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Pandemic dampens New Year celebrations nationwide

New Year’s celebration at Suwon in 2019 (Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation)
New Year’s celebration at Suwon in 2019 (Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation)
With an attempt to tame the spread of COVID-19 and the newly confirmed omicron variant, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and local governments have decided to cancel their annual year-end and New Year’s ceremonies.

The traditional bell-ringing ceremony at Bosingak in Jongno, central Seoul, at midnight on New Year’s Eve will be held online for a second year in a row, according to the city.

Ringing the bell 33 times, people bid farewell to the old and welcome the new year.

Ten civic bell ringers have been selected as important figures of the year, including Oh Young-soo of “Squid Game,” rapper Lee Young-ji and triple Olympic gold medalist archer An San, and will take part in the online ceremony.

The Ministry of Environment and Korea National Park also announced Monday that 21 national parks in Korea, including Bukhansan, Manisan, Jirisan, Hallasan and more, will prevent people from hiking to see the New Year’s sunrise.

The parks will be restricted from 3 p.m. on Dec. 31 to 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 and from 3 p.m. on Jan. 1 to 7 a.m. on Jan. 2.

Other local governments across the country including Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, and Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, announced Tuesday that the cities’ New Year events will be canceled to prevent tourists from visiting for the ceremony and to secure public health and safety as well.

According to the Suwon Cultural Foundation, the annual year-end festival at Hwaseong Haenggung Square in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, will be canceled for a second year in a row.

The event previously entertained many visitors with programs including a concert, bell-ringing event, New Year’s wish and tteokguk event, where participants blow up balloons with their wishes and eat a soup made with white rice cake to celebrate New Year’s Day.

Annual events at major sunrise spots of Gyeonggi Province have been canceled as well.

Suwon and Seongnam both announced they would cancel their New Year’s sunrise events, at the fortresses Suwon Hwaseong and Namhansanseong, respectively, on Dec. 22.

Famous mountains for ideal sunrise spectating -- Moraksan in Uiwang and Waryongsan in Anyang -- have also canceled New Year’s festivals, hoping to greet a better new year next time.

The local governments decided to close the year with either no ceremonies or downsized events.

“Anyang has been holding the closing ceremony, where we recognize and honor the citizens’ work for Anyang. But this event is being canceled due to the resurgence of infections and spread of the omicron variant,” an Anyang City official told The Korea Herald on Monday.

Gwangmyeong is also scheduled to cancel its sunrise event and will hold a downsized ceremony to open 2022.

Some of the Gyeonggi Province events also will take place online.

The Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation announced that its New Year’s Eve festival is scheduled to be livestreamed via Naver TV and YouTube with various musicians, including rock band Monni, trot singer Na Tae-joo and more.

By Lee Si-jin (