New Years In The Time Of Coronavirus: Pollution, Maskless Crowds And Fireworks Litter

New Years In The Time Of Coronavirus: Pollution, Maskless Crowds And Fireworks Litter

Published January 4, 2021

Photo by
Art Bicnick

While the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant travel restrictions made New Years Eve in Reykjavík slightly less well attended than in years previous, celebrations did bring with them a number of downsides.

Relatively calm winds and overcast skies combined to make the air pollution in some parts of Reykjavík go well over the safe limit. Exploding fireworks release a number of pollutants, including heavy metals, and as expected the most prominent form of air pollution on New Years Eve was particle air pollution, which reached as high as 165 µg/m3 in central Reykjavík on this night.

This pollution is not just bad in itself, especially for people with respiratory conditions; it also increases the likelihood of the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking of which, the pandemic appeared to be the last thing on many peoples’ minds as Reykjavík rang out 2020. A great many people assembled at Hallgrímskirkja church, a popular spot for watching and setting off fireworks in Reykjavík. As can be seen at roughly the 16-minute mark of this video, a large crowd assembled at the church for the celebration, with very few people in masks.

Whether this behaviour will contribute to another spike in coronavirus cases remains to be seen.

Some things stayed the same as in other years, though. For the past four days now, Icelanders on social media have been posting photos of and complaining about people leaving behind the debris from spent fireworks boxes and other detritus. It will likely take a few days for city workers to clean up everything revelers left behind.

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