Omicron mutes New Year parties worldwide: Live news

The year 2022 is here in some countries, with the inhabitants of the South Pacific islands of Samoa and Kiribati the first to start the new year at 10:00 GMT, and New Zealand following an hour later.

In Australia, Sydney kicked off 2022 with 6 tonnes of colourful fireworks against the imposing backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

It will take 26 hours, up to 12:00 GMT on Saturday, for the entire globe to ring in the New Year.

Many large parties and fireworks displays have been cancelled or scaled down due to a rise in coronavirus infections across the world.

Here are the latest updates:

16 mins ago (20:12 GMT)

Wave of cancelled flights from Omicron closes out 2021

More cancelled flights have frustrated air travellers on the final day of 2021 and appeared all but certain to inconvenience hundreds of thousands more over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

Airlines blamed many of the cancellations on crew shortages related to the spike in COVID-19 infections, along with wintry weather in parts of the US.

By early afternoon on the East Coast, airlines had scrubbed more than 1,400 US flights – about 6 percent of all scheduled flights – and roughly 2,900 worldwide, according to tracking service FlightAware.

36 mins ago (19:51 GMT)

Party like it’s 2019: Serbia hosts raucous New Year’s Eve

Boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations have kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings are allowed.

Large crowds gathered in the city for outdoor concerts, fireworks and a light show at a newly-constructed Dubai-style glass tower that has become a trademark project by Serbia’s right-wing populist government.

With its numerous nightclubs and bars and relatively low prices, Belgrade has become a major attraction for mostly young partygoers coming in from neighbouring Balkan states. Serbia’s state RTS television reported that about 100,000 visitors have flocked to Belgrade for the holidays, filling up the city’s hotels and rented apartments. Restaurants and bars have been packed.

1 hour ago (19:23 GMT)

Macron says France faces tough weeks ahead

The next few weeks will be difficult for France because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, but the country can get through it if people behave responsibly, President Emmanuel Macron has said in a televised New Year’s Eve address to the nation.

He said France was in a better place to face the coronavirus than a year ago because of the number of people who have been vaccinated, and urged anyone who was unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 shot.

The country needs to do everything to avoid having to impose new restrictions that would curb people’s freedoms, Macron said.

1 hour ago (19:14 GMT)

Turkish health minister issues a ‘New Year warning’

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has shared on Twitter a “New Year warning,” saying: “Though there are no restrictions, we recommend that you act as if there are. We are in a time of increased risk.”

He called on people to celebrate the new year with close family members only.

Koca earlier shared a written statement saying that the rise in the number of cases originating from Omicron was mostly seen in Istanbul, with 52.3 percent of nationwide cases over the past 10 days registered in Istanbul.

A crowd of people are seen walking inside the Egyptian Bazaar , IstanbulPedestrians, some wearing protective face masks walk inside the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul [Francisco Seco/AP Photo]

1 hour ago (18:59 GMT)

Hong Kong rings in 2022 with concert

Fans have gathered to ring in the arrival of 2022 at a New Year’s Eve concert with Hong Kong’s popular Cantopop band Mirror and a slew of other artists, including Gin Lee and Joyce Cheng.

Many celebrated being able to gather amid the virus pandemic and hoped for a better year ahead.

People sit on chairs outside and watch a performance at a New Year's Eve concert in Hong KongPeople attend a New Year’s Eve concert in Hong Kong [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

2 hours ago (18:54 GMT)

Pope changes New Year’s Eve plans again

Pope Francis has not presided over New Year’s Eve vespers at St Peter’s Basilica as planned, although he has delivered the homily.

Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, led the service while the 85-year-old pontiff, wearing a mask, spent most of it seated on the sidelines.

Asked about the change, just three hours after Vatican had confirmed the pope’s presiding role, a spokesman said simply that Francis wanted the cardinal to preside over the celebration.

Pope Francis delivers mass in St Peter's Basilica at The VaticanPope Francis celebrates a New Year’s Eve vespers mass in St Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican [Andrew Medichini/AP Photo]

2 hours ago (18:52 GMT)

France reports record coronavirus cases

France has reported 232,200 new COVID-19 cases, the highest-ever recorded total, as the country prepares for subdued New Year celebrations, with many fireworks events cancelled and people told to mask up.

New infections over the last 24 hours were above the 200,000 limit for the third day running.
The previous record of 208,099 was set on Wednesday.

A woman arrives at a mobile coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing booth in Paris, FranceA woman arrives at a mobile COVID-19 testing booth in Paris, France [Christian Hartmann/Reuters]

2 hours ago (18:01 GMT)

Berlin mayor mulls banning fireworks in parts of city

Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey has said banning fireworks in some parts of the city, a policy introduced in 2020 due to the pandemic, could help protect the emergency forces.

“We also have to talk about pacifying certain areas of the city beyond the coronavirus pandemic by not allowing fireworks there,” she said.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach advised Germans to spend the New Year period “very cautiously” and celebrate only in very small groups. Large-scale New Year celebrations have been cancelled.

A few people walk on the boulevard 'Strasse des 17. Juni' in front of the Brandenburg Gate Berlin, GermanyOnly a few people walk on the boulevard ‘Strasse des 17. Juni’ in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany [Markus Schreiber/AP Photo]

3 hours ago (17:40 GMT)

Fireworks light up Bangkok, Thailand

A spectacular display of fireworks has lit up Bangkok’s night sky as 2021 drew to an end in Thailand.

This year, authorities in the Southeast Asian nation allowed New Year’s Eve parties and fireworks displays to go ahead, albeit with strict coronavirus restrictions in place.

New Year’s Eve prayers, which are usually held in Buddhist temples around Thailand, were held online.

Fireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River during the New Year celebrations in Bangkok, ThailandFireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

3 hours ago (17:36 GMT)

Large crowds gather in Tokyo

Tokyo has cancelled its official New Year’s countdown at the famous Shibuya crossing intersection, but thousands of people still came out to celebrate despite pleas from authorities to avoid big gatherings.

The Shibuya crossing is often crowded with large numbers of people and is a popular tourist attraction.

In the hope of preventing people from gathering around the busy landmark, the city had requested that people refrain from visiting the area and turned off all billboards at 11pm. But that was not enough to keep the crowds away.

People celebrate outside at the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, JapanRevellers celebrate the New Year at the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan [Androniki Christodoulou/Reuters]

3 hours ago (17:23 GMT)

Celebrations scaled back in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled down format – though crowds of revellers are still expected at the traditional party spot.

“People have only one desire, to leave their homes, to celebrate life,” 45-year-old Copacabana beach waiter Francisco Rodrigues told the AFP news agency.

4 hours ago (16:56 GMT)

Swimmers dip into cold Baikal lake in Russia

Freezing temperatures could not prevent dozens of Russian swimmers from a traditional annual dip into the waters of the Lake Baikal on New Year’s Eve.

This year it was warmer in the water – about 2.5 degrees Celsius (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit) – than on dry land where the temperature was -15C (5F).

“It’s awesome,” said first-time ice swimmer Olga Sundareva. “I’ve been dreaming of getting here for a long time and I’ve found this club this year.”

4 hours ago (16:41 GMT)

Revellers return to NYC’s Times Square

New York City is preparing to revive its annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, even as public health officials cautioned against unbridled celebrations.

The city said it would limit the number of people it lets into Times Square to witness a 6-tonne ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, descend above a crowd of about 15,000 in-person spectators – far fewer than the many tens of thousands of revellers who usually descend on the world-famous square during the nation’s marquee New Year’s Eve event.

“We are very excited to welcome back visitors to Times Square this New Year’s Eve,” said Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance. “Our goal is to have a safe and responsible event for the world to see.”

People gather at the security entrance outside at Times Square ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations in New York City, USPeople gather at the security entrance at Times Square before celebrations in New York City, US [Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters]

4 hours ago (16:26 GMT)

India welcomes New Year with restrictions

In India, amid fear of a repeat of a devastating virus surge that overwhelmed the country in April and May, cities and states have imposed restrictions on gatherings. Delhi implemented a 10pm curfew.

Mumbai police on Friday issued evening bans on people visiting public places such as the city’s beaches and seafront promenades, normally popular sites for seeing in the New Year – with the restrictions set to last two weeks.

Workers of a political party and others cheer in front of a huge kite on a public street to welcome 2022 on New Year’s Eve in Ahmedabad, IndiaWorkers of a political party and others cheer in front of a huge kite to welcome 2022 on New Year’s Eve in Ahmedabad, India [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

5 hours ago (15:44 GMT)

Fireworks bring in New Year in North Korea

A light show and fireworks display brought in the New Year in North Korea, as leader Kim Jong Un marks 10 years in power.

The spectacle took place against the backdrop of Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

In neighbouring South Korea, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in Seoul was cancelled due to a surge in the cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

5 hours ago (15:30 GMT)

Serbia prepares for New Year’s concert

Tens of thousands of visitors from around Eastern Europe and further afield are expected to attend a big music event and a fireworks show in downtown Belgrade.

“We love large public celebrations. We came here from Vienna specifically because here [it feels as if] there is no COVID-19,” one woman told The Associated Press news agency.

Many Belgrade residents appeared to share her sentiment and voiced happiness that their city was the only Balkan capital holding a big celebration to ring in the New Year.

“Why would I be afraid?” one person asked. “We must live our lives.”

People dance the traditional kolo dance on Belgrade's main pedestrian street during New Year's Eve in SerbiaPeople dance on Belgrade’s main pedestrian street during New Year’s Eve in Serbia [Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo]

5 hours ago (14:58 GMT)

Yearend cheer for South Africans as midnight curfew lifted

South Africans cheered the government’s decision to lift its midnight curfew after nearly two years of COVID-19 restrictions, a relief for businesses and citizens just before New Year celebrations.

“[The past two years] have been hard on us, if you look at our neighbours, most guys have closed down, that’s how bad it was,” said 32-year-old Michael Mchende, a manager at Hard Rock Cafe in Cape Town.

“For this brand, we are all about having a good time. So now that we have been allowed to actually have a good time, these doors are just going to be here for display. We are not going to shut down no more, we are all in.”

An undercover police officer is seen as customers queue to buy fireworks outside the St Mary Cathedral in Johannesburg, South Africa before New Year’s Eve celebrations [Marco Longari/AFP]

6 hours ago (14:53 GMT)

Samoa celebrates the New Year

Unlike a year ago, when public fireworks were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were allowed to be shot into the sky again in the South Pacific island of Samoa.

According to the tourism authority, the island state had flown in five pyrotechnics experts from New Zealand to install the fireworks.

6 hours ago (14:21 GMT)

Fireworks welcome New Year in Sydney

Sydney kicked off 2022 with 6 tonnes of colourful fireworks against the imposing backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Unlike last year, tens of thousands of spectators were again admitted this time to watch the spectacle live, despite a sharp rise in coronavirus numbers in the region. However, all participants had to buy a ticket for one of about 30 viewing points.

Citizens without a reservation or vaccination should avoid the city centre if possible, organisers had advised.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House during New Year's Eve celebrationsThe Sydney Opera House is seen as fireworks explode over Sydney Harbour during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia [Jaimi Joy/Reuters]

6 hours ago (14:17 GMT)

Tonga welcomes 2022

In the archipelago of Tonga, the forces of nature did not take a break on New Year’s Eve.

Since Christmas, the authorities have been warning against approaching the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which last erupted in 2014, but which is active again and spewing ash and gas into the air.

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