London celebrations

Omicron tapers New Years celebrations around the world, but London throws the party on TV

Jan. 1 (Reuters) – The Omicron variant of the coronavirus dampened New Year’s festivities across much of the world, as cities from Paris to Kuala Lumpur canceled civic celebrations, but London threw a last-minute party in television and Cape Town suddenly lifted a long-standing curfew.

Midnight has passed in Paris without fireworks or DJ sets planned, the municipal authorities having canceled the events planned on the Champs-Élysées following the opinion of a scientific panel which declared that the mass gatherings would be too risky.

Elsewhere in the world, events have been curtailed or canceled altogether, as with the traditional fireworks display over the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. In the Netherlands, where outdoor gatherings of more than four people are prohibited, police dispersed several thousand people who had gathered suspiciously in Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, the ANP news agency reported.

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But in London, where a fireworks display and light show were canceled in October, authorities said on Friday the show would come to life on the TV screen, as Big Ben sounded New Years Eve for the first time. since 2017 after a restoration.

“I encourage everyone to enjoy the New Years in a reasonable and prudent way, and the best way to do that is to watch the London show on TV,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News before the event.

BBC footage of the fireworks showed very light vehicle traffic and virtually no in-person spectators.

Earlier, Britain released a million-case study that found people with Omicron to be about a third more likely to need hospitalization than those previously predominantly with the Delta variant. The results were “in line with the encouraging signs we have already seen,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.

Despite this, many countries have reimposed restrictions to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

The sudden arrival of Omicron has led to an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in countries around the world. Global infections hit an all-time high in the past seven days, with an average of just over one million cases detected per day globally between December 24 and December 30, up 100,000 from at the previous peak posted Wednesday, according to Reuters data.

Deaths, however, have not increased in kind, giving hope that the new variant is less deadly.

Following encouraging data, Cape Town abruptly lifted the curfew just in time for the New Year, after South Africa became the first country to report its Omicron wave had peaked – and without strong increase in the number of deaths.

A light show to mark the New Year is seen above St Paul’s Cathedral, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain on January 1 2022. REUTERS / Toby Melville

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South Africa first sounded the alarm about the new variant of the rapidly spreading coronavirus circling the world.

“I just hope Cape Town will once again become the old Cape we have all known,” said Michael Mchede, manager of a Hard Rock cafe near the white sands of Camps Bay, who was delighted to find himself a place ready to go. host an unexpected party.

Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney also celebrated the New Year with something like a full swagger, as spectacular fireworks sparkled in the harbor above the Opera House.

In New York, the sparkling ball is still scheduled to drop in Times Square, but the crowd counting the year’s release is expected to be a quarter of their usual size – masked, socially distanced, and with vaccine proof in hand.

Only 15,000 spectators are allowed to enter the official viewing area instead of the usual 55,000, which is still a significant improvement over the audience of a few dozen last year.

With New York state reporting more than 74,000 cases as of Thursday and 22% of tests positive, some critics have questioned whether the celebrations should take place.

Revelers in Madrid queued for hours to enter the main plaza of Puerta del Sol where the celebrations took place with multiple security checkpoints, mandatory masks and capacity at 60% of normal levels.

Saul Pedrero, a 34-year-old employee, made the trip from Barcelona, ​​which has some of Spain’s tightest controls, including a 1 a.m. curfew.

“It looks like another country. Here you can do everything and nobody says anything,” he said.

A sumptuous fireworks display lit up the festivities, which the Spaniards mark by stuffing 12 grapes in their mouths to accompany each chime of the clock striking midnight.

In Asia, the celebrations have for the most part been reduced or canceled. In South Korea, a traditional midnight ringing ceremony was canceled for the second year, while the festivities were banned in Tokyo’s glittering Shibuya entertainment district, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to YouTube. to urge people to wear masks and limit the number at parties.

China, where the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019, was on high alert with the city of Xian closed and New Year’s events in other cities canceled.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graff and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Macfie, Rosalba O’Brien and Chris Reese

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.