2020 ends with muted celebrations, as world hopes for better 2021

2020 ends with muted celebrations, as world hopes for better 2021

The iconic ball drop in New York City’s Time Square still went ahead – but without the public, on an eerily quiet evening for many countries across the globe.

Only a few dozen guests were invited to Times Square for its iconic confetti-strewn celebration, among them medical staff and other key workers in the pandemic.

Millions of other Americans had to make do with watching the show online, as health officials urged people across the United States to stay home.

Star-studded performances included a rendition of “I Will Survive” by disco star Gloria Gaynor – a track that has become an anthem for some, celebrating resiliance during the coronavirus crisis.

Many may have watched on enviously as New Zealand – one of the first countries to usher in 2021 – was unencumbered by the public health restrictions in place in many other parts of the world.

With no community cases of Covid-19 in the country, parties went ahead as planned without crowd limits or other health restrictions.

This included a number of large music festivals and firework shows, as well as a light show in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

In neighbouring Australia, Sydney was like a ghost town as the clock ticked over from 2020 to 2021.

The city’s famous harbour fireworks were smaller than in previous years and aimed at a TV audience. Wire fences blocked entry to the foreshore and police stopped anybody from heading towards vantage points, where normally up to a million people watch the world famous fireworks.

New Year’s revellers who breached Sydney harbour lockout laws risked being hit with fines of 1,000 Australian dollars (770 US dollars), as authorities try to stem a Covid-19 outbreak in the city.

In Europe, many celebrations were moved online as governments hoped to avoid superspreader events and stop more transmissible strains of the coronavirus from taking hold.

In Germany, the traditional fireworks spectacle at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was cancelled and the area remained largely empty. A live show was broadcast from the site with no crowds in attendance.

Firefighters and police in the German capital said it was a quieter evening than usual, thanks in part to a ban on firework sales in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.

But some crackles and bangs could still be heard as members of the public took part in the popular tradition.

Emergency services praised residents for largely adhering to anti-viral restrictions, though over 80 people were temporarily detained by police for violating rules.

Firework restrictions across Germany had been intended to prevent injuries and therefore avoid putting additional strain on the health care system, as hospitals fill up with Covid-19 patients.

In France, electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre performed a virtual New Year’s Eve concert from a digitally reconstructed Notre-Dame cathedral as police enforced a night-time curfew in Paris.

Russia’s streets were quieter than usual. While there was a traditional display of fireworks in Moscow, restrictions meant bars, restaurants and skating rinks all shut before midnight.

Members of the security forces were on hand to prevent large crowds from gathering in the city’s Red Square and Moscow’s mayor urged citizens to stay home and celebrate in small family circles.

Some 21 million Scandinavians in Denmark, Norway and Sweden also welcomed the New Year with restrictions.

Firework displays went ahead in the skies of Copenhagen as many Danes stood on chairs, tables or sofas just before midnight to jump into the new year as the clock striked midnight, as per tradition.

But firework shows were cancelled in Oslo and Helsinki, while in Stockholm fireworks over the Skansen open-air museum were set off just for a TV audience.

With a nationwide curfew in place, Italy celebrated the end of 2020 mostly online. The capital Rome also issued a fireworks ban that lasts until January 6.

In Greece, cities outdid themselves with larger firework displays than usual, with Greek media reporting “one of the most spectacular pyrotechnic shows of all time.”

China, where the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, was able to hold some firework shows without restrictions, as the outbreak is largely under control there.

However, Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated in February, meaning December 31 is not a particularly important holiday in the country.

In Seoul, the traditional bell-ringing ceremony was performed without an audience and broadcast on TV. Usually, tens of thousands of people watch as a large bronze bell at the Bosingak pavilion is rung 33 times for luck.

Taiwan staged its New Year’s Eve fireworks display at the Taipei 101 building, one of the tallest buildings in the world at 509 metres, while some planned outdoor events around the island were downsized or cancelled.

Celebrations in India, too, were muted, with restrictions on large gatherings and night curfews in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, and several states.

A bright display of fireworks celebrated the turn of the year in Dubai, along with a laser show on the world’s tallest building, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa.

The show thanked doctors and others who fought the pandemic, with the words “dedication,” “courage” and “solidarity” emblazoned in light. The 8-minute display had few live spectators, however, as strict restrictions were in place across the city.

The first countries to enter 2021 – Samoa and Kiribati in the South Pacific – had less to celebrate than usual: They are cut off from the world due to border closures and face rising waters due to climate change.