apnews— Sorrow for the dead and dying, fear of more infections to come and hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance to 2021 and ushered in 2022.
New Year’s Eve, which used to be celebrated globally with a free-spirited wildness, felt instead like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant again filling hospitals.
“We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the fed-up revelers venturing out in London. “We have just been in so long.”
The mostly muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide since late 2019 and more than 5 million have died.
In Paris, officials canceled the fireworks amid surging infections and reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who milled about on the Champs-Elysées as the final hours of 2021 ticked away.
In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was staged without a live audience. In Madrid, authorities allowed only 7,000 people into the city’s Puerta del Sol downtown square, a venue traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.
In the United States, officials took a mixed approach to the year-end revelry: nixing the audience at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, scaling it back in New York yet going full speed ahead in Las Vegas, where thousands turned up for a fireworks show on the Strip that was threatened by gusty winds but went off as scheduled.
President Joe Biden noted the losses and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said: “We’re persevering. We’re recovering.”
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s how we made it through this year. And how we’ll embrace the next. Together.”
In New York, officials allowed just 15,000 people — vaccinated and masked — inside the perimeter around Times Square, a sliver of the 1 million that typically squeeze in to watch the famed ball drop. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people need to see that New York is open for business.
Yet by Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York telecast after a positive COVID-19 test and restaurant owners battered by staffing shortages and omicron cancelations throughout the holiday season struggled to stay open.
“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who watched reservations and party bookings disappear this month. “No one made any money in December. The fact they may have a good night tonight, it has no impact.”
Airlines also struggled as the year came to a close, canceling thousands of flights after the virus struck flight crews and other personnel and amid bad weather.
The pandemic game-changer of 2021 — vaccinations — continued apace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it met its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults by Friday.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “isn’t retreating yet.” Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths but its state statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double that.
“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
Elsewhere, the venue that many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became overly familiarly with during lockdowns: their homes.
Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized manger set up in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers service of prayer and hymns Friday evening as he sat in an armchair. But he also delivered a homily standing and unmasked.
“A sense of being lost has grown in the world during the pandemic,” Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica.
France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.
In London, the normal fireworks display, which would have attracted tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, was replaced by a light and drones show broadcast on television. Location details about the spectacle were kept secret in advance to avoid crowds gathering.
“The last two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many have suffered and there is a point when we need to start coming together finally,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special needs teacher.
France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases Friday marked its third day running above the 200,000 mark. The U.K. was close behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said as many as 1 in 15 people were infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the U.K. rose 68% in the last week, to the highest levels since February.
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s bash usually brings more than 2 million people to Copacabana beach. In 2020 there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music on loudspeakers, but no live concerts like in previous editions.
Yet boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. One medical expert predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
At Expo 2020, the sprawling world’s fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to throw caution to the wind on New Year’s Eve — her first time ever outside Saudi Arabia, where she lives in the holy city of Medina.
“If you don’t celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I’m healthy and took two (vaccine) doses. We just have to enjoy.”
Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years.
In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.
“A numbness has set in, and we are no longer overly afraid,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take for granted that it won’t happen to me.”
South Korean authorities closed many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise.
In India, millions of people rang in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other large cities.
In mainland China, the Shanghai government canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December.
In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 remain missing.
Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, and then the typhoon blew away her temporary wooden shack in Cebu city. She will welcome the new year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a ramshackle tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families erected small tents from debris, rice sacks and tarpaulins.
Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we won’t get sick.”
This story has been corrected to show that the fireworks display in Las Vegas went off on time despite the threat of winds.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.
Brazil’s indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine
Maurício Ye’kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.
The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals – and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land.
“It’s got worse in the past few years,” Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.
He’s only 35, but it’s the younger generation that concerns him – boys increasingly being lured into illegal work.
“The young people are the best boat drivers,” he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.
Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights.
On Brasilia’s main esplanade, a grand avenue that leads to Congress and the presidential palace, communities from across the country have erected hundreds of tents.
Milling around the camp are indigenous Brazilians, many of them wearing feathered headdresses, intricate beaded jewellery and painted with geometric tattoos identifying their tribe.
This year, the event has taken on an even bigger meaning.
President Jair Bolsonaro has made it his mission to push economic development in the Amazon. In his latest attempt to make inroads into indigenous territories, he has cited the war in Ukraine. Brazil relies heavily on imported fertilisers for its agribusiness industry – more than 90% of its fertilisers come from abroad, and Russia is its most important partner.
“A good opportunity arose for us,” Mr Bolsonaro said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has argued that by mining in indigenous territories, Brazil can build more of its own potassium reserves.
It’s an argument questioned by some experts.
“Only 11% of the reserves are inside indigenous lands and other states like São Paulo and Minas have reserves,” says politician Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman voted into Congress in 2018. “It’s a false narrative that tries to confuse the minds of the Brazilians, making them believe it’s important, that people won’t have food on their table.”
Also, it’s not a short-term fix.
“From a technological and environmental perspective, the licences needed and the infrastructure – it all takes time. Being able to offer these products to the Brazilian market would probably take seven to 10 years,” says Suzi Huff, Prof of Geology at the University of Brasilia. “We’re talking about an extremely sensitive area in which care needs to be taken. It’s false to say that it will solve Brazil’s problems.”
The bill has been in the works since 2020. But last month, the lower house voted to consider it under emergency provisions, removing the need for committee debates.
“It’s very clearly blackmail,” says Prof Huff. “Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to continue with this project of allowing mineral exploration including in indigenous lands and used the scarcity of fertilisers in Brazil to move forward with this project.”
It was expected to be voted on in the lower house this week, but that hasn’t happened – and few believe, in this election year, that it will. Not even the big players in the industry agree with it, with the Brazilian Institute of Mining last month saying it was a bill “not suitable for its intended purposes”, and calling for broader debate.
While a delay in voting is seen as a relief by indigenous leaders, it’s still a challenge on the ground.
“A fiery political discourse encourages invasions in indigenous lands,” says Joenia Wapichana. “The fact that Bolsonaro says he supports mining, that he will regulate mining in indigenous lands already exposes the indigenous people and makes them more vulnerable.”
The discourse is, of course, deeply political, especially with elections around the corner. On Tuesday, former president Lula da Silva – and the man leading in the polls to win October’s vote – made a visit to the camp.
“Today the headlines are about a government that doesn’t have scruples when it comes to offending and attacking the indigenous communities who are already on this land,” he said.
The response was huge cheers of “out with Bolsonaro” – but there are still six months until the elections. And this is Brazil – much can change in politics here, and the future of Brazil’s indigenous tribes is more uncertain than ever.
Homes engulfed as deadly landslide hits Colombia
A landslide triggered by heavy rains has killed at least 14 people in central Colombia, officials say.
Another 35 people were now in hospital after several homes were engulfed in the Dosquebradas municipality, Risaralda province, on Tuesday.
The officials issued a photo showing a gash in the lush foliage covering a mountain overlooking the area.
Other residents living close to a swollen river nearby have been moved to safety.
Rescue teams have been searching in the mud for more survivors, Colombia’s disaster management officials said.
“A very loud noise scared us. We went out and saw a piece of the mountain on top of the houses,” taxi driver Dubernei Hernandez told the AFP news agency.
“I went to that place and it was a disaster, with people trapped.”
Mr Hernandez said he helped dig up two bodies and a survivor. At least five homes were buried by the mud, he added.
There are fears that the death toll will rise further.
Landslides are common in Colombia and houses built on steep hillsides are at particular risk during the country’s rainy season.
In 2019, at least 28 people were killed after a landslide hit the south-western Cauca province.
Two years earlier, more than 250 people were killed when a landslide hit the town of Mocoa, in the southern Putumayo province.
Mexico violence: Third journalist killed this year
A Mexican journalist has been shot dead in the northern border city of Tijuana, officials say, the third journalist to be killed in the country this year.
Lourdes Maldonado López, who had decades of experience, was attacked in her car as she arrived home on Sunday.
She had previously said she feared for her life, and was enrolled in a scheme to protect journalists, activists said.
The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists, and dozens have been killed in recent years.
Many of those targeted covered corruption or powerful drug cartels. Campaigners say the killings are rarely fully investigated, with impunity virtually the norm.
The motive for Maldonado’s killing was not clear and no-one has been arrested.
During a news conference in 2019, Maldonado asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for his “support, help and labour justice” because, she said, “I fear for my life”.
She was referring to a labour dispute with Jaime Bonilla, who was elected governor of Baja California state later that year as a candidate from the president’s Morena party. Mr Bonilla, who left office late last year, owns the PSN media outlet, which had employed Maldonado.
Maldonado had sued the company for unfair dismissal and, last week, said she had won the lawsuit after a nine-year legal battle. Mr Bonilla and PSN have not commented.
Rights group Article 19 said she had previously been attacked because of her work and was registered in the Mexican government’s programme to protect journalists.
The campaign group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “shocked” by the murder.
The killing came six days after photojournalist Margarito Martínez was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana. He covered crime in the city, with his work appearing in national and foreign media.
A week earlier, José Luis Gamboa Arenas was found dead with stab wounds in the eastern city of Veracruz. An editor at the Inforegio and La Notícia news websites, he often wrote articles about organised crime and violence.
Exact numbers of victims are hard to come by as investigations often get nowhere, and different studies apply different criteria in counting the dead.
According to Article 19, 24 journalists were killed between December 2018, when President López Obrador took office, and the end of 2021.
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