The world began to usher in 2022 on Friday after another tumultuous, pandemic year, capped with new restrictions, growing cases and a slight glimmer of hope for better times to come.
The past 12 months have seen a new President of the United States (United States) and a new album from Adele, the first spectatorless Olympics and dreams of democracy from Afghanistan to Myanmar and Hong Kong crushed by authoritarian regimes.
But it is the pandemic – now entering its third year – that has once again dominated the lives of most of humanity.
More than 5.4 million people have died since the coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.
Countless more have been sickened – subjected to epidemics, lockdowns, blockages, and a spaghetti alphabet of PCR, LFT, and RAT testing.
The year 2021 has started with hope, as life-saving vaccines have been rolled out to around 60% of the world’s population, although many of its poor still have limited access and some of its rich mistakenly believe that injections do. part of an ill-defined plot. .
As the year drew to a close, the emergence of the Omicron variant saw the number of new daily COVID-19 cases rise to more than one million for the first time, according to an AFP tally.
France on Friday became the latest country to announce that Omicron is now its dominant coronavirus strain.
In Britain, the United States and even Australia – long a haven from the pandemic – the significance of the variant is driving new record cases.
To party or not?
Parts of the Pacific nation of Kiribati became the first to welcome the New Year starting at 10:00 GMT.
But from Seoul to San Francisco, the celebrations have again been canceled or reduced as infections rise.
In Sydney, which normally bills itself as the “New Years Eve Capital of the World”, the vast harbor where people gathered to watch the city’s fireworks was particularly uncrowded.
While tourists still cannot enter the country, and many residents fear the rapid spread of Omicron, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people attended, rather than the million-plus who normally flock to it. foreshore.
Still, the city saw New Years Eve with a bang – igniting six tons of technicolor fireworks that lit up the Opera House and the floating barges, turning the Harbor Bridge into a rainbow.
“I’m just trying to focus on the positive things that have happened this year, rather than dwelling on all the bad things that have happened,” Melinda Howard, a medical student at AFP, told AFP. 22 years old, waiting for the show.
Dubai is planning a fireworks display at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, despite a wave of infections in the United Arab Emirates.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, municipal authorities in the Tunisian capital Tunis cited the “rise in cases” of coronavirus for the last-minute cancellation of a concert and other festivities planned on Avenue Bourguiba, the main artery of the downtown.
In contrast, South Africa – the first country to report Omicron in November – lifted the curfew on Thursday evening to allow the festivities to continue.
Health officials said a drop in infections over the past week indicated the peak of the current wave had passed – especially without a significant increase in deaths.
In Rio, the Copacabana Beach celebrations will take place in a scaled-down format – though crowds of revelers are still expected at the traditional party venue.
“People have only one desire, to leave their homes, to celebrate life,” said Francisco Rodrigues, Copacabana beach waiter, 45.
Authorities in Seoul are being cautious, prohibiting viewers from a traditional midnight bell that will instead be broadcast live.
In India, fearing a repeat of a devastating wave of the virus that engulfed the country in April and May, cities and states have imposed restrictions on gatherings. Delhi has a 10 p.m. curfew in place.
Mumbai police on Friday banned people from visiting public places such as the city’s beaches and waterfront boardwalks, normally popular sites to visit in the New Year – with restrictions set to last for two weeks.
The United Kingdom (UK) is also quietly marking the New Year, but at least does so under the hottest temperatures on record, nearly 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of difficult times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to “a tsunami of cases”.
Many Western leaders have been reluctant to reimpose the tight controls seen in 2020 for fear of triggering another economic downturn.
But the intermittent restrictions have always prompted frequent, vocal and sometimes violent anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.
Experts and non-experts alike hope 2022 will be remembered as a new, less deadly phase of the pandemic.
“I hope 2022 will be better for everyone,” 31-year-old party animal Oscar Ramirez said in Sydney.
“Everyone in the world needs a big change.”