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Covid clouds world New Year party


A plainclothes police officer is seen as customers queue to buy fireworks outside St Mary Cathedral in Johannesburg ahead of New Years eve celebrations — which were able to proceed after authorities lifted a curfew

The world ushered in 2022 on Friday with scaled-back celebrations due to new restrictions aimed at slowing soaring Covid cases — although hope remained for a better new year.

The past 12 months saw a new US president and a fresh Adele album, the first spectator-free Olympics, and dreams of democracy from Afghanistan to Sudan and Hong Kong crushed by authoritarian regimes.

More than 5.4 million people have died since the coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.

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The year 2021 started with hope as life-saving vaccines were rolled out to around 60 percent of the world’s population, although many of its poor still have limited access and some of its rich falsely believe the jabs are part of some ill-defined plot.

France on Friday became the latest country to announce Omicron was now its dominant coronavirus strain.

– To party, or not? –

About 7,000 people in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol — half the usual capacity due to Covid restrictions — rang in the new year by eating grapes, one for each time the clock chimed up to 12.

But authorities warned they would fine anyone in attendance not wearing a protective mask.

Most people were simply asked to wear one, but some who argued were fined.

In Sydney, which normally bills itself as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world”, the vast harbour where people gathered to watch the city’s fireworks was notably uncrowded.

Still, the city saw New Year’s Eve in with a bang — igniting six tonnes of technicoloured fireworks that lit up the Opera House and floating barges.

In Tunis, authorities cited the “rise in cases” of coronavirus for the last-minute cancellation of festivities.

Health officials said that a dip in infections in the past week indicated the peak of the current wave had passed — crucially without a significant increase in deaths.

In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach will go ahead in a scaled back format — though crowds of revellers are still expected at the traditional party spot.

“Health comes first and the cancellations are sending a kind of message that this is serious,” Victor Arturo Madrid, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP.

But a 12-year-old child was killed and another seriously injured while apparently watching an adult set off fireworks, police said.

The World Health Organization has warned of trying times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to “a tsunami of cases”.

But on-again-off-again restrictions have still prompted frequent, vocal and occasionally violent anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.

“As we head into 2022, I want folks to remember: There’s not a single thing America cannot do when we do it together,” he said on Twitter alongside the video.

“Hopefully 2022 is going to be better for everyone,” said 31-year-old reveller Oscar Ramirez in Sydney.

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