Omicron Overshadowed the Holidays in many Countries
The Omicron coronavirus variant overshadowed New Year's celebrations in much of the world, with Paris canceling its fireworks show, London broadcasting the show on television, and New York reducing the number of attendees at its traditional Times Square ball party. The illuminated ball, made of crystal panels, slipped at midnight in Times Square, but only 15,000 spectators were admitted to the official viewing area instead of the usual 58,000.
A year ago, the newly created vaccine gave hope that the coronavirus pandemic could be controlled by early 2022. Instead, the sudden appearance of Omicron led to a surge in coronavirus cases worldwide.
Infections worldwide have reached record highs in the past seven days, averaging just over a million cases a day between December 24 and 30, about 100,000 more than the previous peak on Wednesday, according to Reuters. However, the death toll has not increased, which is hopeful that the new variant is less deadly.
New York reported a record 44,000 cases on Wednesday and another 43,000 on Thursday, leading some critics to question whether the celebrations should take place at all. But the city administration has decided that an open-air party with vaccinated, masked, and socially distant celebrants is safe and a better option than last year's virtually empty celebration.
All over the world, events have been scaled down or canceled altogether, such as the traditional fireworks over the Petronas Towers in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Midnight passed in Paris without the planned fireworks, as the city authorities canceled the planned events on the Champs-Elysees after the advice of a scientific commission, which announced that the mass gatherings would be too risky. In the Netherlands, where the gathering of more than four people is even banned in the open, police dispersed several thousand people who had defiantly gathered in the central Dam Square in Amsterdam, ANP reported.
But in London, where fireworks and a light show were canceled in October, officials announced on Friday that the show would come to life on television as Big Ben rings on New Year's Eve for the first time since 2017 after its restoration. The BBC's images of the fireworks showed very little vehicle traffic and virtually no one was present.
After encouraging data, the South African city of Cape Town suddenly raised its curfew just before the New Year, after South Africa became the first country to announce that the Omicron wave reached its peak without an increase in deaths. Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney also celebrated the New Year in full swing, with spectacular fireworks gleaming in the harbor above the Opera House.
People in Madrid lined up for hours to enter the main square of Puerta del Sol, where celebrations took place with numerous checkpoints, mandatory masks, and a capacity of 60%. In Asia, celebrations were mostly restricted or canceled. In South Korea, the traditional midnight bell-ringing ceremony has been canceled for the second year. Celebrations were also banned in Tokyo's glittering entertainment district of Shibuya, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to YouTube to urge people to wear masks and limit the number of attendees at private parties. China, where the coronavirus first appeared in late 2019, was on high alert, with the city of Xi'an remaining under blockade and New Year's Eve events in other cities were canceled.
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