New Year celebrations

World bids difficult 2020 goodbye

Hoping for better 2021, many ring in new year amid quiet streets and curfews

NEW YORK In place of thousands jammed shoulder to shoulder in Times Square, revellers this year comprised a few dozen pre-selected key workers, including nurses and delivery personnel, in socially distanced pens 2m apart. TAIPEI Crowds watching firew
TAIPEI Crowds watching fireworks at the Taipei 101 skyscraper during New Year celebrations in Taiwan. Elsewhere on the island, many cities cancelled public attendance at such events and asked people to watch them online or on TV.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
NEW YORK In place of thousands jammed shoulder to shoulder in Times Square, revellers this year comprised a few dozen pre-selected key workers, including nurses and delivery personnel, in socially distanced pens 2m apart. TAIPEI Crowds watching firew
PYONGYANG Performers at New Year's Eve celebrations in Kim Il Sung Square in the North Korean capital. State media showed revellers in face masks filling the main square for a concert and fireworks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
SYDNEY Fireworks exploding over the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Unlike in past years, the harbour below was a deserted ghost town amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
SYDNEY Fireworks exploding over the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Unlike in past years, the harbour below was a deserted ghost town amid the Covid-19 pandemic.PHOTO: REUTERS
PYONGYANG Performers at New Year's Eve celebrations in Kim Il Sung Square in the North Korean capital. State media showed revellers in face masks filling the main square for a concert and fireworks.
NEW YORK In place of thousands jammed shoulder to shoulder in Times Square, revellers this year comprised a few dozen pre-selected key workers, including nurses and delivery personnel, in socially distanced pens 2m apart. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • Fireworks soared into the sky above the Sydney Opera House, but the harbour below was a deserted ghost town, a fittingly creepy send-off for a year that will not be missed.

In Beijing, no light show illuminated the city from the top of the TV tower. St Peter's in Rome was almost empty for vespers. London's Trafalgar Square, Moscow's Red Square, Madrid's Puerta del Sol and New York's Times Square were all barricaded off.

Good riddance, 2020. Hello, 2021.

While some cities launched fireworks over empty streets, others, such as London and Singapore, called off their displays.

Paris, Rome and Istanbul were under curfew.

New York's countdown ball dropped on Broadway as scheduled. But in place of thousands of people jammed shoulder to shoulder in Times Square, the audience comprised a few dozen pre-selected key workers - including nurses, doctors, a grocery store worker and a pizza delivery man - their families kept 2m apart in socially distanced pens.

"It's going to be actually, arguably, the most special, the most poignant, the most moving New Year's Eve," Mayor Bill de Blasio, who pushed the button to start the crystal ball's descent, told reporters. "In 2021, we're going to show people what it looks like to recover, to come back."

With more than 1.8 million people dead and 83 million infected around the globe since last New Year's Eve - yet hope emerging that new vaccines can help tame the pandemic - the year ended unlike any other in memory.

THE PARTY GOES ON

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic originated a year ago, large crowds took to the streets, including hundreds who gathered in front of the old Hankow Customs House building. When its old clock struck midnight, many of them cheered and released balloons into the air.

"I'm so, so, so incredibly happy," said 20-year-old student and tourist Yang Wenxuan. "I hope that (in 2021) I can obtain my bachelor's degree and I hope I can find a boyfriend."

There was a heavy police presence and strict crowd control, but the countdown appeared to proceed in a relaxed atmosphere.

Many cities in Taiwan cancelled public attendance at events like fireworks displays, and had asked people to watch them online or on television. But the Taipei city government allowed in-person attendance at its New Year's events, as well as broadcasting them live - including fireworks set off from the outside of Taipei 101, once the world's tallest building.

The virus also did not stop North Korea from staging its celebration in Pyongyang. State media showed revellers in face masks filling the main square for a concert and fireworks.

But in Madrid's Puerta del Sol, where Spaniards typically count down to midnight by stuffing grapes into their mouths at each clock strike, police put up barriers to keep people out.

Mr Jose Angel Balsa, a 61-year-old retiree, said he would spend the evening "with family, just the four of us at home, holding lots of video calls and hoping for this (pandemic) to end as soon as possible".

Berlin revellers usually take to the streets to light up the sky with fireworks on New Year's Eve, but the authorities banned the use of fireworks in certain public places, including more than 50 zones in the capital, to discourage large crowds from gathering.

Some Berliners instead tried to launch fireworks from their homes, leading to dozens of fires across the German capital.

At A la Ville de Rodez, an upmarket delicatessen in Paris, manager Brice Tapon sent customers home with packages of foie gras, truffles and pate for groups of two or three.

Rules forbid more than six adults to gather around the dinner table.

One customer, Ms Anne Chaplin, said she would "stuff myself with foie gras, champagne and all this food".

"And I'll stay home."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2021, with the headline 'World bids difficult 2020 goodbye'. Subscribe