Locked down but hopeful: Weary world ushers in 2021

By E K Benj

Updated at 3:49 PM GMT on Friday, 1st January 2021

Nations around the world have said goodbye and good riddance to 2020. The festivities were toned down as millions stayed at home due to COVID, but the new year still carries high hopes.

  • Most NYE celebrations were watched from home, if they weren’t canceled
  • Millions are in lockdown as recent waves of COVID infections continue to take their toll
  • Many were eager to see the back of 2020, a year in which COVID-19 killed over 1.8 million people

All updates in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)

11:00 The Pacific islands of American Samoa just entered 2021 — all that is left are the uninhabited Baker and Howland Islands.

10:00 Hawaii was the final US state to bid farewell, five hours after New York and the rest of the eastern seaboard rang in the new year.

The festivities for 2020 were a stark deviation from previous years with the streets of most major cities around the world left eerily quiet as people celebrated, or not, at home. Check out our picture gallery.

WHERE IS EVERYONE? — DESERTED NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
Sydney, Australia
A 12-minute fireworks show lit up Sydney Harbor behind the city’s famous opera house. But the attraction only drew a few dozen people amid a new COVID-19 outbreak in Australia’s largest city.

09:00 Alaska has now joined the rest of the continental United States in 2021. Only the final Pacific islands remain.

08:00 The West Coast of the US and Canada, along with a sliver of Mexico, have just become the most recent parts of the world to ring in the new year.

California marked a somber occasion as it bid farewell to a tragic 2020 with authorities announcing on Thursday that the state had surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths.

Public health officials were still pleading with the public not to gather just hours before the start of the new year as hospitals reached breaking point.

The chief of police in Vancouver, Canada, celebrated the new year over Twitter with a photo of one of the city’s empty street.

Despite a plea from the governor of Nevada to avoid gatherings on New Year’s Eve, thousands gathered along the famous Strip in Las Vegas throughout the evening.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti had warned locals that police would be patrolling to shut down large gatherings while San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria, issued an executive order to enforce public health rules.

There are a few more hours to go until the whole planet has crossed into 2021. We are still waiting for Alaska and the final Pacific islands, including the US state of Hawaii.

07:00 The Mountain Time Zone of the US, which includes the states of Colorado and Arizona among others, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico have now entered 2021.

As one of the first US states with a confirmed case of the new rapidly-spreading COVID variant, Colorado is bracing for a possible surge of cases in the new year.

President-elect Joe Biden tweeted out a message of hope to bring in the new year, saying: “After a year of pain and loss, let us unite, heal and rebuild in 2021.”

06:00 Most of Central America has now joined the new year along with the Central Time Zone of the US, Mexico and Canada — which includes cities like Winnipeg, Chicago, Dallas and Mexico City.

As well as dealing with the pandemic, the Gulf of Mexico saw a continued increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather in 2020, with Honduras and Nicaragua particularly badly hit by hurricanes and tropical storms.

05:00 The eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada has now entered 2021.

As the iconic New Year’s Eve ball dropped at New York’s Times Square, there was a distinct lack of fanfare. For decades, the event has attracted thousands of merrymakers who line the streets and hug, kiss and cheer when the ball reaches the ground. 

This year police cordoned-off the site to prevent crowds from gathering. 

Only a handful of invited guests were allowed to witness the event.

In his New Year’s Eve message earlier in the day, outgoing President Donald Trump said “Americans showed incredible grit” in 2020.

Aside from New York, several other major North American cities rang in the new year, including Quebec and Washington D.C.

Residents in Toronto, mostly confined to their homes, took to their windows to cheer on the end of 2020.

04:00 Venezuela and Puerto Rico have welcomed 2021.

In his New Year’s Eve address, President Nicolas Maduro said 2020 was one of the most “complex years for humanity” and expressed his gratitude towards the people of the nation.

He praised Venezuelan healthcare workers and the Cuban medical brigade for their efforts during the pandemic year.

“The selfless dedication of the national medical teams and of the Cuban brigades that have come to help in this contingency should come to all Venezuelans with pride,” the president said.

On the US territory of Puerto Rico, people traditionally welcome the new year by pouring a bucket of water through the window to drive away evil — something that might come in handy after 2020.

03:00 In Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay are celebrating the new year, including most of Brazil and Chile.

In Rio de Janeiro — which usually hosts mass celebrations and festivities on New Year’s Eve — fireworks and concerts have been banned.

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Local authorities have implemented further restrictions between 8 p.m and 3 a.m, including blocking access to many of the city’s beaches and limiting public transport. Rio residents are also banned from holding private parties this year. 

02:30 Japan’s Emperor Naruhito has thanked medical workers in a New Year’s Day message shared by video instead of the usual public speech in front of his palace.

With his wife Empress Masako by his side, Naruhito expressed his “deep respect and gratitude” to doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients.

“Over this past year, we have all faced many problems and hardships over the spread of this unknown coronavirus that most of us living in this age have never experienced on such a scale,” he said. “I look forward with all my heart to be able to meet with all of you again, face to face,” he added. 

01:40 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marked the new year with a letter to the country’s citizens and a visit to the tomb of his father and grandfather, state news agency KCNA has reported.

In his letter, Kim thanked North Koreans for having supported his party despite “difficult” times.

“In the new year, too, I will work hard to bring earlier the new era in which the ideals and desires of our people will come true,” Kim wrote, according to KCNA. He gave no immediate sign he would give a speech as he has in past years.

01:00 The island nation of Cape Verde, the Portuguese island of Azores, and a small region of Greenland have all welcomed the new year.

In his annual New Year message, Cape Verde’s President Jorge Carlos Fonseca stressed the “disastrous effects” of the pandemic, particularly on the country’s most vulnerable, but said that the country should also be proud of its “relative success” against the disease.

Fonseca also boasted that the archipelago in the central Atlantic Ocean has one of the lowest coronavirus mortality rates in the world.

00:00 The UK, Ireland and Iceland are ringing in 2021.

For the UK, this is the beginning of the first day outside the EU’s Customs Union following the 2016 Brexit vote. The country has officially left the bloc’s single market for people, goods and services.

In his New Year’s video message, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the UK’s departure from the EU “an amazing moment for this country.”

“We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said.

23:40 In a video addressing the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron announced: “Together, in harmony…let’s look towards the future…2021 will mark the beginning of a new French morning, of a European renaissance. Let us remain united, in solidarity, and proud of (France’s) history, values and culture — confident in the future.”

Macron: France went through 2020 ‘with such unity and resilience’

23:00 Happy New Year and Frohes neues Jahrfrom the DW team!

Most countries in Europe have welcomed 2021 albeit with muted celebrations. People throughout Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands are exercising a little bit more caution this New Year’s.

Like most worldwide, many Germans are welcoming the new year from home. Shops, restaurants and bars have shut down for the second time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Masked security officials patrol Berlin streets amid coronavirus restrictions

Germany banned selling fireworks before New Year’s Eve, but that didn’t stop many families from celebrating at midnight. Across the country, fireworks can be heard being set off in front of people’s homes or from their gardens while many people can be heard cheering.

22:00 In Europe, Greece, Finland, Romania, Ukraine and the Baltic countries have entered the new year.

Throughout the continent, authorities warned they were ready to clamp down on anyone violating public health measures.

“No one will be on the streets after 10 p.m. (Athens) will be a dead city to make sure no more restrictions are imposed,” said Greece’s public order minister, Michalis Chrisohoidis.

Many countries on the African continent are also celebrating 2021 including Egypt, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Rwanda.

Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, unusually in a brief address said he is trucking a section of people in government who are planning to rig elections in favour of his opposition rival Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine ahead of elections on 14th January 2021 but said he will not accept.

Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni 2021 Address

In Uganda a leader of Born Again Christian leader Dr Joseph Sserwadda called upon his followers not to attend campaign rallies due to violence and covid 19 risks. He urged them to wait for voting day and elect those they know adding that those contesting the results should only opt for legal path not violence.

Most of South Africa is also welcoming in 2021. South Africans are lighting candles to mark the new year amid COVID restrictions, including a night-time curfew and a ban on liquor sales.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had called on citizens to light a candle to honor those who have died as well as frontline workers fighting the disease. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is expected to broadcast a candle lighting ceremony from a hospital in Durban while the mayor of Johannesburg is scheduled to light a candle at the city’s Nelson Mandela bridge.

21:00 Saudi Arabia, Turkey and much of East Africa including Kenya and Tanzania have welcomed 2021.

Moscow also entered 2021, with Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a message of hope to Russians for 2021. “Believe in yourself,” he told Russian citizens, according to local media. Russia, which spans 11 time zones, is 0currently experiencing a second wave of the virus. Roll-out of the Russian vaccine has been slow, with just 50,000 people in the capital so far inoculated.

20:00 Armenia and the United Arab Emirates have entered 2021, as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Afghanistan, Mauritius, Oman, and the Seychelles. 

After the outbreak of violence against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, and an unpopular peace deal, the president of Armenia has called for unity in the new year.

20:00 Armenia and the United Arab Emirates have entered 2021, as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Afghanistan, Mauritius, Oman, and the Seychelles. 

After the outbreak of violence against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, and an unpopular peace deal, the president of Armenia has called for unity in the new year.

18:30 India has welcomed 2021 hours after several states including Delhi and Mumbai introduced night-time curfews in an effort to stop people from gathering at midnight. The new, more virulent UK variant of COVID-19 was first detected in the country a few days ago.

New Delhi has seen high levels of air pollution in 2020 and authorities urged people not to let off fireworks, after Diwali celebrations in November led to some of the highest ever levels of air pollution in the city.

18:00 Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and parts of Russia have all entered into 2021.

17:00 Thailand, Vietnam and large swathes of Siberia have welcomed 2021. Bangkok celebrated with a large fireworks display after a year that saw large protests against the king, who spent much of the pandemic in his German hideaway palace in the Bavarian mountains.

Fireworks exploded over Bangkok

16:00 Midnight has struck in China, which is all in one time zone. Most of the country was under relaxed restrictions, with relatively few new COVID-19 cases reported in recent weeks and vaccines now approved — although the first case of the UK variant of the virus was reported earlier in the day.

Thousands gathered in Wuhan to celebrate the new year, in the city where, exactly one year ago, the world first heard about the new “mysterious virus” that was causing lung infections. Residents told Reuters news agency they were being cautious, but were not particularly worried about large gatherings.

Cases of coronavirus were first reported internationally in Wuhan, China exactly one year ago

Western Australia and parts of Indonesia also began 2021.

15:00 North and South Korea, Japan, parts of Siberia, Australia and Indonesia have welcomed 2021.

South Korea banned private social gatherings of more than five people and closed down tourist resorts until at least January 3 to help bring a recent coronavirus resurgence under control. Celebrations were forced to go online.

Normally thousands attend a special bell ceremony in Seoul; this year, South Koreans stayed at home

In neighboring North Korea, which claims to have no cases of COVID-19, images on state television showed people gathering in central squares of Pyongyang to watch singers and dancers. Commentators have cast doubt on the closed country’s claim that there have been no cases.

14:30 German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wished everyone a good start to the new year on Twitter, writing: “If we work together, we can achieve a great deal. I wish a year of cooperation, solidarity and more for all of in 2021.”

In what is likely to be her final New Year’s address to the nation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the “toughest year” in her 15 as chancellor and also offered hope for 2021.

Merkel calls pandemic a once-in-a-century challenge

14:00 The Australian state of Queensland welcomed the new year amid fears of the new virulent strain of COVID-19 from South Africa, which was first reported in the state two days ago. While the main fireworks displays in Brisbane and the Gold Coast have been canceled, private parties of up to 50 and public gatherings of up to 100 are permitted.

Although many Queensland residents are living under much less strict restrictions than the rest of the world, the government still gave the warning: “Pashing a stranger in the pub at midnight is not advisable.” “Pashing” is Australian slang for kissing.

Papua New Guinea and parts of Russia also welcomed the new year.

Entry was exclusive for central Sydney’s celebrations

13:00 Sydney rang in the new year with a very exclusive pyrotechnic show — people could only enter the downtown area where the display was taking place if they had a permit, such as a reservation at a restaurant.

Some restaurants on the harbor charged guests up to 1,690 Australian dollars ($1,294, €1,054) for a seat, according to Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph.

In previous years, around one million people crowded into Sydney harbor to watch the show, however, the city has also seen an uptick in local transmission of coronavirus in recent weeks.

Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne canceled its fireworks this year.

New Year’s Eve traditions have been turned on their head this year

11:00 In New Zealand, where the spread of the virus has successfully been held in check, festivities were a more-or-less normal affair. 

Crowds gathered to watch firework displays in Auckland and in other cities across the country.

The national broadcaster NZTV reported that 488 people were lucky enough to leave quarantine just in time to take part in the celebration.

Fiji and several other Pacific islands also entered the new year.

10:00 Samoa and part of Kiribati were the first to welcome the new year and bid farewell to the tumultuous 12 months that saw the global coronavirus pandemic, worldwide protests and a US president refusing to concede defeat.Despite being relatively untouched by the coronavirus pandemic — the country recorded its first case in mid-November — public fireworks displays were canceled and foreign tourists were not allowed to enter.

The island nation saw heavy storms and flooding in 2020 and enters 2021 as the planet continues to warm and water levels continue to rise.

This is the ninth year that Samoa is first to reach January 1 after moving across the international dateline in order to be closer to its biggest trading partners of New Zealand and Australia.

DW team is contributing this update.

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