NEW YORK (AFP): The world’s eight billion people began ushering in 2023 on Saturday and bidding farewell to a turbulent 12 months marked by war in Europe, stinging price rises, Lionel Messi’s World Cup glory and the deaths of Queen Elizabeth, Pele and former pope Benedict.
Many will be looking to cut loose this New Year’s Eve after a few pandemic-dampened years, setting aside pinched budgets and a virus that is increasingly forgotten but not gone.
Sydney was among the first major cities to ring in 2023, retaking its claim to be the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world” after two years of lockdown and coronavirus-muted festivities.
Australia’s borders have reopened and the crowds gathering at Sydney’s sparkling harbour to watch 100,000 pyrotechnics illuminate the southern sky were expected to number more than one million.
“It’s been a fairly good year for us; getting past COVID of course is great,” David Hugh-Paterson told AFP as he waited near the Sydney Opera House in a growing crowd.
“Looking forward to the future as well,” the 52-year-old said.
Sydney authorities expected almost half a billion more people would see the festivities online or on television.
“If we can bring everyone together in celebration and looking to the year ahead with renewed optimism and joy, then we’ll see that as a job well done,” said fireworks organiser Fortunato Foti.
For some, 2022 was a year of Wordles, the Great Resignation, a new Taylor Swift album, an Oscar slap and billionaire meltdowns.
It also saw the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian football icon Pele, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jiang Zemin, and Shinzo Abe. Former pope Benedict XVI died on New Year’s Eve.
In November the global population surpassed the historic milestone of eight billion people.
But 2022 is most likely to be remembered for armed conflict returning to Europe — a continent that was the crucible of two world wars.
‘A peaceful sky’
More than 300 days into Russia’s botched invasion of Ukraine, about 7,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 more injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
About 16 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.
For those who remain, an 11:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew will be in place amid periodic blackouts and Russian missile barrages.
While some will mark the occasion with quiet candlelit prayers, others intend to party through the night in a collective show of resolve.
In past years, “people always stayed with us until three or four in the morning, so staying here for another hour or two will not be a problem”, said Kyiv restaurateur Tetyana Mytrofanov.
There seems to be a dulled appetite for grand celebrations in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Moscow has cancelled its traditional fireworks show after Mayor Sergei Sobyanin asked residents to vote on how to mark the occasion.
Muscovites such as Irina Shapovalova, a 51-year-old nursery worker, said their main wish for 2023 was for “a peaceful sky above our heads”.
State-owned broadcaster VGTRK has promised to provide a “New Year’s atmosphere, despite the changes in the country and the world”.
The new year will kick off with a new leader in Brazil, where Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the reins on Sunday following his razor-thin win in October polls.
However, China begins 2023 battling a surge in COVID infections after unwinding restrictions to contain the virus.
While vaccines have allowed life to return to semi-normal in most parts of the world, the virus is continuing to thwart China’s attempts to move on.
Hospitals in the world’s most populous nation have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases following the decision to lift strict “zero-COVID” rules.
New Year’s Eve parties are still planned in innumerable bars, theatres and malls.
But authorities in Shanghai have said there will be no formal activities on the city’s famed Bund waterfront.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the country in a televised New Year’s Eve address that, despite the outbreak, “the light of hope is right in front of us”.