Australia and elsewhere shake off COVID to ring in 2023

A person in protective face mask walks along the harbor waterfront across from the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Oct 6, 2021. (LOREN ELLIOTT / REUTERS)

SYDNEY – Australia is gearing up to celebrate its first restriction-free New Year's Eve after two years of COVID disruptions, with more than a million revelers expected to flock to Sydney's harborfront and watch an elaborate fireworks display.

Sydney is one of the world's first major cities to welcome in the New Year and draws huge TV audiences around the world, with a public countdown and fireworks display over its iconic Opera House.

"This New Year's Eve we are saying Sydney is back as we kick off festivities around the world and bring in the New Year with a bang," said Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney.

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Lockdowns at the end of 2020 and a surge in Omicron cases at the end of 2021 led to crowd restrictions and reduced festivities. However, curbs on celebrations have been lifted this year after Australia, like many countries around the world, re-opened its borders and removed social distancing restrictions.

Paris will stage its first New Year fireworks since 2019, after the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to COVID

A rainbow of color will light up Sydney Harbour, with 2,000 fireworks to be launched from the four sails of the Sydney Opera House and 7,000 fireworks from more positions on the Sydney Harbour Bridge than ever before.

For the first time in 12 years, fireworks will be launched from four building rooftops to frame the spectacular show, the organizers said.

Prior to the pandemic, over a million people would join the festivities on the ground in Sydney as a billion spectators tuned in from other parts of the world.

Paris will stage its first New Year fireworks since 2019, after the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to COVID. A 10-minute firework show is set to kick off at midnight, with 500,000 people expected to gather on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue to watch it.

Elsewhere, the mood was not so celebratory.

Malaysia's government cancelled its New Year countdown and fireworks event at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur after flooding across the nation displaced tens of thousands of people and a landslide killed 31 people this month.

The country's famous Petronas Twin Towers said it would pare down its celebration with no performances or fireworks.

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Dozens of cities in Croatia, including the capital Zagreb, cancelled New Year fireworks after pet lovers warned about the damaging effects of noise and gases on animals and people, calling for more environmentally-aware celebrations.

The result is that the Adriatic town of Rovinj will replace fireworks with laser shows and Zagreb with confetti, visual effects and music. The port town of Rijeka will re-direct funds allocated for fireworks to animal care associations, the authorities said.