HONK KONG — Another year, another variant.
Much like last year, 2021 is ending with the emergence of a new form of the coronavirus, dashing hopes that the end of the pandemic might be in sight.
And although so far the new variant, omicron, seems to have milder symptoms and lower rates of hospitalization and death, many countries around the world are erring on the side of caution and scaling back plans to ring in the New Year.
There will be no traditional displays above most of the world’s landmarks, with fireworks cancelled over Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, London’s Big Ben and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
A notable exception is Australia, the first country to pronounce itself past its omicron wave. Here, the traditionally spectacular fireworks over Sydney Harbor proceeded despite a growing outbreak.
“What I would like people to do tomorrow night is enjoy the evening,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a news conference on Thursday.
Dominic Perrottet of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, said this week that people should “head out and enjoy New Year’s,” even as the state reported a daily record of more than 20,000 cases on Friday.
Thanks to omicron, the New Year began its annual roll from East to West quietly — with no official firework display in Auckland, New Zealand.
Sydney opened the global celebration in vintage style, with its usual spectacular pyrotechnics reflected in the harbour below the Sydney Opera House. But there would be no displays above many of the world’s traditional landmarks, with fireworks called off over Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, London’s Big Ben and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Australian officials’ permissive attitude was a sharp contrast to last year, when Sydney residents needed a permit to enter the Central Business District and were warned against midnight hugs and kisses.
New Zealand, which has yet to report any community spread of omicron, also became one of the first places in the world to welcome 2022. Covid fears still canceled fireworks shows across the country, but a midnight light show did go ahead in Auckland. Restrictions were only recently lifted in the city, the country’s largest, which was in lockdown for 107 days after a delta outbreak in August.
“It’s been very positive because obviously we’ve been in lockdown,” Eleanor Rawson said by telephone from Mo’s bar in Auckland, where she rang in the New Year with friends at 6 a.m. ET. “This is kind of our first time getting out and being able to mingle, so it feels very nice.”
Rawson said she hoped for a “semi-normal lifestyle” in 2022, and that “people kind of find a sense of balance for themselves and a sense of happiness.”
In China, where 13 million people in the city of Xi’an have been on lockdown for more than a week amid a coronavirus outbreak weeks before the Beijing Olympics, events have been canceled in multiple cities. People are also being urged not to travel for the upcoming Lunar New Year, China’s most important holiday, making this the third consecutive year it has been disrupted by the pandemic.