A cut-back, shorter version of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks is set to go ahead this year, as local leaders push ahead with the event as a symbol of hope to be “beamed around the world”.
While the display traditionally attracts more than a million spectators, including international tourists – who begin lining Sydney Harbour days before the midnight fireworks begin – this year’s event is expected to be almost exclusively seen on TV.
Politicians in New South Wales have flagged restricted access to the city’s coastline as a way of preventing crowds from gathering, for a New Year’s Eve they say “will be nothing like” Sydney has seen before.
On Thursday, Clover Moore, the mayor of the City of Sydney council that usually organises the fireworks, announced she was handing over “temporary custodianship” of this December’s event to the NSW state government – citing the increased costs, and greater health and crowd management risks that Covid-19 posed.
The NSW state government will also foot the bill for this year’s fireworks, however it is expected to be considerably cheaper than the $6.5m spent on the event last year, which despite being held against the backdrop of smoke haze from bushfires, generated about $130m for the state’s economy.
Fines will be issued for those who don’t comply with social distancing, and events in restaurants and private venues will be encouraged over public spaces.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the normally 12-minute long midnight pyrotechnic display would be shortened and focused on the Sydney Harbour Bridge site, instead of being launched from several points across the city. The earlier 9pm fireworks geared towards children will be cancelled.
She said using less fireworks and significantly reducing public viewing areas and events meant the government didn’t have to justify the event for its economic potential, and that the “very toned down affair” would be largely symbolic.
“I do feel it’s important for the state, and the nation because it’s really a national symbol that’s beamed around the world ... it’s almost our contribution to the world,” Berejiklian said, adding it would be “important for our soul and for positive thinking about next year”.
Given its time zone, Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to enter the new year, with an estimated 1 billion people watching its fireworks display last year on TV.
While NSW has avoided the significant second wave of Covid-19 that continues to keep Melbourne, in the neighbouring state of Victoria, under curfew, Berejiklian noted the fireworks could ultimately be abandoned if public health advice closer to December changed.
“None of us want to see the large crowds, none of us want to see breaching of the health orders ... the vast majority of us, including myself, will be watching at home from the television,” Berejiklian said.
NSW tourism minister Stuart Ayres said “it’s not going to be open slather with everyone being able to come into the city”, indicating parts of the coastline could be restricted and crowds discouraged from entering the CBD.
Last December, there were calls, including from senior government figures, to cancel the fireworks given the fire danger they posed, and as a mark of respect for communities outside Sydney battling bushfires.