DECEMBER 31, 2021
After the somber welcome that greeted 2021, many people saw this year’s holiday season as a time to revel in a return to near-normal. But New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world have once again been canceled or scaled back amid a new wave of Covid-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant.
In Germany, large public gatherings, including those held outdoors, have been banned in some places. France barred drinking on the streets and canceled many fireworks displays, including in Paris. London and San Francisco also axed their fireworks shows. New York City scaled down its Times Square celebration, while Atlanta canceled its Peach Drop.
Even with early data suggesting Omicron produces a milder form of Covid-19, leaders and public-health experts have urged people to take extra precautions during the holidays as patients flood emergency rooms and urgent-care centers.
“Omicron and Delta are coming to your party, so you need to think twice,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told residents earlier this week.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said people should limit their plans to at-home celebrations with vaccinated and boosted family members.
“If your plans are to go to a 40- or 50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Happy New Year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that,” Dr. Fauci said.
Erin Iknayan had invited about 20 people over to her place in Charlotte, N.C., to ring in 2022. Afterward, she thought, maybe they would head out to a bar. But the 24-year-old hospital psychiatric technician canceled her party two days before New Year’s Eve, worried about Omicron and the number of people she knows who are testing positive.
Instead, Ms. Iknayan will spend the night the same way she did last year: at home, with her three roommates. “It’s kind of sad,” she said.
The four plan to have dinner together in the living room—but only after they take an at-home rapid Covid-19 test.
Many cities have also pre-emptively canceled events. Atlanta called off its Peach Drop. San Francisco scrapped its fireworks show. “We must remain vigilant in doing all we can to stop the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant,” said Mayor London Breed.
The number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. is at its highest level on record, with nearly 356,000 new cases reported Thursday, according to the latest seven-day average of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Two weeks ago, that average stood at around 123,600.
Some revelers’ plans, meanwhile, have been disrupted by travel cancellations. More than 1,298 additional flights in the U.S. were scrubbed Friday morning, according to aviation data tracker FlightAware. The tally included domestic flights and those into and out of the U.S.
The show will go on in a number of places, including Chicago and Las Vegas, where police officials expect more than 300,000 people to celebrate on the Las Vegas Strip. In New York City, the annual celebration in Times Square has been scaled back, with 15,000 people attending, compared with the typical 58,000.
Globally, the picture is equally mixed. In Dubai, the Middle East’s party capital, high-end hotels are offering dinner and entertainment packages, including live concerts, that cost upward of $2,000. The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, will put on a fireworks and light show.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates, however, have imposed some restrictions, including an 80%-capacity cap on attendance at New Year’s celebrations and requiring a PCR test within 96 hours of the event.
In France, there will be no curfew, as there was last year. But officials have banned drinking on the streets and canceled many fireworks displays, such as the one in Paris. Nightclubs have been closed in the country since early December, a rule that also bans dancing in bars and restaurants.
“It’ll be a less convivial atmosphere,” said Fantine Dekens, a waitress at Le Penty, a bar and restaurant in eastern Paris, which will be staying open until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve but expects fewer guests—with more people partying at friends’ homes. “All these restrictions are a real detriment for bars.”
In England, the government has decreed that New Year’s celebrations can go ahead without restrictions despite soaring numbers of people infected with Omicron. That leaves the English free to attend house parties, outdoor events and nightclubs.
Despite this, in hard-hit areas some large events have been canceled. In London, the traditional firework display was axed, as was a replacement live music event in Trafalgar Square. Instead, the mayor of London said a film about “defining moments” in London during 2021 would be aired by the British Broadcasting Corp.
Scotland has banned gatherings of more than 100 at indoor standing events and 500 outdoors for several weeks. That means traditional Hogmanay celebrations are effectively canceled, with Edinburgh’s famous annual street party shut down.
Club owners in England said they expect busloads of Scots heading over the border to let loose on New Year’s Eve.
German clubs, discos and other dance venues, as well as brothels, will remain closed. Large public gatherings, including outdoors, are banned in some states and limited in others. But in Berlin, the party capital of Germany, open-air gatherings of up to 1,000 participants will be allowed, while indoor events will be limited to 200 participants. Private gatherings are limited to 10 people who must be immunized.
In neighboring Austria, which has just emerged from a partial lockdown, bars, restaurants and other gastronomic or entertainment venues will have to close at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Organized outdoor gatherings or celebrations are banned, and private gatherings are limited to 25 immunized people.