Dare we dream of a normal Christmas? Many of us are making tentative plans for the holiday, following reports the government could allow extended family gatherings for a short time next month.
England remains under lockdown for another ten days – with more tight, tiered restrictions expected to follow for the toughest part of the winter. While most businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are now open again, almost half the population of Scotland is living under the strictest measures since the pandemic’s peak back in April.
In our ongoing Lockdown Diaries series, people from all walks of life and all corners of the country share their own experiences of the latest restrictions – and their hopes for the vaccine in the weeks ahead.
Monique Jackson, 31, artist living in London:
I’m still not well despite falling ill in March, but I am pleased that Long Covid is now being recognised in the NHS. The last few weeks I’ve had to organise and attend medical appointments because of complications. Although going to hospital feels daunting, I’m grateful to have the chance for referrals with specialists, because these kinds of referrals just weren’t available to me back in spring.
It is great news to hear of the successful vaccine trial results. I know a lot of people who are concerned whether testing of the vaccine will be completed to the normal standard before it’s rolled out to the general public. I’m still hopeful this could help end the pandemic.
Joanne Whitehead, 40, business consultant in Skipton, Yorkshire:
I’m starting to feel really unfit as I’m eating far too much comfort food and exercising less – with shorter days it’s harder to motivate myself than during the last lockdown.
I’m still confused about what we will or won’t be able to do at Christmas. I see the government is floating the five-day Christmas break idea. While that would be wonderful, I think we need to wait to see what the results of this lockdown are and what the experts say. If it means we are going to end up with a big peak in January, I’d be wondering what the point of locking down now was.
I was very pleased to hear about the vaccine news. I doubt very much we’ll be rolling out over winter in a widespread way, if track and trace is anything to go by. Perhaps spring next year. Hopefully the NHS will be in charge of coordinating and delivering it – and not the private companies the Tories seem to be throwing billions at.
Shahab Uddin, 48, owner of Streetly Balti restaurant in Birmingham:
This last two weeks has been awful for our business. Hardly any orders on weekdays. At least Saturdays have been manic for takeaways, but financially we can’t do enough trade on one day to cover the rest of the week. It’s impossible.
Most people here are fed up. We hope the vaccine coming soon is light at the end of the tunnel, but I can’t help feeling a bit apprehensive, knowing that a vaccine of this kind usually takes up to 10 years to develop. Either the scientists have performed miracles or they’ve cut corners. But I guess any vaccine at this moment is better than none.
While we only have lockdown until 2 December at present, I’m worried that the government has extended furlough till March. Does it mean there’s something they are not telling us about an extension? I sure hope we can get back to normality, because I don’t think many small businesses will survive if it continues another six months.
Matthew McIlveen, 30, owner of hair salon in County Antrim:
We’ve been allowed to open up again since Friday, thankfully – but it felt like a long road to get back. I think a lockdown of larger, non-essential retail in Northern Ireland would have been much more effective in controlling the R rate – which has climbed here while close-contact services like salons have been closed.
Christmas remains a real uncertainty for businesses and for families here. I think lots of the rules will be ignored to maximise sales or keep traditions going, which is going to cause issues in the early part of next year. Hopefully people on the fringes of the anti-vaxxer movement can think for themselves and not base their theories on internet conspiracies. I know I’ll be at the front of the queue for a vaccine, if I can get one, to help protect my business.
Simon Kidwell, 50, primary school headteacher in Cheshire:
We’ve had no further Covid cases at our school since the return from half-term. But there have been cases in local schools that are causing disruption to staffing levels. There’s no government funding available to cover for absent staff, and the financial situation is causing real anxiety among school leaders where budgets are on a knife-edge.
I can that see families are still diligently following the lockdown rules. Some parents have expressed their frustration and questioned the logic behind schools opening for hundreds of staff and children each day – but not for other, out-of-school activities.
The news about the vaccine has been really welcome. At the moment there are no plans to prioritise people in public-facing roles. But many key workers, including teachers, have worked throughout the pandemic – so prioritising them alongside the most vulnerable should be a part of a coherent vaccination plan.
Steve Clarke, 61, carer and housing campaigner in Wales:
It’s been great to see that several vaccine trials have been successful. But throughout the pandemic there’s been a lack of transparency about access to PPE, testing and treatment – so the challenge must be better transparency about who obtains priority access to any vaccine. The country really needs it to improve confidence in public take-up for any eventual roll-out.
Wales has a higher proportion of its population of disabled, vulnerable and elderly people than other parts of the UK. I wonder whether it would be prioritised on clinical need, regardless of location, or whether the available vaccine would be based on proportions of vulnerable in different parts of the country. Either way, I feel it will be some time before it can be rolled out. I worry that the announcements will relax people into thinking that all is well, when in fact there is still six months to go before we will see a significant improvement.
Risha Lancaster, 51, co-founder of homelessness charity Coffee4Craig in Manchester:
The run-up to Christmas and coming into the colder weather is always a busy time for us traditionally, but this year we’ve been especially busy getting our new building, The Meanwhile, kitted out and Covid-ready to help people sleeping on the streets. I think people in a lot charities are exhausted at the moment, especially those working non-stop to cover colleagues who have had to isolate.
I’m afraid the vaccine isn’t making me anymore optimistic about 2021. People are being driven into poverty, evictions that were stopped through lockdown have been lifted and people are starting to be evicted. People have lost their jobs and savings due to the pandemic, and mental health has been affected. So we’re likely to see rising demand for help from people in need.
Dawn Anderson, 56, community health worker in Edinburgh:
I think most people understand why some areas in Scotland have moved into level 4 and why the stricter travel restrictions are in place – but it’s still tough for a lot of people, especially if they live alone. We have to keep each other safe, and think of ways to look out for each other at the same time. Brexit is looming, and all the additional hardship this will bring, so I have mixed feelings as we head into winter.
The vaccine news is amazing. Spring will feel different next year, a chance to reset life. I’m thinking late summer we could have a new normal, anything earlier is a bonus. I can’t wait to see far away family and friends again. I’m hoping for a new appreciation of what’s important, who the key contributors in our society really are, and the incredible acts of kindness that happened when we all worked together to face this crisis. So I’m feeling optimistic about 2021.