Billions around the world are starting to ring in 2022 after muted festivities last year, despite Omicron concerns putting a dampener on the revelry.
While some parties in major cities have been cancelled due to rising infections, South Africa, where the mutant strain was first detected, has lifted a curfew to allow the end-of-year parties to go ahead.
New Zealand, the first major country to see the New Year, kicked off the celebrations after easing its rules on public gatherings, and held a lights display in Auckland.
Australia’s largest city Sydney has also decided to press ahead with a firework display that will light up the city’s harbour, despite one of the world’s fastest-growing caseloads.
The ‘family fireworks’ took place three hours before midnight, with pyrotechnics illuminating the Sydney Opera House in a stunning display.
But just hours before the celebrations were due to begin, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney.
Because of the surge, authorities were expecting far smaller crowds than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million revelers would crowd inner Sydney.
Dubai is planning a pyrotechnics spectacle at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, while the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah will attempt to break two world records with a huge fireworks display.
In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled back format – though crowds of revellers are still expected.
In South Korea’s capital Seoul, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony was cancelled for the second straight year due to a surge in cases.
Officials said a pre-recorded video of this year’s bell-ringing ceremony would instead be broadcast 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 usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise on New Year’s Day. On Friday, South Korea said it will extend tough distancing rules for another two weeks.
In India, millions of people were planning to ring in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in large cities including New Delhi and Mumbai.
Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep revellers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars amid a surge in cases fueled by omicron.
But some places, including Goa, a tourist paradise, and Hyderabad, an information technology hub, have been spared from night curfews thanks to smaller numbers of infections, although other restrictions still apply.
In Hong Kong, about 3,000 people planned to attend a New Year’s Eve concert featuring local celebrities including boy band Mirror. The concert will be the first big New Year’s Eve event held since 2018, after events were cancelled in 2019 due to political strife and last year because of the pandemic.