New Zealand celebrates New Year, but Covid mutes festivities elsewhere

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New Zealand is one of the few countries where New Year festivities went ahead as usual, with restrictions in place elsewhere as countries struggle to curb new spikes in Covid-19 cases.

Fireworks from the Auckland Sky Tower during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Tens of thousands of revellers gathered in popular hotspots such as Gisborne, the Coromandel, Central Otago and Tauranga to welcome in the New Year.

There were public events in most New Zealand towns and cities – many with entertainment and fireworks.

People told RNZ they feel lucky to be in New Zealand as Covid-19 is still taking hold of many other countries.

Julie Rixon from Red Beach, north of Auckland, was at the Sky Tower celebrations in Auckland with her family long before midnight.

She said they wanted to enjoy the city vibe after a challenging year affected by the virus. Rixon said she hopes vaccine efforts will be successful in fighting Covid-19 in the new year.

People watch fireworks during New Year's Eve celebrations in Christchurch on 1January 2021. 

People watch fireworks during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Christchurch. Photo: AFP / NurPhoto

In other countries fireworks displays and other public gatherings have been cancelled from Sydney to New York.

Festivities are being particularly muted in Europe, amid fears over a new more contagious strain of the disease.

France has mobilised 100,000 police to break up New Year’s Eve parties and enforce a night-time curfew.

More than 1.8 million people have died with the virus across the world since the start of the pandemic a year ago. More than 81 million cases have been reported.

How are Asia-Pacific countries affected?

Along with New Zealand, Australia was one of the first nations to ring in the New Year. The Sydney fireworks display went ahead, but crowds were not allowed to gather on the city’s harbour to enjoy it.

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“We don’t want to create any super-spreading events on New Year’s Eve,” New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Many Sydney residents simply watched the pyrotechnics on TV at home, where gatherings are limited to five guests.

In China, the annual New Year light show in the capital Beijing has been called off. Celebrations are being scaled down in cities across the country.

Japan has cancelled a traditional New Year event at which Emperor Naruhito and other imperial family members were to greet people.

In India, Delhi and several other cities have imposed a night curfew and other restrictions to prevent large New Year gatherings.

What about Europe?

In France, the government has ordered a visible security presence in urban areas from 20:00 on Thursday, when the curfew begins. In Paris half of the metro lines will be closed in the evening.

France has had two lockdowns and bars, restaurants and cultural attractions will remain shut into the new year.

In England – where the new coronavirus strain is spreading fast and 20 million people in the worst-affected regions are forced to stay at home – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to follow the rules.

“That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors, unless they’re in the same household or support bubble, and avoiding large gatherings of any kind,” he said on Wednesday.

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The Metropolitan Police issued a warning to potential revellers in London to “celebrate the new year in the comfort of their own homes”.

Ireland will move to its highest level of restrictions on Thursday, banning all household visits, closing all non-essential retail and limiting travel to 5km.

Germany is currently under lockdown until 10 January. The government has banned the sale of fireworks and placed tight restrictions on the number of people who can gather in public.

In what was expected to be her last New Year’s Eve address as chancellor as she plans to step down in nine months, Angela Merkel took aim at conspiracy theorists.

Making a rare show of emotion, she said she could only imagine how cynical and cruel their dangerous lies must feel to those who had lost loved ones to the virus.

In Italy, a 10pm curfew has been imposed, and bars, restaurants and most shops are closed. Meanwhile Pope Francis will not lead New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day services in Rome after suffering a recurrence of chronic hip pain.

The Netherlands is also under a lockdown, which is set to last until 19 January. Its usual countdown will take place behind closed doors at a football stadium in Amsterdam.

Turkey will begin a four-day-long lockdown on New Year’s Eve.

In the US officials have placed restrictions on festivities in many states and cities. In New York the illuminated Times Square Ball will be dropped during the traditional countdown to midnight, but the area will not be open to the public.

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

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– BBC / RNZ

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