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TUESDAY, October 04, 2022
Muted fanfare closes year of woes

Muted fanfare closes year of woes

FRIDAY, January 01, 2021

The fireworks dazzle, but on screens for most as caution trumps partying

The New Year's Eve ending 2020 was being celebrated like none before it, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they'd prefer to forget.

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

From Sydney to Rome, firework displays, pyre burnings and live performances were being watched online or on television-if they had not been canceled altogether.

Australia was among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the international date line. In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney's harbor to watch fireworks that center on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Pyrotechnics still lit up the glittering harbor with a dazzling display, but authorities had advised revelers to watch on television. People were only allowed in downtown Sydney if they had a restaurant reservation or were one of five guests of an inner-city apartment resident. People were not allowed in the city center without a permit.

Some harbor-side restaurants were charging up to $1,290 for a seat, Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Sydney is Australia's most populous city and has its most active community transmission of the novel coronavirus of recent weeks.

In much the same manner as cautious Australians, Romans were livestreaming the burning of an enormous pyre in Circus Maximus, the ancient city's stadium, alongside a two-hour event featuring performances and illuminated views of iconic sites.

One place that residents were able to celebrate without the help of a screen was virus-free New Zealand, where several cities hosted firework displays with only limited restrictions.

From France to Latvia to Brazil, police officers and-in some cases-military personnel were deployed to enforce nighttime curfews or bans on gathering in large numbers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday used her New Year greeting to warn Germans the "historic" coronavirus crisis would extend into 2021 even if the vaccines bring some hope.

And in Dubai, thousands were expected to attend a fireworks and 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-were required to wear masks and register with QR codes.

In Japan, scores of flights were canceled as heavy snowfall hit several areas on Thursday, while New Year's Eve celebrations were curtailed as the country tackles a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had urged people to celebrate New Year quietly and avoid nonessential outings.

In South Korea, Seoul's city government canceled its annual New Year's Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighborhood for the first time since it first held the event in 1953. The event used to draw an estimated 100,000 people.

Largely empty Times Square

In New York, for the first time in more than a century, Times Square was going without a massive crowd on New Year's Eve.

Instead of hundreds of thousands of people standing at the "Crossroads of the World" as a ball drops from atop the 25-story One Times Square skyscraper to signal the start of a new year on Thursday night, there would be a virtual event on a webcast because of the pandemic. The show was expected to feature numerous performers throughout the evening.

Times Square wasn't the only spot to be largely empty on New Year's Eve-so were many stores and hotels in the area that had been put out of business because of the pandemic. Street vendors no longer offer food in the area, and also missing were the various costumed characters seeking tips for a photo with them.

"Look at this empty Times Square," Peter, the manager of Lan Sheng, a Michelin-starred Szechuan restaurant in Times Square, said in the lead-up to New Year's Eve.

"It is a disaster for us. No tourists and no office workers; 90 percent of our business has been gone."

Agencies and Minlu Zhang in New York contributed to this story.