How life under Covid in the UK now compares to Christmas 2020 as Omicron cases soar



The StayCity apartment hotel in York was home to what is thought to be the UK’s first confirmed Covid case, back on January 29 2020.

Nearly two full years later, the virus which originated in Wuhan, China, has come to dominate almost every aspect of life.

And, for the second time, the deadly virus threatens to jeopardise this nation’s Christmas.

As it stands, at least 171,801 people have died of the virus in the UK, with over 128 million vaccines having been administered and at least 11.5 million cases have been recorded.

Loved ones have been lost, families have been kept apart, livelihoods gone, businesses shuttered, city centres turned into ghost towns and more over the past 694 days.

In the time since that case in York, a mother visiting her son at university, the lives of everyone across the UK have been upended quite unlike anything that came before.

The vaccine campaign, a global achievement spearheaded by scientists like those at Oxford University, offered hope and a once unthinkable way out of the pandemic.

Shoppers during last year Covid Christmas before harsher Tiers were introduced
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But once again, the nation finds itself teetering on the edge of harsher rules, with cases threatening to skyrocket, a deadly new variant and plans for the New Year in doubt.

Boris Johnson’s government is yet to make a decision on stricter rules while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland introduce new restrictions from the return of the rule of six and social distancing to limiting household mixing.

So how does this Christmas look different to 2020 which saw parts of the UK plunged into Tier 4 and separated from their families and loved ones?

Domestic restrictions

2020

During Christmas 2020, the tier system dominated every conversation about Covid, as the government attempted to segment the country by its Covid cases.

The higher the case load in each region the higher the tier and stricter the restrictions.

On December 19, that year, Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for millions when he announced London and the South-East were to be put into tier 4 in response to the Delta variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing emergency measures shortly after Christmas 2020
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Some areas across the rest of the country three households were allowed to mix on Christmas Day itself with people living in tiers one, two and three asked to stay local and not host anybody from tier four.

Non-essential retail and leisure centres were shut, as the public across the UK were asked to stay at home and protect the NHS.

2021

There are not currently any restrictions limiting social interactions or gatherings in force in England.

But in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland they have announced new guidelines, or incoming restrictions after Christmas to give people certainty of mind.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked people to limit socialising to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the advice would not apply on December 25 and that plans should not be cancelled.

In England, people do have to wear masks on public transport and many venues are calling for mask wearing as well.

Whilst last year saw a number of tight restrictions over Christmas, as of yet Christmas 2021 has faced zero Covid restrictions
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Yesterday, in a video announcement, Boris Johnson said that there would be no new restrictions before Christmas.

But he said that he could not guarantee that things would not change before the new year.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford announced new rules that will apply from Boxing Day.

Nightclubs will close, with new measures being introduce for workplaces and retail, and the banning of large gatherings of more than 30 people indoors, or 50 outside.

Northern Ireland will see nightclubs shut too, and tighter hospitality restrictions like table service only and limits on numbers are expected to be introduced.

Travel Rules

2020

During late December 2020, with the majority of the population under Tier 4 lockdown rules, they were unable to leave their Tier 4 area or see family over Christmas.

Tiers 1-3 were able to see others on Christmas day only, and even then only within their Christmas bubble.

In short, travel internally was extremely limited.

Travelling abroad was as restricted as many nations, including France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Italy all stopped all flights from the UK apart from for their citizens or Brits who resided there.

Those with family abroad could have ended up stuck in the UK for the festive period.

2021

The red-list was ditched on December 14, but despite the UK having no travel rules for other countries, other countries have travel rules for the UK due to its rocketing case numbers and Covid situation.

Nearly 30 countries are closed to Brits present, with most having kept their borders shut for the pandemic to everyone.

But Germany and Japan has introduced a travel ban on Brits because of spiralling Omicron cases, and France has stopped all non-essential travel like tourism and business.

Israel and Morocco are two other nations with specific Brit bans for travelling.

Travel within the country is allowed unrestricted as well, with local restrictions having long been abandoned.

A man wearing a face mask enters Oxford Circus station in London, England, on June 15, 2020
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Covid variants and vaccines

2020

The run up to Christmas 2020 saw record highs of daily Covid cases on successive days.

The Covid situation was dominated by an outbreak of a terrifying new variant, Delta, which was considerably more transmissible than previous strains and quickly ran rampant across the UK.

The speed at which it spread took the country by surprise and exacerbated the disastrous and deadly effects of already delayed political decision making.

However, with most of the nation locked down and the third national lockdown less than two weeks away, there was a ray of hope as on December 8 2020, the UK administered its first Covid jab.

The education of school children has been interrupted and broken up during the nearly 700 days of Covid this country has experienced
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2021

Recently, the UK has registered record highs of daily Covid cases on successive days.

This Christmas, the Covid situation has been dominated by the outbreak of a terrifying new variant, Omicron, which seems to be considerably more transmissible than previous strains, but early reports indicate it isn’t as severe.

Thanks to the massive vaccination campaign, which has been running nearly a year, despite the record high cases, deaths remain relatively low, and hospitalisations can be dealt with at present.

As it stands, almost 130 million vaccine doses have been given, with over 30 million of them booster jabs.

This means almost 90% of the population has had their first dose, 82% their second and 53% their booster and uptake is increasing across all three in recent days.

Covid deaths and case rates

2020

On December 20, 2020, the UK recorded 35,928 new cases.

The elderly have been the most vulnerable to severe illness and death from Covid
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On the same day in 2020 saw 326 people died, with figures being artificially depressed because of weekend reporting of data. On Christmas Day, the UK recorded 570 deaths.

This was the beginning of the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the UK as the number of deaths began to rise dramatically and did so until mid to late January when nearly 2,000 people were dying a day.

For many this was the bleakest time of the pandemic, with death rates so high and the vaccination campaign only getting started.

2021

On December 20, 2021, the UK recorded 91,734 new cases – more than double the number of infections on the same day in 2020, largely due to the rise of the Omicron variant.

By contrast on December 20 43 people died as the effects of the vaccine programme kicked in as well as developments in treating people with Covid.

Members of the public queue to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre outside Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London
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Deaths from Covid have oscillated around a slightly higher mark since the summer.

Despite a slow start the booster campaign picked up eventually and now nearly 30 million Brits have the booster.

Political situation

2020

Boris Johnson delayed and refused to make an early call prior to December 2020 on lockdown.

Whether that be a firebreaker earlier than November, or later promising people a Christmas before taking it away a few days later.

He was widely criticised for his handling of the situation and failed to understand the basic tenant that to deal with Covid preventative action must be taken beforehand, not after.

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2021

Boris Johnson was slow on getting the booster campaign going and in getting vaccinations set up for under 18s.

Despite warnings that an undervaccinated globe would lead to new and deadly viruses, the world was too slow to act with many western nations hoarding jabs.

Many with the Conservative party are up in arms over the idea of new restrictions and pressure internally on Boris Johnson is believed to be one reason why England remains the only nation in the UK to not introduce some form of restriction.

Christmas Parties/New Years

2020

The British public were told “Covid loves a crowd” in the run up to the end of 2020.

Then government spokesperson Allegra Stratton who was caught on camera laughing about “cheese and wine” at a party rumoured to have happened a few days before and saying there was “definitely no social distancing.”
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All Christmas and New Years parties were off thanks to restrictions and the end of Covid’s first year was rung in, within people’s bubbles.

However, whilst the nation stayed away from friends and loved ones, forced to catch up over the phone, the government held at least 13 parties during 2020, with at least eight happening during December 2020.

From Boris Johnson being pictured hosting a Christmas quiz, to leaving drinks for top aides, to spokespeople joking about cheese and wine and then gatherings in the No.10 garden, the government flouted their own rules whilst the nation did not time and time again.

2021

Christmas parties went ahead as usual, with some become spreader events for Covid.

As no restrictions are currently in place, New Year’s Eve plans can currently go ahead in England.

However, whilst Boris Johnson has ruled out restrictions before Christmas, he did not rule them out afterwards and could introduce some before the New Year can be rung in.

Nicola Sturgeon has scrapped Hogmany celebrations in Scotland and in London, the traditional Trafalgar Square party has been cancelled as Omicron cases rip through the capital.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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