Dec. 31 (UPI) — The first New Year’s Eve of the coronavirus era begins on Thursday morning with pared-down celebration at Sydney Harbor in Australia and will continue throughout the day at other locations worldwide.
In every other year, millions upon millions of people have turned out in cities worldwide to welcome the new year, particularly in iconic locations like New York City’s Times Square and the Sydney Opera House. This year, those places will appear largely deserted at the stroke of midnight.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, Sydney authorities have locked down the harbor to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s pretty empty, you don’t usually see this place with so few people,” Sydney resident Ezekiel Dioneda told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Sydney was one of the first time zones in the world to enter 2021, as well as Melbourne, the capital of Canberra and Auckland, New Zealand. Antarctica was also one of the first places on Earth to begin the new year.
Popular locations throughout Sydney Harbor have been fenced off and a strict permit for the city’s central business district was put in place after the city saw a spike in cases.
Sydney’s famous fireworks display will go ahead as normal, but it has been cut to seven minutes and Australians are being encouraged to watch it on television or online.
The next major cities to cross into 2021 are Tokyo, Seoul and Pyongyang (10 a.m. EST) — followed an hour later by what is usually the a major New Year’s celebration in Hong Kong. But there, too, things will be far different Thursday.
Fireworks at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor have been canceled, marking the second consecutive year in which the usually lavish displays have been scrubbed due to tightened physical distancing measures, but the first time it’s related to COVID-19.
Authorities scaled back last year’s event due to widespread disruptions caused by months of anti-government protests.
India, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East enter 2021 in the early afternoon, in U.S. time zones, followed by Russia, Greece, Germany, France and all western European nations.
In Britain, where many parts of the country are under a strict lockdown, nearly all major fireworks displays have been called off. Cities including London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Liverpool have also canceled large-scale celebration events.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan canceled the celebrations back in September.
“There will not be fireworks at New Year’s Eve like there has been in previous years,” he said at the time. “We simply cannot have the number of people who congregate on New Year’s Eve congregating.”
The new year will next arrive in North America, where perhaps the most conspicuously muted New Year’s Eve celebration Thursday will be seen in New York City’s Times Square — long considered by many the cream of the new year’s party crop.
New York City Police Department operations chief Terence Monahan was clear on Wednesday whether would-be partiers would be permitted to watch the famous crystal ball drop on Thursday night.
“There are absolutely no spectators allowed in Times Square,” he said at a news briefing. “If you think you’re going to be able to stand there and watch the ball, you’re mistaken.
“Don’t come. Watch it at home.”
Police said that although there have been no credible terror threats, security will be diffuse across the city throughout Thursday and early Friday. Both pedestrians and vehicles are barred from entering the area around Times Square.
After crossing the continental United States, Mexico and Canada, the final places on Earth to welcome 2021 are Alaska and French Polynesia (4 a.m. EST Friday), Hawaii (5 a.m. EST), American Samoa and Midway (6 a.m. EST), followed finally by outlying Pacific islands like Baker and Howland islands (7 a.m. EST).