Wellington, New Zealand — Good riddance to 2021. Let 2022 bring fresh hope. That was a common sentiment as people around the world began welcoming the new year.
In many places, New Year’s Eve celebrations were muted or canceled for the second straight year due to a surge of infections, this time driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant. But even before Omicron hit, many people were happy to say goodbye to a second grinding year of the pandemic.
So far, at least, the Omicron surge hasn’t resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks — especially among vaccinated people — offering a glimmer of hope for 2022.
Because of where the international date line sits, countries in Asia and the Pacific region are among the first to usher in each new year, and New Zealand was one of the first places to welcome 2022, with a low-key lights display projected onto Auckland landmarks, including the Sky Tower and Harbor Bridge. That replaced the traditional fireworks show.
While there hasn’t yet been any community spread of Omicron in New Zealand, authorities still discouraged crowds gathering.
Australia was planning to go ahead with its celebrations despite an explosion in virus cases. The centerpiece of festivities was to be the renowned fireworks display from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
Hours before the celebrations were due to begin, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney. Because of the surge, authorities were expecting far smaller crowds than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million revelers would crowd inner Sydney.