A Locked-Down Europe Bids a Subdued Good Riddance to an Terrible Yr

Expressing world wishes for a year had been an illusion; the greatest event in Paris was really one. It may be an optimistic “welcome to the other side”.

Inside a virtual Notre Dame Cathedral – a resurrected, reinterpreted version of the fire-lashed treasure – the city broadcast a computer-generated concert and light show where no one was actually inside the cave-like landmark and no crowd was outside.

Most of the people living now have never seen a year in which Europe, like much of the world, was so eager to break free of it – or was unable to go out with fanfare. Vaccines are the first real glimmers of hope, but the coronavirus is still ruling uncontrollably, a new variant is fueling new fears and much of the continent is locked in some form.

Concerts? Canceled. Crowds and parties? Forbidden. Stay out all night? Don’t even think about it. Across Europe, where Covid-19 has killed nearly 600,000 people, cities and nations sent the message that the only acceptable place to spend New Years Eve was home, and they tried to arrange enough spectacle or online shows to to keep people there.

“Covid loves a crowd,” said Professor Stephen Powis, England’s medical director for the UK’s National Health Service. “So please leave the parties for later in the year.”

In a televised address from the Élysée Palace, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had recovered from his own virus, said: “The year 2020 will end in the course of development: with efforts and restrictions.”

  • in the BerlinThe traditional television broadcast from the Brandenburg Gate ended without fireworks or live viewers. It is one of 56 popular New Year’s Eve spots in the city that authorities have closed overnight in hopes to discourage prohibited outdoor gatherings. Indoor meetings were limited to five adults from no more than two households. The sale of private fireworks, a tradition for the holidays that Germans call New Years Eve because it is the feast day of St. New Years Eve, was banned – although some went off anyway. “It is necessary that this is probably the quietest New Year’s Eve Germany can remember,” said Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister.

  • Instead of his annual live concert outdoors Rome replaced an online streamed celebration with a series of performances and a hard-to-describe event, part concert, part light show and part stargazing entitled “How to Hear the Universe in a Spider / Web”. After Italy went under 10 p.m. curfew and banned the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks, President Sergio Mattarella said in his annual address that the pandemic had changed the country, “exacerbating past fragility, exacerbating old inequalities and creating new ones”.

  • in the GenevaFireworks around Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Leman) in the heart of the city have been canceled and bars and restaurants have closed, although restrictions on private gatherings have been eased from five to ten people. Many residents of the quiet city had set out for open Swiss ski areas – much to the chagrin of neighboring European countries, which decided to close their slopes to prevent the further spread of coronavirus cases.

  • in the LondonBig Ben, which has been largely silent in recent years when its clock tower was being renovated, rang twelve times at midnight, one of the few standout moments in a country where major celebrations have been canceled. Most Britons were forbidden to socialize with anyone outside their own household. This rule was backed up by a fine of up to £ 1,000 or more than $ 1,300.

  • Madrid The night curfew was eased from midnight to 1:30 a.m., which is usually this early for a night in Spain, but the traditional gathering in Puerta del Sol square has been canceled. People were told to stay home as much as possible, eating the traditional New Years Eve grapes while watching events on television and gathering in groups of no more than six people.

  • And in ParisThe only people roaming the Champs-Élysées – where around 300,000 people gathered for giant fireworks a year ago – were some of the 100,000 police officers stationed across the country to keep crowds from gathering. City officials urged people to watch the electronic music artist Jean-Michel Jarre’s Notre Dame virtual concert, an event that connects the old and the modern, the old and the new year, the pandemic and hope for an end. It would be a message of hope and a “tribute to Notre-Dame who is weakened”, Jarre told the French media, “like all of us”.

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