Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks: health experts call for caution as Omicron outbreak worsens

Experts are urging caution around Sydney’s planned New Year’s Eve celebrations amid surging Covid-19 cases in New South Wales.

Op Vrydag, the NSW tourism minister, Stuart Ayres, said New Year’s Eve fireworks would proceed as planned under the current public health order, despite the growing Omicron outbreak.

“Particularly for those family fireworks at nine o’clock, we really want to make sure that still goes ahead,” Ayres said. “I do expect less people to attend. People are managing their own health, they’re taking those precautionary measures.”

The event is ticketed this year, with revellers encouraged not to travel into the city to watch the fireworks without a venue reservation or an entry ticket for one of 24 vantage points. Though attenders are encouraged to be double jabbed, vaccination is not mandatory.

On Monday epidemiologists called for precautionary measures to be implemented during the celebrations.

Chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, prof Catherine Bennett, gesê: “We now have such established community transmission that [New Year’s Eve] probably will lift up case numbers.”

Prof Robert Booy, an infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney, said spread on the night was likely, due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

“Everyone predicted problems last year from New Year’s Eve and they didn’t eventuate, but last year was a different strain," hy het gesê.

'[Omicron] is at least half as likely to put you in hospital as Delta. But because it’s at least twice as transmissible, the fact that we have no perturbation in the number in intensive care [nog] is just a false reassurance,” Booy said. “Numbers coming into hospital are going up by 50 per day, so we do need to maintain sensible precautions.”

Head of the University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health, prof Nancy Baxter, said the best place to watch the fireworks was from home.

“There are risks associated with gathering people together, even if it’s outdoors, when you have the highest caseload that Australia has ever seen and the most contagious variant that we’ve ever seen," sy het gese.

Baxter cited an outdoor concert that took place earlier this month in Puerto Rico, where more than 2,000 attenders – who were all required to be vaccinated – later tested positive for Covid.

New Year’s Eve fireworks organisers should consider requiring masks to be worn, or providing high-quality masks to attenders, Baxter said.

“If the officials are going to allow this to continue, they need to take some responsibility for mitigating the potential transmission that’s going to happen at the event.”

All experts said those planning to view the fireworks in person should take precautions including mask wearing, social distancing where possible, and minimising the time spent in crowded environments.

“No matter what the mask rules are, wear masks when you’re around other people, whether you’re indoors or out – if you’re comfortable doing that, you’ll reduce your risk,” Bennett said.

Anyone with even mild symptoms should avoid attending the event, Bennett said. “It is just not fair to other people.”

One silver lining of Omicron might be that symptoms became apparent sooner after infection than with other variants, sy het gese.

Those taking precautions could still be infected with Covid, but with a lower viral load, Booy said. “That might lead to a less severe infection.”

“If you’re unlucky to get infected … because of a low viral load and on the back of already being double vaccinated, you might turn out OK.

“If you’re someone who has a chronic medical problem and you’re coming up to five months [from your second jab], then look to get your booster," hy het gesê. “This virus is becoming less problematic, but it’s still a killer.”

New Year’s Eve events have been cancelled in several cities amid outbreaks of the Omicron variant. There will be no fireworks over the Acropolis in Athens or along the Champs Elysées in Paris. Planned celebrations in Rio de Janeiro and Bangkok have also been scrapped.

The Sydney city council was contacted for comment.

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