New Zealand and Australia see in New Year with fireworks displays

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ellie Pitt

New Zealand and Australia are among the first countries in the world to see in the New Year, with celebrations across much of the globe muted by coronavirus restrictions.

Sydney hosted its impressive fireworks display from its world-famous Harbour Bridge this year despite Covid-19. In previous years a million people flocked to watch fireworks display.

Authorities are advising revellers to watch on television this year. People were allowed in Sydney city centre if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city apartment resident. People were not be allowed in the city centre without a permit.

Some harbourside restaurants are charging up to 1,690 Australian dollars (£948) for a seat, according to reports in Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

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.

Melbourne mayor Sally Capp said: “For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks.

Sydney Harbour during the fireworks display to celebrate New Year's Eve.

“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.”

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 January 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.

People wearing face masks in Beijing Credit: AP/Mark Schiefelbein

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 seven 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.

Masked shoppers at a market in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve Credit: AP/Hiro Komae

Hong Kong social distancing regulations restrict gatherings to only two people. Restaurants have to close by 6pm and live performances and dancing are not allowed. But crowds still fill shopping centres.

In Japan, some people skipped what is customarily a chance to return to ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families.

Rural restaurants saw business drop, while home deliveries of traditional New Year’s “good luck” food called “osechi” boomed.

Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds visit the palace.