US cities scale back New Year’s Eve events and urge people to scrap parties | US news

Americans are again facing a stay-at-home New Year’s Eve as US political leaders and health advisers urge people to scrap party plans and avoid larger public events as daily Covid cases break previous records.

In New York, attendance at the Times Square celebration known as the Ball Drop – in essence, tens of thousands of people watching a 12ft geodesic sphere inlaid with Waterford crystal descend a long pole – has been capped at 15,000, down from pre-pandemic 60,000, with organizers encouraging revelers to watch it on TV or online.

The scaling back comes as the incoming New York mayor, Eric Adams, cancelled his inauguration party, and the outgoing mayor. Bill de Blasio, sees his last New Year’s Eve party severely diminished. As recently as last month, before Omicron made headlines, de Blasio was in an end of two-terms party mood.

“Everyone come on down,” he said on 16 November. “We can finally get back together again. It’s going to be amazing.”

But recently – on the same day New York reported its highest number of new virus cases ever – De Blasio said the city would scale back its New Year’s Eve event. Attendees must be fully vaccinated and wear masks.

The changes are meant to “keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy as we ring in the new year”, the mayor said in a statement.

In Chicago, the Illinois governor, Jay Pritzker, has not yet imposed restrictions or shut down the city’s traditional fireworks show. But he warned Chicagoans this week that “Omicron and Delta are coming to your party”.

“You need to think twice about how many people will be gathered together, keeping social distancing if you’re at a party. And if you can’t, leave,” he added.

San Francisco has canceled its fireworks show over the Bay for the second year in a row. Mayor London Breed told residents that “we must remain vigilant in doing all we can to stop the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant”.

Atlanta, too, has canceled its Peach Drop, where, for 30 years, revelers have gathered to watch a glittering fake peach descend to the ground.

The Atlanta mayor later issued a press release, announcing the decision.

“In consultation with public health officials, we have made the very difficult decision to cancel the Peach Drop,” the Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said in a press release. “As positive Covid-19 cases rise, I encourage everyone to be safe, get vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines.”

But Seattle has decided to go ahead with fireworks from the Space Needle and Las Vegas plans an eight-minute fireworks display along the Strip. Health experts and officials have explained that Las Vegas’s celebrations take place across the city – not in a tightly-packed area.

“It’s the entire city having this party,” Dr Brian Labus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UNLV, told KTNV. “We’ve been dealing with crowds coming to Las Vegas for the past two years. So, New Year’s Eve isn’t really anything new. It’s just kind of a bigger event.”

Las Vegas may turn out to be the devil-may-care exception. Events in Paris, London, Berlin have been canceled, while domestic US and international health officials urge caution.

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged earlier this month for people to approach the holidays cautiously, even if that meant canceling or delaying a shindig. “An event canceled is better than a life canceled,” Tedros told reporters. “It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later, than to celebrate now and grieve later.”

The Biden administration’s top health adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, recently advised that a small limited gathering with vaccinated family members would be the safest way to celebrate.

“If your plans are to go to a 40-to-50 person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year – I would strongly recommend that, this year, we do not do that,” Fauci said during a White House update on the pandemic on Wednesday.

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