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2020 finally ending, but New Year’s revelries muted by virus

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CANBERRA, Australia — This New Year’s Eve is being celebrated like no other, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget.Australia will be among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the International Date Line. In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney’s harbour to watch fireworks that centre on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.Authorities this year are advising revellers to watch on television. People are only allowed in downtown Sydney if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city apartment resident. People won’t be allowed in the city centre without a permit.Some harborside restaurants are charging up to 1,690 Australian dollars ($1,294) for a seat, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday.Sydney is Australia’s most populous city and has its most active community transmission of COVID-19 in recent weeks.Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populous city, has cancelled its fireworks this year.“For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks,” Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp said.“We did that because we know that it attracts up to 450,000 people into the city for one moment at midnight to enjoy a spectacular display and music. We are not doing that this year,” she added.New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbours have no COVID-19, and New Year celebrations there are the same as ever.In Chinese societies, the Lunar New Year celebration that falls in February in 2021 generally takes precedence over solar New Year, on Jan. 1. While celebrations of the Western holiday have been growing more common in recent decades, this year will be more muted.Beijing will hold a countdown ceremony with just a few invited guests, while other planned events have been cancelled. And nighttime temperatures plunging to -15 Celsius (- 5 Fahrenheit) will likely discourage people from spending the night out with friends.Taiwan will host its usual New Year’s celebration, a fireworks display by its capital city’s iconic tower, Taipei 101, as well as a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building the next morning. The island has been a success story in the pandemic, registering only 7 deaths and 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19.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.Still roiled by its coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong social distancing regulations restrict gatherings to only two people. Restaurants have to close by 6 p.m. Live performances and dancing are not allowed. But crowds still throng shopping centres.In Japan, some people skipped what’s customarily a chance to return to ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families amid the coronavirus pandemic.Rural restaurants saw a business drop, while home deliveries of traditional New Year’s “good luck” food called “osechi” boomed.Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message for the new year, instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds throng the palace.Train services that usually carry people on shrine visits overnight Dec. 31, as well as some countdown ceremonies, have been cancelled.Meiji Shrine in downtown Tokyo, which attracts millions of people every year during New Year holidays and is usually open all night on New Year’s Eve, will close its doors at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 this year, the shrine announced on its website.In South Korea, Seoul’s city government has cancelled its annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighbourhood for the first time since it first held the event in 1953, months after the end of the Korean War.The event, in which citizens ring a large bell at a traditional pavilion when the clock strikes twelve, drew an estimated 100,000 people and was broadcast live.Authorities in eastern coastal areas say they’ll close beaches and other spots where hundreds of thousands of people typically gather on New Year’s Day to watch the sunrise.The southeastern city of Pohang says it instead plans to broadcast live the sunrise at several beaches under its jurisdiction on its YouTube channel on Jan. 1.Earlier this week, South Korea’s central government said it will ban private social gatherings of more than five people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide from Christmas Eve until Jan. 3 as efforts to bring a recent viral resurgence under control.

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