Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia [Photo: AP Photo/Mark Baker]

Restrictions are being placed on New Year festivities around the world as many countries struggle to curb new spikes in coronavirus cases. Fireworks displays and other public gatherings have been cancelled from Sydney to New York. Festivities are being particularly muted in Europe, amid fears over a new more contagious strain of the disease.

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France has mobilised 100,000 police to break up New Year’s Eve parties and enforce a night-time curfew. Over 1.8 million people have died with the virus across the world since the start of the pandemic a year ago. More than 81 million cases have been reported.

One of the first nations to ring in the New Year was Australia. The Sydney fireworks display went ahead, but crowds were not allowed to gather on the city’s harbour to enjoy it. “We don’t want to create any super-spreading events on New Year’s Eve,” New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Many Sydney residents watched the pyrotechnics on TV at home, where gatherings are limited to five guests.

In China, the annual New Year light show in the capital Beijing has been called off. Celebrations are being scaled down in cities across the country. Japan has cancelled a traditional New Year event at which Emperor Naruhito and other imperial family members were to greet people.

In India, Delhi and several other cities imposed a night curfew and other curbs to prevent large New Year gatherings. However, in New Zealand, where a strict lockdown and border closures have all but eliminated Covid, New Year celebrations were held as usual.

In France, the government ordered a visible security presence in urban areas yesterday when the curfew started. In Paris, half of the metro lines will be closed in the evening. France has had two lockdowns and bars, restaurants and cultural attractions will remain shut into the new year.

In England - where the new coronavirus strain is spreading fast and 20 million people in the worst-affected regions are forced to stay at home - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to follow the rules. “That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors, unless they’re in the same household or support bubble, and avoiding large gatherings of any kind,” he said on Wednesday. The Metropolitan Police issued a warning to potential revellers in London to “celebrate the new year in the comfort of their own homes”. ‘We’re happy the big night out is cancelled’

Ireland will move to its highest level of restrictions yesterday, banning all household visits, closing all non-essential retail and limiting travel to 5km (three miles). Germany is currently under lockdown until January 10. The government has banned the sale of fireworks and placed tight restrictions on the number of people who can gather in public. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country would have the “quietest New Year’s Eve” in living memory.

The Netherlands is also under a lockdown, which is set to last until 19 January. Its usual countdown will take place behind closed doors at a football stadium in Amsterdam. Turkey will begin a four-day-long lockdown on New Year’s Eve.

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In the US, officials have placed restrictions on festivities in many states and cities. In New York the illuminated Times Square Ball will be dropped during the traditional countdown to midnight, but the area will not be open to the public. Fireworks have been cancelled in cities including San Francisco and Las Vegas.