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London welcomes New Year with dazzling fireworks and light show - but celebrations muted by Covid measures

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 01/01/2021 Sean Morrison
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London has welcomed the New Year with a dazzling light and fireworks show on the Thames, but the celebrations were muted with people told stay at home due to coronavirus restrictions.

Amid the fireworks, several light projections filled the sky over the O2 Arena for the televised display, one of which showed the NHS logo in a heart while a child's voice said "Thank you NHS heroes".

An image was also projected of the familiar figure of one of the heroes of 2020, Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised £33 million by walking in his back garden. There was also a humorous nod to one of the peculiarities of the past year - working from home - with a mute symbol backed by a voiceover saying "You're on mute".

As coloured lights shone at various points up the Thames, leading to more fireworks above Wembley Stadium, the Black Lives Matter movement was also recognised, before a closing call via the voice of Sir David Attenborough for all people to work in 2021 to help our "fragile" planet. 

Despite the incredible display, much of London was eerily quiet as the capital welcomed in the New Year while under strict Tier 4 coronavirus measures.

Pictures from Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and the Embankment opposite the London Eye — places usually swamped with revellers on New Year’s Eve — showed them near-deserted on Thursday night. However, some people took to the streets despite warnings from police.

fireworks in the night sky: Fireworks and drones illuminate the night sky over London as they form a light display as the capital’s normal New Year’s Eve fireworks display was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicPA © Provided by Evening Standard Fireworks and drones illuminate the night sky over London as they form a light display as the capital’s normal New Year’s Eve fireworks display was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicPA

Officers were seen on patrol in Westminster moving on small groups of people who had gathered to celebrate. It comes after Scotland Yard told Londoners to celebrate New Year at home with revellers breaking the rules facing fines of up to £10,000.

a night time view of a city street: A quiet Leicester Square in London on New Year’s EvePA © Provided by Evening Standard A quiet Leicester Square in London on New Year’s EvePA

The Metropolitan Police’s Marine unit described their usually busy New Year’s Eve shift as “eerie” and said London appeared to be heeding to stay-at-home advice.

The force’s message was issued amid rising infection rates and increased pressure on the capital’s hospitals.

Health service leaders have warned potential partygoers to stay at home to lower the risk of infection, warning: “Covid loves a crowd”.

a large building in the rain: A quiet Irving Street leading to Leicester Square on New Year’s EvePA © Provided by Evening Standard A quiet Irving Street leading to Leicester Square on New Year’s EvePA

People across the country were told not to add "fuel to the fire" by mixing in groups, as almost half of all major hospital trusts in England deal with more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave of the virus.

Figures published on New Year's Eve - as health staff and the Government urge people to ring in 2021 within their own household - also show just under a third of acute trusts have more Covid-19 patients than at any point since the pandemic began.

a city street: The statue of Eros in the eerily quiet Piccadilly Circus as London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicPA © Provided by Evening Standard The statue of Eros in the eerily quiet Piccadilly Circus as London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicPA

Rates of infection are rising in all regions of the country, according to the latest data from Public Health England, and the 55,892 daily lab-confirmed cases in the UK on Thursday represent the latest record high since mass testing began in late May.

The 10-minute display in London also featured a humorous nod to one of the "new normals" of 2020 - working from home. The sounds of a video conference call starting up were heard, before the now-familiar and somewhat desperate words rang out - "No, you're on mute!" - as a mute logo filled the night sky.

As coloured lights shone at various points up the Thames, leading to more fireworks above Wembley Stadium, the BLM movement was recognised with viewers seeing its clenched-fist symbol, which became recognised worldwide amid the protests which followed the death of Minnesota man George Floyd in police custody in May.

Finally, the show ended with a ecological rallying call in the much-loved voice of Sir David, reminding all of a reality shown so starkly in the past 12 months - the fragility of life on earth.

"Our planet is unique - a living world of diversity and wonder," Sir David said. "It's also fragile.

"With a new year comes the opportunity for change, and if we act in 2021 we can make a world of difference. Together we can turn things around. Together we can restore our fragile home, and make it a happy new year for all the inhabitants of planet Earth." 

New Year's Eve celebrations all around the world have been muted due to strict coronavirus measures.

Some major cities cancelled or scaled-back their traditional celebrations, but a handful of places without active Covid outbreaks carried on like normal.

Festivities are being particularly muted in Europe, amid fears over a new more contagious strain of the disease.

Australia was among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the international date line. In past years one million people crowded Sydney's harbour to watch fireworks. Instead, most watched on television as authorities urged residents to stay home and the country's most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, battled new Covid-19 outbreaks.

Locations on the harbour were fenced off, popular parks closed and famous night spots eerily deserted. A 9pm fireworks display was scrapped but a seven-minute pyrotechnics show at midnight brought momentary cheer as fireworks spectacularly lit up the iconic Harbour Bridge and its surroundings.

Melbourne, Australia's second-most populous city, has cancelled its fireworks.

In South Korea, Seoul's city government cancelled its annual New Year's Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighbourhood for the first time since the event was first held in 1953, months after the end of the Korean War. The ceremony normally draws an estimated 100,000 people and is broadcast live.

Authorities in coastal areas of eastern South Korea closed beaches and other spots where hundreds of thousands of people typically gather on New Year's Day to watch the sunrise.

Cities and countries that have managed to control the coronavirus got to celebrate.

New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbours that also have no active Covid-19 cases held their usual New Year's celebrations.

China’s city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus outbreak was reported, thousands of people gathered in the street to countdown to the beginning of 2021. The city has not reported a new locally transmitted case of the disease since May 10 — after lifting one of the strictest lockdowns in the world seven months ago.

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