MILLENNIUM CORNER: 1 DAY TO GO - Runners in Great Antipodean Baby Race come under starter's orders

A FRANTIC search will begin in New Zealand and the Pacific islands in the early hours tomorrow to identify the first baby born in 2000. New Zealand's TV3 television station will have a team dedicated to finding the right one.

But the search will not be an easy one. Any babies vying for the status of first from New Zealand will also have to be cross-checked against contenders from the Pacific nations of Tonga and Kiribati, which will enter the New Year an hour earlier. Aware of the risks of getting it wrong, hospital managers will be circumspect in declaring which baby arrives first.

"We're not going to say, well, we got the world's first," said an Auckland Healthcarespokeswoman. "I guess it'll be down to the world to decide."

She said Auckland Healthcare would list the time of birth on its website address www.akhealth.co.nz of any baby born after midnight at the country's biggest maternity centre, the National Women's Hospital. The hospital has 18 women registered to give birth on 31 December and 24 women due on 1 January.

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CHAMPAGNE WILL be flowing throughout Ireland this evening but not at Dublin's largest millennium celebration. All of the expected 30,000 partygoers at a free concert in the city's Merrion Square will be searched for cans and bottles as they enter the site.

"People can still wander in and out of the area and go to pubs, but there will be no alcohol. We don't want people getting tanked up," said a spokesman for the Millennium Committee. Apparently the ban on alcohol has not deterred people as 20,000 free tickets were snapped up within minutes of their release.

The spokesman said he thought people were more likely to want to celebrate with soup rather than alcohol because of the cold weather.

"People will be cold so they will be looking for hot drinks like soup, which will be available at the concert," he said.

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AS THE new millennium approaches, much of the US will mark its arrival by... grinding to a halt. Lifts will sit silently on the ground floor in many places. Managers of some New York City apartment buildings will move elevators to the ground floor at 11.50pm and keep them there for 20 to 30 minutes - with their doors open - to avoid having any tenant stuck should there be a Y2K power failure.

The Louisiana casinos floating on the Mississippi will dock. The Boston Mass Transit system and subway trains in many other cities will stop. The "better safe than sorry" policy extends to an assortment of mass transit systems: San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago will follow the same pattern as Boston. In Washington, officials are taking an extra precaution - leaving the doors open on all subway cars.

Across the country, Amtrak trains will stop for up to an hour. The Union Pacific Railroad freight line will also halt its trains. If there are no glitches, trains will start up a few minutes after the new year arrives.

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