Nigeria has joined the rest of the world in ushering in 2022 after another tumultuous and pandemic-ridden year capped by soaring case numbers, insecurity, economic challenges, and a slight glimmer of hope for better times ahead.
From fireworks cracking up in the air to worshippers in church to mark the crossover, many are optimistic that the coming year would provide a softer landing than 2021.
Religious bodies such as the Christian Association of Nigeria had earlier called on citizens to pray for God’s mercy in 2022.
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In a New Year message signed on Friday by the CAN President Samson Ayokunle, the group said Nigerians irrespective of their religious affiliations should “cry for the mercy of God” that can preserve the nation and bring an end to all insecurity.
Also wishing citizens a happy new year, President Muhammadu Buhari urged them to envision a year of continued progress against the nation’s combined challenges arising from security and socio-economic issues.
“The path to nationhood is often fraught with unpredictable difficulties and challenges, and most tried and tested nations have often prevailed through dogged determination, resilience, concerted commitment to unity, and the conviction that the whole of the nation, standing together against all odds, is by far greater and would ultimately be more prosperous and viable than the sum of its distinguishable parts,” he said.
The President also called on the people, irrespective of their religious and political affiliation, to come together in the fight to keep the country united against all odds.
He admitted that the persistent insecurity in parts of the country may have threatened the overall objective of his administration to position the nation on the irreversible trajectory of sustainable growth and progress.
President Buhari, however, assured that the government would remain resolute in its commitments and would continue to press ahead with its programmes and plans.
Meanwhile, as the festivities are still ongoing, the Federal Government has declared January 3, 2022, as a public holiday in celebration of the New Year.
Elsewhere across the world, 2022 was ushered in with scaled-back celebrations due to new restrictions aimed at slowing soaring Covid cases — although hope remained for a better new year.
The past 12 months saw a new US president and a fresh Adele album, the first spectator-free Olympics, and dreams of democracy from Afghanistan to Sudan and Hong Kong crushed by authoritarian regimes.
But the pandemic — now entering its third year — still dominated life around the globe.
More than 5.4 million people have died since the coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.
Countless more have been sickened or subjected to outbreaks, lockdowns and a slew of virus tests.
The year 2021 started with hope as life-saving vaccines were rolled out to around 60 per cent of the world’s population, although many of its poor still have limited access and some of its rich falsely believe the jabs are part of some ill-defined plot.
As the year drew to a close, the emergence of the Omicron variant pushed the number of daily new Covid-19 cases past one million for the first time, according to an AFP tally.
France on Friday became the latest country to announce Omicron was now its dominant coronavirus strain.
In Britain, the United States and even Australia — long a refuge from the pandemic — the variant’s prominence is driving record new cases.
To Party, or Not?
From Seoul to San Francisco, celebrations were again cancelled or curtailed in the face of the surge in infections.
About 7,000 people in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol — half the usual capacity due to Covid restrictions — rang in the new year by eating grapes, one for each time the clock chimed up to 12.
The glitzy Gulf city state of Dubai went ahead with its celebrations despite the surge in infections, with 36 firework displays at 29 locations.
But authorities warned they would fine anyone in attendance not wearing a protective mask.
Police officers patrolled the Champs-Elysees in Paris, lit with glittering red lights and festooned with “2022” balloons, also on the lookout for people without masks.
Most people were simply asked to wear one, but some who argued were fined.
“It is constraining to put on the mask… but it’s no problem” to follow the rule, said Antoine Pham, smiling. The 38-year-old and his partner came from Belgium to Paris for the evening.
In Sydney, which normally bills itself as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world”, the vast harbour where people gathered to watch the city’s fireworks was notably uncrowded.
With tourists still unable to enter the country and many residents fearful of the rapid spread of Omicron, tens of thousands were estimated to have attended, rather than the usual one million-plus.
Still, the city saw New Year’s Eve in with a bang — igniting six tonnes of technicoloured fireworks that lit up the Opera House and floating barges.
“I’m just trying to focus on the positive things that happened this year,” 22-year-old medical student Melinda Howard told AFP ahead of the show.
In Tunis, authorities cited the “rise in cases” of coronavirus for the last-minute cancellation of festivities.
In contrast, South Africa — the first country to report Omicron back in November — lifted a curfew late Thursday to allow festivities to go ahead.
Health officials said that a dip in infections in the past week indicated the peak of the current wave had passed — crucially without a significant increase in deaths.
‘This is Serious’
In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach went ahead in a scaled-back format, although crowds of revellers still arrived at the traditional party spot.
After last year’s festivities were cancelled due to Covid, it was a comparatively muted return for Rio, as health measures restricted the numbers of revellers to a fraction of the record three million people from two years ago.
A ban on musical performances, traffic and public transport made for a more diluted atmosphere on the city’s iconic beach.
“I was expecting many more people, and stress, but it’s calm, I like it,” saidColombian neuroscientist Alejandra Luna, 28, whose hope for 2022 is to “kiss and cuddle without thinking much about it.”
In Mexico City, authorities canceled a number of planned mass outdoor events, including a music concert on one of the capital’s main boulevards, following an increase in coronavirus cases.
“Health comes first and the cancellations are sending a kind of message that this is serious,” Victor Arturo Madrid, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP.
The World Health Organization has warned of trying times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to “a tsunami of cases”.
Many Western leaders have been hesitant to reimpose strict controls seen in 2020, for fear of sparking a new economic downturn.
But on-again-off-again restrictions have still prompted frequent, vocal and occasionally violent anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.
US President Joe Biden urged unity for the new year in a video message, during which he also praised “extraordinary” Americans.
“As we head into 2022, I want folks to remember: There’s not a single thing America cannot do when we do it together,” he said on Twitter alongside the video.
Experts and non-experts alike hope that 2022 may be remembered as a new, less deadly phase of the pandemic.
“Hopefully 2022 is going to be better for everyone,” said 31-year-old reveller Oscar Ramirez in Sydney.
“Everyone in the world needs a big change.”
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