Australia celebrated its first restriction-free New Year’s Eve after two years of COVID disruptions as the world began to say goodbye to a year marked for many by the war in Ukraine, economic tensions and the effects of global warming.

Revelers celebrated all over Asia, from China to the Philippines to Thailand.

Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to ring in the New Year, did so with a typical dazzling fireworks display, with a rainbow waterfall at the famous Harbor Bridge for the first time.

“This New Year’s Eve, we’re saying Sydney is back as we kick off the festivities around the world and ring in the New Year with a bang,” said Clover Moore, the city’s mayor, ahead of the events.

Lockdowns in late 2020 and a spate of Omicron cases in late 2021 led to restrictions on the public and reduced festivities in Australia. However, restrictions on celebrations were lifted this year after Australia, like many countries around the world, reopened its borders and lifted social distancing restrictions.

During the Sydney screening, thousands of fireworks were launched from the four sails of the Sydney Opera House and from the Harbor Bridge.

In China, rigorous COVID restrictions were only lifted this month when the government reversed its “zero COVID” policy, a switch that has led to rising infections and meant some people were in no mood to celebrate.

In the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate amid a heavy security presence.

Barricades were erected and hundreds of police and other security workers stood guard on the night of the city’s first large-scale spontaneous gathering since nationwide protests in late November – soon after, Chinese authorities all but abandoned its zero-COVID policy.

In Shanghai, many flocked to the historic riverside walkway, the Bund.

“We all came from Chengdu to celebrate in Shanghai,” said Da Dai, a 28-year-old digital media executive who was traveling with two friends. “We’ve already had COVID so now feel it’s safe to enjoy.”

Days after Hong Kong lifted limits on group gatherings, tens of thousands of people gathered near the city’s Victoria Harbor for a countdown. Lights radiated from some of the city’s largest harborside buildings.

It was the city’s biggest New Year’s Eve party in years. The event was canceled in 2019 due to often violent social unrest and was scaled down in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

The government of Malaysia canceled the New Year countdown and fireworks event at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur after floods across the country displaced tens of thousands of people and killed 31 people in a landslide this month.

Celebrations at the country’s famed Petronas Twin Towers were subdued with no performances or fireworks.

Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted his annual New Year’s address to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine.

Paris would host its first New Year’s Eve fireworks since 2019. At midnight, a 10-minute fireworks display was to begin, with 500,000 people expected to gather on Champs-Elysees Avenue to watch.

Heavy rain and strong winds on Saturday caused fireworks displays in the main cities of the Netherlands, including Amsterdam and The Hague – and the national television show in the port city of Rotterdam – to be cancelled.

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By wy9m6

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