Muted New Year’s Eve by omicron; many hope for a better year 2022

PARIS (AP) — Grief for the dead and dying, fear of new infections to come, and hope for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — once again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance until 2021 and inaugurated 2022.

New Year’s Eve, once celebrated around the world with free-spirited savagery, was more like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant once again filling hospitals.

At La Timone hospital in Marseille, southern France, Dr Fouad Bouzana could only sigh when asked what 2022 might bring.

“It’s starting to get exhausting,” he says, “because the waves come one after the other.

Mostly silent New Year celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide since the end of 2019 and more than 5 million have died from it.

In Paris, authorities canceled fireworks amid soaring infections and reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who thronged the Champs-Élysées as the last hours of 2021 were passing.

In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was held without an audience. In Madrid, authorities only allowed 7,000 people into the downtown square of Puerta del Sol, a place traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.

In the United States, authorities have taken a mixed approach to the end-of-the-year celebrations: stifling the public at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, reducing it to New York and going ahead in Las Vegas, where 300,000 people were expected for a fireworks display on the Strip.

President Joe Biden noted the losses and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said, “We are persevering. We recover.

“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted to Twitter. “

In New York, authorities planned to allow just 15,000 people – vaccinated and masked – inside the perimeter around Times Square, a slice of the million who usually crowd to watch the famous ball fall. Incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people needed to see New York was open for business.

Yet on Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York City broadcast after testing positive for COVID-19 and restaurant owners battered by staff shortages and omicron cancellations throughout the holiday season had to hard to stay open.

“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who has seen reservations and party reservations disappear this month. “Nobody won any money in December. The fact that they can have a good night tonight, it has no impact.

Airlines also struggled at the end of the year, canceling thousands of flights after the virus hit flight crews and other staff and in bad weather.

The game-changing pandemic of 2021 – vaccinations – has continued apace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it had met its target of offering a booster shot to all adults by Friday .

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “is not receding yet”. Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 deaths from COVID-19, but its national statistics agency says the death toll has more than doubled.

“I would like to express sincere words of support to all those who have lost loved ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

Elsewhere, the venue many chose for New Year’s Eve celebrations was the same place they became all too familiar with during the lockdowns: their homes.

Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-size nativity scene set up in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid crowds. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a service of vespers of prayer and hymns on Friday evening while seated in an armchair. But he also delivered a standing homily and unmasked.

“A feeling of being lost has developed in the world during the pandemic,” Francis told worshipers at St. Peter’s Basilica.

France, Britain, Portugal and Australia are among the countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022. Yet French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his hope in delivering the last New Year’s speech of his current term.

“Maybe 2022 will be the year we get out of the epidemic – I want to believe that with you – the year we can see the end of this endless day,” Macron said, urging the unvaccinated to get the shot.

France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases on Friday marked its third day above the 200,000 mark. The UK followed closely, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said up to 1 in 15 people had been infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the UK increased by 68% last week, to the highest levels since February.

Yet raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. A medical expert has predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.

At Expo 2020, the sprawling World’s Fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to wave caution on New Year’s Eve – her first time outside the Saudi Arabia, where she lives in the holy city of Medina.

“If you don’t celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I am in good health and I took two doses (of vaccine). We just have to enjoy. »

Australia continued its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House at midnight. Still, crowds were much smaller than in pre-pandemic years.

In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly as some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.

“A numbness has set in and we’re not too scared anymore,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take it for granted that it’s not going to happen to me.”

South Korean authorities have closed many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which are usually teeming with people hoping to catch the first sunrise of the year.

In India, millions of people rang in the New Year from their homes, with nightly curfews and other restrictions putting an end to celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities.

In mainland China, the Shanghai government canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or have limited access since mid-December.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out the basic necessities of tens of thousands of people before New Year’s Eve. More than 400 people were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 are still missing .

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, then the typhoon swept away her temporary wooden cabin in Cebu City. She will welcome the new year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her one-year-old baby in a dilapidated tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families have erected small tents from debris, sacks of rice and tarpaulins.

When asked what she wanted for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we don’t get sick.”

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Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

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Associated Press reporters Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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