rolled out.

In Australia, the traditional fireworks display lit up the sky above the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

But the exhibition was shorter than usual and people were forbidden to gather next to the harbor unless they were in hospitality places, where the numbers were limited, the government of New South Wales said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday apologized for the restrictions, but said it was necessary to prevent a possible super-distribution event. “On New Year’s Eve, we do not want any crowds on the beaches around Sydney,” Berejiklian said.

A mass rally on Bronte Beach in Sydney on Christmas Day, in violation of local rules against Covid-19, caused public outcry at a time when authorities are tackling a group of infections in the city’s northern beaches.

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Meanwhile, neighboring Victoria issued fresh coronavirus restrictions a few hours before New Year’s Eve celebrations were to begin. Meetings of more than 15 people are no longer allowed and masks are mandatory indoors.

The move came as Victoria reported three new local Covid-19 cases on Thursday morning, breaking a 61-day series of zero locally transmitted cases. According to Victoria’s Department of Health, there are currently ten active cases in the state.

New Zealand’s fierce envy of fighting coronavirus infections has meant that New Year’s Eve could be celebrated more or less as usual. Fireworks lit up the night sky above Auckland as the city was welcomed into the new year.

People are enjoying the music in the Americas Cup Village during New Year's Eve celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand, on 31 December 2020.

Several major cities in India have imposed restrictions on the New Year celebrations. Authorities in Delhi restricted public gatherings to five people and imposed a curfew rule on December 31 at 6:00 on New Year.

Restrictions have also been imposed in Mumbai and Bengaluru. “After 23:00 no parties were allowed – whether in restaurants, pubs, pubs, on the beach or on rooftops … and we will monitor it all through drones,” said S. Chaitanya, a Mumbai police spokesman. , told local media.

The rate of coronavirus infections has been steadily declining in India since October. The country registered a total of 10.26 million cases, with more than 148,000 deaths.

‘Leave the parties until later’

In Europe, where the past few months have increased sharply, the number of ordinary festivals at the end of the year is very limited in many countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to ‘see the new year safely at home’ during a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, saying he had seen a 40% increase in England over the past week.

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In the UK, 981 coronavirus deaths were recorded – the highest figure since April – and 50,023 new cases on Wednesday, government figures show, as the country struggles with the rapid spread of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant.

“Covid likes a crowd, but leaves the parties until later,” said NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis when he also urged people to stay home on New Year’s Eve.

As of Thursday, more than three-quarters of the English population now live under the country’s strictest “level 4” restrictions, which require people to stay at home except for work, training, exercise or essential activities. No domestic mixing is allowed inside, while one person from each household can meet outside only one person from another household.

The London Metropolitan Police Service has issued a warning to potential partygoers to “celebrate the new year in the comfort of their own homes, not the homes of family and friends.”

Ireland ‘extremely serious’

Ireland’s Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, on Wednesday announced a complete national exclusion for ‘at least’ a month. The move follows confirmation that the new, more virulent strain of coronavirus first discovered in the UK is now in Ireland, he said, showing a 61% increase in confirmed cases of coronavirus in the previous week.

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The restrictions, which take effect Thursday, include a ban on home visits and the closure of non-essential stores. Schools will be closed until 11 January. No social or family gatherings are allowed in any area, except for very small wedding and funeral groups.

Martin described the situation as “extremely serious”.

In France, a strict curfew from 8pm to 6pm applies in an effort to stem rising coronavirus infections, limiting public New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country.

Health Minister Olivier Véran warned on Tuesday that from January 2, the country may set an earlier curfew in the areas where the virus is spreading the fastest. The 20 or more “departments” affected do not include Paris.

According to government guidelines, gatherings are limited to six adults, although there may be a number of children. Restaurants were closed except for takeaways, and cafes were closed, although shops, including non-essential shops, were open. Cinemas, museums and theaters are all closed.

In Germany, there are also strict restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus.

‘Fear of a super-distributor’

South Africa also has a less festive New Year period. President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced stricter restrictions as new coronavirus infections rose at what he described as an “unprecedented rate.”

Under the stricter regulations, which apply until mid-January, all indoor and outdoor gatherings are prohibited, the nationwide evening clock is extended from 21:00 to 06:00 and alcohol sales are prohibited. Wearing a mask is also a legal requirement.

The move came after a new Covid-19 variant was detected in South Africa and cases increased during the festive season. More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve, Ramaphosa said.

“The rapid increase in infections is fueled by so-called super-distribution events, including year-end functions, family and social gatherings, and music and cultural events,” Ramaphosa said.

Some leaders have also been cautious in the United States as cases of coronavirus increase in many parts of the country.

A brief history of the Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop

No crowds are allowed to enter Times Square in New York this year for the famous celebration of ‘ball drop’ which is usually witnessed by thousands of revealers.

The New Year’s Eve Times Square rally “will look completely different than it has ever seen in history,” New York Police Chief Terence A. Monahan said Wednesday.

“We can all agree that 2020 was a year that was different from what we experienced,” he said during a briefing as he urged people to stay at home with their families. “Do not come,” he said. “If you think you can stand there and watch the ball, you’re making a mistake.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak urged people on Wednesday to “reconsider” celebrating New Year’s Eve to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the state.

“It’s not lost on me that Las Vegas is known as one of the best places in the world to ring in the new year. But this year we need to look different,” Sisolak said at a news conference.

“I know people want to celebrate the end of 2020, and I do not blame them. But if we do not start making smart choices in 2021, we will look a lot and feel more like 2020 than any other. Some of us want it must be. ‘

CNN’s Sarah Dean, Swati Gupta, Gisela Crespo, Pauline Lockwood and Ben Westcott contributed to this report.