PHOTOS | The world quietly ushers in the New Year under lockdown

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Fireworks are seen over St. Peters Basilica on New Year's Eve during the Coronavirus pandemic on 1 January 02021, in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)
Fireworks are seen over St. Peters Basilica on New Year's Eve during the Coronavirus pandemic on 1 January 02021, in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)
  • 2021 started eerily quiet under strict lockdown rules around the world.
  • Most people watched the annual 2021 firework displays from the safety of their homes.
  • In Cape Town a beam of light lit up the night sky in remembrance of the lives lost and those fighting on the frontlines.

From Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Acropolis, fireworks burst in skies above eerily deserted landmarks as the world ushered in the New Year with muted celebrations and said good riddance to a pandemic-ridden 2020.

After a grinding year that has seen at least 1.7 million people die from Covid-19, fresh waves of infection have sparked renewed lockdowns and forced would-be revellers to extend their 2020 tradition of watching events from the sofa.

The eagerly awaited first seconds of 2021 fell on the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Samoa from 10:00 GMT. The uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands will be the last to tip over into the New Year.

New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, followed Kiribati and Samoa, with large crowds gathered in Auckland to watch a fireworks display.

In Australia's largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display, but few spectators watched in person.

"I think everybody is looking towards 2021 as a fresh beginning and a fresh start," Karen Roberts, among the lucky few who were allowed past checkpoints around the area, told AFP at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 01: Fireworks light th
Fireworks light the sky over the Opera House to bring in the New Year as seen from the new harbourside resort Crown Sydney on 1 January 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Curfews being enforced

Some Hong Kongers, despite restrictions, ventured out to mark the start of the year, gathering on the Victoria Harbour waterfront to take selfies.

In Tokyo, where residents face the prospect of a state of emergency being imposed after infections touched new highs, people queued in face masks to offer New Year prayers.

Wuhan in China, where the virus first appeared late last year, saw thousands gather to celebrate -- and Taipei also enjoyed a more traditionally upbeat celebration with crowds massing to watch fireworks.

Elsewhere, the mood was far more downbeat.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in a New Year's address that a second wave of Covid-19 was battering the nation.

"The fight against it does not stop for a minute," he said.

Italy - where shocking images of makeshift morgues and exhausted medics awoke the world to the severity of the crisis - is on a nationwide lockdown until 7 January with a 22:00 curfew in place.

PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 01: The illuminated Eiffel
The illuminated Eiffel tower is seen during New Year's Eve as a 20:00 to 06:00 curfew is implemented in France to avoid a third wave of Covid-19 infections, in Paris, on 1 January 2021. (Photo: Alaattin Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

From France to Latvia and Brazil, police and - in some cases - military personnel are being deployed to make sure curfews or bans on large gatherings are enforced.

Paris and Athens both featured socially distanced gatherings, with a virtual concert and light show over Notre Dame in the French capital and fireworks over the Acropolis in Greece.

In hard-hit London, 74-year-old American singer-songwriter Patti Smith had been due to ring in the New Year with a tribute to National Health Service workers who have died from Covid-19, projected on the screen at Piccadilly Circus and streamed on YouTube.

But due to alarm at rising infections rates, the big screen projection was cancelled with the tribute viewable instead solely online.

A few dozen revellers did arrive in Parliament Square to watch Big Ben chime 23:00 - midnight in Brussels - marking the moment that Brexit finally became a reality, with Britain severing its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe.

Police ordered them home well before midnight, however.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 01: Police officers pat
Police officers patrol at Taksim Square during a general curfew imposed from Thursday 21:00 to Monday 05:00 local time within new measures against a second wave of the (coronavirus) Covid-19 pandemic during the New Year's Eve, in Istanbul, Turkey on 1 January 2021. (Photo: Ahmet Bolat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Social gathering

A fireworks and laser show was held in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, where there has been a slew of new cases. Those watching were required to wear masks and register with identifying QR barcodes.

In Beirut, still reeling from an explosion that devastated the city's port in August, authorities were also cutting loose.

A curfew was pushed back to 3 am and bars, restaurants and night clubs allowed to reopen to host large parties.

On the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia, where temperatures plummet to as low as -35 degrees Celsius, around a dozen Russians emerged invigorated after a New Year's Eve ice dip.

The swimmers, known in Russia as "walruses", ran several kilometres (miles) through a snowy forest in swimsuits and festive costumes before plunging into the world's largest freshwater lake.

"It's invigorating. It stings a little!" Andrei Bugai told AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her New Year greeting to warn the coronavirus crisis would extend into 2021 even if vaccines bring some hope, as police clashed with revellers near the Brandenburg gate in Berlin.

As the final hours of 2020 ticked away in the Americas, authorities in New York City blocked public access to Times Square, where thousands usually gather to watch a crystal ball drop at midnight.

A star-studded celebration will still be televised from the square with performances from the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Gaynor -- but its confetti will fall onto a largely deserted pavement.

With midnight approaching, the US, the worst-hit country in the world, was also nearing 20 million recorded infections and more than 345,000 deaths.

In Brazil - which has already recorded more than 193,000 Covid-19 deaths, the second-largest number in the world after the US - Rio de Janeiro was blocking beach access to prevent the crowds of revellers who traditionally gather. 

In South Africa, where the lockdown curfew is 21:00 to 06:00, the annual V&A Waterfront fireworks display at midnight was replaced with a beam of light that people could see from their homes. The beam, which consisted of 36 vertical searchlights, forms part of the Waterfronts’ Tribute of Light symbolising the lives that were lost, the jobs that were affected, the coming together of a nation in solidarity and ultimately for hope in the new year. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BEAM OF HOPE)

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa also asked citizen to light a candle at midnight in honour of those lost and those fighting on the frontlines. 

ATHENS, GREECE - DECEMBER 31: A fireworks display
Fireworks display over the Ancient Acropolis during New Year's Eve celebrations on 31 December 2020 in Athens, Greece. New Year's Eve celebratory fireworks were cancelled or televised in major cities worldwide in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections. (Photo: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

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