From Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Acropolis to Copacabana beach, 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 revelers 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. The uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands will be the last to tip over into the New Year.
In New Zealand, which has won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, large crowds gathered in Auckland for a fireworks display.
In Australia’s largest city, Sydney, fireworks lit up the glittering harbor 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,” said Karen Roberts, among the lucky few who were allowed past checkpoints around the area, at a bar nestled under the Sydney Opera House.
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 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.
Elsewhere, the mood was 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 January 7 with a 10pm curfew in place.
From France to Latvia and Brazil, police and – in some cases – military personnel were deployed to enforce curfews or bans on large gatherings.
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.
A few dozen revelers did arrive in Parliament Square to watch Big Ben chime 11:00pm – midnight in Brussels – marking the moment that Brexit finally became a reality, with Britain severing its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe.
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 codes.
On the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia, where temperatures plummet to as low as -35 degrees Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit), about a dozen Russians emerged invigorated after a New Year’s Eve ice dip.
The swimmers, known in Russia as “walruses,” ran several kilometers 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!” said Andrei Bugai.
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 revelers 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 was 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.
The US, the worst-hit country in the world, is nearing 20 million recorded infections and 345,000 deaths.
But President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office in January, sounded a positive note.
“I’m more optimistic about America’s chances than I’ve ever been,” he said in a video interview on ABC’s countdown program.
“America can do anything and I’m absolutely positively confident, confident we’re gonna come back and come back even stronger than we were before.”
In Brazil – where 195,000 people have died of Covid-19, the second-highest death toll – Rio de Janeiro blocked the usual swarms of revelers from gathering on Copacabana beach.
That did not stop some from lighting up the city’s iconic skyline with amateur fireworks of their own, whose booms competed with the banging pots of critics protesting against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the leader dubbed the “Tropical Trump.”