The World is Celebrating the New Year under the Shadow of COVID
Today, the world is preparing to enter 2022 after another turbulent and pandemic year, which was accompanied by new restrictions, a growing number of cases and a slight ray of hope for better times.
In the past 12 months, a new US president and Adele's new album have emerged, the first Olympic Games without spectators and dreams of democracy from Afghanistan to Myanmar and Hong Kong shattered by authoritarian regimes.
But the pandemic, now in its third year, has once again dominated the lives of most of humanity.
More than 5.4 million people have died since the first coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.
Countless others have fallen ill - victims of epidemics, blockage and confusion by PCR, LFT and RAT tests.
2021 began with hope, as life-saving vaccines were distributed to about 60% of the world's population, although many poor countries still have limited access to them, and some of the rich believe vaccines are part of a vague conspiracy.
As the end of the year approached, the emergence of the Omicron variant led to the number of new cases of covid for the first time exceeding one million per day, according to AFP.
Britain, the United States and even Australia, which has long been a haven against the pandemic, are breaking records with new cases.
To have fun or not?
From Seoul to San Francisco, New Year's Eve celebrations were again canceled or restricted.
In Rio, the festivities, which typically gather three million people on Copacabana Beach, will continue. As in Times Square in New York, the official events at Cidade Maravilhosa will be limited, but crowds of celebrants are still expected.
"People have only one wish - to leave their homes to celebrate life after the pandemic that forced everyone to close," said Francisco Rodriguez, a 45-year-old waiter on Copacabana Beach.
Some Brazilians are more cautious after one of the deadliest epidemics in the world killed 618,000 people.
"There will be a lot of people at Copacabana," said Roberta Asis, a 27-year-old lawyer. "It's inevitable."
She plans to visit a friend's house with a small group of friends. "Now is not the time for big rallies," Asis said.
Authorities in Seoul are cautiously forbidding viewers from attending the traditional midnight bell, which will instead be broadcast live on television and on the Metaversa platform, which will allow people to watch a virtual reality version of the ceremony.
Focus on the positive
In contrast, Sydney, Australia's largest city, decided to continue with the fireworks that will illuminate the city's port. Last year, the event passed without spectators, but now tens of thousands of celebrants are expected to perform along the coast, despite the rapidly growing cases in the world.
"I'm just trying to focus on the positive things that have happened this year, instead of dealing with all the bad things," said Melinda Howard, a 22-year-old medical student who was part of the enthusiastic but smaller-than-usual crowd waiting for the fireworks to start near the Opera House.
The Conservative government in Australia says the sudden reversal - the abandonment of "zero covid" in favor of "living with covid" - is based on high levels of adult vaccination and growing evidence that Omicron is less deadly.
Many Western leaders are hesitant to reintroduce tighter controls by 2020, fearing a new economic downturn. The restrictions still provoke frequent, loud and sometimes violent protests against the blockade, vaccines and the government.
However, not everything is darkness and hopelessness. In South Africa, the first country to announce the new version, the curfew from midnight to 4:00 a.m. was lifted to allow the festivities to continue.
Health officials there said the decline in the number of infections over the past week indicated that the peak of the current wave had passed.
For now, the World Health Organization warns that difficult times lie ahead.
"I am very concerned that Omicron, which is more contagious and circulating at the same time as the Delta variant, is leading to a tsunami of cases," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
This puts and will continue to put enormous pressure on exhausted health workers and on health systems that are on the verge of collapse, he said.
Both experts and non-experts hope that 2022 can be remembered as a new, less deadly phase of the pandemic.
"I think it will be amazing because we will say goodbye to all these difficult situations," said Oscar Ramirez, 31, in Sydney.
"I hope 2022 will be better for everyone. Everyone in the world needs a big change. "
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