How are cities around the world planning to handle a COVID New Year’s?

New years Eve fireworks over San Francisco
Photo via http://kevinashphotography.com/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

At the end of each year, cities around the world typically plan festive New Year’s Eve celebrations complete with lively crowds, fireworks, and flowing libations. The coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 anything but typical, however, throwing a wrench into traditional New Year’s plans. Big cities have been left scrambling to provide a satisfying holiday experience while still keeping residents as safe as possible.

For many cities, that means a pivot to streaming. The Music Center, a popular outdoor performing arts venue in Los Angeles, will be holding its eighth annual Grand Park NYELA event virtually this year. In the past, the free event typically attracts thousands of revelers for a “festive night of music, art installations, food trucks, and a light show.”

This year, Grammy-nominated DJ and producer Steve Aoki will be headlining a diverse 90-minute streaming celebration, which will also feature acts such as the Mexican R&B pop quintet Aquihayaquihay, Venezuelan singer Andrekza, and rapper Bia performing as a special guest. The event will be streamed live and broadcast nationally through a partnership with Fuse.

“The program will balance these great performances with special segments throughout the show to honor the strength and character of Angelenos, and share more about L.A. with the world,” Grand Park Director Julia Diamond said in a press release. “Grand Park’s NYELA says a powerful goodbye to 2020 and a big hello to 2021 as we look forward to a brighter future.”

New York City, where over one million people gather in Times Square to watch the ball drop every year, will also be holding its iconic, century-old event virtually for New Year’s Eve 2020. There will be some scaled-back and socially-distanced live elements and an “extremely limited group of in-person honorees,” which will most likely include first responders and medical professionals.

Times Square will be blocked off by police and completely inaccessible to the public, in an effort to prevent crowds from gathering. Instead, revelers will be encouraged to watch the live television broadcast at home, or participate in the celebrations through a webcast or app.

“One thing that will never change is the ticking of time and the arrival of a New Year at midnight on December 31st,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said in a September press release. “But this year there will be significantly new and enhanced virtual, visual, and digital offerings to complement whatever limited live entertainment or experiences—still in development—will take place in Times Square.”

London, which typically throws a huge street party and fireworks display along the Thames River, has likewise canceled the event for the first time in nearly two decades. The annual event typically attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who line up on the Victoria Embankment to watch the fireworks light up the skies over Big Ben.

“We simply can’t afford to have the numbers of people who congregate on New Year’s Eve, congregating,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. He added that the city is organizing an event revelers can enjoy safely at home along with the 12 million people who normally watch the show on TV every year. “We can’t afford to lose that slot because New Year’s Eve is a really great opportunity for the rest of the world to see how wonderful our city is. Particularly during a recession, we need to continue [investing] in our city and people coming to London.”

Even places like Australia, which has been largely successful in containing COVID-19, will see scaled-back celebrations this year. Sydney has canceled a 9 p.m. fireworks display for kids, and the midnight showing will be reduced from its usual 12-minute display. There will also be fewer viewing sites and the show will instead focus on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The city still anticipates over a million locals and tourists for its 2020 New Year’s Eve celebration, but officials are encouraging people to watch on TV this year to reduce crowd size.

Las Vegas will be celebrating New Year’s Eve 2020 with precautions

Nevada is currently seeing skyrocketing infection rates, but that’s not stopping New Year’s Eve celebrations across the state. A few added precautions aim to help people celebrate as safely as possible.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced earlier this month that he was extending a “statewide pause” until Jan. 15 that restricts business capacity and gathering sizes. “We are in a unique position in Nevada,” Sisolak told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We are reliant on one industry, our hospitality and tourism industry,” he said. “Our economy is basically reliant on hospitality and people coming here to have a good time and enjoy themselves.”

Hotel-casinos, bars, and restaurants will be allowed to stay open at 25% capacity with no more than four people to a table, but the city’s nightclubs remain closed. State and local regulatory agencies plan to conduct compliance checks to ensure businesses are following state-mandated COVID-19 protocols on New Year’s Eve 2020.

The city has also banned public events with more than 50 people in attendance, including two annual events—a midnight fireworks show on the Strip and the Fremont Street Experience’s downtown party. Revelers will still be able to mingle on the Strip and Fremont Street Experience, however, both of which will be closed to traffic, but authorities will not be able to enforce capacity limits on either street.

“There will be people here. They’ll be having fun, and they’ll be congregating,” UNLV economist Stephen Miller told the Review-Journal. “Whether they wear masks is another issue.” With so many anticipated visitors coming from out of state, New Year’s Eve partying in Vegas poses a significant potential health crisis. Particularly considering the city’s COVID-19 case numbers, which have been surging since casinos reopened over the summer.

Dr. Amber D’Souza, an epidemiology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, doesn’t believe the risk is worth celebrating in Las Vegas.

“No one right now should be doing nonessential travel, interstate, to get together in a large group. That is one of the riskiest things you can do,” D’Souza said. “There absolutely are national consequences to these large events where people fly in from across the country and mingle in large groups, and then leave. Infection will come into Nevada that wasn’t there, and will also leave Las Vegas and go out to other parts of the country.”

Sources: Fodors, Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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