Thousands packed the streets to celebrate New Year's Eve in Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, as other cities worldwide were deserted

Julian Kossoff,Kieran Corcoran
·4 min read
Skitched New Year's Eve composite 2020
An annotated composite image showing New Year's Eve celebrations in Wuhan, London, and Milan on December 31, 2020. Getty Images/Business Insider
  • The city of Wuhan, where the first-ever coronavirus cases were reported, celebrated New Year's Eve in style.

  • On New Year's Eve, crowds gathered for the midnight countdown, enjoyed a funfair, and prayed at Buddhist temples.

  • By contrast, many cities worldwide were forced to cancel the annual celebrations to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Photos from Paris, London, New York, Berlin, and Milan show deserted squares where in previous years there would have been crowds of thousands.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In Wuhan, China, thousands gathered on the streets for the New Year celebration.

The city was the ground-zero of the coronavirus pandemic, and reported the first COVID-19 cluster exactly a year ago, on December 31, 2019.

People celebrate the arrival of the new year in Wuhan, China. December 31, 2021.
People hold balloons as they gather to celebrate the arrival of the new year, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China December 31, 2020 REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Since May, it has been free from the virus following a strictly-enforced 76-day lockdown of its 11 million citizens.

Liberated from the threat of COVID-19 and life has returned to near-normal for Wuhan residents, and images from the city showed they could celebrate the New Year by cramming onto the streets to greet the New Year.

The scenes were the opposite of what could be observed in much of the rest of the world, where emergency public-health measures banished the usual crowds in the world's best-known cities.

In New York, Times Square was deserted of revelers to watch the iconic ball drop, for the first time since 1907, reported Mail Online.

Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square during the virtual New Year's Eve event New York, U.S., January 1, 2021.
Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square during the virtual New Year's Eve event following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 1, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

This week saw the deadliest day in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic began, with a record-breaking number of hospitalizations foreshadowing potentially darker days still to come.

States across the US reported more than 3,900 deaths on Wednesday and over 125,000 hospitalizations, according to data from The Covid Tracking Project.

London cancelled its traditional firework display near the Houses of Parliament.

Where there were usually thick crowds, police patrolled to break up any unauthorized gatherings:

New Year's Eve 2020 London
Police patrol the banks of London's River Thames on December 31, 2020. The usual crowds for New Year's Eve were absent. Getty Images

A replacement fireworks and lights display took place in east London over the Millennium Dome:

New Year's Eve 2020 London
A firework display over the Millennium Dome in east London replaced the traditional show in Westminster. Getty Images

Germany too had harsh restrictions. Performers played in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, but with nobody to watch them:

New Year's Eve 2020 Berlin Germany
A celebratory concert in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate had no audience on December 31, 2020, because of coronavirus restrictions. Getty Images

And in Cologne, signs warned away anyone tempted to see in the New Year in front of its Gothic cathedral:

New Year's Eve 2020 Cologne Germany
A sign warning away crowds from the imposing cathedral in Cologne, Germany, on December 31, 2020. Getty Images

Paris imposed a curfew from 8.pm., ensuring there were no massed crowds around the Eiffel Tower:

New Year's Eve 2020 Paris France
A view down the Champ de Mars in Paris on December 31, 2020, with the Eiffel Tower in view. French authorities imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. Getty Images

Milan, Italy, where the coronavirus first took hold in a large Western city, also had curfews to keep crowds away:

New Year's Eve 2020 Milan Italy
The usually-packed Piazza Duomo in Milan, Italy, where a 10 p.m. curfew was in place on December 31, 2020. Getty Images

Istanbul's Taksim square was similarly abandoned:

New Year's Eve 2020 Istanbul
A deserted Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, where a curfew was in place on December 31, 2020. Getty Images

A year has passed since the World Health Organization announced the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Yet, the virus' origin and the true timeline of its worldwide spread remain a mystery. A growing body of evidence now suggests it was circulating months before the first cases captured global attention in Wuhan, China.

A study from Milan's National Cancer Institute found that four of Italy's coronavirus cases dated back to October 2019.

Research from China shows people were getting sick in Wuhan in November and early December: One analysis, based on satellite images of Wuhan hospitals and online searches for COVID-19 symptoms in the area, suggested the virus may have started circulating there as early as late summer.

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