New Year’s Eve muted by omicron; many hope for better 2022

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Good riddance for 2021. Let 2022 bring new hope. It was a common feeling when …

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Good riddance for 2021. Let 2022 bring new hope.

It was a common feeling when people all over the world started welcoming in the new year.

In many places, New Year’s Eve was canceled or canceled for the second year in a row due to a wave of coronavirus infections, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Even before omicron hit, many people were happy to say goodbye to another year of the pandemic.

But so far, the rise in omicron has at least not resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks – particularly among vaccinated people – and offers a glimmer of hope for 2022.

New Zealand was one of the first places to celebrate the New Year with a low-key light display projected on Auckland’s landmarks, including the Sky Tower and Harbor Bridge. It replaced the traditional fireworks show. Although there has not yet been a community spread of omicron in New Zealand, the authorities still wanted to deter the crowds from gathering.

Neighboring Australia, however, went ahead with its celebrations despite an explosion in virus cases. Some fireworks were fired early in the evening to give younger children a taste of the center of the festivities, the famous fireworks from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Hours before the celebration began, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney. Due to the increase, the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million partygoers would enter inner Sydney.

Due to where the international date line goes, countries in Asia and the Pacific region are among the first to launch each new year.

In Japan, author Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less worried about the pandemic despite the new variant.

“A numbness has set in and we are no longer too scared,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take for granted that it will not happen to me.”

Like many other people, Matsuzawa hopes life will get better by 2022.

“I hope the restrictions can go away,” he said.

Across Japan, many people planned to go on New Year’s tours to spend time with their families. On New Year’s Eve, people crowded temples and shrines, most of them wearing masks.

Some, however, seemed to withdraw from the fear of viruses by eating and drinking violently in downtown Tokyo and flocking to shops and celebrating not only the holiday but also a sense of excitement at being freed from the recent virus restrictions.

In South Korea’s capital, Seoul, the annual bell-ringing ceremony was canceled on New Year’s Eve for the second year in a row due to an increase in the number of cases.

Officials said a pre-recorded video of this year’s bell ringing ceremony would instead be aired online and on television. The ceremony had previously drawn tens of thousands of people. Last year’s cancellation was the first since the ceremony began in 1953.

South Korean authorities also planned to close many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which are usually crowded with people hoping to catch the first sunrise of the year. On Friday, South Korea said it would extend strict distance rules by another two weeks.

In India, millions of people planned to ring the New Year in from their homes, with nightly curfews and other restrictions taking the rush out of the festivities in major cities including New Delhi and Mumbai.

Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep partygoers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars in the midst of a rise in cases run by omicron.

But some places, including Goa, a tourist paradise, and Hyderabad, an information technology center, have been spared night curfews thanks to a small number of infections, although other restrictions still apply.

Many Indonesians also gave up their usual festivities for a quieter evening at home after the government banned many New Year’s Eve. In Jakarta, fireworks, parades and other large gatherings were banned, while restaurants and shopping malls were allowed to remain open but with curfews.

Vietnam also canceled fireworks shows and festivities. In Hanoi, authorities closed off central streets, while audiences in Ho Chi Minh City were banned from watching live countdown performances, which were to be shown on social media instead.

In Hong Kong, about 3,000 people planned to attend a New Year’s concert featuring local celebrities, including the boy band Mirror. The concert will be the first major New Year’s Eve event since 2018, after events were canceled in 2019 due to political strife and last year due to the pandemic.

On the Chinese mainland, the Shanghai government canceled events, including an annual light show along the Huangpu River in the city center, which usually attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators.

There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December. The government has urged people to avoid leaving the Chinese capital if possible and is demanding tests for travelers arriving from areas where there are infections.

Popular temples in the East Chinese cities of Nanjing, Hangzhou, and other major cities canceled traditional “lucky bells” ceremonies for New Year’s Eve and asked the public to stay away.

But in Thailand, authorities allowed New Year’s parties and fireworks to continue, albeit with strict security measures. They hoped to slow down the spread of the omicron variant while at the same time mitigating the blow to the country’s battered tourism sector. New Year prayers, which are usually held in Buddhist temples around Thailand, will be held online instead.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 were killed by typhoon Rai, and at least 82 are still missing. Half a million homes were damaged or destroyed.

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, and then the typhoon blew her temporary wooden hut away in the city of Cebu. She welcomes the new year with her husband, who works at a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a dilapidated tent in a coastal clearing, where hundreds of other families erected small tents of rubbish, rice sacks and tarpaulins to shield themselves. against rain and sun.

Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we do not get sick.”

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Associated Press Reporter Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez of Manila, Philippines; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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