Unmourned but never to be forgotten, 2020 started passing into history today with scaled-down festivities around the world as humanity bids good riddance to the year of the pandemic – although there were balloons and revelry in Wuhan where the virus began its trail of destruction 12 long months ago.
China, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and South Korea have already greeted the dawn of 2021 along with much of the Pacific, with the rest of the planet set to cross the invisible threshold in the coming hours.
In New Zealand, where only 25 people have ever died of Covid-19 and restrictions are virtually non-existent, crowds of partygoers packed into Auckland streets for midnight fireworks.
In Australia, which has also fended off the worst of the pandemic, life was normal enough for some revellers to gather in Melbourne and Sydney.
And in Wuhan – where the virus first surfaced at the very end of 2019 before spiralling catastrophically around the globe – hundreds gathered at landmarks around the city to welcome in the new year.
In what is sure to spark envy in many countries still subject to strict lockdown measures, party-goers were filmed crowding into a live music event in the former-Covid epicentre.
Many opted to go mask-free inside the venue where revellers danced just inches from each other.
But for most of the world’s seven billion people, a grinding year is ending with typically muted festivities, with fireworks, pyre burnings and live performances set to be watched from home or cancelled altogether.
From France to Latvia to Brazil, police and military personnel are being deployed to enforce night-time curfews and bans on large gatherings are enforced, with much of the world still in lockdown and the vaccine race only just beginning.
WUHAN: Balloons were released into the sky in an incredible display in Wuhan. Huge crowds gathered in the city which was the Covid-19 epicentre less than a year ago
WUHAN: Amazed locals took photos of balloons being released into the sky to bring in 2021. The crowds weren’t socially distanced but many opted to wear face masks
WUHAN: In what is sure to spark envy in many countries still subject to strict lockdown measures, party-goers were filmed crowding into a live music event in the former-Covid epicentre
WUHAN: Partygoers, mostly wearing protective face masks, gathered in the streets of Wuhan to welcome 2021
WUHAN: Partygoers posed for a selfie in front of buildings lit up in bright colours. Wuhan had a more-normal New Year’s Eve than many others across the globe
WUHAN: Women wearing masks hold up balloons as the Chinese city which shot to infamy in 2020 after giving the world the coronavirus counted down to 2021
WUHAN: Thousands gathered at popular landmarks across the city centre for the countdown to 2021. Some revellers said they were being cautious but were not particularly worried
WUHAN: In Wuhan, where the virus first surfaced at the very end of 2019 before spiralling catastrophically around the globe, revellers partied to welcome the new year in
WUHAN: People pose for pictures on the banks of the Yangtze River on New Year’s Eve in the city which became synonymous with the virus in the early weeks of the outbreak
AUCKLAND: In scenes unthinkable in most of the world, 2020 ended with crowds of revellers packed into Queen Street in New Zealand’s largest city, as the country became one of the first to greet the dawn of 2021
MELBOURNE: These two partygoers started the new year with a kiss as revellers greeted the dawn of 2021 with a party at Federation Square in Australia’s second-largest city today
QUEENSLAND: Partygoers in Queensland paused for a snack while wearing ‘Happy New Year’ hats. Australia managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic
MELBOURNE: Vast crowds of people sat on the grass in Melbourne as they waited to welcome in the new year. Some wore masks while many others didn’t
MELBOURNE: Two women sat on other people’s shoulders as they celebrated New Year’s Eve on a beach in Melbourne. Several onlookers filmed to festivities
MELBOURNE: Huge crowds gathered on a beach in St Kilda, Melbourne, on New Year’s Eve. Many didn’t wear masks
MELBOURNE: Partygoers went mask-free as they danced the last few moments of 2020 away in St Kilda, Melbourne, tonight
AUCKLAND: Fireworks streamed from the SkyTower in New Zealand in the first moments of January 1, 2021 as an exhausted world started to put a year of disease, death and unparalleled restrictions on normal life behind it
QUEENSLAND: One couple kissed to welcome in the New Year in Queensland. Australia has fended off the worst of the pandemic
MELBOURNE: A woman was seen posing for pictures on the streets of St Kilda, Melbourne, as she welcomed in the new year
QUEENSLAND: A crowd of revellers dressed in matching white outfits and wearing ‘Happy New Year’ crowns pose for a photo
QUEENSLAND: One group posed for a picture with their arms around each other as they welcomed in the new year in Australia
SYDNEY: The fireworks were as spectacular as ever at Sydney Harbour Bridge but there were few spectators in the harbour to greet the opening moments of January 1, 2021
MELBOURNE: In In Australia, which has also fended off the worst of the pandemic, life was normal enough for small crowds to gather in Melbourne and Sydney
AUCKLAND: In New Zealand, where only 25 people have ever died of Covid-19 and restrictions are virtually non-existent, crowds of partygoers packed into Auckland streets to mark the new year
SYDNEY: Fireworks explode over Sydney’s opera house and harbour bridge as celebrations begin in the first seconds of 2021
AUCKLAND: Fireworks went off as New Zealand became the first major country to cross the invisible threshold and enter 2021, after a year in which it became a rare success story during the global coronavirus pandemic
MELBOURNE: Two people take a selfie in front of a neon Happy New Year sign in the last hours of December 31 in Australia
MELBOURNE: Some revellers were seen in the city on New Year’s Eve, in a part of Australia which saw a major outbreak in the Southern Hemisphere winter but has since returned to very low levels of infection
SYDNEY: New Year revellers enjoyed drinks at the Opera Bar in Sydney as midnight approached, with the firework display shortened and crowds kept to a minimum because of coronavirus
VLADIVOSTOK: Fireworks explode over the city centre as Russia’s far east became one of the first places to see 2021
WUHAN: In the city where the coronavirus first surfaced a year ago, a light show was projected on buildings by a river on New Year’s Eve as China holds low-key events to mark January 1 in a country where the Lunar New Year is more prominent
NEW YORK CITY: A stage was put up in Times Square where the famous ball drop will take place at midnight, but police will block spectators from gathering to get a glimpse
Although New Zealand is still isolated by international border closures, months of zero recorded cases in the community have allowed life to return to relative normality – with crowds gathering for fireworks in Auckland in scenes which would seem unthinkable to most of the world.
In Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display at midnight, but few spectators were there to watch in person.
Plans to allow crowds were scrapped amid a cluster of around 150 new infections that have seen travel to and from Sydney severely restricted.
People were only allowed in Sydney city centre if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city apartment resident. People will not be allowed in the city centre without a permit.
‘I think everybody is looking towards 2021 as a fresh beginning and a fresh start,’ Karen Roberts, among the lucky few who were allowed past checkpoints around the area, said at a bar near the Sydney Opera House.
Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide cancelled their displays to avoid large gatherings and possible community transmission of the virus.
Kiribati and Samoa were the first to cross the threshold of 2021 at 10am GMT, with the last Pacific islands set to follow them 26 hours later.
Although the Pacific islands were spared the worst ravages of the pandemic, border restrictions, curfews and lockdowns meant this New Year’s Eve was still a little different.
At the palm-fringed Taumeasina resort in Samoa, manager Tuiataga Nathan Bucknall was pleased to be open without a limit on guest numbers, but thanks to a state of emergency stopped serving alcohol at 11 pm.
In harder-hit countries such as Italy – where shocking images of makeshift morgues and exhausted medics first awoke the world to the horror of the pandemic last spring – curfews and lockdowns are still in force.
In London, American singer-songwriter Patti Smith will ring in the New Year with a tribute to NHS workers who have died from Covid-19, projected on the screen at Piccadilly Circus and streamed on YouTube.
And in New York, the famous ball drop in Times Square will unfold this year without the usual throngs of cheering revellers. Police will block off the area so that spectators cannot even get a glimpse.
LONDON: Fencing was put up around parts of Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square ahead of New Year’s Eve, with London and most of the UK’s population effectively back in lockdown because of resurgent coronavirus cases
AUCKLAND: A spectacular firework display erupts from the SkyTower as the first major nation to cross the threshold in to 2021 became almost the only one to hold full-throated New Year festivities
AUCKLAND: Crowds begin to gather by the waterfront in New Zealand, which sealed its borders early in the pandemic and has suffered only 2,162 infections and 25 deaths all year, numbers which seem miraculous in most of the West
MELBOURNE: People walk past Flinders Street station during Australian New Year’s Eve celebrations in the last hours of 2020
SYDNEY: People have dinner on the waterfront in Australia, one of the first nations to cross the threshold of 2021 and also one of the few where the country’s relative success against the pandemic means that some degree of festivities can take place
MELBOURNE: A group of people queue for a venue with no social distancing or mask, a scene unthinkable in much of the world during the long months of the pandemic and resulting lockdown
MELBOURNE: Although some people were able to gather in person, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide have cancelled their displays to avoid large gathering and community transmission of the virus
SYDNEY: Police are seen patrolling an eerily quiet Circular Quay on New Year’s Eve as Sydneysiders are encouraged to watch the midnight fireworks display from home
SYDNEY: After darkness fell, there were boats in the harbour but only a few spectators were allowed past checkpoints around the area to watch the midnight fireworks in person
SYDNEY: A group of mates clad in sombreros head into Sydney’s city to farewell 2020 – but they won’t have much company
VLADIVOSTOK: People gather around a Christmas tree in the far east of Russia, where some parts of the giant country were among the first to cross the threshold of 2021
Since it surfaced in China in late 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 80million people and led to nearly 1.8million deaths, the majority of them in Europe and the Americas.
Although mass vaccination efforts have begun in many countries in recent weeks, offering hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight, it is likely to be months before normal life can return in most of the world.
In China, where the Lunar New Year generally takes precedence over January 1, a countdown ceremony will take place in Beijing with just a few invited guests while other planned events have been cancelled.
Hong Kong, with its British colonial history and large expatriate population, has usually seen raucous celebrations along the waterfront and in bar districts.
For the second year running, however, New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled, this time over coronavirus rather than public security concerns.
In Japan, some people skipped what is customarily a chance to return to ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families.
Rural restaurants saw business drop, while home deliveries of traditional New Year’s ‘good luck’ food called ‘osechi’ boomed.
Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds visit the palace.
LONDON: Winston Churchill’s statue is surrounded by fencing as authorities in the UK urge people to stay at home on New Year’s Eve. It comes months after the Churchill monument was covered up for different reasons during race protests
SEOUL: Festive decorations on display outside a department store in the capital of South Korea, where cases have risen sharply in recent weeks after generally staying at low levels during 2020
ISTANBUL: Divers prepare to stage a symbolic journey underwater from Gurpinar Beach, wishing for a new year ‘without a pandemic’
NETHERLANDS: A man takes part in a traditional ‘carbide shooting’ in Holland, which is currently enduring its strictest measures yet in a month-long lockdown due to last until at least January 19
JAPAN: Shinto priests walk h a wooden gate in a ritual to purify sin and foulness on the final day of the year, at a shrine in Tokyo. Japan is suffering a resurgence of virus cases after generally keeping numbers fairly low
In Dubai, thousands are expected to attend a fireworks and a laser show at Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, despite a slew of new cases.
All those attending the event – whether at a public place, hotel or restaurant – will be required to wear masks and register with QR codes.
In Beirut, a city still reeling from the August 4 port explosion, authorities are also cutting loose. A night curfew has been pushed back to 3am. Bars, restaurants and night clubs have all reopened and are advertising large parties to mark the turn of the year.
Social media networks are already inundated with images and videos of packed clubs and restaurants, leading authorities to warn that a new lockdown may come into force after the holidays.
The fears of such a New Year hangover are widespread, and there are ominous signs that new strains of the virus may make the coming months even tougher.
In Brazil – which has already recorded more than 193,000 Covid-19 deaths, the second-largest number in the world – fearful medics await a new wave.
In recent days, social media has been filled with videos showing mask-less revellers enjoying a night out and television channels have even shown live images of police closing bars full of customers.
‘The pandemic peak was between May and July, which was when there wasn’t a lot of movement and we looked after ourselves more. Now there are many cases and people are acting as if there wasn’t a pandemic,’ said Luiz Gustavo de Almeida, a microbiologist at the University of Sao Paulo.