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New Year's Eve digest: COVID cloud looms over celebrations

The world welcomed 2022 after another tumultuous and pandemic-ridden 12 months. New York saw limited revelers return to Times Square with its annual ball drop. DW takes a look at how countries rang in the new year.

Watch video 02:28

The world celebrates New Year

The last day of the year on Friday herald muted celebrations in some countries due to COVID-related restrictions, while other nations still pressed ahead with festivities such as fireworks and gatherings.

A year that began with a race to get vaccinated has ended with reluctant Europeans taking to the streets to vent their anger over a possible mandate to get jabbed, while dozens of countries are still short of doses.

In some parts of the world, the festivities went ahead as normal, whereas others added restrictions, such as a ban on large gatherings and no fireworks, and some countries even introduced curfews aimed at preventing large gatherings at midnight.

Thousands of flights were canceled worldwide on Friday, with airlines blaming the disruption on crew shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The last places on Earth to ring out the old year and see in the new were the US islands of Baker Island and Howland Island, which waited until 1200 GMT/UTC for the bells to chime.

Here's a roundup of how the world marked New Year's Eve

Americas

New York City heralded in 2022 as it revived the city's annual event in Times Square, even as public health officials cautioned Friday against unbridled celebrations amid a surge in COVID infections.

The annual ball drop took place as the clock struck midnight. The occasion, usually commemorated with joyous embraces and the uncorking of champagne bottles, was marked with confetti and a limited crowd.

The US' most populous city this year restricted the number of people into Times Square to witness the 6-ton ball encrusted with crystals descend from overhead to just 15,000 people. The number of spectators is far fewer than the many tens of thousands of revelers who usually congregate on the world-famous square for the occasion.

New York City's incoming mayor, Eric Adams, took his oath in Times Square soon after the ball drop. 

"It's just great when New York shows the entire country how we come back,'' he said. "We showed the entire globe what we're made of. We're unbelievable. This is an unbelievable city and, trust me, we're ready for a major comeback because this is New York.''

New York City reported a record number of new, confirmed cases, almost 44,000, on Wednesday and a similar number Thursday, according to New York state figures.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. This year saw no live concerts like in previous editions.

Copacabana's New Year's celebrations usually draws more than two million party goers.

Watch video 03:05

Brazil makes a turnaround in COVID fight

Bolivia declared a health emergency following an "explosion" of coronavirus cases this past week, prompting at least six cities to suspend New Year's celebrations.

Bolivian health authorities on Friday recorded 7,728 new cases and 31 deaths. 

The Ministry of Health stated that the Omicron variant has not yet been identified in the South American country.

Oceania

The continent of Oceania was the first to usher in the new year.

At 11 a.m. GMT (1200 CET), the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Samoa, along with New Zealand, entered into 2022.

Watch video 00:46

Sydney ushers in 2022

The Australian city of Sydney, the customary fireworks display at the Harbor Bridge and Opera House went ahead as planned two hours later.

Despite a surge in coronavirus cases, queues began forming at vantage points around the harbor early Friday in the morning for spectators to get a good view. Vaccination and the use of masks was not mandatory, organizers said.

Asia

President of China Xi Jinping in a New Year's address called on his nation to maintain a "strategic focus" and be mindful of "potential risks" to the Communist Party's long-term goal of transforming China into a global superpower.  Xi also said China had achieved an important step on the way in building a "moderately prosperous" society.

Watch video 00:33

Chinese President Xi Jinping's New Year address

In a televised speech, Xi said: "We must always keep a long-term perspective, remain mindful of potential risks, maintain strategic focus and determination, and attain the broad and great while addressing the delicate and minute."

Xi also said Taiwan would be unified with "the motherland," calling the democratically ruled island "sacred." China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and does not consider the democratically elected government in Taipei as legitimate.

There were no plans for celebrations in Beijing where popular temples have been closed or had access limited since mid-December.

The Shanghai government put a stop to events going ahead also, such as an annual light show along the Huangpu River.

In her New Year's address, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen warned China against "military adventurism."

"The military is definitely not an option for solving cross-strait disagreements," Tsai said over a live Facebook broadcast.

"We must remind the Beijing authorities to not misjudge the situation and to prevent the internal expansion of 'military adventurism," Tsai said.

Beijing responded with a warning that if Taiwan crossed any red line it would lead to "profound catastrophe."

Across Japan, many are taking new year trips to spend time with their families, in traditional style, while others headed for temples and shrines, most of them wearing masks.

Bangkok welcomed the new year with thousands of tourists gathering together in Khaosan Road, known for its hostels and clubs. 

Middle East

The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai hosted a light and laser show with a fireworks display to welcome in 2022. 

Europe

Pope Francis kicked off 2022 by highlighting the important role of women and mothers in society and condemning violence against women. 

"How much violence there is against women!" the 85-year-old pontiff said on New Year's Day in St Peter's Basilica in Rome

"There must be an end to it! To violate a woman is to insult God, who took his human form from a woman."

In Madrid's Puerta del Sol about 7,000 people, half the usual capacity, welcomed the new year by eating grapes, one for each time the clock chimed up to 12.

In western Germany, a 37-year-old man was killed and a 39-year-old man was seriously injured in a fireworks accident during New Year's celebrations in the Hüchel district of Hennef.

According to witnesses, shortly after midnight the two men separated from a group of 10 people. Witnesses then heard a loud bang and later found them on the ground seriously injured.

After calling emergency services, the 37-year-old died despite attempts at resuscitation at the scene of the accident. The 39-year-old was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Police, who think the fireworks may have been home-made, are still investigating the incident. 

Germany, which recently reintroduced contact restrictions, banned fireworks for the second year in a row in an attempt to prevent large gatherings and to ease the burden on hospitals, which regularly have to treat injuries resulting from pyrotechnic accidents.

A majority of Germans supported the ban, according to a YouGov poll carried out for the news agency DPA, but that hasn't stopped some citizens trying to circumvent the restriction by traveling to neighboring Denmark and Poland to stock up on fireworks.

Watch video 03:51

Berlin holds scaled-back New Year's Eve celebrations: DW's Emmanuelle Chaze reports

In the German capital Berlin, the city canceled its fireworks display at the Brandenburg Gate and the accompanying celebrations. German public broadcaster ZDF however broadcast a live show featuring singers Bonnie Tyler and Marianne Rosenberg, among others instead.

In Berlin, 12 people were injured and had to be taken to the hospital when illegal fireworks exploded at a private party. The fire department said there were no serious injuries. The youngest victim was 11 years old.

France is taking over the rotating EU presidency in 2022. President Emmanuel Macron said the new year "must be a turning point for Europe." 

"Our continent has been decried so much in recent years. They say it's divided, incapable of collective projects, in the process of becoming a historical irrelevance," Macron said in his New Year's message. But the pandemic "has demonstrated that our Europe can be not only useful but also a source of hope," he said.

The UK had the warmest New Year's Eve on record. Ryehill in East Yorkshire saw a temperature of 14.9 degrees Celsius (58.8 degrees Fahrenheit) Friday, just 0.1 more than the last highest temperature on record in 2011.

London's Big Ben, on top of the Houses of Parliament, chimed at midnight and rang in the New Year for the first time since 2017, after being restored.

Watch video 00:43

Johnson in New Year's message: 'Get that jab!'

In the Netherlands, a 12-year-old boy died from a mishap involving a firecracker in the small eastern town of Haaksbergen near the border with Germany. Another boy of the same age was hospitalized and a man was taken into custody.

This was the second year fireworks were banned in the Netherlands. The ban was due to the COVID-19 pandemic to scale back the number of fireworks-related injuries and keep hospital beds open for coronavirus patients.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin delivered a somber New Year's address and said Russia defended its interests "firmly and consistently" and warned that the coronavirus "isn't retreating yet." 

He praised Russians for their "hard work" despite the tough times and said Russians went through the year "valiantly." 

Putin also said his "main goal" for the future was to "improve the welfare and quality of life for people."

The televised address was broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia's 11 time zones.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the primary goal for 2022 would be to end the war in the country's east. More than 14,000 people have died in fighting in Donbas region.

Zelenskyy's  New Year message came as Ukrainian officials say nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers are near its border. "We are not scared of any army on another side," Zelenskyy said

Boisterous celebrations were held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Unlike most of the rest of Europe, the country allowed mass gatherings despite fears around the spread of the omicron variant.

One medical expert predicted Serbia will see thousands of new infections in the coming weeks.

Africa

In South Africa, the first country to report the omicron variant of the coronavirus, a midnight-to-4:00 a.m. curfew was lifted to allow the New Year's celebrations to go ahead.

Citizens in Morocco, however, were not afforded such an opportunity, with a ban on festivities and a nightly curfew in place.

mvb, jsi,ar/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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