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As 2022 marched across globe, New York City ushers in New Year in Time Square

New York City welcomed the new year — and bid good riddance to 2021 — as confetti and cheers spread across Times Square as a New Year's Eve tradition returned to a city beleaguered by a global pandemic.

The new year marched across the globe, time zone by time zone, and thousands of New Year's revelers stood shoulder to shoulder in a slight chill to witness a 6-ton ball, encrusted with nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, descend above a crowd of about 15,000 in-person spectators — far fewer than the many tens of thousands of revelers who usually descend on the world-famous square to bask in the lights and hoopla of the nation’s marquee New Year’s Eve event.

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It did so as an uneasy nation tried to muster optimism that the worst days of the pandemic are now behind it — even as public health officials cautioned on Friday against unbridled celebrations amid surging COVID-19 infections from the omicron variant.

Last year’s ball drop was closed to the public because of the pandemic.

Though the crowds were smaller, the throngs nevertheless stretched for blocks to soak in the celebration, with many traveling from afar to take part. Confetti lit up by electronic billboards swirled in a light wind on a mild winter night in New York City.

Mary Gonzalez stood a few feet behind a crowd, wanting to keep her distance from anyone unwittingly carrying the virus.

“I’m happy that 2021 is over because it caused a lot of problems for everybody,” said Gonzalez, who was visiting from Mexico City and wanted to take in an American tradition. “We hope that 2022 is much better than this year.”

The annual ball drop took place as the clock ticked into midnight and ushered in the new year, an occasion usually commemorated with the uncorking of Champagne, clinking of pints, joyous embraces, and renewed hope for better times ahead.

Times Square is often referred to as the crossroads of the world, and city officials insisted on holding the marquee New Year’s Eve event to demonstrate the city's resiliency even amid a resurgence of the coronavirus.

But 2022 begins just as the year prior began — with the pandemic clouding an already uncertain future.

Doubts swirled about whether the city would have to cancel this year’s bash, as the city posted record numbers of COVID-19 cases in the days leading to it, even as some cities like Atlanta had decided to cancel their own celebrations.

COVID-19 cases in the US have soared to their highest levels on record at over 265,000 per day on average. New York City reported a record number of new, confirmed cases — nearly 44,000 — on Wednesday and a similar number on Thursday, according to New York state figures.
Officials required those attending the spectacle would have to wear masks and show proof of vaccination. Organizers had initially hoped that more than 50,000 revelers would be able to join in, but plans were dramatically scaled back because of widespread infections.

Rap artist and actor LL Cool J was supposed to be among the performers taking the stage in Times Square on Friday night, but announced he would pull out of the event because he had tested positive for COVID-19.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who relinquished oversight of the nation's most populous city at the stroke of midnight, said the festivities at Times Square would “show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this.”

New York City’s incoming mayor, Eric Adams, is scheduled to take his oath in Times Square soon after the ball drop. He made a brief appearance earlier on the main stage to affirm the city's resiliency.

“It’s just great when New York shows the entire country of how we come back,” he said. “We showed the entire globe what we’re made of. We’re unbelievable. This is an unbelievable city and, trust me, we’re ready for a major comeback because this is New York.”

That hopeful sentiment was shared by ordinary people.

“I look back and I see it as a sort of a stressful year, but it wasn’t a terrible year,” said Lynn Cafarchio, who braved the crowds to attend the festivities with her husband Pete.

A New York City tour guide, she was unemployed for a spell as the economy was shuttered and tourism tanked.

“We're standing here glad that 2021 will soon be over,” she said, "but really positive about next year.”

Even if the crowds were considerably smaller, people gathered across block after block to witness the ball drop.

Nursing student Ashley Ochoa and her boyfriend, Jose Avelar, traveled from the central valley of California specifically to be at Times Square. “COVID did hold a lot of stuff back for me," Ochoa said, “but I mean, I’m here today, so that’s what I'm thankful for.”
Read more: Year-end cheer for South Africans as midnight COVID curfew lifted after two years

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Security guard killed inside Qatar Embassy in Paris

A security guard was killed in the early hours of Monday inside the Qatar Embassy in Paris in an incident that does not appear to have any links to terrorism, a source close to the investigation said.
The incident took place at around 0630 (0430 GMT), the source said, adding that the suspect had entered the embassy and had a row with the security guard, who died after being punched.

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The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed the death and said one person had been arrested on the spot.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Read more: Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of IRGC colonel: President

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Sandstorm forces closure of Iraqi airports and public buildings

Iraq closed public buildings and temporarily shut airports Monday as another sandstorm — the ninth since mid-April — hit the country, authorities said.

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The capital Baghdad was enveloped in a giant dust cloud that left usually traffic-choked streets largely deserted, an AFP correspondent said.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered all work to cease in public institutions, with the exception of health facilities and security agencies.

He cited “poor climatic conditions and the arrival of violent sandstorms” in a statement issued by his office.

Iraq is ranked as one of the five most vulnerable nations to climate change and desertification.

The environment ministry has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.

Air traffic was suspended Monday at international airports in Baghdad, Erbil and Najaf, according to statements issued by each airport, before authorities announced later in the morning that flights were resuming at Baghdad and Erbil.

The previous two sandstorms killed one person and sent nearly 10,000 people to hospital with respiratory problems.

The Middle East has always been battered by sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years.

The trend has been associated with rising heat and water scarcity, overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Oil-rich Iraq is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iraq’s environment ministry has said the weather phenomenon could be addressed by increasing vegetation cover and planting trees that act as windbreaks.

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Oxfam tells Davos: Time to tax growing billionaire club

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new billionaire every 30 hours and now one million people could fall into extreme poverty at the same pace, Oxfam said Monday as the Davos summit returns.

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The international charity said it was time to tax the rich to support the less fortunate as the global elite gathered at the Swiss mountain haven for the World Economic Forum after a two-year Covid-induced absence.

Oxfam said it expects 263 million people to sink into extreme poverty this year, at a rate of one million every 33 hours, as soaring inflation has added a cost-of-living crisis on top of COVID-19.

By comparison, 573 people became billionaires during the pandemic, or one every 30 hours.

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes,” Oxfam executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.

“The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” Bucher said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” she said.

Oxfam called for a one-off “solidarity tax” on billionaires’ pandemic windfall to support people facing soaring prices as well as fund a “fair and sustainable recovery” from the pandemic.

It also said it was time to “end crisis profiteering” by rolling out a “temporary excess profit tax” of 90 percent on windfall profits of big corporations.

Oxfam added that an annual wealth tax on millionaires of two percent, and five percent for billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year.

Such a wealth tax would help lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world and pay for universal health care for people in poorer countries, it said.

Oxfam based its calculations on the Forbes list of billionaires and World Bank data.

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Quarter of billion face extreme poverty in 2022: Oxfam

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