Australia celebrated its first restriction-free New Year’s Eve after two years of Covid disruptions, as the world began bidding farewell to a year marked for many by the war in Ukraine, economic stresses and the effects of global warming.
Revellers celebrated across Asia from China to the Philippines to Thailand.
Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to welcome in the New Year, did so with a typically dazzling fireworks display, which for the first time featured a rainbow waterfall off the famous Harbour Bridge.
“This New Year’s Eve we are saying Sydney is back as we kick off festivities around the world and bring in the New Year with a bang,” said Clover Moore, lord mayor of the city, ahead of the events.
Lockdowns at the end of 2020 and a surge in Omicron cases at the end of 2021 led to crowd restrictions and reduced festivities in Australia. However, curbs on celebrations were lifted this year after Australia, like many countries around the world, re-opened its borders and removed social distancing restrictions.
The display in Sydney featured thousands of fireworks launched from the four sails of the Sydney Opera House and from the Harbour Bridge.
In China, rigorous Covid restrictions were lifted only this month in the government’s reversal of its “zero-Covid” policy, a switch that has led to soaring infections and meant some people were in no mood to celebrate.
“This virus should just go and die, cannot believe this year I cannot even find a healthy friend that can go out with me and celebrate the passage into the New Year”, wrote one social media user based in eastern Shandong province.
Others expressed hope the New Year would herald China’s return to pre-pandemic life.
In the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate amid a heavy security presence.
Barricades were erected and hundreds of police officers and other security workers stood guard on the night of the first large-scale spontaneous gathering in the city since nationwide protests in late November – soon after which Chinese authorities all but abandoned the zero-Covid policy.
In Shanghai, many thronged the historic riverside walkway, the Bund.
Days after Hong Kong lifted limits on group gatherings, tens of thousands of people gathered near the city’s Victoria Harbour for a countdown. Lights beamed from some of the city’s biggest harbour-front buildings.
It was the city’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in several years. The event was cancelled in 2019 due to often violent social unrest, and was scaled down in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Malaysia’s government cancelled its New Year countdown and fireworks event at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur after flooding across the nation displaced tens of thousands of people and a landslide killed 31 people this month.
Celebrations at the country’s famous Petronas Twin Towers were pared down with no performances or fireworks.
Europe was bidding farewell to a year that saw a major war erupt after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, with no end in sight to the conflict.
Curfews ranging from 7pm to midnight remained in place across Ukraine, making the celebration of the beginning of 2023 impossible in public spaces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted his annual New Year’s address to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine.
Paris was set to stage its first New Year fireworks since 2019. A 10-minute firework show was set to kick off at midnight, with 500,000 people expected to gather on the Champs-Elysees avenue to watch.
In an echo of sometimes violent weather extremes around the world in 2022, heavy rain and high winds on Saturday meant firework shows in the Netherlands’ main cities including Amsterdam and The Hague – and the national televised display in the port city of Rotterdam – were cancelled.