AUSTRALIA/SOUTH KOREA: New Year celebrations around the world have been called off as the coronavirus casts gloom over festivities for a second year but Australia was determined to enjoy the night and there were even signs North Korea was preparing fireworks.
Global coronavirus infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, with an average of just over one million cases detected a day worldwide between December 24 and 30, some 100,000 up on the previous peak posted on Wednesday, according to data.
With numerous countries registering all-time highs, authorities in many places have called off celebrations to welcome in 2022, fearful that the all-conquering Omicron variant will take advantage of gatherings to spread even faster.
But Australia rang in the New Year with a bang despite surges in infections to record levels in some places.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wished people to “enjoy the evening”, while Dominic Perrottet, premier of New South Wales state, urged everyone to “head out and enjoy New Year” even as daily infections in the state nearly doubled.
Perrottet said he took heart from higher levels of vaccination and the fact that hospitals were coping with the Omicron wave.
“Our position remains incredibly strong,” he told reporters.
Social distancing rules are in place and masks are required indoors in Sydney but thousands of people flocked to its harbourside to watch New Year fireworks, with queues forming at many vantage points from early in the morning.
North Korea also appeared to be preparing to buck the trend and celebrate the New Year with midnight fireworks at Kim Il Sung Square in its capital, Pyongyang.
Commercial satellite imagery showed preparations were under way with a stage being installed in the square, according to NK News, a Seoul-based website that monitors North Korea.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran photographs of flower shops in Pyongyang crowded with mask-wearing customers buying blooms for the celebrations.
North Korea sealed it borders after the pandemic began and has not reported a single case of COVID-19.
Over the border in South Korea, the mood was not so festive.
A traditional midnight bell-ringing ceremony has been cancelled for the second year and authorities announced an extension of stricter distancing rules for two weeks to tackle a persistent surge in Infections.
China was on high alert against the virus, with the city of Xian under lockdown and New Year events in other cities cancelled and authorities urging restraint.
Authorities in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, closed 11 roads that usually draw big crowds for New Year, police said, while Malaysia has banned big gatherings nationwide and cancelled a spectacular fireworks display at the Petronas Twin Towers in the capital, Kula Lumpur.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took to his official YouTube channel to urge people to wear masks at parties and limit the number of people attending, while Tokyo’s famous Shibuya entertainment district has banned year-end parties.
New Zealand, famous for its success in keeping the virus at bay, will see some celebrations. Its biggest city, Auckland, eased restrictions this week to let people enjoy some song and dance. – NDTV