SYDNEY, December 31, 2021 (AFP) – Between canceled parties, curfews and other restrictions, the world is preparing, on Friday (31), to enter 2022 after another year of a pandemic that, despite vaccines, the omicron variant causes no outbreaks of infections that have been observed before.
The past 12 months have been marked by a change of president in the United States, Olympics without spectators, shattered dreams of democracy in Afghanistan, Myanmar or Nicaragua and growing concerns about climate change.
But the epidemic, now in its third year, has once again taken over the lives of many people. More than 5.4 million people have died since the virus was discovered in China in December 2019.
More than 280 million have been infected with the virus, according to an AFP balance sheet based on official data, although the actual number may be much higher.
Almost all of humanity has been affected by the restrictions and restrictions applied as a result of the development of the epidemic.
Vaccines have given hope, as more than 60% of the world’s population has been immunized. But its distribution was uneven, especially in poor countries, which facilitated the emergence of new variants.
The latest of them, omicron, has plunged half the world into a new spiral of restrictions due to its unprecedented speed of transmission, with more than a million infections in a week for the first time, according to an AFP count.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France or Argentina have records of new daily infections.
– ‘Celebrating Life’ – The Pacific nation’s regions of Kiribati were the first to greet the new year…
Sydney, Australia’s largest city and one of the first cities to welcome the new year, has decided to keep the fireworks that often light up its famous harbour.
In contrast to 2020, the fireworks display gathered tens of thousands after Australia abandoned its strategy to eradicate the virus and sought to live with it.
But the flow was far from a million or so people. Tourists have not yet been able to enter the country and many residents fear the rapid spread of omicron.
Nevertheless, the city welcomed 2022 with six tons of colorful fireworks that lit up the Opera House and floating sandals, turning the Harbor Bridge into a rainbow.
In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is preparing for a fireworks display at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower with a height of 828 meters. The Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah will once again attempt to break the world record for the largest fireworks display.
From Seoul to San Francisco, via Mexico or Athens, New Year’s celebrations have once again been restricted or canceled.
But in Rio de Janeiro, which usually gathers 3 million people on Copacabana Beach, the party continues.
As in New York’s Times Square, official events will be scaled back, but crowds are expected.
“People have only one desire, to leave the house and celebrate life after the pandemic has forced everyone to lock themselves up,” bartender Francisco Rodriguez commented in Copacabana.
“There will be a lot of people in Copacabana (…) It is inevitable,” believes lawyer Roberta Assis, who is planning a small party.
– Reduce holidays – But in the face of an unparalleled wave of infections caused by the contagious omicron variant, many governments ended up restoring restrictions for this festive period.
Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Bangkok have canceled their New Year celebrations, Greece has banned music in bars and restaurants, and Pope Francis has suspended his regular New Year’s Eve visit to the manger in St Peter’s Square.
Most Spanish cities have canceled their public celebrations, but not Madrid, with a less restrictive approach, which will allow 7,000 people to eat grapes in Puerta del Sol.
For many – in Bombay, Barcelona or Montreal – the party will have to end early due to the curfew imposed against the virus, in some cases before midnight.
On the other hand, in South Africa, where the new variant was revealed in late November, the presidency lifted the curfew the day before after considering an increase in Omicron cases.
And the health authorities pointed out that this malicious wave did not result in a noticeable increase in deaths, which reinforces the thesis that this alternative causes fewer risks of hospitalization than its predecessors.
Experts hope this trend will be repeated elsewhere, leading to a less-lethal phase of the pandemic by 2022.
But the World Health Organization does not want to let its guard down, warning that a “tsunami” of infection could put health systems “on the brink of collapse”.
arb / ser / dbh / me / mr / ap