New Year’s Eve muted by Omicron; many hoping for better 2022

Wellington, New Zealand – Doomsday until 2021. Let’s bring 2022 new hope.

This was a common sentiment on Friday as people all over the world prepared to welcome the new year.

In many places, plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations for the second year in a row have been silenced or canceled due to the spread of coronavirus infections, this time due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Even before Omicron hit, many people were happy to say goodbye to the second year of the outbreak.

But so far, at least, Omicron’s surge has not resulted in the same levels of hospitalization and deaths as previous outbreaks – especially among vaccinated people – providing a glimmer of hope for 2022.

In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he will spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores will close. He said vaccinations have made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new alternative.

“It started to feel numb, and we were no longer overly afraid,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to accept that it won’t happen to me.”

Like many others, Matsuzawa hopes life will improve in 2022.

“I hope the restrictions will go away,” he said.

All over Japan, many people have planned New Year trips to spend time with their families. On New Year’s Eve, people crowded into temples and shrines, most of them wearing masks.

However, some seemed to ignore virus fears, by busily eating and drinking in downtown Tokyo and flocking to the shops, not just to celebrate the holidays but to feel the euphoria of freedom from the restrictions of the recent virus.

Due to the location of the International Date Line, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are among the first to usher in each new year.

Australia had been planning to go ahead with its celebrations despite the rise in virus cases. The centerpiece of the festivities is the famous fireworks display from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Hours before the festivities began, Australian health authorities reported 32,000 new cases of the virus, many of them in Sydney. Because of the sudden increase, authorities were expecting much smaller crowds than in the pre-pandemic years, when up to a million revelers thronged inside Sydney.

In neighboring New Zealand, where there has been no community spread of omicron, authorities have taken a precautionary approach by canceling several fireworks displays, including the famous one from atop Auckland’s Sky Tower. Instead, Auckland will celebrate the New Year with a projected light show on the tower and other city landmarks.

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony has been canceled for the second year in a row due to an increase in the number of cases.

Instead, officials said, a pre-recorded video of this year’s bell-ringing ceremony will be broadcast online and on television. The event had previously attracted tens of thousands of people. Last year’s cancellation was the first since the celebration began in 1953.

South Korean authorities also planned to close several beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which are usually bustling with people hoping to see the first sunrise of the year. South Korea said on Friday it would extend strict social distancing rules for another two weeks.

In India, millions of people were planning to call away from their homes in the new year, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions nullifying festivities in major cities including New Delhi and Mumbai.

Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep revelers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars amid a surge in cases fueled by Omicron.

But some places, including Goa, the tourist paradise, and Hyderabad, the IT hub, have escaped the nighttime curfew thanks to lower numbers of infections, although other restrictions remain in place.

Many Indonesians have also abandoned their usual celebrations for a quieter evening at home, after the government banned many New Year’s Eve celebrations. In Jakarta, fireworks displays, parades and other large gatherings were banned, while restaurants and shopping malls were allowed to remain open but with a curfew imposed.

Vietnam also canceled fireworks displays and celebrations. In Hanoi, authorities closed off central streets, while in Ho Chi Minh City, the public was forbidden to watch live countdown shows, which instead were scheduled to be shown on social media.

In Hong Kong, about 3,000 people planned a New Year’s Eve party featuring local celebrities including boy band Mirror. The concert will be the first major New Year’s Eve event to be held since 2018, after events were canceled in 2019 due to political strife and last year due to the pandemic.

In China, the Shanghai government has canceled events including an annual light show along the Huangpu River in the city center that usually attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators.

There were no plans for public celebrations in Beijing, where folk temples have been closed or access has been limited since mid-December. The government has called on people to avoid leaving the Chinese capital if possible, and is requiring checks for travelers coming from areas with infections.

Folk temples in Nanjing, Hangzhou and other major cities in eastern China have canceled “lucky bell” ceremonies on New Year’s Eve and asked the public to stay away.

But in Thailand, authorities have allowed New Year’s Eve parties and fireworks displays to continue, albeit with strict security measures. They hoped to slow the spread of the omicron variant while softening the blow on the country’s troubled tourism sector. New Year’s Eve prayers, which are usually held at Buddhist temples around Thailand, will be held online instead.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 people were killed by Cyclone Ray and at least 82 are still missing. Half a million homes were damaged or destroyed.

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home in a fire last month, when a cyclone blew up her makeshift log 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 child in a dilapidated tent in a coastal area where hundreds of other families have set up small tents of rubble, rice bags and tarpaulins. To protect themselves from rain and sun.

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

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Associated Press reporters Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung Jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Ninik Carmini and Edna Tarijan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zhen Su in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; An Associated Press researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report

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