Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that New York City would welcome a return to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, as long as it provides evidence that it is completely immune to the coronavirus. He said that after a celebration curtailed last year, the old tradition of dropping a ball in the middle of the night will return to the city with “full force”.
“We want to welcome all these hundreds of thousands of people, but everyone needs to be vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said during a press conference. “Join the crowd, join the joy, and join in a historic moment as New York City provides further proof to the world that we’re 100 percent back.”
Attendees who are unable to provide proof of vaccination due to disability must show that they received a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of the event, and children under 5 years of age will have to be accompanied by someone with proof of vaccination. Vaccines are available in the United States for those ages 5 and older. Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, said masks will be required for those unable to be vaccinated.
Mr. de Blasio said plans are being announced with enough lead time for people to get a full vaccination. In response to questions about why vaccination should be needed to drop the ball when not required for other outdoor activities in the city, such as al fresco dining and concerts, Mr. de Blasio said a crowded, hours-long event that attracts people from all over the world requires extra caution.
“When you’re outdoors with a few hundred thousand people crammed together for hours on end, it’s a different reality,” said Mr. de Blasio. “You talk about a lot of really close people for long periods of time. It makes sense to protect everyone.”
The announcement comes as Mr. de Blasio prepares for his successor, Eric Adams, to take over as the next mayor of New York City, and the drop-ball will coincide with Mr. de Blasio’s final day in office. That will leave any fallout from the event in the hands of Mr Adams, who will be inaugurated on January 1, 2022.
Many public health experts have warned that with the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus, it is difficult to predict where the city will be in terms of cases by the end of the year.
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“It’s not going to be perfect,” said Dennis Nash, professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. “We have to assume there will be people mingling with Covid among the outdoor revelers.”
Nor is the danger confined to Times Square. Attendees will also have to think about what happens on the way to soccer, as people walk in and out of nearby bars and restaurants to eat, heat, and use the restroom.
And with some major restrictions on international travelers recently eased by the United States, the ball drop is likely to attract partygoers from across the country and the world, as it gathers people from areas with lower and higher spread of the virus.
Danielle Umbad, assistant professor of epidemiology at New York University, said she would still urge attendees to be careful when deciding whether or not to go.
“I understand that people are out of this pandemic, people are vaccinating and our vaccination rates are high,” Ms Umbad said. “But I still think it’s important to be careful.”
Wafa Al-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, expressed similar concerns: “I would say, I’ll wait another year and choose to watch it from home.”
Other major cities around the world have canceled their New Year’s Eve celebrations. In October, the mayor of London said the city’s year-end fireworks display would be scrapped and replaced with a different type of celebration, while Amsterdam canceled its celebrations this week in response to the surge in cases.
Munich has also canceled the Christmas market that was scheduled to take place from next Monday until Christmas Eve. “The tragic situation in our hospitals and the dramatically increasing numbers of infections leave me no other choice,” Mayor Dieter Reiter told reporters on Tuesday.
Contributed by Christopher F. Schweitz and Dan Levine report on.