Saturday, June 19, 2021

Asian governments ban crowds to bid farewell to 2020

'Covid loves a crowd' is the guiding sentiment for this New Year's Eve.

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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.

In the Asia-Pacific region, except for New Zealand and some nearby islands which are mostly Covid-free, celebrations will not be held as usual.

Australia will be among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the International Date Line. Usually, over a million people crowd Sydney’s harbour to watch fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Authorities this year are advising revellers to watch on television. People are only allowed in downtown. People won’t be allowed in the city centre without a permit.

Sydney is Australia’s most populous city and has had its most active community transmissions of Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Melbourne, Australia’s second city, has cancelled its fireworks which usually attract half a million, this year.

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 much more muted.

Beijing will hold a countdown ceremony with just a few invited guests, while other planned events have been cancelled.

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 as last year.

Still roiled by its coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong social distancing regulations restrict gatherings to only two people. Restaurants have to close by 6pm. Live performances and dancing are not allowed.

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 pandemic. Rural restaurants saw business drop, but 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.

In South Korea, Seoul’s city government has cancelled its annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighborhood for the first time since it first held the event in 1953, months after the end of the Korean War.

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.

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