Countries around the world welcomed an uncertain new year amid economic woes, fears that new variants of Covid could emerge in China and the political backdrop of conflict in Ukraine. Many cities hosted fireworks and large public gatherings without restrictions for the first time since the pandemic.
Large crowds across the UK braved the freezing temperatures as over 100,000 people are estimated to have gathered on the embankment of the River Thames over London to show at midnight, despite the heavy rains.
The fireworks and light show commemorated the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II with ER, the royal cypher initials of Queen Elizabeth II illuminated by drones, along with a portrait of Her Majesty on a coin changing to an outline of King Charles III. The conflict in Ukraine, the victory of the England women’s football team at the European Championship and the 50th anniversary of Pride were also mentioned in the show.
It was a very different story in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, where a 11pm curfew had already prevented large parties before a series of air raid warnings and reported explosions from Russian attacks marred the first few hours of 2023. Earlier in the evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a televised address in which he stated: “They said our only choice was to surrender. We replied that our only choice was to keep fighting!”
Russian President Vladimir Putin dedicated his New Year’s address to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine. Celebrations in Moscow were quiet, without the usual fireworks on Red Square.
New York joined in the New Year’s glitz later with a dazzling spectacle in Times Square, kicking off celebrations across the United States. The night ended with a countdown as a luminous geodesic sphere 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighing nearly six tons descended from its lofty perch atop One Times Square. The surface of the ball was made up of nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, which officials say were illuminated by a palette of more than 16 million colors.
At midnight, a ton of confetti was showered on the revelers, twinkling among the huge screens, neon and pulsating lights.
Last year, Covid restrictions meant that only 15,000 of the usual 60,000 spectators attended Times Square to witness the traditional moment.
Elsewhere, Australia marked its first New Year’s Eve without restrictions after two years of Covid disruptions, with more than a million revelers watching the traditional Sydney Harbor fireworks display.
The lockdown in late 2020 and the spike in Omicron cases in late 2021 led to crowd restrictions and reduced celebrations.
A rainbow of color lit up Sydney Harbor with 2,000 fireworks launched from the Sydney Opera House’s four lanes and 7,000 fireworks from more locations on the Sydney Harbor Bridge than ever before.
in Edinburghthousands of people attended the traditional Hogmanay celebrations which included a concert in Princes Street Gardens with headliners Pet Shop Boys and DJ sets at the annual street party.
Fireworks went off every hour between 9pm and 11pm, counting down to the traditional midnight show.
in Manchestercelebrations continued at Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens without fireworks due to budget pressures.
Scarborough also had to give up fireworks after an arctic walrus nicknamed ‘Thor’ became a celebrity on New Year’s Eve after being discovered in the harbour. The local council decided to postpone the fireworks to avoid disturbing the creature as the giant mammal drew huge crowds to the seaside resort in what is believed to be the first walrus sighting in Yorkshire. The animal is believed to be the same walrus spotted on the Hampshire coast earlier this month.
In China, thousands gathered in central Wuhan to count down to the start of what many hoped would be a much better year after a “difficult” 2022 filled with lockdowns and, in December, a major new outbreak of Covid. Many released balloons into the sky as the clocks struck midnight, a tradition in the central Chinese city where the pandemic began three years ago, before taking selfies with their friends.
“In the past year, I think Covid-19 was very serious and some of my family members were hospitalized,” a 17-year-old Wuhan high school student surnamed Wang said from the riverbank shortly after midnight. “I hope they are healthy in the new year. This is the most important.”
Some came in fancy dress and almost all in attendance wore masks as the country sees a wave of Covid that accelerated after curbs fell and has since infected large swaths of the population, with deaths now reach about 9,000 per dayaccording to UK-based health data firm Airfinity.
“I’m afraid,” said a woman named Jin, referring to the possibility of re-infection with Covid. “I was still scared when I went out tonight, but I just wanted to go out because everyone did.”
A Wuhan resident surnamed Chen, 24, who works in e-commerce, said: “It’s been a long time since things were lively and vibrant.”
Police used loudspeakers at a number of locations, blasting out a short message telling people not to congregate, to which people seemed to pay little or no attention.
In Shanghai, which like many Chinese cities in 2022 was placed under a prolonged lockdown, many thronged the historic Bund riverside promenade.
“We all came from Chengdu to celebrate in Shanghai,” said Da Dai, a 28-year-old digital media executive who was traveling with two friends. “We’ve already had Covid, so now we think it’s safe to have fun.”
in FranceParis staged its first New Year’s Eve fireworks display since 2019 with a 10-minute show estimated to be watched by 500,000 people gathered on the Champs-Élysées.
But the Czech capital, Prague, was among those feeling the pinch economically and did not perform.
“Holding celebrations did not seem appropriate,” said city hall spokesman Vit Hofmann, citing the “unfavorable economic situation of many households in Prague” and the need for the city to save money. Heavy rain and strong winds forced fireworks in the Netherlands’ main cities to be cancelled.
Berlin welcomed the new year with fireworks over the Brandenburg Gate, while Athens had a display over the ancient Parthenon temple atop the Acropolis hill.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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