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How the Omicron surge will impact New Year’s Eve celebrations in major cities

December 29, 2021, 7:35 PM UTC

It’s crazy how quickly things can change in the midst of a pandemic. 

A month ago, it looked as though New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world would return to pre-pandemic normalcy, but as new cases of COVID-19 continue to mount at rapid rates, local leaders are urging residents to scale back or cancel their New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

Here’s a look at some cities in the United States and around the world where officials have announced reduced New Year’s plans—or canceled them altogether.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that New Year’s Eve celebrations would go ahead as scheduled, inviting the world to Times Square to watch the ball drop in one of the country’s biggest annual celebrations.

“Everyone come on down,” he said at a Nov. 16 press conference. “We are proud to announce the ball drop, everything, coming back full strength, hundreds of people there to celebrate. We can finally get back together again. It’s going to be amazing.”

A month later, on Dec. 17, New York State recorded its highest number of new COVID cases in a single day since the pandemic began. That record has since been broken numerous times.

Last week, de Blasio backtracked, announcing the Times Square ball drop—which usually hosts upwards of 58,000 guests—will be reduced this year to 15,000 masked attendees, limited to socially distanced viewing areas that will open at 3 p.m. 

“There is a lot to celebrate, and these additional safety measures will keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy,” de Blasio said.

And while New York City is currently the epicenter of the newest COVID-19 wave, it’s far from the only city that recognizes how dangerous a full-fledged New Year’s Eve celebration could be. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced this week that the city’s annual fireworks display would be canceled as the virus has spread throughout the highly vaccinated city in recent weeks. 

Atlanta’s annual Peach Drop celebration was canceled for the second straight year as the city’s positivity rates have “moved to the red zone,” according to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The event typically attracts tens of thousands to the Georgia state capital to watch the descent of a massive synthetic peach to ring in the new year. 

Other cities have announced plans to continue with large fireworks displays, but have added elements designed to discourage large gatherings. 

The city of Chicago announced this week that it would host its largest fireworks display ever. In a statement announcing the 1.5-mile–long fireworks show, Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted that as coronavirus cases in the city are surging, “the display can be viewed outdoors where the spread of COVID-19 is less likely.”

Similarly, Seattle is going forward with plans to launch fireworks from the Space Needle, but has made adjustments for the display to include special effects that can only be seen when the event is streamed—an attempt by organizers to encourage residents to “stream in the new year…without gathering or creating crowds at Seattle Center.”

Internationally, many cities have taken more dramatic measures. Events in Paris, London, and Berlin have been canceled altogether. In Greece, the country’s health minister said Wednesday that music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s celebrations. In Spain, Madrid’s Times Square–esque annual celebration in Puerta del Sol has been scaled down greatly, limiting capacity to just 7,000—a 60% reduction compared with the last pre-COVID celebration in 2019.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said Monday he strongly recommends residents avoid large gatherings when ringing in the new year this weekend. 

“There will be other years to do that, but not this year,” he said in an interview with CNN.

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