A Miley Cyrus wardrobe malfunction, a celebrity rant about outgoing New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the traditional dropping of a six-tonne ball in Times Square were among the highlights as America welcomed the new year, and bid good riddance to the old one.
The New Year’s Eve tradition of crowds at Times Square returned this year, though with only 15,000 of the usual 60,000 spectators there to watch the ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, descend as couples embraced, some still wearing their masks.
Though the crowds were smaller, the throngs nevertheless stretched for blocks to soak in the celebration, with many traveling from afar to take part. Confetti lit up by electronic billboards swirled in a light wind on a mild winter night in New York.
TV networks vied for supremacy to cover the night, with NBC’s offering from Miami fast becoming a talking point after co-host Miley Cyrus’s top appeared to come undone mid-performance, forcing her to swiftly turn around and head to the back of the stage to grab a red blazer.
Rival CNN also entertained viewers after its host Andy Cohen vented his disapproval of the mayor, Bill de Blasio, saying “sayonara sucker” on the night he stepped down, as co-host Anderson Cooper sought to ease tensions in the background.
De Blasio was replaced by Eric Adams, who took his oath on stage in Times Square soon after the ball drop. He made a brief appearance earlier on the main stage to affirm the city’s resiliency.
“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.”
Times Square is often referred to as the crossroads of the world, and city officials insisted on holding the marquee New Year’s Eve event to demonstrate the city’s resiliency even amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.
“I would be lying if I said I’m not concerned,” said Sue Park, a Columbia University student who was one of the 15,000 allowed to watch in person. “Definitely I think it’s worth it to come and celebrate. It will just be more meaningful to be in the crowd.”
Mary Gonzalez from Mexico City attended the event, standing a few feet away from the crowd. “I’m happy that 2021 is over because it caused a lot of problems for everybody,” said Gonzalez. “We hope that 2022 is much better than this year.”
Covid-19 cases in the US have soared to their highest levels on record at more than 265,000 per day on average. New York City alone reported a record number of new, confirmed cases – nearly 44,000 – on Wednesday and a similar number on Thursday, according to New York state figures. Officials required those attending the spectacle to wear masks and show proof of vaccination.
“I look back and I see it as a sort of a stressful year, but it wasn’t a terrible year,” said Lynn Cafarchio, who braved the crowds to attend the festivities with her husband Pete. A New York City tour guide, she was unemployed for a spell as the economy was shuttered and tourism tanked. “We’re standing here glad that 2021 will soon be over,” she said, “but really positive about next year.”
Even if the crowds were considerably smaller, people gathered across block after block to witness the ball drop. Nursing student Ashley Ochoa and her boyfriend, Jose Avelar, traveled from the central valley of California specifically to be at Times Square.
“Covid did hold a lot of stuff back for me,” Ochoa said, “but I mean, I’m here today, so that’s what I’m thankful for.”
Pandemic casts pall around world
Around the world, the Omicron coronavirus variant dampened New Year festivities, with Paris cancelling its fireworks show, London relegating its to television, and Sydney cautiously welcoming 2022.
Worldwide infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, with an average of just over a million cases detected a day between 24 December and 30 December, up 100,000 on the previous peak posted on Wednesday, according to Reuters data. Deaths, however, have not risen in kind, bringing hope the new variant is less lethal.
Around the globe, events were scaled back or cancelled outright, such as with the traditional fireworks over the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Midnight passed in Paris without a planned fireworks display or DJ sets, as city officials cancelled events planned on the Champs-Élysées following the advice of a scientific panel that declared mass gatherings would be too risky.
In the Netherlands, where outside groupings of more than four people are banned, police dispersed several thousand people who had gathered at Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, ANP news agency reported.
But in London, where a fireworks display and light show had been cancelled in October, officials announced on Friday the spectacle would come to life on the television screen, as Big Ben rang in the New Year for the first time since 2017 following a restoration.
BBC images of the fireworks showed very light vehicle traffic and virtually no in-person spectators.
In the wake of encouraging data, Cape Town abruptly lifted a curfew just in time for the New Year, after South Africa became the first country to declare its Omicron wave had crested – and with no huge surge in deaths.
“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 Camps Bay Beach, who was thrilled to get the place ready to host an unexpected bash.
Hours earlier, the Australian city of Sydney also feted the New Year with something like full swagger, as spectacular fireworks glittered in the harbour above the Opera House.
People in Madrid queued for hours to get into the main Puerta del Sol square where celebrations went ahead with multiple security checkpoints, mandatory masks and capacity at 60% of normal levels.
Saul Pedrero, a 34-year old clerk, made the trip from Barcelona, which has some of Spain’s strictest controls, including a 1am curfew. “It seems like another country. Here you can do everything and nobody says anything,” he said. A lavish firework display lit up the festivities, which Spaniards mark by stuffing 12 grapes into their mouths to accompany each chime of the clock striking midnight.
In Asia, celebrations were mostly abridged or cancelled. In South Korea, a traditional midnight bell-ringing ceremony was cancelled for the second year, while festivities were banned in Tokyo’s glittering Shibuya entertainment district, and the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, took to YouTube to urge people to wear masks and limit numbers at parties.
China, where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, was on high alert, with the city of Xi’an under lockdown and New Year events in other cities cancelled.
With Associated Press and Reuters