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hello 2022

World rings in New Year as fireworks light up under persistent Covid cloud

Sydney decided to press ahead with a firework display despite surging cases.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Dec 2021

THE WORLD IS ushering in 2022 after another tumultuous and pandemic-ridden year capped by new restrictions, soaring case numbers, and a slight glimmer of hope for better times ahead.

Australia’s largest city Sydney decided to press ahead with a firework display that lit up the city’s harbour, despite one of the world’s fastest-growing Covid-19 caseloads.

New Covid-19 infections have soared again in Australia to a record of more than 32,000, just days after surpassing 10,000 for the first time. 

The city however saw far smaller crowds than pre-pandemic years, when as many as one million revellers would crowd inner Sydney. This year the numbers were in their thousands. 

“I’m just trying to focus on the positive things that happened this year, rather than dwelling on all the bad things that have happened,” siad 22-year-old medical student Melinda Howard, part of an enthusiastic but smaller-than-usual crowd waiting by the Sydney Opera House for the show to begin.

Parts of the Pacific nation of Kiribati became the first to welcome in the new year from 10 am Irish-time.

New Zealand was one of the first places to see in the new year and opted for a low-key lights display projected on to Auckland landmarks, including the Sky Tower and Harbour Bridge.

And midnight continued to move westwards through Asia and the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wished people in the country a happier new year in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones. 

In Europe, Pope Francis cancelled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square to discourage large crowds from forming. 

In South Africa — the first country to report Omicron back in November — a curfew was lifted to allow festivities to go ahead as cases wane.

Health officials said that a dip in infections in the past week indicated the peak of the current wave had passed — crucially without a significant increase in deaths.

In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled back format — though crowds of revellers are still expected.

“People have only one desire, to leave their homes, to celebrate life,” 45-year-old Copacabana beach waiter Francisco Rodrigues said.

Some Brazilians are more circumspect, such as Roberta Assis, a 27-year-old lawyer.

“It’s not the moment for large gatherings,” she said.

Authorities in Seoul showed similar caution, barring spectators from a traditional midnight bell-ringing and turning to a livestream instead.

In India, fearing a repeat of a devastating virus surge that overwhelmed the country in April and May, cities and states imposed restrictions on gatherings, with Delhi implementing a 10pm curfew.

Mumbai police issued evening bans on people visiting public places such as the city’s beaches and seafront promenades, normally popular sites for seeing in the new year — with the restrictions set to last two weeks.


The pandemic — now entering its third full year — has again dominated life for much of humankind.

More than 5.4 million people have died since the coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.

Countless more have been sickened — subjected to outbreaks, lockdowns, lock-ins and an alphabet spaghetti of PCR, LFT and RAT tests.

The year 2021 started with hope, as life-saving vaccines were rolled out to around 60% of the world’s population, although many of its poor still have limited access.

As the year drew to a close, the emergence of the Omicron variant pushed the number of daily new Covid-19 cases past one million for the first time, according to an AFP tally.

The World Health Organization has warned of trying times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to “a tsunami of cases”.

© – AFP 2021

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