North Korea and Taiwan see in New Year as majority of world set for muted 2021 celebrations

·7-min read

North Korea, China and Taiwan have marked the start of 2021, with millions around the world celebrating the New Year at home because of COVID-19.

From Paris to New York, many large cities are preparing for the New Year by implementing strict crowd control measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.

North Korea

North Korea began 2021 with crowds in the capital Pyongyang's main square.

A concert and fireworks show was held amid COVID-19 restrictions.

State television showed attendees wearing face masks but standing close together, waving glowing lights and balloons.

Performers without face coverings sang and danced on a stage decorated with a large, colourful "2021" sign.

Patriotic songs with lyrics such as "glory to the general Kim Jong Un" and "I like my country the best" were prominently featured.

Costumes included traditional Korean "hanbok" dresses, sequined dance suits and giant snowmen characters.

Some commentators said the event looked smaller than last year's.

North Korea has claimed it has no confirmed cases of coronavirus, despite having tested thousands.

The government has imposed near-total border closures as one of its strict COVID-19 measures.


Taiwan hosted its usual fireworks display by its capital city's iconic tower, Taipei 101.

For its annual flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building on New Year's morning, attendance was limited to government officials and invited guests.

The island has been a success story in the pandemic, registering only seven deaths and 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19.


Thailand ushered in the New Year with a fireworks display at the Iconsiam mall in Bangkok.

The country imposed a ban on Wednesday on large gatherings and events across the country in an effort to contain its worst coronavirus epidemic yet.

Targeted lockdowns have been imposed in some provincial districts.

Hong Kong

Officials in Hong Kong cancelled the pyrotechnics over Victoria Harbour, as well as the annual iconic Lunar New Year parade in February.

This makes 2021 the second year in a row the city has missed out on the usually lavish annual celebrations.

Last year's countdown fireworks and the 2020 Lunar New Year parade were both held in much diminished form due to the threat of anti-government protests.


Japan rang in the New Year without its annual event at which Emperor Naruhito and other imperial family members greet members of the public.

In Tokyo, not only were all-night trains been cancelled on New Year's Eve, but several of the city's big countdown parties, concerts and other seasonal gatherings were called off as well, including the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing party.

A bell chimed at the Sensoji temple.


China marked 2021 without its usual light show in the capital Beijing.

The city held a countdown ceremony with just a few invited guests, with other planned events cancelled.

In Wuhan, where the pandemic is thought to have originated, thousands gathered at several popular landmarks across the city centre for the countdown to 2021.

Some said they were being cautious, but weren't particularly worried.

"Safety is the priority," said Wuhan resident Wang Xuemei, 23, a teacher. "It's fine because these measures aren't enforced very strictly," added her friend and colleague Wang Anyu. "You can still go out."


Sydney celebrated with a fireworks display above the Harbour Bridge, which was only watched live by those who live in the area and their guests.

The celebrated annual event normally attracts one million people, but this year Australian officials banned people from gathering near the bridge to watch due to coronavirus restrictions.

The display was shortened to seven minutes and the city precinct restricted to those with restaurant and hotel bookings.

New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian said those who live in the city centre could invite up to 10 friends and family to their homes to celebrate. Guests had to apply for permits to enter the area.

Melbourne, Australia's second-most populous city, cancelled its fireworks.

The city's mayor Sally Capp said: "For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks.

"We did that because we know that it attracts up to 450,000 people into the city for one moment at midnight to enjoy a spectacular display and music. We are not doing that this year."

By contrast, the west coast city of Perth - which has not had community transmission of the virus since April - celebrated the New Year with large crowds present for two fireworks spectacles.


Some parts of western Russia have also started ringing in the New Year.

President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual message, which was available online and broadcast to each time zone at 11.45pm.

New Zealand

In Auckland, New Zealand, residents were treated to a five-minute fireworks and light show when the clock struck midnight.

Crowds were allowed to gather in the city to mark the occasion due to the nation's low number of new coronavirus cases.

Thousands of people watched the display up close, which began at midnight from the Sky Tower.

The crowd cheered with excitement at 11.45pm when a man on the public address system announced: "We only have 15 minutes".

The Sky Tower has been adorned with colourful animated laser displays of geometric shapes and animals including a green gecko which appeared to be climbing down the 328m tall tower.

In one of the largest gatherings, 30,000 revellers celebrated at a three-day music festival at a winery near Gisborne on the North Island.

Pacific Island of Tonga

The Pacific Island of Tonga was the first country to mark the start of 2021 at 10am GMT.


In Ireland, the bells of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin will not ring in the New Year for the first time in living memory and possibly in centuries.

With the entire country under the toughest COVID-19 restrictions, all New Year's Eve events were moved online.


France has mobilised 100,000 police and gendarmes to break up New Year's Eve parties and enforce a curfew from 8pm to 6am.

Half of the metro lines in Paris will also be closed in the evening to discourage gatherings.

France has had two national lockdowns and bars, restaurants and cultural attractions will remain shut into January.

The country has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Western Europe.

Composer and performer Jean-Michel Jarre's avatar will play a set from inside a virtual Notre Dame Cathedral while he himself performs it live at a nearby studio in the city.


In Italy, customary concerts in public plazas have been scrapped in favour of live streamed performances and art installations.

Fireworks will still go ahead in Rome, but Pope Francis will skip his typical visit to the Vatican's life-sized Nativity scene in St Peter's Square. He will deliver his New Year's Day blessing indoors.


Germany has banned the sale of fireworks and limited private gatherings to a maximum of two households and five people.

The country is in lockdown until 10 January and no celebrations are taking place in Berlin.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands will host its usual countdown behind closed doors at a football stadium in Amsterdam as it remains in lockdown until 19 January.


One of the most iconic New Year's Eve events is the Times Square Ball Drop in New York.

The ball will still be dropping this year, but the party, which usually sees hundreds of thousands cramming the famous LED-lit intersection, will be for an "extremely limited" group of socially distanced in-person "honourees".

Everyone else will need to tune in virtually or watch on TV.

There will be a performance from singer Gloria Gaynor, who will see the year off with a rendition of I Will Survive.

Fireworks have been cancelled in other US cities including San Francisco and Las Vegas.


Turkey is welcoming the new year under a four-day lockdown starting at 9pm on New Year's Eve, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that security forces will inspect hotels for illicit parties.