Sydney has rung in 2021 with a shortened fireworks display on a vacated harbour, with police declaring their satisfaction with compliance to coronavirus-prompted public health orders.
The city largely banned crowds for its world-renowned pyrotechnic display on New Year’s Eve, while Melbourne’s fireworks were cancelled weeks ago.
Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide also cancelled their fireworks.
The restrictions ensured the Sydney foreshore, including popular vantage points such as the Opera House and The Rocks, were on Thursday night deserted, with no revellers or firework-watchers in sight.
The lively seven-minute fireworks display at midnight carried themes of love and solidarity amid COVID-19, which has killed 909 Australians to date.
Fireworks forming the shape of a heart were set off on the stroke of midnight.
Sydneysiders mostly watched the display on television, with a permit system established for the CBD only for those with pre-existing hospitality bookings.
Boats were permitted on Sydney Harbour with strict guidelines, while the children-friendly fireworks at 9pm did not go ahead.
Residents in Greater Sydney, including Wollongong, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains, were restricted to hosting five visitors in their homes, including children. The limit for outdoor gatherings was reduced to 30.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said officers had found most people abiding by the restrictions, with only a small handful of infringement notices issued for health order breaches.
Seven people were given $1000 fines and five businesses were handed $5000 fines.
Mr Willing said a small number of people descended upon the Sydney foreshore as midnight approached, but were quickly moved on.
“By and large they found most people were abiding by orders. Where they weren’t, warnings were issued and we found almost everyone complied with those warnings,“ Mr Willing told reporters.
“It was unusual for us when you compare a normal New Year’s Eve where you see up to a million people in the CBD area.”
Just 5000 New Year’s Eve passes were scanned to enter the “green zone” around Sydney Harbour and vessel patronage was just 20 per cent compared with previous years, Mr Willing said.
Illegal backyard fireworks could be heard going off on Sydney’s northern beaches, currently grappling with a 144-person COVID-19 cluster and a stay-at- home order that will linger in some suburbs until at least January 9.
And as midnight passed, backyard fireworks could be heard all across Sydney, including a major display in Villawood which Mr Willing said prompted the intervention of the riot squad.
Police across NSW made 219 arrests and laid 290 charges for various offences.
Central Melbourne was also mostly vacated on Thursday night, with a smattering of people in restaurants but parks and public spaces deserted.
The Victorian government urged people not to head into the Melbourne CBD on Thursday night unless they had a hospitality booking.
The city’s new eight-person outbreak prompted authorities to cut indoor gatherings from 30 people to 15 from 5pm on New Year’s Eve.
South Australians were allowed no more than 50 people at their house – indoors or outdoors – for New Year’s Eve celebrations. A maximum of 200 people were permitted at private outdoor gatherings.
Fireworks in Hobart went ahead but, like in Sydney, people were urged not to gather on the waterfront. Darwin residents needed to register and wear wristbands to attend the city’s two fireworks displays.
In marked contrast to the rest of the country, Perth planned celebrations that were close to normal, with two fireworks displays.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his New Year’s Eve message lauded the courage, resilience and attentiveness of Australians in 2020 and said he had never been prouder of his compatriots after a year blighted by bushfires and COVID-19.