PARIS (AP) – Grief over the dead and dying, fear of more infections on the way and hope for an end to the coronavirus pandemic was – again – the bittersweet cocktail that the world said good for 2021 and heralded 2022 with.
New Year’s Eve, previously celebrated globally with a liberal wildness, instead felt like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant once again filling hospitals.
“We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was one of the weary partygoers heading out into London. “We’ve just been around so long.”
The mostly muted New Year’s Eve around the world heralded the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected with coronavirus worldwide since the end of 2019, and more than 5 million have died.
In Paris, officials canceled the fireworks due to violent infections and reintroduced mandatory outdoor mask wearing, a commitment followed by the majority of people driving around the Champs-Elysées as the last hours of 2021 ticked away.
In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was held without a live audience. In Madrid, authorities allowed only 7,000 people to enter the city’s Puerta del Sol city center square, a place that traditionally houses around 20,000 partygoers.
In the United States, officials took a mixed approach to the party at the end of the year: nodding the audience to a countdown concert in Los Angeles, turning it down in New York and still driving full speed ahead in Las Vegas, where thousands showed up for performances and a fireworks show at The Strip, which got started late due to wind.
President Joe Biden noted the losses and insecurity caused by the pandemic, but said, “We are persevering. We are recovering.”
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s how we got through this year. And how we want to embrace the next one. Together.”
In New York, officials allowed only 15,000 people – vaccinated and masked – within the perimeter around Times Square, a tab of the 1 million who typically intrude to watch the famous ball fall. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, who defended the event, said people should see that New York is open for business.
Still on Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York broadcast after a positive COVID-19 test, and restaurant owners, who suffered from staff shortages and omicron cancellations throughout the holiday season, struggled to stay open.
“I’m really scared of our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who saw reservations and party reservations disappear this month. »Nobody made money in December. The fact that they might have a good night tonight has no bearing. “
Airlines also struggled as the year wore on, canceling thousands of flights after the virus hit flight crews and other staff and in the midst of bad weather.
The pandemic game changer of 2021 – vaccinations – continued at a rapid pace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year, and Britain said it had reached its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults by Friday.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised the Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “is not on the way back yet.” Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths, but its state statistics office says the death toll has more than doubled.
“I would like to express my sincere support to all those who lost their loved ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
Elsewhere, the place that many chose for the New Year celebration was the same place that they became all too familiar with during lockdowns: their home.
Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition by visiting the life-size manger set up in St. Peter’s Square again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pope wore a surgical mask to a vespers service with prayer and hymns Friday night while sitting in an armchair. But he also kept a sermon standing and revealed.
“A sense of being lost has grown in the world during the pandemic,” Francis told believers in St. Louis. St. Peter’s Basilica.
France, the UK, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.
In London, the normal fireworks display, which would have attracted tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, were replaced by a light and drone show broadcast on television. Location information about the show was kept secret in advance to prevent crowds from gathering.
“The last two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many have suffered, and there is a time when we finally have to start getting together,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special education teacher.
France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases marked its 200th day in a row over the 200,000 mark on Friday. Britain was close behind with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said as many as 1 in 15 people were infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients in the UK rose 68% in the last week, to the highest levels since February.
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand to 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s party usually brings more than 2 million people to Copacabana beach. In 2020, there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music in speakers, but no live concerts as in previous editions.
Still, noisy New Year’s Eve started in the Serbian capital Belgrade, where mass gatherings, unlike elsewhere in Europe, were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. A medical expert predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
At Expo 2020, the sprawling world fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi was preparing to throw caution into the wind on New Year’s Eve – her first time ever outside Saudi Arabia, where she lives in the holy city of Medina.
“If you do not celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I am fast and took two (vaccine) doses. We just have to enjoy. ”
Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years.
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.”
South Korean authorities closed 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.
In India, millions of people in the New Year rang from their homes, with nightly curfews and other restrictions taking the rush out of the festivities in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities.
On the Chinese mainland, the Shanghai government canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River, 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.
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.
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 will welcome 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 clearing where hundreds of other families erected small tents of rubbish, rice sacks and tarpaulins.
Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we do not get sick.”
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press Reporter Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio and Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Yuri Kageyama of 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; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Maryclaire Dale and Philadelphia; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.