Australians bade farewell to 2021 with a traditional fireworks display over Sydney harbour as good news from South Africa - the first country to pronounce itself past its Omicron wave - brought hope for a joyous New Year.
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.
The golden ball was due to drop at New York’s Times Square, but the crowd shouting out the countdown of the year’s exit would be a quarter the usual size, masked up, socially distanced and with vaccine papers in hand.
Still, South Africa, which first raised the alarm about the new fast-spreading coronavirus variant, gave the world one of the last big good surprises of the year, announcing that the Omicron wave had crested without a huge surge in deaths. It abruptly lifted a night time curfew, allowing celebrations to ring in 2022.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing. I’m just hoping that Cape Town goes back to the old Cape Town that we all knew about,” said Michael Mchede, manager of a Hard Rock cafe by the white sands of Cape Town’s Camps Bay Beach, thrilled to find himself getting the place ready to host an unexpected bash.
“I’m excited that you don’t have to go back to the hotel. You can roam around on the beautiful beach over here, and let’s see if it brings a party!” said tourist Jochem Verbunt, who said his hope for 2022 was “that corona will be gone”.
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