Millions of people around the world are preparing for a New Year’s Eve like no other – with lockdowns, restrictions and curfews in place in dozens of countries in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 before vaccination drives start to take effect.
New Year’s Eve marks one year since the World Health Organization first mentioned a mysterious pneumonia in China later identified as Covid-19, which went on in 2020 to kill more than 1.79 million people and devastate the global economy in unprecedented ways.
But international efforts helped develop vaccines in record time, and following Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the candidate developed by Oxford and drug firm AstraZeneca has become the third to win approval in the western world.
In the UK, which reported 981 deaths on Wednesday amid a surge related to a new Covid variant, people planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve have been warned they must leave the parties for later in 2021 as “Covid loves a crowd”.
On Wednesday, when 50,023 new cases were recorded, the government announced tighter restrictions. Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said staying at home and seeing in 2021 “within the rules” would reduce infections and relieve pressure on hospitals.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “We know it’s the end of the year, it’s a time where people traditionally want to celebrate. But it’s absolutely vital that this year, everybody continues to follow the guidance by staying at home and not mixing.”
Powis added: “We can all play a part in fighting this terrible virus: stay at home, mark the new year with just nearest and dearest within the rules.
“This action will reduce infections, relieve pressures on hospitals, and that’s how everybody can help to save a life. Covid loves a crowd, so please leave the parties for later in the year.”
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, also urged people to follow the rules and “see in the new year safely at home”.
France has announced it will deploy 100,000 police and gendarmes to clamp down on parties, gatherings and the traditional torching of vehicles on 31 December.
The interior minister Gérald Darmanin said the officers would also be strictly enforcing the national 8pm to 6am curfew as part of what he described as a “fight against unauthorised public gatherings and the phenomenon of urban violence”.
Police operations are to be concentrated in city centres and “sensitive” neighbourhoods. The number of police and gendarmes is the same as last year. Darmanin has also asked local chiefs of police to impose bans on the sale of fuel or alcohol in containers.
In Germany, which is under partial lockdown, Angela Merkel said in her last new year’s address as chancellor that 2020 was by far the most difficult of her 15-year leadership, yet the start of…