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Crowds gather in New Zealand and China for New Year celebrations - but a muted tone is struck elsewhere

In New York’s Times Square, the usual overflow crowd was replaced with a group of specially invited frontline workers.

virus-outbreak-new-york-new-years Confetti falls on Times Square in New York. Source: PA Images

CONFETTI FLUTTERED ON to frontline workers scattered across Times Square after fireworks burst above eerily quiet landmarks from Sydney Harbour Bridge to Copacabana beach, as the world ushered in the New Year with muted celebrations and said good riddance to a pandemic-ridden 2020.

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

In New York’s Times Square, the usual overflow crowd was replaced with a group of specially invited frontline workers, separated by barricades to enforce social distancing. The public was blocked from the square, where a crystal ball dropped at midnight following performances from stars including Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Gaynor.

In Brazil – where 195,000 people have died of Covid-19, the second-highest death toll – Rio de Janeiro blocked the usual swarms of revellers from gathering on Copacabana beach.

That did not stop people from lighting up the city’s iconic skyline with amateur fireworks of their own, whose booms competed with the banging pots of critics protesting against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The eagerly awaited first seconds of 2021 fell on the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Samoa. The uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands will be the last to tip over into the New Year.

new-zealand-auckland-fireworks-new-year Fireworks in Auckland. Source: PA Images

In New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, large crowds gathered in Auckland for a fireworks display.

In Australia’s largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display, but few spectators watched in person.

“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, told AFP at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.

xinhua-photos-of-the-day Fireworks above Sydney Harbor Bridge, Source: PA Images

Some Hong Kongers, despite restrictions, ventured out to mark the start of the year, gathering on the Victoria Harbour waterfront to take selfies.

In Tokyo, where residents face the prospect of a state of emergency after infections touched new highs, people queued in face masks to offer New Year prayers.

Wuhan in China, where the virus first appeared late last year, saw thousands gather to celebrate.

Elsewhere, the mood was more downbeat.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in a New Year’s address that a second wave of Covid-19 was battering the nation.

“The fight against it does not stop for a minute,” he said.

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Italy is on a nationwide lockdown until January 7 with a 10 pm curfew in place.

From France to Latvia and Brazil, police and – in some cases – military personnel were deployed to enforce curfews or bans on large gatherings.

virus-outbreak-italy-new-year Police officers patrol an empty Spanish Steps square, usually a popular spot for New Year's Eve. Source: PA Images

Paris and Athens both featured socially distanced gatherings, with a virtual concert and light show over Notre Dame in the French capital and fireworks over the Acropolis in Greece.

In London, a few dozen revelers arrived in Parliament Square to watch Big Ben chime 11:00 pm — midnight in Brussels — marking the moment that Brexit finally became a reality, with Britain severing its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe.

Police ordered them home well before midnight, however.

A fireworks and laser show was held in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where there has been a slew of new cases. Those watching were required to wear masks and register with identifying QR codes.

uae-new-years-eve-at-burj-khalifa Source: PA Images

© – AFP, 2021

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