New York prepares for muted year-end party

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People gather in New York's Times Square to ring in the New Year on December 31, 2021 (AFP/Yuki IWAMURA) (Yuki IWAMURA)
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  • Bill de Blasio
    Bill de Blasio
    109th Mayor of New York City

New Yorkers prepared Friday to welcome the new year in Times Square, with the famous ball drop and floating confetti, although in scaled-back fashion due to the pandemic.

At this time last year, after months of awful Covid-19 figures, the emblematic spot for ringing in the year New York-style was practically empty.

This year, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio said the party could go on but only with around 15,000 people in Times Square, instead of the usual 60,000, and everybody had to be vaccinated and wear a mask.

"This is a dream of ours. This is one of our bucket lists to see the ball drop on New Year's, and we got vaccinated because of this," said Chroni Stokes, 27, who came to New York from Memphis, Tennessee with her partner for the event.

"We weren't going to get vaccinated at first, but we read the CDC and the guidelines and so we got vaccinated just to come to this," she said, referring to the US public health agency.

As the country grapples with the fast-spreading Omicron strain of Covid in recent weeks, and fears grow of once again becoming ground zero of the US chapter of the pandemic, both New York city and state are hammering away at the need for people to get vaccinated and undergo tests.

On Friday, the state government said that in the past 24 hours, out of 340,000 people tested, 76,500 were positive. That proportion was a record for the state.

Revelers started gathering in Times Square in the afternoon for the time-honored festivities of watching a glass ball drop at the stroke of midnight, with the release of loads and loads of confetti.

Times Square is lit up day and night with neon signs advertising theaters and other forms of entertainment, but the US cultural capital has been muted since the start of the pandemic.

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