Sydney Opera House fireworks explode over empty streets as 2020 slinks away into history

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“I think I am not exaggerating when I say: never in the last 15 years have we found the old year so heavy. And never have we, despite all the worries and some skepticism, looked forward to the new one with so much hope.”

“I can only imagine how bitter it must feel for those mourning loved ones lost to corona or who are having to fight against the repercussions of an illness when the virus is disputed and denied by some hopeless individuals,” said Merkel, 66, who said she would get vaccinated as soon as practicable.

Germany has banned the sale of fireworks to discourage crowds. Authorities in Berlin said police would “punish violators consistently.”

“HELL OF A YEAR”

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic originated a year ago, thousands were expected to gather at popular landmarks across the city center for the countdown to 2021. Some said they were being cautious, but weren’t particularly worried.

“Safety is the priority,” said Wuhan resident Wang Xuemei, 23, a teacher.

In Australia, where the Sydney Opera House fireworks are televised around the world as the first big visual display of the new year, movement has been restricted, gatherings banned and internal borders shut. Most people were barred from coming to Sydney’s downtown on Thursday night.

“What a hell of a year it’s been,” said Gladys Berejiklian, premier of New South Wales state, which includes Sydney. “Hopefully 2021 will be easier on all of us.”

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In Britain, where a highly contagious variant of the virus is rampaging and most people are under strict restrictions, authorities ran a public messaging campaign on billboards and in the media urging people to “see in the New Year safely at home.”

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