About 50,000 people, a third of the usual number, were scheduled to gather in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve (Friday, December 31) to watch the famous ball drop announcing the arrival of 2022.
Revelers were not dissuaded by the raging COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
“I would be lying if I said I’m not, like, concerned,” said Sue Park, a Columbia University student originally from Seoul in South Korea. “It’s worth, and… But definitely there is a concern. Yeah.”
New York sharply limited the number of people it allowed in Times Square for its New Year’s Eve celebration, former Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week, in response to a surge of new coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
For a second year in a row, the virus that causes COVID-19 is casting a shadow over the festivities, which typically draws huge crowds to the famed intersection in midtown Manhattan.
After hours of live entertainment, the evening culminates with the dropping of a giant crystal ball at midnight, signaling the start of the new year.
Millions of others around the world watch on television.
This year, the city allowed only about a third of the usual number of partygoers inside the dozens of fenced-out viewing areas set up in the square, allowing for greater social distancing.
Partygoers have to show proof of full vaccination and wear masks.
“Normally hosting approximately 58,000 people in viewing areas, this year’s celebration will host approximately 15,000 people,” de Blasio said in a statement.
In addition, admission to the viewing areas began at about 3 p.m., later than in past years.
Last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were in the early stages of rolling out, the celebration was open to only a handful of invited guests, including essential workers and their families.
For decades, tens of thousands of merrymakers – many of them tourists – have filled the blocks around Times Square on New Year’s Eve, standing for hours in the cold waiting to see the glittering ball glide down a pole mounted atop a skyscraper in the year’s final seconds.
When the ball reaches the bottom, the crowds erupt in hugs, kisses and good cheer.
COVID-19 infections have surged in the United States in recent days due to Omicron, which was first detected in November and now accounts for approximately 73% of cases across the country and as many as 90% of cases in some areas, such as the U.S. Northeast and Southeast.
New New York City Mayor, Eric Adams, who will take office in January, supported the measures announced by de Blasio.
Earlier this week, Adams said he was postponing his inauguration ceremony, which was set for Jan. 1, due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant.
(Production: Aleksandra Michalska)