Covid clouds world's welcome to the New Year, but hopes remain high

·3-min read

The world ushered in 2022 on Saturday with scaled-back celebrations due to new restrictions aimed at slowing the soaring number of Covid cases -- although hope remained high for a better new year.

New York revived its New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square in limited form, Paris abandoned its fireworks show because of the rising number of Omicron cases, and London's pyrotechnic display was broadcast on TV to discourage crowds.

Police officers patrolled the Champs-Elysées in Paris, which was lit with glittering red lights and festooned with "2022" balloons.

Most people were reminded of the obligation to wear a mask, but some who argued were fined.

Elsewhere, from Seoul to San Francisco, celebrations were again cancelled or curtailed in the face of the infection surge.

In Madrid's Puerta del Sol about 7,000 people -- half the usual capacity -- rang in the new year by eating grapes, one for each time the clock chimed up to 12.

Dubai went ahead with its celebrations undeterred, with 36 firework displays at 29 locations.

But authorities warned they would fine anyone in attendance not wearing a mask.

Sydney gets off with a bang!

In Sydney, which normally bills itself as the "New Year's Eve capital of the world", the vast harbor where people gather to watch the city's fireworks was notably uncrowded.

With tourists still unable to enter the country and many residents fearful of the rapid spread of Omicron, tens of thousands were estimated to have attended, rather than the usual one million-plus.

Still, the Australian city saw in New Year's Eve with a bang -- igniting six tonnes of technicolored fireworks that lit up the Opera House and floating barges.

In Tunis, authorities cited a rise in virus cases for the last-minute cancellation of festivities.

In contrast, South Africa -- the first country to report Omicron back in November -- lifted a curfew late Thursday to allow festivities to go ahead.

A new-year tragedy struck in India, where at least 12 people died and 13 were injured in a stampede at a religious shrine during Saturday's early hours. Pilgrims had gathered to offer new year prayers, officials said.

Kissin' and cuddlin' in Copacabana

In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach went ahead in a scaled-back format, although crowds still arrived at the traditional party spot.

After last year's festivities were canceled due to Covid, it was a comparatively muted return.

A ban on musical performances, traffic and public transport made for a more measured atmosphere on the city's famed beach.

"I was expecting many more people, and stress, but it's calm, I like it," said Colombian neuroscientist Alejandra Luna, whose hope for 2022 is to "kiss and cuddle without thinking much about it".

In Mexico City, authorities canceled a number of mass outdoor events, including a concert on one of the capital's main boulevards, following an increase in coronavirus cases.

Tsunami warning from WHO

The World Health Organisation has warned of trying times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to "a tsunami of cases".

Many Western leaders have been hesitant to reimpose the strict controls seen in 2020, for fear of sparking a new economic downturn.

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