This New Year’s Eve is being celebrated like no other, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget.
Australia will be among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the International Date Line. It is a grim end to the year for New South Wales and Victoria, the country’s two most populous states, which are battling to curb new COVID-19 outbreaks.
In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney’s harbor to watch fireworks that center on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but most will be watching on television as authorities urge residents to stay home.
Locations on the harbor are fenced off, popular parks closed and famous nightspots eerily deserted. A 9 p.m. fireworks display was scrapped but there will be a seven-minute pyrotechnics show at midnight.
People are only allowed in downtown Sydney if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city resident. People won’t be allowed in the city center without a permit.
Some harborside restaurants were charging up to 1,690 Australian dollars ($1,294) for a seat, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday.
Sydney is Australia’s most populous city and has had its most active local transmission of the coronavirus in recent weeks.
Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city, has canceled its fireworks this year. “For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks,” Mayor Sally Capp said.
“We did that because we know that it attracts up to 450,000 people into the city for one moment at midnight to enjoy a spectacular display and music. We are not doing that this year.”
In notable contrast, the west coast city of Perth — which has not had community spread of the virus since April — was gearing up to celebrate the new year almost normally with large crowds expected to watch two fireworks spectacles.
New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbors have no COVID-19 cases, and New Year celebrations there are the same as ever.