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New York’s iconic Times Square – usually the site of raucous mass celebrations on New Year’s Eve – will be nearly deserted this year, with crowds banned from the area for the first time in over a century, thanks to Covid-19.

A first in the 116-year history of the traditional ‘ball drop,’ Times Square will be closed to spectators as the city rings in the New Year – an event that’s previously drawn crowds in excess of a million. Instead, revelers will have to watch the show from afar via live broadcast, in what the Times Square Alliance, the organizer of the annual New Year’s bash, said would be a “virtually enhanced, visually compelling” but “very different” celebration from that in years past.

City authorities have been adamant that the typically jam-packed gathering is off the table as the coronavirus pandemic continues into 2021. During a Wednesday press conference, NYPD Chief Terence Monahan was emphatic that residents and tourists must keep away from the venue.

“My message to those ringing in the New Year is please stay at home,” Monahan said. “There are absolutely no spectators allowed in Times Square. There are no public fireworks in Coney Island and there is no midnight run in Central Park.”

Don’t even attempt to come down there and watch it … Anyone that starts to gather, they’re going to be told to move along. We are not going to allow people to stand on the street corner and stare up.

This #NewYearsEve will be unlike any in the past due to COVID-19. Please take note of these street closures that will be in place in the days leading up to the ball drop, and know that there will be no pedestrians or spectators allowed in Times Square this year. pic.twitter.com/Pbom4vA5uf

Though the square will prohibit visitors, the streets won’t be entirely vacant, with a number of live performances scheduled for broadcast on TV, headlined by R&B singer Andra Day and featuring artists Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, and Machine Gun Kelly, among others.

In addition to the musical acts, the Times Square Alliance will also host a small number of guests for a socially distanced “Heroes of 2020” event, inviting 39 individuals who represent “a sampling of first responders, frontline workers, researchers, artists, and activists who sacrificed in 2020 to provide care and support for their communities.”

A once-in-a-century occurrence, the ban on crowds was met with disappointment by many, as netizens shared photos of a desolate Times Square on Thursday evening, some deeming the sight “surreal” and “like something out of an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

This is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. https://t.co/MWAQccQmcK

It Like Something Out Of An Episode Of “The Twilight Zone.” Out There In Times Square Right Now! #NoMansLand#SilenceIsGolden 🤫 #Empty

This is stunning. Normally by now Times Square is crowded, some people having spent the night for a good spot, even lining up the day before. Now, empty as it gets. https://t.co/aT2IgzjGwQ

Others took the hit in their stride, poking fun at the otherwise gloomy situation. One commenter suggested the square’s live audience ought to be replaced with “cardboard cutouts,” apparently taking inspiration from the “cardboard fans” employed by sports leagues in the US and beyond.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Times Square ball that’s dropping tonight: pic.twitter.com/uoicaZnQjE

we can cancel Times Square we’ve dropped the ball all year.

Times Square is supposed to be empty this year. They should fill the place with cardboard cutouts. Although the entire “SNL” crew and the cast of “Hamilton” may be there because @NYGovCuomo gives gives them special privileges.

New Year’s gatherings at Times Square began in the early 20th century. Though the square has drawn crowds and fireworks since as early as 1904, the famous ‘ball drop’ didn’t begin until several years later, in 1907. The event has continued annually ever since, enduring calamities ranging from both World Wars to the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak – though some years have been more subdued than others.

While the square will be virtually unoccupied as the clock strikes midnight and brings an eagerly awaited end to 2020, viewers can still tune into the festivities and performances through a livestream hosted by the Times Square Alliance.

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