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WUHAN: Large crowds took to the streets at midnight on Friday in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, celebrating the arrival of 2021 after a year marred by a deadly pandemic that killed thousands there and required the city to be locked down between the end of January and early April.

As per tradition, hundreds gathered in front of the old Hankow Customs House building, one of the city’s more popular New Year’s Eve spots. When the building’s old clock reached midnight many people released balloons into the air, cheered and called out “happy new year”.

There was a heavy police presence and strict crowd control. Some security personnel were seen telling several of the few people without masks that they must put one on if they wished to stay. Still, the countdown appeared to proceed peacefully, in a relaxed atmosphere.

The festivities came 12 months after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it first received word of cases of a pneumonia of an unknown cause in Wuhan, which later became known as the world’s first outbreak of Covid-19. A team of WHO experts is scheduled to arrive in China in January 2021 to investigate the origins of the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,818,946 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Friday.

At least 83,381,330 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 52,534,200 are now considered recovered.

On Thursday, 13,629 new deaths and 728,621 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 3,426, followed by Brazil with 1,074 and the United Kingdom with 964.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 345,844 deaths from 19,974,883 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 194,949 deaths from 7,675,973 cases, India with 148,994 deaths from 10,286,709 cases, Mexico with 125,807 deaths from 1,426,094 cases, and Italy with 74,159 deaths from 2,107,166 cases.

Europe overall has 574,012 deaths from 26,569,711 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 507,687 deaths from 15,569,105 infections, and the United States and Canada 361,440 deaths from 20,554,203 cases.

Asia has reported 219,371 deaths from 13,905,767 cases, the Middle East 90,031 deaths from 3,992,072 cases, Africa 65,460 deaths from 2,759,404 cases, and Oceania 945 deaths from 31,068 cases.