Muted New Year’s Eve celebrations were taking place across Europe as renewed COVID restrictions prevented large-scale events from taking place, and people were discouraged from gathering in large crowds.
Fireworks displays and live TV shows went ahead in several capitals, but often without spectators as many instead watched from home.
Masks have been made mandatory outdoors in French cities including Paris, Lyon and Dijon, as France prepared once again for New Year’s Eve celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new measure is only one of several new restrictions put in place to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant.
The country reported 232,200 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Friday, a tally above 200,000 for the third day running.
The French government urged people to be cautious during the celebrations, and while the New Year fireworks and concert in Paris were cancelled, authorities said there wouldn’t be a curfew.
“My New Year’s Eve won’t be particularly affected by the COVID health restrictions as I will be seeing some friends. In contrast, my studies will be affected as we have to go back to distance learning in my school. I didn’t take the last period of restrictions well as I had a little depression, so I hope this year I will be less affected,” revealed French student Timothée Pujol.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the government banned the sale of fireworks after seeing its own Omicron cases jump above 3,000 recently. New Year’s Eve celebrations had already been previously cancelled.
Dutch tourists flocked to neighbouring Belgium to escape a tough new year lockdown at home. The Netherlands has imposed the tightest winter restrictions in Europe, whereas Belgium has opted for lighter measures.
In England, the National Health Service is building temporary structures at hospitals around the country to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients as Omicron fuels a new wave of infections.
Officials warned revellers in other UK nations not to travel to England — largely restriction-free — to celebrate the new year. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own public health rules, imposed new restrictions this week that closed all nightclubs and limited social gatherings.
The UK reported 189,846 new cases on Friday, slightly higher than the previous day’s total and a record for the third day in a row.
The country is dogged by a shortage of tests, as Wales assists England with four million tests amid fears of New Year’s Eve celebrations turning into breeding grounds for the virus.
New coronavirus cases were also on the rise in Spain, as the country hit the tenth daily record, with an unprecedented 161,688 new confirmed infections.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Barcelona on Thursday to protest against restrictions imposed by the central government, as Spain bids to curve the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Protesters marched in the downtown area of the city before finishing up at the Arc de Triomf Square where an improvised rave party was held without people wearing face masks.
After France, Germany, Spain and the UK, Italy was just another European country to surge to another record of 126,888 new cases on Thursday, a 30% increase from a day earlier when the previous record was hit.
“What I find shocking is that, yes, there are people who are here because they had close contact with somebody positive or they themselves had COVID, but most of the people in line are here just because of the New Year’s Eve, to go party,” said Rome resident Livia Del Nero, while queuing to get tested before the celebrations.
In Eastern Europe, the number of people to die from COVID has reached 1 million, as Russia overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest deaths behind the United States.