New Year: Australia, New Zealand and other cities, enter 2021

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A deserted Sydney Opera House forecourt can be seen in front of fireworks exploding from the Sydney Harbour Bridge during New Year celebrations in central Sydney on January 1, 2021. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)

The world began ushering in the New Year Thursday, with pandemic controls muting celebrations for billions of people eager to bid farewell to a virus-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 1000 GMT, with the uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands the last to tip over into the New Year, 26 hours later. New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, followed an hour later with large crowds gathered in Auckland to watch a fireworks display.

Although still isolated by international border closures, months of zero recorded cases in the community has let life in New Zealand return to relative normality.

In Australia’s largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbour with a dazzling display at 1300 GMT, but few spectators watched in person. Plans to allow crowds were scrapped amid a cluster of around 150 new infections that have seen travel to and from Sydney severely restricted.

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